The Dummies’ Guide to Hiking for Beginners

  • Last Updated On: April 18, 2019
  • / Hiking Tips
  • / By Andrew

Hiking is an age-old pursuit that allows us to get out in nature, recharge our batteries, and indulge in a great form of physical activity.

Setting off down the trail and out into the wilderness is iconic, a symbol of escape from our increasingly urbanized culture.

It represents a return to our roots.

Have you been considering getting into hiking, but you just don’t know where to get started?

You’ve come to the right place - the beginner's guide to hiking was developed just for YOU!

Read on and then get outside and say Hello Trail!

Hiking for Beginners: The Ultimate Guide - HelloTrail

What You Will Learn Inside The Guide

We are going to cover a lot because the goal is for you to feel completely comfortable on your first or next hike.

Use the table of contents above if you are looking for a specific section but in a nutshell you will learn...

  • General Hiking Information - Trail difficulties, different climates , popular hiking locations and various hiking terms to know
  • What is Day Hiking? - Our personal favorite distance and the best choice for beginners
  • What to Bring On a Short Hike? - You don't need a lot but there are some necessities you'll want to make sure to pack along
  • What to Wear Hiking? - With specific information for Spring, Summer and Fall plus extra considerations for hiking during hot weather
  • Hiking Etiquette - Yes, there are rules of the trail to follow
  • Hiking Groups and Clubs - What are they and should you join any?

Basic Hiking Information To Know

Hiking Trail Difficulties

Hiking Trail Difficulties - HelloTrail

Obviously being a beginner hiker you will most likely want to start out on easier trails but we're also realists...

And adventure seekers!

So I can understand if you want to push the limits but just for your safety and knowledge I wanted to outline some of the different type of trails you might come across.

Beginner: Beginner hikes are suitable of people of all ages, including children and the elderly.

These trails are well marked and in very good condition. They typically do not involve high losses or gains in elevation.

Beginner trails are usually obstacle-free and not longer than a few miles in length.

Moderate: Moderate hikes are generally longer in length and require some level of physical fitness.

There are often small rises or losses in elevation but the trails are typically in good condition and relatively obstacle-free.

Difficult: Difficult trails usually pose high gains or losses in elevation. They are not necessarily longer in length than moderate trails, but they can be.

Difficult trails require a high level of physical fitness. You should be comfortable hiking on moderate trails before setting out on a difficult excursion.

Extreme: Extreme trails involve a significant increase in mileage and elevation gain. These trails are found almost exclusively in the mountains and can be present at high altitudes where the air is thin.

Extreme trails require a high level of physical fitness so make sure you are prepared!

These trails are not always in good condition and can involve navigating a lot of obstacles, such as stream crossings, boulders, and fallen trees.

Choose your challenge wisely!

Hiking In Different Climates

One of the most important things you will want to know before hitting the trails is the climate you will be hiking in.

If your first hikes will be in your home area then figuring this part of the puzzle out should be easy. But if you are planning hikes as part of a vacation then understanding that local climate will be vital to your overall experience.

You will notice that the 'hiking for beginners' guide mostly focuses on 3 seasons - Spring, Summer and Fall - and that is for a reason.

Winter hiking is an animal all its own and I would suggest you hold off on that until you have at least one full season of hiking under your belt.

Spring: Spring can be one of the most beautiful times of the year to go hiking in many climates.

The flowers are blooming and the snow is melting away — but at high elevation, the snow-capped peaks remain, making those destinations more ideal for summer weather.

The southern states are a great place to hike in spring as the temperatures are warm, the elevation is low, and the waterfalls are flowing.

Summer: Summer hiking is ideal for locations at high elevations.

You’ll want to avoid the southern states in summer as they get far too hot for comfort. Focus on the northwest and mountainous regions.

Summer is the only time of the year to seek out those high alpine lakes that are otherwise covered in snow — take advantage of this and plan the trip of a lifetime.

Fall: Fall is an ideal hiking season especially because the leaves are changing, making for some seriously epic scenery.

Most areas around the country offer hiking in fall but in places at high elevation you have to be aware of the possibility of early snowfall.

In the south, the temperatures may still be a little too warm for comfort, so seek out cooler, shaded trails and pack accordingly.

Popular Day Hiking Locations

Most likely you have some great places to go for a day hike within driving distance of where you live. I would encourage you to see those out first to get some trail miles on your boots.

The United States has some amazing hiking trails all over the country so if you are planning a hikecation - feel free to use that term - here are some of our favorite spots that have some unbelievable trails perfect for day hiking.

Colorado: Colorado is one of the pristine outdoor playgrounds in the United States. The state is home to the Rocky Mountains — part of which are protected by Rocky Mountain National Park

Arid desert highlands and prominent river canyons add to a diverse landscape that attracts hikers from around the world.

The high elevation of the state makes for snow covered peaks most of the year — enticing hikers during the summertime with the provision of high alpine lakes and fields of wildflowers — but hiking is possible during any part of the year.

Maroon Bells Aspen Snowmass - HelloTrail

Maroon Bells in Aspen Snowmass Colorado

If you decide to bring your pup with you make sure to experience any of the amazing Colorado dog friendly hikes the state has.

Whether you’re looking for a week long thru hike or an hour long loop, there are very few areas in the country that come close to what Colorado has to offer.

Utah: Utah is an appealing blend of desert and the Wasatch Range Mountains.

The state serves as an important conversion point for the Rocky Mountains, the Great Basin, and the Colorado Plateau.

Utah is home to hundreds of miles of backcountry and trails — with offerings ranging from the most remote backpacking expeditions to pleasant walks through aesthetic scenery.

Are you interested in ecology, geology, or archaeology? Speciality walks open up an entirely new world.

A few places to pique your interest? Zion National Park, Arches National Park, and Moab. The list just keeps going.

North Carolina: The East Coast is home to little gem often overlooked by its western comrades.

North Carolina’s hiking trails are epic, plentiful, and part of the famous Appalachian Trail, featuring some of the most beautiful terrain in its expanse.

Not interested in the AT? The Mountains to Sea trail might incite you.

North Carolina is home to some of the tallest mountains east of the Mississippi — and speckled with waterfalls, rolling hills, and impressive sunsets. Climb Grandfather Mountain, hike Looking Glass Rock, check out Linville Falls, or catch the sunset over the balds in the Roan Highlands.

Ever heard of the Art Loeb Trail? If you’re limited on time hone in on hiking Black Balsam Knob — you won’t be disappointed.

California: The westernmost state in our country is known for its diverse landscapes ranging from craggy beaches, redwood forests, the Sierra Nevada Mountains, and the Mojave Desert.

You can choose from household names such as the John Muir Trail or the Pacific Crest Trail or pick a more obscure location and get off the beaten path.

Want to see something spectacular? Check out Yosemite Valley, home to some of the most impressive granite peaks on earth.

Looking for inspiration? The majestic snow-capped Mount Shasta has trails for the average hiker to the most adventurous seeking to attain a true mountain summit.

Oregon: If you like waterfalls, consider a hiking trip in Oregon. The Columbia River Gorge has enough hiking to last you a lifetime — and it’s complimented by other impressive destinations including the Cascade Mountain Range.

You’ll definitely find the best weather during summer time.

Want some direction? Check out Smith Rock in Terrebonne — a great place to begin your adventure whether you’re an amateur hiker or a seasoned pro.

Other places to visit include Angels Rest, Abiqua Falls, Opal Creek and the Mt. Hood National Forest.

Bald Mountain Mt. Hood National Forest Oregon - HelloTrail

Bald Mountain in Mt. Hood National Forest Oregon

Washington: The state of Washington is the pinnacle of the Northwest, comprised of the snow-capped Cascade mountains and forested islands.

Although its nice weather winter limits the time of the year you should visit, the stunning views are worth the trouble.

Mid-summer through fall is generally the best time of the year to go.

