The Ultimate Guide To Hiking & Trails For Beginners

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Beginner hiker on a trail in the wilderness wearing a backpack and comfortable clothes

Do you want to set off on a hiking adventure but don’t know the first thing about the activity? Today we’ll be looking into everything you need to know about before lacing up your hiking boots.

Today we’ll be exploring everything there is to know about hiking and trails. We’ll start with the basics and discuss what exactly is hiking and the benefits that come along with your expeditions.

Next, we’ll show you all of the possible places that you can hike and walk you through the types of trails that you’ll be able to find all over the world. Of course, there are different types of hiking which we will go through later.

Once we’ve listed all of the essentials that you’ll need to take with you on your hike, it’s up to you to take all of our knowledge and hike with it!

Getting Off On The Right Foot

Take a moment to step back and imagine yourself on a hiking trail, miles away from noisy traffic and the loud noises of the city. You’re head to toe in hiking gear and your boots are firmly laced up.

You’re surrounded by thick shrubs and bushes with trees climbing high above you. The air is cleaner than you ever thought possible, and if you’re quiet enough you might just see some amazing wildlife nature has to offer.

The sun is beaming through the trees and glistening on the lakes and streams. With no distractions, you’re left alone with your thoughts for hours on end. There’s a reason why people think that hiking is so beneficial, and this is why.

As we’ve just described it, you can see how hiking on a secluded trail can be extremely cathartic and relaxing. However, don’t underestimate how challenging hiking can also be – particularly if you’re embarking on the trail alone.

For this reason, it pays to be prepared. Hiking is considered medicine for the mind and allows you to appreciate everything around you, but you need to know the basics before you begin.

In our article, we’ll be exploring everything you might need when you’re out on your adventure. Once we’re through, we bet that you’ll feel much more confident to get onto that hiking trail that you’ve been eyeing up.

What Is Hiking?

Hiking is defined as completing long walks, typically over trails and cross country. However, this is an incredibly vague description that leaves a lot of people wondering, so we’ll expand on this a little.

The term ‘hiking’ is often used to describe a plethora of walks, but the majority of them are long-distance and include some breathtaking scenery. Hikes are not considered as high-intensity as running or swimming, but they’re more difficult than a run-of-the-mill walk around town.

Hikes can take anywhere from half a day to a whole month, and you can either complete them in groups or on your own. Hiking is an excellent way to soak in all of the cultures of an area, so it’s always recommended when you’re exploring a new town or country.

Overall, hiking is a great way to enjoy your exercise while experiencing the history and culture of new places. Jogging doesn’t allow you to stop and appreciate your surroundings, and walking doesn’t take you far enough to see anything of note.

If you’re looking for a happy medium between the two, we cannot recommend hiking enough.

What Are The Benefits of Hiking?

beginner hiker summiting the top of a mountain excited about the benefits of outdoor exercise

If you’re not particularly an active person and are looking for an incentive as to why you should take yourself on a hike, we’re here to deliver. There are plenty of benefits when it comes to hiking, and these are the reason why there are so many hiking trails out there.

Thousands of people just like you have been in your position before, wondering if a hike is worth their time. Below we’re going to show you four reasons why hiking is beneficial for you and definitely worth a go.

Physical

Let’s start with the physical benefits of hiking, shall we? Walking is an excellent way to get out and burn some calories. For example, a 160-pound person will burn around 450 calories for every hour that they’re hiking. Similarly, a 200-pound person could burn up to 600 calories every hour.

Of course, this depends on a lot of factors such as how fast you’re walking and how heavy your backpack is. However, it is pretty apparent that hiking is an excellent way to burn calories and get yourself feeling proud and exhilarated.

If you have a smartwatch or a calorie counter, you’ll be able to track your fitness levels during your hike. Depending on how much you exert yourself during the hike, you’ll see that the majority of your hike will put you in the fat-burning to cardio level.

There are plenty of benefits to fitness in itself, but not everyone wants to complete a high-intensity workout in the gym. A hike can be an excellent way for you to compromise and mix exercise with fun, allowing you to see sights that you otherwise wouldn’t have discovered.

As avid hikers ourselves, we can confidently say that hiking does not feel like a form of exercise in the slightest. Instead of staring at the clock, willing the time away so that you can go home, you won’t want your hike to stop. Hiking is a great form of exercise that doesn’t feel like exercising. 

Mental health

Mental health is something that is not talked about enough, and many people struggle silently out of fear of annoying people in their lives. It is always best to talk things through if you’re struggling, either with a friend or professional, but hiking can be a great way to take your mind off things for a while.

