It’s no secret that I am a huge fan of day hiking – for our physical, mental, and spiritual well being. Whenever I go day hiking, I feel my absolute best. Being in the wild is where I feel most alive and at home. Although I am always stopping to catch my breath, (both from exertion and awe), I never feel like hiking is exercising. To me, hiking is pure bliss. Exploring the outdoors is essential in my efforts to live my Best Ever Life.
If you have ever wondered how to start hiking, we share the best ever day hiking tips that have worked for us. We would love for you to share the best ever hiking tips that have worked for you in the comments!
(Note: This is an incredibly in-depth guide. We suggest pinning this guide to reference when planning your ideas to go hiking.)
How to Prepare to Go Hiking
Setting yourself up for safe day hiking requires some preparation, but once you have your system, it gets easier to get yourself out the door. It is always a good idea to have a plan, especially when you are planning to explore areas with technical terrain or unsettled weather. A few things to consider when planning your trip are as follows:
Plan Your Hiking Route
Your selected route is an important consideration for your safety and enjoyment during the hike. As mentioned above, doing your best to avoid accidentally picking a trail that is too advanced for you will save you some frustration. It also increases your chances of potential injuries. This has happened to me, it can happen to all of us.
We never know what to expect, but when starting out, consider the following ideas when planning your route:
Places to Go Hiking Near Me
Finding the best places to go hiking is not as hard as it might seem! Most of the time, I use AllTrails or The Hiking Project to find trails near me when I am exploring a new area. I also join numerous local hiking groups to get recommendations on the best places to go hiking. Instagram is also a wonderful source of inspiration to find places to go hiking, although many people like to keep their best places secret to prevent them from getting too crowded. 🙂
You can also use this cool map to find places to go hiking near you:
The Best Hiking Gear
If you are just starting and planning a short hike on an easy trail, you can easily get out the door with pretty much everything you already have hanging around the house. If you plan on spending any amount of time on the trails, you can increase your safety, comfort, and enjoyment on your journey with some hiking essentials. Here are our choices for the best hiking gear!
Best Trekking Poles for Hiking
Trekking poles are perhaps some of the most underrated pieces of hiking gear. Only 10-15% of day hikers use them, while those on longer, more advanced ventures, such thru-hikers, and backpackers, report a 90-95% and 30-50% usage rate, respectively.
Health experts have repeatedly attested to the benefits of trekking poles, which include:
Best Daypacks for Day Hiking
Depending on how far you are going, your daypack can be essential to the ease of your trip. I carried this HYDRATION BELT during my early days of hiking because I didn’t want to be weighed down. It was a poor choice for my longer hikes because I had nothing with me except water.
Now, I carry my OSPREY TEMPEST 20 because it is light and comfortable, yet has ample room for many layers to accommodate for the changing weather at different altitudes or a light lunch we might want to pack to enjoy by an alpine lake.
A smart daypack determines what gear you can bring along and how much food and water you can carry. The pack’s design and storage capacity also influence your physical exertion level based on how it distributes the weight across your back.
The two most important details to consider when selecting your hiking daypack include:
Best Multitools for Hiking
A MULTITOOL can be a lifesaver on a hiking trip. Their uses range from repairing damaged gear to cutting through materials in your first aid kit (e.g., trimming small patches of moleskin for blisters).
Most multitools feature a knife, pliers, and a small pair of scissors, among other secondary tools. However, you may want to look into more advanced models that include a serrated knife, wire cutters, or even wood and metal files.
Best Headlamps for Hiking
It is super easy to get carried away on your hike and before you know it, the sun is going down. Under-preparedness for low visibility will inevitably amplify your injury risk, as you will not be able to spot potential trail hazards and wildlife (ssssnnnnaaakes…..) in your path.
Stay safe by stuffing a HEADLAMP in your pack if think you just might risk the dusk. Look for the following details when shopping for your headlamp:
What to Wear Hiking
What to wear hiking is an often overlooked item in hiking essentials. Many beginner hikers fall into the trap of believing that they can simply wear what they want during a trip, and they’ll be just fine.
And sure, that is pretty much the case if you want to get out for a quick walkabout along a groomed trail in the trees. GO! Put on your shorts, T-shirt, and whatever sensible shoes you got with grips. (Take your pack with extra essentials.) There are SO many beautiful trails in national, state, provincial, and regional parks created just for this purpose. Just getting out there is such a gift!
But if you plan on going anywhere the wild weaves in or for any more than an hour or two, proper clothes can make your experience more comfortable, and safe, really. (Chafing, blisters, and being cold, wet, or sunburnt can be avoided with proper attire.)
Best Hiking Pants
The best way to protect your legs is to wear pants that cover everything down to the ankle. This way, you can prevent scratches, bites, and other wounds from things like insects, snakes, and rough vegetation.
Truth be told? I can only be sold on this during the cooler months. I can’t stand the heat on my legs when the weather gets warmer. Steve’s the same way.
I LOVE and mostly wear my NORTH FACE WOMEN’S UTILITY HYBRID HIKER PANTS but they seem to be no longer available. I am keen to try the WOMEN’S VERSION of Steve’s favorite pants, though. Otherwise, I also love wearing my KEEP MOVING PANTS from Lululemon.
