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Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Hiking for Beginners - 8 Tips to a safe and awesome hike

Earlier in the summer, I wrote a guest post for my friend Hilary over at Next Stop Adventure.  I shared five hiking tips for beginner hikers, offering some sound advice for anyone looking to spend more time on trails that are dirt.  After I wrote the post, and spent more time hiking on different types of trails, I had a few extra tips that I wanted to share.  So, welcome to the revised and updated post on hiking tips, building off the list I wrote for Hilary.  

Life in Utah reinforced my love for the outdoors and I spent a lot of time hiking.  When I moved back East, I was excited to explore New England and Northeast hiking.  In September alone, I climbed three of New Englands tallest peaks, Bear Mountain, Mount Greylock and Mount Washington.  And this weekend, I am heading to Vermont to tackle Vermont's tallest peak and get in some prime leaf peeping. 

So, the more I hike, and the more terrain I experience, the more I kind of figured out the DO's and DONT's.  I can say for certain that I had to learn a few hard lessons when it came to hiking.  I learned you never carry as much water as you think you need, and the important of sunscreen and many (many) layers.  But enough of the intro, let's get into some great advice so you won't make the same mistakes I did. 

1.  Proper Footwear- I  cannot stress enough the importance of proper footwear.  There is no "one size fits all" for this (pun intended) and you need to think about what kind of hike you are doing.  For anything with unsure footing, I always bring my Solomon trail running shoes that have built in spikes and awesome tread.  For anything flat and longer distance, I bring my comfortable running sneakers, or "tennis shoes" as nearly everyone in Utah calls them.  Other circumstances may call for taller hiking boots with ankle supports (something I am shopping around for now).  After my Mount Washington hike, the balls of my feet were really swollen from not having the right footwear.  The sole of my shoe wasn't thick enough and after crossing a large boulder field, across sharp edges of rocks, my feet were not happy.  On the other spectrum, some hikes may call for water shoes if you are hiking in and out of the water.  Do your research and get the right footwear for the hike you are going on. 

2.  Keep it short - We tend to get really ambitious with our hiking plans.  But sometimes the best hikes are short and sweet.  A quick hike to an awesome spot for a killer sunset, or maybe just a jaunt after work with your dog.  It is always a good idea to start small and work your way up. You will never regret a hike being too short but you will definitely regret a painful hike that was exhausting or took too long. 

3.  Nothing New-  This is a rule I have learned from years of training for half marathons and marathons.  And the rule applies to hiking.  When out in the woods away from creature comforts, never wear anything new.  No new shoes, new socks or new gear.  Things chafe (new things will always find a way to chafe when you are far far from home), and some gear wont fit right or won't work properly.  My poor friend Amanda has broken this rule twice when it came to new shoes.  Let's just say she ended up finishing a few of the hikes barefoot and with a lot of blisters.  

4.  Bring (A LOT) of Water (and snacks)-  Fact- you will always underestimate the amount of water you need.  Especially in the summer.  Bring a lot more water then you think you may need. I find myself going through water much faster than I imagine.  I rather carry a heavier pack full of water than run out mid hike (been there, done that!). It is also a good idea to bring snacks.  If you are tired or your blood sugar is low, a granola bar is a great pick me up. Many a times I have stopped to take a quick granola bar break and was pleasantly surprised in the boost of energy.  

5.   Layers- Layers are so important, even for the beginner hiker.  You may start off your hike chilly and in ten minutes and a little bit of cardio be warmed up enough to ditch a few layers.  And then the second you stop and the wind picks up, you are instantly chilled.  Or, if you are hiking to any sort of peak or higher elevation, it will get cold fast.  I always pack a long sleeve layer, and ALWAYS pack a gloves and hat for any hike to a peak.  Layers are key (and light!) for being comfortable for any hike. 

6.  Sunscreen and bug spray-  I am a big advocate for sunscreen in all occasions, but especially for hiking.  Spending a few hours outside is enough to leave you with some bad sunburns and wishing of aloe.  Bring sunscreen and at a minimum, put it on your face.  It is also a good idea to pack a can of bug spray.  Being eaten by mosquitos or chased by gnats will ruin any hike and fast. 

7.  Safety -  This may sound extreme, but I think it is important to really take safety into account on your hike.  This may mean packing a first aid kit, even if it's just a few bandaids and advil, or a set of tweezer and gauze.  Even on a short hike, it's a great practice to always carry some kind of a first aid kid.  Peace of mind is important and its always a good practice to have a few extra bandaids, a tissue or a wet nap stashed in your bag. '

8.  Preparation and Planning - research, weather, seasons and maps these are all important regardless of the hike you are going on.   This means a few things:  planning out your hike, knowing the distance and elevation, knowing of any wildlife you may encounter.  Knowing where to park and how to get there is important for arriving at your hike stress-free, aware and prepared.  If the trail looks a little confusing, stuff a copy of a map in your sack, and make sure you pack a compass or bring alone a cell phone with a full battery. 

Activities only work if you have fun doing them, so know your limits and plan accordingly. The length of a hike, calories (food), sights, equipment, and climate are all critical in having a good time. Short hikes are a lot safer and easier if you are just starting out.  Building confidence is key and shorter easier hikes are a great way to do it and ensure you have fun
On the day I summited Mount Timpanogos,  I passed a gentleman who took 3 days (backpacking and camping overnight) for the same trip I made in a day hike (15 mile round trip hike).  He was smart and awesome and I admired him because he knew what was best for him.   That was his speed and that’s what he liked. He was one of the happiest, most social hikers I’ve ever met out on the trials, and a model to the point of going your own pace.
Now you have it, some important basics.  Apply these tips to any hike and you are well equipped for an awesome hike.  Lots of water, layers, planning and bug spray.  Sunscreen and snacks, the proper shoes and safety first.  

Happy hiking and wishing you happy trails. 
Katie Wanders 


  1. Fantastic article with some great tips & pics! -Alicia @

    1. Thanks, Alicia! Hopefully someone won't make the same mistakes I have :)


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