Hiking is one of my favorite things to do – but it wasn’t always. In fact, a few years ago the concept of going on a proper hike was foreign to me.
My first real hike was in Patagonia. I jumped right in the deep end conquering a 5-day 120-kilometer-long hike. I didn’t have a guide, I carried my own food and gear, and literally almost died. But since that day, I’ve learned a lot and consider myself somewhat of a hiking expert.
Since moving to Queenstown, New Zealand I hike all the time. There are some really incredible hikes on the South Island that people with any experience can do. But to be honest, most of the best hikes are a little challenging.
So if you’re like I once was, and want to go hiking but don’t have any experience, don’t worry. I’ve written this blog just for you! It includes 17 different hiking tips for beginners. These are things I wish I would’ve known before my first hike as well as tips that’ll help you choose the right hike and ensure you have a great time!
17 Useful Hiking Tips for Beginners
1. Start with a challenging day hike
Remember how I said that my first hiking experience lasted 5 days, I don’t recommend doing that.
If you haven’t summited a mountain or conquered a challenging trail before, then I recommend starting with just a day hike. Day hikes are great because they don’t involve camping overnight, and for that reason, you don’t have to carry nearly as much stuff.
Choose a day hike that will challenge you and offers a rewarding view at the top. I recommend choosing a trail that takes most people around 6 hours to complete and gains over 800 meters in elevation. Elevation gain will definitely test your fitness level and make you work for any epic viewpoint. Hikes with elevation gain often are the most rewarding as once you get to the top, the views are always stunning!
Be sure to also choose a popular trail. For your first hike, you don’t want to get lost. A well-marked trail that will have other people on it is a good idea.
Hike recommendations in New Zealand: A couple of really amazing day hikes to start off with near Queenstown, New Zealand include Ben Lomond and Roys Peak. These are both full-day hikes that will definitely challenge you, but they aren’t technical by any means.
2. Research the trail well in advance
After you’ve decided on the hike you want to tackle. Your next step is to do your research. Search the hike online and read a handful of different blogs and webpages to ensure the information is accurate.
Things you’ll want to take note of are:
- Length of the trail
- How long does the hike take most people
- How much elevation does it gain
- Are there any forks in the trail or turnoffs you need to know about
- Are there any safety hazards or concerns
- Where do you park
You can always visit a nearby visitor center for information on the trail too. Park rangers and conservation offices always have the most recent updates on the trail conditions and will give you accurate information. They will almost always have extra hiking tips for you too!
All Trails is a good website to go to for reviews of trails. Although I don’t always find their trail info accurate, people often leave reviews about trails and trail conditions. Sometimes, you can find a review last was left as recently as yesterday! People will often mention hazards or bad trail conditions and it’s a good starting point for your trail research.
3. Start the hike with the right mindset
This hiking tip might seem a little strange, but I think that it’s super important.
Getting yourself in the mindset that you’re in for a long, challenging day will ensure you keep going even when things get tough.
You see, if you’ve never completed a challenging hike before, then you probably compare them to simple nature walks. Hikes often involve grueling uphill sections and the terrain can be much more challenging. Even day hikes can last longer than 8 hours, which is a long time to be on your feet if you’re not used to it.
If you start off your first hike thinking it is going to be easy, and it isn’t, you’ll likely get defeated quickly. Maybe you’ll turn around without completing it.
Prepare yourself mentally for a challenge. That way, when the trail does get tough, you’re expecting it.
4. Download a map in advance (for offline use)
This is one of my favorite hiking tips for beginners or really anybody. Lots of hiking trails are in remote areas without cellphone service. That means that if you get lost, your phone isn’t going to load a map to show you the way out.
However, you can get around this by downloading maps in advance to your phone that can be accessed offline. There is a feature on Google Maps to do this however, my personal favorite app for hiking is called Maps.Me.
