A Beginner’s Guide to Hiking

I still remember my first hike. It was one of those things that seemed esoteric to me. I put on my old jeans and gym socks and running shoes. I wore a cotton t-shirt and a trucker cap of the Oklahoma Sooners I bought on a work trip. I was the perfect newbie.

In this guide, I will walk you through my learning path to hiking and share some of the pitfalls I encountered to prepare you when you decide to take the step. I will also try to share some of the things I believe are unnecessary.

Not long ago, I watched a wilderness survival class from Jessie Krebs in MasterClass. It helped me organize things I’ve been doing intuitively. According to Jessie, there are five categories of needs that we must cover in what we bring with us, so we’re ready for the experience:

  • Signaling
  • Clothing & Shelter
  • Hygiene, First Aid & Self-Care
  • Food & Drink
  • Navigation

The Backpack

Before addressing the basic needs, I let’s talk about your backpack. In my experience, 22 liters backpack gives more than enough space to carry everything you will need. However, one mistake I made is buying a pack that doesn’t have any structure to it. The one I got was a self-packable marmot pack, a huge mistake. My recommendation is to select one that delivers comfort and support even after walking for long hours. There’s no easier way to ruin your hike (well, maybe uncomfortable shoes) than getting back pain after the first few miles. In addition, many hiking backpacks come with a special compartment for a water bladder. You may also choose one that has easy but secure access to water bottles.

Now that you have your pack sorted out let’s move on to what’s inside of it.

Signaling

What happens if you’re in a remote area with no phone coverage and suddenly you lose your trail and can’t get back? What if you twist your ankle trying to find your way? However unlikely this is, you always need to have a way to make yourself visible in the distance. For a day hike, I would think of bright-colored clothes and maybe a whistle. A headlamp would be handy too.

Clothing and Shelter

Your feet are the most crucial thing you ought to care for while hiking. Good hiking shoes or boots will give you comfort, traction, and sturdiness; to minimize the chances of injury. You should buy the best shoes you can afford, appropriately sized, and considering features like durability and waterproofness. Merino-wool hiking socks are expensive, but they dry out quickly while keeping their thermal properties when wet. They also help to protect against blisters.

Hikers walking the trail around the Annapurnas, it shows how much and quickly the conditions could change while hiking.

In the wilderness, things can change very suddenly. I still remember one time I was hiking in lake Tahoe wearing a t-shirt, and by the time I got to my car, it had dumped two feet of snow. So always remember to check the weather before going out and pack layers. Bring clothing items that will dry quickly (not jeans or cotton items), and think of the three-layer model: one base layer like a synthetic workout t-shirt or merino wool base; one isolation layer like a synthetic or natural down jacket; and one shell, like a rain jacket. Bringing an emergency blanket might be a good idea too. I also would pack spare socks for those times I need to cross a creek. Hiking miles on wet socks almost guarantees large blisters.

Finally, sunglasses and a hat that covers you from the sun should make it into your pack.

Hygiene, First-Aid, and Self-Care

There is one item you need to buy in the hopes of never having to use it: A first-aid kit. Many outdoor stores sell great kits for different needs. Ensure it has all the tools to quickly disinfect wounds, treat blisters, and other emergency needs. I also like to bring hand sanitizer and a bio-degradable wilderness soap that you can use to wash yourself or your clothing. Finally, never forget to bring sunscreen.

In the theme of self-care, I would also fit hiking poles. I think of them as self-care because they will help immensely protect your knees from strenuous efforts while giving you much-needed stability.

Food and Drink

Hiking is always a great excuse to have treats you wouldn’t typically have, like jelly beans or gummy bears. Always bear in mind that hiking is an endurance activity and carbohydrates are essential to keep you energized. Slaty treats like pita chips and hummus are fantastic for this activity. Other great options include dried fruit, nuts, chocolate, bars (look for ones packed with carbs), or sandwiches.

When it comes to water, always bring more than what you think you’ll need. For example, a ten-miler would require at least two liters of water. One time, when I was new to hiking, I carried only 750ml to a 20-miler; thank goodness the group leader had taken a water filter, or I would have had terrible dehydration. This story brings me to another recommendation, always carry an emergency filtration system or water tablets. You never know when you might need to drink water from creeks, lakes, or even puddles.

Thinking of vessels to carry your water, you might want to bring one or more bottles and a water bladder for convenience.

Navigation

Last but not least, you want to ensure you can find your way back to your trailhead. Again, following the theme of getting lost, you never know when you will find yourself alone and lost. So, never rely on someone else navigating. Always know where you are. I use a few apps on my phone like “maps.me” and “All Trails.” But whenever possible, bring a physical map. An external battery pack is also always handy.

Final Thoughts

The items I mentioned are the bare minimum that you should be thinking of carrying. But, then, there are other specific needs to the individual hike you’re planning, like snow or rain gear. I hope this guide helped you get started in this beautiful activity and brings safety to your adventures. If you have questions, please post them in the section below, and I will be happy to answer. Happy trails!

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