Hiking For Beginners

How to Start Hiking in 7 Simple Steps: A Guide for Beginner Hikers

"Obsessed" is an understatement as I try to describe my love for hiking. Why? Because of the endless ways hiking has positively impacted my life! 

Of course, hiking is incredible for physical health. Not only is it an effective way to lose weight (if that’s your goal), but it improves coordination and balance, cardio, and strength. Hiking is one of those workouts that just don’t feel like a workout!

But the benefits of hiking go beyond just a physical one. As one of my go-to mental outlets, hiking is my opportunity to disconnect and decompress. Being in nature and alone with my thoughts is one of the most powerful feelings in the world. Hiking is instrumental in preserving and improving my mental health. The best part? Hiking is the best free, natural therapy that exists!

In addition to the mental health benefits, through many years of hiking, I’ve learned independence, mental perseverance, and confidence. Hiking has undoubtedly shaped me into the woman I am today!

Because I’ve personally experienced the powerful benefits of hiking (physically, mentally, and spiritually), I am empowered to help you start hiking too!

A family is standing at a scenic viewpoint in Sedona, Arizona. In  the background are a long chain of red canyons and green desert plants.
Hiking is something that has truly bonded my family together, since it's something we've all grown to love.

It’s never too late to start hiking

Let’s be clear about a couple of things: you’re never too old to start hiking and you don’t have to be an athlete to hike.

The only reason why I started hiking at such a young age is that I was fortunate enough to be exposed to it early by my parents, who also loved the trails. But I realize that’s not the case for the majority of people. 

So if you didn't grow up hiking or having access to outdoor recreation, you're not alone. This beginner hiking guide was made for you! 

I also want to emphasize that EVERYONE can hike. You don’t have to be a super athlete or be in insane physical shape. Like everything new you try in life, hiking will be uncomfortable and unfamiliar at first. But the more you do it, the better you'll get at hiking.

So whatever age or physical fitness you are, it’s never too late to start hiking. 

So what are you waiting for?

Three hikers hiking along a red canyon along the Watchman Trail in Zion National Park. There are green cacti along the trail.
No matter where you go, you will always be able to find a hiking trail that's perfect for your hiking level!

How to Start Hiking - 7 Simple Steps

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Step 1: Assess your fitness level

Regardless of what you believe, EVERYONE can hike...including you! Your size, shape, color, and athletic level don’t matter because there is a hike for everyone.

But with that being said, my most important beginner hiking tip is to give yourself an honest assessment of what kind of shape you’re in. Understanding your physical limits makes it easier to find a hiking trail that’s right for you. There is nothing worse than overcommitting to a hike, suffering the entire way, and having a traumatizing experience. 

My goal is to help you have nothing but positive and memorable hiking experiences so that you too will fall in love with hiking and crave more!

Pro-tip for beginner hikers: Don’t get discouraged if you’re not a natural athlete or don’t feel like you’re in the best shape of your life. Because you don’t have to be. The more you hike, the better you’ll get at hiking! You'll feel stronger and faster. But if you want to increase your fitness level even faster, try integrating these hiking stretches and training exercises for hikers into your regime.

Step 2: Find a beginner-friendly trail

Where to find hiking trails

There are an incredible amount of informational resources for finding and picking a hiking trail. But my go-to place to find trails to hike is AllTrails (website and app). Not only will you be able to find trails for any location, but there’s also tons of trail information, pro-tips, and reviews from other hikers. This makes it so easy to find a hiking trail that’s perfect for you!

Other resources you can use to find hiking trails include:

  • Guidebooks
  • Outdoor adventure & hiking blogs
  • Recommendations from locals
This image shows a description about a hike. It also shows trail features, like hike length, difficulty, and elevation.
AllTrails.com is my go-to resource for finding trails near me! For each trail, you'll be able to find details about the hike, including trail difficulty, length, and reviews from other hikers.

How to pick the right hiking trail for you

Knowing your current fitness and skill level makes finding the right hiking trail for you much easier. However, picking a trail that’s right for your fitness level goes beyond just looking at how long it is. Even though a trail may only be a few miles long, it might include a steep elevation gain or challenging terrain, making the hike more strenuous than anticipated.  

There are a handful of trail features you will want to pay attention to when picking a hiking trail.

