New to hiking, but excited to get out in nature, unplug, and explore beautiful places? This guide contains beginner hiking tips for building your hiking skills and tools from the science of sport and performance psychology to build confidence and sustain motivation so you can work towards climbing those mountains you dream of.
As a former D1 golfer turned mental performance coach and avid hiker, I am familiar with the mental aspects of taking on a new sport or activity and the learning curve accompanying that process. While hiking 10 miles after work or summiting 14,000-foot peaks is now the norm for me, it was not always this way.
My husband and I set big goals for our hiking capabilities as we ventured out to travel the country and hike our way through some of the United States’ most beautiful trails, but we had to start somewhere. Using these beginner hiking tips to propel you toward your hiking goals!
Hiking 101: Hiking for Beginners
Getting out on a hiking trail for the first time can feel intimidating – especially if you didn’t grow up in an outdoorsy family. This is normal, and we are here to help you not let those fears or worries you might have stand in your way. By arming yourself with knowledge and skills you will build your hiking skills step by step. Let’s start with some hiking basics!
Types of Hiking:
There are a few different types of hiking that get you out on the trail in slightly different ways:
- Day Hiking: A hike that can be done in one day with no overnight camping required. As a beginner, day hiking is a great place to start!
- Backpacking: Long hikes where you carry all of your gear in order to sleep and eat on the trail overnight
- Thru-Hiking: Hiking an end-to-end or long-distance trail. Examples include the PCT (Pacific Crest Trail) and the Appalachian Trail.
- Section Hiking: Breaking up long-distance trails and completing them in chunks, rather than in one go as you would if you were thru-hiking
- Bushwacking: Hiking outside of an established trail while forging your own path through the woods
Benefits of Hiking:
Hiking offers several amazing benefits for the body and mind. Hiking offers you the ability to unplug, spend time connecting with nature, get fresh air and physical exercise, soak up some Vitamin D, and build more presence.
These are benefits that have a positive impact on your physical health and mental health including improved heart and bone health, improved mood, creativity, satisfaction, and decreased stress.
In addition, if you bring along a friend or loved one, hiking can be a great opportunity to foster strong relationships (a key component of happiness and fulfillment), away from the typical distractions of today’s world.
How to choose a beginner hiking trail
So you know you want to get out and hike more, but how do you find trails that are of interest to you and perfect for your skill level?
There are so many amazing hiking trails throughout the US waiting to be explored. Whether you are traveling for a vacation or looking for places right in your own backyard, AllTrails is our favorite resource for choosing trails. It even has a great community aspect with many members leaving detailed reviews and pictures that are really helpful when trying to decide on a trail. You can filter by location, difficulty, dog friendliness, etc.
If you want offline maps to be able to navigate even if you do not have service, AllTrails also has a paid pro version which we have found really helpful as we continue to try more difficult and remote hikes. AllTrails Pro is $29.99/year.
You can also look at trails using google maps and find detailed hiking guides and reviews on blogs that can be really helpful.
A few guidelines for choosing a hiking trail as a beginner:
- Assess your fitness level. Not used to exercising much? Short, easy trails with less than 250 feet of elevation per mile might be a great place to start. If you have experience with other forms of cardio activities, you might be able to try out longer trails with more elevation gain. Start small!
- Check the average completion time. Add some time as a buffer. Make sure you will have ample daylight before starting your hike.
- Pick a trail that has features that will bring you joy and that you will look forward to. Love the ocean? Try a trail along the coastline. Want to get lost in the trees? Pick a wooded path. After all, hiking should be enjoyable!
Proper hiking gear
With so much being thrown at us on social media, it can feel overwhelming to know what gear you really need to get out on the trail. The good news is you really don’t need a lot!
In general, clothing, footwear, and sun and insect protection are all essential components of a safe and enjoyable hiking experience.
A few keys:
Be sure to check the weather and plan your clothing accordingly. Elevation can bring big changes (whether you are driving up to a trailhead or hiking up in elevation). When we hiked the Decalibron in Colorado, which takes you to 4 peaks over 14,000 feet, we forgot gloves and it was not fun.
