Hiking Trails Meadows

New to Hiking? Start Here!

Hiking can be a great way to get some exercise and see the outdoors, but it's important to be prepared before you hit the trails. In this post, we'll go over what you need to get started hiking, as well as some basics tips to help you stay safe while out on the trail. So whether you're just starting out or are looking for a few new pointers, keep reading for everything you need to know, and great beginner tips. With a little preparation, you can be on your way to an enjoyable hike in no time. 

  • Fitness and experience level. Be honest and realistic.
  • Elevation gain. This is every bit as important as distance. National, state and local parks do a good job of publishing the trail rating and elevation gain.
  • Weather / Time of Year. Follow the forecast carefully, and plan your hike accordingly. Weather can be unpredictable and change in the blink of an eye. Take it seriously.
  • Distance. Lots of factors such as your fitness level, the terrain and elevation gain, etc factor into how far you want your hike to be. If you are fairly new to hiking, you want to finish your hike wanting to hike again, so no need to push yourself to your limit.
  • Gear. No need to invest heavily, but a few essentials will make your hike much more pleasant: Quality, trail appropriate footwear, a trail map, a small backpack with 1-2 bottles of water, sunglasses, sunscreen, insect repellant and a snack or two are what you need for most easy to moderate hikes. If you are in the western part of the US, animal deterrents can be helpful.

One thing to keep in mind is that hiking to some may be a nice amble around a county park, while for others it entails nights spent with survival gear in the back country. Again, be completely honest with yourself. I recently started hiking after a multi-year hiatus by hitting the trails at my local county park about 10 minutes away. Several thousand acres of semi-groomed trails of rolling hills is enough to help me get in shape, reconnect with nature and still not overly tax myself. Someone else we know is hitting the backcountry of Glacier, Banff and Jasper National Parks next year, and her prep and training are dramatically different.

Footwear is a major consideration and a highly personal choice. A good pair of tennis shoes is often adequate for beginning hikers, however as the trail level rating increases, so too will be the type of footwear you chose. If the trail is maintained and doesn't have significant elevation changes, lightweight hiking shoes will probably be your most comfortable option. Research your trail, and know if you will encounter water. If so, this may impact your decision, as you want your feet dry or to dry as quickly as possible. Forgo cotton socks, and stick with wool or synthetic, and keep an extra pair handy to change if needed, your feet will thank you.

The gear you take with you can make all the difference. Even if you are doing a super-easy hike along a groomed, no elevation gain city local park trail, take a water bottle. Sunscreen and insect repellant are equally important, depending on conditions. For longer hikes, exceeding 5 miles, a small lightweight backpack is the way to go, and be sure to pack a snack or two. Cell service can often be sketchy, but make sure your phone is fully charged.

If you’re looking for a way to unplug, de-stress and get in shape, look no further than hiking. With just a few essentials, you can be on your way to some of the most beautiful views nature has to offer!