Check out Mount Baker, Olympic National Park, or Mount Rainier — any hikes offered in these areas are sure to satisfy your hunger for the trail.

New York: New York is probably not the first state that comes to mind when you think about hiking, but it sure has tons to offer.

Upstate New York is home to Lake Placid in the Adirondacks — just one destination that makes for some epic outdoor excursions.

A few hiking options to consider include Ampersand Mountain, Mount Jo, Black Mountain Loop, and Prospect Mountain Trail.

New York has a little bit of everything to offer including mountains, waterfalls, and dense forests.

Hawaii: The Hawaiian islands should not be overlooked as a hiking hotspot either. Some of the top Hawaii destinations to hit the trails are on the islands of Maui and Kaui.

What better way to spend a vacation than spending hours exploring the lush green mountains of Hawaii followed up with some recovery in the Pacific Ocean!

Not to mention the weather is ideal pretty much year round. Be careful of rainy season though as some of the island's trails are prone to flash floods.

Whether you are exploring the Waihee Ridge Trail on Maui or planning a multi-day excursion along the Na Pali Coast via the Kalalau Trail - make sure you have the proper permit first - you will be happy you brought along your hiking gear.

Hiking Terms And Jargon

Alpine Zone: The area above the tree line on a mountain where only small plants can grow.

Base Weight: A backpacking term that indicates the weight of your backpack including all your gear except food, water, and fuel. A Base Weight usually comprises your shelter, sleeping bag, and sleeping pad.

Bushwhack: The process of traveling off a marked path, often through thick plant life and trees.

Cairn: A structure of rocks used to mark a trail when trees aren’t present, such as in Alpine Zones.

EVA: A type of lightweight foam integrated into the midsoles of hiking boots and shoes.

Gore-Tex: A popular type of waterproof, breathable membrane. Gore-Tex can be integrated into shoes and apparel. Its primary purpose is to keep you dry.

GPS: Global Positioning System, a worldwide navigational system that functions by receiving input from satellites.

LNT: “Leave No Trace”, a collection of principles that encourages hikers and campers to leave an area just as pristine as they found it.

Polyurethane: Used instead of or in conjunction with EVA, polyurethane is a durable material that provides for shock absorption in hiking shoes and boots. Its function is to support heavy loads.

Scree: A field of loose rocks that cover the slope on a mountain.

Section Hike: As opposed to a thru-hike where hikers complete an entire trail in one contiguous effort, section hiking is when you hike small sections of it at a time, returning home or back to work in between.

Topo: Topography is the study of the shape and features of the earth. A “topo map” displays the natural and artificial features of an area such as hills, valleys, and rivers.

Ultralight: Ultralight means hiking as light as possible. Ultralight hikers aim for a base weight of 10-12 pounds.

Vibram: A popular rubber brand integrated into the outsoles of footwear. Different types of Vibram rubber provide for different levels of grip on slippery surfaces.

What Is Day Hiking?

By now you have read the term 'day hiking' several times. You might have thought hiking is hiking, what's so special about day hiking?

A lot of websites will talk about hiking and backpacking as if they are the same activity but in reality they couldn't be more different.

Sure, there are some clothes and gear you can utilize for both.

The main difference lies in the time requirement.

Most backpacking trips last multiple days and sometimes months if you are taking on a thru-hike.

For beginner hikers I recommend day hikes so you can easily get outside, experience nature and if you like it enough then you can start planning for more extended trips.

Day hiking comprises any distance you can complete between sun up and sun down — usually ranging from one to twenty miles, with the latter reserved for the more efficient and experienced hikers.

Most day hikers will start with a couple miles and work up to longer distances.

What is day hiking? - HelloTrail

Even though you won't be gone for multiple days there are some things to consider before you set out...

But for extensive hikes into the wilderness or up a mountain, you’ll want to be prepared for changing weather conditions and emergency situations.

In addition to distance, things to consider include elevation and weather. These two factors are primarily concerns in the mountains.

Hiking at high elevation is more difficult due to the decreased atmospheric pressure, which results in less oxygen being available to the body’s tissues.

When hiking at elevation, you need to be aware of altitude sickness. Symptoms include headaches, dizziness, nausea and shortness of breath.

These symptoms typically occur above 8,000 feet. Staying hydrated and ascending gradually can help reduce the likelihood of altitude sickness.

The weather also mitigates what you should bring with you on a day hike.

Check the weather before you set out, but be aware that in the mountains and certain places around the world, the weather can be unpredictable.

Late afternoon thunderstorms are common in high altitude regions, which is why it’s recommended to start hiking early in the day so that you’re finished in the afternoon.

If you’re new to an area, it’s important to research typical weather patterns.

Ask around for advice — local hiking groups and outdoor gear shops can serve as good resources.

You’ll learn that much of what you’ll want to bring on a day hike is weather dependent, highlighted by different layers, rain gear (like the best women's rain pants for hiking reviewed here), and sun protection.

Hiking Essentials For Beginners

Hiking essentials for beginners - HelloTrail

I don't like guessing what I need for the different activities I do and if you are anything like me then neither do you!

The whole point of HelloTrail is to give you the right amount of information so you can spend more time outdoors and less inside.

Here is what you should be looking to bring on your day hike along with links to some of the reviews we have done for you to help narrow down the best hiking gear.

Navigation: A map and a compass are tried and true tools of the trade.

While modern GPS devices for hiking are useful and appealing, always bring a map and a compass as a back up.

Consider carrying a protective case for your map in case of inclement weather.

Hydration: Not bringing enough water on a hike is one of the most common mistakes.

When you’re hiking, your body is in a constant state of motion, and water is necessary to fuel your muscles and organs.

Not consuming enough water also makes you susceptible to altitude sickness and hypothermia.

There are plenty of different ways to carry water with you on a hike.

You can carry a water bottle or bottles, pack a hydration reservoir, or use a hydration pack like the Camelback M.U.L.E.

Food/snacks: Not bringing enough food on a hike is another common mistake.

If you’ve never hiked before, it might surprise you how much energy your body requires.

Depending on the length of the hike, you may want to bring an entire meal, most commonly being lunch.

If you’re just setting out for a few hours, be sure to pack plenty of high-caloric snacks. Energy bars and trail mix are two popular hiking snacks.

Remember, it’s better to bring snacks and not eat them than go hungry.

The number of calories you burn hiking depends in part on your body weight and the hike intensity, but the average person will burn about 500 calories an hour.

Sun protection: When you’re outside you’re automatically exposed to the sun and even on a cloudy day you should still wear sun protection.

Apply sunscreen before you leave your house so it has time to soak in and carry some with you so that you can reapply.

SPF-rated lip balm is also helpful if your lips are susceptible to burning.

Additionally, you can bring a hat or sunglasses.

Rain gear: Pack your Marmot Precip rain jacket unless you’re setting out on a very short hike and you know for certain it’s not going to rain. You don’t want to leave this behind on an all-day hike.

The weather is not always accurate and hiking in the rain can be miserable if you’re wet and cold.

Depending on the temperature it can also be dangerous, making you susceptible to hypothermia in cold weather.

Day pack/backpack: A daypack is useful for carrying your gear, including food, water, and sun protection.

You don’t need anything too big — less than 30 liters will do.

Here are the 5 best day hiking backpacks so you can hit the trail with confidence by choosing any one of them.

Bigger backpacks are designed for longer expeditions, such as overnight backpacking trips so their size most likely will be needed.

Proper hiking shoes/boots: Choosing the best footwear for hiking is essential for a positive experience.

Choose your footwear depending on your experience level and the type of terrain you’re planning on tackling.

For short hikes on easy terrain, trail shoes are sufficient. For more technical hikes you’re going to want more supportive hiking boots.

The type of footwear you choose really comes down to personal preference.

We own both hiking boots and shoes specific for hiking and what we wear depends on the climate and terrain.

There is no wrong choice as long as you get a pair that fits properly and is able to withstand the elements you will put them through.

