Hiking For Beginners (And Finding Epic Trails)
This is the ultimate guide to hiking for beginners.
As simple as hiking sounds, there are a few things you need to know before you go on the trail.
We’ll cover the usual topics like essential hiking gear and what to wear.
We’ll also cover how to find epic trails for your next hiking adventure, where to find hiking clubs in your area, injury prevention, and common mistakes to avoid.
If you’re looking to give hiking a try, you’ll love this guide.
Table Of Contents
What Is Hiking?
Hiking is one of the best ways to explore the outdoors, go on an adventure, and connect with your nature.
It can be done on many terrain types, with friends or solo, for varying lengths of time.
And it’s a great way to get fit while enjoying the beauty that nature has to offer.
Wikipedia defines hiking as a long, vigorous walk, usually on trails or footpaths in the countryside.
Depending on the type of terrain, distance, and difficulty of the trail, the term will be called something different (We’ll cover all that at the end of this post)
Paul Ronto from RunRepeat analyzed close to 8 million logged activities on AllTrails since 2016.
Here’s what he found:
- Hikes logged in 2020 was up 171.36% compared to 2019
- Individual hikers in 2020 increased 134.7% compared to 2019
- Hikes logged per user (HPU) has risen by 52.12% in 2020 compared to the total for 2016-2019
In addition, from 2006 to 2019, there’s been over a 60% increase in hiking participants in the United States, according to Statista.
Benefits of Hiking
There are many proven physical, emotional, and mental benefits when hiking. Here are some of the main benefits below.
1. Weight Loss
One of the main benefits of hiking is weight loss. The amount of calories burned depends on body weight, the weight of gear you’re carrying, trail difficulty, and time.
How to Estimate the Number of Calories Burned on Your Hike
Head over to Alltrails and sign up for a free account here.
Alltrails is the leading platform for outdoor enthusiasts that allows you to search for trails, access maps, track your activities, and much more.
According to their Wikipedia page, they’ve surpassed 1 million app installs and claim to have a global user base of 20 million users in more than 100 countries.
The app itself is free to use for basic features like searching trails, etc. They do have a paid pro version for other features.
Once you’re logged in, you can search for trails by city, park, or trail name. You can also click on the ‘Explore nearby trails’ link, and it will show local trails in your area.
Here’s a popular and easy hiking trail in my area that I selected; it gives me the map, trail length in miles, elevation gain, and route type.
Remember or jot down the length and elevation numbers; we’ll be needing those for the next step.
Once you’ve found the trail you’d like to hike, we can get an estimate on the number of calories burned for that specific trail using a handy calculator online from OmniCalculator. For your convenience, I’ve embedded the calculator down below.
Let’s put it all together.
Our imaginary friend, Bobby, wanted to get an estimate on how many calories he’d burn hiking Carbon Canyon Trail. Bobby weighs 185lbs and doesn’t intend to carry a backpack since it’s a relatively short and easy hike.
In the calculator, Bobby would enter in these stats as follows:
- Distance: 3.1
- Elevation gain: 104
- Hiker’s weight: 185
Quick note: Notice on the Alltrails map that the end destination leads back to starting point, and the route type is “out and back.” Alltrails’ definition of an “out and back” trail:
“trails start and end at the same location and follow a single trail or multiple trails to an endpoint and then return along the same route.”
If your trail is a point-to-point trail, meaning the trail starts and ends in different locations, you would need to double the trail length in the hiking calculator.
So if our hike was from point A to point B was 3.1 miles and then you hike back from point B to point A to get back to the car, you would enter 6.2 miles (3.1 x 2).
According to the calculator, Bobby will burn approximately 360 calories!
I want to point out that the number of calories burned is purely an estimate. Many factors will increase or decrease the number of calories burned, such as your walking pace, weather conditions, and trail grade rating.
You can use many other sites besides AllTrails, such as hike.io, trails.com, Project Hike, etc. See which one you like and go from there.
For Apple Watch owners, you can also track your activity while on the trail and see how many calories you burned as well. Follow these steps to get the most accurate activity reading.
2. Reduce Stress
Hiking has also been found to reduce more stress levels instead of walking around densely populated urban areas.
This experiment conducted in Japan found that those who walked more in nature vs. urban areas were more relaxed, had less stress, less anxiety, and had a better mood.