Steve loves his OUTDOOR RESEARCH FEROSSI PANTS because they are well fitted, super comfortable, and moveable.
Many people in the hiking groups I am a member of are recommending these hiking pants as well:
PRANA MEN’S STRETCH ZION / COLUMBIA MEN’S SILVER RIDGE CONVERTIBLE PANTS
PRANA WOMEN’S HALLE PANT / COLUMBIA WOMEN’S SATURDAY TRAIL PANT PANTS
Best Hiking Shorts
Wearing shorts on a hike can be a hot-button topic, depending on who you’re talking to. Some hikers swear to never wear shorts while on the trail, while others are willing to compromise on hot days (🙋🏼♀️). Evaluate the risks mentioned above with pant wear to decide what’s best for you.
Having said that, my favorite shorts are loose, short, and wick away sweat. Personally, I can’t stand anything that feels constrictive in the warmer months and I could care less about the utility of shorts (pockets, conversion from pants). My phone is usually in my hydration pack. Or, my daypack if on a longer jaunt.
This is such a personal take. But consider breathability, length, comfort, fit, and fabric. These QUICK-DRY ATHLETIC SHORTS are a fave.
We are going to test a number of shorts this season and will update this post with our favorites.
Best Hiking Jackets
There are lots of different options when it comes to choosing hiking jackets. Steve and I carry both a hard shell and a soft, puffy layer during the cooler months. Here are our faves:
Best Hiking Footwear
Whether you wear hiking boots or hiking shoes, studies have found that hikers who don’t “condition” their footwear ahead of time have about a 7% increased chance of developing blisters (32.1% vs. 25.5%). So before heading out on a longer jaunt, make sure to wear them around town a bit to ensure your footwear is comfortable and doesn’t rub anywhere.
Hiking shoes are such a personal choice. Some people prefer a lighter trailer runner while others choose sturdier boots with ankle support.
Steve alternates between his SCARPA MEN’S KAILASH TREK GTX HIKING BOOT and SALOMON MEN’S X ULTRA 3 in the warmer months and sticks to his Scarpa boots in the cooler months. He loves both but appreciates the high ankle support the boots offer.
In the warmer months, I can’t stand anything heavy on my feet but love soles that offer hefty treads. I started out with SALOMON SHOES like these but only an older version (which were awesome) but then switched to SALOMON SPEEDCROSS 5 which are a bit lighter, narrower and I find them to be more comfortable.
Hiking Boots for Women
Yep. I used to hike in my Uggs in the winter (as seen in the Best Hiking Pants photo). Before I got my actual hiking boots, my Ugg boots worked well for me. My UGG WOMEN’S ADIRONDACK BOOTS are SO comfortable and warm! Plus, they are waterproof and have rugged Vibram soles, and are perfect for snowy or mucky trails.
Now, I wear and LOVE my waterproof Scarpa Hiking Boots. SO much better, I don’t know why I spent so many seasons in my Uggs.
I am a nervous nelly, (why I always hike with TREKKING POLES) so I strap on some spikes if it’s icy. They are always clipped to my pack in the winter / spring / fall. I pull them over both my boots or my shoes depending on where we are in the season.
I tried YAKTRAX which everyone raved about but I much prefer my STABILicers. I got Steve a pair for Christmas and he loves them as well. They seem to have more dig and give me more of a secure feeling on any surface.
We should say that the STABILicers can sometimes fall slip off, not often at all, but it has happened to both Steve and I. We are keen to try the KAHTOOLA EXOSPIKES that many rave about in the hiking community.
I can pretty much go anywhere in my hiking boots without STABILicers. I never really wear snowshoes, I have, but I would much prefer the simplicity of boots. Having said that, we have not explored too many trails hard icy trails. We would likely choose these if we start.
Steve, on the other hand, is not a fan of sinking through the deeper snow. He would prefer snowshoes but we haven’t yet tested any to recommend. It’s rare we run into snow deep enough to sink. So far, we see mostly well-worn trails in the winter, but when the deeper snow appears, he’s wishing we had those strapped to our packs instead of the STABILicers.
We are planning to explore more of the backcountry soon, though, so we will update when we’ve tested snowshoes.
Best Hiking Socks
Never underestimate the importance of your socks! These are the only thing standing between you and some nasty blisters, so do your due diligence when buying this clothing item. Consider the following while you’re shopping:
- What types of shoes are you wearing? Hiking shoes or trail runners are compatible with ankle socks, whereas boots will be most comfortable and effective with long socks.
- What’s the best material? Two of the most important factors to think of here are breathability and moisture-wicking features. The last thing you want is for your foot to be sitting in its sweat all day. For these reasons, merino wool is a favorite among experienced hikers.
Best Hiking Shirts
Here’s where heated debate can ensue. To cover or not to cover? I have been known to hike for hours on end in whatever might cause the least amount of tan lines. 🤦🏼♀️
If you are planning on wearing a DAYPACK, you would be far more comfortable in a breathable, quick-dry T-shirt with short or long sleeves.