Insect repellent: When you’re hiking you’re exposed to the elements, which includes insects.

Insect repellent is recommended if you’re hiking near water, in a buggy area, or in hot and humid conditions.

Pack it if you’re not sure what to expect — it’s better to be safe than sorry. Insect bites can be extremely irritating and ruin even the most scenic experience.

Toilet paper: While most people prefer not to use the bathroom in the woods, the reality is that you might need to.

When you’re hiking, there are no bathroom facilities, so it’s a good idea to pack toilet paper in case the situation arises.

Camera: Last but certainly not least you will no doubt want to capture your adventure to cherish later.

You can use your smartphone’s camera or an entry-level dslr camera, it doesn’t need to be professional quality.

Maybe you want a first person account of your day out on the trails so get the best GoPro for hiking to attach to your head or chest and record the your most memorable moments.

Don't Forget Your Safety Gear!

Safety is ALWAYS priority #1 - you are going to be out in the wilderness after all!

Even if you’re an extremely careful hiker, being prepared for an emergency situation could save your own life or someone else’s.

Being out in nature is one of the primary attractions of hiking but this means you’re at the mercy of the elements and the elements can be unpredictable.

Knife or multipurpose tool: You may want to carry a knife or multipurpose tool with you in case of an emergency situation.

A knife can be useful for cutting cloth into bandages, repairing gear, and even removing splinters.

Illumination: A headlamp for hiking is the most ideal form of illumination because it provides for a hands-free light source.

Having some sort of lighting with you is essential if there’s a chance you’re going to get caught out on the trail at night.

It might also be useful to carry along an extra pair of batteries.

First aid kit: We put this under the emergency gear category, but it can be considered an essential for taking on any hike, no matter the distance.

You can purchase a pre-made first aid kit at any outdoor retailer. Alternatively, you can make your own.

Necessary things to include are medications (ibuprofen, imodium, and antihistamines are suggested), moleskin for blisters, a roll of sterile gauze, alcohol wipes, tweezers, gloves, hydrocortisone cream for insect bites, adhesive bandages, an Ace bandage, and safety pins.

Other things to consider include a CPR mask, scissors, butterfly closures, and liquid bandages.

Emergency blanket: When you set out on a day hike you don’t intend on spending the night in the woods, but an emergency situation could arise that results in this reality.

In that situation, you’re not equipped with sleeping equipment like you would be if you were backpacking.

This is why carrying an emergency blanket is recommended.

In case you’re forced to spend the night outdoors, an emergency blanket will keep you from getting hypothermia.

Fire starting material: If you’re stuck out in the wilderness overnight, you’re going to be glad you carried along fire starting material.

A fire can serve as a wildlife deterrent, help alert rescuers, and also keep you warm.

You should carry a lighter or matches in a waterproof container and some sort of fire starter.

You can buy pre-made kits at your local outdoor retailer or make your own. 

Water purifier tablets: If there’s a chance you could get stuck out in the woods overnight, you’re going to want to carry water purifier tablets.

If there’s any sort of stream, creek, or snow on your hike, water purifier tablets give you the ability to safely drink from these sources.

What To Wear Hiking?

Now that your day hiking gear list is complete it's time to figure out what you should be wearing.

Even though I will outline some options and things you will want to get I'm going to stick by the mantra of #GetOutside and say that whatever you currently own will probably work just fine!

Don't over complicate or over think what you should wear hiking at the expense of you not actually going out on the trails.

Like most parts of this guide what you will wear will depend on the location and climate you will be hiking.

To help simply things for you I decided to break it up into three seasons - Spring, Summer, Fall.

Best Hiking Clothes - HelloTrail

Spring

Spring means a general warming of climates around the country but it will vary to different degrees, depending on where you live. In the mountainous regions, there will still be snow up high on mountain passes, and hiking at high elevation will mean dealing with snow and ice on trails.

This primarily correlates to the Northwest, mountainous regions, and high up in the Northeast.

In the South and the East, snow and ice won’t be much of a concern as even the mountains are situated at a lower elevation.

Also, spring brings rainfall to many parts of the country, so you’ll need to pack and dress accordingly.

As always, the best thing is to check the weather report before you set out on your hike.

Northwest: Spring temperatures average between 45 and 55 degrees Fahrenheit and the area receives an average of 2-3 inches of rain. Typically the weather in the Northwest is unpredictable, so it’s better to be over prepared than underprepared.

Mountains: Similar to the Northwest, the mountainous regions experience cooler spring temperatures than other locations, varying between 40 and 50 degrees Fahrenheit depending on the elevation.

The higher the elevation, the cooler the temperatures are going to get. Luckily the mountainous region is pretty dry in spring, receiving an average of 1-2 inches of rainfall.

Northeast: The Northeast comprises a varied climate. The tip of Maine is going to be significantly cooler than the more southern states — much of the time still below freezing.

However, the temperatures will be warmer closer to the coast. The more southern states boast average temperatures ranging between 40 and 55 degrees Fahrenheit. It can be quite rainy in spring, featuring average precipitation between 3 and 4 inches.

East: The Eastern part of the country features a fabulously moderate spring with temperatures ranging between 50 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit. The East can be wet in Spring though, receiving on average between 3-5 inches of rainfall.

South: The South boasts the warmest spring temperatures averaging between 60 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit — but during warm spells it can be much hotter. The South also receives a fair amount of rain in the spring, usually between 4 and 6 inches.

Although spring is one of the most beautiful seasons for hiking due to the blossoming trees and flowers, it can also be one of the wettest in many places, so one of your primary packing considerations is rain protection.

It’s not just about what you wear — you’re going to need a waterproof cover for your pack, as well.

Rain Gear Checklist:

Rain jacket — A waterproof, breathable jacket with pit zips is recommended. Gore-Tex is one of the most common names you’ll see, but some companies have designed their own proprietary waterproof materials.

Rain pants — Same as your jacket, look for a lightweight pair of waterproof, breathable rain pants. Breathability isn’t as much of a concern on your lower half, but something to note when you’re shopping, depending on your climate.

Waterproof hiking shoes or boots — Check out our articles on hiking boots and shoes for some great options. The shoes or boots you wear should have a waterproof breathable membrane for hiking in spring, also commonly Gore-Tex.

Waterproof backpack cover (or waterproof backpack, such as made from Dyneema material) — Most backpacks aren’t waterproof so you’re going to need a waterproof backpack cover in order to protect the gear in your backpack from getting wet during a downpour.

There are some exceptions, including backpacks made from the cutting edge, stronger-than-steel material, Dyneema.

Lightweight umbrella — While this might seem ridiculous to some, carrying an umbrella with you while you’re hiking is actually quite trendy. Many hikers carry umbrellas on thru hikes in wet climates.

Spring is similar to fall in that although you will experience warmer daytime temps, the mornings and evenings will likely be cool. Again, this really depends on the climate and whether it’s the start of spring or nearing summer.

Always check the weather before setting out on a hike. Here are a few tips to get you started.

Pro tip: Layering is key. Proper layering keeps you warm when cool and affords you the ability to shed clothing when temperatures get too hot.

Undergarments: Your socks and underwear should be warm and comfortable above all else. Lose the cotton — Cotton absorbs water, is slow to dry, and in extreme cases can result in hypothermia. Merino wool and synthetic blends are the best types of fabric for hiking.

Base Layers: If you start hiking in the morning or you live in a cooler climate, you’re likely going to want to hike in long underwear on your bottom half beneath your hiking pants.

Again, merino wool and technical synthetic blends are your best option. Merino wool stays warm when wet and repels odors while synthetic blends add durability. For cooler climates, merino wool is the best choice.

On your top half, select either a long sleeve base layer or a t-shirt, depending on the temperature.

Remember, you can always shed layers on your hike, but it’s important that your base layers are made of moisture-wicking breathable fabric as these are worn directly against your skin.

Pro tip: Baselayers have different weights. Heavier weight baselayers are made for cooler temperatures and lighter weight baselayers are made for warmer temperatures.

