How to Start Hiking as a Beginner
Hiking for the first time can be intimidating especially if you’re planning a solo hike or returning to the activity after an injury. Many first-time hikers are simply looking for more ways to be active, connect with nature, and reduce stress. To make your introduction to hiking more enjoyable, here's a quick guide to hiking for beginners with information on how to prepare your body and other essential tips.
How do I prepare my body for hiking?
You don’t necessarily have to be in shape to go hiking. Of course, you still want to be aware of your own fitness level and limits when planning a hike. There are trails for everyone from short, one-mile loops on mostly flat ground to challenging hikes like the Appalachian Trail. The best way to prepare your body for hiking is to start small. A few other ways to prepare your body for hiking include:
- Take daily walks outside or on a treadmill. To mimic a real hike, walk in a neighborhood with lots of hills. In the winter, you might prefer walking on a treadmill with an incline option.
- Try strength training with bodyweight exercises. Better core and leg strength can improve your ability to climb hills and carry heavier gear without exhausting yourself.
- Warm up and stretch your body. Before you go hiking and whenever you do strenuous physical activity, stretching your feet and body promotes muscle recovery and prevents injury.
Foot pain or injury can happen to any hiker regardless of experience, but beginners may be more prone to injury if they aren’t prepared. If painful feet are stopping you from enjoying the outdoors, try PowerStep® insoles for hiking.
Clinically proven to prevent and relieve pain from conditions like plantar fasciitis, our Pinnacle Hiker Insoles have enhanced cushion and a more rigid shell for hiking activities. They also help align your foot and ankle and improve stability, which may reduce the risk of common hiking injuries such as a twisted ankle. Just check out this testimonial by an avid hiker using Pinnacle Plus Met for hiking with ball of foot pain.
Problems with stability or a past ankle injury might make you hesitant to try hiking, but a stabilizing ankle brace like the PowerStep Dynamic Ankle Support Sock can make hiking with ankle pain or instability easier. DASS fits inside your hiking shoes and works as an effective ankle brace, providing flexible support and protecting against injury for safe, healthy movement.
10 Hiking Tips for Beginners
Your first hike should be a day hike, meaning the trip is done within a single day. Other types of hiking like backpacking take more preparation and can be overwhelming for a beginner. The following hiking essentials for beginners will help you plan a successful first hike:
1. Select a Beginner Trail
Most new hikers make the mistake of going too far for too long, which can ruin your idea of hiking or lead to overuse injury. Hiking trails for beginners should be under five miles with little climbing. Runners can usually handle longer, hillier trails and might enjoy trail running.
Most national parks and forests have trail descriptions and trail difficulty labels on their website. You can also check out downloadable apps, ask friends, or perform a quick online search for beginner trails nearby. Check out these five walking trails on the east coast or these west coast trails.
2. Watch the Weather
Always check the weather when planning your hike and on the morning of the trip. The best weather to hike in for a beginner is warm and sunny with little to no wind and low humidity. Note that the weather in the mountains can be a lot different from a nearby town. You can call the park ahead of time to verify the weather.
Hiking in the winter as a beginner can be fun, though it is not recommended for your first ever hike. Avoid heavy winter weather, especially if you’re near mountains, and pack the right gear. Check out this winter hiking checklist for what to bring and keep your feet warm with Pinnacle Wool Insoles.
3. Other Ways to Plan Ahead
Just like a Boy Scout™, preparation is a hiker’s best friend. Other ways you can prepare for a hike when picking a trail include:
- Studying the trail map ahead of time to learn where it turns and where it ends
- Verifying where to park that is closest to the trail head
- Printing out a paper map before the trip, as onsite maps won’t always be available
- Packing your phone after ensuring it is fully charged
- Downloading the park and trail map for offline use or screenshotting it with your phone
- Calling the park office to see if you require a permit to hike the trail
- Asking park officials if any trails are closed due to seasonal weather or maintenance
4. Hiking Alone vs With a Friend
The best way to experience your first hike is by sharing it with a close friend or family member. Of course, you can hike alone if you feel comfortable. Be sure to notify someone where you are going and on what trail ahead of time. You can also look for hiking companions in social media groups.
