Hiking is a great way to experience the sides of Zion National Park and other natural wonders that many casual day visitors don’t get to see from inside their cars or stopped at overlooks. But while there are hikes for every skill level, if you’re serious about taking on some real trails, there are a few things you’ll want to do first. Keep reading to learn the beginner’s hiking tips everyone should know.
Hike with a Buddy
Perhaps the most important tip you could follow as a new hiker is to always bring a buddy. No matter how short or safe you think a trail is, it’s never a good idea to go it alone. Even seasoned, experienced hikers run into trouble.
A trip or fall can leave you unable to walk back off the trail on your own. Unexpected weather could strand you in the wilderness. Snake bites and animal attacks might mean that help needs to come to you. If your cellphone is out of service or the battery dies, having a buddy along will be the only way you can reach that help.
A hiking buddy is more than just a safety feature though. While being alone with nature is definitely a rewarding experience, having a friend along can make every experience more fun.
We’re not talking about the post-hike celebratory drinking. Instead, practice drinking plenty of water. This might sound like a no brainer; most of us know to drink when we get thirsty.
But if you’ve never hoofed it on a trail, climbing up and over rocks and sweating in the desert heat, you’ll likely dehydrate much faster than you’d expect. By practicing drinking plenty of water before, during, and after your hikes, you’ll be prepared to stay properly hydrated on the trail as well.
While you’re practicing drinking that water, you might as well practice carrying it as well. One benefit of day hiking over backpacking for beginners is that you won’t need to carry a massive pack full of gear. But if you plan to take a hike that’s even just a few miles, you’ll still need to carry plenty of water, as well as a few other pieces of gear.
As a rule, an active, healthy hiker will consume about 1 liter of water, or 32 ounces, every two hours. If it’s hot out or you’re taking on a particularly difficult trail, you’ll drink even more. You’ll have to carry this water on your back, which will make the hike even more difficult. Practicing carrying this weight in your backpack will allow you to build up strength so you’re ready for the real thing.
Hiking, like any sport, takes practice and dedication. You can’t hike once or twice and expect to build up the stamina and skills to take on a difficult trail like Angels Landing or The Narrows.
Instead, hike as often as you can. Seek out local trails in your city. Take day trips to state parks or even national parks if they are close enough to you.
If you can’t hike often enough to start building your endurance, you can also walk daily. Try to walk up and down hills or on uneven surfaces to mimic the feel of a trail. It’s also a good idea to go ahead and wear your hiking boots to start breaking them in–no one wants to get blisters while on the trail!
Learn Basic First Aid
From painful blisters to rolled ankles, hiking carries plenty of risks, both big and small. Luckily, most of the small ones are easy to treat on the trail, and you can often continue right on hiking afterward.
Rather than relying on your hiking buddy to treat you, it’s a good idea to learn some basic first aid before your first big hike. Learn how to treat blisters and bug bites, tape ankles, clean cuts, and how to spot the early signs of worse injuries, like broken bones or concussions. While you may not be able to treat these injuries on the trail, knowing what they look like will help you decide when it’s time to turn back and seek help for you or your companion.
Get the Right Gear
Unlike horseback riding or scuba diving, hiking is an inexpensive outdoor activity. But there are a few pieces of gear you’ll want to have if you plan to take on difficult hikes.
The first piece of gear is a well-fitting pair of hiking boots. Boots that don’t fit right will rub blisters and can even cause rolled ankles. You don’t necessarily need to buy the most expensive pair you can find. Instead, focus on finding a pair with support around the ankles and a good, solid rubber sole. And make sure that they fit without leaving too much room or squeezing your toes.
Other gear that will help you stay comfortable and safe on the trail is moisture-wicking clothing, and particularly socks. Besides being lightweight and keeping you cool, this material can also help prevent chafing and keep blisters from forming on your feet.
Always Tell Someone Where You’re Going
Whether you’re hiking with a buddy or not, you should always tell someone back home where you’re headed and when. That way if something does go wrong and you aren’t able to contact someone, your family and friends will know to send help.
If you’re planning a multi-day outdoor adventure, create an itinerary of which hikes you plan to do each day and leave it with someone not on your trip. If you change your plans, contact that person to update them on your new schedule.
Leave No Trace
Hiking is a chance to experience nature in a way you simply can’t from a car or even an off-road vehicle. You’ll get to see stunning views, spot wildlife up-close, check out the local flora, and more. Once you’ve experienced hiking, you’ll see just how special it can be. That’s why it’s important to make sure that others get to experience the same sights.
Leave no trace is the first rule of hiking etiquette. It means that you pack out all trash, never disturb the plants or wildlife, and do your best to minimize the effect you have on the landscape. As they say, “take only photographs, leave only footprints.”