Are you a beginner hiker looking to start hiking but don’t know where to begin? This guide is for you! In this article, we will discuss everything you need to know about hiking for beginners, from choosing the right hiking gear and preparing for your hike, to finding the right hiking trails and more. Whether you are a complete novice or an experienced hiker wanting to brush up on your skills, this guide has all the information you need to get started hiking!
Overview of topics covered in this comprehensive hiking guide for beginners
Hiking is a great way to get out and explore the great outdoors. Whether you’re an experienced hiker or just getting started, this guide will introduce you to the world of hiking, its benefits, different types of hikes and trails, preparation tips, and advice on what to take into consideration during the hike. We’ll also share our tips for after the hike so that you can make the most of your outdoor experience. Also, we share some inspiration for hike destinations that you can add to your bucket list.
Introduction to hiking for beginners
In this part, we explain the benefits of hiking and what kinds of hikes there are.
Benefits of hiking
Off course, we all know that getting some exercise is good for our bodies, but hiking is no different. Hiking offers a multitude of physical, mental, and emotional health benefits. Physically, it increases your overall fitness level and can help reduce risks related to heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and even certain types of cancer. It’s also known to improve bone health, joint, and muscle strength as well as endurance levels.
We think that not a lot of people know about the mental benefits of hiking. Hiking can help to reduce stress, help people relax, and sleep better. In our society, we need to relax more but we do not take the time to do it. So a lot of people suffer from depression. According to research on Standard University, people who live in cities have a 20 percent higher risk of anxiety disorders and a 40 percent higher risk of mood disorders as compared to people who live in rural areas. So we believe that doing hikes can have a great impact on your well-being.
What kind of hikes are there
Generally speaking, there are two different kinds of hikes: day hikes and multiple-day hikes. Day hikes are usually shorter in length, ranging from a few hours to a full day. They involve fewer supplies and require less preparation compared to a multiple-day hike. Multiple-day hikes typically involve spending one or more nights in the wilderness, often carrying tents, sleeping bags, and other camping gear.
But besides these two general differences, there are many more types of hikes:
- Summit Hiking: Climbing to the peak of a mountain or other elevation and returning.
- Long-Distance Hiking: Walking for extended periods of time along an established route, often hundreds of miles long.
- Base Camping: Set up a tent near the beginning of a hike from which multiple-day hikes can be taken.
- Section Hiking: Breaking up a long-distance trail into smaller sections and hiking them simultaneously over multiple trips.
- Thru-Hiking: Completing an entire long-distance trail in one continuous journey. Thru hikes take months to complete.
- Peak-Bagging: Aspiring to summit as many peaks as possible in a given region or area.
- Bushwhacking: Exploring off-trail in areas without any established or maintained trails.
Also in hiking there are differences in direction, you have:
- Loop hike: a trail that circles back to its starting point.
- Out-and-Back hike: A trail that returns to its beginning by returning via the same route.
- Point-to-point hike: a hike between two destinations, often requiring a shuttle or some other form of transportation to get back to the starting point. Or you carry all your belongings during the hike.
Preparing for the Hike
In this section, we explain what you need to go hiking. This includes essential hiking gear. We also explain what kind of terrain there is and how you need to adjust to this. Plus, we share some safety precautions that you can take and more.
Essential Hiking Gear and Equipment
Having the right gear is important, it makes a use difference if you will enjoy the hike or not. In general, you need good quality pair of hiking boots, appropriate clothing (depending on the climate and season), a backpack, water and snacks, a map or GPS device, and a first aid kit. Depending on what kind of hike you do you also need insect repellent, waterproof matches or other fire-starting materials, a flashlight or headlamp, sun protection (sunglasses, hat), and a compass. There are hikes where you need additional gear such as an ice axe for mountaineering hikes or a rope for rappelling. Ultimately, it’s best to know your route ahead of time and plan accordingly in order to avoid getting caught unprepared.