Bring lightweight layers to give yourself options if the weather changes or things get colder if you are hiking higher.
Choose wicking materials as even if it’s cold you will sweat. Wool socks are great as they are comfortable and can help you both stay warm and stay cool while regulating moisture.
Choose proper footwear for you. We have been just fine with waterproof hiking shoes, but you might prefer lighter trail runners or boots with more ankle support. REI has great used gear options if you are looking for starting gear at a lower price as you figure out what feels best for you. They also have a great article on choosing hiking boots!
Think about how you will carry what you need. You might consider a lightweight pack to carry your snacks and water or choose a comfortable backpack you already own. We love our camelback water bladders as we find we stay much better hydrated due to their ease.
Assess your balance! While we haven’t invested in them just yet, many of our friends swear by their trekking poles. These can be a great option, especially if you are worried about your balance or tripping.
The bottom line: You do not need the fanciest gear or name brands to be able to get out and hike!
Here is a simplistic hiking gear list:
- Hiking shoes
- Water (we bring 2-L CamelBak bladders or water bottles, and/or personal water filter straw)
- Lightweight backpack
- Phone and/or personal locator beacon
- Lightweight jacket or packable puffer
- Insect Repellant
- Bear Spray (depending on the area)
- Wicking hiking pants and shirt
- Snacks and sandwiches
- First-Aid Kit
- Trekking poles
Proper Hiking Hydration & Nutrition
Another important hiking tip for beginners is to be prepared with proper nutrition, and hydration for your adventures. Always be sure to bring enough water and food with you along the trail. Things get exponentially tougher when you are thirsty or when your body does not have the energy it requires to fuel your trip.
Some of our trail favorites are apples, bananas, clementines, trail mix, peanut butter and jelly, granola, and protein bars. We also always hike with multiple water bottles or our CamelBak water bladders.
You will want to make sure you fuel up and hydrate before, during, and after your hike to keep your body nourished, and energized, and to optimize recovery.
Hiking Safety Tips For Beginners
General Hiking Safety
Hiking safety is so important when you are on any hiking trail. Injury is always a possibility and you never know what you might encounter. Weather can change rapidly, mistakes and injuries can occur, and hiking conditions can change.
A few keys:
Let someone know where you will be and what time they can expect to hear from you after completing the hike. This way someone knows your location and can alert the proper people if they do not hear from you when they would expect to.
It can also be helpful to know the wildlife in the area to look out for. Are there venomous snakes? Predatory animals?
Stay appraised of changing weather. Is there a shelter in the area if storms roll through?
Staying safe is one of the most important beginner hiking tips that should not be taken lightly.
If you plan to complete longer day hikes that are more remote or less popular, more backcountry hiking or backpacking, you might also consider investing in a GPS beacon or a phone with satellite SOS capabilities so that you can send for help if you need assistance or send messages to loved ones to let them know you are okay. The Garmin inReach Mini is a great example of this type of device. We also have a satellite SOS function built into our iPhone 14.
Wildlife Safety on The Trail
Hiking in nature means entering in the spaces that various forms of wildlife call home. This can be an amazing opportunity to appreciate the species we share our Earth with, but can also be a bit nerve-wracking… our hearts were pounding out of our chests when we ran into a bear feeding on berry bushes on a trail in Grand Teton National Park!
To keep yourself safe and protect wildlife as well, here are some general tips:
- Make noise! The last thing you want to do is surprise a bear or a mountain lion. Sing, talk, and clap as you hike along the trail
- Know what types of animals live in the area so you know what to expect and look out for
- If you see an animal do not run away. Stay as calm as you can
Looking for more specific information on what to do if you encounter specific animals on the trail? Here are some additional resources for some common ones you might encounter:
Hiking Tips To Boost Your Confidence & Stay Motivated
Starting any new hobby or activity can be daunting. You are entering uncharted territory and don’t yet have the experience to breed a lot of confidence. This is normal! At one point you felt the same way about something you are good at now. Here are some tips from the science of sport and performance psychology and goal setting to help you build your hiking confidence as a beginner (or if you are working on achieving new hiking goals):
1. Set realistic hiking goals
If you have never hiked before, you probably don’t want your first trail to be a 14er in Colorado. Your best bet will be to choose an easy trail where you can achieve success.
