5 Crucial Tips for Beginner Hikers

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It seems apparent that most people who enjoy the great outdoors would appreciate some further exploration in the wilderness to experience the peace and tranquility that it can bring.

Hiking is not considered a sport, although any adventure/thrill-seeker is willing to change the game up to make things a bit more exciting. And although hiking is not for the faint of heart, it certainly, in my opinion, should not be messed around with.

It is a journey of learning to appreciate time spent with nature. So without further adieu, here are some hiking safety tips and tricks I learned while becoming an Eagle Scout that I found useful in order to start the first hiking journey off the right way.

1. Bring a sturdy backpack.

Ideally waterproof, this backpack should be attached to you at all times and should weigh no more than 30lbs. The backpack should contain food, water, and first-aid items.  In addition, the following items are also essential: rain gear (ponchos, change of socks, a tarp, other water proofing, etc.), flashlight, a 25ft. cord/rope, a lighter or waterproof matches, a knife or sharp tool, steel-wool, a metal pot or something you can heat water in, a whistle, and something brightly colored and warm to wrap yourself in like a jacket, scarf, or blanket.

I also like to bring gloves along in case my hands get cold and an extra battery for my phone. Most serious hikers frown upon phone usage and other forms of technology, but hey, you’re a beginner. Ease the stress and get into the wild!  Bring your phone and keep it in a safe spot where it is out of sight and out of mind. Wrap up all of your items in watertight baggies and further decrease the risk for water damage. Your backpack will be your basic survival kit in case anything goes wrong so it should be big enough for you not to forget after a long night in front of the campfire.

2. Bring a map

Photo Courtesy of www.netstate.com

Photo Courtesy of www.netstate.com

Most people have GPS (Global Positioning System) now, but even a GPS can get confused, or the batteries can run out. It has happened to me before and it’s not fun.  Getting lost and not being able to find a way back is a hikers worst fear. 

So bring a map Mr. Rebel. You might even want to bring an extra map and put it in your backpack, but keep your map on you; in a pants pocket, or your jacket pocket. Maps can be a fun exercise if you want to practice getting lost. Make sure your map is detailed enough to have the trails on it. Sometimes topographic maps are easier to navigate with as they show changes in elevation. 

So with your map, be sure to bring a compass. They make a good pair.  Keep your compass around your neck in a necklace or something strapped to you. Your compass can be even more vital than your map. For instance; If you get lost, which way do you go? Find the trail. If that fails, check your map. If you’ve lost your map, check your compass.

Which direction arrow do I follow? Think about where you are located for a moment. Are you on the AT (Appalachian Trail), are you in Pennsylvania, New York, California? Narrow it down until you have a good hundred mile specific area target of where you are.

Crossing a river

Now ask yourself whether you hear water flowing? If you answered yes, you’re elevated. Good. You have a place with running water in case your own runs out. Can you see or hear birds chirping? Yes? Good. you’re not that elevated.  You won’t have to worry too much about freezing temperatures (depending on your location). Can you see or find a clearing or field? Yes? Good answer. Go to it and make noise along the way. This will be your work space.

Ask yourself what time it is? of day? week? of month? of year? More information to help you prepare. Is the sun out? if yes, good news, you’ll be warm for awhile. Are there clouds in the sky? A lot or a little? If a lot, prepare for rain. If you’re standing still, more than likely you are in a panic. Use your space. Break out your loud, brightly colored jacket. If you’re not wearing it already, put it on. If you have two, put the other one on the ground.

Bust out your whistle. Whistles make a lot of noise while limiting the amount of tension on your vocal muscles in your throat. So bust out your whistle and BLOW! See if anyone has heard you. S.O.S is blow: Three long. Three short. Three long.

If you’re not sure where to go at this point and nobody has heard your call, you can’t find an opportunity to back-track, you haven’t been using your map; pick up your compass and walk as best and as safely as you can in one direction set by the compass; downhill only if you were going uphill, or vice versa. You want to travel backwards in the pattern of which you came.

If you have a basic idea of where you are latitudinally and longitudinally, (I’m in up-state New York, or, I’m on the eastern side of Virginia) you have a good idea of which direction will suit you best. Keep in mind, most survival experts will tell you to stay in one place, set up a shelter, find water, and make a fire, but in most cases, if you haven’t traveled such a long distance (over one mile) this might not be your best usage of time.

You came for an adventure anyway, right? Open up your sense of awareness and make it a useful exercise. And NEVER panic! Easier said than done. I was panicking when I wrote this. You were lost. I was trying to help.


3. Buy a good pair of hiking boots.

Foot comfort is ultimately your best protection against a bad experience hiking. Pay attention to these hiking boot tips to have a more enjoyable experience in the woods. Have you ever walked in wet socks? It brings you down. Walking becomes more like a “trudging.”  Just get some good boots! Purchase a waterproof boot that offers a little bit of toe room. With those boots also buy a nice pair of wool socks to keep your feet dry and warm.  Spend with a budget of 150.00 and you should be in business.

A good boot will last forever too, so don’t worry about the upfront cost because it’s worth it in the end. I wear Merrell brand. They never fail, they blend in with fashion, and they help you become motivated to hike, or at least, walk around more.

And as a matter of courtesy, this is another extra tip: DO NOT WEAR JEANS/DENIM. This is another fabric that is ruined by moisture. And when I say ruined, I mean, it’s difficult to dry and it is very uncomfortable to wear when wet. Wear long pants that aren’t made of cotton. You’ll be glad you listened to me here.

4. Go only as far as your weakest member is comfortable. 

Plan it out. A real hiking trip is no phones or electronics, it is well planned, and it serves a purpose: to experience and enjoy the outdoors. But just because you’re authentic with your trip doesn’t mean you have to go crazy and carry unrealistic expectations of your crew members as far as distance is concerned. It is their first time!

A beginner’s hiking trip should be no more than 5 miles. Average walking pace is less than 3 mph, common knowledge, but the average hiking pace is closer to between 1-2mph for the average hiker. So five miles in your trip planned, do the math, that’s anywhere from five hours to around 3 hours of hiking. That’s a loaded day. 

5. Expect the unexpected.

There will be some majestic moments in your hiking trip depending on how aware you are with the location you selected, but one important thing to remember is that you are in “nature” and essentially you have no control over your surroundings. If you expect your trip to go perfectly, run smoothly with respect to Mother Nature, you will end up being grossly disappointed.

So just keep in mind that many things can go wrong. But if you’re prepared, you will be able to better manage your energy. Being outdoors is meant to be an impromptu experience so liven up, put your best foot forward, and join the party! This is the closest to living life as it actually gets.

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I want to wish you the best on your journeys! Stay safe, stay healthy, and keep a positive attitude. You will be surprised at how much having a great attitude will make your team of hikers more appreciative of their surroundings, and their exploration, but perhaps more importantly, more appreciative of YOU!  ENJOY!

By Guest Author and Eagle Scout,
Hart Heiden