Clear your mind and get back in touch with yourself. When alone with your thought for hours on end, you can either choose to face the problem and try to solve it or ignore it and enjoy yourself. Either option is fine and will improve your mental health greatly.

It’s been shown that exercise can boost your mood thanks to the endorphins released. A hike might also be useful to unplug from the world and, as social media has a direct correlation with some people’s mental health, this might be a great thing for you.

Social activity

Following on from the previous point, you might find that your mental health is deteriorating from lack of socialization. If this sounds like something that you would struggle with, planning a hike with some friends could be good for you.

Alternatively, you could sign up for a hiking group and meet new people who enjoy hiking just like you. This is a great chance to enjoy other people’s company and they can give you some tips and tricks for when you want to go out and explore on your own.

Just bear in mind that a hiking group might be more experienced than you if you’re a hiking beginner, so don’t be discouraged if they’re faster than you. You can find a group that focuses on beginners so that you don’t have to lag behind on your own.

Exploring and adventure

Finally, there is also the benefit of getting out into the world and enjoying the uncertainty of an adventure! No matter whether you’re hiking on your own or with a group, not knowing what you’re in for adds an element of mystery and excitement.

Hiking is sure to take you through a number of different areas with lots of amazing sights to see, so look out for wildlife, landscapes, and beauty. Nowadays, with so many concrete jungle vibes surrounding us, it’s so nice to embark on an adventure to forget about it and focus on nature’s finest.

If you wanted to make it a real adventure, try to minimize Googling the trail beforehand. This will ensure that you have no idea what you’re in for. Take a map with you and don’t be afraid to get lost – it’s all part of the adventure!

Enjoying your own company on a hiking adventure is certainly a great story to tell everyone when they ask what you got up to on the weekend, rather than having to admit that you spent 48 hours on the couch binging Netflix for the fourth week in a row.

Where Can You Hike?

group of experienced hikers wearing backpacks, trekking poles and full gear in the mountains off-trail

So, we’ve convinced you that you could really benefit from embarking on a hike and you’re getting excited. But where can you go for a hike? If you’ve never thought about hiking before, you might have missed all of the potential trails around you.

Luckily for us, there are hundreds of hiking paths and trails around us that we can quickly travel to. Some are more impressive than others, sure, but if you’re willing to find the beauty in everything, no hike will be a waste of time.

Let’s take a look into the areas in which you can begin a hike.

Anywhere Outdoors!

That’s right – you can feel free to hike anywhere you want! You don’t necessarily need to follow a hiking trail if you don’t want to, and your hike might actually be less busy than if you were to follow a trail.

If you want to see something that there are no hiking trails leading to, why not make your own? As long as you’re traveling a reasonably long distance, you can call anything a hike! So, decide what you want to see and begin hiking – you might even influence others to do the same.

Cities

Who said concrete jungles aren’t hiking material? There are plenty of interesting things to see right around the corner from you – you just need to be willing to find them. Find what you want the goal of your hike to be (it could be a cafe or a store that you’ve always wanted to go to), and determine how long you want to walk for.

Map a rough trail to get to your destination and don’t backtrack. If you go the wrong way, loop around and continue going forward. Wear the same gear as you would on a nature trail as this type of hiking is still strenuous!

A popular city hike to embark upon is an artistic hike in which you look for artistic murals in your city. Take a moment to enjoy the art rather than glance at it as you pass – someone spent hours on their work and would love you to appreciate it for a minute or two. These hikes can be very fun, so get out there!

Parks

How about hiking in the park? There are two types of parks ideal for hiking – national and state. National parks are beautiful areas that have been conserved by a national government. They might consist of waterfalls, picturesque scenes, or wonders of the world.

Hiking around a national park could be an amazing experience that will leave you with memories of a lifetime. If you have never hiked around a national park, we highly recommend that you do. If someone has gone to enough effort to preserve its beauty then we bet that it’s worth a look at the end of a hike.

National parks also commonly consist of hiking trails with different experience levels. So, you’ll be able to complete the trail and marvel at the attraction no matter where you are in your hiking adventure. Some of the most common national parks are the Grand Canyon National Park and the Smoky Mountains National Park.

State parks are another excellent place to hike, and these types of parks get almost three times the amount of visitors than national parks every year. The only difference between these parks is that national parks are managed by the federal government while state parks are managed by state governments.

