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Day hiking for beginners can sound intimidating, but it’s not that hard if you know where to start and what steps to take. List of health benefits of hiking and an opportunity to recharge in nature is what draws in more beginner hikers each day. Although hiking doesn’t require any special skills, there are a few things you need to do before day hiking for the first time.
Preparation makes up 50% of a successful hike. Whenever you plan on hiking a national park or spending your day on a longer trail (50 + km), preparation is an important step in your hiking planning process. This guide offers essential hiking for beginners tips and easy ways to prepare for a long hike.
Researching and planning for a day hike
Researching is a vital part of planning a day hike. You need to have knowledge about the trail and possible weather to know what to pack and how to train for a successful hike.
1. Research the trail
So many beginners dismiss the research part and go on a day hike without knowing what the trail is like. Knowing the difficulty of the trail and what you can expect while on the trail is just as important as your physical preparation.
Researching trail should be done well in advance. At least two months if you plan to hike up to 50 km (30 miles) and even a few months prior for longer distances. When doing research, you should consider these things:
- The difficulty of the path: is it beginner-friendly or for more advanced hikers? are there lots of ups and downs? or is it more of a flat trail?
- Potential break stops: what is the length of each distance between stops? will there be places where to rest?
- Pure human necessities: where will you be able to get a water refill if any? will there be toilet stops? what about food?
If you have answers to all these questions, then you already are on a good start. Knowing the difficulty of the path helps you to know what kind of training you need to undergo, knowing about potential break stops helps you to plan out your breaks and hike more efficiently.
It’s easier if you plan on hiking with an organization which does basically everything for you in terms of research. These type of hikes often have clearly marked trails, water refills, snacks and even lunch at each point, as well as a team of people who are ready to help you if there is a need. However, you still need to familiarize yourself with a trail and prepare mentally. It’s not an easy 10 km hike after all.
If you’re planning on creating your own route, it might be a bit more difficult since you’ll need to decide on the trail, where to take breaks and how to get water refills. This is why for beginners I always recommend to first take already organized, public hike and then transition to creating your own day hikes.
It might be a bit overwhelming at first if you do decide to do your own hike and do all the preparation on your own. But it is manageable if you take your time doing research.
Read more: All You Should Know About Hiking
2. Check the weather
There is nothing worse than being under-prepared for a weather change. Believe me, I know from experience. Nothing fun in hiking the last few kilometres while being drenched by pouring rain and not having a waterproof jacket.
Check the weather on your trail a few days before, a day before and the day of the hike. See how it changes and what you can expect.
If you’re hiking in an area which is surrounded by mountains, don’t trust weather forecast blindly. Mountains equal unpredictable weather. It can be sunny one minute and rainy the next.
Knowing the weather will help you heaps when making a packing list and will help to prevent any surprise weather changes.
3. Make a packing list
If you know what the trail is like and what the weather is going to be, you are more than ready to make a packing list and make sure that you’re ready mentally for your first day hike.
Making a packing list is important and can be fun as well if you like making lists. Start by planning your hike wear: comfortable shoes, a few pairs of socks, top, pants or shorts according to the weather, waterproof jacket and any other clothing pieces that you might need.
Apart from clothes, you should also consider these hiking essentials:
- Comfortable and not too big backpack,
- Reusable water bottle,
- Snacks and food if not provided,
- Medical supplies (plasters, pain killers and other medications you might need),
- Trail essentials (torch, compass, map).
Each day hike will require different necessities and a slightly different packing list. This is why I first encourage you to do research about the trail and hike itself and then make a packing list accordingly.
I have taken many hikes and each time I still make a list for an upcoming hike just to be safe and well-prepared for any situation.
Training for a day hike
Now that you have done your research and are mentally prepared for your first long hike, it’s time to talk about training. Preparing physically for a day hike is a must. You might not need to prepare for a short hike and could wing it but you simply can’t take a long hike without doing a prior training.
I learned this the hard way when I attempted to hike 45 km without any physical preparation and ended up hiking the last 20 km with intense pain in my hip joint and overall body fatigue. All because I couldn’t “find the time” to train properly.
So, if you plan on taking a long hike without having training, I would highly suggest you re-think that. In my case, I didn’t end up damaging my joint any further (feeling super lucky by that!) but I could have done some massive damage because of this. If you want to hike safely and have a pleasant experience, this is a good starting guide for beginners.
Two months before a day hike
Long day hikes require in advance training, so starting at least two months prior to the hike is a good amount of time to prepare. If you plan on having a long-distance hike, you might want to extend the training period even more.
For 50 km or so day hike, you should start walking as much as you can during your week. If you’re a complete beginner, start by walking 30 min – 1 hour 2-3 times a week.
