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.)

CHAPTER ONE

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:

  • Who are you going with? Your safest option is to hike with at least one other person. Still, lots of people enjoy hiking alone (I did – lots!). It can be riskier and introduces the possibility of you being isolated if things go sideways. If you prefer a solo hike, it’s best to take extra safety measures.

  • Are you bringing a pet? Not all trails are pet-friendly, especially popular mountain biking trails. Check ahead for any on / off-leash rules.

  • What are your physical limitations? There are various levels of length and technical aspects to consider when planning your route.

lets go hiking

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:

  • Terrain. How comfortable are you with scree or elevation? Do you prefer well worn, easy wanders, or more wild, rocky paths?

  • Weather. The weather can dramatically change the hike and will determine the clothes and gear you bring. Check conditions and be prepared for any changes along the way.

  • Pet-friendly. If you want to bring a dog (or cat – yes, cats can hike, too!) with you, confirm that the route is pet-friendly and respect the community guidelines.

  • Proximity to campsites. Are you planning a multi-day trip? If so, make sure there are some easy access campsites along the way.

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:

CHAPTER TWO

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:

  • Improving posture. The poles help keep you fully upright and engage your core throughout the hike.

  • Reducing muscle and joint soreness. Trekking poles can relieve some of the burdens on your knees, hip, and leg muscles, especially on descents. 

  • Supporting balance. The trekking poles allow for all four limbs to be involved in your hiking, helping to improve stability. They also are super helpful when crossing creeks to help you find your balance on slippery rocks.

best trekking poles to go hiking

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 daypack to go hiking
  • Storage capacity. The amount of space you need depends heavily on the upcoming trip. If it’s just a day hike, a 10 L hydration pack is just fine. Multi-day trips or thru-hikes (both known as “backpacking”) may require up to 75 L, though.

  • Material. The best packs should have a balanced mixture of polyester, mesh, nylon, and perhaps even spandex throughout the pack. For instance, mesh is excellent for the back to improve breathability and comfort during use. Spandex and polyester are ideal for waist or shoulder straps for comfort and flexibility.

Best Multitools for Hiking

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.

Leatherman Wave Plus

Leatherman Skeletool

Leatherman Wingman

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:

  • Brightness. A light’s brightness is measured in lumens. However, this doesn’t always mean “the more lumens, the better.” If your headlamp is excessively bright, it’ll consume too much energy too quickly. Too few, and you’ll hardly be able to see in low-light conditions. (Note: One hundred to 150 lumens is great for all-purpose use, but consider raising it to 300 for night hikes.)

  • Available modes. Most headlamps have various operating modes, including flashing and strobe lights. These can help spook unwelcome wildlife or signal for help, so make sure your lamp has at least one of these modes. I can’t handle the flashing or strobe lights at all though because I suffer from migraine with aura, so make sure everyone in your group is ok with this option.

  • Red light mode. Having a bright white light isn’t always best for seeing at night. For instance, using a dimmer red light may be better when making your way around camp in the dark.

Petzl Actik Core

Black Diamond Spot Headlamp

Fenix HL60R

CHAPTER THREE

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:

FOR MEN:
PRANA MEN’S STRETCH ZION / COLUMBIA MEN’S SILVER RIDGE CONVERTIBLE PANTS

FOR WOMEN:
PRANA WOMEN’S HALLE PANT / COLUMBIA WOMEN’S SATURDAY TRAIL PANT PANTS

best pants to go hiking

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:

  • Hard Shell. Hardshell jackets are windproof and waterproof. This is the outer layer we choose for the most protection against the elements.

    Steve chose the  ARC’TERYX BETA SL HYBRID JACKET even though he preferred the Beta AR. He felt it offered better value for a fantastic jacket and is very happy with his choice.

    I chose the OUTDOOR RESEARCH ASPIRE JACKET after flip-flopping over the PATAGONIA TRIOLET. I love that it feels a little softer with move movement but still excellent quality and protection.

  • Down or Puffy Jackets. We love packing these along for our hikes because they are ultra-lightweight and compact yet keep us toasty warm when needed.

    Steve has been a long time fan of his PATAGONIA NANO PUFF JACKET but he recently discovered the ARC’TERYX ATOM AR HOODIE and now reaches for that most often.