You can still see amazing things in state parks, such as valleys and high mountains, waterfalls, and impressive monuments. Niagara Falls State Park, Little Missouri State Park, Ecola State Park are among the favorite state parks in the USA for hiking. State Parks also offers plenty of hiking trails for you to follow.

What types of trails are there?

large group of hikers - a mix of beginners and experts walking along a hiking path in the mountains

Now, you’ve decided that you’re going on a hike and where you’re going to do it. If you’re planning to follow a trail that has been made for hikers to follow, you might find it beneficial to learn what types of trails there are.

According to the National Park Service, there are six different types of trails that you can follow. Not every park or hiking spot is going to have all of the different types of trail, but it’s handy for you to be able to spot them when they are there.

So, you’ve reached the parking lot and you’re at the start of the hiking trails. There should be a large map that will show you different colored trails to follow. Below are the trails that you might spot on this map.

Foot trails

The most common trail that you’ll see is a footpath designed for hikers, such as yourself. There are often multiple foot trails shown on the map which can vary in difficulty and incline.

Make sure that you only opt for the difficulty level that you can finish. You can always come back and complete the harder trail! Taking on too much too soon can cause injury which might put you out of the hiking scene for weeks or months, so be careful.

Boardwalks

Boardwalks are like bridges and they give you a nicer walkway over marshy or muddy ground. Boardwalks can also be used to stop people from walking over plants and wildlife, so make sure you stick to the boardwalk if there is one around.

This type of trail can be rather skinny and often only allow one or two people to be next to each other at one time. For this reason, you might find that there are queues and backlogs of people trying to cross the path if people are holding up the line.

Nature trails

Nature trails are created for enjoyment and are meant to be slower-paced than other types of hikes. There will often be things to see dotted around the path with boards of information to read next to them.

Nature trails might teach you more about statues, wildlife, or native plants. You could also learn about people who used to live in the area as well. Nature trails are excellent for people who want to learn more about the area that they’re visiting.

Bikeways

Bikeways are indicated so that you don’t hike on them. While there might be enough room for both hikers and bikers to share the path, good etiquette would see you leave the bikeways alone.

Multi-use trails

Multi-use trails; however, are designed for both bikers and hikers to use together. The paths are wide enough for bikers to pass hikers, so you shouldn’t encounter any awkward moments trying to get out of the way of bikes.

Off the beaten track!

Hiking without a trail can be very fun and exhilarating while adding another layer of challenge to your adventure. Bear in mind that some parks have some Leave No Trace rules and look out for trespassing signs.

Not using a trail can be fun for people who want to spend the night in the wilderness, or perhaps even a couple of days. Just make sure that you’re allowed to set up camp beforehand.

Types of Hiking Explained

advanced hiker climbing a mountain with lots of gear and plenty of water

There are different types of hiking out there that you can enjoy, and knowing the differences can enhance your experience even more. If you don’t like the idea of long-distance hiking that we’ve been talking about throughout our article, perhaps some of the other types of hiking might catch your eye.

Day Hiking

The day hikers are what we have been talking about during our article. They wear hiking shoes and backpacks and follow trails that are designed to last no longer than a couple of hours. The trails might be a couple of miles long to tens of miles, but they’ll always end back at their vehicle before the day is done.

Overnight Hiking

If a hiker wants to spend more time on the trail than the day would allow, they can carry the minimal gear required to spend a night outside on the side of the path. They will have bigger backpacks to carry all of their belongings and they might be wearing some thermals underneath their protective clothing for when the night gets cold.

Weekend Hiking

Weekend hiking takes two or three nights, so make sure you have a tent with enough room to withstand it for that long. You might be packing lighter than if you were only completing an overnight hike as you still have to carry everything on your back. 

You can cover much more distance on a weekend hike rather than a day or overnight hike, so this type of hike is great for if there is something that you desperately want to see miles away from you. Make sure to bring enough food with you!

Distance Hiking

Before now we’ve been talking about small hiking trips that won’t take up too much of your week. However, a distance hike means business. You’re going to cover a lot of miles over more than three days and really get to know yourself along the way.

These types of hikes are sometimes called soul searching hikes that you can take to begin a journey of self-love and acceptance. You’ll need a large backpack and you might even need to hunt for your own food unless you want to invest in a lot of freeze-dried snacks.

Thru-Hiking

Thru-hiking takes months to complete as it takes you across continents, showing you things that you never thought possible. It is a great way to explore as it costs considerably less than public transportation.

