How To Start Hiking and Backpacking as a Hobby – Beginners Guide
Making your first hike as a hobby a successful one is something that all beginners dream of, I feel you, it’s the same thing that happened to me when I tried to hike the first time, I didn’t know what to bring with me and what not? what to wear and how? what to prioritize? etc.
If this is the kind of question you have, this article will answer all of them.
FEARS AND CONCERNS
I don’t have anyone to hike with?
Personally, I don’t prefer hiking alone, because I found it intimidating and lonely most of the time. Even if you prefer hiking alone I don’t recommend it, especially if it’s your first time hiking, because a hiking companion can help if get injured.
If you didn’t succeed at convincing your friend to went hiking with you or your timing is not suitable for them, you can still use the internet and social websites.
For Google, just type “hiking clubs” plus your city name or country if it is small and can found something.
If there are no associations of clubs, you can publish your request in Facebook groups or use MeetUp.
I don’t know where to hike?
It’s pretty much easy to found hiking trails … my favorite way to found them is to google my desired area name + “hiking trails”, or you can found guidebooks on outdoor gear websites. These two resources are good because they give you useful information like the water sources available, the trail difficulty, the elevation gain, and if pets are allowed.
How to differentiate between available hiking trails?
If you get overwhelmed by the multiple hiking trails that you found, this is something that can help you narrow your choice:
- Trail distance: the average person walking speed is 3 mph, but because you are just started hiking, make your calculations as if you will walk 2 mph because most beginners’ backpacks are too heavy.
- Total elevation gain: If between your starting point and the arrival point there is a total elevation gain of 1000 feet, add an hour to your trip duration.
These are the most mistakes that I didn’t pay attention to when I started hiking, other things like the weather, the fitness level, and logistics are common sense.
Are wild animals threatening my life?
What to do if I found myself in front of a wild animal is also something that you can consider before hiking, especially if you plan to go deep in the wilderness.
First thing, you should always search the safety of the area that will visit.
The second thing, avoid the areas where it’s known to have life-threatening animals like bears and pumas.
The last thing, search about what to do if you get attacked by these animals.
Can I hike with my dog?
If your dog’s health and state allow it, yes you can. But you still need to see the regulations because some hiking trails do not allow dogs even if they are leashed.
If everything is alright, don’t forget to bring with you poop bags in addition to a dog pack so he can carry his own food and water, and try to make multiple short stops so you can give him water and food.
Can I start hiking as a hobby even I’m not in shape?
Yes, you can start hiking as a hobby if you start small, because if you don’t, you may end up hating this activity.
You can start by under an hour hike in flat terrain during weekends, and by repeating that for a month you will be sure about what you are capable of.
How do I stay safe?
To stay safe, you should know the common problem and how to avoid them.
The three common problems during hiking our most outdoor activities are:
- Getting lost, and for that, you should take an outdoor navigation course or just watch some Youtube videos to get a basic idea.
- Being under-prepared is a mistake of beginner hikers and backpackers and it can cost you your life or force you to turn back home because you don’t have enough clothes to stay warm during nights for example.
- Going without telling anyone is also a common mistake that beginners and fellow hikers do. It’s easy, telling just a member of your family what your plan is enough, and if you don’t have one, you can plan with someone online that if you don’t get a call from me after 10 days, for example, you should alert authorities because I am often lost or under a problem. Another tip consists of leaving your plan written inside your vehicle if you will leave it at the start of your trail.
Avoiding these mistakes and being prepared will lower your chances of getting into trouble, and more importantly, it will give you the peace of mind that you are mostly looking for.
Is there any etiquette in the trails?
Yes, if you are going downhill, and there is another person going uphill, give him a priority. Same thing with older hikers.
MATERIALS & EQUIPEMENT
What should I bring with me?
This is the question that most hikers and backpackers have when they still don’t some previous experience.
To simplify things for you, these are 10 essential things to have with you.
- Map & compass for navigation
- Sunglass & sunscreen to protect you from the sun (my favorite pick of sunglass and sunscreen)
- Flashlight: preferably headlamp (see my favorite pick on Amazon.com)
- Clothes for extra insulation
- First-aid kit (my favorite pre-assembled kit on Amzon.com)
- Lighter to start a fire (my favorite lighter on Amzon.com)
- Needle/thread and duct tape as a repair kit (My favorite pick on Amazon.com)
- Food (the average person need around 250 calories per hour)
- Water (the average person need 0.5 liters of water for moderate temperatures)
- Tent (See my guide on how to choose the best-hiking tent for you)
For food and water, these average depends on the weather, your age, your sweat rate, and the intensity of your hike. But as long as you don’t know your exact needs, take extra food and water as a backup.
