The Comprehensive Guide to Hiking for Beginners

Hiking for Beginners | CabinZero

Every hiker has to begin somewhere. Photo by Oziel Gómez from Pexels

The first excursion onto the trail can be an intimidating process for new hikers. There is so much to learn and a plethora of information to comb through, making it difficult to know where to begin.

The actual act of hiking is quite simple, you just have to place one foot in front of the other until you reach your destination. The complicated part is preparing the right skill sets and equipment. Fortunately, we are here to simplify things. Keep reading to learn the proper gear and hiking essentials for beginners.

What Is The Best Hiking Gear For Beginners?

Choosing the right hiking supplies for the beginner hiker is neither simple nor complicated. Most hiking and camping authorities will offer a general list of essential equipment that every hiker should pack for a successful hike. But the right equipment really depends on the specific type of hike you’re planning to take.

Believe it or not, there are multiple types of hiking excursions. Some of them require very specific equipment and knowledge to ensure you are able to arrive at your destination successfully and, more importantly, successfully return home. Start small with day hikes and work your way up to full-on trekking.

Day Hike

What to expect: If you’re a hiking beginner, the day hike is where you want to begin. It has a very simple goal: complete a trail and return home within a single day. A day hike can be as short as a few miles or as long as 20 miles.

Taking a few day hikes is a great way to build a foundation for more advanced hikes. Good day hike trails tend to be easy to find and close to urban areas, making them easily accessible. They also have lots of traffic, which means that assistance will be available if you need it. Even a hiking beginner won’t get lost and will definitely get home to try again. 

What to bring: There is a minimal amount of preparation and knowledge needed to make sure you’re able to keep safe on the trail. Start with the 10 essentials and go from there.

Base Camping

Hiking for Beginners - CabinZero

Make your campsite your base for hiking excursions. Photo by Uriel Mont on Pexels

What to expect: Base camping is a less nomadic form of day hiking. It requires you to establish a campsite where you can spend one or multiple days exploring various trails at your leisure.

If you feel like you want to up your hiking game but are wondering if a beginner can do a 10-mile hike, then this might be the right option for you.

Base camping lets you hike at a slower pace because you don’t have to invest much time in arriving at the actual hiking trail. Just wake up, secure your campsite, and head to the nearest trailhead. Rinse and repeat for as long as you’re out there.

What to bring: You will need more specific equipment than day hiking as you must prepare a campsite with adequate shelter and food. Conversely, it’s a great way to develop beginner hiker essentials, as you don’t have to hike all your equipment necessarily. There are many good camping grounds designed to let you drive up and set up camp. 

Long-Distance Hiking

What to expect: Once you’re comfortable with navigating hiking trails, the next step is to try the long-distance hike. As its name implies, long-distance hiking requires you to hike quite a way. Typically, this type of hike will last 2-3 days.

What to bring: That may seem an intimidating hike for beginners, but it’s just taking the beginner hiker essentials you mastered from day hiking and base camping and applying them on a longer trail.


What to expect: A long-distance hike is basically a form of backpacking. The difference is, a long-distance hike has a definite trail destination in mind, while backpacking tends to focus more on the camping experience. Sure, you may plan to hike a certain distance or reach a particular viewing spot, but the backpacker is more concerned with being out in nature.

What to bring: If you’re just beginning backpacking, then you want to make sure you have the right bag for the job. You want something that will carry all the tools you’ll need to survive in the wilderness overnight, such as a camp stove, cooking kit, bear bag, tent, water, extra clothing, etc. You’ll also probably want to bring things to help you enjoy the environment around you, like a small painting kit or binoculars to view local animal life.


Hiking for Beginners - CabinZero

Thru-hiking will let you see the wonders of the world. Photo by Gaspar Zaldo

What to expect: Thru-hiking is more commonly known as end-to-end hiking. It’s basically the upgraded version of backpacking and long-distance hiking because thru-hikers are travelling hundreds to thousands of miles on foot.

Some famous thru-hike trails, like the Appalachian trail in the US, are over 2,000 miles long (that’s over three times the length of the UK). It takes most hikers 5-7 months to complete.

No hiking beginner should attempt any end-to-end hiking until you’re quite confident in your ability to endure and survive outdoors.

