Hiking is an increasingly popular outdoor activity. Here's how to try it!

Take a Hike! What You Need to Get Started Hiking

You see them in parking lots everywhere – groups of hikers getting ready to hit the trail. But perhaps you don’t know how to get started, where to go, or what to bring and wear. Or perhaps you’re worried you’re not “fit” enough to hike. No worries on that score, there are plenty of popular hikes that are easy enough for beginners.

Here is all the information you need to set out on your first hiking adventure.

1. Choose the right hike. Did you know there is a rating system for hikes? Hiking trails are separated into five classes based on terrain and difficulty, with 1 the easiest and 5 only for the most advanced hikers. Many hiking websites and books will also specify the amount of elevation gain, which tells you whether a trail is steep or relatively flat. Alltrails is a good source for this kind of information. If you’re new to hiking and unsure of your ability, choose a hike that’s rated level 1.

2. Take simple safety steps. “Be prepared” isn’t just a motto for the Scouts of America, it’s an important rule for hikers everywhere.
Never head out alone without the gear you need to stay safe, and without letting someone know where you are. Some specific tips to help you enjoy this healthiest and easiest of outdoor sports:

3. Plan your route. Make sure you have a map and good directions before you set out, and unless you know the trail well, carry the map with you. Getting lost is more common than you might think! Don’t plan to rely on your cell phone because there may not be service once you’re on the trail, and many trails don’t appear on cell phone maps. When venturing somewhere unfamiliar and less-traveled, a GPS device is a very good idea.

4. Pack More Water than You Think You’ll Need. Hiking is thirsty work whether the weather is cool or hot, and hikers often underestimate how much water they’ll need. Three quarts per person per day is a general rule of thumb.

5. Carry a Pack. You may be tempted to travel light, but a backpack or hip pack gives you somewhere to stash your map, snacks, and the water mentioned above. Wearing your gear also frees up your hands for stability. Here’s REI’s guide to choosing a daypack.

6. Dress in Layers. Don’t leave your jacket behind unless you’re absolutely sure you’re route will be warm all the way. No matter how hot you get on an uphill climb, you may find yourself freezing when the wind hits you at the top of the mountain. The most practical solution is to wear a base layer such as a tee or tank top with a medium weight mid-layer and jacket on top. Also, before deciding to wear shorts, think about whether your route might take you through thorny plants such as thistles or poison oak. Many hikers solve the pants or shorts question with convertible hiking pants that zip off above the knee. When in doubt, go for covered up.

7. Use trekking poles – or not. The use of hiking poles is largely a matter of personal preference, though they do add stability and distribute weight. However they’re a safety must if you plan to hike on very loose or slippery slopes.

8. Go with a group. If you’re a beginner, there’s no need to try to figure this out on your own; there are group hikes everywhere that are simple to join and a fun way to make friends. Search out local hiking groups via Meetup or Facebook, or sign up for a guided hike at your local sports outfitter. If you get serious, join the Sierra Club and find your local chapter.

Melanie Haiken writes about health, wellness and fitness for national magazines and websites. She specializes in discovering and reporting the latest research on diet, nutrition, fitness, weight loss and other health-related topics. Her award-winning stories have appeared in Fitness, Shape, Health, Forbes, and other respected magazines. She also contributes health stories to numerous Kaiser Permanente newsletters and other publications.