15 Vital Hiking Tips For Beginners

The thrill of adventure is intoxicating, it is all-consuming and equitable. Adventure can be anything, from kayaking the wildest river to taking on your first wilderness hike. It is subjective. And it grows with you. 

Hiking is one of the easiest forms of adventure that almost anyone can enjoy. The diversity of challenge can accommodate all levels and the beauty of mother nature is limitless. But with the ease of hiking, comes the danger of miscalculating the adventure, leaving many to wonder how to get into hiking.

Many underestimate hiking as it’s just walking, right? And we’ve been doing that since we were in nappies… 

But that’s not the case. Any time you’re in the wilderness, you’re at its mercy and anything can happen. We have had our fair share of misadventures, mostly all due to underestimating the force of nature and the difficulty that some terrains can produce. 

However, don’t let this deter you. If you carry the essential hiking gear and learn a few basic hiking tips, the chance of danger decreases monumentally.

Mother nature has a lot to teach us, and wandering slowly through its wild terrain is the perfect way to re-connect and learn something about yourself and the world around you. It is the perfect way to reset and realign your mind.

With that being said, here are my ultimate hiking tips for beginners – or any hiker for that matter.

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Climbing up a steep rock slab in the Budawangs on The Castle Hike with hiking blisters

Choose The Right Hike For Beginners

Like many things in life, no hike is the same. Each hike is unique and offers plenty of diversity in terrain and adventure. It’s not only the most difficult hikes that produce the best views, sometimes it’s the beginner hikes that impress us the most. Take Cradle Mountain, for example, one of the ultimate views of that destination is right there in front of the Dove Lake car park! 

Most national parks will have their trails listed on their website with a graded difficulty rating. This is often varied slightly among states and countries so be sure to familiarise yourself with the specific region’s ratings before setting out.

The worst thing you can do as a beginner hiker is overestimate your ability or underestimate a trail’s difficulty. Without a deep understanding of hiking different terrain and climate, you can get yourself into quite a pickle.

Start by choosing a relatively easy hike that has good signage and minimal elevation. If you’re not used to walking on rough terrain, choose a hike that has a well-formed path. This information can also be found on the national parks website for the state or territory you’re in.

Hiking along the board walk to Hanson's Peak from Scott Kilvert Hut overlooking Cradle Mountain

Check The Elevation Gain/Loss

On the national park websites or most blogs for that matter, you’ll find the elevation gain in the information for each hike. By checking the elevation gain against the length of the hike, you can get an indication of how steep the terrain will be. 

For example, if a hike is 300 m in elevation over 10 km you can expect the trail to be relatively flat with only a slight incline. However, if a hike is 1000 m in elevation over 3 km, you can expect this trail to be very steep. 

Of course, this rule doesn’t always work as some hikes may be relatively flat with only one steep incline. There is an app called AllTrails that shows an elevation graph of each hike that’s been added to its database. This is a great tool to plan your hike and one we use every time.

It’s also worth noting that when you’re hiking in steep terrain, you can expect to hike much slower – especially if you’re carrying a heavy pack! 

Use All Trails for elevation gain and loss a great hiking tip for beginners

Discover How Long You Take To Hike A Kilometre

As with the difficulty grading of a hike, the distance per hour can be quite varied as well. For this reason, it’s a really good idea to discover your ratio. This hiking tip can be a tricky exercise as you need to know how far you’ve walked and time yourself in the process. If you have a smartwatch or distance markers on the trail, this can be extremely helpful. 

If not, time the whole hike as the distance for the entire trail should be easily determined. Just remember, this time will lengthen the heavier your pack and the rougher the terrain. This personal ratio is difficult to perfect right away and takes time, so be patient and keep hiking!

In the meantime, there is a rule that you can follow called Naismith’s Rule. This is a great hiking guide for beginners and indicates that you should allow one hour per 5 km, with an added hour for every 600 m in elevation. This will amount to 12 minutes per kilometre with 10 minutes added for every 100 m of elevation. Unfortunately, this rule doesn’t account for any stops, difficult terrain or heavy packs so I recommend adding at least five minutes a km, to begin with.