What we mentioned above is a short summary of all the details we explain in our article about tips for packing everything you’ll need for the hike. Per type of hike, region, country, and other variables we share our personal tips to pack your bag for a hike. We wrote an article on what clothes to wear hiking in hot weather. It has detailed information that will help you stay cool while hiking.
Hiking for beginners understanding the terrain
When you go hiking you encounter three types of terrain, namely general, stage, and technical terrain:
- General terrain: a wide variety of terrain, from flat to rolling hills.
- Stage terrain: More difficult terrain that may have large rocks and other natural obstacles.
- Technical terrain: the most difficult terrain, usually characterized by steep slopes, rocky outcroppings, and boulder field environments.
As a beginner hiker, you should do first only hikes on general terrain. As you gain more experience, you can also try hiking stages and technical terrain. However, it does not mean that hiking these terrains is always more beautiful or exciting – it simply requires a different approach and level of skill.
Weather conditions to consider
Weather conditions are always important when hiking, and depending on the nature of your hike, you may need to take additional precautions. For hiking in general terrain, it is important to check the weather forecast before heading out. Particularly for hiking long distances or in remote areas, planning for different weather scenarios is essential. When hiking in these environments, it is important to check the forecast for potential rain, snow, and wind events that can make hiking difficult or dangerous. It is also important to consider clothing options for different weather conditions – you may want to bring extra layers or rain gear to protect against wet and cold temperatures.
important to know is that when you go hiking in the mountain the weather can change quickly so always look at the internet for the forecast and not only look outside and think that the weather is good because in mountain areas weather can change quickly. As an example, when we hiked at Peneda Gerês National Park, it began with a bright sun. Yet as soon as we reached the mountain’s peak, it started raining.
When you hiking during lightning strikes in mountainous regions, it is important to find a safe location such as a low point with no tall trees nearby as soon as possible.
Proper safety protocols when starting hiking
It is important to understand and follow the proper safety protocols when hiking. Make sure you are properly equipped with the right gear for the hike. Tell friends or family where you are going and approximately when you plan to return. Always bring a map, compass, and GPS device if possible. You can go hiking with a guide if the terrain is too difficult when you are not familiar. If hiking alone, stay on marked trails. Know before you start how much daylight you have to calculate when you should start the hike.
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Ultimately, the level of fitness you need for hiking depends on what kind of hiking you are going to do. For example, if you are hiking a short day hike in Garmisch-Partenkirchen or hiking in Berchtesgaden in Bavaria for a couple of hours then no training is necessary. But if you plan to go hiking the Salkantay Trek, which takes five days and spans mountains and valleys, then you will need to do some training before heading out. It is important to build up your endurance and strength prior to hiking a longer trail. Just start walking at home and you will be okay!
When you go hiking, it is important to set realistic expectations. This is especially true if you are hiking with others. You need to take into account each other’s abilities and limitations.
Choosing the right trail for hiking
When you are ready, choose a hike that you can and want to do. We will explain how to choose the right route.
Determining what kind of hike, length & difficulty
The type of hiking that you choose will depend on a variety of factors such as the terrain, length, and difficulty. When you are new to hiking, we recommend hiking in general terrains, such as hiking in a forest or along a river, then you don’t need to worry about technical skills. However, if you are hiking in more challenging terrain like rocky areas with steep terrain, then you need to navigate with a map and compass.
The length of the hike is an important factor in determining what kind of hiking you will do. Longer hikes require more planning, preparation, and endurance. For example, if you plan to go hiking for several days or even weeks at a time, then you will need to think about food, water, and navigation.
The difficulty of the hiking route is also important to consider. If you are hiking for beginners, look for trails that are marked as easy or moderate in terms of difficulty level. Below you see which level of hiking we know:
- Easy: perfect for those with limited hiking experience who are looking for a short, easy hike.
- Moderate: hikes that provide a moderate challenge and may include some steep sections, river crossings, or off-track terrain.