In short, hiking is nature’s therapy, and it doesn’t take much to get started, which leads us to the next benefit.
It doesn’t cost much to go hiking.
If you’re new to hiking, don’t bother spending too much on hiking gear. Find a short, easy trail first and gain some experience.
But the longer and more difficult the hike, the more gear you’ll need to get you past through it.
Once you learn the basic skills and knowledge, you can invest your money to upgrade gear and clothing (which I’ll outline later in this guide).
The 6 Trail Types
The type of trail will help you decide what to bring and understand proper hiking etiquette with other trail users. According to the National Park Service website, there are six common trail types:
1. Foot Trails
These trails are the common dirt paths that we’re all accustomed to when thinking of hiking. Terrain and elevation gain may vary throughout the trail. In urban areas, foot trails can be paved sidewalks as well.
These trails are used for mountain bikers/cyclists and can also be used for hikers and horses before it separate pathways specifically designated as footpaths or mountain biking routes.
Boardwalks are a great way to explore the outdoors and get closer to nature. They’re typically made of wood, perfect for wheelchair users because they don’t damage easily when wet or muddy as other materials can.
4. Interpretive/Nature Trails
Interpretive trails that weave through the natural spaces of a park tell an educational story about plants and animals, how humans have affected their environment, etc. You’ll find signs along the way with more information on what you can learn while walking them.
5. Multi-Use Trails
Trail etiquette is critical for multi-use trails. Hikers, bicyclists, and horses all use the same paths, so it’s essential to know how your horse will react when they see another animal coming towards them.
6. Hiking Without Trails
For an experience like no other, head to the designated off-trail areas in national wilderness parks. When out there, make sure you have all of the necessary permits and leave no trace.
How To Train For Hiking
This section of the hiking for beginners guide is to get you swole (kidding).
Hiking can be a healthy way to get outside and enjoy nature, but it’s not without its risks.
Knowing your fitness level will help you prevent injuries.
Some of the best exercises that can be done to prepare for hiking are core workouts, mountain climbers, cardio, and squats.
The abdominal muscles need to be strengthened for core workouts to avoid fatigue while walking or climbing uneven terrain.
Core workouts help strengthen a person’s abdominal muscles to avoid getting tired quickly when walking up hills or mountains.
Some good examples are planks performed by lying on your stomach with your feet together, holding the body straight so that only your forearms and toes are touching the ground.
Side planks strengthen side muscles, which can be helpful for hikers who need to climb rocks or hills with a slant. Another core workout is mountain climbers, which work out primarily the quadriceps with some help from hamstrings and calves.
A cardio exercise can help a hiker prepare for a hike by improving cardiovascular fitness. The trouble with most cardio exercises is that they don’t work out leg muscles as much as regular hiking does, so it would be helpful to do both. Some good examples of cardio exercises include running, cycling, jumping rope, and swimming.
Mountain climbers work out the quads, hamstrings, and calf muscles. It is a strenuous exercise because it consists of alternating leg movements that require strength to complete the exercise.
First, to perform a mountain climber, get down on all fours with your hands flat on the ground, and your knees bent at 90-degree angles.
Next, you perform small “climbs” by bringing one foot up towards your chest as if you were climbing a rock or hill, then back down to the ground as quickly as possible while keeping your other foot firmly planted on the ground throughout. Then you switch legs so that you have worked both equally.
Squats are an excellent way for hikers to strengthen their quadriceps while building their other leg muscles.
You want to make sure that you don’t bend your knees past a 90-degree angle when you’re squatting because knee problems can be common on long hikes if you overdo it on the squats.
To perform a standing squat, start with feet shoulder-width apart, then slowly move downwards as if sitting in an imaginary chair. Make sure not to go past 90 degrees and keep your chest up high.
Here are additional resources to get you trail-ready:
Hiking Gear & Clothing
Hiking without the proper equipment and clothing can lead to severe injuries.
Below is a list of hiking gear and clothing that you should take to prevent any potential dangers when out on the trail.
The Ten Essentials
Let’s start with the ten essentials; these are items in ten categories every hiker should take along with them on the trail regardless of whether it’s a short hike or one that spans multiple days.
Not all of them will be used, if ever, but think of them as insurance in case it hits the fan on the trail.
GPS apps are a great way to explore the outdoors. This is especially true if you’re new to hiking and want to explore a new trail but don’t know the area well enough to find your way.
