Being in nature, surrounded by stunning mountain peaks, and enjoying the peace and quiet are some of the best ways to recharge your soul. While hiking is not difficult, there are a number of things that you should consider before hitting the trails. From what clothes to wear to the most common trail rules, we have prepared a full list for you. Keep reading and learn more about the 10 essential hiking tips for beginners.
From your shoes to the clothes on your back to what you carry in your pack, there are a number of essentials that you need to consider before hitting the trails. For beginners, I do not recommend spending too much money on buying expensive hiking gear as you can actually get by with very little. While you can use one of the backpacks you already own for your first hikes, your clothing choices are much more important. Make sure not to wear tight jeans, but instead go for active wear pants and shirts. Personally, I am a fan of workout T-shirts that are made of breathable and light material. As it can often be extremely cold and windy at the summits high up in the mountains, I always carry a warmer layer and a raincoat. The type of clothing you wear will heavily depend on when and where you are going, so always check the weather forecast!
The most important part, are the shoes. Even if you are just starting out you need to have comfortable hiking shoes. If you are not ready to invest in a quality pair of hiking shoes, I suggest sticking to a normal pair of trainers / athletic shoes and staying on established, easier trails.
Food and Water
My fiance, Alex, would argue that food and water are more important than clothes and shoes and, as he works in the medical field, I tolerate his eccentricities. He will tell you that the average human is 60% water and requires 2 liters of water a day AT REST. Obviously, going hiking and being active makes you sweat and breathe a lot, both of which makes you lose those precious fluids. So, replacing them is key! A good go by is to take a ½ liter for every hour you plan on being out. Not only that, but sweating loses salts and electrolytes which are devastating to not replace! So, for every liter of water, carry ~ 12 ounces or a small bottle of juice / sports drink.
Once you have your water bottles ready, you should also pack some snacks. No matter how easy and short your hike will be, you need to be sure to bring food with you. We always pack energy or granola bars and create a trail mix by combining a variety of nuts, dried fruits and chocolates. For longer hikes, when we will not have access to food along the way, I also prepare sandwiches and one or two fresh fruits.
Check where you are going
The last of the top three hiking tips for beginners, is knowing your route beforehand. Always start off with an easy trail, especially if this is one of your first times hiking. Make a good and detailed research by checking how long and difficult the trail is. Where does it start from and if it is a loop or if you need to backtrack. If you can ask someone about the hike, feel free to, so you can understand where you are going. This is also a good way to get some inside into about your destination! I suggest getting a map of the area and study it before hitting the trail or just take it with you. While, you do not need to memorize everything, you should be aware what to expect.
There are fantastic resources available online, so spend your time to check and make a not of the details. I am not a fan of using my phone when hiking, but if you prefer it you can get the AllTrails App, which will be good enough if you are just starting out. Downloading the map/route beforehand and using your phone’s GPS could also save your life if you get lost. Regardless where you are going, there certainly will be signs or trail marks to show you the way. It is important to make a note of what they look like and always keep your eyes open for them. If you have been going for too long without any signs or marks, you may want to take a look at your map.
Know your own abilities
Hiking is not a race, so it is important to know your own abilities before you jump into something that you are not ready for. It is very common for beginner hikers to overestimate their abilities thinking that “walking in nature” is not so difficult. Many believe that if they go to the gym or do yoga regularly then they will not have any problems. Unfortunately, this is not correct. While hiking is considered as one of the best work outs, just packing your backpack and leaving is not enough. Start with a shorter easier trail and then gradually increase the length and difficulty of the routes you take.
Keep Steady Pace
One of the biggest mistakes that beginner hikers make is not keeping a steady pace. Very often people would start a hike at a very fast pace to only stop for a break after a short time. When you are in the mountains, you might need to hike uphill through some steep parts and gain hundreds of meters of elevation. That is why your pace should be steady and consistent. Though it may be a bit difficult at first, after a few hikes you will get used to it. Finding the perfect pace that will not get you tired and you can maintain all day is a crucial hiking tip. It is also much better to take less frequent but longer breaks. Regularly stopping for breaks will make it difficult to be consistent and keep a steady pace.
Don’t Forget the Way Back
When you go hiking, it is important to remember that the hike does not end at the top, you also have to go back. Many beginner hikers put so much effort into climbing up the mountain and getting to the peak that they forget about the journey back, which going downhill can be even more challenging and stressful on the body. It is very common for beginner hikers to feel knee pain after longer hikes. When you are descending, your leading leg needs to absorb the downhill forces as well as your entire body weight. People would normally use their right leg as the leading one and just after an hour or so, they will start feeling the pressure in the right knee or tight. Additionally, if you are wearing trainers instead of hiking shoes, you are lacking proper traction control and cushioning, all-together protecting you and your legs on that journey back.