Hikers must complete the entire hiking trail in a single trip to be considered to have successfully completed a thru-hike. This means you may spend weeks to possibly a couple of months on the trail without taking a break.

What to bring: You’ll need much more than the average beginner backpacking gear because you’ll have to be prepared to deal with many more situations than first-time hikers are expected to face.


What to expect: Although thru-hiking is demanding, trekking is where hiking truly gets serious. Unlike the former, trekking is about hiking off any established trails. Trekkers tend to be fascinated with arriving at a specific destination they consider to be a hidden gem.

It’s all about earning the payoff by doing what others can’t or refuse to do. To be a successful trekker means you’ll have to do a lot of problem-solving to navigate the wilderness.

What to bring: You may be expected to bushwhack, climb, or ford rivers. And you will definitely need a firm grasp on the beginner hiker essentials and more. Here are some good trekking tips for beginners:

Use Trekking Poles

Trekking poles aren’t standard hiking gear for beginners, but they’re excellent for more advanced trekkers. They help you balance over rough terrain, which speeds you up over the long run. It also prevents your body from being worn out. Your ankles, knees, and toes will thank you when the time to rest comes.

Carry A Clothesline And Clips

The ability to hang your clothes to dry while you’re on the trail cannot be understated. You won’t know when you’ll suffer a downpour or end up with wet socks from trudging through a waterway. This isn’t just good advice for advanced hikers; it’s also a good tip for hiking beginners.

Climb Using Micro-Steps

Learning how to hike off-trail is a skill all on its own. It may take a while to get the hang of using measured tiny steps, but it will conserve energy in the long run and allow you to maintain a consistent pace so you can travel longer. Try taking a few beginner mountain hikes to really develop this skill before you start trekking uphill.

Don’t Wear Cotton Clothes

Hiking beginners who stick to day hikes won’t suffer much if they wear a cotton t-shirt or hat. They won’t be on the trail long enough to experience the dire effects, but for trekkers, wearing cotton can have disastrous consequences. Cotton is a very absorbent material and will soak up sweat and water without releasing it. This weighs you down and reduces your body temperature, which can put you at serious risk in the wilderness.

Carry Water-Purifying Solutions

Water purifying solutions should be on every beginner hiking gear list. But while a day hiker may get away with forgetting to pack it, trekkers can’t. They don’t get to pick and choose their ideal water sources, and they don’t have the convenience of packing in large amounts of fresh water. They must make do with what they find.

Summit Hiking

Summit hiking is a bit different from the other types of hiking previously mentioned in that the goal is to reach the peak of a mountain, not necessarily complete a trail. This is the hiking people do for the views and the amazing shots you see on Instagram. These hikes come with their own share of challenges that first-time hikers may struggle to deal with.

They mostly stem from handling rises in elevation. You may have to climb rock faces, and you will have to have the physicality to breathe at higher altitudes. If you’re a hiking beginner, you will want to get some practice in by taking a few beginner mountain hikes first. Scaling a summit when you’re not physically capable can put you in danger, even if the summit is a planned day hike.

Find a Hiking Partner

One of the best hiking tips for beginners is to find a hiking partner. A good hiking buddy will help you stay safe on the trail and make the experience all the more enjoyable.

You and your partner can improve and explore nature together. If you don’t already have a hiking partner, there are plenty of ways to find one:

Facebook hiking groups: Most regions have a local Facebook hiking or outdoor group. Members tend to organize hiking groups to challenge trails in the area. It’s a great way for first-time hikers to pair up with more experienced hikers.

Meetup groups: Meetup is an alternative to Facebook groups. It can be an even better option for beginning hikers because Meetup events tend to be more formal and organized. They also tend to be led by established experts which can help you improve as a hiker.

Join an outdoor association: Outdoor associations have many professional outdoorsmen as members and a lot of resources. You may have to pay to join, but the trade-off is that they will work with you to get a grasp on the beginner hiker essentials. They will also help you find a hiking partner who can be a mentor as well as a friend.

How To Choose Hiking Routes For Beginners

Hiking for Beginners - CabinZero

Hiking for beginners is about finding the right route for you.
Photo by Jens Johnsson from Pexels

Besides actually hiking, learning the requisite skills, and preparing the right equipment, the hardest part of hiking for beginners is choosing the correct route. The right trail for you depends on a variety of factors, such as time commitment, desired scenery, trail conditions, and difficulty factors. You will have to assess your situation to make the best decision.