    I fell head over heels for the ARC’TERYX CERIUM SL HOODY.  It is the softest, most comfortable jacket I have tried. 

best hiking jackets

Outdoor Research Women’s Aspire

Arc’teryx Cerium SL Hoody Women’s

Arc’teryx Atom AR Hoody Men’s

Arc’teryx Beta SL Hybrid Jacket Men’s

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 SALMON SHOES like these but only an older version (which were awesome) but then switched to SALMON SPEEDCROSS 5 which are a bit lighter, narrower and I find them to be more comfortable.

best hiking boots men

Salomon Speedcross

best hiking shoes

Scarpa Men’s Kailash

Salomon X Ultra 3 Gore-Tex Men’s Hiking Shoes

Hiking in Snow Boots

Yep. I hike in my Uggs in the winter and have for 3 seasons now. I’ve been wanting to try actual hiking boots, but hiking in my snow boots has worked so 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. 

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 UGGs with or 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.

hiking in snow boots

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.

Icebreaker Merino Women’s Tech Lite Short Sleeve Wool T

Icebreaker Merino Women’s 175 Everyday Long Sleeve Thermal Cold Weather Base Layer T-Shirt

Icebreaker Merino Elements Short Sleeve V-neck Shirt

CHAPTER FOUR

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:

  • Navigation tools (e.g., GPS, compass, map). Some surveys have shown that 41% of hikers get lost by merely veering off-trail. Such a mistake can become a life-or-death matter if you happen to get injured or separated from your group. Staying on the designated path is essential to maintaining your route to safety if anything goes wrong.

    My favorite apps to track her routes are TrailForks and Gaia GPS. I’ve been lost with both, so it is important to carry enough food / water / clothing and other safety measures to keep you safe.

  • Snacks. No matter how short your route might be, always pack a snack in case things go sideways. I rarely snack on my hikes, but I always have an energy bar packed in case I hit a snag and need something to boost my energy. Other friends love the snacking element of hikes. And it’s true. Food tastes better in the wild. You have never had a better apple than the one you savored overlooking a beautiful vista, or getting misted by the most glorious waterfall. Even I know this.

  • Water, water, water. The importance of hydration during a hiking trip can never be overstated. Hikers who become dehydrated during their trek are at an increased risk of becoming lost and sick. This is because a lack of water can lead to disorientation, dizziness, nausea, and illnesses like heat stroke and hypothermia. Always pack more than you think you will need, especially in the warmer months.

  • First-aid kit. You never know when you might get hurt on the trail. Even if you don’t expect any mishaps, having an outdoor first aid kit that includes a few band-aids, alcohol, antibiotics, and Benadryl can prevent a small issue from worsening. This super cool Swiss Safe 5-in-1 Fire Starter with Compass, Paracord and Whistle is a fantastic tool to carry in your safety kit.

    (Note – I suggest always hiking with trekking poles in case you take a stumble as I did and you need to hobble down the hill with a sprained ankle.)

  • Sunscreen. Whether you’re out in the sun or snow, it’s best to keep sunscreen accessible. Even if you can’t see the sun directly, the snow on the ground can reflect up to 80% of UV light, exposing you to the same risks of sunburn and skin cancer present in warmer months. I prefer a sunscreen stick as it doesn’t get liquid everywhere and can easily swipe across my sensitive nose as needed.)

  • BUG SPRAY: I have always got by with some spray. But Steve and I went on the most amazing journey to Wells Gray chasing waterfalls, and I tell ya, I am not sure we were going to come back if that swarm of mosquitos had their way. We had to turn back on some of the most glorious hikes in the area. We are getting one of these for this season’s adventures. I will report back on how effective they are. 

    (Aside, a wonderful woman who sold us firewood in the Wells Grey area told us her trusted solution was to slather Vicks Vaporub over exposed skin. We are packing it for our next backwoods adventures, even though it sounds terribly uncomfortable.) 

CHAPTER SIX

Hiking Technology

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.

Garmin Fenix 6X Pro Solar

Sunnto Traverse

Suunto 9 GPS Sports Watch

Hiking Apps

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

Other apps like what3words help you to stay safe by providing highly accurate GPS coordinates that you can share with others to eliminate any possibility of getting lost on the trail.

CHAPTER SEVEN

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.
READ AT REI: HOW TO GO THE BATHROOM IN THE WOODS

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.

Pets

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.

Conclusion

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!