From the lush forests of Oregon to the rocky coastline of Maine, and everywhere between, people of all ages are taking up hiking.
For many, it's an enjoyable cardio workout alternative to going to the gym. For others, it's an opportunity to reconnect with nature — or their hiking companion. And for some, it's a chance to capture an epic outdoors shot to share on Instagram.
Whatever your reason for interest, you can get out there today. And you don't need a humongous backpack or a mountain to do it.
You’re likely closer to a public hiking area than you realize. Whether you live in the heart of the city or near the edge of the woods, there is hiking to be had. State parks are an obvious destination, but local county and city park reserves can provide miles of trails perfect for beginners and casual hikers.
Finding nearby trails is easy. A quick search of a hiking database like AllTrails.com or Trail Link will provide a look at all of your local options. If you already have a specific park in mind, visit the park website to get detailed information, including trail length, level of difficulty, and maps.
Start with a trail that feels like a manageable distance and level of difficulty. Beginning with a path that’s easy to navigate and travel over will allow you to focus on enjoying the moment.
An easy way to ensure you enjoy your hike is to dress comfortably. Prepare for the weather, the type of terrain, a lot of movement, and a little sweat, and you’ll be just fine.
Hiking boots are optimal for their superior traction, but you don’t necessarily need them when you’re hiking short distances. A pair of sneakers do the job as long as they offer cushioning and some basic traction. If you have new footwear, be sure to break it in before your hike. Going out in a new pair could cause discomfort.
Depending on the weather, you could opt for a short or long-sleeve shirt. Either way, a performance-based shirt with moisture-wicking properties will keep you dry and comfortable.
Pro Tip: Avoid cotton — it's a poor insulator when wet, which can make you feel cold and possibly increase your risk of hypothermia.
Weather may dictate what kind of bottoms you’ll ultimately prefer, but something that’s easy to move in is key. Pants provide the extra benefit of helping protect your legs from bugs and poisonous plants.
When it comes to your feet, there are two things you want to avoid: blisters and getting too sweaty. Look to a pair of socks that provides ample thickness and soft cushioning, like merino wool socks.
If the temperature is cooler or there’s the threat of rain, you’ll definitely want a windbreaker or waterproof jacket. No matter how the weather looks before your hike, it’s never a bad idea to pack one.
Even if you’re only going for a short hike, there are some accessories you should never leave home without. The following gear will help you be prepared for the unexpected.
No need for a big expedition pack. If it can fit the few accessories and sustenance listed below, you’re golden.
If you’re taking on a trail that’s basically one big, simple loop, you’re fine. For anything longer or more complex, be sure to carry a map. You never know when your smartphone GPS might fail you.
Staying hydrated is a must.
You’ll be burning energy that needs to be replenished. Pack a high-protein snack like almonds, trail mix, or jerky. Dried fruit is a great option as well.
You never know when you could slip and need a bandage. Thus, carrying a basic first aid kit is smart no matter the distance or difficulty of the hike.
Hiking for multiple hours puts strain on your body. And you’ll feel that strain later. Wearing a product like an elasto-preene knee support or elastic ankle support, can help provide compression and support during your treks.
Depending on what part of the country you live in, there may be insects. And there could be lots of them. Wear repellent to keep ‘em away.
Even if it’s cloudy, the sun can burn you over the course of a few hours. Don’t take any chances.
It will be a long and unenjoyable hike if the sun is glaring into your eyes the entire time.
Most smartphones have a compass app. But if you don’t plan to bring yours or think reception may be spotty, it’s smart to bring an old-fashioned compass.
If you’re taking a trail that’s appropriate for a beginner, you should be done with your hike long before sundown. But because you never know what can happen, you should pack a flashlight.
Follow these checklists and you’ll be more than prepared for an average day hike. As you gain experience, your appetite for adventure may grow. When you’re ready to take on mountains or a multi-day expedition, your gear and apparel needs will become much more specialized.
For now, you’re all set. Get out there and enjoy your first trek.