If I told you it was possible to get fit and strengthen your legs and core while enjoying stunning scenery – would you believe me? What if I said it would improve your balance, help you to lose unwanted pounds, lower your blood pressure and improve your mood? You would be asking me for a catch.
But with hiking, there isn’t one. The benefits of this adventurous outdoor activity are even more far ranging and rewarding than what I just mentioned. So, if you are ready to enter the wonderful world of hiking, then we have simplified things for you…
How to get started hiking in 15 simple steps:
1. Discover the enjoyment of walking
Let’s face it. Some people like the idea of hiking far more than the activity itself. Without being condescending, hiking involves a lot of walking. Heaps and heaps of it. If you are fed up halfway through a stroll around your local park, then perhaps you should pursue a different hobby.
But, if you love being outdoors and are getting nothing but goodness from placing one foot in front of the other, then this could be the missing piece of the puzzle. It is time to get in shape in pursuit of the open trail!
2. Get in shape
Once you gain hiking fitness for the first time, you will never want to lose it. Life just becomes so much easier. You will want to take the stairs over the escalators. You will want to walk to the shops over taking the car. You will feel fantastic.
How you get in shape for hiking is going to vary from person to person, although conditioning of your legs is absolutely essential. If you are out of shape, start by taking small walks from your home, gradually increasing them in length. Add some weight in the form of a day pack to mimic trail hiking.
Do some leg strengthening exercises. I am thinking squats, lunges and calf raises. Maybe take up yoga. You can find a comprehensive plan to get in shape for hiking here.
3. Buy some hiking boots
You like walking, you are starting to get in shape, now you need to go and buy a pair of hiking boots. This is not something you want to skimp on. Foot problems on the trail can get you into all sorts of trouble (as well as being seriously uncomfortable), and many of these problems can be avoided by purchasing a good quality pair of boots from a reputable company.
Do some research and visit a proper hiking store, to see people who know what they are talking about. Do not be afraid to try on multiple pairs of boots. Make sure they are comfortable and roomy enough. Tell the staff that you are a beginner and need something waterproof with some ankle support without being too heavy duty. That is a good place to get started.
Once you have bought the boots, you will need to break them in. This means walking them around town and going for shorter walks to wear them in.
4. Buy a day pack
As you get fitter and more accustomed to walking, you will need to start adding weight to your back to make things harder. Purchase a good quality day pack that has enough space for a camera, a change of clothes, your lunch and a water bottle (or two).
5. Find beginner friendly trails
An excellent online resource is alltrails.com, where it is possible to search for hiking trails all over the world. Throw your local area into the user-friendly search engine on the site’s homepage. You may be surprised to discover just how many beginner-friendly hikes are situated on your doorstep.
The hikes are easy to find and navigate on an interactive world map, while recent reviews of various hikes by actual hikers tell tales of the trail, its difficulty, and any issues they found with the trail during their journey.
There are also usually local hiking clubs in most hiking hubs. Do a quick check for any clubs or groups in your local area. Getting yourself on a beginner’s hike with a group of like-minded people under the watchful eye of an experienced guide is an excellent way of initiating yourself with the trail.
Other websites such as meetup.com often have groups dedicated to hiking, and they frequently arrange hikes for all sorts of levels. Search for a group that feels like you and go for it.
6. Go on day hikes
You have the boots, a day pack and the fitness is flowing: it is time to hit the trail! Start with day hikes, exploring the local trails, wherever you may be. Load your day pack with everything you may need for the day, including adequate food, clothing and water. What you will take will be reflected by the conditions you are expecting on the trail.
If the weather is unpredictable or likely to deteriorate without much notice, you will need to be adequately prepared. Talk to rangers, if possible, before heading off, to get the weather report and any news on anything unexpected on the trail. If there are no rangers, then do some online research into recent reviews of the trail you have chosen.
