The Ultimate Hiking Guide For Beginners + Stunning Photos From My Hiking Adventures in Montana & Wyoming
By Mandi Carozza // Originally published by 52 Hike Challenge
Did you just sign up for the 52 Hike Challenge, or are you interested in spending more time outside, but you’re not sure how to get started?
We know getting outside can feel a little intimidating at times, but once you get over your initial hesitations and get out there, your experience can be very rewarding. Also, the more you know before you go, the more confident you will feel when you’re out there. In this Quick Start Hiking Guide, we will give you 6 steps to help you step outside with confidence.
Let’s get started!
1. STAY ACCOUNTABLE: FIND A HIKING BUDDY
Hiking with friends and family is fun!
Hold yourself accountable to your goal by sharing it with a friend or family member. Invite them to join you on the trails – you won’t regret it!
Not only will this keep you committed to getting outside, but it also alleviates some worry you might have about going alone. Plus, you’ll love sharing the great outdoors with someone you love.
Bring a friend, family member, or even a dog on the trails with you! You will all enjoy the mind-body benefits of taking a hike.
Want to take your accountability a step further? Join the 52 Hike Challenge, or join one of our 52 Hike Facebook chapters, for an inclusive hiking community that will empower you to stay on track.
2. DO YOUR RESEARCH: FIND THE RIGHT HIKING TRAIL FOR YOU
Now that you know who you’re bringing with you, let’s find out where you should go.
Which hiking trail is best for you? At 52 Hike Challenge, we recommend starting on nice and easy trails when beginning. We don’t recommend attempting a mountain on your first hike!
After all, a hike can be anything from a mile to tens of miles. You can spend the whole day hiking or just a couple hours. You can climb something with elevation, or you can stick to flat terrain.
Here’s what we recommend if you’re just starting out hiking:
- Start with a short hike. Your first hike doesn’t have to be super hard! We recommend hiking anywhere from one to three miles when you’re just starting out. This is a great way to get comfortable being on-trail.
- Get familiar with a local trail. Find a trail near home and visit it frequently. The familiarity of the trail will help you feel more comfortable while you’re building the confidence to go on more remote hikes.
- Opt for hikes with low elevation gain. Elevation gain refers to how steep a trail is. Try to stick to flat topography (less than 500 feet elevation gain) when first starting. According to our friends REI, “if a trail gains 1,000 feet in one mile, that is considered quite steep. Also, a general recommendation is that for every 1,000 feet of elevation gain, add one hour to your trip.”
- Find hikes using trusted resources. Reference hiking guides, apps, books, and blogs to find beginner-friendly trails. We particularly like the AllTrails app, books by Modern Hiker, and the robust list on our 52 Hike Challenge Finding Trails page.
- Ask for trail recommendations. Ask your hiker friends and local park rangers for their top trail recommendations for beginners.
- Research parking, road conditions and trail closures. Reference the park’s website to stay in-the-know. You can also call the ranger station and look on the AllTrails app. For road conditions check your state’s department of transportation administration website for up to date information.
3. PREP FOR YOUR HIKE: WHAT TO PACK & WHAT TO WEAR WHILE HIKING
You found your trail… now what?
Now let’s talk about what to bring with you and what to wear on-trail. Knowing this will keep you safe and comfortable while hiking.
For starters, you should always carry the 10 Essentials.
What To Pack – The 10 Essentials:
- Navigation (Map, compass, GPS device)
- Sun Protection (sunscreen, lip balm, sunglasses, hat)
- Insulation (warm sweater/fleece/jacket/rain gear)
- Illumination (lamp or headlight)
- First Aid You can make your own kit, we recommend carrying blister care items: Band-Aids, moleskin, etc.
- Fire (matches, flint – for emergencies only!)
- Repair Kit & Tools (knife, tools, duct tape)
- Nutrition (snack, meals)
- Hydration* (Water and hydration system)
- Emergency shelter (Emergency blanket)
*Avoid dehydration by pre-hydrating before your hike, taking breaks to drink water during your hike, and refuel on electrolytes (like Gatorade). It’s good to also hydrate post hike / after you’re off the trail. As a rule of thumb, you should carry around one liter of water for every 3 miles or 2 hours that you’re out hiking. You’ll probably want to read our Top Hydration Tips For Hiking post for more information on hydration.
