A Guide to Hiking Basics

Hiking can be a wonderful, active way to spend one's free time. It allows us to commune with nature while taking in its majestic beauty. It also allows us to become more active and supports a healthy lifestyle. Almost anyone can go hiking, with our local and national parks offering a variety of trails and areas for different skill levels, but there are a few key points that one must learn before they hit the trails for some outdoor fun. Basic skills, equipment, and safety tips can help ensure that you make the most out of your next excursion into the great outdoors. It's also important to note that it can be useful to learn about backpacking as well: While different, hiking and backpacking do share many similarities.

Getting Started

Making sure you're healthy enough to go hiking is the first step in your new adventure. A fitness test may be recommended for beginners who have preexisting conditions, especially those related to the heart, lungs, and muscles. Plan ahead by brushing up on your trail safety, purchasing a few key items, planning which trails you'll explore, and finding a trail buddy to keep you company and come to your aid, should that be needed. Hiking can be a solitary, minimal activity, but really, it all depends on one's skill level and how long they plan on spending outdoors. Remember to always make your plans known; hiking and backpacking are both dangerous if one is not prepared, so letting people know where you will be, having a solid itinerary, and having a packing checklist in place are all very important.

  • The Beginner Backpacker: This in-depth beginner's guide to backpacking has some great information for both hikers and backpackers. Learn what it takes to get started and have fun on a successful hike.

Basic Equipment

A short hike on a well-known, groomed trail could be a cakewalk and an overnight hike could be a challenge, but one thing is for sure: They both require preparation. Most import is the shoes you choose to wear. Wear hiking sneakers or boots, depending on the terrain, and make sure they fit well and have already been broken in. Nobody wants to be stuck breaking in their new hiking shoes on the day of their outing and end up with blisters. Along with proper footwear, a first-aid pack, a supply of drinking water, and a compass are all recommended, as is a sturdy pack to haul any gear.

  • Essential Hiking Equipment: This list offers a few essential items that every hiker should have with them. Prepare before you embark and be safe.
  • Gear Checklist: Originally created for backpackers, this checklist can also be adapted for hikers out for a longer period of time and includes everything you might need for sleeping and cooking outdoors.

Trail Safety and Other Tips

When planning a hike, planning ahead can mean the different between a beautiful day out and a trip to the emergency room. Proper attire, first-aid knowledge and materials, and well-informed planning are very important for any hiking trip, no matter how long or short. Be sure to keep an eye on the weather and make your decision on whether or not to go hiking according to that. If there's a likelihood of bad weather or unsafe conditions, it's best to stay off of the trails that day. And while a walk in the woods alone might be peaceful, it's better to bring a companion in case you are in need of immediate assistance. If a companion hiker isn't available, it's best to choose a trail that is easily accessible and well-known: Don't go bushwhacking by yourself. Always tell a friend or family member of your plans, including where you will be, who you will be with, and when you intend on being back; that way, should there be an emergency, they can communicate with the proper authorities to find you.

Where to Go

Many community parks and recreation areas offer hiking trails perfect for beginners, as do nature preserves. Before you go, do a bit of research to find out the experience level recommended for the hiking trail(s) you'd like to explore. Choose a trail that fits within your experience level. Look online to find hiking communities and parks near you worth exploring.

  • Find a Park Near You: Use this website to find a park with hiking trails nearby. It's a great place to start when planning your next adventure.
  • National Parks by State: MapQuest has compiled a list of national parks by state. This is great for hikers who are interested in exploring a new area or are just getting acquainted with the parks and trails by their home.

Hiking With Family

No matter what your age or skill level, enjoy hiking. Hiking as a family can also be a fun activity that is enjoyable for all ages. When going hiking with other inexperienced hikers, it's important to be understanding of their limitations, especially young children. Plan engaging activities that can be done along the way to keep them entertained and interested; it's also a wonderful educational opportunity. Preparing to go hiking with younger children also requires extra planning to make sure you not only have enough supplies for yourself, but the rest of your hiking party as well.