What about going to the bathroom?
This is something that concerns the majority of people thinking about going on their first hike, and it’s true, you cannot pass multiple days without going to the bathroom.
First of all, you should take care of yourself before you went on the hike.
Personally, when I am outdoor, I can wait double the time almost the triple to go to the bathroom. For example, if in my house I went one time every 24 hours, I can hold it outdoor for 72 hours, because I don’t eat as much when I am home, and second, my system also gets used to the situation.
To pee or poop, you are required to went away from any water source by more than 150 feet. To poop, you should dig a hole to bury your poop. You can wipe yourself with natural non-poisonous large leaves if they are available, sometimes you are forced to use snowballs or smooth stones. If these previous options are not possible for you and you have toilet paper, you can still use it if you make sure that no animals can access it or take it with you in a zip-lock.
For women, you can get two different colors of pee-rags that you can use to wipe after your pee (not your poopoo), they dry quickly and they are antibacterial.
Don’t forget to have some hand sanitizer to clean your hands after.
Do I need any special hiking shoes?
The footwear type that you need during hiking and backpacking often has to do with the weight you will carry and the weather that you will experience.
Since you will be reading this article, you are often a beginner that is willing to go for a day-hike. For that, running shoes are enough because your backpack is lightweight.
For multi-day hikes, backpacks become havier (especially with beginners) and for that, you will need some added support in your shoes, which comes with mid-cut or high-cut hiking shoes.
For more information, check my guide on how to choose your hiking shoes.
What clothes to wear during my hike?
Before going to tell you what to wear it’s important to know that you should dress in multiple layers instead of one because each layer has a specific role, the external one stops rain from getting inside, and the internal one in contact with your skin dries quickly to not become a source of cold for you.
Now that you know the importance of dressing in layers, let get into details.
- The first role of the base layer that is in contact with your skin is to wick away perspiration from your skin. For that, opt for polyester and nylon (synthetics fabrics) or merino wool and silk (natural fibers).
- That second layer is the insulation that retains your body heat. Most of the time, the thicker this insulation becomes the warmer you get, and you have the choice between synthetic and natural.
- The third layer (outer layer) it’s what protects you from the rain, wind, and snow.
Avoid cotton clothes because they get wet and do not dry quickly, which brings you cold.
For more details, you can check my detailed article about how to dress in layers to stay warm.
How can I avoid blisters?
Having blisters after or especially during your hike is one of the things that all hikers or backpackers avoid at all cost because it does not only stop you from enjoying your hike but it can force you to abandon your hiking friends which can expose you to get lost.
To avoid all of this, a little tip that I can share with you is to apply a little coat of petroleum jelly on your feet before putting your socks on, this way, your socks do not rub against your skin, which causes blisters after.
Even with this tip, if you just get brand new shoes, it mandatory to walk in them first for at least two sessions to break them and to get the shape of your feet. The stiffer the shoes are the more time required to break them.
Do I need hiking poles?
This is a photo of me during my first hikes where I hiked around 15 km with a heavy backpack without using hiking poles.
Struggling is what I still remember from this hike.
I did use hiking poles next hike, which made a big difference in my comfort.
Without hiking poles, all your weight is carried by your two feet, with hiking poles, you are distributing your weight between four feet.
For more information, check my article about how to choose the best hiking poles for you.
What size of backpack should I go for?
Hiking backpack size is also one of the questions that most beginners hikers and backpackers ask.
The backpack size has to do with the time that you will spend outdoor and if you will be camping in lodges or not.
To get a simple idea:
- 1-night hike: a backpack with a size between 40 and 60 liters can be enough.
- 3 to 5 nights hike: a backpack with the size between 60 to 80 liters (the size that I have personally) is enough.
- +5 nights hike: more than 80 liters is required.
To know that these measurements are only indicative, there are other things that can influence the size of your backpack like are you familiar with the area? are you going to hike solo or with other hikers? because in a group you can share your tent, your cooking utensils, etc.
I don’t have enough money to buy all equipment
There is another solution which is looking for trails that have lodges that you can stay in, this way you are not forced to buy some equipment.
The preferred solution is to hike with buddies that have the hiking equipment that you don’t.
How to choose my hiking gear?
The first place that you can get hiking gear advice from is your local outdoor store salesperson, but because most of the time these people don’t practice what they talk about, they can give you advice that is not suitable for you.
