Beginner's Guide to Hiking: What to Wear & Finding Trails

Hiking next to the ocean

If you didn’t grow up in an outdoorsy family, the idea of wandering into the woods can be pretty daunting. If you’re queer, trans, BIPOC, disabled, or plus-sized, hiking might be an even scarier idea to consider, for a number of reasons. Though you may not have had access to outdoor activities in the past, or don’t think you belong outside, I’m here to tell you that you absolutely do! Anyone with any body type and any ability can hike, no experience necessary. Now, that’s not to say that you shouldn’t be prepared. In this article, we will cover everything you need to know to start hiking and to make sure your first experience is safe and fun. First, let’s cover a few basics that you’ll need on your first hike.

What to Bring Hiking

silhouette photo of three person near tall trees.

Hiking and having fun outdoors

Photo by photo nic on Unsplash

No matter where you decide to hike, you still need to have the best hiking gear so your adventure is safe and comfortable. Here is a brief list of some items you will need:

  • A comfortable and breathable outfit - The clothes you choose to wear should fit comfortably and ideally should be made of quick-drying or wicking materials. This means synthetic materials (think stretchy leggings or shorts) or natural fibers, like wool. These materials will quickly dry sweat or moisture, whereas cotton will hold onto moisture, leaving you more vulnerable to becoming cold and uncomfortable.
  • Supportive footwear - You have a couple of different options when it comes to hiking footwear. Hiking boots are great if you have weak ankles or tend to trip a lot, as they offer more support around your ankles. Boots tend to be durable and waterproof. The downsides of boots are that they can be a bit bulky and heavy, and can also be a big investment. Another great option for hiking is trail runners. Trail runners are sneakers designed to perform well on different types of terrain (dirt, grass, pavement). They are typically lightweight and less expensive than hiking boots but offer less overall support. If you’re not ready to invest in hiking shoes, any pair of athletic sneakers you have will do the trick on most easy to moderate trails.
  • Water and snacks - Whether your hike is two miles or ten miles, remember to always bring water. Fill up a couple of water bottles or purchase a hydration pack, and make sure you take frequent sips while hiking to prevent dehydration. Bring a couple of snacks to enjoy on your breaks. Jerky, fruit, cookies, and trail mix are my go-to's while on the trail and always give me a boost of energy.
    • Tip: Pack all of your snacks in a gallon-sized ziplock bag for easy access, then use that bag for trash later. Always practice Leave No Trace principles and pack out all trash and waste.
  • Sunscreen and bug spray - These two items are fairly self-explanatory. Even if hiking under tree cover, it is good practice to wear sunscreen to avoid getting roasted, especially in the summer. Depending on where you are hiking, you might encounter pesky flies or ticks, which you can deter by spraying your clothes, shoes, and backpack with bug spray.
  • A map or GPS - Make sure you bring a map of the area you are hiking in or a GPS that depicts the trail you are on. My recommendation for this is an app called AllTrails. You can download it for free to search for hikes and to make sure you are following the correct trails. A physical map is always good to have as a backup, in case your phone were to die.
  • Backpack - Bring a comfortable backpack or hip belt to place your water and other items in. While special hiking packs are the best choice for hiking, any pack that doesn’t move around or slips while you walk will be just fine for your first few adventures.

Choosing a Hike

two person holding map and clear compass.

Choosing where to hike

Photo by Daniil Silantev on Unsplash

Now that you have everything you need to begin hiking, it is time to decide on a destination. This will be highly dependent on where you live, how far you want to travel, and what type of hike you want to do. Even if you are relatively fit, you may want to seek out an easy to moderately difficult hike for your first outing. As mentioned in the last section, AllTrails is a wonderful resource for finding hikes in your area. You can search by your location or your desired destination and can filter hikes based on distance, difficulty, and other factors, such as whether or not the hikes are dog friendly.

Once you apply your filters, select a hike that has something you will enjoy, whether that be a body of water, trees, wildflowers, cool rock formations, or great views. Read reviews on the hike so that you know what to expect.

Safety Considerations

Though hiking is a relatively safe activity, there are certain things to consider in terms of personal safety, especially for LGBTQ+ and BIPOC folks. If you are hiking in a more rural area and are nervous, try hiking with friends or joining a hiking group. Check social media for local hiking groups that get together, or reach out to someone you know who hikes. Unlikely Hikers is an organization that offers group hikes all around the US and is inclusive of all people.

Do your research and find out what kind of wildlife exists in the areas you’ll be hiking. If you are hiking in an area with bears, always carry bear spray with you. Most of the time, wildlife will keep their distance, but you should always be aware of your surroundings and keep a safe distance from any wildlife you come across.

Check the weather before you depart for your hike. A little rain is fine, but if storms are in the forecast, save the hike for another day.

Most importantly while hiking, trust your instincts. If someone is giving you bad vibes or you feel unsafe, leave the area. Go back to your car, or link up with another group on the trail if you can.

You're Ready to Hike!

Hiking is a wonderful way to enjoy nature, exercise, and escape the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Preparing for a hike ahead of time can create a more safe and more enjoyable experience for you and anyone you choose to bring on your adventures. Hopefully, these tips help you gear up and get outside. Happy Hiking!

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