Getting Started Hiking: How to Prepare

Getting started hiking

The panoramic hilltop views, deep breaths of crisp fresh air, and the chirps of playful birds in the pine trees. Hiking is the best. And with a newfound zest for fitness and nature, 2020 welcomed 8 million new hikers to the trails.

Sadly, by now, misjudging endurance will have stopped many of those hikers’ love for the trail.

The thrill of a three-day outing in the peaks of Colorado sounds exciting. But, when getting started hiking, a few miles to a waterfall is the perfect hike. 

One of the great joys of hiking, is there are always new challenges and beautiful scenery.

This article will help you expedite your journey to expert through conditioning, choosing the right gear, and knowledge of the trail.

Getting started hiking: Conditioning

When first starting, take shorter, more level hikes near your home or a short drive away. Work up to more rigorous hikes slowly, especially if you haven’t been physically active.

Like the first day back in the gym, pain is the number one reason for new hikers to stop. Overworking yourself will cause muscle cramps, strains, or other injuries.

Hurting yourself on the trail is different from most places. If you’re a far enough distance out, you’ll be sure to hate hiking when you finally make it back.

Getting started hiking: A group of hikers climbing up a steep mountain terrain.

Conditioning starts with your legs

Hiking is a full-body workout, but our legs carry most of the burden. Although the places you hurt the next day can often surprise you.

To train your legs, start with a short, daily routine of air squats and lunges. Adding weight or resistance through bands will quickly build up stronger legs for hikes.

Start endurance training

Take a few short jogs to build up your cardiovascular and pulmonary (heart/circulation and lung) systems. 

You’ll need plenty of oxygen capacity and a stout heart to complement muscular stamina.

Get some basic hiking gear.

You don’t have to run off and spend a fortune on gear right away. But prioritize purchasing a good pair of hiking boots and hiking pants. Cross-trainers will get you by on easy trails, but don’t fully protect your feet, leading to injuries. Hiking in blue jeans is your worst option. Denim cotton absorbs sweat leading to chafing.

And never forget your hiking socks. A nice, water-wicking, padded in all the right places sock makes every bit of a difference.

Trekking poles aren’t a must-have until you start hiking advanced trails with large elevation changes. Poles help drive you up hills while supporting your step on the descent.

Wearing a hiking backpack or water bladder frees up your hands from carrying heavy bottles of water.

Learn the great outdoors

Infections from scrapes are common. Wear a sturdy shirt that covers your arms for the same reason.

Try to hike with at least one other person unless you are familiar with the area and the terrain isn’t very challenging. GPS and other navigational tools can help, but if you injure yourself or become very ill that may not do you much good.

Until you have an intimate knowledge of plant life, don’t eat anything along the way. Mushrooms are a common concern, but many berry-looking plants can be very unsettling at certain times of the year, too.

Similarly, avoid drinking water from natural sources. TV commercials may make creeks look ‘natural and refreshing’, but just as often ‘natural’ means ‘unhealthy’.

Nature in the wild can be harmful. Even in the absence of man-made chemical pollutants, bacteria and other organisms can turn water toxic.

Stay on clearly marked or visible trails until you know the area or have more experience. Getting lost is one of the most common ways that amateur hikers turn a pleasant two-hour hike into a two-day search-and-rescue effort.

Understand your gear

Hiking maps can be helpful if you know how to read them, but these days a GPS is probably more useful for most people. But you need to spend a little time learning how to use it.

Some numbers or a digital arrow pointing in some direction isn’t helpful unless you know how to interpret what they mean.

Final thoughts.

If you live in a mountainous region, consider stepping up your hiking based on elevation. As you climb, the air gets thinner, and your endurance will decline.

Hiking is one of the greatest outdoor joys. It only takes one rough hike to spoil it for you when getting started hiking.

Consider your training as a way to extend the longevity of your time and experience outdoors. Like anything you’ve excelled at in life, reading, writing, driving, and work, it all took practice and repetition.

Why would getting started hiking be any different? Go slow, have fun, and work your way to that three-day Easter Island hiking excursion.

Happy hiking!

Hiking Beginner Team
Founded in 2007, has been helping beginner hikers with advice on safety, preparedness, conditioning, and gear for over 15 years.

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