Trying something new is always intimating. It’s a little scary, your stomach gets a funny feeling and it feels like you are walking aimlessly into unchartered territory. When it comes to hiking it can sometimes feel like everyone else on the trail knows this “unsaid set of rules” and you are just trying to figure it out as you make one mistake after another.
Well, luckily for you I’ve made all the newbie hiking mistakes for you. AKA wearing new hiking boots on a 14-mile hike, forgetting a headlamp on Munra Point at sunset, trying to hike (or slide) on ice without microspikes and not bringing nearly enough water when climbing Mount St. Helens. Not my finest moments… BUT after plenty of, “I’ll never do this again” moments and 6+ years of hiking later I’ve been able to use those moments to grow, to learn and to bring you a comprehensive beginner’s guide to hiking.
Everything you need, need to know and how to train in one place. Enjoy and happy hiking!
What you Need: Packing List
My mom always said, “A hike is only as successful as the equipment you have.” While this is true, you DO NOT need to go buy all of REI before your first hike. You can easily get away with just the basics. Here is my go-to hiking packing list for a day hike.
- Shoes. Probably the most important item on this list because let’s be honest you can’t hike without shoes. For an insider tip (if you live in Portland, OR) go to the basement of Next Adventure and pick out a pair of hiking boots. You’ll spend max $40 on name brand boots that are barely used. The most important part of hiking boots is that they support your ankles, have a lot of traction (you don’t want to be face planting when you’re going downhill) and that they are light. If you have found all of these three things in one pair of shoes then you’re probably in good shape to hit the trail. PRO TIP: Please break your shoes in before you tackle a mountain, a nice 3-mile hike is perfect for testing new shoes. If you wear wool socks the first time too that will help prevent blisters. Hiking 14-miles in new shoes is no fun for anyone, trust me I’ve been there.
- Backpack. The second most important item on this list (do you sense a theme?) My backpack is actually a trail running backpack from Lululemon so it’s small, light and has a place for literally everything. When looking for backpacks look for three things, 1. Light weight, you don’t need to have more weight on your body then you need to. 2. High water bottle pockets (so if you run downhill or are climbing over rocks they won’t fall out) or a place for a Camelbak. 3. A place to clip in your poles.
- Poles. Speaking of poles…I personally have a love-hate relationship with poles. While I love them, I also hate carrying them. However, if you find that your knees are in a great deal of pain when going downhill then poles will help alleviate some of the pressure off of your knees. They are also great if you are in a slippery situation and need something to help stabilize you (mud? Ice? You’ll want poles). They also are great for a steep incline. So, basically, if you are hiking any trail with a high elevation gain or a trail that is muddy or icy then you might want to invest in a pair of these bad boys. I highly recommend getting poles that will fold up so you can store them in your backpack.
- Microspikes. You only need this complicated (and expensive) piece of equipment if you are hiking in snow or ice. But if you are hiking in icy conditions then these things are worth every penny. You will be speeding past people that are slipping and sliding on icy trails. 10/10 recommend for winter, your hiking options will expand once you have these on. PRO TIP: When you buy them, take your hiking boots so you can make sure you get the right size. They need to be tight so they don’t fall off.
- First Aid Kit. Bandaids, Advil, moleskin, clippers, oh my! You never know when you will need this stuff and everyone else in your hiking group will thank you when they have a blister but forgot a band-aid. I always buy a first-aid kit at the beginning of every hiking season and keep it in my backpack so I never forget it.
- Socks. Socks will make or break your hike, literally. I recommend wool socks. They will make you so much more comfortable. PRO TIP: Always keep a spare pair in your pack because you never know when you’ll have to cross through water and get your feet wet. Having a pair of clean, dry socks to change into will make for a much more pleasant day.
- Water. Pretty self-explanatory. Always bring two water bottles (at min.) for a day hike. When it’s sunny I recommend two water bottles PLUS a Camelbak. Hydration is the key to success kids! PRO TIP: (unlike the picture) I usually always bring a Hydro Flask, they are expensive BUT there’s nothing like iced cold water on a very hot and tiring day.
