If you’re anxious to hit the trails but aren’t quite show how to get started, don’t worry. Hiking experts on Reddit are sharing their best tips for hiking for beginners, ranging from what to pack to how to evaluate a trail to how to stay safe.
While hiking seems simple — and it fundamentally is — it’s understandable that it can be a little scary. Being out in the woods away from other people (and sometimes cell service) can make even an easy trail seem intimidating. But hiking for beginners doesn’t need to be extreme, and these 25 tips for first-time trail explorers prove it. These tips come from Redditors around the world, ranging from experts who have hiked the entire Pacific Crest Trail to tropical hikers used to rain storms and muddy trails.
The best part of some of these tips is how honest and easy they are, especially in regards to buying expensive new gear (hint: don’t do that right away). Pair these tips with suggestions of what not to do on the trails, and you’ll be a pro in no time.
Hiking for beginners can be intimidating, but hopefully this useful suggestions can help make you feel a little more confident about venting past the trailhead.
Start with your footwear
“Shoes, and I can’t emphasize this enough: get good shoes.” – Yaglara
(By the way, Matador’s outdoor editor wrote a guide to her favorite trail shoes that work for hiking but aren’t big, clunky boots)
Seriously: shoes. And socks
“This is so important! Your feet are your only mode of transportation when you’re hiking, so you have to take care of them. You don’t necessarily NEED super fancy “hiking shoes” right off the bat, you really could hike in tennis shoes, but I would consider the type of terrain you are hiking in.
“I would also invest in a pair of merino wool blend socks. They’re moisture wicking and odor resistant, so they’ll help wick away sweat from your feet and dry off faster, which in turn helps prevent blister formation.” – star_wolff
And break ’em in
“Do not wear new boots unless you have broken them in first or you’ll be left half way somewhere and in a lot of pain.” – Kanad3_Tachibana
It’s not just shoes that can hurt
“Have a plan to avoid chafing. There are products out there that apply like deodorant or [wear] good underwear/compression shorts. Find what works and feels best for you. A little chafing leads to a lot of unpleasantness.” – skyrim9012
Know proper wildlife behavior
“Learn about proper food storage. Bears are real.” – rapiertwit
Trust your senses
“If your gut says something is dangerous or not a great idea then listen to it. Solo trips are fun but you are alone and help may be far away if something goes wrong.” – pajamakitten
Hiking for beginners need not be difficult
“As a beginner, there is really nothing you ‘need’ other than a bit of knowledge and a willingness to learn. John Muir would famously stuff a few handfuls of peanuts and raisins in his pockets and disappear for days. Not recommending this approach, but you probably already have an old-school backpack and some sort of water bottle you can use. Throw some snacks and a map in there and go for a walk.
Plan conservatively and do short, simple hikes. Ask yourself, ‘What did I enjoy about that hike? What might I l have liked to have or done differently to make it more enjoyable or to be better prepared in the future?’ Spend your money on those things as you learn more.” – njp9
Get to know your surroundings
“Brush up on nature and meteorology. For example, going above treeline and you see some clouds — is it a cumulonimbus or a lenticular cloud? Going off trail to pee… are you walking through stinging nettle, poison oak, or just Virginia creeper? And read up on bears. Believe it or not bears aren’t going out of their way to toss your campsite and hold you up by your legs.” – Ptr4570
Turning around is A-ok
“Remember that when you go from A to B, then you have to go from B to A. If you are getting very tired don’t be afraid to turn around. Sometimes the way back (downhill) takes more time. Take it easy and don’t rush at first. You don’t want to give 90 percent of your energy in the first 10 percent of the way. Enjoy the view.” – Megymguy
Don’t buy expensive gear right away
“All you need are exercise clothes, running shoes and a backpack for the essentials (water and whatever else is safe in your climate). I bought all my gear before I started and spent a lot of $$$, then had to sell it and buy different stuff once I knew what I was doing. The tent I bought was too big, the backpack was too big, there was lots of gimmicky stuff I didn’t need, the hiking boots made my legs tired, etc. Just wear your exercise clothes and go for a walk!” – PattersonsOlady
Start with pre-owned gear
“I’m fairly new myself, only have done day hikes. But in my opinion you need whatever will make you comfortable so that you can focus on enjoying your surroundings. I have boots that fit alright, from REI used gear. I know it sounds weird, but it’s a good way to get high quality gear at lower prices. I also got super cheap used hiking pants and a light, breathable button down.” – streachh
Lots of food and water
“Bring more water than you think you need. A few snacks too. Beginning hikers make this mistake a lot. Myself included.” – Pat_solo