These types of trails are often surveilled and you have to obtain a permit to cross one. They are also great for soul searching and getting a grasp on spirituality, but they can take much more planning and money as opposed to a distance hike.

Objective Hiking

Some hunters want to get something more than just solitude and happiness from their hike, so they’ll bring some additional equipment along. Hiking can inspire some amazing photography, so don’t forget to bring your equipment and shoot some amazing photographs!

Fishermen or hunters might also embark on hikes to find their targets. Adding a hike to these activities adds another layer of enjoyment for you, so why not get a little exercise in while you’re at it? Hiking can also allow you to find different targets that you wouldn’t usually see around your usual area.

Fast-and-Light Hiking

This type of hiking is most enjoyed by athletic people who want to cover as much distance as possible. Mountain climbing hikes are most common with this type of hiking, with the hikers completing from start to finish in mere hours.

To do this, they won’t carry much with them at all. Carrying next to nothing will stop you from being weighed down during the hike, allowing you to move faster.

Trail Running

Trail running is a little different from hiking as you’re running rather than walking, but it is similar enough to be concerned as a type of hiking. Trail runners can cover tens of miles in record timing, and it’s certain that you’ll be burning plenty of calories.

You’ll need to take lots of water and an emergency kit in case you injure yourself. Running across the uneven terrain of a hiking trail can be dangerous, so make sure that you have the right supplies just in case.

Beginner’s Hikers List: Essentials You’ll Need

essentials that you need to plan a beginner hiking trip including shoes, backpacks, and water for hydration

Before we send you on your way towards your first exciting hike, we’ve collated a list of the essentials that you need to bring along for the ride. Hiking is a fun activity, but that doesn’t mean that you don’t need to prepare properly before beginning the adventure.

Without checking all of the below equipment off the list, you might find yourself not enjoying the hike as much as you’d like to. So, to ensure that you get the best out of your hiking experience make sure that you have all of these essentials to take with you.

Boots

Hiking boots are perhaps the most important essential that you need when getting ready for a hike. Walking for long distances without many breaks can be taxing on your feet, and the uneven surface of the trail only puts your feet under more pressure.

Hiking boots offer you more cushioning and better tread so that you don’t feel all of the bumps underfoot. You could always try hiking without the correct footwear, but we want to stress that this can lead to painful blisters and sores.

Look for hiking boots with good ankle support, thick padding in all of the right places, and an impressively thick rubber sole with deep and wide lugs. The larger lugs will ensure that twigs and stones don’t get trapped within the sole which could become uncomfortable.

Many people are put off by the condition of their feet after the trail has been completed, but a pair of high-quality hiking boots will help to avoid the need for a foot rub at the end of the day. So, do some research beforehand and find the best boots for you that are within your budget.

Backpacks

You will need to take plenty of supplies with you on your hikes, such as water, emergency kits, and an extra pair of socks. For this reason, you should opt for a backpack that is going to be large enough for all of your essentials.

The type of hike that you’re planning on completing will affect the size of your backpack. If you’re only planning on a day hike, you will need to use a considerably smaller backpack than that of a distance hiker.

Remember that you’ll need to carry your backpack on your shoulders throughout the entire hike, so don’t fill it up with too much unnecessary gear. If you’re planning on taking a heavier backpack with camping supplies, consider a backpack with waist support.

When choosing your backpack make sure that it has wide straps that evenly distribute the weight across both shoulders and your back. You can also opt for a model that has waist and chest straps that help to prevent the weight from straining your body too much.

Water Bottle

Keeping yourself hydrated is incredibly important during a hiking trail, so definitely don’t leave the house without a large water bottle. Depending on how long you’re planning on hiking for, you’ll need to determine how much water should be enough to prevent heat stroke or dehydration.

As a general rule of thumb, you should take around two cups of water with you for every hour that you’re going to be on the hike. Depending on how many hours you’re going to be away from civilization, you might need to take more than one water bottle with you.

Make sure that you don’t prioritize less important equipment in your backpack over water. If you don’t have enough space to take enough water, remove some gear over the water. Alternatively, you could opt for a larger backpack if you don’t have space.

Many people think that hiking doesn’t require as much drinking water as other high-intensity sports because you’re walking. However, this is simply not the case. You sweat more than you realize while you’re hiking so you will need more water than you first think.

The type of water bottle you bring with you doesn’t matter that much, as long as you can easily drink from it without exerting too much energy. However, we would advise you to get a durable bottle made from either high-quality plastic or metal. This will avoid it from breaking or bursting if you accidentally drop it.

