Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Hiking Tips For Beginners

The most comprehensive list of hiking tips for beginners.

It's time to get serious and make The Everyday Adventurer a little more useful to its audience. My usual goofy posts will continue on most days, but today I want to guide absolute beginners to enjoy nature for themselves. I want to introduce more people to nature so it becomes better for us all. This first post of nature tips will be about hiking tips for beginners.

This list is by far not complete. That's where you come in. Some of you are very experienced about nature and hiking, but even if you are not, I'm asking you to please help whenever you can by adding to this list of tips. Whenever you think of anything useful for a beginner, just add it in the comments section below. For instance, what experience have you had that might benefit an absolute beginner? All other comments and especially questions are also welcome. I love questions.

When this post is up, I'll put it in a prominent place on my sidebar so everyone can find it from now on. I'll periodically look through the comments and add the best beginner tips to the main list. I hope to make this post the most viewed and commented post on this website. This is my biggest attempt to introduce others to nature and hiking, so please help with what you can.

On to the tips.

1. Communication

The first thing to do before you go anywhere alone, or even in a group, is to tell somebody where you’re going. Also plan to have a way to communicate with the world when you get there. That means, if it’s possible, take a cellphone or some other means of communication with you. Whatever will help others know approximately where you are will be your best help in case of an emergency.

Most likely you’ll never need any of this, but who knows what kind of freak accident might happen. What if you sprain your ankle because you trip over something? You might need some assistance getting out of even a small nature preserve then. Injuries can happen anywhere, so try to stay as safe as possible when you’re in a place that can only be reached by foot.

2. Start Slowly

If you’ve never been hiking before, don’t try to do too much. The first and best place to go for a beginner is a small nature park like the ones I feature on this website. Most of them are small enough that most people can walk to the end and back.

Remember that you don’t have to walk too fast. Take your time and look around. You can even stop to get a better look at some of the more interesting features along the way. You’re supposed to enjoy yourself. There’s no reason at all to hurry.

In most parks you can also periodically find benches along the way. If you’re tired, go ahead and take a rest on a bench. This not only gives you time to catch your breath, but it also gives you a great opportunity to get a better look at the nature that surrounds you.

If you’re tired and you feel like turning around and leaving, go ahead and do that. You can always go back another time. A hiking trip can be as long or as short as you want it to be. You want this to be an enjoyable experience, so don’t wear yourself out very much when you’re first starting out. This is all so you can become accustomed to nature and hiking.

3. Use A Compass

A compass can be a very valuable tool. Its main function is to tell you the direction that you are going. You can buy a cheap compass for as little as $2, maybe less in some cases. That’s all that’s necessary in some cases. I’ve used a cheap compass to find my way around in some very confusing places. Even if you think you know where you’re going, it’s sometimes easy to get turned around if there are many different trails.

In a future post I’ll teach you to use a compass. As a matter of fact, I’ll show you how to do more things with a compass than you’ll ever need. It will be a very complete lesson.

4. Stay On The Path

This one is essential for any beginner. You never know what you might find if you step even a few inches off of a hiking trail. There are all sorts of hazards. I’ve seen snakes at every nature park I’ve been to so far. Most of these are small parks in urban areas. You almost never see a snake until it’s right in front of you.

There are poisonous plants at the edges of several of these trails. If you don’t know how to identify most of these plants and animals yet it’s better just to stay on the trails and not wander into the forest. None of us wants a bad case of poison ivy, do we?

Besides, if you wander too far off the trail there’s a strong possibility that you might become lost. A person who is lost has a much better chance of someone finding them on a well traveled trail than if they’re out in the middle of the forest.

5. Don’t Feed The Animals

Most places you go have signs up all over the place telling you to not feed the animals. You may think it’s just a cute little thing that you can make friends with, but it’s a wild animal. Have you ever fed an eager dog and it accidentally nipped your fingers? Any other animal is no different.

Just think of trying to feed a cute little squirrel. The animal becomes brave enough to come take the food out of your hand. Then, like the dog, it accidently nips your finger. What happens if the squirrel was diseased in some way? Even if it wasn’t, do you really want to take that chance?

Maybe you’ve decided to feed a small flock of geese. A goose is a lot bigger than it may seem. What happens when the geese become overeager for your breadcrumbs, and all of them try to take them from you at once? A goose can kill a dog by beating it with its wings. It could probably injure a person.

What happens if an animal becomes dependant on food from humans? It might forget how to get its own food. It might end up starving to death because you innocently thought you were helping it by giving it that little snack.