It’s important that your body begins to adjust to movement and longer walking periods gradually. So start by walking 30 mins for the first two weeks and then increase the walking time each week until you reach 10 – 12 km.
Asides from walking, you should incorporate other exercises such as cardio or strength training for your leg joints and overall body strength. Don’t overwork yourself and space out your walking and exercises evenly throughout the week. A good example:
- Monday – Cardio and joints strengthening;
- Tuesday – 1-hour walk (5 km);
- Wednesday – Rest day;
- Thursday – Cardio and joints strengthening;
- Friday – 1-hour walk (5 km);
- Saturday – 2-hour (10 – 12 km) walk;
- Sunday – Rest day.
This is only an example training week, you definitely can plan out your training according to your availability during the week and needs. Don’t forget to add rest days so your body can re-charge.
3 – 4 weeks before a day hike
As you approach week 3-4, you should easily be walking around 10 km per one walk without any difficulty. When you reach this stage, it’s a good idea to attempt to hike half the distance of a planned day hike.
This means, that if you plan on hiking 50 km, then you need to hike 25 km in one go (mini stops included). Research local trails around your city or neighbourhood, so you wouldn’t need to go too far away. Or you can always make up a trail.
Hiking half a distance is crucial because in this stage of preparation you can actually find out if you are ready to take a longer day hike. If you find yourself struggling a lot during half the distance, then I wouldn’t advice you to go through with the planned hike. It is much better to hike once you feel comfortable with your abilities than risk injury.
What you need to understand is that hiking longer distances always make your legs sore in the end and you do feel a bit of fatigue, that’s normal. But if you find yourself with any kind of a pain in the early stages of hiking, always consult with your doctor to prevent any further health damage.
2 weeks before a day hike
After attempting half a distance hike, take a few days to rest. Take only short 30 minute walks a few times after or have one cardio session. It’s important for your body to rest after longer distance and to accumulate to the pressure it got.
When there is only one week to go, you should be in a strict rest zone. This means no longer walking, no intense training or exercising. Let your body recharge for the upcoming hike and prepare yourself mentally.
It takes a lot of strength to hike 50 km or even longer routes, so you need to make sure that you aren’t wasting your body energy on other activities. Also, this way you prevent unexpected traumas or physical problems.
Read more: 25 Simple Ways To Be a Responsible Traveller
Hiking tips for beginners
Here are some essential hiking for beginners tips that you should take into account when preparing and taking your first day hike.
1. Stay hydrated
You definitely don’t want to end up dehydrated during your hike. Hiking as an activity requires more body fluid than regular. This means that if you’re hiking 50 km, you should drink around 3 litres instead of regular 2 to be fully hydrated. Some specialists say that for even longer hikes such as 100 km, you’ll need around 6 litres. The number might sound crazy but, trust me, drinking small dozes of water but frequently is the way to go.
2. Choose good hiking footwear
The shoes you take on your hike don’t necessarily have to be made specifically for hiking but they sure should be comfortable to walk in longer distances. The worst thing you can do is buy a new pair of shoes and take them on a hike without testing them and wearing them in. You don’t want to get blisters only 5 km in. Train for your hike with the same pair of shoes that you’ll wear on the actual hike you’re training for and you’ll be good to go.
3. Dress in layers
My favourite phrase of all time and still one of the many hacks I use when travelling and hiking. Dressing in layers means planning out your hike wear in a way that it prepares you for warmest and coldest weather. This way you can take off one layer or add on additional according to your needs. Plus, layering is a great way to regulate moisture and body temperature when hiking.
4. Let your feet air
If you’re hiking longer distance, you need to let your feet breathe a bit. So during the mid-hike break, take off your shoes and sit for a few minutes with only your socks. No matter how good your socks and shoes are at ventilation, chances are that there is still some moisture left on your feet. If you want to prevent blisters, I would highly suggest letting your feet air a bit in between your hiking. Also, a good idea is to change socks every 10-15 km or at least once during 50 km hike.
5. Don’t sit down during each break
I know how tempting it is to sit down and lay on the ground after hiking a longer distance but try to limit your sitting down stops to one or two. I usually only sit down properly for my lunch break or when I need to apply any plasters. Other stops are strictly only standing and at best up to 10 minutes. This is because sitting down indicates the relaxation process in your brain which means that your leg muscles begin to relax and cool down. If your muscles cool down then it is harder to get back into your pace and you might even feel a slight soreness in the beginning. This is why it is better to not let your leg muscles cool down entirely and keep them in the ready-to-move stage.
Do you plan on having your first day hike soon? Or are you an experienced hiker and have some tips to share? Let us know in the comments bellow.