Protective Clothing

While being exposed to nature can be very relaxing and healing to the soul, it can also be quite challenging on the body. There are plenty of things that your skin will be exposed to, such as weather, bugs, and sharp materials.

Weather

Are you planning on hiking in the summer or wintertime? Does the forecast say rain or shine? No matter what the weather, you need to be protected. You can find plenty of hiking apparel that keeps you warm and dry for a rainy day, as well as breathable material that can protect you from the harmful UV rays from the sun.

Remember that hiking is an activity that is sure to work up a sweat, so all of your protective clothing should be breathable. Some clothing even vows to protect you from every kind of weather to prevent you from having to spend lots of money on different attire for different days.

Bugs

Nature comes with bugs as part of a package deal – there’s not much you can do about that, unfortunately. If you don’t want to smell like the rancid bug spray that you can purchase from superstores, you can opt for protective clothing instead.

Wearing long-sleeved tops and bottoms can help protect you from biting insects so that you don’t have to go home and lather yourself up with oily ointments or honey. This is where breathable material comes in again. If your protective clothing is breathable, you might not mind covering all of your skin from head to toe.

Sharp Materials

Nature is full of broken branches, sharp stones, and brittle materials. To make things worse, nature also often comes with slippery surfaces that you can easily trip upon. If you’re spending the entire day exposed to the elements, chances are that something is going to catch you out.

Protective clothing can be durable enough to prevent these hazards from seriously harming you. Instead of a deep wound from a broken tree branch,  you might be left with a small snag in your sleeve. While this is annoying if the clothing is brand new, we bet that you’d rather a small hole than a trip to the emergency room.

Basic Survival Kit

You should also consider taking a basic survival kit along with you in your backpack. You can find plenty of different survival kits on the market, all with different pieces of handy equipment within them. Survival kits are back-up plans in case the worst happens and you cannot complete the trail and find your way back to safety.

Becoming stranded in the middle of nowhere is quite an uncommon occurrence so don’t be too deterred about the thought of hiking because of this, but it’s always best to be prepared and bring along your own survival kit!

Basic versions of the survival kits often come with an emergency water bottle, tape, a warm blanket, a flint, and some plasters. Of course, you can find that some kits come with more items than this, but these are the basics.

Don’t worry too much about trying to fit an extensive kit into your backpack, unless you want to for the added peace of mind, as chances are you won’t need to use any of it. Carrying too much in your bag can strain your back and weigh you down, making your hike less enjoyable and more challenging.

So, Where To From Here?

mom and child going on a hike in the woods with plenty of warm gear

We hope that you’ve found some interesting and useful information within our ultimate guide to hiking and trails. Hiking is a fun and relaxing activity that can be carried out individually or with friends, and it is relatively simple in its stripped-back form. Walking for multiple miles will qualify you for a hike, no matter where you’re going.

Hiking is a great way to explore new areas and cultures as it allows you to stop and look around, appreciating everything that you can see. There are plenty of benefits that come from hiking, such as the fact that it’s a physical activity and therefore allows you to burn calories and enjoy exercise rather than loathe it.

Hiking is also great for your mental health and adventure-seekers out there. It can be a very social activity, so if you’re missing your friends or family why don’t you set up a hiking date?

You can hike anywhere that takes your fancy. Just because you don’t have large forests near you doesn’t mean that you cannot enjoy a hike! City hikes are great for learning about the culture and exploring new places. On the other hand, state and national parks offer amazing sights that create perfect memories.

Once you’ve reached wherever you’re planning on hiking, you might see a large map that has multiple different trails dotted on it. These colored lines mean different things, so make sure that you know what each means to avoid following the wrong one.

If you don’t know which trail to follow, ask a ranger about the difficulty of each trail. Only opt for the one that you think you can realistically finish to avoid over-exerting yourself and causing injuries.

Hiking knows no bounds – you can hike for as little as a few hours to multiple months. There are plenty of different types of hiking that you can opt for, depending on your expert level and willingness to sleep in a tent.

There are five essentials that you need to take with you – hiking boots, a water bottle, a backpack, a basic survival kit, and protective clothing. We would always recommend a spare pair of socks as well, but we cannot class this as essential, unfortunately.

Hiking requires a lot of preparation before you can actually get to the fun part, but don’t let this get too overwhelming for you. Remember to enjoy yourself on your hiking adventures, because that’s what it’s all about! So, lace up your boots, leave your phone at home, and make some memories!

 

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