11 Expert Hiking Tips for Beginners

Pack well, for starters -- make sure you have water, food, and supplies to keep you safe on your trek. But also...Read More

Hiking is one of the joys of travel. (Source: iStock / Onnes)

If ever your treks abroad include access to parks, trails, and natural expanses begging for exploration, a hike should definitely be in the offing. For those new to the hiking game, however, it’s important to note that hikes are not just long walks – there are strategies, best practices, and safety tips to keep in mind to make the most of your excursion. That’s where we come in; we’ve assembled the 11 hiking tips that have been the most helpful to us over the years in the hopes that they’ll make your hikes successful, safe, and fun.

1: Buy a pair of dedicated hiking boots.

You may think that a halfway-decent pair of sneakers will do the trick when you go hiking, but trust us – the occasionally-rugged terrain you’ll face demands something more robust. Hiking tip #1: Get hiking boots with thick, treaded soles (to avoid water seepage and ensure traction), a cushioned interior that fits your foot contours (to guarantee maximum comfort over several hours/miles), and a high-top design that keeps out bugs, grasses, mud, and water. You’ll find plenty advertised online, but we always head to REI for ours.

2: Pick a well-publicized, trodden path – don’t go trekking into the wild.

More adventurous travelers may be keen on making their own path during a hike, but we advise against it. Pick a hiking trail that’s been advertised and mapped as it ensures you won’t face any surprises along the route. As we’ve learned the hard way, the untamed wild often has unexpected hazards – like water pits, unfriendly animals, extreme mud, or rock slides. What’s more, you may well get lost and have a hard time finding your way back to civilization. Don’t risk it; stay the course.

(Also, make sure you have a map of the trail before you head out – either one saved on your phone or a printout you can easily stow in your pocket or backpack.)

3: Don’t engage wildlife.

Even on well-vetted trails, you may find wildlife nearby. Most are likely harmless and won’t pay you any mind; it’s best to leave it that way. If you try to pet or otherwise interact with animals you find on your hike, you may scare them, precipitating unpredictable and/or violent behavior. Many animals are easily spooked and may perceive your advances as a threat – avoid the possibly harmful consequences of this scenario by admiring them from a distance.

Don't feed Ernie the Elk. He'll make do with grass. (Source: iStock / Alexandre Rocha)
Don’t feed Ernie the Elk. He’ll make do with grass. (Source: iStock / Alexandre Rocha)

4: Bring non-perishable, healthy snacks, and plenty of water.

We’ve regularly been surprised by how hungry and thirsty we get on hikes. Even on flat terrain, you may end up expending extra energy pushing into the wind or hauling a stuffed backpack. While not our most critical hiking tip, we definitely suggest you keep yourself fueled and hydrated by carrying a large water bottle (Nalgenes are our fave) and a few individually-packaged snacks (non-perishable) that can easily be eaten by hand. We recommend Clif bars. If you’re worried about losing electrolytes as you work up a sweat, you can also bring a Gatorade.

5: Map out pit stops along the way.

Most hiking trails will have advertised stops for taking photos, using the restroom, or picnicking. These are good places for resting up and relaxing before continuing, but always keep your own fitness level in mind; you may need to create more stops for yourself. When we started hiking, we made a point to stop every two miles or so for about 15 minutes. This seemed to be enough time to recuperate before moving on. Also, keep in mind that the number of stops and duration of your breaks will be dependent on the terrain your hiking – if there’s more uphill to climb, you’ll need more breaks.

Picnic and photo op breaks are wonderful opportunities to enjoy your surroundings. (Source: iStock / Bob Douglas)
Picnic and photo op breaks are wonderful opportunities to enjoy your surroundings. (Source: iStock / Bob Douglas)

6: Give yourself time for photo ops, rest breaks, and bathroom breaks.

We admit it: Our first hike plans were overly ambitious. We calculated how long it would take us to walk specific distances, throwing in a few minutes for buffer. That was it. What we didn’t consider was slower progress on steep terrain and breaks to recuperate. As you schedule your own hike, be sure to be generous with your time allotment – especially if it’s the first hike you’ve taken. We like to tell new hikers they should multiply the estimated hike completion time (on flat terrain with no stops) by about 1.5 to get the actual total hike time.

7: Purchase a lightweight backpack and stock with essentials.

The last thing you want on an hours-long hike is to fuss with awkward bags. Don’t make the mistake of thinking the same bag or tote you use to carry groceries home is going to suffice on the trail. You need something that’s waterproof, lightweight, and has sufficient room for snacks, a first aid kit, water/Gatorade, an umbrella (for mad deluges), and an extra layer or two of clothing if it gets cold. Osprey bags are some of our faves.

8: Notify family/friends where you’ll be hiking.

While no one expects anything deleterious to happen on your hike, it’s best to be prepared. Most importantly, let friends/family know where you’ll be hiking and when and how long the hike should take. If you have travel partners who aren’t joining you on the hike, let them know, too. All of this is critical should you be injured or need evacuation. You can also set up GPS tracking on your phone and share your location with friends/family so they know where you are throughout your hike.

9: Be ready to cancel due to inclement weather; don’t brave a storm.

The possibility of things going awry on a hike is ever-present, but dangers can be mitigated if you don’t push through during times of inclement weather. Yes, you may have been planning your trek for ages and yes, it may be a dream of yours, but don’t risk your life if stormy weather is forecast. What may seem like a drizzle, easy to navigate, can quickly turn into an all-out tempest that makes safe movement near impossible. Watch the weather and trust the forecasts; reschedule if needs be to ensure your safety.

Avoid storms when you're out on a hike -- don't try to be brave.
Avoid storms when you’re out on a hike — don’t try to be brave.

10: Even if it’s cloudy, wear sunscreen, sunglasses, and a hat.

Ever had those summer days as a kid when you wandered outside to play, lost track of time, and came inside as the neighborhood’s most brilliant lobster? Yeah, we’ve all been there. At best, a sunburn is a nuisance and at worst, it can ruin the rest of your trip. Preclude this disaster by wearing high-SPF sunscreen (50+), keeping a hat on during the entire hike, and wearing polarized sunglasses. Also, be sure to reapply that sunscreen to any areas of exposed skin every two hours at a minimum. (We recommend doing it more frequently if you’re at higher elevations.)

11: Consider bringing or renting trekking poles.

This is less likely to be available to you if you’re in a foreign country, but do consider carrying some trekking poles with you – especially if you’re aiming to complete a steep hike and are concerned about balance. Get ones that are collapsible as they’re easy to store; again, we head to REI for a good selection when we need a pair.