Hiking in Cradle Mountain in my hiking Leggings surrounded by snow capped mountains

Check The Weather

Just because you look out the window and see a beautiful blue day, doesn’t mean that will be the case on top of a mountain. Generally, the weather is increasingly unpredictable around mountain ranges and can turn at any moment. This can be a dangerous trap for beginners hiking.

These are some handy tips to know about weather in the mountains:

  • The temperature will drop half a degree each 100 m you ascend in elevation
  • UV intensity is higher in the mountains because there is less atmosphere to absorb it
  • UV exposure is increased in snow and sand because they reflect the UV rays
  • Winds become stronger at increased elevation because the air is less dense and can move more freely
  • Warm air rises and creates clouds around mountains due to extra precipitation, this can happen suddenly

Being aware of these weather patterns can help you prepare for what you may experience in the mountains. Having the right hiking gear with you and knowing when to turn back will ensure you have a better hiking experience. This is why I always pack an extra pair of warm clothes and waterproof gear, no matter the weather forecast – which is notoriously wrong! 

Walking on an icy trail showing the importance of preparing for unpredictable hiking conditions

Tell Somebody Where You’re Going And How Long It Should Take

This can be an easy thing to overlook but it may just save your life!

The easiest way to ensure your safety when setting out on a hike is to tell someone where you plan to go hiking. It’s as easy as calling a friend or family member and giving them the information for the hike, including how many kilometres and how long the hike is suggested to take. Inform them on when they should hear from you and when to start worrying – and don’t forget to contact them when you return!

If you don’t have someone to tell your plans to, a great alternative is to stop in at the visitors centre and inform them of your plan. In addition, some well-known hikes in Australia will have a logbook where you can write your trip plan and phone number in. But this should be an extra precaution as those books aren’t often checked every day, some are predominantly used for monitoring purposes.

Always Carry A Head Torch When Hiking

We recommend using a headtorch but this can also be a regular flashlight, as long as you have a way of lighting your path if you find yourself caught out after dark. It’s such an easy item to throw in your bag, but could seriously save you a whole heap of trouble if a hike takes longer than you had expected.

On this subject, I speak from far too much experience. I have been caught out a few times with nothing but a dull phone light and less than 10% battery. It’s not a good feeling, let me tell you! 

Hiking the epic ridgeline of Mt Victoria after climbing the the peak

Grab A Hiking Buddy

For your own peace of mind and for added help if necessary, it is always good for beginners to hike with a buddy – at least until you’re comfortable with your ability to walk alone. If you don’t have a friend or family member that is interested, have a look on Facebook for a hiking group in your area. There are so many awesome groups out there who are always happy for an extra person to tag along. This is a great way to meet new people that have the same passion, and who knows, you may just learn a few important beginner hiking tips from a more experienced hiker.

If you’re travelling to a new destination, look for a tour to join. There are many walking tours that cater for all levels, some of which can even rent you the necessary hiking gear. There is a stigma behind walking tours, where only older couples utilise them. But it can be an awesome way to gain some local knowledge and meet new people, especially if you’re travelling to another country solo.

Bring A Means For Navigation

When in the wilderness, always be self-sufficient, don’t rely on the path being simple to follow and navigation to be unnecessary. If the weather worsens and the fog rolls in, you may not be able to see exactly where you’re going, or a trail may fork without a sign. Oftentimes, a trail isn’t as obvious as one may think – especially if you’re tired or it’s dark.

We always bring a compass as backup and a map either in paper form or downloaded on our phones. Our favourite app to use is GAIA GPS, this downloadable map works offline (if you load it before leaving reception or pay for the subscription) and can help you navigate and stay on course with the GPS tracking. You can pick up a paper map in the visitors centre closest to your hiking destination, and why not ask for the current trail conditions while you’re there?!

Watching the sunset in Wilkinsons Valley while hiking Hannels Spur

Carry A Portable Charger

This item is pure gold and could save you from a very sticky situation! It’s so important to be sure you won’t run out of battery on your phone, especially if you’re using it as a navigation tool or camera.

