Hiking for beginners: How to start and what you need to prepare

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So, you’ve decided to try hiking – fantastic! Whether you’re eager to explore nature, get some exercise, or simply enjoy the great outdoors, hiking is a wonderful way to do it. But where do you begin? What should you know before hitting the trails for the first time? Let’s break it down.

Types of hiking

  • Day hiking – Perfect for beginners, these are shorter hikes that typically last a few hours and don’t require overnight stays.
  • Backpacking (or Trekking) – A step up from day hiking, backpacking involves longer trips with overnight stays. You’ll need to carry your gear and camp along the trail.
  • Thru-Hiking – This involves long-distance hikes that cover extensive trails. This usually takes several months to complete. Save this for later in your hiking journey.

Preparing for your first hike

Here’s a step-by-step guide for your preparations. This list will focus on recommendations for day hiking:

  1. Pick a place

    Choose a trail that is suitable for your fitness level. It is recommended that beginners start with a trail that is under five miles and has minimal elevation gain. Manitoba has plenty of beginner trails. Check this guide: 5 great hikes in Manitoba.

    It’s also a good idea to lurk on hiking blogs and social media groups to know more about the best trails for beginners. Joining a hiker group is even better! You’ll be able to get valuable insights and great tips from seasoned Manitoban hikers. The app AllTrails is also a good source of information.

  2. Get the right gear

    The first rule of hiking is to pack the right gear. Make sure to have these essentials:

    • Footwear and clothes – Wear comfortable, moisture-wicking clothes and sturdy hiking shoes. It is recommended that you dress in layers as the weather and temperature can change. Consider wearing a long sleeved shirt – it keeps you warm in colder weather, or protect your skin from the sun on hot days. You should also bring extra clothes so you can change if you get too sweaty, or add to your layers if it rains or gets cold.
    • Navigation – Bring a map, GPS device, and a compass. It’s always good to have a backup plan.
    • Water bottle – Hydration is important when hiking. Estimate at least 0.5 liter of water per hour of hiking. Double this amount when it’s hot (or better yet, don’t go when it’s too hot for you), or you expect the trail to be difficult.
    • First aid and safety equipment – Pack a ready-made first aid kit. You may also need a knife, bear spray, mosquito or bug spray, and a flashlight.
    • Sun protection – Always wear sunscreen. You may also need a hat or umbrella, as well as sunglasses for hot days.
    • Food/snacks – – Bring snacks to keep you full on the trail. Easy-to-eat snacks like granola bars are great. Bring extra in case you get stranded.
    • Durable hiking bag/backpack to carry all your gear.
  3. Get a map

    Having GPS is handy but it’s better to have a map on hand. This will allow you to study the area at a glance, and get a good idea of what to expect. Your smart phone with GPS is a good back-up. Make sure your phone is fully charged before your hike.

  4. Get your body ready

    Engage in cardio exercises, strength training, stretching, or yoga to develop your endurance, strength and flexibility before setting out on a hike. Not only will you be stronger, this can also prevent minor accidents like falls. It can also prevent cramps.

    Consider going on a trial hike. Choose easier or flatter trails to start. This is good exercise. This will also help you find out the level of difficulty you can handle.

  5. Set your hike

    Choose your hiking trail and set the date. Don’t forget to check the weather forecast for that period. As a beginner, it will be better to go with a friend or a group before setting out solo. It will always be a smart move to let somebody at home know your itinerary, whether you’re going alone or with a group.

    Confirm if the trails will be open on your chosen date. Some parks close trails for repairs and other reasons. Also verify if you need to get a permit or pass to use the trails. Park personnel can also give you a good idea of trail conditions. They can even tell you what other things you may need to bring on your hike.

Safety and etiquette:

  1. Know the area and regulations before you hike. Always follow park rules and regulations.
  2. No littering. Follow “leave no trace principles.” Carry out what you carried in.
  3. Respect wildlife. Give animals plenty of space. Observe from a distance and avoid feeding them. It’s also not a good idea to pick flowers or cut plants. Let nature be, so that others will be able to enjoy it too.
  4. Follow the right of way. Be courteous on the trail. Yield to others. Let others pass if you’re stopping to rest or drink water.
  5. Minimize noise, especially in natural environments. Save the shouting for emergencies and leave the loud music at home.

Remember that the key is to start small, be prepared, and enjoy the journey. Happy hiking!
Sources: Hiking for beginners: 11 essential tips, Hiking Guy.com; and Hiking for beginners: The ultimate 101 guide for new hikers, Julia Jones,Well-Planned Journey. Accessed December 22, 2023.

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