Middle Layers: Your middle layer serves as your insulating wearer, designed to keep you warm when the temperatures drop or during cooler springs. The best middle layers are polyester fleece jackets or synthetic hoodies. Again, stay clear of the cotton.

Pro tip: Ditch the traditional hoodie. Most hoodies are made of cotton and will just retain water and become heavy when wet. Opt for a technical synthetic hoodie.

Insulating Layers: If it’s cold enough outside, such as in the early morning, late afternoon, high elevation regions, or northernmost parts of the country, you’re going to want to bundle up.

You’re also going to want something lightweight and compact so that if it warms up and you need to stow it in your pack, it will compress and pack away nicely.

Pro tip: Down is the best lightweight insulator — as long as it’s not exposed to moisture. In wet regions, synthetic down is recommended.

Your insulating layer should comprise a down or synthetic down vest or jacket. It’s helpful to own one of both if you live in a changing climate.

Down is extremely packable and will tuck easily away into your backpack when you’re not wearing it. Synthetic alternatives are not quite as compressible but will be appreciated in wet conditions as they provide some water resistance and retain warmth when wet.

As spring starts to turn to summer, you can likely retire your insulating layer to the closet.

Hiking Pants or Shorts: Whether you wear hiking pants or shorts really comes down to personal preference and the weather.

Hiking pants are recommended as they provide a barrier between your legs and contact with plant and animal life in addition to UV rays, but as the temperatures begin to warm up such as down South and in late Spring, you may opt for a pair of hiking shorts.

Pro tip: If you’re going to wear hiking shorts, choose high-top hiking boots over shoes so that you provide your ankles with some protection from trail obstacles and plant life.

In the Northwest, mountainous regions, and the northernmost tip of the Northeast, spring will feature cold enough temperatures to require a baselayer bottom in addition to hiking pants.

If you know you’re going to be layering, select a pair of stretch woven hiking pants. If you’re going to wearing hiking pants by themselves, any kind of soft shell pants are ideal.

Hiking-specific pants offer a level of water resistance and while they won’t do you much good in a downpour, they will protect you from getting wet in light rain or while traipsing through puddles.

Outer Layers: Your outer layer serves as your main line of protection from the wind and the rain. If you’re hiking in dry conditions, instead of a rain jacket you might opt for a more breathable wind shell.

While spring hiking in most climates packing a rain jacket is recommended, you don’t need to wear it if it’s not raining. A wind shell is much more breathable and will keep you more comfortable overall.

Pro tip: Carry both a rain jacket and a wind jacket and pack the one you’re not wearing.

Spring is one of the prime hiking seasons in many places around the world. Spring is also one of the most photogenic times of the year — so don’t leave your camera behind.

The snowcapped peaks recede and colors return to the once barren, brown landscape. Green fields sprawl out before your eyes and flower buds pop open in blues, pinks, and yellows.

Animals leave their dens behind for the lively fields and the forests. It’s time to end your own winter hibernation and return to the sanctuary of nature.

Summer

As spring transitions to summer, getting outside becomes more and more appealing.

The warming temperatures encourage you to get outside — something you eagerly oblige.

Most people enjoy hiking in summer because you can move more freely when you’re not weighted down with heavy insulating layers.

It’s also prime time for exploring high alpine lakes, meadows, and the unique hikes in Colorado with their mountain peaks that would otherwise be covered in snow.

Summer is associated with soaring temperatures, humidity and warm nights — but the degree to which these environments are present depends on where you are in the world. It also depends on elevation.

Though the temperatures at sea level might be in the high 90s, if you will be venturing into the mountains, you’ll experience a significant temperature decrease and may want to plan as if you were hiking in the fall.

Rainfall also varies depending on where you are. It is very dry in the mountainous western and Northwestern regions during summer while in the East and South you can experience quite a bit of rainfall.

The best thing to do? Be prepared for anything.

Northwest: Summer temperatures range between 60 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit on average, with warmer temps during the day and cooler temps at night.

This is the driest time of the year with the area receiving between 0-2 inches of precipitation on average, but in the mountains, the weather can still be unpredictable.

Mountains: Similar to the Northwest, the mountainous regions of the US feature cooler temperatures due to the higher elevation, ranging between 60 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit on average, with warmer temps during the day and cooler temps at night.

The higher the elevation, the cooler the temperatures will be.

The mountainous regions are drier in summer, receiving 1-2 inches of rainfall on average, but unexpected afternoon thunderstorms are prevalent, so plan on bringing rain gear if you’re hiking late in the day.

Northeast: The lower part of the Northeast is significantly warmer than the upper tip, specifically Maine.

Maine experiences averages temperatures between 60 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit on average while New Hampshire, Vermont, and New York are a bit warmer, with temperatures averaging between 65 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit.

The more southern and coastal portions of the Northeast are warmer due to their lower latitude and proximity to the coast, with average temperatures in the 70s.

East: The East is a warm place to hike in summer, with temperatures averaging between 70 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit on average although during the day temperatures can easily soar into the 90s.

The further south you go, the warmer the temperatures will get.

South: The South can be sweltering hot in summer with temperatures that often soar high into the 90s, particularly in the southernmost state of Florida. Average temperatures range between 75 and 85 degrees.

Expect high humidities and almost unbearable heat during peak daytime hours.

In the South it’s best to hike in the early mornings or evenings in order to stay cool.

Lighter colors are your going to be your best choice during the summer months. Dark colors will absorb the sun’s rays, resulting in making your body warmer, while light colors will reflect the sun’s rays, keeping you cooler.

Look for UPF fabric, which will protect against the harmful rays of the sun.

While clothing generally provides protection from the sun, sheer shirts do not provide as much protection as you might think, and should be avoided as a general rule.

Outdoor companies design plenty of UPF-rated clothing ranging from UPF-15 to protection to UPF-50+.

Wear long sleeves or pants (find the best women's hiking pants for summer here). While this might seem like the opposite of what you would want to do in summer, covering up your arms and legs protects them from the sun and is especially necessary for people with sensitive skin.

Wear sunscreen. This should seem like a no-brainer, but we can’t reiterate this enough.

Even hiking on a cloudy day, your skin is exposed to UV rays.

Apply sunscreen thirty minutes before you head outside and carry some with you so that you can reapply every two hours while you’re on your hike.

Loose, breathable clothing is best.

Wearing lightweight, loose-fitting, breathable clothing will allow for plenty of airflow and circulation even in the sweltering heat.

Some clothing articles have built-in vents — you should definitely make use of them.

Accessorize with sunwear. Hats, bandanas, and neck gaiters are great for carrying with you on a summer hike.

Sun hats are better than baseball caps because they will provide sun protection for both your neck and face.

Bandanas and gaiters can be dunked in water and then hung around your neck to help cool you off.

Carry plenty of water — or even better, a hydration reservoir.

You’re going to be drinking a lot more water on a summer hike than you will during any other season because you’re going to be sweating more.

To stay hydrated, it’s recommended to take a sip of water every 10-15 minutes, even if you’re not thirsty.

We highly recommended the Camelback hydration backpack which is one of the 5 top hiking backpacks you can choose.

Take preventative chafing measures. Hiking in summer makes you more susceptible to chafing — in all the worst places.

To start, wear synthetic underwear — avoid cotton!

Synthetic underwear will wick moisture away from your body and protect you from chafing.

Also, body glide and anti-chafing creams come highly recommended by ultra runners — if you’re prone to chafing, take their lead and apply some before setting out on a summer hike.

It’s easy enough just to toss some into your pack and carry it with you, as well.

Eat frequently. While the warm weather might make you feel less hungry, you should eat frequently to keep your body adequately fueled. It’s working hard to keep you cool — you need to return the favor.

Cotton doesn’t always kill.

Although you’ve no doubt read cotton is taboo (as in 7 sentences ago!), in extremely hot conditions a cotton t-shirt is okay, as long as you’re comfortable in it.

