The great outdoors can be truly inspirational and there is no better way to explore it than by hiking. New to hiking? This guide is aimed at providing you the knowledge you need to embark on your first hiking adventure.
Assess your Ability
If you over exert yourself the enjoyment can soon be taken out of a hike leaving you reluctant to venture out again. It’s important to understand your capabilities and limits before deciding on your first hike. No hike is “too easy” so start small and work your way up to more difficult, longer hikes.
A certain level of fitness is of course required. If you are a fit person you may find you can walk further with less effort than those who are not so fit. If you have good balance you may find you can handle trickier terrain easier than others.
Pick a Partner
It is not recommended to go hiking alone especially if you are a novice. If you are not overly confident ideally partner up with someone more experienced than you. They can pass on useful tips before you start and also teach you along the way. Your companion can also offer encouragement if you are struggling and help if you get lost. Dangers are more easily spotted by two than by one and can more easily be avoided.
Peace and quiet might be nice but sharing the outdoors with someone else can be much more rewarding!
Planning your Hike
A day hike can vary, depending on terrain, fitness and inclines. As a general rule, with a rucksack, you can walk 3 KM an hour (add an extra hour for each 1,000ft of incline). So on a 6 hour hike with no inclines you can walk 19 KM. Realistically on a coastal path you may do 16 KM in the same time. Either way make sure you pace yourself.
As beautiful as a coastal hike is it may not be the best place to start. Uneven terrain under foot is not easy to traverse and uneven steps leading up hills can be difficult and test your limits. A distance may look easy on a map but you never know how steep or awkward the inclines and declines will be until you tackle them! If a coastal hike is your preferred option break the hike into smaller sections and if you are doing well you can carry on a little further. Always underestimate your ability to avoid fatigue and discomfort and therefore reduce the risk of unnecessary accidents.
With this in mind, woodland and lowlands may be an easier place to start. Smoother, flatter footpaths make hiking easier, ideal when just starting out. Easier hikes will increase confidence and enjoyment and happy, confident hikers will be more inclined to continue hiking and push themselves further. Like marathon runners, it is all down to training and persistence.
Maps can help you plan routes and distances to ensure you are within your limits. Short hikes are always advisable to start off with. Maps can also help you plan exit strategies. You may hike for 2 hours and think that 2 hours is enough so make sure there is an option to exit and an option to carry on. With good planning this can be done throughout a 6 or even an 8 hour hike.
An important thing to remember, especially in this techno savvy world we live in, mobile phone reception is not always available to pull up a GPS map. Batteries run down quickly when connected to the internet and GPS. So take your map and compass, they will not let down.
What to Wear
Waterproofs and extra layers are essential as weather can be unpredictable, on coastal paths or up steep descents especially weather can change at the drop of a hat.
You also need to think about weight. If it is summer lighter options are available, thin base layers, micro fleeces and pack away jackets would be more sensible than heavy waterproofs and soft shells. In winter merino wool base layers are ideal due to there warmth to weight ratio.
Most people tend to take care of the top very well and ruin the good work by wearing leggings or jeans, neither is recommended for hiking. Loose fitting, stretchy trousers will offer breathability and comfort, try a 4-way stretch trouser.
Lastly, but arguably the most important part of what to wear, you need to consider your footwear. Whatever you decide to wear the most important thing is that they are comfortable AND broken in! Boots are the obvious choice, offering additional support around the heel and ankle. GORE-Tex or IsoDry boots will offer more comfort and Vibram or IsoGrip soles will offer more grip, traction and durability.
Type of Rucksack
As a general rule a day pack would have a capacity of 20 to 35 litres, more than a day and less than a week a rucksack of 40 to 55 litres would be needed and over a week a 65+ litre capacity is recommended.
Remember to account for your own ability, strength and fitness. Remember strength and fitness will not reduce the effects of blisters and extra weight will only make them more uncomfortable so try to pack as light as possible.
If a 65+ litre pack is needed to carry all the kit needed and there are two of you, you might consider two day packs instead, failing that a small day pack (20L) and a medium sized pack (40L).
What to Pack
Besides a rucksack there are a few other essentials you will need, check out our top 10 hiking essentials for more information.
For a day hike don’t worry about cooking elaborate meals. Packed sandwiches and pasta salads as well as snacks such as nuts and flapjacks should keep you going.
If you are planning a multi-day hike you will need to consider cookware as well as other camping equipment. This would include a tent, roll mat, sleeping bag and, depending on what you intend to cook, a camping stove and pans. Be sensible about what food you take, tinned food is convenient but is heavy whereas freeze dried food is lightweight.
You should be drinking around half a litre of water an hour, depending on how hot it is but do not want to be carrying more than 2 litres of water. Hydration packs are the easiest way to carry a large amount of water and access it easily. If you plan on hiking for more than 4 hours you should plan in a water stop. If water is only available from streams or rivers, pack purification tablets to kill any germs and make it safe to drink (also good for cooking).
Walking poles are not an essential piece of kit for hiking but are useful especially for first timers. Not only do they help make the hike easier by sharing the load of your body and the rucksack, they also take the pressure off your feet, legs, knees and back. Some people find them invaluable when going up or down hills.
Improved posture, balance, stability and momentum are some of the other benefits. Walking poles also work your arms and other parts of the upper body, not dissimilar to a cross trainer in a gym.
Don’t be tempted to just use one pole, you will not build the same momentum or gain the same benefits as using two.
Before you Leave
Double check your checklist. Ensure all the gear you need is packed and any that isn’t needed is left at home! It is easy to pack that extra item but less is more, extra weight will only hinder you down the line.
Tell someone your route and your estimated time of arrival (ETA) at each contactable point. Time is everything when lost, so stick to the plan. If the plan does change, ensure your point of contact is informed as soon as possible to avoid worry and a search and rescue team!
Lastly enjoy your hike and ensure you show the same care the wonderful countryside, coastal paths and woodlands that you would to your own home. Leave no trace to ensure the beauty is passed to the next adventurer exploring the path you have trodden.