Looking for some hiking tips for beginners? If you’re looking to dip your toes into the wonderful world of hiking but you’re unsure where to start, this one’s for you! When I first moved to Colorado, I was 23 and had literally never hiked before in my life. Or camped. Or really even been in the mountains. It was all new territory and I found myself in the land of outdoors enthusiasts. Despite being enamored with the mountains I had yet to explore I was honestly pretty intimidated by it all. Where do I go? How do I find the trailhead? What do I need to bring? What if I get lost? How hard will it be/will altitude destroy me? Lots of questions bouncing around in my Midwest, suburban-raised head. So I am going to share with you the tips I have learned over the years and hopefully you will find yourself feeling confident and excited to blaze some new trails this summer!
1. Get well acquainted with the hiking app, AllTrails.
This app is my go-to for researching hikes in a certain area, learning about the details of the hike, and it saves me from getting lost (I still do sometimes though haha). Many of my tips will have to do with using Alltrails, so just go ahead and download it now so you can see what I am referencing as we continue on together.
2. Start local and small
If you’re in Denver, some good places to start would be Boulder, Morrison, Evergreen, or Golden. If you type any of those general areas into your Alltrails app, a multitude of hikes around there will pop up. Then it’s just up to you to scroll through and see what looks like the scenery, mileage, travel time, and difficulty you’re wanting. 2-3 miles is a pretty good place to start as you’re adjusting to altitude and maybe breaking in some hiking shoes. Which leads me to tip #3….
3. Find some hiking shoes your feet are happy in
Hiking equipment for basic day hikes is minimal, but good shoes matter a lot!! Here’s the thing though: If you plan on just doing simple 2-3 mile hikes near Denver on nice-weather days, you’re probably fine with some good gym shoes. If they have decent traction you can get by without problems! My advice would be to just go in your regular gym shoes the first few times to be sure hiking is an activity you want to invest in! If you do end up deciding to go with boots, one thing to consider is whether or not you think you will want a lot of ankle support. If you plan on potentially getting into longer, harder hikes, you may want to consider high-ankle boots. Here are some top notch hiking boot brands: Hoka (what I wear and love!), Merrell, Salomon, La Sportiva, Altras (boots and trail runners). You can go the online route or if you’re looking to save some dollas (and you have an REI nearby), check out an REI garage sale! You can get returned/gently used shoes for wayyyy cheaper. This is how I discovered my boots! Outdoors consignment shops are also great if you’re ballin on a budget.
4. Invest in a backpack
Same disclaimer as the hiking boots: If you have a little backpack you don’t mind getting some dust on, use that for your first few hikes and then re-evaluate if you’re ready to spend money on an actual hiking pack. If you are serious about hitting the trails, especially for longer amounts of time, you will definitely want a pack to carry along your water, snacks, and personal belongings. I recommend the brand Osprey. I am linking here Osprey’s lightweight packs for simple day hikes. If you are a light packer, the sling is also a great choice! These packs are slightly more equipped for longer hikes because they have a built in bladder for water. So just be sure to go with that type of pack if you don’t want to bring a water bottle. Extra little tip: You’ll want to use the adjustments on your pack to clip it around your hips so that your hips are carrying more weight than your back!
5. Know what to know when picking a trail
This brings me back to the holy grail of trail knowledge: AllTrails. Here is what you’ll see once you’ve selected a trail. The main things to look for when deciding where you want to hike are mileage, elevation gain (anything over 2,000 feet of elevation gain may be intense as a beginner), dog-friendliness (if that applies to you), and how far you’ll be traveling to get there (click directions). I then will read the description listed for info on parking, if there’s a fee, and any other info I can get to help me prepare. Next you’ll want to scroll down to read some recent reviews. This is particularly helpful if there’s been a lot of snow or rain recently. I use recent reviews to gauge trail conditions if I am unsure. Next to reviews you can click to see pictures as well.
6. Know how to stay on your trail
When you arrive at the trailhead, look for any sort of map if one is provided. I will usually snap a quick picture so that I have it for backup. You can also utilize AllTrails to know if you can expect an out-and-back trail, or a loop. This is important to know before starting. Another helpful function of Alltrails is where you see “View Full Map”. If you click that you can see where you are on the trail (or if you’re veering all trail) in proximity to the start. The best part: even if you are out of service this feature still works. I have used it in many desperate moments of being completely lost! When in doubt- you can also ask fellow hikers. Sometimes you just gotta get pointed back in the right direction and that’s okay. Again, this is why starting with shorter hikes is likely best as you get your bearings :)
7. Know what to bring and how to dress
If you’re rockin some hiking boots, make sure you also have hiking socks to avoid blisters. Here are some good ones for summer hiking. I will typically hike with my bottom layer being a tank top and leggings. In my pack I will always bring:
· a rain jacket that packs down (unless there’s literally no chance of rain)
· some sort of warmer layer (remember that the higher you go the colder it can get)
· a full water bottle or fill the bladder in my pack
· some sort of protein bar
· advanced add-ons: headlamp, first-aid kit and/or bear spray
8. Be prepared for not everything to go perfectly every time
I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve been planning to try a certain trail, and the GPS takes me somewhere that doesn’t have a trailhead. Or the parking lot is full. Or the trail is 100% mud. Just know that it won’t always look perfect. Ya win some ya lose some. Try not to get too flustered when the day doesn’t go according to plan. You will learn as you go!! But you CAN be prepared for all circumstances by checking reports (weather + road closures), reading recent trail reviews, bringing all the layers just in case, and knowing the altitude/incline gain before you go! Preparation is key.
*Bonus tip: always check your gas tank before heading out to hike in the middle of nowhere!!*
I hope this all helps you feel ready to give hiking a go in the upcoming months!! Also, I am genuinely so excited for you. My intro to hiking really did change my life and so much about who I am as a person. Good things are waiting for you! Thanks for reading and be sure to pass along to your newby hiker friends :)