Find fellow hikers
“When you’re ready to attempt longer hikes, perhaps get in touch with a local hiking club. The Meetup App is pretty good for this. You’ll learn a lot from the more experienced members as well as get some great trail recommendations. As a bonus, you’re likely to make new friends, too.” – Acid_rain_747
Download a useful hiking app in advance
“Personally, I’d recommend the AllTrails app. I went and bought the pro version, has some great downloadable map features, etc., gives decent insight into how hard or easy the trail will be and how long it might take, where to park, etc. Was fantastic on a recent trip to Acadia — so many choices for just three to four days.” – Ill-Albatross-8963
Hike in popular places first
“Here’s my add: go to the popular places initially. Places you know that other hikers will be at. You’ll make new friends, find other solo or duo hikers, and if something goes wrong, there are people to help out. I’ve met a couple people out while solo hiking and still keep in contact with them.” – mazzicc
State parks are great
“State park websites often have good information about different hiking trails and their levels of difficulty. If you pick a shorter trail, like under three miles or something, you probably don’t need to sweat too much about the details. Just wear tennis shoes/boots, find out where you can park, and bring water. Park offices usually have maps, and these might be available online as well, if that would increase your comfort level.” – natalielynne
Hydrate before you start
“My uncommon water advice: start the day hydrated. Drink 0.5 liters before bed the day before you start the hike. Then before leaving the house, drink as much as you can fit.” – SvalbardCaretaker
Manage your risk
“If you’re just going out for the day, getting lost should be your main safety concern, followed by falls. Falls are the number one cause of death in national parks, with 245 falling deaths occurring between 2010 and 2020. Yosemite had the most falling deaths – 45 – in the 10-year period, while Grand Canyon had 27 and Sequoia had 25. So get a GPS app on your phone and/or map and compass if you know how to use them.
When you’re hiking solo never climb anything high enough if you slip you could be incapacitated and couldn’t walk out. Remember, lots of backcountry areas won’t have cell service, so you likely couldn’t call for help.” – Genericdude999
Take it seriously, but mistakes are okay
“Don’t be intimidated. Hiking is easy to get into. Just be smart about it, know your fitness, experience, and knowledge levels and try to make good choices. If you can, find people you can enjoy it with and learn from. Have fun. Keep learning. Most mistakes don’t actually end in disaster, just discomfort or a less-than-ideal experience, so learn from them and keep going.” – Cephas24
Obvious, but essential
“No matter how short a trail or how familiar you are with the area, check the weather first. Lightning is unpredictable. Survivors of a strike can have permanent brain damage.” – PreserveHabitat
Make it easy to get found
“My first thing I always recommend someone carry is a good whistle. If you get lost, it’s one of the most effective ways to alert others to where you are.” – rmcnee
Don’t forget about salt
“You need water, but you also need salt. When you sweat you lose all the salts and electrolytes in your body and you have to replenish those. An imbalance will make you feel super lethargic and your legs will feel very heavy. Bring a salty, protein-dense snack like some nuts or some cheese and salami (my favorite) and you’re in good shape.” – BlissfullyChilling
Motivate yourself with a hiking bucket list
“It’s easy. Start with well known and popular trails that people have told you about. Shoes, food, water, and elevation maps that show how many miles in/out/up/down. That way you know how far you are going. Start out with one/two mile loops… then keep going up from there. At some point bring extra weight to practice. Find some dream hikes (Havasupai) and figure out what it takes to complete them. Make all your hikes build up to completing your dream hike. Then find a bigger dream.” – circediana
Or make it about more than hiking
“Be open to changing things… if your knees hurt on downhills, try a walking stick or poles. If you get blisters, change your footwear. If you’re feeling crummy at the end of a hike, change stuff… the end of a good hike should leave you wanting more.
If you can pick up some interest, it can make the hike more enjoyable. Maybe you can try to identify all the plants along the way, notice how they change through the season. Try to ID birds by their songs. Same for flowers or insects… maybe cartography or photography could be your thing.” – MayIServeYouWell
Maybe the most important
“Tell someone where you are going, what trail you are taking, and how long you expect it to take. That way, if anything happens, they have an idea of where to look for you. I usually give my wife a copy of my map with my route highlighted and give her a rough window of when to expect me to check in when I’m headed back home.
This is good practice for any hike, not just solo hikes.” – jslondon85