- Advanced: long hikes with demanding terrain, long ascents, and descents, and often requires camping overnight.
- Expert: extreme hikes usually involve technical rock climbing or glacier travel that should only be attempted by experienced hikers with knowledge of the particular route.
Find the best hikes
Once you know what kind of hike you want to do, it is time to find the best hiking trails. You can use AllTrails, and blogs, and ask locals for help. First, decide which nature parks you want to visit using blogs and travel books. Then look up specific information about each park on AllTrails. When you arrive at the park, ask the staff at the visitor center or your accommodation for some tips. By following these steps, you will be able to choose the right hike every time.
We created two articles where we share the best hikes in the world and the best hikes we did in Europe. Use these two articles as inspiration to plan your next trip.
Doing the hike independently or with a guide
Now that you know what hiking is, how to set expectations, and choose the right trail, you need to determine if you’re going to go hiking independently or with a guide.
Hiking independently has its advantages. You can take your own pace and be spontaneous when making decisions on the way. Plus, hiking on your own gives you greater freedom of movement and the opportunity to explore new routes. Hiking in Tayrona National in the north of Colombia is for example easy to do without a guide because all trails are well marked.
On the other hand, hiking with a guide has its benefits, too. Hiking with a guide can be more fun since guides usually have more knowledge about hiking trails, flora, and fauna, as well as local history. Sharing this experience in a group can also be a great way to make new friends and have more fun. As an example, we did the Colca Canyon trek in Peru for 3 days which is simply dangerous to do without a guide because the terrain is very difficult.
Hiking for beginners is best done with a guide, especially if the terrain is unknown. Guides will help you during the hike. In general, both are good options depending on your preference and level of experience.
During the hike
There are some things that you need to follow when hiking, especially if you are a beginner.
Stay hydrated, have enough food & take a rest
Hiking is a great outdoor activity and so staying hydrated, having enough food, and taking rest are all key elements for a successful and enjoyable hike.
Hydration is incredibly important because your body needs water, simple as that! Bring enough water with you. How much water you need to bring depends if you encounter places where you can take fresh water. We always bring 3 -4 liters of water per person if we do a day hike where we do not encounter places to fill our bottles. Important to know is that you need to be cautious about filling your bottle with water pools. There are hiking gadgets where you can filter water which is confident.
Dehydration can make you very tired and sick, especially if you go hiking up into the mountains. If you don’t drink enough water, you could get faster altitude sickness. So when you go on a hike like the Acatenango hike in Guatemala, it’s important to bring enough water. We’re not trying to scare you, we just want you to be prepared so that you can enjoy the hike :).
Having enough food is also essential for a good hike. Find energy-rich snacks that are easy to carry with you on the trail—think nuts, granola bars, dried fruit, and other lightweight snacks that won’t weigh you down but will give you the fuel you need to get through the day. Also, we make our own sandwiches with brown bread and bring two bananas each.
When you go on a hike, it is important to take breaks. What we normally do is plan for 8 hours of hiking, but schedule 10 hours so we have 2 hours of rest. Our tip is just to listen to your body and you will be great!
When you go for a walk in extreme conditions, like when it’s very humid and there are lots of mosquitoes, it’s important to spray mosquito repellent on yourself every 2 hours. You don’t only encounter mosquitoes in humid environments, though. For example, in Scotland, there are midges, which are small mosquitoes. So if you’re going to Skye or Cairngorm, it’s important to buy midge repellent. Make sure you do some research before you go for a walk so you know what kind of environment you’ll be in.
Navigation during the hike
Before you start hiking, make sure you have the right tools. As a beginner hiker, it is critical to select hikes that are clearly marked so that you don’t have to use a map or compass. Therefore, bushwhacking hikes should be avoided until your hiking skills and navigation experience have improved. In most national parks, you do not need a map or a compass as long as you stay on the trail.
