TOP 5 TIPS FOR BEGINNING HIKERS

Whether you are planning to hike for an hour or several hours, you need to make sure you are prepared. Take it from me. I underestimated my first long-distance (to me) hike and was not prepared at all. Like, dangerously not prepared.

My husband and I had only gone on short day hikes before… 1-3 miles in and out. We had been wanting to go on longer hikes. We wanted the challenge but we also wanted to beautiful views at the end of them! We set our sights on doing the trail to Charlie’s Bunion in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. This 8.6 mile, out and back, trail kicked our butts. The AT (Appalachian Trail) is very rough. But it was way worse because of our lack of preparation. We took ZERO food and very little water. That was it. It was still a beautiful hike. I totally recommend you check it out! You guys… this wasn’t too long ago. It was September of 2019. So while I am far from an expert, I definitely learned what not to do and what to do going forward on all our future hikes. We all start somewhere and I’m hoping you’ll read this and learn from my mistakes! 

Trail near the top of Charlies Bunion | Smokey Mtns, Tennessee

These are my TOP FIVE tips for beginner hikers. If you follow these, you should be able to enjoy your hike AND be safe. 

1. Proper Hiking Footwear

What do you use the most of when hiking? YOUR FEET. You need good, quality hiking shoes or boots. Good footwear is going to help protect your ankles, arches and make comfort last through out your hike. The type of trail you will be hiking and the type of foot support you need will depend on what shoe you need. The best way to find out the best shoe for you is to go try them on. Hiking footwear is something I highly recommend buying from the store and not online. You need to talk with an expert, like the ones at REI. They really helped me choose the right shoe for me. FIT is best. I went in wanting a certain brand, style and color. But I quickly learned that particular shoe did not give me the proper ankle support and it rubbed against my heels. Everyone’s feet are different. And what works for some wont work for you and vise versa. I ended up walking out with a pair of Lowa Boots. These are not the prettiest shoe. But I’ll tell you what, they are so comfortable that during that entire 8.6 mile hike, not once did I complain about my feet. My whole body and muscles ached. I hurt in places I didn’t know I had. But my feet were SOLID. They didn’t hurt. I didn’t get any blisters or boot burn. That’s also in part to the awesome darn tough socks that I wore that kept sweating to a minimum. When you start hiking more, you aren’t going to care whether your boots match your outfit perfectly or if they are super pretty. Make the investment in quality hiking boots/shoes. It’s so worth it.

2. Hydration, Hydration, Hydration!

Staying Hydrated is probably the most important thing you can do when hiking. A healthy balance between water and electrolytes is essential. Make sure to pack enough water as well as some gatorade or pedialyte packets to mix into some water. You’ll want to plan for about half a liter of water per hour you are hiking. You’ll also need to know where to get fresh water along the trail and how to treat it. 

We didn’t take enough water and ran out half way through the hike. Thankfully there was a fresh spring where we were able to fill up our bottles, but I can only imagine if that hadn’t of been there. The trail community was also amazing in sharing their gatorade with us to help give us a little boost. 

3. SNACKS

Please DO NOT ever go on a hike and not take any food with you. This may seem like common sense…but clearly we did not use it haha. I don’t know what we were thinking that morning. We had a really good breakfast with eggs and english muffins and figured we could survive what we thought would be a five hour hike without taking any food. We were so mistaken. You have no idea what is going to happen when you get out on the trail. You don’t know if the hike is going to take you longer than you thought or if you’re going to have to unwillingly stay the night for whatever the case. You always need to take nutrient dense snacks and carbs to give you energy. We found ourselves at the top of a mountain, without food, and low on energy. Having to hike back without proper nutrients will leave you feeling faint, lightheaded, sick and more. Pack things like granola bars, peanut butter crackers, trail mix with nuts and chocolate, bread/sandwiches. You burn a lot of calories hiking and you need to fuel yourself so that you have the health to enjoy your hike! 

4. Ten essentials

Pack the 10 Survival Essentials! You never know when you might need them. 

  • Navigation/Compass/Map/GPS
  • Plenty of food
  • Water (and a way to purify it)
  • Sun Protection
  • Multitool or Knife
  • Shelter
  • First Aid Kit
  • Headlamp
  • Layers for cool weather or rain
  • Fire Starter

5. Pace, Don't race

When you are on the trail it is not a race. It’s easy to feel like you’re not a good enough hiker because other hikers are racing past you or it’s taking you much longer to complete. It is so important for you to take your time and hike at your own pace. That hike I mentioned earlier that was 8.6 miles out and back? I had researched that it took about five hours to complete. Y’all. It took us four hours to reach Charlies Bunion which was half way. The AT was so difficult. I am not the most fit or in shape person. Heck, Y’all… I am OUT of shape haha. But, I still enjoy hiking and being active. The first few hours I kept putting myself down for not being a fast enough hiker (despite the amazing trail community constantly encouraging us to keep going) and taking lots of breaks. And on our way back down the mountain, when it borderline felt like we were in survival mode and I was ready to be airlifted out, Alex and I kept focusing on making sure we got SAFELY down the mountain. Who cares how long it takes you to complete a hike. Making sure that you take your time, however long that is, is going to help you be safe and get back to your car and go home. Rushing to complete a hike on a time limit is not worth a sprained ankle, broken leg, or worse. 

So take your time and enjoy where you are! Don’t focus on other hikers. They all started at the beginning just like you and me. Enjoy the journey and all the learning and abilities that come with it. You will get stronger. It will get easier. And you will naturally get a little faster. 

H a p p y  T r a i l s !

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