Where To Find Beginner Hikes Near Me

Fortunately, there are plenty of resources available to help you find a good route. Start by looking at official government sources. Most hiking trails are on public land and managed by governments. Governments will normally provide detailed information on trails and will even mark suitable hiking trails for beginners

How To Choose The Right Route

A Google search for “beginner hiking trails near me” will introduce you to various websites and blogs that describe the local trails and conditions in detail.

Reading first-hand accounts of other hikers’ experiences will help you decide if you have what it takes to tackle a particular route. They will also inform you of fun spots and opportunities to be on the lookout for a while on the trail.

Read trail reports. Check recent hiker feedback for current conditions, water availability, and any obstacles on the trail. Again, don’t go alone. Hike with a buddy or join a guided group for your first few times.

First-Time Hiking Tips and Tricks

No matter if you’re a beginning or advanced hiker there are some tricks that you’ll always want to keep in mind. The majority of them stem from the beginner hiker essentials

Pack Trail Mix

Trail mix is a high energy snack food that will keep you going when you need it. The combination of nuts and dried fruits will provide your body with carbs, vitamins, protein, and minerals. And most importantly, your bag of trail mix gets lighter as your hike continues which is perfect for first time hikers.

Wear Wool Or Synthetic Socks

Proper hiking socks should be on everyone’s beginner hiking gear list. They should be made of moisture wicking fibre that removes moisture. When you hike, you will sweat sometimes unnoticeably, and this can develop odours and lead to blistering. You can’t hike if your feet aren’t in good shape, so protect them every way you can.

Hiking Shoes Can Become Sandals

It can be tempting for first time hikers to pack sandals, especially while backpacking and camping. But an extra pair of footwear means extra weight and takes up extra space in your bag. You can unlace your hiking shoes and tie them off at a lower eyelet to make them function as slip-ons while in camp.

Hiking for Beginners - CabinZero

Hiking boots are the most versatile footwear. Photo by Lum3ns on Pexels

Learn to navigate

Many hiking beginners tend to underestimate the art of navigation. Navigating in the outdoors is a skill, even when you have a GPS device to rely on. You’ll want to practice pinpointing your location on a map and identifying geographical landmarks so that you don’t get lost while on the trail. 

Get An Early Start

Daylight is one of a hiker’s most important assets. Everything on the trail is easier to handle in the daytime. Start your hike early so that you can use the natural light as effectively as possible. 

Hiking Etiquette

An essential bit of hiking advice for beginners that sometimes goes overlooked is to learn proper hiking etiquette. Everyone has the right to be outdoors. It is a shared space, and like all shared spaces, there is an expectation for us to behave properly and respectfully. The list of trial dos and don’ts can get pretty vast, but five are the most important:

Leave No Trace

Keep our outdoor spaces clean and as undisturbed as possible. That means hiking out what you hike in. Don’t litter the trail with debris and garbage or damage the natural surroundings.

Let Nature Do The Talking

Polluting the environment also includes noise pollution. Hikers are on the trail to enjoy nature. Take the time to listen to the surroundings, the animals, the rustle of leaves, and the bubbling of the streams. It will enrich your experience and that of others.

Don’t Disturb Wildlife

Remember, hiking trails cut through the natural habitat of wildlife. Interacting with humans can be a traumatic experience for local animals and fauna. Protect them and yourself by doing your best not to disturb them. 

Know Your Right Of Way

There is a rather complicated set of rules for passing others on the trail and yielding to oncoming traffic. Knowing these rules is one of the hiking essentials for beginners:

  • Uphill traffic has the right of way. Step aside if you’re descending the trail.
  • Cyclists have to yield to horses and hikers.
  • Hikers yield to horses and pack stock.

Hiking for Beginners Done Right

Hiking for beginners can be challenging, but it is ultimately a rewarding experience. Don’t be intimidated by all there is to learn and choose the right trail. Remember, there are all kinds of resources to help you get started. The most important thing is to be willing to give it a try. Don’t miss out on what the great outdoors has to offer.

Anthony Woods

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