Hiking for Beginners: A Basic Guide to Get You Started

Hiking checklist for beginners

Many people get into hiking as a way to exercise or get outdoors. Regardless of your reasons for wanting to start hiking, as a beginner, getting started can be pretty daunting, especially when you consider that trails can be tough and that the weather can change at a moment’s notice.

Before you hit the trails, here are some important hiking essentials to consider:


1. Keep your objectives small, at first

When starting out, you may be tempted to go out and accomplish a big day in the hills. Especially if you’re keen for a good workout, you might want to tackle quite a few summits and a whole lot of mileage.

Unfortunately, such a mindset, at least at first, can be a recipe for disaster. In the beginning, start small. If you’re new to hiking, you might not know how quick your pace is or how much your body can handle each day. Elevation gain (and loss!) also significantly increases the amount of effort required during a hiking day.

Choose trails that are well-marked, somewhat popular, and relatively short (think a half-day outing) to get you started. Eventually, you’ll work your way up to full days, longer days, and overnight trips, but we all have to start somewhere.


2. Do your research

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​Especially if you’re going out on your own or with other inexperienced hikers, you’ll really want to do your research on your destination.

Check out trail conditions ahead of time and scour the internet or ask friends for information on the trail you’re hiking before you set out. There are many great internet forums for hiking trail information out there these days, but don’t take any single person’s word as gospel - what’s easy or difficult for them might be the opposite for you. Rather, we encourage you to make your own decisions based on the information you can gather.


3. Tell someone where you’re going

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​This is perhaps the most important thing you can do when you’re going out for a trip in the backcountry. Although we hope that nothing bad will happen to us on our trip, conditions can change rapidly and turn a sunny day into a howling gale.

Telling someone responsible where you are and what time you plan to return can really help authorities if they need to come looking for you. It’s a great habit to get into and could save your life.


4. Pack the right gear

Although the gear you need to be prepared for a day out will vary greatly based on your itinerary, experience level, and the anticipated conditions, in general, you’ll want to pack food, water, warm clothing, waterproofs, a first aid kit, and navigation tools (e.g. map, compass, GPS).

There is no ‘one-size fits all’ answer to what gear you need, so you’ll need to do some thinking to determine what’s important for your location and the conditions you’ll encounter.


5. Leave No Trace

​When we travel into the backcountry, we will undoubtedly leave behind evidence of our activities, whether that be footprints, trash, or an overturned rock. Following Leave No Trace principles can help minimize our impact on the landscape so that we can continue enjoying these wild places.

Do some research to learn about Leave No Trace before you set out and check with local authorities to see if there’s anything specific you ought to keep in mind. Keeping our wild places beautiful is a job for us all.

About THE AUTHOR:

Gaby Pilson


A professional mountain guide and experienced outdoor educator, Gaby enjoys travelling and exploring the world’s most remote locales.


As a writer and editor, Gaby has written for a variety of climbing and travel blogs, news sites, and climbing magazines.


She is currently finishing a master’s degree in outdoor education but in her free time, Gaby loves a strong cup of coffee and searching for the next great adventure.

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A Beginner’s Guide to the Leave No Trace Principles

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When we head outside, it's important to keep in mind that our actions have a significant impact on the environment and landscape we love. Despite our best intentions, we often affect the environment in a negative way, just by traveling through it or spending time in the backcountry.

Although it’s impossible to fully eliminate our impact on the landscape, there are some principles that we can follow to guide us toward best environmental practices. These seven principles, known as Leave No Trace, can seem complex and difficult at first, so we’ll break them down and discuss them here:


1. Plan ahead and be prepared

This one might seem like a no-brainer to seasoned outdoor enthusiasts, but it’s really a reminder to carefully consider your plans before you head out. This includes having a thorough understanding of where you’re going and any special considerations that you might need to take into account for that area, which might include fire risks, severe weather, and rough terrain.

Leaving detailed information of your trip with someone you trust is also important, in the event of an emergency. Ultimately, a rescue, even if necessary and warranted, can have a substantial impact on the landscape. Planning ahead and being prepared can help prevent you from having to unnecessarily impact the environment.


2. Travel and camp on durable surfaces

​Some landscapes, such as alpine zones and deserts, are particularly sensitive to human impact and can take centuries to recover from a single human footprint. Regardless of how we travel - be it by foot, bike, horseback, or kayak - we must try to stick to durable surfaces, like worn paths, rock, or snow, whenever possible to reduce this impact.

When we camp, we should also choose durable surfaces, like already impacted sites, whenever possible to reduce our impact on pristine environments.


3. Dispose of waste properly

​Leave No Trace promotes a ‘pack it in, pack it out’ ethic, whereby we carry out all waste we produce. This includes everything from our leftover dinner (yes, even food!) to the plastic packaging on our energy bars. We can save ourselves the trouble in the backcountry when planning our trip by reducing excess packaging on our food before we head out the door.

When it comes to human waste, it needs to be disposed of properly. Although guidelines vary from location to location (and you should always follow local laws and regulations), the general rule of thumb is that solid human waste must be buried in a ‘cathole’ (i.e. hole in the ground) at least 15 cm (6 inches) deep that is also 60 m (200 ft) from any water source.


4. Leave what you find

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​Although it might be tempting to collect rocks, flowers, antlers, or human artifacts while you camp, doing so can be detrimental for the environment. Especially when it comes to antlers - which provide essential calcium to woodland creatures - and flowers - which often are a food source for animals - leaving them behind is best for the ecosystem's overall health. Plus, if one person picks all the wildflowers, they won't be there for everyone else to enjoy.