What To Wear – Gear And Clothing For A Comfortable Hike
While you don’t need to wear state-of-the-art hiking gear, it’s important to wear clothes that will keep you dry and comfortable throughout your trek.
Here are some quick tips on hiking gear and clothing:
- Support your feet with a sturdy pair of hiking shoes or boots. Your feet are doing a lot of the work, so support them with a solid pair of shoes. Make sure to have good traction for grip. Consider buying your shoes a half size larger to prevent blisters and loss of toenails.
- Avoid cotton. While cotton is comfy when you’re lounging at home, it’s not the best option or the trail. Cotton retains moisture, creating rashes and can lead to hypothermia in cold conditions. Wear moisture wicking items, like gym, yoga, and workout clothes to start.
- Pack layers. Prepare for various temperatures and conditions by bringing layers. We particularly like REI convertible pants for their versatility and breathability.
- Wear a daypack. Your backpack doesn’t need to be fancy, but you definitely need one in order to carry your 10 essentials, lunch and other important items like trash bags, toilet paper, trowel, etc.
What To Know – Check The Weather Before You Set Out
ALWAYS check the weather before you hike!
Reviewing weather conditions is essential and one of the most preventable measures a hiker can use to prepare him or herself. It’s just not safe to be hiking in bad weather.
Checking the weather also helps you to determine what clothing to bring, how much water to pack (especially if it’s hot), and more. We always advise bringing a rain jacket as well as in case of rain or wind.
Reliable Weather Resources:
Now that you know what to pack, wear, and check before your hike, lets dive into what to do (and not do) while you’re outside.
4. STAY SAFE & RECREATE RESPONSIBLY WHILE ON-TRAIL
Your outdoor experience is going to be great! Follow a few important guidelines that will keep the trails safe and beautiful for everyone to enjoy.
At 52 Hike Challenge, hiking safety is a main priority. Take the time to learn the following tips to stay safe on the trail.
Hiking Safety Tips
- Maintain a safe distance from wildlife
- Prepare for inclement weather
- Avoid hiking in peak heat
- Take breaks
- Tend to blisters
- Stay hydrated
- Bring layers
- Be respectful to nature and others
Hiking Safety Resources
- Hiking Safety: Injuries, Illnesses, Animal Encounters, Inclement Weather, And More
- Hiking Safety Tips To Protect You From The Unexpected While On The Trail
- How To Hike Smart And Recreate Responsibly During The Days Of Covid-19
5. LEAVE NO TRACE: LEARN THE 7 LNT PRINCIPLES
The Leave No Trace (LNT) Principles were established to keep you and others safe while protecting the native flora and fauna where you’re hiking.
The 7 Leave No Trace Principles
- Plan ahead and prepare
- Travel and camp on durable surfaces
- Dispose of waste properly
- Leave what you find
- Minimize campfire impacts
- Respect wildlife
- Be considerate of other visitors
Learn more about the 7 Leave No Trace Principles.
6. PRACTICE HIKING ETIQUETTE
Practice these important hiking etiquette tips:
- Listen to music with headphones
- Don’t feed or approach wildlife
- Educate people politely
- Yield to horses and bikers
- Don’t litter, stack rocks, or graffiti
- Avoid crowding by going early or later in the day
- Know how to Recreate Responsibly
- Clean up after your animals*
*Learn the do’s and don’t of hiking with dogs and other pets.
You’re Ready: Get Outside And Hike!
Congrats! You basically just took a Hiking 101 Crash Course, and now you’re ready to hit the trails! If you want to learn more, we recommend taking classes at your local REI or mountain guiding company.
Remember to keep your pack light (under 20 lbs), bring a snack, and have fun. Take your time and enjoy the views. This experience is all yours!
Now Imagine if you hiked once a week for a year?
Experience the mind-body-soul benefits of getting outside regularly!
SIGN UP FOR THE 52 HIKE CHALLENGE NOW
Stay committed to the great outdoors. Sign up for the 52 Hike Challenge right now and commit to taking 52 hikes next year — you won’t regret it!