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10 things new hikers should know before hitting the trail

two people hiking

Hiking is a fun hobby for anyone looking to get outdoors and do something physical. Hiking can be enjoyed by people of all ages and all skill levels, depending on the trail. Hiking literally means walking outdoors on or off a trail for recreational purposes. This is a pretty vague description, but it means that hiking for beginners is as simple as getting outside and walking. The only skills you need are to be able to walk and know where you are. Just because the act of hiking is pretty simple, it doesn’t mean that you should just set out on a hike without some preparation. We have some hiking tips that all new hikers should know before hitting the trails.

1. Choose the trail wisely

The most common mistake beginner hikers make is overdoing it. When you start out, stick to shorter trails that don’t have too much climbing. A good rule of thumb to stick with is a hike under 5 miles. You can work up to longer hikes by adding an extra mile every week or two, depending on how often you are hiking.

2. Go with beginner gear

One of the best things about hiking is that it doesn’t require a ton of expensive gear. You can probably set out on your first few hikes with stuff you already have. A common mistake beginner hikers make is wearing jeans and regular clothes that will chafe and weigh you down if they get wet or sweaty. Wear clothes that you would wear when you workout that are made of wicking material. Long pants and sleeves are good to ensure your legs don’t get scraped up along the trails, and you can always roll your sleeves up if you get too hot. Conversely, don’t just wear the shoes you use for dance class – especially if you want to avoid injury or discomfort. If you don’t already have a pair in your possession, get the right footwear that’s specifically made for this outdoor activity. Break in your hiking boots beforehand to avoid blisters and soreness during your hike.

3. Prep first

You don’t have to do a ton of research before you set out on a hike, but a little bit of prep goes a long way. Some trails require permits, and showing up without one can change your plans for you. If you’re not sure whether you need one or not, call the park office to be sure. It is also a good idea to check with the park office to be sure the trails are open.

4. Tell someone where you’re going

If you’re headed out on a hike, tell someone where you are going. Simply sending a text message to someone you know with a link to the webpage for the trail you’re headed to and the time you should be back will suffice. If something bad happens while you are out on the trail, people will know where to find you.

5. Learn hiker etiquette

If you’re new to hiking, odds are you don’t know the dos and don’ts of the trails. Here are a few tips so you don’t feel like a jerk after your first hike:

  • Hikers going uphill have the right of way. If you’re on a flat section, let the person headed uphill pass you.
  • If someone is quickly approaching from behind you, let them pass.
  • Saying “hello” to fellow hikers is commonplace.
  • If you’re in a group, keep your conversations down so that other hikers can’t hear your conversation.
  • If you want to listen to music or a podcast, use headphones.
  • If you bring your dog with you, keep him leashed and under control.
  • Stay on the trails. Trails are placed with attention to the wildlife around them.
  • Don’t leave anything on the trails that wasn’t there when you got there.
  • Yield to bikes and horses.

6. Use a map

It may seem archaic, but using a map on your hikes is a good habit to get into. Yes, most cell phones have maps and the ability to use them offline, but what if your battery dies? What if your phone gets wet and you can’t use it? What if you drop your phone and shatter the screen? All of these things can happen on a hike, and if you don’t have a backup map, you could get lost. Find a map of the area you are hiking, print it out, and familiarize yourself with it before you head out. It’s also a good idea to put the map in a plastic zip-top bag just in case it rains.

7. Timing

As a general rule, it is best to start your hike as early as possible. The later you leave, the more crowded it will be. Going early also allows you to escape any heat that may come later in the day and allow you more time in the daylight. However, if you are headed on a hike alone and want more people around, consider leaving later in the day. You may have a hard time finding parking, but at least you won’t be alone.

8. Don’t rush

Hiking is not a race. It is an activity meant to be enjoyed at a slow pace so you can take in your surroundings. If you are rushing, you may miss opportunities to see wildlife or natural landmarks. Also, starting too fast will likely cause you to burn out later. You don’t want to waste all of your energy and then find yourself exhausted and miles away from your car.

9. Watch your step

While hiking in the wild, you can encounter snakes, holes, and other dangerous things to step on or into. Twisted ankles are the most common hiking injury and can end a hike quickly. You could also slip on a wet rock, trip on a root, step into poisonous vegetation or step on a predatory creature. Snake bites are often caused by someone accidentally stepping on one.

10. Be prepared to get lost

It is best not to fear getting lost in the woods or on the mountain but to be prepared for it. If you think you are lost, the first thing you should do is stop moving. Look at your map or guide and check your surroundings to see if anything looks familiar. If nothing looks familiar, backtrack until your surroundings either match your map or look familiar again. If you backtrack for a while and still feel lost, check your phone to see if you have a signal. If you have a GPS rescue beacon, now is the time to utilize that feature.

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