Hiking for beginners can be hard when you don't have the right tools in your back pocket. I remember the first time I went hiking; I had no idea what I was doing. I had recently moved to San Diego in 2013 and my new roommate suggested that I join her on this hike to Iron Mountain. I didn’t really think anything of it, and all she told me was to bring water and wear some sturdy shoes. Let’s just say that I was huffing and puffing for the first quarter mile. I found myself wishing I had read some sort of hiking guide for beginners!
I didn’t realize how much hiking affects your body and can be such a strenuous workout. I always thought hiking was something like walking…but on dirt trails. Gosh, I was naïve! Thankfully, since that first hike I have become an addict and have now hiked over 100 trails ranging from easy to strenuous. I’m no expert, but hopefully I can offer you some tips that can help you start on your hiking adventure.
Tip 1: Pick a trail that is right for you.
Are you wanting something along the coast? Inland? A mountain view? Desert? Are you wanting to work your booty or go somewhere where you can just relax and be one with nature? There are many options and this will require you to research a bit. During your research you’ll want to look at location, distance, elevation, total mileage, terrain, weather and any recent reviews of the trail. Now, it all sounds a little bit much, but sites like Modern Hiker and All Trails provide much of the information listed above all in one place. Always, always, print out a map and read over the directions to the trailhead and summit.
Tip 2: Join an event.
There are SO many social groups out there that promote hiking and outdoor adventures. Groups like Mountain Chicks have created events that you can join to hike with others. Mountain Chicks have chapters all over the U.S. that you can join! There are many groups on Facebook, Instagram and Meetup. You can look up a group depending on your location or preference of area you’d like to hike. For instance, I am a member of about 6 groups on Facebook that cater to the southern California region. I go through all their events that they list and just RSVP to the ones I want to attend. These are great because you are able to hike in a planned event, led by someone or a group that knows what they are doing. This is great for that shy turtle in ya, to get to know people and try something new. The events will tell you about the difficulty of the hike, and you can always ask questions.
Tip 3: Grab yourself some sturdy shoes.
I remember when I used to hike in regular old sneakers and I don’t know how I didn’t fall down a mountain. They provided no traction whatsoever and I pretty much risked my life every time I wore my old gym shoes. For hiking, you want shoes that are snug but offer room for your toes to move. Sturdy shoes don’t have to be expensive. REI is great for trying on different hiking boots and shoes, so you can find a brand or type of shoe that fits your feet. They offer great advice and there is even a little plastic mountain you can climb to see if the shoes fit correctly. If you’re a member, you can even use the shoes out on the trail and if they don’t fit well, you can return them within a year.
Now, if you aren’t able to actually purchase shoes from REI, because let’s be real, it can get real pricey there, there are other options. I’ve seen Merrells being sold at stores like TJ Maxx and Ross. You can check out Dicks Sporting Goods or any sporting goods store in your area for brands like Keen, Salomon, Columbia, etc. I would suggest that you try on the shoes with the socks you’re going to be wearing on the hike as well. Again, REI is a great place to start since it doesn’t cost you anything to try stuff on. If you like a shoe from there, you could always look for a cheaper price online or at another store. However, always try on the shoe no matter what. Don’t buy a pair of hiking shoes online just because they’re half off; fit is EVERYTHING! Pick the wrong shoes, and you could be covered in blisters, and that makes no hike fun.
Tip 4: Gear up and be prepared.
Now that you’ve gotten sturdy shoes, it’s time to talk about what you’re going to bring on your hike and what to wear. You’ve probably seen people on Instagram wearing dresses, sandals, or jean shorts, looking all cute in that wildflower field. Well let me tell you, that dress is not going to be comfortable when you’re inclining a 2000+ foot gain in elevation. Also, weather changes frequently, so you need to be prepared.
On every day hike, you should carry the ten essentials (derived from American Hiking Society):
-water, water, water (don’t leave the house without any and then some)
-rain gear & extra clothes
-safety items: whistle, fire and light
-first aid kit
-knife or multipurpose tool
-sunscreen and sunglasses
But what do I wear?
Since weather can change frequently, you’ll want to layer up. Start with long pants, a t-shirt and a light fleece. Some things you can add are wicking shirts, base layers if it’s cold, and wool socks. Remember, you’re going to be walking for quite some time so make sure that whatever you choose to wear, it is comfortable and easy to move in. While you’re researching, look out for plants that are along the trail. Poison oak is no fun, and you will need to wear long pants if there is some located on the trail. In your backpack, you should always pack extra clothes, socks, and a raincoat.
Tip 5: Always tell someone where you will be.
Before any hike that I go on, easy or strenuous, I always tell at least three people. I say three, because you know there might be that one person, who’s taking a nap. This is important because you just never know what is going to happen. It’s better to be cautious than unprepared.
Tip 6: Have fun!
Smile! You’re about to do something awesome! Researching, packing up your gear and joining social groups should be exciting! You’re about to start something amazing in your life. You’re making the choice to get outside and just take a break from all the craziness. Either you’re hoping to get away for a bit, take some epic pictures or see if this could be something permanent in your life, hiking could be that one thing you were always looking for.
As John Muir said, “In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.”
This hiking guide for beginners was written by Mountain Chicks SoCal ambassador, Courtnee.