Here are some tips that I give day hikers who are just getting started and contact me seeking advice.
1. Find a Group or Club to Hike With
The fastest way to become a good hiker is to hike with other people because it’s fun and motivating. If you live on the Atlantic seaboard there are many regional chapters of the Appalachian Mountain Club that lead frequent hikes you can join. The same goes for the Washington Trails Association and the Sierra Club on the west coast and throughout the country. Meetup.com is also a tremendous place to find local hiking groups, meet people, make hiking friends, and plan your own hiking adventures.
2. Hike once a Week at a Local Park
Day hiking takes practice and conditioning if you want to build up to more strenuous and challenging hikes. Try hiking at least once a week at a local park, either by yourself or as part of a group. You’ll develop your footwork skills, get practice planning hikes, test out new gear, and build up your physical endurance. It doesn’t matter where you hike, as long as you hike. Make it easy on yourself and find a nice park with a few trails that isn’t a big distance from your home. If you keep the barrier to going low, you’re more likely to go.
3. Learn to Hydrate Properly
Beginner hikers often don’t carry enough water on hikes. Plan on carrying about 1 liter for every two hours, although this can vary based on time of year, weather conditions, your pace, body weight, and the difficulty of a hike. Learning how much water you need in these conditions is an important skill, so pay attention to what your body needs.
4. Carry the 10 Essentials
|Essentials||Up to 4 Hours||More than 4 Hours|
|Map and Compass||Local Map||Local Map|
|Suunto A-10 Compass|
|Sun Protection||Billed Cap||Billed Cap|
|Dermatone Tin||Dermatone Tin|
|Long Sleeved Synthetic or Wool Shirt|
|Insulation||Fleece Sweater||Fleece Sweater|
|Rain Jacket and Pants||Rain Jacket and Pants|
|Illumination||Rechargeable Headlamp||Rechargeable Headlamp|
|First Aid Kit||Adventure Medical Kit||Adventure Medical Kit|
|Fire||Small box of Wooden Matches||Small box of Wooden Matches|
|Light My Fire Fire Steel||Light My Fire Fire Steel|
|Vaseline Coated Cotton Balls||Vaseline Coated Cotton Balls|
|Tools and Repair Kit||Swiss Army Classic Knife||Swiss Army Classic Knife|
|Duct Tape, Safety Pins||Duct Tape, Safety Pins|
|Nutrition||Nuts, Dried Fruit, Bars||Nuts, Dried Fruit, Bars|
|Hydration||2 Water Bottles or 70 oz Reservoir||2 Water Bottles or 100 oz Reservoir|
|Sawyer water filter|
|Emergency Shelter||Emergency Bivy||Emergency Bivy|
|Foam Sit Pad|
|Tarp and paracord|
|Other||Emergency Contact Info||Emergency Contact Info|
|Loud Whistle||Loud Whistle|
|Toilet Paper and Trowel|
Learn about the 10 essentials (see 10 Essentials Guide), why you need them, how to use them, and start bringing them on your day hikes. The wilderness begins as soon as you leave a trailhead: on average it takes emergency responders an additional hour to reach a victim for every 15 minutes of hiking away from a trailhead parking lot. Don’t underestimate the need to hike prepared, even in a more urban setting.
5. Find Comfortable Hiking Footwear
Finding comfortable footwear that doesn’t cause blisters may take you a while. Focus on finding boots or shoes that work for you instead of putting up with ones that hurt or fit poorly. Be patient and keep trying ones until you dial in footwear that works. Everyone’s feet are different. Boots, mids, or trail runners: it doesn’t matter which you choose. They all have advantages and disadvantages.
6. Develop Your Layering System
Learning how to dress like an onion, or layering, is an important moisture management and heat regulation skill for hikers to master. Everyone’s metabolism is different, so try different base layers, mid-layers, insulation layers, and shells until you develop a system that works for your needs in most three-season conditions. Hint: wearing many thin layers gives you better control over temperature regulation than integrated component garments.
7. Leave a Trip Plan with a Trusted Friend or Relative
Whenever you take a hike by yourself or in a group, leave a trip plan (see How to Plan a Day Hike) with a trusted friend or relative that details where you are going, the trails or route you plan on hiking, where you’ve parked your car, when you expect to return, and who to call if you’re overdue. Short hikes or long: this is a very important trip preparation step.
8. Learn How to Read a Topographic Map
Learn terrain-to-map association so you can identify the landforms you see outdoors in order to find your position on a map. This is an even more basic skill than using a compass and one that you’ll use much more frequently.
9. Learn by Imitation
I’m not proud. I learned how to dress like a hiker, hang a bear bag, and many other skills by watching more experienced hikers and backpackers and then imitating them. People are happy to teach you new things whether they know it or not!
10. Volunteer to do Trail Work
When you become a hiker, you join a community of people who love the outdoors and hiking. Volunteering to do trail work will help you understand how precious our hiking trails are how important their preservation is for future generations.
What advice would you give to a beginner day hiker?