Another problem with getting gear advice from this salesperson is that sometimes they get a commission from some brands and they try to sell it to you even if it’s not what’s best for you.
It’s not that I have a website, but the place that I recommend you to look at for information is the internet. It’s not like the salesperson that is only available for a short time because he has other customers, the internet is available 24 hours and is detailed for every situation and any kind of activity.
For every hiking equipment, you can just type it plus my website name (Evanela) and you will found my guide about it.
These are some examples:
- Best Hiking Shoes: The Complete Buyer’s Guide (LLIINK)
- Best Hiking Backpack: The Complete Buyer’s Guide (LLIINK)
- Best Hiking Sleeping Bag: The Complete Buying Guide (LLIINK)
- Best Hiking Sleeping pad: The Complete Buying Guide (LLIINK)
- Best Hiking Tent: The Complete Buying Guide (LLIINK)
What to take in my first aid kit?
First aid kits are essential in every hike because accidents can happen easily.
In my last hike with a friend of mine, he switched from shoes to flip-flops because the weather was hot and we almost arrived at our destination, because I was using my hiking poles and he was in front of me, the bottom of one of my pole get into his naked feet and made a big wound.
Even if this first-aid kit does not help in some situations, it provides relief to the injured person, enabling him to make the right decisions.
If you do not prefer a pre-assembled kit and you want to assemble your own one, some of the essentials are adhesive bandages, alcohol wipes, aspirin, sterile gauze, ibuprofen, Benadryl, and antibiotic ointment.
How to stay dry while hiking?
If you see that you will get wet because you will hike in the rain or because you will cross valleys or something like that, make sure to wear a waterproof jacket and rain pants, that have sealed zippers.
Another solution that you can apply is to use a dry bag that can protect your belonging inside your backpack from getting wet.
You can also use a backpack cover to protect your backpack if it starts to rain.
If your backpack does not come with one, make sure that the one your buy is suitable for your backpack even if you attach equipment like a tent or sleeping bag.
FOOD AND MEALS PLANNING
What can I eat during my hike?
What to eat is one of the crucial things during hikes, because it can change your mood from positive to not, it can make you strong enough to walk the next day or not, etc.
Freeze-dried food is one of the solutions that some hikers and backpackers rely on, it’s not heavy and can provide you enough energy, and are easy to prepare. But on the other side, they are expensive.
What I recommend you is to have a mix between freeze-dried food for days I don’t have time or I don’t want to cook, and an easy-to-prepare meal when I have time to cook or when I want to treat myself.
If you don’t know what to bring with you, these are some quick ideas to start with.
- Breakfast it’s easy, you can have oatmeal, honey, tea, dried fruit, and bread.
- Lunch: you can make different sandwiches, from salami to hummus and vegetables, to ham and cheese to sliced turkey sandwiches.
- Dinner: You can have pasta with sauce, rice with canned fish, instant noodles, couscous.
If you want more ideas, don’t forget to check my detailed best hiking and backpacking recipes and food ideas.
Where Can I found safe water to drink?
Even if you found a clear-looking water source during your hike (river, lake, or a water well) make sure that is safe to drink by asking locals or some hikers because it can have parasites that can make you sick and having diaries, which can disturb your hike.
If there is no one to ask, or you want to make sure that it’s safe for you, you can apply one of the solutions below:
- Boiling water is a primitive and not a totally safe way to purify water. Yes, it’s cheap but it’s not easy during hikes, because it requires you to wait during the boiling process and after it, because you can’t drink boiling water. But if you are experienced, you can plan to boil it when you are staying in your camp but you still have to carry it with you.
- Water purification tablets can make your water taste bad, but they are easy to use because they are small do not take space in your backpack, and are not heavy. The downsides are the taste and the waiting time.
- Water filters are devices that squeeze water through ceramic or charcoal filters in order to kill bacterias and parasites. Some people found it bulky, but personally, I don’t because even I know that there are drinkable water sources during my hikes, I carry my LifeStraw with me as a backup.
- A portable UV water purifier is an expensive device but easy to use solution that you can swirl inside your bottle in order to purify it.
Can I bring drinks with me?
Yes, you can have drinks with you during hikes, because it’s one of the things that you can treat yourself with, but considering its weight, it becomes not practical.
But you can still carry very lightweight things with you like Nuun or Tang, they are tasty and can give you some energy, especially if you get sick and you don’t eat much.
I hope I answered all the questions that beginners have, if you still have one just type it in the comments below and I’ll do my best to answer it.