This app tends to have more trails on it than Google Maps. Once you download the app, you can download the map of an entire area. These maps show most trails on them and will help you navigate even when you’re out of cellphone reception. I use Maps.Me all the time for this, and it is super helpful if you’re ever unsure if you’ve taken a wrong turn or not when hiking.
5. Stay hydrated
The last thing you want to happen while you’re out hiking is getting dehydrated. Dehydration is dangerous and you should avoid it at all costs.
When you’re hiking, you might not feel like you want to drink much water (this is common during high-elevation hikes and when hiking in cold weather.) Drink water anyways. Take frequent breaks and ensure you’re getting enough liquids. Make yourself drink water even when you don’t feel thirsty.
People often make the mistake of not drinking enough water when it is cold outside and they’re not sweating. You need water no matter the temperature!
Another great tip is to drink lots of water before you set off on the trail. Consider skipping that morning coffee and substitute it for a Gatorade or bottle of water instead!
6. Pack more snacks than you think you’ll need
There’s nothing worse than being hungry when you’re hiking. As a beginner, you might not know that you will likely be hungrier than normal when you’re hiking simply because your body is burning more calories.
I recommend bringing a few more snacks than you think you’ll need just to be on the safe side.
Some great snacks to bring hiking include:
- Nuts and trail mix
- Granola bars
- Sandwiches (Peanut butter is my favorite!)
- Chocolate bars
7. Hiking poles are awesome
Before I started hiking, I always wondered why on earth people used hiking poles. But after countless hikes and very sore knees, I figured it out for myself. Hiking poles are not only great for keeping your stability, but they significantly reduce the amount of impact on your joints such as knees.
Personally, on steep hikes going downhill, I need my hiking poles. My knees get sore really quickly and the hiking poles help with that. They also help when trails are icy, muddy, or slippery.
To be honest, on only a day hike you could probably get away without them. But if you plan on doing more hiking then you might as well purchase a pair. My hiking poles are retractable so they fold up easily and they only cost me about $20 (I’ve had them for years and even travel with them!)
8. Where the right shoes
Your feet are so important when hiking! An important hiking tip for beginners is to make sure you wear comfortable footwear and that it’s suitable for the hike you’re doing.
Some people hike in running shoes, which are fine for shorter day hikes in the summer months. You’ll have problems with them if they get wet though as water seeps right through.
A step up from traditional running shoes are trail runners. These are a good option for beginner hikers as they offer more support than runners, but are much cheaper than hiking boots. Trail runners often have some water resistance too, so while you shouldn’t walk through streams with them, puddles are fine or even hiking in the rain.
If you’re looking to get serious about hiking then it might be time to invest in some sturdy hiking boots. Good hiking boots will generally cost upwards of a couple of hundred dollars, but they’ll last for years if you take care of them! My hiking boots are Mammut and I bought them around 3 years ago for around $300. I still love them today and they barely show any signs of wear. They are the comfiest shoe I own.
9. Prepare yourself for blisters
If you did just buy new shoes for hiking, then I need to warn you that blisters will probably happen. It takes a while for shoes to form to your feet and in the process, is when you’ll probably get a few blisters.
Keep in mind that blisters can happen even when you’re wearing shoes you’ve had for years. If you’ve never done a long and strenuous hike before, blisters might surprise you even in your most trusted pair of shoes.
I always wear thick socks and bring some bandages in case I feel a blister starting. As soon as you start to feel any rubbing or the start of a blister, stop and put a Band-Aid (plaster) over the area right away. This will prevent the blister from opening and getting so much worse.
10. Allow plenty of daylight
An important safety tip for beginner hikers is to give yourself plenty of daylight. You don’t want to be hiking in the dark, that much is for sure!
My advice is to allow the hike to take 2 hours longer than you expect and plan to be back before it gets dark with it taking this extra amount of time. Who knows what will happen once you’re out on the trail, you might stop more than you thought for photos, or maybe you just move slower than you thought.