  1. Difficulty Rating: most hiking trails will have a difficulty rating, from easy to difficult/strenuous. Trails rated as “easy” are typically flatter and well-maintained, making it the perfect trail for hikers of any fitness level, especially beginner hikers. Hiking trails rated as “difficult” or “strenuous” are generally longer, steeper, and may have challenging terrain (like rock scrambling). 
  2. Distance: the total length of the trail. Since trails can be either a loop (starting and ending at the same place) or out-and-back (you hike in and out along the same route), make sure you know the total round-trip distance when considering a hike.
  3. Elevation Gain or Grade: hiking trails will often be described by their elevation gain or grade. “Elevation gain” is the amount of climbing you will do along the trail while “grade” describes how steep the trail is.
  4. Terrain Type: the difficulty level of a trail is also determined by terrain type. Trails that are well-maintained and packed are easier and great for beginners. Trails with loose terrain (like gravel and rocks or boulders) can be more demanding physically and can challenge some hikers.
  5. Completion Time: before hitting the trail, get an idea of how long it will realistically take you to complete the hike and make sure you’ve allocated plenty of time. The last thing you want to do is start a hike too late and you end up hiking during the hottest part of the day or finishing in the dark (both can be very dangerous).

If you’re new to hiking, your first experiences should ALWAYS be enjoyable. Therefore, I highly recommend new hikers pick a trail that fits their skill level. Start off with short and sweet trails that are closer to home. Hiking trails that are well-maintained and well-marked are excellent beginner-friendly trails to start with!

Pro-tip for beginner hikers: not comfortable hitting a hiking trail just yet? Take a walk around the neighborhood to build up your endurance, skills, and confidence! Or if you have a friend that is experienced in hiking, ask to tag along on an easy trail. 

A picture of a trail sign for a hiking trail in Death Valley National Park. The trail has tall, golden canyons around it.
As a new hiker, I encourage you to start hiking on "beginner-friendly" trails, which are typically well-maintained and well-marked.

Step 3: Prepare for your hike (“Know before you go”)

One of the most important steps for hikers to have a successful, enjoyable experience is to prepare as much as possible before you hit the trail. Because the more prepared you are, the more you can minimize the risk of injury or misadventures. 

Here are a few essential things to do to prepare for your hike.

Check the weather & sunset time

The weather will play a huge part in planning what to wear on your hike, gear to bring, and what time to start hiking. You may want to dress in layers if it will be windy or cold, or you may want to pack rain gear if there is a chance of rain. On hotter days, you may plan to start your hike earlier in the day to avoid hiking in extreme heat. Make sure to know what time the sun will go down so you can give yourself enough time to complete your hike before getting caught in the dark. There’s nothing scarier and more dangerous than hiking in the dark!

Study the trail map

Get familiar with the trail you’ll be hiking and what to expect. Study the trail map and read hiking guides to get an idea of how to properly navigate the trail, landmarks to look for, and watch-out points. 

Before hitting the trails, make sure to have a copy of the trail map with you that you can access at all times. I’ll take a picture of the trail map with my phone or download an offline copy to guarantee I’ll have access to the map even without cell service. I’ll even take a screenshot of key hiking tips I may come across when reading through trail descriptions or reviews from fellow hikers so I can refer to them along the hike too!

Pro-tip for beginner hikers: Need more details on how to prepare for your hike, check out my extensive guide for new hikers!

Pack hiking supplies & gear

Before you get overwhelmed by this step or freak out about “not having any hiking gear”, understand that the best part about hiking is that you don’t need any special, fancy, or expensive hiking gear to hit the trail! You most likely already have everything you need to hike.

Let’s talk about footwear. A comfortable pair of sneakers with good traction is enough for beginner hikers. Make sure they are broken in to prevent blisters!

You may also be wondering about what to wear on a hike. I prefer to wear workout clothing that’s breathable and comfortable, like leggings or running shorts and a moisture-wicking shirt. Layer up or down based on the weather and pack a rain jacket if you’re expecting rain. For my recommendation of what to wear hiking, click here.

Now grab your go-to backpack and pack enough water and snacks (bring more than you need just in case). 

Pro-tip for beginner hikers: for a more detailed list of what to bring on your hike, check out my guide 7 Must-Have Essentials to Bring on Every Hike.

