Getting Started Hiking: How to Prepare

Every hiker started somewhere. When getting started hiking, begin with conditioning. Or, you might find yourself on a peak needing to be rescued.

We all love the idea of a three-day outing in the peaks of Colorado. But, when getting started hiking, you need to start small. 

Before you’re navigating through dense forests, across rivers, and over mountain passes, break away on a weekend and enjoy some fresh air and a little exercise.

But, once you expand your horizons, what do you do? Get in shape. 

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 active.

Pain is the number one reason for new hikers to break their exercise plan. They overwork themselves. Besides stopping your training, overworking can lead to injury and pain.

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

Conditioning starts with your legs

Your legs, obviously, will get most of the initial burden of a hike. Though you’d be surprised at how many muscle groups are involved — all of them!

Start with a short, daily routine of some leg squats and thrusts.

Bend at the knees, arms outstretched to the front or side, then rise again. Try some thrusts by standing feet together then moving one foot out about 18 inches and kneeling part way, then rise.

How far you extend the foot and kneel down will both depend on your leg length and general condition.

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. Get the right hiking boots by doing your research online. Make sure they fit with some thick, sturdy hiking socks that wick away moisture. If you’ll be hiking near brush or trees, seriously consider pants rather than shorts.

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 Colorado excursion.

Happy hiking!