Choosing the appropriate level of challenge will help your confidence and your motivation to continue to build upon that.
This starting point will look different based on your comfort level and your previous level of activity. As golfers, we were accustomed to walking long distances, but not necessarily lots of elevation gain.
This hiking tip is about starting small. Perhaps you start with short trails that are easy or longer trails with lower levels of elevation gain. Try some out and see how you feel and then build from there.
It is better to start easy and be surprised with how well you did than to start with something too challenging and end up feeling frustrated or worse, injured.
2. Hold yourself accountable
When starting something new or striving towards goals you have not worked towards before, it can be easy to give yourself an easy way out. You might talk yourself out of it or find excuses not to hit the trail.
It is normal to feel some fear about the unknown, worry about how you will do it, or be concerned about how you might look compared to other hikers or what they might think.
An important hiking tip for beginners is to find ways to hold yourself accountable.
Make it fun and social! Bring along people you trust in your support system. Perhaps someone who has more experience and can help guide you (without judgment) or someone who is new as well and wants to get into hiking. Having someone else tagging along can also help you stay accountable for getting out on the trails.
If you plan to hike alone, the other way to build accountability for yourself is to let others know the goal you are working towards and update them on your progress. Want to hike the tallest point in your state by the end of the year? Or go on 52 hikes this year? Let people know about it and share your updates and successes with them along the way.
3. Connect your hiking goals to your values
Ask yourself this question: Why are you wanting to get out hiking?
Understanding your deeper reasoning for working towards these goals and challenging yourself can be really helpful to keep you motivated to push through challenges and stay committed.
For example, perhaps you think hiking will provide beautiful views, and that is true. More than that though, perhaps it is also a way to support your mental and physical health so that you can be the best version of yourself for your family.
Connecting your reason for working towards your hiking goals to your core values will make them that much more powerful.
Another powerful question you might as yourself is: What are you hoping to gain from getting out on the trail?
You might have a few overarching themes for hiking in general and might also set smaller intentions for each hike you set out on along the way. For example, your larger intention might be to support your health, but for a single trail, it might be to have some quiet moments to unplug in nature.
4. Beware of social comparison while on the trail
Comparing ourselves to others can often leave us feeling inadequate and move the focus from our goals to worrying about how we look to others. Another important beginner hiking tip that will allow you to solely focus on your own journey and progress is to only compare yourself to your own benchmarks.
Humans are social beings and it can be easy to fall into comparing yourself to others. You might find yourself paying attention to how many hikers are passing you on the trail, how your pace compares to the average, or even how heavy you might be breathing compared to others.
Remind yourself of why you are hiking. Hiking is something you are doing for yourself.
You are the only person you can compare yourself to as you embark on the journey to get better bit by bit from the place where you started. You don’t know how far along anyone else is in their journey.
Over time, you will notice you can go longer distances in less time, with less effort. Don’t let comparing yourself to others skew your view of your progress or discourage you. Hiking is a wonderful way to nourish your mind and body and is not a competition.
The community of hikers is a really supportive group. You will always find others encouraging you along the trail, checking on you, and celebrating with you.
5. Utilize the power of positive self-talk
The mind quits long before the body does.
Hiking can be a mental battle. There typically comes a point in every hike where I am pushing towards a new goal or milestone where I find myself wondering why I am doing this and how it would be much more comfortable to just turn back.
Notice the story you are telling yourself. Is it just noise taking away from the goals you are trying to achieve? Or is it signaling to you that you are pushing yourself too hard?
If you feel you have bitten off more than you can chew, listen to your body and do what you need to do to protect your health and safety. If you notice your mind is focused on how challenging or hard this is or having doubts about your abilities, but believe this narrative might not be true… work to shift those thoughts.