What tip(s) do you have for beginners? Do you have a question? Words of encouragement? OR do you even want to expand upon or correct my original tips? Are you a beginner who wants help? Any one of you can answer questions here too. I welcome everything, so please contribute.


  1. This is a very good advice...sometimes one do wonders how people like you do their exploring

  2. Kruel - with these tips I hope I can help anyone understand how all of this works. I hope others who know much more than I do will be willing to contribute.

  3. These are great tips Ratty..

    Don't forget to bring a camera!

  4. Great ideas and great advice. I guess I could add leave nature as you found it. Don't pick the flowers, don't leave trash, etc. Also, don't venture onto posted property without permission and during hunting season make sure you are highly visible with orange.

  5. Hi Ratty,
    I stop by almost every day to drop my Entrecard, and always enjoy your hiking adventures!

    I would also suggest that beginning hikers be weather-aware--check forecasts and be prepared to whatever weather you might encounter on a hike; i.e., have a jacket for rainy cool weather, and so on. Also, be sure to take some water and snacks--something like chocolate. Always take your trash out with you when you're done hiking. Always be aware of your surroundings--watch for wild animals, etc, and try to avoid them whenever possible (bears, mountain lions, etc). This last bit of advice might sound a bit funny, but is really very important in order to stay safe while hiking in the wilds.

    Have a great day,
    Sher :0)

  6. Ratty-Excellent idea!It is so helpful if you are inexperienced, and really may save someone from a scary time. I have one more for you-bring water. I always wind up parched because I forget. Cheers! Diane Tucker, Estate Naturalist, Hill-Stead Museum, Farmington, CT PS If you ever come east, come hiking with me!

  7. I actually bring nothing with me during my weekly hiking. But during my last trip to Mt. Kinabalu, I have really prepared myself.
    I brought torch light with me since the final hike to the peak started at 2:30am.
    My must bring list for this hike:
    Must bring:
    1. Winter clothing, glove and hat
    2. torch light
    3. Panadol (best to bring along)
    4. Chocolate bar (to refill energy)
    5. Disposable rain coat (for poor weather)

    By the way, this post on Mt. kk is my first in the blogosphere.(

  8. Wear comfy shoes. Take a whistle in case you need to signal for help (6 blasts I think). If it's sunny, take a hat and sunblock. :)

  9. 3 really important ones (some mentioned already):

    wear comfortable shoes- no sandals
    take a jacket no matter what the weather when you leave home- weather changes
    take a bottle of water

    Many short hikes turn into problems over very small issues, or you are out longer than you anticipated. It is very easy to prepare yourself for basic contingencies and avoid bad experiences.

  10. Happy Wordless Wednesday.
    Thanks for stopping by. I'm back to posting, though my schedule hasn't eased up. I miss it and I so much I want to share and I hate feeling like I missed a window. These tips are perfect. We took the kids hiking today on a forest trail at a local nature center. they were all tuckered out on the ride back to the Boys & Girls club.

    FYI: I'm competing for a chance to win a trip to Antarctica by writing a blog - vote for me at I would greatly appreciate your support.

  11. Here's what's normally in my rucksack for walking!

    I think the following are essential, most mentioned above:

    1) Water,
    2) Extra clothing, e.g. waterproof,
    3) Compass, even if you have a GPS,
    4) Torch and spare battery,
    5) First aid kit, or plasters,
    6) Mobile phone.

  12. These are great tips. Having a map is always important too. When I went to Hong Kong I didn't bring my cell or have a compass. As a result while walking through wisdom path to Lantau Peak I wanted to explore the woods up there but realized it was dangerous without these tools. Thanks for these tips.

  13. Yes, I agree with all of the above. Water, compass, matches, bugspray, cellphone, jacket, hat, camera.
    I love the saying I saw on a sign once:
    "Leave only footprints, take only pictures"

    I have seen people dig up plants or pick flowers, only to throw them away further down the path.

    Also, those with children...please supervise them the entire time and encourage quiet. I hate it when there are wild children running all around, past and around other hikers and no parents in sight. There are dangerous things out there, watch your children and respect others who want peace and quiet and solitude!