Hiking can also be a great way to get the family active in summer. When hiking with kids or grandkids, keep them dry, warm and fed. Choose a short hiking trail and be ready to stop often. Dogs also make great hiking buddies if you’re comfortable with taking them and the trail rules allow it. Keep your dog leashed, have plenty of water and treats, and always pick up after them.
5. Wear the Right Clothes
Hiking clothes should be breathable, moisture-wicking, and quick-drying. Avoid fabrics like cotton or denim that absorb too much moisture and instead opt for polyester or performance clothing. Longer sleeves and pants are best at protecting against bug bites, sunburn, and branches.
Hikers should wear layers to accommodate for weather and temperature changes including:
- Base Layers: This layer, meant for cooler temperatures, sits next to your skin and can include thermal wear, tank tops, long sleeve shirts, or leggings.
- Hiking Layers: Think of your usual hiking or cargo pants, hiking shorts, a T-shirt or sun shirt.
- Weather Layers: This includes insulation layers such as a vest or lightweight pullover and rainwear including waterproof windbreakers and pants.
6. Choose the Best Hiking Shoes
Beginners don’t need specific hiking shoes or boots. The best hiking shoes for beginners are a quality pair of broken-in sneakers with good traction. For rockier terrain, boots are more ideal. Hiking shoes and boots need enough ankle support and cushion to prevent injury, blisters, and foot fatigue.
Adding a hiking insole is the best way to avoid foot fatigue while hiking and help prevent injury. PowerStep hiking insoles fit regular sneakers and hiking boots, giving you the support you need to hike comfortably. For more stability and a way to prevent ankle injuries, our dynamic ankle support sock also fits easily into most hiking shoes.
7. The Ten Essentials
All seasoned hikers carry the ten essentials with them when hiking to ensure their safety, making it a good place to start with hiking gear for beginners. Along with a durable and adjustable backpack, this hiking gear list for beginners will set you up for your first hike:
1. Navigation, such as a printed map and compass.
2. A headlamp or flashlight with fresh batteries.
3. Sun protection, including sunscreen and a hat.
4. Basic first aid kit that you regularly restock.
5. A pocketknife or multitool which can come in handy in various scenarios.
6. Fire starter equipment in case you must stay overnight in the woods.
7. Some shelter such as a small tent or bivvy bag – a compact sleeping bag and shelter in one.
8. Extra food including high energy snacks like trail mix, jerky, granola, and energy bars.
9. Extra water or about one 16.9 Fl oz bottle per hour you plan to hike.
10. Additional clothing like a rain jacket or extra socks in case of unpredictable weather.
8. Pace Yourself
Taking time to pace yourself, witness nature, and rest as needed will make your first hiking experience much more positive. Avoid making any post-hike plans and invest your mind and body into the trip. You’ll want to conserve your energy to avoid fatigue. If hiking with a friend, stick with your partner or group. Pay attention to your feet as you walk to avoid slipping on a rock or tripping over a root.
9. Practice Good Hiking Etiquette
Beginners should be aware of basic hiking etiquette. Hikers going uphill as well as horseback riders have the right of way. While mountain bikers should yield to those on foot, sometimes it’s best to step out of their path instead since they may be going too fast to stop.
10. Leave No Trace Principles
All hikers should follow the Leave No Trace principles, which are intended to reduce human impact on the outdoors and preserve the beauty of public lands. These seven sustainability principles are:
- Plan ahead and prepare
- Camp on durable surfaces, such as reserved spaces
- Dispose of all waste properly
- Leave what you find
- Start and extinguish fires responsibly
- Respect wildlife
- Be considerate of other visitors
Happy Hiking from PowerStep®
Don’t let tired, aching feet or a potential ankle injury ruin your hike. Stay prepared with PowerStep insoles for hiking and the Dynamic Ankle Support Sock. It’s time to get out there and experience the beauty of nature, free from unwanted foot pain or instability.