Whatever you do, give yourself plenty of daylight!
11. Hike with others
As a beginner hiker, I don’t recommend hiking alone. Even experienced hikers often hike with other people. Not only is it safer, but it’s more fun. Hiking in a group will ensure if something goes wrong you aren’t alone and there are people who can help you.
For example, something as simple as taking one wrong step could lead to a twisted or broken ankle. If you’re alone, this could be a huge problem. With friends, they could help you get back down the mountain or at least go and get help.
Plus, hiking with friends is honestly more fun. Conversations keep you busy while you’re huffing and puffing climbing a steep mountain trail
12. Know hazards of the area
Before you set off on your hike, be sure to be aware of any dangers or hazards in the area. These will change depending on where you are hiking. For example, in New Zealand, you don’t have to worry about any dangerous wildlife. But if you are hiking in somewhere like Canada, then you’ll want to be aware of bears, cougars, wolves, etc.
A common hiking hazard in the winter months are avalanches. Trails that are perfectly safe in the summer can be risky in the winter or spring due to avalanches. Assuming you’re not an expert at reading avalanche risks, I recommend checking in with your local conservation office or visitor center to ensure the trail you are planning to hike is safe.
Familiarizing yourself with potential hazards will allow you to properly prepare and prevent any potential problems.
13. Sun protection is important all year round
The sun can be nasty when you’re hiking. Especially when you hike a mountain trail that takes you above the tree line, you’ll be fully exposed to the sun’s rays. In the summer months, most people think about wearing a hat and sunscreen, but what many forget is that in the winter this is important too.
In fact, in the winter months the sun can reflect off the snow making it even worse! Be sure to be sun safe all year around when you’re hiking – you don’t want to end up with a terrible sunburn or sunstroke!
14. Bring some basic safety gear
There are some safety basics you should consider packing for your hike. What type of safety gear you pack should largely depend on the length and difficulty of the hike you’re doing. Some items ot consider include:
- First aid kit – make or buy a small first aid kit to take with you that all the basics (Band-Aids, antiseptic ointment, antihistamines, etc)
- Flashlight – a small flashlight is a great idea if you ever accidentally end up on the trail in the dark.
- Knife or multi-tool – a knife has plenty of uses when hiking
- Matches or a lighter – in case you need to make a fire
- Emergency locator – On difficult trails or longer hikes when you won’t have cellphone service, an emergency locator can be a good idea. Oftentimes, you can rent them from visitor centers or conservation offices.
15. Dress in layers
One of the biggest hiking tips for beginners is dressing in layers. When hiking, especially in the mountains, the weather can be unpredictable and you’ll want to be able to layer up and down as needed. The more layers the better!
I also always bring along a waterproof and wind proof outer jacket. This layer is super important in case it rains or gets really windy. This layer is also super lightweight and packs up really small, so it really isn’t hard to bring it in your backpacker. Throw this over a long-sleeved shirt as well as a sweater and you’ll be toasty warm!
16. Take lots of breaks
Although hiking is meant to be challenging, you should allow yourself to take plenty of breaks. Without stopping, catching your breath, drinking some water and eating some food, you’ll likely get fatigued pretty quickly. When you’re tired is when you’re more likely to make mistakes. You might find yourself tripping more frequently or taking a wrong turn. Rest up and then hit the trail again!
17. Leave no trace
“Leave no trace” means leaving a hiking trail in the same condition you found it. This means you should pick up any garbage, use designated bathrooms, and don’t change anything natural. It’s super important that we all do our part when it comes to keeping hiking trails clean.
If you want to go above and beyond, consider picking up any garbage you find on the trail that isn’t yours too!
Thanks for reading!
And there you have, 17 useful hiking tips for beginners! I hope that with these tips you enjoy your first real hiking experience and have a wonderful time!
If you have any questions or tips you think I might’ve forgotten, leave them below in the comments so I can back to you!