Think about Safety
A few years ago I decided that I am going to start choosing longer and more strenuous trails, where you literally spent 7-8 hours hiking through some very rocky and steep parts. That is the reason why I began taking additional steps to protect myself and got an annual mountain insurance. While I am extremely happy that I have never had to use it so far, I think it is an essential hiking element. As I am mainly hiking in my home country, I chose a Bulgarian insurance company. Last year, when we went on a one-week mountain adventure in Pirin Mountains – click here for the top 6 hiking trails in Pirin, I even got one for Alex – my fiance, who is not a Bulgarian citizen. So if you decide to go hiking in Bulgaria, I suggest checking their website and getting one for yourself. I hope you never get to use it, however, you are better be safe than sorry, right?
One of the most vital hiking tips for beginners is do not go alone. It is a good idea to start by talking to some of your more experienced hiker friends. They might be able to suggest a good, easy trail to start with and they might even join you for the hike. You may also want to book an organized group hiking tour with a guide. A very important note here, though, is always check what level of experience are they suggesting for the hikers to have. Never overestimate your abilities and jump into something that you are not prepared for. So for all of you who are just starting out, make sure that you go with family, a friend, or a group. Once you are experienced enough, you may want to start taking some solo hiking adventures, but always tell one of your friends where you are going.
Leave nothing behind
I love hiking and being in nature. Spending an entire day to climb a peak or reach a peaceful secluded lake is my preferred way to relax, feel refreshed, and enjoy the beauty of Mother Nature. It is paramount for me to take a look and see nothing else but pristine untouched landscapes. Remember that it is up to us to preserve what we have! So, wherever you go, make sure to leave nothing behind. As you take a deep breath and enjoy the fresh mountain air, please do admire the stunning scenery but also make sure that you keep this area clean for future travelers! So, including all wrappers and bottles and anything else that should not be there: if you took it in, take it out! Leave nothing behind and be a sustainable traveler!
Last but not least, the following Customs and Courtesies will make you seem like a seasoned hiker and give you a better experience at the end of the day!
Be Friendly to Fellow Hikers and Always give a quick greeting such as “Hello”, “Good morning”, or whatever the local affair may be
Uphill hikers have the right of way
Always stay on the trail, especially if you are hiking in a national park area
Give way for the elderly/ disabled or people going with a faster pace than yours
Be mindful of the surrounding area and other hikers: try not to be too loud with joking or playing music
Pack up your trash and leave nothing behind except your footprints!
Last but not least I want to share an example of my own personal experience with hiking from the last month. This year I spent 5 months in Florida where there are absolutely no mountains. I was still able to explore some easy trails and remained active all the time by regularly working out and going for runs. I then came back to Bulgaria and had to be quarantined for 14 days. As I was not allowed to go out at all, I worked out every single day at home. On my first day of freedom after two weeks, I was so eager to go to Vitosha Mountains, which surrounds Sofia, the capital city of Bulgaria. So, I did! Despite the fact that I tried remaining active, my legs quickly got tired and I was out of breath after the steep parts of the trail. Before leaving, I had given myself a goal and a place that I was trying to reach that day. Unfortunately, I realized that my body is not ready for such a long hike. Thinking not only about the way up, but also the way down, I made the decision to stop and go back much earlier than originally planned. That was a very important moment, as I considered my own abilities and current physical stamina.
I was not embarrassed by the fact that I was not able to achieve my goal, just the opposite – I was happy I realized what is enough without pushing myself to the point where I might have not been able to go back. I did just a short hike that day, where I was able to enjoy nature and the fresh air. Waking up on the next day, I felt great without any muscle pain and guess what – I was able to go for another easy trail. After approximately a month of regular hiking in the mountains and continuously increasing the length and difficulty of the trails, I am now back to my previous hiking level. Hiking sometimes requires you to push yourself out of your comfort zone. It is important, however, to know where the line is. Know your own abilities and do not be afraid to stop before reaching the peak. It doesn’t mean that you are weak, it means that you are a good hiker!
Are you just starting out with hiking? Did you find these 10 essential hiking tips for beginners useful? For the experienced hikers, what other tips would you suggest when hiking? Let us know in the comments section below!