When you are new to hiking, we recommend using an app such as AllTrails (or MapsMe) for navigation. AllTrails provide hiking trails with topographic maps that help you follow the route, and they also have special hiking features like altitude tracking. It is easy to use and you won’t get lost.
Listen to your body and enjoy hiking
It is important to pick a hike that you can handle. If you do this, you will not have any problems. But if you want to challenge yourself, that is great! Just be careful and listen to your body. If you start feeling tired or sick, take a break. Most hikers do not eat or drink enough and they get in trouble while hiking, so always bring extra food and water with you in case you need it. So, don’t push yourself too hard to reach the top or finish the hike on time. Hiking should be fun!
Photography during hiking
As travel bloggers, we are passionate about capturing the beauty of our hikes through photographs. To take quality photos that do justice to the experience requires time and patience, so plan for some extra time. Many people have asked us how we pack our bags and consistently achieve beautiful shots during hikes; therefore, we created an article containing all of our knowledge regarding photography while hiking! Check our photography during hiking article here.
There are many great places in the world to travel to go hiking but to be honest our personal favorite is Scotland! Here you can hike in Torridon, one of the best places in the world to hike. Other great places to go hiking are Ben Nevis, Loch Lomond, and Glen Coe. Ben Nevis is the highest mountain in the British Isles. Loch Lomond is a large freshwater lake that features beautiful trails along its shores and through its forests. Glen Coe is a stunning glen, where you can find hiking routes leading between the valleys and over its mountains. These hiking places are perfect for hiking, especially if you’re a beginner as they have easy-to-follow trails with stunning scenery that will make your hiking unforgettable!
After the hike
When you finish the hike you think you are done but there are still some important things to know that is most often overlooked when beginners start hiking.
Recovery after the hike
An important thing to take into account is recovery after hiking. Many beginner hikers tend to forget about it and just rush into their next hiking trip when they don’t give their bodies proper time to recover. After hiking long distances, your muscles need time to recover. Stretching is a good way to help with muscle recovery and drinking plenty of fluids. Eating a healthy meal with carbohydrates and proteins will help your body recover faster.
Tip: start with an easy hike when you are in a national park. This way, you can build up your strength and energy for the more difficult hikes. Our knowledge about base camping hiking in the North of Spain’s Picos de Europa proved to be invaluable during our hikes. If you start with the hardest hike, you will be tired of the rest of the hikes and it won’t be any fun.
Taking your time to connect with nature
Take your time to enjoy and do not rush it. Hiking is a great way to relax especially after months of work. We learned that after hiking for several days, you should schedule a relaxing day and not directly travel to a city but take your time. We once hiked for several days in the Pyrenees at National Park Ordesa and after the last hike, we traveled directly to Barcelona. We were overwhelmed because we went from being in nature with no distractions to a huge city all at once. We learned from this and now always schedule one day to adjust so there is no more drastic transition.
Start planning your next adventure
We hope this hiking for beginners guide gave you some guidance and confidence to start hiking. Hiking is a great way to connect with nature, relax, and challenge yourself.
Inspiration for your next hiking destinations
In addition to the hikes we highlighted in this article, there are countless more hikes worth taking! Here are some of our favorite additional trails that you can explore:
- Eibsee in Germany: if you hike at Eibsee, you will see amazing views of the Bavarian Alps. The lake is one of the prettiest places in Germany and has different trails that are good for hikers who want an easy walk or a challenging climb.
- Salento in Colombia: close to Salento you find Valle de Cocora. Here you find green forests, towering wax palm trees, and stunning mountain views. There are easy walks and more challenging hikes.
- Montserrat in Spain: with its diverse terrain and stunning views, hiking here is great. Whether you’re looking for a leisurely stroll through the hills or a more challenging climb up one of the peaks, there’s plenty to explore here. Montserrat is great to visit as a day trip from Barcelona.
What do you think of our guide about hiking for Beginners? Share your thoughts in the comments below!
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