Author: Thibaud Sulzer
Are you yearning to step out into the great outdoors and explore its wild, natural beauty? Maybe you've always wanted to try hiking but you’re unsure how to get started. Maybe it feels inaccessible. If that's the case, you're in the right place. Read on for a quick guide on how to start hiking - what to buy, how to prepare well and what to do on the hike itself.
- What to wear on a hike
- How to prepare for a hike
- What happens on a hike
- Conclusion - just get out there!
What to wear on a hike
One of the keys to a good hike is making sure you have the right gear, for comfort and safety. Before the hike even starts, there’s a few essentials that you’ll need to consider buying, if you don’t already have them: a good pair of walking boots and a waterproof jacket.
You may think that a pair of trainers are enough to start walking, and in a way you’re right. But if you’re committed to starting hiking, you’ll quickly realise that you’ll be slipping all over the place! I’d recommend investing in a good, new pair of high-ankle walking boots. Luckily for you, gone are the days of sturdy and uncomfortable boots. Today there are plenty of models which provide you with good ankle support, comfort and even sometimes waterproofness. Maintaining healthy feet is essential as they’re going to be carrying you up the hills!
Top tip: Don’t forget to break your boots in by wearing them around the house for a few days, so that they mould to your feet and you avoid nasty blisters while hiking.
The last thing you want is to be wet and cold in the outdoors. Protecting the upper body is vital, and to do so you’ll need a decent waterproof jacket. Chances are you may already have one, especially if you live in a wet climate like the UK. But if you don’t and you're not sure if hiking is something you're going to continue to do regularly, try your local charity shop, where it's possible you can find a good jacket at a bargain price. There’s no need to buy the top of the range at first – wait until you have a bit more experience.
Of course, there’s a whole other range of technical gear you could buy, such as gloves, hats, backpacks, hiking poles, shirts, trousers and socks. These aren’t essential but will make your experience slightly more comfortable. However, using what you already have is fine at the start, until you know if you’ll continue to hike.
How to prepare for a hike
Now you know what gear to bring, it’s important to prepare, to ensure safety - that’s the most important thing after all!
Buy/download a map
A map is your best piece of equipment to ensure you don’t get lost. In the UK, the Ordnance Survey (OS) creates physical maps for each region, which you can find in major outdoor shops and book stores. If you do use one of these, you’ll need to learn how to navigate using a compass.
Alternatively, you can download a map on your phone, which has an in-built GPS, meaning you won’t need the compass. OS have their own app, but there are many others too. Whichever you use, make sure your phone is charged, and bring a spare battery pack.
Start short journeys, then get longer
Ok, so you may fancy yourself as the future Edmund Hillary, ready to conquer all the peaks of whichever country you’re in. And no doubt you will get there! But even the greatest hikers started somewhere, and I can bet you they started with short journeys. Start with accessible, short (1-2 hours) and relatively flat routes so that you can get into the hiking groove. As you become more experienced, you can slowly build up to longer days and even multi-day camping adventures.
Check the weather
This may seem obvious, but I don’t have enough fingers on my hands to count the times I’ve assumed the weather would stay as it looked. Checking the forecast isn’t fail-proof, but it will give you a general idea of where you need to go, and what clothes to bring. Word of advice if you’re in the UK: prepare for all weather eventualities!
Bring food, water and a first-aid kit
Now for my favourite part of hiking – snacks! Munching on tasty food brings a whole world of joy during long walks. Make sure you stock up on high-energy, easy to eat foods such as cereal bars, fruit and dried fruit/nuts.
Also, bring plenty of water and a good medical first-aid kit with the basics – plasters, antiseptic wipes, medical tape and painkillers.
Decide if you’ll go alone or in a group
Hiking alone or with others both have benefits. Going solo, you can be with your own thoughts and the natural world, away from human noise. But make sure you always tell someone where you’re going, as accidents can happen.
If you go with a group, you get to share the journey and the memories. It’s slightly safer, though you should still tell someone about your route. Maybe you want to go with others but don’t know anyone who is keen? You can join one of the many local hiking groups dotted around the UK. There are also national groups which improve access to the outdoors for all, including Black Girls Hike and Muslim Hikers.
What happens on a hike?
Now for the walking itself. You’re finally on the move, but remember just a few pieces of advice to maintain good energy and keep on the right track.
Check the map
It’s no good to just bring the map and then keep it in your pocket. Even if you’re sure where you’re going, a quick glance at the map/phone every few minutes will ensure you’re still on the right path. It's always possible that road that you were certain went right now no longer exists.
Listen to your body’s needs
One of my favourite things about hiking is tuning into my body’s needs. When the time is right, a sip of water or a bite of a cereal bar can shift my mood quickly and dramatically. So listen to what your body is craving, and attend it to it appropriately.
Similarly, if you feel pain anywhere, stop and take care of it as soon as you can. For example, if you feel a blister coming (you’ll feel your foot heating up) then stop, and place a blister plaster or a bit of tape on the area, before it blisters up.
Enjoy the experience
Life's all about the journey, not the destination, and there’s nothing like a journey surrounded by the beauty of nature. Look around you and notice the colours, hear the wildlife and watch the changes in the sky. And remember to laugh when things don’t quite go to plan – because they inevitably won't, and that’s part of the journey too!
Conclusion - just get out there!
It might seem daunting but hopefully the practical steps in this article have given you a taste of the joys of hiking while guiding you towards taking your first steps out there. Now, put your best foot forward and experience the joy of walking in great outdoors for yourself.
Thibaud Sulzer has recently completed a Masters in Outdoor Environmental and Sustainability Education. His interests lie in environmental philosophy, flow state and human connections with nature. When not studying, you’ll usually find him outside, either on cold-water swims, surfing or hiking in the Scottish hills.