- Sunscreen. Lather up! It get’s hot out there, especially if you are hiking through snow when the sun is out.
- Bandana. I always wear a bandana on my wrist to wipe the sweat from my face. TMI? Oops. Try it out though, I can’t go hiking without one.
- Hat. Again if it’s hot out and you are on a trail with no sun then you’ll want to protect your face, it’s too cute to let it burn!
- Change of shoes. This is a pro tip within itself. I always have an extra pair of shoes. If it’s a shorter hike I’ll just keep them in my car but if it’s a long hike (8+ miles) I’ll usually bring them in my pack so I can let my feet breathe at the summit. Also, if you are trying out new hiking boots then I recommend bringing a change of shoes just in case. My go to is Tevas.
- Real Food. My biggest piece of advice for new hikers is to pack real food. Contrary to what the picture might show, bring real food instead of just bars and snacks. A tuna sandwich will be much more filling and rewarding for your body than a Cliff Bar. I often go to New Seasons or Whole Foods the night before a big hike and grab a burrito or pasta salad to eat on the trail. Don’t treat lunch on the trial different than lunch at home.
- Lip balm. It get’s hot out there on the trail and your lips will get chapped. Protect the goods. PRO TIP: Make sure it has SPF, lips are easy to burn if you don’t think about it.
- Sunglasses.The best kind of sunglasses for hiking will have a strap or croakie so if you are climbing or running you won’t lose them.
- Toilet Paper. You’ll thank me for this.
- Beer? Yes, beer. We always crack open a beer at the summit or bring a shot of something special to celebrate a job well done.
What you need to know: Rules of the Trail
- Step aside for people hiking up if you are hiking down. If you are going down on a trail and people are coming your way going up then step off to the side and let the people going up have the trail. It’s just how it goes, they need the momentum more than you.
- Leave no trace. Every little thing you take on the trail must come back with you. I mean everything, wrappers, food scraps, toilet paper, paper towels. It’s a good idea to bring a bag for garbage so you can just throw any trash out once you get to the trailhead.
- The picture isn’t worth it. Use caution. It’s cool to use caution. Don’t go to the very edge and jump up and down because you think it’ll make for a cool picture. Don’t go off the trail to a bunch of rocks because that looks like a better view. That is how people die and yes that isn’t me being dramatic, a lot of people do die every year doing something “for the Insta” so know that it isn’t worth it. I promise.
- Smile, say hi, offer some food. On the trail, we are all a community. Say hi and smile to your fellow hikers. If someone falls, offer them a band-aid. If you realize someone isn’t eating at the summit, offer some food. We’re all friends on the trail, we’re all in this together.
- We all pee. This one is for the ladies. Someone wise once said, “Don’t care where you pee because we all pee.” So know that you will have to pee when you’re hiking and it’ll 100% be cowgirl style so embrace it, and don’t be nervous to get off the trail, find a big tree and squat. This might (again) be TMI but PRO TIP: Face up the hill when peeing outside.
How to Train: Training Guide
You want to climb a mountain but you are overwhelmed with how your two little legs are going to make it up that thing. I get you, I feel you and I’ve been there. The first piece of advice is to not start with a mountain. Start with something more attainable. Even start with the Stairmaster. Don’t shock your body because it will have its revenge the next day when you can’t walk because you’re too sore.
Here is my guide to training for a “mountain” and I know it’s vague but climbing a mountain can look like a lot of different things. It’s vague for a reason, hiking is no formula. It’s just about training your body to get used to walking for a long time and training your muscles so they are strong enough to carry you up the mountain and be able to walk the next day.
Again, it’s vague and very centered around Oregon/Washington hikes but I hope it can give you a sense of how to train for big hikes! It’s all about consistency. If you want a more in-depth training guide comment below!
AND with that, you are ready for the trails! Happy hiking!