So, you think you want to become a hiker? And do want to know the hiking essentials before going out for a hike?
Well, you have come to the right place!
Before you grab your boots and decide to go hit the PCT, you’ll need to work on a few of the basics to make sure that you thoroughly enjoy your hike.
The most essential thing that beginners need to know before beginning their hiking journey is to recognize exactly one thing: hike your own hike.
What that means is that you have to put out of your mind ever expectation and comparison to other people.
If you gobble up miles for days on end, great!
If you finish a 0.5-mile loop and you’re absolutely satisfied with going home for the day, that’s awesome too!
Approaching hiking with that mindset is the most essential skill that a beginning hiker can learn.
Now that you have that idea down, it’s time to focus on making sure that regardless of the type of hiker you are, that you’re ready to safely tackle anything the trail throws at you!
In this guide, you will learn:
- Proper Hike Planning
- Gear Selection
- Staying Hydrated on Trail
- Basic Trail Etiquette
- Basic Trail First Aid
Proper Hike Planning
Ben Franklin once said that failing to prepare is preparing to fail.
That is an excellent quote to keep in mind for every hike that you decide to go on.
Whether you’re planning on tackling 2650 miles in the backcountry, or you want to go walk along some of the local trails near your house, it’s very important to have a game plan in mind.
The first and most important thing to do before you set out on an adventure is to let someone know where you are going and when you plan on returning.
Accidents happen while hiking and even the most experienced hikers run into trouble and need assistance.
If you tell someone where you are going and when you expect to be back, they will be able to check in with you to make sure that you are safe.
If you end up getting into trouble, they will be able to alert the local authorities to begin looking for you.
One of the best examples of the importance of letting someone know where you are going and when you plan on coming back is the story of Aron Ralston.
His harrowing story of survival could have been mitigated had he let someone know where he was going and when he planned on returning.
The next most important thing to do when planning your hike is to check out a map of the area you plan on hiking in.
Knowing the trails is a great way to assess how difficult the trail will be before you set out.
A great app to help you find trails near the area that you want to hike is AllTrails.
AllTrails is basically like Yelp and Google Maps combined. It compiles trails from all over the US and lets you pick trails that match what you are looking to do.
What’s better is that each trail is rated by AllTrails users. You can select a trail based on difficulty and then read the reviews that other hikers have left.
This gives important information as trail conditions sometimes can change.
AllTrails offers a free and premium version to use. Premium users get the added bonus of being able to run the app while out of cell phone service range, which means that you can use your phone as a GPS as well!
Letting someone know where you are going and selecting the best trail for you will go a long way in making sure you have properly planned for your hike.
But what should you bring along with you?
Choosing what to bring hiking can be a daunting task for beginners.
Walk into any REI around the world and you’ll see exactly what I mean.
There are literally hundreds of brands offering so many different pieces of gear that it’s enough to make your head spin.
But never fear, you’ll be prepared to walk into that shop with confidence to get the gear you need to enjoy your hike.
Here are things you need to bring when going out for a hike:
Boots are one of the most important pieces of gear you can buy.
They make or break your hike because when you hike, what do you depend on the most to be comfortable?
Your feet! If your feet are jacked up, you will have a terrible time. That is why boots are the most important piece of gear you will buy.
To determine what type of boots you need, consider the following:
- Your budget
- The terrain/environment you plan to hike in
There is a multitude of boot brands on the market that offer a variety of boots at several price points.
The first thing you should do is consider your budget and buy the best boots that you can afford to buy.
In general, the more expensive the boot, the longer it will last.
If you’re just getting into hiking, consider buying a less expensive, but quality brand boot.
Merrell is an excellent brand that offers super comfortable boots at a very reasonable price.
Once you have figured out your budget, consider the environment that you plan on hiking in the most.
Is it hot and rocky where you want to hike? Or is it more cold and wet?
While it would be amazing if there were a boot that would be great to hike in any condition, it’s much less functional and comfortable.
Boots designed specifically for hot and dry environments usually are made out of breathable materials that allow your foot to stay cool as you hike.
This helps reduce the risk of blisters as you hike.
Boots designed specifically for cold and wet environments are usually waterproof to keep your feet dry.
While there are materials on the market that will help with breathability, like Gore-Tex, moister tends to get trapped inside of the boot if you hike with a waterproof boot in hot environments. In cold environments, they keep your feet warm and dry.