A picture of things to bring on a hike, including hiking clothes, a hiking backpack, snacks, water, and sun protection.
You don't need any kind of special or expensive gear to start hiking. Just some comfortable clothes, shoes, and a backpack filled with snacks and water!

Step 4: Hike your damn heart out (safely)

Take this opportunity on the trail to disconnect from the busyness of the real world to enjoy the beautiful sounds of mother nature and the feeling of crisp air filling your lungs.

But as you're on the trail, it's important to practice hiking safety so that you stay as safe and injury-free as possible. Here are my top hiking safety tips:

  • Let someone know your hiking plans. Tell them where you’ll be hiking and what time you plan to finish.
  • Stay on the trail to minimize the risk of getting injured or lost.
  • Stay vigilant so you can be aware of any falling rock hazards, approaching wildlife, or other safety risks. If you want to listen to music, leave one headphone out.
  • Trust your gut! If something doesn’t feel right, turn around. And if the hike feels too demanding, stop.

Click here to learn more hiking safety tips.

Pro-tip for hiking beginners: Is it safe to hike alone? Yes! As long as you are as prepared and safe as possible. However, I’d recommend new hikers start off hiking with a friend or group before solo hiking. Meetup is a great place to look for local hiking groups and upcoming events!

Step 5: Build your confidence & hiking skills

Like everything else, the more you hike, the more confident and skilled you’ll become. Once you get comfortable with those local, beginner-friendly hikes, gradually work your way up to longer, more challenging trails. Soon enough, you’ll start exploring trails further and further away from home! 

Interested in adventuring beyond day hikes? Work your way towards multi-day backpacking hikes by slowly adding more weight to your backpack on your day hikes.

Pro-tip for hiking beginners: looking for some guides on how to start building up your hiking skills? Try these:

A female hiker is standing on a trail with a beautiful blue river along the trail. There are tall green pine trees in the background.
The more you hike, the better you'll get. So keep on hiking!

Step 6: Start investing in hiking gear

So you’ve fallen in love with hiking and can’t get enough of it? It may be time to start investing in hiking gear.

It’s true - hiking gear is expensive. That’s because hiking gear is highly specialized to perform optimally and keep you comfortable in harsh conditions. While sneakers can surely get the job done on easier trails, a durable pair of hiking boots provide traction and ankle support to protect your feet from injuries. Similarly, a regular backpack works for shorter hikes, but you’ll want a hiking-specific backpack that will distribute the pack’s weight properly on your body to protect your shoulders and back on longer trails. 

Since hiking gear can be expensive, you don’t have to invest in all the gear at one time. Slowly add gear to your collection. The first pieces of hiking-specific gear I’d recommend investing in are hiking boots, a hiking backpack, and a hydration bladder. (insert affiliate links). 

Pro-tip for hiking beginners: here’s a hack for hikers on a budget! Renting hiking gear is an excellent way to test out gear before you invest in it. Many REI stores offer rental services, offering everything from trekking poles and hiking backpacks.

Step 7: Explore the world on your two feet!

Wherever you end up hiking, don't forget to appreciate your journey up until this point! It's incredible the places that your own two feet have carried you to...and you should be damn proud of that!

A line of hikers are hiking towards a gigantic mountain covered in snow. The sky is cloudy and there are tall green trees along the trail.
Hiking can truly take you to some incredible places!

Conclusion

Not only is the best thing about hiking the fact that it’s meant for everyone, but also it’s incredible benefits on your physical and mental health. Even if you weren’t raised outdoors or feel like you’re the fittest person on the planet, it’s never too late to start hiking. Whatever your age or fitness level, this step-by-step beginner hiking guide will teach you how to start hiking today! So what are you waiting for?

How has hiking benefited your life?

I only recommend products that I have used myself and genuinely love. All opinions expressed are honest and mine. This post contains some affiliate links, which means that I receive a small compensation at no additional cost to you if you make a purchase. Since The Adventure Diet is reader-supported, any purchases you make will help keep this blog alive! As always, thank you for your never-ending support.

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about the author
Molly Chhiv
What's up! This Cambodian kid is an outdoor addict, adventure blogger, & your personal HYPE GIRL. Through the outdoors, I've learned self-confidence, independence, & mental strength. My mission through The Adventure Diet is to share the power of the outdoors with you. I want to empower you with tips, tools and inspiration to get outside with confidence and find yourself.

So if you're ready, let's get out there and do this sh*t!

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