GPS apps allow you to map out routes from your house or points of interest near you, and they provide detailed maps that show elevation, distance, and time for each leg of your hike.
Compasses are a valuable tool for navigation in the absence of an electronic GPS. They can be used for several purposes, such as orienting a map, finding directions, and checking one’s bearings.
A topography map is a two-dimensional graphic representation of the shape and elevation of the land surface created by contour lines. It helps us understand the height, slope, and general condition of the terrain.
If you don’t have access to a GPS and you’re either lost in the woods or mountains, map out your surroundings. You can use your topography map to find out where roads might be located and figure out which direction you need to go to find help.
Tip: Save your phone’s battery and print your map beforehand. (https://www.theoutbound.com/addison-klinke/every-backpacker-should-print-their-maps-from-caltopo-here-s-why) before heading out to the trail
2. Sun Protection
Spend your summer with a hat that will keep you cool and shield you from UV rays. Denim, canvas, or wool are all great options to help protect your head and neck.
One of the most important things to have when spending time outdoors is a good pair of sunglasses. Not only does it protect your eyes from harmful UV rays, but it also helps with visibility while out on the trail.
According to EPA, you can still get sunburned by UV radiation on overcast days. Make sure you choose the right sunscreen to help protect you from the rays. The best way to avoid sunburn is by wearing clothing with a UV protection factor (UPF).
This means that all the fabric in your outfit has been treated so it will shield you from high levels of UVA and UVB rays.,
It’s important to pay attention to the type of jacket you want when hiking. You need one that will keep out water, wind, and cold while still being packable for quick removal on your journey.
A backpack rain cover will protect your pack from getting soaked through and keep you dry on the inside as well. Some people go with a basic poncho, others opt for a more durable and waterproof backpacking tent.
The most common use for thermal clothing is for outdoor activities such as hiking, where you will experience both hot days and cool nights.
In these conditions, wearing a heavy jacket would only add weight, leading to muscle fatigue from carrying it on your back all day long. The answer lies in wearing light layers with insulation which means more clothes but lighter ones.
Not only do gloves reduce exposure to cold temperatures, but the insulation is also responsible for protecting your hands from sharp objects like branches and rocks.
A beanie is small enough to fit in any backpack and provide warmth when worn during those cold winter nights.
A flashlight is essential to help increase visibility while hiking at night. Also, make sure if you have additional batteries as well as other sources of light.
Headlamps are great for when you need to do tasks that require both hands. They give off a steady and bright light, so they’re perfect whether navigating dark roads or working in tight spaces during your camping trip.
Lanterns are an essential part of any camping or backpacking experience. They can help you see where things are inside your tent at night or cooking dinner by the campfire.
5. First Aid Kit
We include bug spray and snake bite kit (that we all hope we’ll never have to use) to consider in this category. As for your first aid kit, we suggest having enough supplies to handle the following:
- Nasal congestion
- Sore throat
- Gastrointestinal problems
- Skin problems
The right firestarter can help you escape from any difficulty the outside world throws at you. Whether camping, hunting, or stranded on the side of the road; having one is essential for getting out alive.
7. Repair Kit and Tools
Be prepared for emergencies and inconveniences with easy-to-carry repair supplies. These kits should consist of duct tape, extra batteries, paracord, etc.
The perfect hiking food can help you feel great and enjoy the outdoors. The best snacks to take on a hike will get you started. Keep going strong for hours in the woods without feeling hungry or getting tired.
While hiking in the backcountry, it is essential to drink enough water so that you can maintain a proper balance of fluids and Electrolytes. This will allow for better performance during hikes with high altitudes or intense heat due to dehydration.
10. Emergency Shelter
It’s never easy to venture into the wild, but with a bit of preparation and planning, you can make sure that your adventure goes off without any significant hiccups.
For starters, always have some form of protection for yourself in case something were to happen; emergency tents come highly recommended because they provide warmth while also shielding against rain or snowfall.
What to Wear Hiking
There are many different articles of clothing that we typically think of as hiking attire, but it is really about finding the perfect balance between comfort and protection from water or wind. Here’s a list of some things to consider.
Hiking boots should be well-fitting and have a stiff sole. Make sure the laces are not too long, as they may come untied, and that you can feel your toes inside if you wiggle them. Try on many different brands until you find a pair that feels just right because one size does not fit all.