Cotton absorbs moisture rather than wicking it away from your body so it will actually feel refreshing against your skin and will cool your body temperature as the water evaporates.

Summer Hiking Outfit

Top: A cotton or synthetic loose fitting t-shirt or long sleeve shirt

Bottom: Synthetic, technical lightweight hiking pants, convertibles, or shorts

Head: Sunhat, neck gaiter, sunglasses

Feet: Synthetic or merino wool socks and hiking boots or shoes

Summer Day Hiking Gear List

-Sunscreen, body glide, snacks, a hydration reservoir, rain gear (optional), a light wind shell (optional)

The refreshing feeling of jumping into a pool at the base of a waterfall or lounging in the most comfortable hammock near a lake is one of the greatest appeals of summer hiking.

The warm temperatures encourage outdoor activity and the snow up in the high mountains has finally melted away, leaving behind beautiful alpine lakes just begging to be explored.

Fall

Fall hiking in Colorado - HelloTrail

Summer has relinquished its sweltering grasp, the foliage is changing from green to shades of red and golden yellow, and cooler temperatures encourage trading out the reprieve of your air conditioned house for the great outdoors.

Fall is one of the best seasons for hiking in pretty much every climate around the country.

The season brings cooler days and longer nights so it involves a bit more creative layering on your part, but we’ll walk you through what you need to wear for hiking in fall — no matter where you live.

Typically you can start to expect cooler temperatures in the mountains and the Northwest and relatively warmer temperatures in the East and South.

The Northeast experiences similar temperatures as the Northwest, but the weather is a bit more predictable.

It’s true that the Northwest and mountainous regions boast the most unpredictable weather, highlighted by storms and rainfall.

This is something to keep in mind when packing for a fall hiking trip in these regions.

It’s important to remember the temperatures listed below are just estimations; weather is ever-changing and the best thing to do is to check the weather report before setting out on a hike, dressing according to the weather report, and always being prepared for the unexpected.

Northwest: Fall temperatures average between 45 and 55 degrees Fahrenheit and the area receives plenty of rainfall, but not as much as in winter.

Weather is always unpredictable in this region so it’s better to bring extra layers than to go without.

Mountains: Similar to the Northwest, the mountainous regions of the US features cooler temperatures due to the higher elevation.

The higher the elevation, the cooler the temperatures will be.

When hiking in the mountains, expect average temperatures ranging from 40-50 degrees, depending on your elevation.

Northeast: The lower part of the Northeast is significantly warmer than the upper tip, specifically Maine.

Maine experiences averages temperatures between 40 and 45 degrees Fahrenheit while New Hampshire, Vermont, and New York are a bit warmer, with temperatures averaging between 45 and 50 degrees.

The more southern and coastal portions of the Northeast are warmer due to their lower latitude and proximity to the coast, with average temperatures in the 50s.

East: The East is a warmer place to hike in fall, with temperatures averaging between 55 and 65 degrees Fahrenheit.

The further south down the coast you go, the warmer the temperatures will get.

South: The South experiences the warmest fall temperatures which can easily soar into the 70s, particularly in the southernmost state of Florida.

It can feel like summer even into the fall months in this region, so the key to hiking here in fall is to try and keep cool.

Layering is key to a positive hiking experience — in any season.

In fall it is especially important because unlike summer, many regions are subject to unpredictable weather, including whipping winds and rainfall.

A layering system is most useful in cooler temperatures, including fall, while in summer your layers will be limited.

Your layering system starts with your underwear and extends out to your outermost layers.

The key is to find a minimal set of light clothing that will suffice in a broad range of conditions.

Base Layers: Base layers can be considered the most important part of your layering system because they’re actually touching your skin, serving as either a protective barrier from the elements or a nuisance — depending on the fabric.

A comfortably fitting long sleeve or short sleeve base layer is recommended for fall hiking, depending on the temperature.

In the South, you’ll likely want to hike in a short sleeve baselayer and carry extra layers with you just in case the temperatures drop, while in the Northwest and mountainous regions, a long sleeve shirt and a pair of base layer bottoms (long underwear) are recommended.

Baselayers are meant to wick moisture from your skin. Check the weather and use your best judgement.

Pro tipDitch the cotton — once and for all, including your underwear.

Why? Cotton’s hydrophilic nature means that it dries extremely slowly, absorbing moisture whether from sweat or external elements.

Unless you’re hiking in the desert and utilizing cotton as a cooling mechanism when the sweat evaporates from your body, you should absolutely avoid it at all costs.

In extreme cases, cotton can result in hypothermia because of its slow drying properties.

Merino wool: Wool is an extremely popular base layer fabric because of its thermal retention properties.

Merino wool will keep you warm even when wet — which is ideal in cooler temperatures and wet conditions.

For fall hiking, merino wool underwear, socks, and base layers are some of the hiking clothes recommendations you will want to seek out because they tend to keep you warmer than synthetic fabrics.

Also, merino wool is less prone to stinking.

Synthetic fabrics: An alternative to merino wool is synthetic fabric. The advantage of synthetic fabric is its quicker drying properties.

Many companies have created base layer blends of synthetic and merino wool.

Synthetic base layers are typically more expensive than wool but if you sweat a lot when you’re active, they might be the way to go.

Because of the cooler temperatures in fall, a synthetic and merino wool blend is recommended if you’re not a fan of straight merino wool.

Baselayer weights: When picking out a baselayer, you’re going to encounter different labels, including lightweight, midweight, and heavyweight.

As a general rule, the heavier fabrics are going to keep you warmer — but the primary purpose is still to wick moisture from the skin.

For fall hiking, a lightweight layer will be ideal in warmer climates while a midweight layer is recommended for cooler climates.

Middle Layers: Your middle layer is meant to retain body heat to protect you from the cold.

In fall, the temperatures tend to be cooler in the mornings and evenings, so you might want to start wearing a middle layer and strip it off towards the middle of the day.

In the Northwest, the northernmost tip of the Northeast, and mountainous regions, the temperatures will be cold enough to justify wearing a middle layer the majority of the day.

Again, steer clear of the cotton and keep to synthetics.

Polyester Fleece jackets: A lightweight fleece jacket is a great insulating midlayer. While not designed for cold temperatures, fleece is ideal for hiking in fall in most climates.

Fleece jackets are affordable and lightweight, making for an easy piece to stash away when the temperatures rise.

Fleece is also available in lightweight, midweight, and heavyweight options, stays warm if it gets wet, and dries fast.

The only downside is that it does not block the wind, requiring the addition or substitution of a wind breaking layer.

Insulating Layers: In colder climates, such as the Northwest and mountainous regions, the temperatures might drop low enough to require wearing an insulating layer.

Insulating layers are lightweight and packable and should be carried in fall regardless of the climate just in case the weather takes a turn for the worse.

Lightweight down jackets or vests: Down is the best lightweight insulator and is designed to keep the cold air out — as long as it’s not exposed to moisture.

Down does not perform well when wet. However, down retains its shape and loft and you can expect it to last for decades with proper care.

There are three different types of down insulation:

High loft goose down: Provides the highest warmth to weight ratio of any down or synthetic insulation. It is typically the most expensive.

Standard goose down: Although it has slightly less loft, it is reasonably priced.

Duck down: Less fine than standard goose down and considerably less expensive.

Synthetic down jackets or vests: In wet climates such as the Northwest and mountainous regions, some of the best hiking jackets for cold weather are synthetic alternatives like softshells.

They offer thermal insulation and provide some water repellency as well. Synthetic insulation has become extremely advanced in recent years.

Although typically heavier than down, companies have developed some alternatives that rival down in terms of warmth to weight.

The other disadvantage is that they are bulkier than down, and therefore tend to be less compressible, and experience faster degradation, so you’ll find yourself replacing synthetic products more often than down.

Hiking pants: Although some people prefer to hike in shorts in summer and warm climates, hiking pants are the best way to go because they protect your legs from insects and unwanted contact with plant life in addition to providing you with UV protection.

