How to Start Hiking: A Beginner’s Guide

how to start hiking a beginner's guide
How to Start Hiking for Health, Happiness, Fun, For Family Time, or To Create a New YOU!

If you’re reading this, I’m guessing you are interested in learning how to start hiking. Am I ever so glad to know that you want to start hiking and/or learn more about it!

Hiking is an awesome sport–or experience or adventure, depending on what you want to call it. 🙂

If I Discovered Love for Hiking, So Can You

I love to hike. But I wasn’t always one of those “I love spending time outside or walking around in nature sort of people.”

Nope, not by a long shot.

I grew up spending a lot of time inside. I didn’t like bugs, mosquitoes, or insects of any kind. I didn’t like being uncomfortable or out of my comfort zone (which was inside).

I much preferred the pace of window shopping or wandering through urban and suburban malls to breathing fresh, non-air conditioned or recirculated air.

I would have picked going out to movie over going out for a hike, ANY DAY!

I’m Proof You Can Become a Hiker

Yes, you! You can become a hiker and an adventure seeker, too!

If I was able to transform over the years from someone who nearly had to be peeled out of my comfort zone and carried out into to the great outdoors … to becoming a woman who has hiked legendary hiking routes like The Camino de Santiago, The Tour de Mont Blanc, and St. Cuthbert’s Way…WITH CHILDREN IN TOW…you can most definitely become a hiker, too.

How I Started Hiking

I still remember my first “real” hikes. I’m not talking about the sort of hikes that take place next to a housing development along a paved, meticiously manicured trail.

I’m talking about hikes where you drive to a trailhead with a backpack loaded with hiking essentials and go out on a real trail, like on a big hill, on a mountain, or in the woods (a.k.a. forest).

The kinds of hikes that may or may not be within range of cell phone service (iPhones didn’t even exist when I went on my first “real” hikes).

The kind of hikes that definitely don’t have toilets, porta-potties, or outhouses. The kind of hikes where you have to squat to pee, during which you see lots of bugs moving around your shoes and you can’t wait to be done already.

My first hikes were exciting, but also super intimidating. I remember asking my friend, “how do you hike?”

“Is this how you hike?”

“Is hiking just walking?”

“Am I doing this right?” (I asked this repeatedly). 🙂

Hiking is Walking

The good news is that if you can walk, you can hike!

Hiking is walking!

What?? What??

I know, that sounds too simple, right?!? But really…hiking is simply walking on trails, on hills, on mountains, in woods, along ridges, in valleys, along rivers or streams, in meadows, in fields, along old, overgrown railroad paths, or even on soft beds of old fallen pine needles.

Hiking Terrain

Hiking may include flat or even terrain. But hiking often includes walking over ups and downs, dips and scrambles, uneven terrain, rough surfaces, rocks and roots, mud, dirt, or sometimes puddles or stream (or river) crossings.

Hiking may be slow and steady. It may also include jogging or running (climbing) uphills or downhills. Even trail runners often hike (walk) steep uphills.

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How to Start Hiking

At the risk of overwhelming you, which I certainly hope I don’t do, this is how you start hiking.

You just start hiking!

There is no way to get the actual motion of hiking wrong. You just walk!

Sure, I understand well if you are worried about doing it the right way. I understand if you feel self-conscious telling others that you are going to start hiking — or that you are a hiker once you start.

But trust me, you can do this.

Hiking is soooooo good for your health and happiness. It’s a good way to bond with your children or family. It’s also a great way for you to find something to call your own–or to create a new YOU (or new self-image).

So, get it on!

Plan to go alone or round up a friend, a significant other, or your children.

You can do this!

Pre-Planning Your Hike

It is important to do a little of pre-planning when you’re new to hiking. Actually, every hiker (even experienced hikers) are wise to always do a bit of pre-planning.

First off, you always want to hike prepared. Even if you’re going for a really short hike and the weather seems perfect outside, you’ll want to hike with basic day hiking essentials. Why? Just is case.

Too many hiking issues, like getting lost or accidentally staying out beyond daylight, could be minimized or avoided with a little bit of pre-planning.

day hiking essentials musts in your backpack hydration pack vest

Pick a Short Route

Start with a short hike. Nothing too overwhelming or challenging. Don’t pack in tons of distance or miles (or kilometers).

Even a straightforward 30 minute hike is a solid first hiking adventure.

Grab a local trail hiking map (yep, an old fashioned trail map). Do a Google search for local, easy hikes. Ask for hike ideas at your local sports shop. Talk to friends and get suggestions. Join hiking groups on Facebook in your area (lurk for a while if you prefer and learn all you can about local hiking until you feel comfortable to chime in or share your own hiking experiences).

