I consider myself to be an outdoorsy woman, but I am no master hiker. I have never hiked the Appalachian Trail or spent days trekking through dangerous terrain. What I have done is hike up a mountain in Alaska, climb waterfalls in Jamaica, and take a peaceful trek through Mayan ruins in Mexico. I have hiked through woodlands and deserts, along beaches, and all the way to a glacier.
Because of this, many of you have reached out to me on several occasions for advice on how to prepare for your first hike or first big hike. I’m flattered that so many of you have turned to me for answers and I hope they served you well on your journeys so far.
For those of you who have wanted to ask, but may believe I’m way too busy or could never quite work up the will or the nerve, this article is for you. Here are some tips to help you become a lean, mean hiking machine.
1. Start Small
Many people make the mistake of making their first hike something monumental. It so often becomes memorable for all the wrong reasons and then they never go hiking again. Don’t listen to the people who tell you to jump on the first advanced trail and start walking. Your body will hate you.
The meaning of “small” will vary based on how active you are. If you’re not active at all, consider starting out with walks around your block or at the local park. You could even try the treadmill at the gym. If you have already been tackling shorter and easier trails, then try working your way up to some that are longer and steeper.
2. Get the Proper Gear
There is no such thing as being being too prepared for a hike, but there is such a thing as bringing too much stuff. Carrying around too much weight, even for shorter hikes, will slow you down and make you tire more easily. So, pack wisely. Note that what you need to carry will depend on where you are.
For example, Alaska has no snakes; their only reptiles are turtles. So even though Tristan and I were wading through the jungles and splashing in streams, we had nothing for snake bites and were not the least bit concerned. In contrast, when hiking in Georgia, where many venomous snakes call home, I bring a first-aid kit. I also bring water, but not nearly as much as I would need when hiking in the desert out west.
Put simply, don’t just plan for a hike. Plan for a hike in that specific terrain. And, wherever you do choose to hike, remember to wear shoes that are comfortable and that you have already broken in. You may also want to bring a few basics, such as your cell phone, a compass, a trail map, a flashlight, and extra water.
3. Do Your Research
In order to figure out what gear you need for what location, you will need to do a little research. What is the weather like? What is the terrain like? Is the trail clearly marked? Is there any climbing involved? What wildlife should you look out for? Any bears or venomous snakes? Some parks will post this information on their websites so you can plan way ahead.
However, some of the best trails in the world do not belong to an organised park system with enough funding to maintain its own website. For these parks, check online reviews to see what people have to say. This can help to prevent you from making the same mistake others did before you. You should also check signs posted at the park when you arrive.
4. Find a Friend
My first real hiking trip in America was in Pennsylvania. The summer when I first arrived, I made a few stops along the east coast to visit family and friends. One of those took me to the rednecky town of New Milford, where I went hiking with a guy I had met back in Jamaica earlier that year. I had shown him around my city, so now he could show me around his countryside.
In Atlanta, most of my hiking I do alone. This is dangerous and I would not advise anyone to do this — especially women. If you’re not an experienced hiker and you’re not prepared to defend yourself, please bring a friend.
There are crazy people in ‘Murica who will gladly hit you over the head with a rock and drag you into the woods. That said, I have never been attacked or felt threatened, but I have had to tell a few guys to kick rocks.
When it comes to hiking in the desert, I do not do this alone and advise you not to do so either. Deserts have rattlesnakes, and if you get bitten, walking back to your car will pump the poison through your blood. People say, “But they rattle! You’ll hear them!” Yes, unless you have music in your ears, and unless the snake decides he would prefer to strike today.
Stay safe. Bring a friend.
5. Take Adventure Trips
Once you have mastered all these initial steps, you need to take your hiking adventures out of town or out of state or even overseas. Lean, mean hiking machines do not hike in their own neck of the woods forever. Nor do they only stick to one type of terrain. Get out there and explore. See more of your country or someone else’s.
There is a common misconception that these trips are expensive, but I have never met someone from the First World who said they couldn’t afford these trip who really couldn’t. The truth was that they were wasting money on things they did not need. If your priority is travelling and exploring new places through hiking, then you will put your money where your heart truly is.
Here are some additional articles I’ve written before on hiking:
If you still have questions about preparing for your first or next hiking trip, drop them in the comments below. And, if you have advice as a more experienced hiker, feel free to share that as well. Have a great weekend!
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22 thoughts on “How to Become a Lean, Mean Hiking Machine”
Hiking is an awesome hobby which I have gotten into in the last 5 years or so. For me it helps that I have quite a few hiking buddies. You definitely don’t want to start off with really difficult hikes, but at the same time, I have often found the more difficult ones to be much more rewarding, as long as they don’t kill you (more scenic).
That’s great !!
I find the ones with the best views to be most rewarding, which isn’t necessarily always the hardest ones. I’ve done flat trails that went by rivers and waterfalls that were also really nice. I also do prefer going by myself even though it’s more dangerous for a number of reasons.
By yourself? Hmm I don’t usually go by myself, and I’m a guy. I guess in the rare event something goes wrong it helps to have someone to get you out of that situation. Having said that, I did a few walks by myself recently, and it’s definitely a rewarding experience. I only walked for a few hours at most though.
That’s the beauty of Jamaica’s hiking trails. All our snakes are non-venomous and the only things to worry about are wild boars, a rare sighting anyway, in the John Crow Mountains.
I was explaining that to a friend recently, that we don’t have any venomous snakes and how harmless they are overall, like the Jamaican blind snake.
The third point is essential. Here ticks are a real threat since they carry diseases. We even have rattle snakes. People need to know what is risky in each environment before they set off blindly.
I didn’t know that about the ticks. In Jamaica, we think of ticks as just another nuisance. I don’t know of anyone who actually became sick from them.
Here they carry Lyme disease and it is a very difficult illness.
I’ve heard about that. I wouldn’t be surprised if we had that problem too in Jamaica, but I’ve managed to escape it so far.
Just watch out in our woods.
Thanks Alexis for this good advise. I’ve always enjoyed hiking and looking forward to hiking in Spain this year.
Hiking in Spain sounds like the dream!! I want to go to Spain so bad, but I feel like once I do, they will never get me to leave!!
Where in Spain will you be hiking?
I will be doing part of the Camino de Compostela though I haven’t planned it yet. There is plenty of good hiking along the southern coast near Tarifa also. Spain is so interesting and beautiful, it will be great to get back there.
Be sure to take lots of pictures! I’m sure you’ll enjoy every moment of it. 🙂
Sound advice. Proper gear and good map reading skills are essential. One must always remember that when climbing mountains, the weather can change very quickly indeed. Good quality warm and waterproof jackets and a sturdy and comfortable pair of boots and socks can make all difference. Happy trailing.
Thanks, Fatima!! I’m terrible at reading maps and so we get lost all the time 😅 Thankfully, we always figure it out before it’s too late.
I used to have that problem too, but got better over the years. Practice makes perfect. I😉
I’m not sure I’ll ever get better. So far, still as bad as the first day!
Haha. Keep practising. I used to get lost in my own backyard, but now I can navigate through Europe quite well. I still get it wrong sometimes, but it’s a major improvement: more hits than misses.
I have always had a terrible sense of direction 😂 I never get lost in the woods, but I do get lost in deserts and on streets for some reason.
Don’t give up! I used to be terrified of driving, but 29 years later, I haven’t done too badly.