Hiking is a great activity for anyone who loves spending time outside or enjoys nature.
It is something that almost everyone can do, even those with lower levels of fitness.
Hiking brings many health benefits too.
When you hike as a hobby, you maintain or improve fitness levels, explore new areas, and exercising outside benefits mental health too.
However, while it might seem like it’s nothing more than putting one foot in front on the other, there is more to hiking than first meets the eye.
If you are thinking of starting your own hiking adventures, or want to progress to longer walks, here are some top tips for beginner hikers.
Hiking might conjure up images of rugged walks in the mountains, carrying all your equipment and supplies and carving out an adventure of a lifetime.
But, if you are just starting out, picking a trail that is too challenging is not going to make you fall in love with hiking.
To determine what trail is right for you, consider your fitness level.
If you are of average fitness, then hiking a few miles on gentle terrain is a good place to start.
If you need to improve your fitness, choose a short route on flatter terrain to begin with.
Research your local area to see what trails are near to you.
Whether you live in a town or the countryside, there will be places where you can get out and enjoy walking outside.
If you feel able to cover longer distances, choose a route which offer a challenge, but are not too physically demanding.
Slowly build up your stamina and strength by gradually increasing your mileage and adding in slightly more challenging trails.
You don’t need to take much with you if you are going for a day’s hike, and what you take will also depend on where you are going.
A backpack with the basic essentials for any hike is a good place to start.
Here are some must-have items to have in your backpack no matter when or where you go hiking.
- Lightweight snacks, such as cereal bars, fruit and nuts.
- Lunch if hiking for a number of hours – simple sandwiches can be packed small.
- Water – take more than you think you need. Staying hydrated is important. Research places where you may be able to replenish your supply if needed.
- Mini first aid kit including treatment for blisters.
- A fully charged phone where you can access a map if needed is fine, but if you are in an unfamiliar area a pack-up power bank and a paper map are useful in case your phone runs out of battery.
- A spare light layer of clothing.
- Waterproof layer.
- Spare socks. If your feet accidentally get wet early on in your hike, you are susceptible to blisters.
- Sun protection – sun lotion, sunglasses, hat.
- A little cash – if you happen across a country pub or shop, having the means to buy refreshments is welcome!
The Right Gear
You don’t need much special equipment to begin hiking, however there are some items that will make any hike more enjoyable.
Choose clothing that is light and wicks moisture away from the skin.
Wearing cottons or denims is a recipe for sweat and chafing, so focus on clothes which are designed for sports.
A good pair of walking boots or trail runner trainers is also great for hiking.
If you wear normal sports trainers, your feet will get wet from dew, rain or puddles.
Wet feet makes the skin soft and more prone to blisters, plus you will feel better on your hike if your feet stay dry and warm!
Unless you are hiking in cold temperatures, a couple of layers is often all that is needed to keep you warm while hiking. Adding a windproof outer layer is also good for cooler weather.
A light waterproof jacket is great to pop into your backpack, just in case of a downpour.
Check the Weather
If you set out for a day hike only to find yourself caught in gale force winds, stinging hale or deluges of rain, it is not going to ignite a love of the sport.
Always check the weather forecast before you go.
As long as you have the right gear with you, such as a waterproof jacket, you don’t need to be afraid of a little bad weather. In fact, being in the elements can be part of the excitement of hiking.
However, if you are unprepared and get wet through, it can make for an unpleasant hike.
If you are hiking on your own, let someone else know where you are going and what time you expect to return. That way, should anything happen you will know that someone will look for you.
While out on your hike, be aware of road safety in built up and rural areas.
There can be dangers on any terrain, from potholes to steep drops, fast flowing water, tides, and more.
Take care when crossing fields with cattle in. They can be inquisitive! Be especially careful if you are walking with a dog.
Staying safe on the trail is usually a matter of common sense, so as long as you don’t take unnecessary risks and take trails that are suited to your ability, you should be fine.
Research your Route
Having some idea of where you are heading and how long it will take you to complete your hike will help give you confidence.
Research the route before you go, such as taking note of what landmarks, waterways or roads are along the path, so you know you are heading the right way.
Plot your route on a map, not just in your phone.
To do your research, you could buy a guide book for your local area and find some good hikes for beginners.
The internet is also a good source of information for hikers, or you can often find leaflets describing local walks in tourist centres.
Join a Hiking Group
If you want to meet like-minded people and make new friends, joining a local hiking group is a great way to find others who also relish the chance to explore outdoors.
You get to go on organised hikes where all you have to do is turn up and enjoy the walk.
You also might find a buddy or two that want to stretch their abilities to more adventurous hikes, giving you people with whom you can plan adventures with.
Lone wolf? Perhaps a hiking group isn’t for you.
But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give it a try, at least to get you used to the rigours of longer treks. Don’t attempt to go on a long trek alone if you are a novice.
Hiking is a great form of exercise and being outside stimulates all your senses while you work your muscles.
From a health and well-being point of view, hiking is an activity that ticks all the boxes.
If you’ve been thinking about taking up hiking but have never been sure how to start, the best thing to do is simply put on some sturdy shoes, take note of these tips, and head out there to see what awaits you in the great outdoors.