The heel collar should provide enough room to prevent rubbing against the ankle bone, but not so much room that it slides around when walking downhill or over uneven terrain. The toe box should also be large enough to allow for a full range of motion without feeling cramped or allowing dirt and rocks to enter from above the shoe. A boot with a good grip is necessary for those trails where rocks can easily cause falls.
For those who plan to do extensive hiking, consider wearing boots with multiple layers of cushioning instead of a single thickness.
Layers are more important than a lot of hikers realize. In the early spring and late fall, it’s good to wear a thin base layer that wicks away perspiration underneath an insulating mid-layer and a shell on top. The idea is to regulate temperature by removing or adding these layers as necessary.
You can also adjust how much you’re sweating without having to stop your hike by taking off the outermost layer – something that wouldn’t be possible if you were wearing only one shirt instead of several thin layers.
If it’s too warm out for those extra layers, tie them around your waist so they don’t go to waste. And if it’s too cold, you can easily put them back on without having to take off your backpack and find a place to sit down.
Pants should always have a liner in case of light rain or dew, and they should still keep you dry even when these liners get wet. The legs must have zippers that allow easy access with your boots on so that you don’t have to constantly roll up your pants while attempting to hike normally.
Gaiters are important because the bottoms of pants tend to wear out from contact with rocks and debris more quickly than the rest of the material. When carrying a pack, pant legs tend to ride up exposing skin between socks or boots and shorts which can lead to blisters.
Jackets are necessary for those who plan to hike during the winter months, but they can also be useful in mid-spring and late fall when it’s too warm for a heavy coat but much cooler than what you’d normally wear during the summer. The key is to make sure that your jacket has adequate protection against wind without making you overheat because of limited airflow around your body.
This means looking for jackets with zippers at the neck, underarm, and lower back areas as well as pit zips that extend into the arms near where backpack straps sit on top of your shoulders. Make sure that these zippers are covered with flaps or you might get snow down inside your clothes after walking through snowfall.
Hats and headbands should be worn every time you hike. It’s not just to keep your hair back, but also because they shield your face, neck, and ears from the sun. Hats with brims that can block sunlight without creating too much shadow or pressure on top of your head are best.
Wicks such as those made out of bamboo fiber absorb sweat otherwise trapped under a hat without feeling damp. Headbands help keep forehead sweat from dripping down into your eyes while preventing long hair from sticking onto your skin if it’s damp with perspiration.
So What Shouldn’t I Wear When Hiking?
High-heeled boots and open-toed shoes should never be worn because they can cause blisters and lead to falls through loss of footing. Needless to say, you shouldn’t wear jeans, either.
While they’re comfortable and great for everyday use, they aren’t designed to be worn while hiking which means that the material will quickly fray from being caught on rocks or other terrains as you walk along a trail or up a mountain. The same goes for long pants that are made out of tightly-woven cotton rather than something stretchy like nylon blended with spandex.
Most importantly, don’t dress in layers so thick that sweat won’t evaporate from your skin. This traps perspiration beneath clothes which can lead to a cold if water freezes over your clothing after it gets below 32 degrees Fahrenheit which is about the same temperature at which water freezes into ice cubes in your freezer.
This doesn’t only happen when the weather gets extremely cold, but also in climates where temperatures vary widely on a daily basis. It’s best to wear one layer on top of another while making sure that air can flow through your clothing so that sweat is able to evaporate with ease.
How To Find Hiking Clubs
There are many benefits to joining a hiking club in your area.
- Meet new friends.
- Learn from more experienced hikers.
- A fun way to exercise and burn calories.
- Explore and discover epic trails in your area.
- Get helpful tips and insight on hiking and camping gear.
Below are some ways you can find local hiking events and clubs to join.
Head over to Google and enter “Hiking events near me.”
You’ll see upcoming hiking events near you, and you can expand that list by clicking on the ‘search more events’ link towards the bottom.
Meetup is a fantastic way to meet other like-minded individuals who share your interests. On Meet up, you can find groups for virtually any topic under the sun. It’s free to join and find groups of like-minded individuals.
You can also search for hiking groups from a website called Project Hike. Browse the clubs by state and start researching the clubs nearest to you. Most of the clubs you’ll notice are small and inactive; you need to do a little research and find an active club here to join.
