If you begin searching the Internet for beginner’s advice about hiking, you will likely find yourself blasted with thousands of hiking tips – some of which may (or may not!) be helpful. To help you out as you get started, we’ve put together a list of the very best hiking tips for beginners.
Regardless of whether you plan on embarking on a short day hike, or heading on a trek that will span multiple days, there’s lots to learn before you set off on your adventure.
These hiking tips are inspired by advice from seasoned hikers, personal experience, and even questions asked by readers.
While some of these pieces may seem like common sense, remember that what is common sense to you may not be to another person.
As well, many of these hiking tips may seem obvious when you’re relaxing in the comfort of your own home, but get out into the wilderness and that will likely be a different story.
You will learn best by the experience itself – and particularly by trial and error!
And if you are looking for some sound advice before you head out on the trails, read on for the hiking tips.
Backpacking Essentials: The 40+ Hiking Tips for Beginners
1. Do your research
Make sure you plan your trip well in advance and don’t leave it to the spur of the moment. Try to make your first trip is on a trail that is designed for beginners.
You can find good options with popular trail magazines like Outside [Print + Kindle] and Backpacker [Kindle Edition], but you don’t need a magazine subscription to get started.
GoGoMountain’s USA hiking trail guides have difficulty rating of the trails and trail information.
Headed outside the United States? Be sure to check out Trails.com for information on trails within the country as well as those in Mexico, Canada, and the Caribbean.
2. Bring an experienced friend
The easiest – and most efficient – way to learn and hone new skills is to practice them with a knowledgeable person who can train you in the most hands-on setting possible.
3. Join a hiking group
If you want to meet people with similar interests, or if you want to try a trail with safety in numbers, you can join a local hiking club or online group. One of the best ways to find a local hiking group is on MeetUp.com. You can join Meetup groups that organize hikes all over the country.
4. Make a list
And check it twice! Make sure you look over your list and have separate lists for food and for equipment.
5. Pack lots of food
Bring plenty of emergency food in case you are stuck on the trail longer than you anticipated. Pack food that travels well in any weather, like snack bars. Some good choices are trail mixes, fig bars and whole grain granola bars. If you want a more protein-dense bar, Clif bars are what you’ll want to pack.
6. Inform your friends and family of your whereabouts
You don’t have to broadcast your every move to social media, but it’s a good idea to let at least one or two people know where you headed and when you will be back. This is particularly important if you are headed out on your own. I mean, anyone’s seen the movie 127 Hours?
7. Stay hydrated
You can get a backpack that lets you get sips of water along the trail.
You won’t need to fuss with swinging a bottle of water around while you’re trying to get a good photo. Remembering to stay hydrated is a good life tip, but it is critical when you are out on the trails.
For challenging hikes, staying dehydrated makes you more likely to fall victim to certain illnesses, including altitude sickness and hypothermia.
8. Practice with a map and compass
These tools will help you in case your cellphone cuts out. Then you won’t have to rely on a hiking GPS alone! No matter how expensive it is, or how many bells and whistles it has, if it loses reception or drains the battery, you are out of luck.
9. Pay attention to your map
Make sure you understand your map, as well as the details it contains. Note potential emergency trail exit points, as well as spots where you can fill up on water. It’s also a good idea to familiarize yourself with parts of the trail that may be more technical.
10. Pick a short trail
For your first wilderness adventure, try to select a trail that will be short. This will give you a chance to test out your skills but also won’t place you too far away from civilization in case you aren’t quite as up to the challenge as you thought.
11. Wear lots of sunscreen
This is of vital importance, even if you are hiking on a cloudy day. Sunscreen, as well as other preventive items like sunglasses and a hat, are especially important when you are hiking at a high altitude.
The recommended sunscreen is SPF 30+, Waterproof, Biodegradable, Reef-friendly, Cruelty-Free and Vegan.
12. Take breaks
When you’re hiking, try to take a ten-minute break at least once every hour. This will remove the buildup of lactic acid and metabolic waste in your legs, helping you feel more refreshed and less stiff.
13. Train yourself in basic first aid
This one should go without saying – but make sure you also pack a first aid kit with you.
Take a look through your kit before the hike so that you know what’s in there for you.
14. Prevent blisters
You can prevent blisters by avoiding getting your feet wet with waterproof hiking shoes. However, this is definitely easier said than done! You can check out our review of Women’s Hiking Shoes and Men’s Backpacking Shoes for a guide to choosing your hiking shoes.
For long hikes, you can use compression socks which is what the pros would use. The light compression, not medical-grade, helps distribute the blood flow in your feet and legs. And if you happen to get your feet wet, change your socks as soon as possible. That means you’ll want to pack an extra pair of socks. This will prevent painful blisters from forming in the middle of the hike.