I have lived in my C’EST MOI LONG SLEEVED BAMBOO SHIRT in the cooler months even though it is might not be the most breathable. I have recently discovered ICEBREAKER, and I am in love! It is SO much lighter and breathable yet keeps me warm in the cooler months. I love V-Necks and have my eye on these SHORT SLEEVE ICEBREAKER SHIRTS for the warmer months.
Day Hiking Packing List
I am going to be honest, here. If you are just learning how to start hiking, you really don’t need to pack much for short trips, outside of your clothing options above. When I first started hiking, 8k (5 miles) was a (really) big hike for me. Maybe 5K is your big hike, maybe it’s 10k. And if it’s more than that? You are not just learning how to start hiking, you’ve got this.
We will create another guide soon that highlights a more thorough packing list for thru-hiking or backpacking, but for learning how to start hiking on day hikes, consider packing the following in your daypack:
Although hiking is all about getting away from technology and your busy life in modern civilization, sometimes bringing some tech along with you can improve your trip. Here are some of the most useful pieces of tech to take with you.
Wearables and Watches
Wearable technology is a godsend when it comes to any outdoor sport. You don’t have to carry it or worry about its weight being too burdensome, which provides some much-needed relief for your hands and muscles.
Watches are essential to managing safety, navigation, and physical awareness when outdoors. Some manufacturers specialize in producing watches for outdoor sports enthusiasts, as their watches often include the following features:
- Water- and shock-resistance
- Heart rate monitoring
- Step counters and distance trackers
- GNSS (global navigation satellite systems, which includes GPS, among other navigational supports)
- Smart device pairing
If you plan on hiking in areas with cell phone reception, you might consider looking for a watch that can support calls and texts. This way, you don’t have to dig through your pack or your pockets for your phone if someone’s trying to get a hold of you or vice versa.
Steve loves his GARMIN FENIX 5 PLUS and I’m a big fan of my Apple Watch.
There are lots of apps designed to help you make your way through the trail as smoothly as possible. Some will even provide details on trails’ difficulty, available campsites, and more. One of the best examples of this is AllTrails, an application beloved by tens of millions of hikers worldwide. This app includes details like:
- Trail length and intensity
- Whether your route is for bikes, hiking, or running/jogging
- Suggestions for kid- and pet-friendly hikes
- Personalized maps
- Directions to the trailhead
- Geotagged photo sharing
Hiking Trail Etiquette
Remember, when you’re out on the trail, you are not in your territory anymore. The outdoors belongs to wildlife and all people, so you must respect the space and do your part to ensure everyone’s safety and enjoyment. Here are some of the most crucial things to know about how to behave during a hike.
Leave No Trace
These principles are critical and must be practiced by all hikers, backpackers, and everyone in-between. No one is going to pick up after you. No matter where you are or how long your hike may be, keep these Leave No Trace practices at the forefront of your mind:
- Plan your trip in advance.
- Trek and camp on resilient surfaces. This means that you must take care to avoid highly sensitive areas throughout your hike.
- Be responsible and considerate when disposing of waste. This includes organic waste like apple cores etc, do not leave those behind.
- Leave everything better than you found it. Don’t take plants and animals out of their natural habitat!
- Contain your fires and minimize any impacts of smoke, ash, etc.
- Respect wildlife. This cannot be emphasized enough. Do not attempt to touch or go near wild animals under any circumstances.
- Be considerate of other outdoors people.
Going to the Bathroom
You’ll inevitably need to pop a squat at some point during your hike. Admittedly, this is a bit tougher for ladies than males. Still, if you can find the right amount of tree or shrub cover, you’ll be fine.
No matter what kind of business you need to take care of, you should always carry biodegradable toilet paper with you to keep clean. If you’re worried about solid waste, there are two primary strategies:
- Bury it. Consider keeping THE TENTLAB DEUCE(R) ULTRALIGHT BACKPACKING POTTY TROWEL in your pack and be prepared to dig a hole at least 6″ deep and wide. Make sure you’re several hundred feet away from water sources, campsites, or other areas that people use before choosing a spot. This is especially important if you have consumed cannabis or medication as it is incredibly harmful to other animals. (Note: Make sure to read the trail requirements beforehand. This might not be allowed in some areas, as human waste is considered a biohazard, even outdoors.)
- Bag it. Some specialized products can eliminate human waste’s odor, enabling you to toss it in the same bins as dog poop.
Right of Way
Just like road traffic, hikers must yield to one another on occasion, especially on narrow or dangerous trails. Here are some of the most crucial right-of-way guidelines to know:
- Hikers trekking uphill have the right of way.
- Bicyclists must yield to hikers.
- Hikers yield to horses and similar animals.
Again, check that the route is pet-friendly and take a look at the difficulty level to ensure that your pets are allowed to join you, and whether they can physically handle the challenge. We love this post written by The Bark talking about trail etiquette for dogs.
Hiking is one of the world’s most favorite sports worldwide. The hobby involves so many details that it can be overwhelming to join as a beginner. Yet, with this guide and a few knowledgeable friends to help you along, you can ensure your safety and fun when you finally get out on the trail!
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