Another great way to find active hiking groups is to search on Facebook. Enter the club name you found from Hiking Project’s club directory into Facebook and scope out the participation (how many posts per day, etc). You can also search Facebook by searching [State] + hiking group in the search bar (Ex. California hiking group)
Finding Epic Hiking Trails
This chapter of the hiking for beginners guide will help you find great trails for hiking.
But what makes a trail popular?
Data scientist rockstar, Anterra Kennedy, scraped and analyzed 35,000 hiking trails. She found that the popularity of a hiking trail is based on the reviews, which is a feedback loop because the more reviews a trail gets, the higher the search presence on the website. This in turn leads to more reviews for that trail.
My key finding was that in browsing trails, users are shown the trails with the most reviews first and foremost, which leads to a form of recursive confirmation bias. If all trails have roughly the same rating, users will turn to the reviews to determine whether a trail is good, will choose to do one with a lot of reviews, hence feeding in to the loop of making the very few busiest trails even busier. Meanwhile, other similar trails may have plenty of opportunity but go neglected.Source: Hidden Gems: Finding The Best Secret Trails In America
What she was able to do with the help of machine learning was find less crowded trails having similar features to the trails with thousands of reviews.
She found out that harder trails with elevation gain were more popular than easy trails. I guess the views after a long, hard hike is well worth it for many hikers.
You can see Anterra’s trail list of hidden gems by state here.
Luckily, there are plenty of resources out there that can help you plan your next hike. Websites like Alltrails, Hiking Project, and even Google Maps will lead you to the most beautiful hidden trails worldwide! You just need to know where to look.
Alltrails is a great resource for finding secret trails and connecting with other people who enjoy hiking as much as you do. You can upload your own hiking experiences and talk to others about what you found on the trail. It’s also super helpful for planning hikes and discovering new trails around the world.
2. Hiking Project
The Hiking Project allows hikers to submit their favorite hikes, so if you’re looking for something specific this might be a good place to start. On the main page, there’s even an option where you can search specifically by location, so no matter where in the world you are you’ll be able to find some hidden gems.
3. Google Maps/Earth
Although it might not be the first place you think of to find secret trails, Google Maps, and Google Earth actually have some really great resources. A good tip is to find some “green” areas in Google Maps.
In the screenshot, you can see an area called “Crafts Peak” not too far from me.
Take the name and search Google like so: “Crafts Peak hiking trail”
What I found:
More than enough information from trail sites and hiking blogs for you to plan out your hike.
Common Hiking Mistakes
Hiking may be a great way to get in shape, enjoy the outdoors and explore new places but it can also lead you to injury if not done correctly.
This chapter will give some tips for avoiding common hiking mistakes so that your time on the trail is safe and fun.
1. No Sunscreen
Always carry sunscreen with you even on cloudy days to prevent sunburn.
2. No Bug Spray
Bring an insect repellent that is high in DEET or picaridin, not just for protection from mosquitoes and ticks but also to prevent West Nile Virus and other diseases spread through blood-sucking insects.
3. No Weather Checks
Check the weather before going out when possible because it could vary greatly from one day to another depending on when you go, or it could be extreme such as snow that changes into the rain.
4. Wearing The Wrong Type Of Clothing
Wear breathable fabrics like wool and polyester to prevent overheating during the hike.
5. Heavy Load
You’ll enjoy yourself more on the trail if your pack is light. This allows for a better balance and less stress, making it easier to take in all that nature has to offer.
6. Too Ambitious
When you feel sick or tired, take a break or turn around and go home. Beginner hikers should also have a few easy trails under their belt before tackling more difficult trails.
7. Not Bringing Enough Food And Water
Bring enough to sustain you for the hike you’re doing, plus extra just in case it takes longer than expected. Bring at least 2 liters of water per person and have some snacks in case of an emergency.
8. Not Testing Gear Beforehand
Make sure all equipment is in good condition, especially any piece that can fail or malfunction unexpectedly such as electronics, backpack, etc.
9. No Navigation
It’s easy to get lost in the wilderness, so it is best if you have a map with your phone just in case. Maps are also very convenient because they provide information about how far away each spot may be and what kind of terrain will need navigating through before reaching one’s destination.
10. No Safety Plan
Don’t forget to tell someone where you’re going, what time and who with. If for some reason something goes wrong during your hike they’ll be able to find you help.