Did y’all know I like hiking? I believe strongly that all people should have the opportunity to connect with nature, and hiking is one of my favorite ways to do that. I know, though, that hiking culture can sometimes feel elitist or inaccessible, so I just wanted to get super clear with some of the basics. Hopefully taking the guesswork out of hiking encourages you to find a trail and get outside.
These tips are based on my own experience. I am not an expert nor have I received any specific training in backpacking, wilderness first aid, etc. I do think these are good starting off points for any beginning hiker, at least in terms of safety.
- Always bring more water than you think you need. Whatever you think you need, double it. Weather is unpredictable and hiking can be strenuous exercise so always have enough to rehydrate. I like to hike with one HydroFlask (an insulated bottle) and one Nalgene (a clear bottle). This gives me about 70 oz. of water and half of it is super cold while the other half is room temperature.
- Always bring a first aid kit. Hopefully you never need it. Or, maybe you get a splinter from climbing over a fallen tree and you need it out RIGHT NOW so you put those first aid kit tweezers to good use. So it goes.
- Always bring a few snacks. This is related to the first point and though you may feel like it is a short hike and you don’t need it, it’s always good to bring extra fuel. I usually bring a bar that has sufficient protein and carbs to give me some energy, if needed. Also, I’ve seen too many episodes of “I Shouldn’t be Alive” to ever travel outside without enough food for a day. That might be a bit extreme, but you get my point.
- Bring a backpack. You don’t need to splurge on a nice hiking backpack (though it might feel better on your back) but you definitely won’t want to be carrying your water, keys, first aid kit, phone, and snacks all in your hands. You can also store your sunscreen and bug spray in there, if needed.
- Get to know the area before you go. If you’re able to look at a map online before you leave, do that, and save it to your phone if you can. At the bare minimum, take a picture of the map at the trailhead. This can be used for reference if you get lost or turned around. Many trails are well-marked but depending on weather and trail conditions, some things may be difficult to navigate. I’ve turned around and gone back to my car before because a trail was too hard to follow. No shame in my safety game.
- That said, always stay on the trail. For safety reasons, and erosion reasons. For safety because bears, poison oak, and god knows what else. For erosion because these trails were made in a certain way for a specific reason taking into account the condition of the soil, location of trees and natural features, and predicted decomposition. If you go off trail, you are putting future hikers of the trails at risk, and damaging the habitats of local flora and fauna. Don’t damage the habitats of local flora and fauna, folks. Stay on the trail.
- Always tell someone where you are going. Even if you are hiking with other people, just shoot your mom a text and say “Hey Mama Bear, hiking Mt. Kilimanjaro, should be back this evening!” 99.9% of the time you’ll be fine, but in the unlikely event of an emergency, you’d want someone to know your last known location. Actually maybe don’t text your mom, just text a friend, because moms worry a lot.
- Do research on the trail, not just the location, but the distance and elevation gain. Start with something small and see how you handle it, then work up from there. Don’t make your first hike ever be 5 miles round trip with 2,000 ft elevation gain. That’s rough.
- Wear appropriate footwear. You don’t necessarily need to dish out for hiking boots right away. Some hikes can be conquered with your running shoes or even your Chacos or Tevas. Don’t leave that to chance though. If you do the right research on the trail, you’ll be able to choose the right footwear. That said, if you are going to be hiking a lot, investing in a good pair of hiking boots is a great idea. They really help with traction, ankle support, and stability; not to mention, they last forever.
- Don’t park like an idiot at the trailhead. If you’re in Oregon, check out my blog post of my favorite hikes in Oregon, where I list what the parking situation is at each of the trails. Otherwise, you can usually find that information online, on the Forest Service website, or on the AllTrails app. Most of the parking fees go back into preserving the trails, so don’t gripe too much about spending a few bucks to experience the great outdoors. Also, mind the “no parking” signs and don’t park dangerously on the side of the road. Getting to trailheads early (like 7:00am) is my favorite way to get an actual parking spot.
- Learn trail etiquette. I could probably write a whole post about this in a not-so-delightful tone. However, I do not want to scare you away from hiking and, in fact, I believe that knowing the social cues of hiking will enhance your experience.
- Don’t play music from a speaker. I, personally, like to hear the sounds of nature, but some like to hike with music. Whatever. If that sounds like you, please, kindly, use your headphones. I assure you, there is NOTHING worse than someone blasting Fergalicious when you’re just trying to connect with nature.
- Think driving rules with hiking. Stay to the right and pull over if others need to pass. Some people hike fast and others hike slow and it’s all so wonderful but if a fast person wants to pass a slow person, trail etiquette decrees that the slow person pulls over and the fast person quickly passes and says “hey, thanks!” or something like that and everyone moves on with their hike.
- Uphill hikers yield to downhill hikers. This means if a path is too narrow for two-way traffic, the uphill hikers pause and move over to let the downhill hikers pass. I suspect this particular hiking-ism was created because hiking uphill is freaking hard and people hiking uphill will take all the breaks they can get.
- If you take your pup(s) hiking with you, pack for them too. They need water and food, just like you, and they’re likely even furrier than you so they get HAWT DOG. Dogs cannot “handle more” hiking than humans and can get dehydrated just as easily as you can. Puppers make great hiking companions, but if you’re not willing to bring what they need, then maybe leave them at home.
- Enjoy yourself! Hiking can be physically, and sometimes emotionally, challenging, and the benefits are vast. Being outside, connecting with nature, and moving your body are all incredible forms of self-care. It doesn’t matter if you don’t reach the summit; what matters is that you moved and you got outside.
Experienced hikers, did I miss any essentials? Beginning hikers, was this helpful? I look forward to hearing from y’all. Share your adventures and your hiking tips with me on here or on Instagram @kellyinoregon.
Thanks for reading! Check back soon.