Now that you have determined your budget and the environment that you’re going to hike in, go try some boots on!
Try on as many as you can that fit your budget and requirements.
Boot brands shape their boots differently from each other so sizes will vary in how well they fit between brands.
When you try your boots on, don’t just sit down with the boots untied. Make sure to tie them up and walk around a bit.
See how they feel and if you notice any rubbing or hot spots. If they feel uncomfortable in the store, they more than likely will feel uncomfortable on the trail.
After boots, backpacks are one of the most important pieces of gear that you will take with you when you go hiking.
They carry everything that you’re going to need on the trail so that no matter what you encounter, you’ll be prepared.
Finding the right backpack is fairly similar to finding the right set of boots. You’ll want to consider:
- Your budget
- The amount of gear you want to bring
Just like boots, there are a ton of suppliers.
However, some packs are more expensive than others.
If your budget only allows for picking up something cheap from Amazon or Walmart, fine! If you can afford a little pricier pack, that’s cool too.
Remember that mindset to adopt which is “hike your own hike” and you’ll be fine!
The next thing to consider is how much gear you plan on taking with you.
Are you going out for a quick hike and you only need to bring a water bottle? Or are you planning on doing an overnight?
The length of time that you plan to be on trail will definitely play a part in determining how big of a pack you want to bring.
If you plan on only going out for a day, a small 20-liter pack Is all that you really need.
If you plan on going out for an overnight or longer, a 30–70-liter pack might be better for you to use.
Either way, assess your needs based on how long you’ll be hiking as well as how much gear you plan on taking.
The more liters the pack has, the more stuff you can put into it.
And just like with boots, go try some packs on to see how they feel!
Try on multiple brands since every brand makes their packs differently from each other.
Walk around with it on in the store and see how it feels.
Does anything feel uncomfortable?
If so, move onto the next pack and keep trying them on until you find one that feels comfortable to you!
Hiking is a strenuous exercise and requires that you continuously drink water to make sure that you get to the end of your hike feeling good.
As part of your hike preparation, be sure to fully hydrate at least 24 hours in advance of your hike.
What you should be aiming for is to drink at least 8 cups of water during the day before your hike.
You can evaluate if you need more or less water based on how your urine looks.
If your urine is dark yellow, you are definitely dehydrated. Drink more water!
If your urine is super clear, consider lessening your water in-take. Being overly hydrated can be as dangerous as being dehydrated.
The color that you want is fairly clear with a slight tinge of yellow. If you’re able to produce that, you’ll know that you’re properly hydrated.
When you’re on trail be sure to consistently hydrate. Don’t wait until you stop for a break to drink water.
Consistently sip as you go so that way your body gets the water that it needs to function.
Something to remember is that if you feel thirsty, you’re already dehydrated. So drink early and drink often!
Hiking trails are interesting places because not only hikers use them.
Mountain bikers, trail runners, and equestrians can all use the same trail at the same time!
How do you make sure that you are polite to all users on the trail as well as to other hikers?
Follow these basic rules and you’ll be able to show kindness and courtesy to all trail users.
- Yield to mountain bikers and equestrians
- Yield to hikers hiking up hill
- Say hello or nod at other trail users when you pass them.
- When someone yields for you, be sure to say thank you!
Doing these things will ensure that you are a responsible and courteous hiker!
Trail First Aid
Hiking usually is done on pretty uneven surfaces. That means that every once in a while, you might fall and experience a minor injury.
Something to keep in your backpack is a small first aid kit.
Make sure that it is stocked with:
- Anti-bacterial ointment
- Nitrate gloves
- A triangular bandage
Most injuries that you’ll experience on trail will only require a small band-aid and some anti-bacterial ointment to treat.
Making sure that you have nitrate gloves will ensure that you stay safe from any blood borne diseases when treating other people.
And in the event that you need to create a sling, splint, or tourniquet, the triangular bandage will help a ton.
Consider taking a basic first aid course if you are uncomfortable using any of this equipment or if you want to know how to treat basic injuries!
Hiking is a great activity to start.
The best part is that you really only need to have a trail nearby to get started.
It offers great health benefits and is accessible to a wide variety of people.
Now get out there and go hike your own hike!