Human artifacts (i.e. anything over 25 years old), too, should be left where they are. If you think something is of great importance, contact your local authorities and they can direct you from there.

The one exception to this rule is human garbage - if you see it, pick it up and pack it out!


5. Minimize campfire impacts

For many people, campfires are the thing they look forward to most on a camping trip. Unfortunately, campfires have a huge impact on the environment if not done properly and can cause devastating wildfires if not managed well.

Cooking has less of an impact on the environment if you use a stove, but if local regulations allow campfires, take the proper precautions to minimise your impact. Collect only small pieces of dead and downed wood, keep the fire small, and be sure to put it out completely with water before you go to bed. Dismantle any fire rings you might create and bury the ashes in a cathole.


6. Respect wildlife

Although we all hope to encounter plenty of wildlife in the woods, we must do so in a way that is unobtrusive to them. Take the time to learn about local wildlife and their behavior. Do not approach or feed wildlife and be sure to store your food properly to prevent critters from getting in. Report any animal attacks or habituated wildlife to authorities.


​7. Be considerate of other visitors

​It might be tempting to play music out loud from your phone as you hike or to be extra loud around the campfire at night, but others around you might want a calm wilderness experience. Cleaning up after yourself and leaving a tidy campsite is also a must.

Whether you’re a first-time camper or a seasoned mountaineer, we must all work to minimise our impact on the landscape. Taking the Leave No Trace principles into account on all your trips can make a huge difference.

About THE AUTHOR:

Gaby Pilson


A professional mountain guide and experienced outdoor educator, Gaby enjoys travelling and exploring the world’s most remote locales.


As a writer and editor, Gaby has written for a variety of climbing and travel blogs, news sites, and climbing magazines.


She is currently finishing a master’s degree in outdoor education but in her free time, Gaby loves a strong cup of coffee and searching for the next great adventure.

How to Pack a Hiking Pack

If there’s one thing that can quickly ruin a hiking trip, it’s a poorly packed pack. An improperly packed backpack can put awkward tension on your shoulders or unnecessary and painful strain on your lower back, none of which is conducive to a great adventure out in the hills.

On the other hand, a well-packed pack could reduce the amount of weight on your shoulders and make hiking a breeze. Packing a pack properly can be quite difficult, though, so here are some tips to get you started:

1. Get the right size pack

The pack you need for a 5-day trip will be quite different from what you need for an overnight, so it's important to get the pack that works for the specific needs of your trip.

Although this is all dependant on the amount of gear you bring, as a general rule of thumb, most people can get by with a 60-70L pack for 1-2 night trips, a 70-90L pack for 3-5 night trips, and a 95L+ pack for anything over 5 nights.


2. Weather-proof your gear

​While many modern backpacks have some semblance of weather-resistance built into their fabric, when the rain starts pouring down, you’ll wish you had more than just a thin piece of nylon between the water and your down sleeping bag.

A thick garbage bag/bin liner (we recommend compactor bags used for lawn refuse) or a purpose-built pack liner can help protect your gear in foul weather or during a big river crossing. If it’s something you absolutely can’t get wet, consider putting it in a second dry bag.


3. Think about accessibility

​If you take a look at your gear, you’ll realise that some of the things you have are only necessary when you’re in camp, like your sleeping bag, sleeping pad, camp shoes, and long underwear, while other items, such as your snacks, rain jacket, water purification, map and compass will likely get used while you hike.

Generally, we recommend packing the soft, squishy, camp gear that you won't need into the bottom of the pack. The stuff you might need during the day should go at the very top of the pack or in the brain/lid of the pack if you have one.


4. Consider weight distribution

​The last thing you want when hiking is for your pack to be lopsided or top-heavy. The heaviest items in your pack are generally your food, cook kit, and stove, so you’ll want to be particular about where you pack them.

The best place to carry these heavier items is right in the middle of the pack, alongside the spine. This reduces the feeling of being ‘pulled backward’ by the pack and makes it overall less awkward to carry.


5. Food above fuel

Spilled fuel can be a complete disaster on a hiking trip, especially if it gets into your food. To prevent this from happening, make sure to pack your fuel below your food so that if it does spill, it's less likely to contaminate your food.

Or, better yet, place your fuel on the outside of the bin liner/pack liner that you’re using to waterproof your gear or even in an outside pocket of the pack.


6. Pack your water wisely

​Water is one of the things we can’t live without, and especially in hot and dry environments, you’ll want to make sure you’re well hydrated. Unfortunately, water is also one of the heaviest things we carry on hiking trips, so we have to pack it with care.

If you use a water hydration system, you may want to put your bladder into the dedicated pouch in your pack, but be aware that it can be difficult to refill with a full pack on. People who use water bottles generally pack them into the water bottle pockets on the side of their pack.


7. Everything on the inside of the pack

​While it might seem cool to have your spork, camp shoes, tent, and mug strapped to the outside of your pack or dangling from a carabiner, doing so throws off the weight balance of your pack and makes it highly likely that you will lose or damage your gear while hiking. Too many people have ripped their expensive tent on a tree branch while hiking - don’t let that be you.

Try to pack absolutely everything into your pack, leaving the outside straps and pockets only for water bottles and big, bulky foam sleeping pads. If half of your gear is strapped onto the outside of your pack, consider getting a bigger pack.

About THE AUTHOR:

Gaby Pilson


A professional mountain guide and experienced outdoor educator, Gaby enjoys travelling and exploring the world’s most remote locales.


As a writer and editor, Gaby has written for a variety of climbing and travel blogs, news sites, and climbing magazines.


She is currently finishing a master’s degree in outdoor education but in her free time, Gaby loves a strong cup of coffee and searching for the next great adventure.