In fall, full-lenth pants, like the Columbia women's hiking pants, also serve as the exterior layer of insulation on your lower half.

Lightweight, durable, synthetic pants are your best option.

Technical hiking pants wick moisture when needed and are usually reinforced in places exposed to high wear.

Select a thick pair of soft-shell pants for cooler climates and a lightweight pair for warmer climates — but fall temperatures are generally cool enough to warrant some form of insulation on your legs.

In cooler temperatures and towards the end of fall, you’re going to want to wear a base layer under your soft shell hiking pants, so keep that in mind when you’re sizing hiking pants.

Pro tip: Just like cotton, stay away from wearing jeans. They don’t allow for a lot of maneuverability and get very heavy when wet.

Rain pants: If heavy rain is likely on your hike, consider packing rain pants to wear over your hiking pants.

There’s nothing worse than being wet and cold while hiking.

Even if you don’t end up wearing them, they’re lightweight and compressible, so just toss them into your pack.

Outer Layers: Your outer layer serves as your first line of defense from the elements.

Oftentimes you won’t wear an outer layer the entire time you are hiking but it is definitely something you want to pack in case it starts raining or the wind picks up.

Outer layers consist of waterproof and windproof jackets.

Wind shell: A wind shell is ideal for dry conditions such as in the South or the East or when hiking in the desert.

They’re lightweight, water resistant, and most importantly break the wind.

Depending on the temperature, you might choose to wear a wind shell over your base layer or over a middle layer and insulating layer.

Waterproof shell: A waterproof shell is necessary in rainy climates and something you should always pack if there’s a chance of a thunderstorm on your hike.

In the Northwest and mountainous regions, it is absolutely necessary to carry a waterproof shell with you.

Gore-Tex is the most well-known type of waterproof shell but some companies design their own proprietary brands.

Cold-weather layers: Wool underwear and merino wool hiking socks, a midweight polyester or merino wool long underwear top and bottom, a synthetic midlayer, a down jacket or vest, waterproof/breathable rain jacket and pants.

Rainy weather layers: Wool underwear and socks, a lightweight polyester or merino wool long underwear top and bottom, a synthetic midlayer, synthetic hiking pants, and lightweight waterproof/breathable rain jacket and pants.

Warm-weather layers: Wool underwear and socks, a short-sleeve synthetic or merino wool tee, convertible hiking pants, lightweight wind shell.

Fall is one of the most beautiful times of the year: the trees are decorated in burgundy and amber; the cooler temperatures offer reprieve from summer’s sweltering heat; and the rivers and streams start to cool.

It’s prime hiking season in many places around your country, so get your gear, grab a trail map, and plan a hike.

Summer Hiking Tips

Intense heat can be defeating, especially at low elevations and in the Eastern and Southernmost parts of the country.

When you’re planning a summer hike you should take these tips into consideration:

Avoid The Hottest Time Of The Day

Plan on starting a hike early in the morning and finishing before the afternoon, if possible. The hottest part of the day is usually between noon and 3pm.

If you plan on going on an all-day hike you’re going to want to break, seek shelter, and wait out the hottest part of the day before continuing back to the trailhead.

Try Out Night Hiking

While this is not necessarily recommended for beginners due to the hazards associated with hiking at night, with a little experience, a guide, and your Black Diamond Revolt headlamp, it can be a great way to stave off the summer heat and experience a hike out under the stars.

Seek Out Shade

While this one might seem obvious, you really do have to be careful hiking in the heat. Search for trails that are primarily wooded.

If you’re hiking in an open area, when do you come across shade, take advantage of it with plentiful breaks.

Seek Out Hikes That Lead To Water

There’s nothing better than taking a dip in a pool at the base of the waterfall.

Look for hikes that lead to water sources or run along a riverbank, the ocean, or a lake. This allows you the ability to cool off when needed.

Dipping in your shirt, hat, or bandana is a great way to cool off if you don’t want to go swimming. The fabric will cool down your body as the water evaporates.

Hot Weather Hiking Safety Tips

Hiking out in the heat can have some detrimental repercussions if you don’t take appropriate precautions.

Similar to how hiking in cold weather can result in hypothermia if you don’t dress warmly enough, hiking in hot weather can result in sunburn, dehydration, heat exhaustion, and a plethora of other medical conditions.

Here’s an overview of medical considerations, ways to avoid these situations, and tips on handling them if they do happen to occur to yourself or someone in your hiking party.

Sunburn: This is one of the most common occurrences when hiking in summer.

A combination of UPF-rated sunscreen and application of sunscreen to exposed skin is your best line of defense against sunburn.

Pick the sunscreen that’s appropriate for you — if you have extremely fair skin you’re going to want a sunscreen with a high SPF.

A waterproof or water resistant sunscreen is recommended because you’ll likely sweat on your hike.

Remember to apply sunscreen thirty minutes before you set out and reapply every two hours.

If you happen to go for a swim, reapply once dry as even waterproof sunscreens lose their efficacy after a certain amount of time in the water.

If you do get sunburned, be sure to treat it with aloe vera gel when you get home. Taking ibuprofen can help reduce pain and inflammation also.

If you’re going to be outside again the next day, be sure to cover the affected area with clothing. The worst thing to do is expose sunburned skin to more sun.

Dehydration: Dehydration occurs when you don’t drink enough water.

It can leave you feeling poorly and if not remedied can lead to more serious health conditions, including heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

Dehydration most commonly occurs when hiking in warm weather.

The more you sweat, the quicker you dehydrate, and the more water you need to be drinking.

The key to avoiding and remedying dehydration is to drink plenty of water. How much you need to drink depends on the exercise intensity, temperature, humidity, and your body type.

A general rule of thumb is to drink half a liter of water per hour during moderate activity and moderate temperatures.

The hotter it gets outside, the more you need to drink — and the same applies for more strenuous hikes.

Bringing more water than you need is always better than running out — so make sure you carry enough for you and your hiking companions.

A hydration reservoir is an efficient way to carry water and will save you the bulk a bunch of water bottles will cause in your backpack.

If you’re hiking with your dog, you’re going to need to bring enough for him or her as well, and a packable bowl they can drink from.

Heat Exhaustion: This is one of the more serious medical conditions associated with hiking in hot weather.

Heat exhaustion usually results from prolonged exposure to the elements and is likely accompanied by dehydration.

Symptoms include faintness, dizziness, nausea, rapid pulse, profuse sweating, and fatigue.

If you or one of your companions seem to be experiencing heat exhaustion, it’s important to immediately get yourself or them out of the heat.

Seek shelter or a shady area and remove your pack and unnecessary clothing. Lay down, rest, and cool off.

Splash water in your face or wet a banana or other article of clothing and apply it to the back of your neck, which will help cool you off.

Start rehydrating immediately — it’s likely the cause of heat exhaustion is in part due to dehydration.

Drink plenty of water in slow, steady sips so that you don’t upset your stomach and if you have electrolyte tablets, add them to your water.

The key to preventing heat exhaustion includes wearing appropriate clothing, acclimatizing to the heat, keeping hydrated, and taking plenty of breaks in the shade.

Know your limits — if you’re headed out on your first hike of the summer, just go a few miles.

While you might be in shape, hiking in the heat can really sap your energy, so start slow and build up to longer hikes.

Heat Stroke: This is the most serious medical condition associated with hiking in summer. It typically occurs very rapidly and requires immediate medical attention.

Symptoms are similar to heat exhaustion but much more severe and can be accompanied by a throbbing headache, confusion, disorientation, and a high body temperature.

The treatment is similar to heat exhaustion but more drastic measures need to be taken to cool off the afflicted person’s body temperature.

If nearby a lake or river, submersion of the body in water can be helpful.

Evacuating the hiker and getting them to a hospital is necessary to make sure no internal damage occurs.

You can prevent heat stroke the same way you can prevent heat exhaustion.

