How to maximize your hiking fun and comfort? Easy! You can instantly take your hiking game to the next level by following our 7 Tips and Tricks for Amateur Hikers. No matter if you’re a complete beginner to hiking, with these handy recommendations, everyone can take a step in the right direction!
Choosing a hiking trail
It may seem like a given, but choosing the right hiking trail can make a big difference to your comfort and enjoyment. It’s important to keep in mind that whilst you may easily walk 5 miles on flat, paved terrain – hiking a 5-mile track can suddenly feel a lot more taxing. When in doubt between different routes: always pick the shorter one. It’s better to finish a trail with some energy left than to completely exhaust yourself when you still have several miles to go. Several other factors can influence the difficulty of your hikes, such as elevation and the type of terrain. For example, a trail that has 1000 feet of elevation game, can easily take an hour longer than a similar route with no elevation change. Fortunately, most hiking trails come with markers or indicators of their difficulty level (like those listed via the National Parks website). If you’re an absolute beginner or have limited hiking experience, choose a walk listed as ‘easy’ or ‘moderate’. Sometimes it’s good to be optimistic, but when it comes to picking a hiking trail, it’s much better to be realistic. You can always choose a slightly longer or challenging route for the next time if the hike turned out to be ‘too easy’. Practise makes perfect, so test and improve your hiking skills with routes that match your experience level.
Only bring the essentials
The weight of your backpack directly influences your comfort level. In this case: the lighter your pack, the easier it will be to complete your hike. This is why we recommend to only pack the essentials. What these essentials are, depends on various factors. These include where are you hiking (terrain), the weather and temperature, how long is your hike, will you camp overnight, and are you hiking solo or with a group?
For example, if you’re going on a day hike in summertime, and the weather forecast is blue skies, you won’t need a rain poncho, tent, or sleeping bag – but will need quality sunscreen. However, if you’re going on an overnight hike in autumn, and the forecast is dreary and rainy, you’ll need quality Camping Gazebos tents with a rainfly and that poncho – but can probably leave the sunscreen at home. Or, to give another example, if you’re hiking a popular trail in peak season, the chances are very slim you’ll get lost or be without help in case you sprain an ankle. That said if you want to do a solo hike in the off-season, and venture off the beaten track, you may need to pack emergency gear like a compass, an emergency flare, or even a power bank to recharge your phone in case you need to call for help.
Think carefully about where you’ll be hiking, do your research, and ask other hiking enthusiasts what they would consider the basic must-haves for the hike you want to do. Pack light, pack smart, and only bring the essentials!
Pack some snacks
No matter if you’ll be hiking for an hour, or a full day, always make sure to pack some snacks! Snacks are a great way to top up your energy on the go and treat your taste buds at the same time. That said, not all snacks have the same effect on your energy level, and some may even cause you to feel sluggish and lethargic. Avoid overly sugary snacks, like candy bars. Yes, sugar can boost your energy quickly, but this boost is quickly followed by a dip in your body’s blood sugar, which can make you feel tired and groggy. Instead, choose a healthier snack that provides energy for hours, not minutes. Examples are bananas with peanut butter (a great source of protein and healthy fats, nuts, trail mix, and raw veggies such as cauliflower and carrots. Before you set off on your hike, make sure your snack supply is within easy reach (your jacket pocket) and already prepped into bite-sized portions. That way, you won’t have to stop and can simply enjoy your snack on-the-go: ideal for when you need an energy top-up. Oh, and don’t forget to bring enough water to wash down those snacks with – as proper hydration is equally important!
Get off on the right foot
The quickest way to ruin your hiking fun? Wearing the wrong hiking shoes. Whilst some trails allow you to get away with a pair of regular sneakers, we’d always recommend upgrading to a specific hiking shoe and/or boot. Proper hiking footwear offers multiple benefits: including cushioning, arch-support, ankle-support, breathability, and odor-control. Furthermore, a hiking shoe has more traction and grip on slippery terrain, allowing you to keep firm footing – even on wet undergrounds. If you want maximum grip, choose a hiking shoe with an extra-deep lug pattern on the sole: as this will help you keep stable and secure – even on the most challenging undergrounds like loose rocks. Another tip: if you do buy a pair of new hiking shoes and/or boots, make sure to ‘break them in’ before you go hiking. Whilst some shoes are made of supple leather that offers instant, out-of-the-box comfort – other designs made of stiffer leather or materials can take a while to properly break-in. Wear your new shoes around the house, and give the material some time to ‘supple up’.
Dress for success
Besides the right footwear, you should also invest in the right outfit. When it comes to hiking, your outfit can make a big difference in your overall comfort. Wear the wrong clothes, and you could be too cold, too wet, too warm, or simply too restricted: which are all things you want to avoid. What clothing do we recommend? Well, that depends on the weather, the intensity of your hike, and the terrain. The easiest way to ensure you’re prepped for anything is layering – a golden rule for any avid hiker. Layering hiking clothing allows you to simply take off a layer when warm, or add a layer when cold. You always start with a base-layer: which is often a slim-fitting shirt and/or leggings, made of breathable and moisture-wicking materials. Then you can add multiple mid-layer, for example, t-shirts, sweaters, and jumpers. You finish your outfit with an outer-layer like a hiking jacket or a wind blocker. You can simply mix and match layers based on the weather forecast and season. In summer, a base-layer could already be enough to keep you comfy, whilst in harsh winter conditions, you’ll need all the layers you can get. Whichever layers you decide on, try to avoid cotton and other cheap synthetics. Cotton is not moisture-wicking, meaning that when you sweat, the fabric will stay damp and sticky. Instead, choose a material with natural breathability and moisture-wicking properties, such as merino wool. Dress for success, and invest in a proper hiking wardrobe!
Prep for emergencies
When hitting the trail, it’s always best to prep for the worst. Whatever type of hike you do, remember to bring a basic first aid kit with some medical essentials to deal with lesser injuries just as cuts and scrapes. When hiking through a dense trail or challenging terrain, minor accidents – just as cutting yourself on a prickly bush – can happen at any time. By packing some band-aids, gauge, disinfecting wipes, and medical tape, you have the basics at hand to patch yourself up, and keep going. If you’re planning a multi-day hike in backcountry terrain, also ensure you have access to an emergency whistle, a compass, and possibly a SPOT tracker (a device that you can use to alert help using a satellite signal). Oh, and don’t forget to always tell someone where you are going, and when you expect to be back: which is a must-have safety precaution. Be sure to read our Safety Guidelines, before your head out.
Leave No Trace
We’ll keep this last tip short and sweet: leave your hiking spot the same, or better, as you found it and carry out all your trash. We are big fans of the ‘Leave No Trace’ philosophy, where everyone does their bit to help keep the great outdoors great. Pack some disposal bags to keep your trash safely stored in your backpack, and dispose of it at home, or a designated bin. If we all do our part, we can keep nature clean and beautiful, allowing other hikers to enjoy it just as much!
This Guest Post was contributed by Caleb Cole from OutdoorCommand