  14. Well....I can't go hiking but this one piece of advice of yours was good. I wish I had been told that 12 years ago when I started feeding the birds and squirrels around here. Great post Ratty.
    (What happens if an animal becomes dependent on food from humans? It might forget how to get its own food. It might end up starving to death because you innocently thought you were helping it by giving it that little snack.) I hope my critters don't starve to death when I'm gone. :(

  15. wow, this is great you started this Ratty. it is very helpful for the beginners.

    i think they already have mentioned and you the basics, combined. my little backpack when we go hiking always has:
    1. water
    2. snacks for energy replacement
    3. after bites, poison ivy ointment
    4. very light first aid kit and plasters
    5. very light reflector (just in case whatever happens, i can be warm and can be found easily, can also be used as raincoat if it case it rains )
    6. compass and GPS (though I don't bring these when I am taking a very familiar trail and I know I will never get lost- but sometimes i am too lazy to take them out of my backpack too )
    7. cell phone ( can act as flash light too )
    8. match and candle
    9. very light flashlight
    --i bring extra battery when i am not familiar with territory, just in case.
    --i am lazy to take things away from my little backpack, so, they always stay there, and i have exactly the same set for my big packpack, except the GPS and compass which I had to transfer whenever I use different bag.

    for clothing:
    1. i dress in layers, even if it is very cold or sub freezing, after sometime, we get warm by our motion. i use breathable clothing to feel more comfortable. i choose very light materials but can give the most comfort even at very cold weather yet won't look odd in a warm weather.
    2. i always wear hiking shoes, just different kind for different hikes.

    == if we are doing long hike with lots of uphill climb, we usually rest every 30 minutes for snacks and water even we don't feel thirsty nor hungry, sometimes, it is already too late and you find yourself dehydrated or lacking nutrients.

    ===oh yes, camera too :)

  16. oh, i forgot to add, something i learned from our hike in Crater lake, insect or bug repellant :( i got too much mosquito bites since we did not know the trail had too much mosquitoes :(

  17. Great post...this "ole" girl is never without her hiking shoes and all of the necessary equipment including my stick with "bear bell" :0)

  18. Most of my backpacking has either been in North Georgia or Alaska and while the things I had with me changed there were always the basics.

    Looks like the basics have pretty much been covered. Water to stay hydrated, matches always and a snack.
    Even in the summer it is a good idea to take a light weight jacket just in case.

    I also like to take my trusty red bandana which has a lot of uses and a small pocket knife.


  19. These are great ideas.

    Good things to take on a hike: snacks (dried fruit, granola, etc.), a bottle of water, a pocket first aid kit.

  20. Thanks to you all for the wonderful comments and tips we have here so far. I hope a few beginners find this help useful. This page will remain open to any future tips or questions any of you might have. Please keep 'em coming. --Ratty

  21. First, I'll ignore that comment about feeding the squirrels. ;) That is, of course, if they don't live in your house!

    For those people that live in a more urban area, I would suggest getting a book that outlines trails in your area. Most hiking guides are broken out by beauty and degree of difficulty. Even if you are in good shape, I would suggest starting with short, easy hikes and then you can take the plunge and start going for the challenging hikes.

    Also, always carry the map and outline your trail turns.

    When I go on short 1-2 hour hikes, I actually don't bring a lot of stuff with me. There are so many people hiking in the San Francisco area during all days of the week and all hours of the day, I'm bound to run into someone that can help me.

    I highly recommend trekking poles. I never hit the trail without them. They're especially helpful if you have a bad back or knees, and in general, they make hiking that much more enjoyable. I also carry water, sunblock, a hat, cell phone and snacks. However, I do have 1 CamelBak that is constantly packed with little items, like...

    1. Advil
    2. Aspirin - In case of heart attack. Seriously.
    3. Neosporin
    4. Bandaids, mole skin
    5. Pocket Knife
    6. Compass - My compass has a mirror.
    7. MAP
    8. Hand & Feet Warmers
    9. Compact "aluminum" blankets
    10. Mini Mag Light

    Again, that's only if I carry that particular CamelBak, which is big. I usually only have a bottle of water, my camera gear and poles.

    On a day-long hike, ie 13-18 miles roundtrip or huge elevation gain, I'll start carrying more stuff. Well, mostly food and camera gear. Other than that, the list pretty much stays the same. Unless I'm going to hit Sinkyone or some other really out of the way place that doesn't get regular visitors or regular patrols from rangers/volunteer hikers/equestrians/bikers.

    I don't recommend hiking alone, even though I do it. :) Anything can happen. Anything can happen when you're with just one other buddy or a dog, too. Two women backpacking together were killed on the AT back in the 90's.

    If you're going to go alone, I'd be sure to tell someone EXACTLY which trails you're going to be hiking and at what time you expect to embark. Tell them if you have any planned stops along the way, what you'll be wearing, etc.