Hiking Trail Etiquette: Who Has The Right Of Way?

Hiking trail etiquette - HelloTrail

You might take to the trail in search of a break from civilization and bustling urban life.

You may choose to go alone and set out into the wilderness with just the breeze at your back and the trail winding through the landscape before you.

If you’re hiking with friends, conversations might ensue on those long, flat stretches and easy downhill jaunts.

When you’re climbing steeply uphill, however, you often fall into that ‘hiking trance’ where there’s nothing but the pumping of your legs and the beating of your heart to fill the silence.

It’s in these moments it might come as a surprise to run into other hikers on the trail — not to mention bikers and equestrians.

Multi-Use Trail Etiquette

Many trails are designed exclusively for these three separate purposes but there are a fair share that allow for all three modes of transportation simultaneously.

Understanding trail hierarchy is key to happy parties all around.

Hikers vs. Horses

Have you ever been in the direct path of a spooked horse? Well, you probably don’t want to — you’re likely to be run over we definitely do not want that to happen!

Horses are prey animals, which means they are on constant alert for predators in their surroundings.

These large animals are unpredictable, the least maneuverable, and can be dangerous to hikers on the ground, so it makes sense to give them the right of way.

When you’re on a trail and horses are passing, get off the trail on the downhill side.

Standing uphill might give the impression that you are a larger predator, and could cause them to get scared.

In addition, when horses spook, they tend to do so in the uphill direction. For your safety and theirs, give them a wide berth, avoid making loud noises and jerky movements, and if a situation seems tense, talk calmly to the horse’s rider as they pass.

If you’re out trail running and approaching horses from behind, slow to a walk a good distance back, talk calmly as you’re approaching, and give the horses plenty of space — again on the downhill side.

Don’t begin running again until you’re a good distance up ahead.

Hikers vs. Bikers

The lines are a bit more blurred between hikers and bikers, but bikers are generally supposed to give way to hikers, as they are considered more maneuverable.

Many hikers often yield to bikers because they are the faster moving party; however, this should not be expected.

As a hiker, it’s important to stay aware of your surroundings on the trail.

Conscientious bikers will call out and alert possible hikers as they come down slopes or switchbacks, but the best way to avoid a collision is for both parties to exercise awareness.

Although some hikers and trail runners enjoy listening to music through their headphones out on the trail, this is one reason why wearing headphones is not recommended.

Hikers vs. Hiker

The most important rule to remember? Hikers going uphill have the right of way.

They are working the hardest, therefore it is only courteous to yield to them.

Think about this the next time you’re huffing and puffing up a steep incline:

Would you want to have to have to interrupt your rhythm and step off the trail to let downhill hikers pass?

I didn’t think so!

On occasion, the uphill hiker might take this opportunity to make a rest stop, and pull off the trail on their own, but it’s their decision.

Hiking uphill requires more energy than descending, so give way unless the uphill hiker waves you ahead.

The golden rule? Stay to the right, pass to the left.

When passing from behind, make noise to alert the hiker in front of you.

A simple ‘hello’ will do — and likely the hiker in front of you will slow and let you pass.

When passing, it’s important to remain on the trail to reduce trail erosion. If you’re hiking in a group, stay in a single file line for this same reason.

A group typically has the right of way over a single hiker — once alerted to their presence, they should yield and let the group pass.

Above all else, use common sense and treat others with respect.

If given the opportunity, stop for a moment and chat with your fellow hiker.

Doing so will enable you to find out about upcoming trail conditions or water sources, take note of each other’s presence in case you hear about an accident later on, and encourage a positive hiking environment.

Who knows, you might even make a friend or future hiking companion.

What Does It Mean When You See Stacked Rocks On The Trail?

Those rock stacks are technically called cairns which are defined as a mound of rough stones built as a landmark. They  have been used to mark hiking trails for hundreds of years.

While there are varying opinions on their presence and use in the wilderness, for the most part they serve as helpful trail markers and it’s best to leave them be.

Don’t go around toppling cairns — they were likely put there for a reason.

Although some people disagree with the ethics of building cairns and point out their degradation to animal habitats such as lizards and other creatures that live under the flat rocks used to build them, the bottom line is that they’re already in place — leave them be.

Don’t add rocks to make cairns taller or set off on a quest to build your own.

I’ve experienced many situations where a cairn has saved a hiker from being stranded out in the wilderness at night or found their way after being caught out in a snowstorm with limited trail visibility.

In alpine environments where trails might be hard to see, cairns serve as better markers and are less harmful to the environment than man made signage would be.

Leave No Trace

We could dedicate an entire article to the seven principles of Leave No Trace but to keep it simple...

Remember the hiker’s mantra: take only photos, leave only footprints.

If you’re not familiar with them the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics has you covered.

Let’s review a few highlights:

  • Don’t litter — pack out what you pack in. - This includes your banana peels and nut casings. Although technically biodegradable, these items could be harmful if consumed by wildlife.
    They also take a while to biodegrade — and in the meantime make for eyesores.
  • Walk 200 feet (about forty adult paces) from a trail, campsite, or body of water before digging a hole to deposit human waste. - Be sure to thoroughly cover your hole. In fragile alpine environments and rocky terrain where digging a hole is not possible or advisable, be prepared to pack out your own waste.
    Outdoor retailers sell waste deposit bags strictly designed for this purpose.
    Be prepared — human waste can be harmful to a fragile environment and is certainly not something any hiker wants to accidentally cross paths with.
  • Leave what you find behind. - Hikers shouldn’t come home with souvenirs — only photographs and memories.
  • Stay on the trail at all times to avoid erosion. - Don’t cut switchbacks — a lot of labor goes into trail construction and maintenance so walk the extra hundred yards to keep on the trail.
    If you’re tired enough to consider cutting switchbacks, take a break.
    Want to know how much work actually goes into trail development? Volunteer for a trail maintenance day.
  • Never feed wildlife. - While most wild animals are shy and tend to avoid hikers, there are the curious few that might approach you.
    Observe them from a distance and never feed them.
    This may disrupt their natural foraging habits and make them more likely to approach (and possibly terrify) the next group of hikers.

Can I Bring My Dog Hiking With Me?

The short answer is YES! Hiking with your pet can be extremely rewarding for both parties.

But you’re also bringing a non-native animal into a wild environment and possibly in contact with other hikers, so you need to be respectful.

Keep your dog on a leash and under control at all times — even if a sign isn’t posted.

Dog friendly hikes - HelloTrail

This is a courtesy to other parties, which could include horses and bikers, and a safety measure for your pet.

You don’t want Fido to end up trampled by a spooked equine.

Pack out all pet waste. If you’re hiking with your pet, you’re responsible for carrying out their presents, so be prepared and pack doggie bags!

There’s nothing more disgusting than stepping over (or on) a pile of dog poo in the middle of the trail.

If you’re unwilling to clean up after your dog, leave them at home.

When approached by horses, give them a wide berth. Horses are naturally prone to spooking at predators, including dogs, so be aware.

If your dog is not well behaved, aggressive towards people, or has a tendency to bark incessantly, they’re probably not the best trail companion.

Take your pup to some training classes and work on their behavior before bringing them out on a trail.

A barking dog can ruin the peaceful natural environment.

Also, be aware that some people are scared of dogs — no matter how adorable you might think Fido is, others might not feel the same.

Don’t assume every passing hiker wants to pet your dog. Wait for them to ask first — especially if children are present.

If you are planning a visit to the Rocky Mountains make sure to check out 14 dog friendly hikes in Colorado!

Do Technology And Nature Go Together?

Technology is an ever-growing part of our society, and this includes out on the trail.

The important thing to remember is that hiking tech has its place.

Most people seek out the peaceful surroundings of nature to escape the noisy bustle technology creates in urban life. No one wants to hear you blasting music from your low-quality phone speaker.

The same goes for a loud phone conversation. If you absolutely have to take a call, keep your voice down and make it short.