7. Know the 10 essentials for hiking
You should know these 10 essentials for hiking, and in time they will naturally become part of your preparation. They are:
- Navigation (GPS or an offline-enabled phone app)
- Sunglasses and sunscreen
- Extra clothing
- Headlamp or flashlight
- First aid supplies
- Extra food
How serious you get with all this will depend on your hike. You will not need a knife and compass for a wander on your local trail, but when heading into the backcountry you need to be prepared. More information on each of the essentials listed can be found here.
8. Buy a backpacking pack
By now your feet will be itching to get out further into the wilderness, to embark on overnight hikes and multi-day adventures. You will need to be able to carry with you enough food to last a few days, as well as (potentially) a whole sleeping system, if shelter is not available on the trail.
You will need to purchase a backpack large enough to suit your needs. For the weekend trips and multi-day hikes you will need a backpack of at least 40 liters. For the longer backpacking trips you may want to consider something in the 60 – 80 liter range.
More information on how to choose a backpack here: What Size Backpack is Good for Backpacking?
9. Purchase essential hiking gear
By now you should already be stocked with the goods listed in the 10 hiking essentials list. On top of that you should be gradually adding to your inventory. You will need a good gas-operated camping stove. I can personally recommend the range from Jetboil. They make high quality gear at affordable prices and as the name suggests, your water will be boiling in no time.
10. Choose your clothing
How you dress for hiking is going to depend on the weather along the trail. If you are hiking in warm locations, you will not need anywhere near as much clothing as someone on a winter voyage. You may even opt for minimalist hiking sandals and a few pairs of shorts and t-shirts.
In cold environments it is all about layers. Layers, layers, layers! It is normal to carry (sometimes multiple) sets of merino base layers; both tops and bottoms. I would usually hike in one pair during the day, and sleep in the other pair at night. I then have a pair of hiking pants, and a pair of outer waterproof pants that go over the top in case of rain or snow.
I have a couple of long-sleeved merino mid layers, a thicker hooded jumper and a gore-tex wind-and-waterproof outer jacket with hood. I also carry gloves, a hat (beanie) and high quality merino socks.
11. Leave No Trace
This is kind of like the creed for all hikers everywhere. It’s a bit of a cliché, but we want to take only photos and leave only footprints (unless you can avoid it!). The seven principles are as follows: plan ahead and prepare, travel and camp on durable surfaces, dispose of waste properly, leave what you find, minimize campfire impact, respect wildlife and to be considerate of others. More information here.
12. Make safety your priority
If you are heading off on a remote hike, or to somewhere that is not in the phone coverage area, then carry with you a satellite phone, or a Personal Locator Beacon (PLB).
This is a device that you should carry on your person at all times while out hiking in remote areas. If you get into a life-threatening situation, you activate the PLB. It will alert the appropriate authorities, or people who you have nominated, that you are in a life-or-death situation, and also your geographical location.
13. Head off on a multi-day hike
If the day hikes just aren’t cutting the mustard anymore, then you are ready for multi-day hiking adventures. Planning is king, so understand how long you will be away for. Understand the kind of environments and the seasonal influences in the region through which the trail passes. Research what shelter is available along the trail.
It may be that there is shelter in the form of huts, which could save you the extra weight of carrying a tent. Find someone to go with you, pack the appropriate gear and adequate clothing, and always remember to tell someone where you are going and for how long.
14. Save money and find awesome deals
There are plenty of options for those seeking to enter the hiking world on a budget. We are talking about purchasing quality gear at affordable prices. Read blogs such as this one about how to find great deals on outdoor gear.
Do your research on hiking locations before you arrive. Understand that some national parks charge extortionate entrance fees, and are probably best avoided if you are travelling on a shoestring.
15. Explore the world
The world is an exceptionally beautiful place, and you will find like-minded people who love hiking tucked away in every single corner. Research regions with an abundance of beginner friendly hiking trails and then just go. You will not regret it!
Read Next: Top 20 Best Day Hikes in the World