Leave Your Itinerary with Someone You Trust

When you decide where you are going. Tell someone. Leave a note. Text someone you trust. Even if you are going with someone else or your children. It’s always a good idea to make sure someone knows your itinerary. Again, just in case.

Plan That First Hike Around the Weather

It’s a good idea to always check the weather before heading out on a hike. Of course, you want to do that before your first hiking adventure.

However, when you first start hiking and trying out short hikes, I suggest planning your adventures around the weather. You want your first experiences to be positive and as comfortable as possible (so that you’ll be eager to return for more hiking).

There is no reason to go hiking in the rain, inclement weather of any sort, or even drizzle for your first hiking adventures (unless of course, that’s your hiking dream sort of thing). Planning a hike for Saturday but it’s supposed to rain all day? Why not shift the hike to Sunday when there’s no rain in the forecast, so you are more likely to have a good first impression and experience of hiking?

St. Cuthbert's Way Hiking with Children

Get the Right Hiking Gear and Essentials

Comfortable, happy, and safe hiking means having the right gear. Like sturdy hiking boots or shoes–or trail running sneakers that have treads meant for trails.

You also want to hike with basic hiking essentials, as explained above and which I’ve previously written about in Day Hiking Essentials.

If you are concerned about your ability to balance well on uneven trails, your stamina or strength on the trails, I highly recommend using hiking poles. New and experienced hikers (even top trail runners) use poles.

Wear Synthetic Clothing & Think Layers

When it comes to hiking or spending time outside adventuring, there’s a basic rule: avoid cotton clothing.

Cotton doesn’t dry quickly. When your cotton clothing is wet, it contributes to heat loss. Basically, it no longer insulates you. When you’re hiking, this is not exactly a good thing. There is a saying that hiking kills, and if you’re serious about starting to hike, you should understand why.

You want to wear synthetic clothing, preferably in layers which can be peeled off and stowed easily (or compressed) into your backpack.

For example, you might were a synthetic t-shirt, hiking pants, and hiking socks (without cotton, like my favorite SmartWool brand of hiking socks). Convertible hiking pants can be really awesome to wear hiking because you can zip off the legs and wear them as shorts. I wear convertible hiking pants on all of my big hiking adventures. You can also get convertible hiking pants for kids.

Keep Your Phone Charged

When you head out to hike, make sure your phone is fully charged and/or you bring a long a battery brick or power bank (make sure it’s charged!) and USB cable. As you step up to longer and more adventurous hiking adventures, you’ll discover that there are cool solar gadgets like solar panels for hiking (my teenager has one, which he loves to use during long hikes) to keep your equipment charged at all times.

Read About Hiking, Watch Movies, YouTube Videos

Learn all you can about hiking. Get your hands on fun hiking books. Watch movies about hiking adventures, like The Way. Watch YouTube videos about cool hiking trails in your area, so you can get a preview of what to expect before you head out. Buy guide books or maps.

Embrace Your Inner Hiker & Adventure Seeker

Becoming a hiker and gaining comfort in being outside is one of the best things I have ever done. If you are nervous about hiking now, don’t think you will always feel this way.

Start small. And build upon the small experiences by adding new and more short hikes until you feel comfortable and ready to add longer hikes and bigger adventures to your hiking experience.

You’ll learn so much about nature, being outside, caring for yourself (and others) in the outdoors–and about yourself–by becoming a hiker.

Wishing you many happy and safe hiking adventures,

Julie

What advice do you have for beginner hikers? Drop a comment below to share your thoughts!

10 thoughts on “How to Start Hiking: A Beginner’s Guide”

  1. I love this post. I can so relate to this statement, “I grew up spending a lot of time inside. I didn’t like bugs, mosquitoes, or insects of any kind. I didn’t like being uncomfortable or out of my comfort zone (which was inside).”

    It’s the same for me and I’ve been wanting to push myself outside of my comfort zone in many ways as of late, with this being one of them. I also want to introduce my kids to hiking.

  2. Prior to my stroke, I’ve been on some hiking trails with my running group. I would love to get back to hiking. This post helps a lot.

  3. I love this! I have started hiking in the past few years. I live near a huge network of trails so it’s been fairly easy so far! You’ve inspired me to try some more challenging hikes. Thank you for sharing 🙂

  4. I used to go on many hikes with my parents as a child but as an adult I never really thought about it. Your post has inspired me to get my hike back on. Thank you for some great tips

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