This applies in all situations — except, of course, in case of a real emergency. But unless it’s an emergency, it’s best to leave your phone tucked away in your pack.

The other exception is when you’re taking a photograph or video which of course some of the most beautiful hikes in Colorado will have you snapping photos constantly!

In this case, check your surroundings before you take out your phone or camera, and let anyone pass that might be behind you.

Taking a photograph is one of the best ways to preserve your memory on the trail, but be courteous of others around you.

Want a photo taken of you or you and your companions against a scenic backdrop? Politely ask another hiker and be sure to offer to return the favor.

Hiking is one of the most rewarding outdoor pasttimes.

But just like any other sport or activity, there are unwritten rules you need to follow.

Similar to when you’re driving down the road, you don’t want to be the person that accidentally cuts someone else off because you were distracted, resulting in an unwelcome confrontation or middle finger salute.

Be aware of your surroundings and treat others like you would want to be treated.

Offer a helping hand when needed, and if you weren’t familiar with hiking etiquette, this section should provide you with the insight you need to become a trail veteran in no time!

Hiking Groups And Clubs

As a beginner, hiking by yourself is not recommended — although for experienced hikers, it can be a very rewarding experience.

The key to getting into hiking is to find a great hiking group or partner. Luckily, in this age of modern technology and social media, it’s easy to get your foot in — or in this case, out the door.

Getting involved with a local hiking group is the best way to get started.

Hiking groups for beginners - HelloTrail

How Do I Find A Hiking Group To Join?

The world wide web is certainly a good place to begin your search for hiking groups, but proceed with caution.

Typing ‘hiking groups near me’ into the search bar will likely amount to an intimidating number of search results, so consider narrowing your query.

In order to do this, you’re going to need to define some of your goals and values.

Are you interested in a gender or age-specific hiking group?

Maybe you’d like to go hiking in a specific area?

You can use your answers to the questions below as a helpful way to narrow down search results.

What is your experience level?

Because this article is geared towards beginners, you would likely search for ‘hiking groups for beginners’.

If you did that and landed on this article just keep reading, we have you covered.

What levels of trails are you interested in hiking?

Hiking trails are typically broken down into categories of Easy, Moderate, or Strenuous difficulties.

Most beginners will want to search for Easy trails, but if you’re in relatively good shape, you could include some Moderate ones as well.

What is your age?

This is useful if you’re interested in hiking with people your own age so include an age rang in your search to narrow it down.

What is your gender?

If you would feel more comfortable hitting the trails with members of the same sex there are plenty of options.

Major outdoor retailer REI organizes women adventure trips year round for instance.

Are there specific trails you’re interested in hiking? Search for hiking groups specific to these areas.

Look Offline...

While the internet is certainly a good place to start look for hiking groups, there are tons of other great resources out there. Let’s go over a few:

Trail Associations: These are groups of people passionate about caring for specific trails or hiking areas.

Getting in touch with these associations will provide you with guidance for finding individual trail clubs ranging from casual to larger, fee-based organizations.

Alternatively, you can get involved with the association itself and work on integrating yourself into its community.

Many states and famous trails have their own associations. For example the Appalachian Trail Conservancy and the Pacific Crest Trail Association  are two of the most popular trails in the United States.

The American Hiking Society: This is perhaps one of the most comprehensive resources out there.

Their website is chock full of helpful information, including a search bar for hikes near you and articles on hiking.

Becoming a member allows you to get involved with maintaining hiking trails around the country, through which you’re bound to meet tons of hiking companions.

Meetup.com: Meet-up groups are growing in popularity around the country. Through their site you can easily find hiking specific meetups all around the country — just search for the ones near you.

Nature or Science Centers: While this might not seem like an obvious resource for seeking out hiking groups, many nature and science centers offers tons of guided tours and field trips, which provide you with the opportunity to hit the trails and meet other outdoor enthusiasts.

Outdoor Gear Retailers: Outdoor retailers are developing popular programs geared to get people outside.

You can search for classes, outings, and events near you on REI’s website.

Some of the activities offered include day hiking, wilderness survival classes, full moon hikes, and introductory backpacking classes.

Don’t have an REI near you? Check in with your local outdoor gear retailer for any opportunities they might have.

Even if they don’t offer any programs, the people that work there are familiar with the outdoor industry in that particular area — they could serve as helpful resources.

Use Social Media to Your Advantage

Facebook is another great resource for finding hiking groups in your area.

Search for day hikes, gender, or age-specific groups near you in the Facebook search bar and it will automatically pull up results relevant to your location.

A lot of trail associations also have their own Facebook pages.

It might be helpful to follow them in order to find out about fun events and keep up with hiking news.

Here’s a link to the American Hiking Society Facebook page to get you started.

While social media isn’t necessarily the most helpful resource out there, outdoor groups are growing in popularity so if you have a social media profile, you might as well take advantage of it.

It can also be a useful way to find out about individual members of a group as well as serve as a place to ask any questions or concerns you might have and receive community feedback.

How Do I Determine Which Group Or Club Is Right For Me?

People come from different backgrounds, experience levels, and want to get different things out of a hiking group.

What might seem like the perfect group for you on paper might not end up meeting your needs.

I suggest you write down a list of at least three different groups, events, or outings that you come across and try out all of them.

Evaluate the ambience, how well you relate to other members in the group, and if the hiking suits your fitness level.

Things to think about when trying out different hiking groups:

Do the meetings fit in with your schedule?

Does the group hike areas that are of particular interest to you? Maybe you are thinking about checking out some easy hiking trails in Colorado for the first time.

How is the pace? Can you keep up with the other hikers or are you falling behind?

How are the people? Are they open and accepting to you as a new member?

Checking out at least three different hiking groups gives you plenty of options to choose from.

Hopefully you’ll find at least one group you mesh well with — but if not, just keep looking. I know the right one for you is out there!

Before You Join...

When you decide you want to join a hiking group, make sure you’re prepared.

This means purchasing proper gear in advance, even if it just proper hiking shoes and a backpack.

It will be helpful to break in your boots or shoes ahead of time, whether that means simply strolling around your neighborhood or taking a few laps around the local park.

It’s important to be familiar with basic hiking etiquette. Doing so will have your new hiking friends thinking you are a seasoned trail veteran.

Touch base with group members ahead of time and find out what a typical outing consists of including the length of the hike, the location, and the time.

Ask about food and water: do people typically pack a lunch?

Also pay attention to the weather that day.

If it’s going to be cool, you might just want to carry a water bottle but on a sweltering day in the middle of summer you’ll likely want something more substantial, like a day hiking pack with hydration.

Know your limits and don’t push yourself too hard when you’re first getting into hiking.

Start with a short hike that has little to moderate elevation gain and build up to the more difficult excursions.

The last thing you want to do is get in over your head — especially with the added pressure a group environment might pose.

The goal is to have fun, make friends, and most importantly, find a hiking group you want to stick with long term.

Wrapping It Up...

Explore the trails - HelloTrail

If you made it to this point and ACTUALLY read everything then give yourself a big pat on the back because you are no longer a beginner hiker. Even if you have yet to step foot on a trail you know 90% more than most do!

With this newfound knowledge of hiking you can rest assured your trail experiences will be memorable ones. Not only that but you will be enjoying nature and treating it with respect so those hikers that come after you will be able to share in the same experience.

I have no doubt that you will appreciate the psychological benefits of hiking just as much as the physical ones. There is something truly special about the clean air, the sound of a mountain stream flowing next to you and hearing wildlife off in the distance that will leave you craving for more.

Thank YOU for taking the time to learn more about hiking for beginners now it's time to #GetOutside and say #HelloTrail!!!

About the Author Andrew

Andrew's love for the outdoors began at an early age growing up in the midwest farmland and taking family vacations out west. Being a dreamer with his head in the clouds most moments make the mountains the perfect location for him. He hasn't met a false summit he doesn't like yet!

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