15. Waterproof your gear
You should waterproof all of your equipment, from your jacket to your tent. That said, your backpack is perhaps the most important, as it will keep everything else dry as you move. If your chosen backpack is not waterproof, you can use a pack liner or cover to keep everything inside your backpack dry. You’ll want to choose a bright neon color because it makes things inside your backpack easier to see, even in low light conditions.
16. Dress intelligently
How many times have you heard of hikers having to be rescued because they wore improper clothes on a hiking trip. Make sure you dress in layers, which will help you stay warm and dry.
17. Prepare with your gear ahead of time
Practice setting up your hiking tent and lighting your stove while you’re still at home. This will help you to identify any skill-related issues you may have, and will also help you pinpoint any faulty functioning or manufacturing of your equipment.
18. Bring a light day pack
If you only plan on embarking on short side trips from your campsite, consider bringing an extra, lightweight day pack. You can stash only the items you need in there, like your camera and sunscreen, instead of having to lug around all of your equipment at once.
19. Pack wisely
Think about how you will access your gear once you get moving. Put all essential items on the outside pouches of your pack so that you can access them easily when you are taking a break, or in case of a crisis. This rule applies to gear like your first aid kit, flashlight, map, and snacks.
20. Don’t pack your stove fuel near your food
This can cause some serious contamination issues. Whenever possible, place the fuel on the outside of the backpack.
21. Take food out of the packaging
When packing your food, it can sometimes be helpful to take food out of its bulky packaging and to pack it by itself.
22. Do not wear cotton
Cotton tends to absorb sweat and are slow to dry. Choose to layer with fleece, polyester, wool and nylon for their water-wicking abilities when you are out in the wilderness.
23. Consider your water source
There’s only so much water you can bring with you. You want to be prepared just in case you run out of water. Packing a water purification device like a pump purifier, a convenient LifeStraw, or water purification tablets will let you turn most water sources into water that you can drink without getting sick.
24. Pack in cubes
Utilize packing cubes to make things easier to find in your pack. You can organize these cubes into certain categories. For example, you could have one cube for spare socks and one for snacks.
25. Invest in good walking poles
These are especially handy if you have weak or injured knees.
26. Don’t forget the toiletries
You won’t always have a spot to wash your hands, for example. Remember to bring your necessities like a pack of wipes.
27. Try out your hiking gear before you go hiking
Check them out in store or open a new item before you go hiking to make sure they’re free of defects.
28. Pack ahead of time
Practice packing and unpacking your backpack at home. This will give you some ideas as to the best and most efficient ways to do it.
29. Bring rain gear
You never know when it could rain, no matter what the forecast may say. The weather can change in a moment’s notice.
This is where a hiking poncho that is large enough to cover you and your backpack will be very handy.
Bring a high-quality rain jacket and make sure it is both breathable and waterproof.
Pair these rain essentials with waterproof hiking boots and you’ll be virtually rain-invincible.
30. Hike at a reasonable pace
You might be tempted to set new land speed records for how quickly you can get to the top of a mountain, but there probably won’t be anybody waiting at the top with a prize. Don’t force yourself to huff and puff your way up the trail.
Instead, walk at a pace that grants you the ability to walk and talk at the same time. This will ensure that you are moving at an appropriate speed for your fitness level and look out for branches and rocks on the trail.
31. Use an insulated bottle for stay-cold water
If you’re in a pinch, you can also soak a sock in water and cover your bottle with it. Then, hang the bottle on the outside of your backpack. This helps the bottle stay cool on a hot hike.
32. In extra rainy weather, fold a towel into a thin strip
You can then wrap this around your neck before putting on your hood. This will reduce the likelihood of your clothes getting drenched from rain that might drip into your jacket.
33. Squeaky backpack trick
You can calm the noise that can become annoying after several miles of hiking. In a pinch, you can put lip balm on the grommet or joint that is squeaking.
34. Bring your camera
35. How to adjust the straps of your backpack
Before putting on your pack, loosen the straps and then tighten the hip belt. The hip belt should sit directly on your hips, and not above them.
Next, tighten the shoulder straps and load lifters that are found near your shoulders.
The sternum strap should be tight enough to keep the shoulder straps in place. Although not so tight that it is uncomfortable.
36. Walking downhill?
Remember that uphill hikers always get right of way on the trail.
37. “Leave no trace and take no leave”
In other words, don’t take anything off the trail with you. Your memories and photographs will serve as souvenirs, so you shouldn’t take anything with you that you didn’t bring out.
38. Bring your garbage with you
Relating to the last point, make sure you bring any trash or other materials off the trail with you. Bring a plastic bag to carry your garbage out. You can tie it to your pack to save space inside.
39. Refrain from playing loud music on the trail
This is respectful to other hikers because most people like to hike for the calm and serenity of it.
40. Stay on the trail
This will help prevent from damaging local wildlife or plant life.