  22. Oh yeah, I've been thinking about getting a rattlesnake bite kit. The rattlers in my area are supposedly kind of shy, but I've heard people have had to use them on occassion, so it may go in my bag for certain trails.

  23. You are doing a great move by starting this hiking tips. This is a good one with additional tips from your readers here.

    As for myself, i use to bring basic things in my back pack such as:
    1.water bar or snacks
    3.basic first aid kit
    4.sometimes i bring my little field guide book depends on what animal is my focus for that hike and i must bring along my little note book to jot down any interesting things i see. little camera-just to capture any interesting things i saw along the way

    Okay, have lots more to write and share but i stop here first. I use to bring things and do things that advised by elders when i am inside the forest.

    Good job Ratty!

  24. I'm a beginner hiker and wnat to know what is your advice if you have to get your feet wet. sometimes, you have to cross rivers and get your shoes wet. Is there any tips for this?..someone told me that if you get your feet wet, they will hurt more at the end. is this true?

  25. Anonymous - I haven't really gotten my feet wet yet, but the best thing to do is to carry at least one pair of dry socks with you if you think your feet might get wet. Then when you have an opportunity to rest, try and keep your boots off for as long as possible. There may be more things you can do, but these are the easiest solutions. This might be a good subject to feature in its own post, with more information.

  26. Hey some good advice here that should get most people by. There's a few things I would always do myself before setting off. Basic things really like wearing the right clothes, taking a compass and water etc but other things are worth considering like getting a full weather report beforehand and maybe a dog deterrent as I speak from personal experience regarding this. You don't want to be hiking in a remote location alone and suddenly have some mad dogs running your way. Keep up the good work with the site.

  27. Chris - Very good advice. I've had a few dogs running my way at times too. A good product to deter dogs would be helpful, but I would have to be absolutely sure it worked correctly before I ever used it, also without harming the misguided animal.

  28. Some very good hiking tips here. I'd just like to add that there's been incredible advances in moisture wicking clothing over the last few years, so ditch the jeans (or anything cotton, really). You'll be sooooo much more comfortable without the sweat soaking in your clothes and dragging you down.

    Also, make sure to break in any shoes or boots. Blisters will ruin any trip :)

  29. hiking is really one of the best outdoor activity. A lot of people are into this because of the trill and experience that it will give to a person and most of all the place itself.

  30. Hi Uncle Whats Up Dont Forget Me Next Time When You Go Hiking Or What Ever Its Called Adventure Looking Make Sure U Where Warm Clothes Ok This Is A Reminder Offer Not Valid In Stores Lolx.
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  31. @Meatball
    Thanks for the great tip. Sorry I answered so late.

    @All You Need Zone
    Thanks for taking a look. This is the best beginner hiking tip list on the internet.

    @Port Douglas
    You're exactly right. That's why I do it.

    I'll be sure to remember.

  32. Just found your site. This is a great post.
    I am going to link from my blog to yours. Hope that is OK.
    I just recently started my blog - would love any suggestions you have. (

  33. @Motoroz
    It's perfectly okay. I will definitely take a look at your blog. I'm not sure how many suggestions I might have, but I'm always glad to answer any questions.

  34. I encourage all readers to follow these great pieces of advice! However, sometimes the rules are meant to be broken. ;) If you stay on the path your whole life, the trails will be boring. Learn the poisonous plants, become comfortable navigating the wilderness. Let yourself go off of the trails sometimes. Just be sure you do it in a safe, reasonable manner.

    Best Adventures,

  35. Casey Fiedler took mine, haha. I would seriously like to echo it again though "Learn the poisonous plants".

  36. Hi.
    Agree that there are good advises

  37. Wow! What a post! All the tips are so helpful for beginners in hiking. Hiking is really so adventurer outdoor tour. Some times it will be dangerous for a beginners. This is so wonderful post for them. Thanks.


  38. hello guys!!!1 you know all those stories when someone goes out to hike, only has food for a few hours and then gets mauled by a puma and has to spend a night on the

    mountain starving to death? That happens at least once a week so be prepared! Carry more water than you think, even though it is more weight. Carry sandwiches and I

    really like Cliff bars because they give you a boost of protein. Also, bring hand sanitizer or wipes. On my first hike in a long time, I get up to the summit and my

    hands are all pine rust and dirt from the ascent so I ate via the wrapper method.

  39. Definitely a good start. Have you written another post with more tips?

  40. The world waits for you. How true.

    Thanks for your posts.