Hiking For Beginners: The Simple And Affordable Way!
Ready to connect with nature, get some peace and quiet, and also move your body? Hiking is an activity that checks all the boxes. With a little planning, the right gear, and a positive attitude, hiking is an amazing experience anyone can enjoy. And the best part? It’s totally accessible to anyone with shoes and a backpack.
If you’re new to hiking then this guide is for you! In this article, we’ll cover all of the basics, from beginner places to go, the gear you actually need, and we’ll keep things easy and affordable for you too!
If you’re brand new to hiking or aren’t comfortable being alone in the outdoors, bringing along a friend is a great idea. While I love solo hikes, it took a long time for me to feel comfortable on the trail alone. The way I got there was plenty of hikes with friends and family!
Do you have a friend who has experience hiking? Ask them to bring you along sometime! I know I love taking my new-to-hiking friends on adventures. This is a great option because your friend will likely have extra gear and first-hand experience that can make a trip more enjoyable.
There are also many hiking groups online that meet up for group excursions. This is a great and super safe way to start. Here are some different groups that may be worth looking into if you’re trying to find a hiking buddy:
Facebook Groups: Here are a few groups that I’m a member of and enjoy! There are many local divisions too, so search for hiking groups in your area.
If you’d rather go your own way or hit the trails with fellow beginner hikers, don’t worry. Hiking is an easy enough activity, you’ll just need to prepare before you go. That’s what this guide is all about!
Once you figure out if you’re going alone, with a friend, or with a group you can start making a plan!
How to Choose A Trail
A full-day backcountry adventure is an amazing experience but if you’ve never stepped foot on a trail, a hike near your home is a really satisfying way to start. There are a few key pieces of information that you should look for when you’re searching for a beginner-friendly hike.
- Length of Trail: I recommend beginners stick to hikes under four miles round trip. It’s far enough that it feels like a real hike, but short enough that if something goes wrong you should be able to get out easily.
- Elevation Gain/Loss: When you’re choosing your hike, pay attention to the elevation gain/loss. This tells you how steep a trail is. For example, a trail that’s three miles with a 3,000’ elevation gain is a very difficult hike versus a three-mile trail with a 500’ elevation gain. For new hikers (and depending on your fitness level), sticking to a trail with less than 800’ elevation gain will be easier and more enjoyable when you’re starting out.
- Trail Conditions: Before you go, be sure to have a good idea of what you’ll run into on the trail. Check trail reports to make sure the road is passable. Check the weather to be sure you can gear up accordingly. For your first hikes, I recommend hiking lower elevation trails where you’ll be less likely to run into extreme weather patterns.
In my opinion, finding the right hike is the hardest part! There are so many choices, but with some criteria in mind such as under four miles and less than 800’ elevation gain you should be able to find a great hike in your area.
There are many great hiking resources out there such as interactive trail maps, guidebooks, and blog posts that detail beginner friendly hiking near you. A quick internet search of “Beginner Hikes Near (your location)” should bring up some great options.
I also love using these websites and their hike finder features:
AllTrails is a great resource for finding trails that are local to you. Many states also have their own trail organizations that have trail finders. Here are some of my favorite places to look for trails:
If you’re still stumped on which hike to try first, call your local hiking store, REI, or visitors center. They should be able to help you find the perfect trail for your needs.
How To Get There
Before you settle on a trail, check how to get there. Before you head out, always check the following:
- Look up road conditions in the trail reports to be sure it’s passable and your vehicle is capable
- Check how long the driving time to the trailhead is.
- Check if any parking passes are required (and buy one before you go!).
Most beginner hiking trails are accessible, but it’s always a good idea to be safe than sorry and do a bit of research beforehand.
The Gear You’ll Need
When you’re a beginner hiker, I recommend going as simple as possible! There’s no need to invest a ton of money while you’re getting started. You can safely hike many trails with nothing but weather-appropriate apparel, tennis shoes, a backpack, and some snacks and water.
It’s also a good idea to carry along some survival essentials such as a first aid kit, a survival blanket, knife, and a fire starter, but those things are really only useful if you have the knowledge to use them.
When you’re just starting out, be smart, stick to safe trails, carry a cellphone, and 99% of the time you’ll be just fine.
Beginners Hiking Gear List
Weather-appropriate Clothing: If it’s raining, bring a rain jacket or pack along rain gear. If it’s hot bring along a sunhat and sunscreen. Weather always feels more extreme when you’re out it the wild so be sure to wear weather-appropriate layers that keep you comfortable.
Tennis Shoes or Hiking Boots: These shoes should have enough tread to keep you from slipping when off-road. Choose your shoe depending on how aggressive the terrain is. Rocky and loose terrain calls for a tougher shoe than a flat dirt trail.
A Trail-friendly Backpack: Choose a backpack that is lightweight and comfortable to wear when you’re active. If you’re sticking to a short hike then you’ll just need room for your essentials.
Snacks and Water: Never leave without a full bottle of water (or two!) and plenty of snacks to keep you going. I opt for a combination of salty, sweet, and nutritious snacks. Trail mix, granola bars, fruit, peanut butter sandwiches, and jerky are all great snacks that won’t get too smooshed in a backpack.
Get A Free Day Hiking Gear Checklist!
I wrote another article all about day hiking essentials. It covers everything you could possibly need for a day hike no matter what level of hiker you are. Head here to read the article and download the free checklist!
How To Be A Responsible Hiker
Once your plan is ready to go, it’s time to hit the trail! Remember to be a responsible person and leave no trace while you’re out there. Leave No Trace is every hiker’s motto. If you head out onto a trail than your duty is to leave the trail better than you found it.
Here are a few key points behind the Leave No Trace movement:
- Carry out all of your trash (get bonus points if you pick up any that you pass!)
- Stay on the trail and don’t take small shortcuts - these erode the trails! Staying on the trails minimizes your footprint in the wild. Trails are the home to many wild plants and animals while you’re simply a visitor.
- Be respectful of other fellow hikers. Everyone out hiking is there to enjoy the scenery, and get some peace and quiet. Remember to leave the portable speakers at home, yield to hikers heading up, and just generally be a good person. It’s easy!
With all of these tips out of the way, you’re ready to hit the trails! Have fun out there and remember to Stay Wild!
We love to see your adventures! Tag us @wild-grit on Instagram or use the hashtag #staywild on social media and have the chance to get your images shared.
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Hey! I'm Callie.
I'm a mountain-obsessed skier, hiker, and mountain biker based out of Bellingham, Wa. I am the founder of Wild Grit, teaching online courses and creating videos to guide you towards a more adventurous life.
To learn more, click here.