Remind yourself that you can take your time and why you are doing this. Think about how it will feel when you get to the end of the beautiful views you will enjoy. Reflect on times when you have pushed through hard moments before and how it was worthwhile. Tell yourself you can do it.
Learning to use your mind to work for you is a powerful hiking tip for beginners and experts alike. Speak to yourself in a way that is motivating for you and that will help you push through those tougher moments.
6. Focus on the hiking journey
There is a lot you can gain, even if the outcome you are hoping for is not always what you achieve.
The first hike we attempted to hike over 12,500 feet of elevation was Mount Peale in Utah. It was our most ambitious hike to date and we “failed.” The main trail was snowed in still when we got above the tree line and the scree was just too much for our skill set. There were tears and some scares and we decided to turn around.
While we didn’t achieve the outcome we were hoping for, we still learned a lot in the process. We got a good steep hike that continued to help us train for higher elevation peaks. We got our first taste of hiking up scree above the tree line and we felt proud that we were able to honor our limits and put our safety first and turn around.
Even if you do not successfully complete every hike you set out on, it does not mean you failed.
Being able to focus on the process rather than get caught up worrying about the outcome is an important beginner hiking tip because the journey and your progress will never be linear.
There will be much to learn along the way and also many successes to celebrate when you focus on the process instead of just the ultimate outcome you hope to achieve. Don’t miss the steps you make by only focusing on the destination.
Celebrate both big and small wins along the way to further build your confidence and help maintain your motivation!
7. In hiking and in life; preparation is key
Lower your stress and boost your confidence by being prepared where you can be based on what is within your control.
Here are a few ways you can prepare that are always within your control: get directions, know where to park, and have a trail map to help you navigate and read reviews so you know what to expect. Look at the weather forecast to make sure you will have a clear day and good conditions. Bring plenty of water, snacks, a first aid kit, and layers.
Limit what you have to worry about by being as prepared as possible and having a game plan you feel confident in. You know what they say, failing to prepare is preparing to fail. This a great hiking tip for beginners and a nice general reminder for those more experienced as well.
8. Focus on the fun of hiking
Hiking is a great way to unplug, immerse yourself in nature, and reap the amazing physical and mental health benefits of this type of exercise in nature. It is normal to have worries or concerns when trying something new and encountering the unknown and that gets easier with time and experience. Make it fun!
Bring someone or a pet along with you, get a hiking outfit that makes you feel great, play your favorite music (being considerate of others), pack your favorite snack, hike trails that include your favorite scenery, or just spend a few moments soaking in the beauty and expressing some gratitude for the opportunity and what you have accomplished.
Make the experience one that speaks to you and fulfills you! It is okay if not every step of the trail feels like fun, but the more you can focus on the parts of the experience that bring you joy or are moving you closer to your goals, the more enjoyable it will be and the easier it might feel.
Beginner Hiking Tips Overall
Hiking is an amazing activity for your mental, physical, and emotional health. It is a great way to unplug, practice being mindful, connect with yourself and with nature, and challenge yourself in the name of personal growth and achievement. Don’t let your big goals or dreams or what others are doing intimidate you.
Focus on your own benchmarks, set goals that are realistic, and know that everyone starts somewhere. These beginner hiking tips are based on our experience as avid hikers and the science of building confidence and motivation and can help you put your hiking goals into motion. Have fun with it and see what you can learn about yourself and our beautiful planet in the process. Happy Trails!
Beginner Hiking Checklist
- Sturdy hiking shoes
- Hat & Sunglasses
- Bug spray
- Wicking clothes with light layers
- Lightweight rain jacket
- Fire source (lighter)
- First-Aid kit
- Hiking app (like AllTrails)
- Phone + Portable battery source
- Food & Snacks
- Water, CamelBak, Water Filter
- Let someone know where you are going and when you expect to be done
- Personal locator beacon (like the Garmin InReach Mini) or satellite SOS feature (such as that available on iPhone 14)
- Comfortable & lightweight backpack
- Trekking poles for sturdiness
- Flashlight or Headlamp
- A growth mindset!
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