A mobile phone is actually quite needy… if it’s too cold, too hot or searching frantically for reception, the battery life decreases dramatically. And unless you’ve packed an emergency beacon, it’s best to be sure you’ve got sufficient battery to call for help at any moment. 

Portable chargers can be found in any electronics store and most online outdoor retailers. These play a massive role in keeping your emergency equipment charged and ready. Purchasing one priced under $100 with at least 10,000 mAh is more than enough for beginner hikes. Just don’t forget to pack your charging cable as well!

Wear The Right Gear

Choosing the correct beginner hiking gear can be a tricky subject. While it sounds simple to just chuck on a t-shirt and a pair of yoga tights or board shorts, there is a little more to it than that.

There are some materials that aren’t recommended in the outdoor world, the two biggest being denim and cotton. They both take forever to dry, causing your sweat to cool and lower your body temperature – a bad time while hiking.

Words to look for when picking your hiking outfit are:

  • Moisture-wicking
  • Breathable
  • Insulating
  • Quick-drying

Layering is an art in the outdoors and something that when perfected, is an absolute game-changer. For the upper body, begin with a merino base layer (either a thermal for winter or a t-shirt for summer) followed by a fleece. A down jacket or rain jacket can be added as a shell in cold weather.

For the lower body, hiking leggings or pants that are made from nylon/polyester and elastane are best. If it’s super cold conditions, a pair of thermal bottoms can be added underneath or rain pants over top for wind protection.

In addition, when hiking in cold weather, you will truly thank your over-prepared self if you bring along a neck warmer, gloves, beanie and spare winter socks. Don’t underestimate how damn cold the top of that mountain could be and a surprise snow shower is not uncommon in some areas! 

But layering isn’t just for winter hiking. Wearing a long-sleeve light merino top or a linen shirt can keep you cooler and better protected from the sun. Sunburn can seriously drain your energy and hydration levels so be sure to keep that in mind when choosing your outfit.

Just remember, it’s always better to be over-prepared than under-prepared when facing mother nature! 

watching sunrise from a mountain top in the best beginner hiking gear

Keep Your Feet Happy

Blisters are a nightmare. For such a little injury, they can cause substantial pain! To avoid blisters and to keep your feet happy, choose a pair of shoes that are comfortable with good grip.

My ideal shoes for hiking are trail runners for small, less demanding hikes, and hiking boots for the overnighters and difficult trails. If you choose to purchase hiking boots, be sure to wear them in before embarking on a big hike. These tend to be made of stiff material that needs to soften first. 

Stay Hydrated

You’ll be surprised how much water your body craves when out hiking, especially if you’re gaining some elevation. This is one item you don’t want to underestimate. I have been caught out in the beating sun with not a drop left and many kilometres to go before, so I speak from experience when I say it’s the worst feeling.

As a general rule, half a litre of water per hour should keep you sufficiently hydrated. I use this as the bare minimum and often take extra, especially in summer when I know I drink a lot more.

Reusable water bottles such as Nalgene or Frank Green’s Insulated Bottle are perfect for hiking because they’re durable and light. Using a water bladder such as a Camelbak tucked in your backpack is also a great hydration option that is my favourite due to the fact you don’t need to stop to take a drink.

Standing on top of Mt Victoria, with my CamelBak bladder at the ready

Bring All The Snacks

This is perhaps the most important of my hiking tips for beginners! Nothing increases a mood better than snacks. If you’re having a bad time on the trail, a snack will do wonders in restoring your energy and happiness. My favourite trail snacks are dried fruit and nut mixes, lollies, muesli bars and chocolate. A boost from sugar or carbs is the best way to keep you moving.

Of course, if you’re embarking on an all-day hike you’ll need more than just snacks. Don’t forget to pack a nutritious lunch that can endure some heat. Our favourite lunch idea is a tuna and veggie wrap, it’s relatively lightweight but keeps us full and energised.

Understand The Leave No Trace Principles

The simplest rule to remember when learning how to start hiking is what you pack in, you pack out. There are no rubbish bins in the wilderness and it’s your responsibility to ensure you leave the trail in pristine condition.

This includes food scraps, wild animals have a completely different diet to humans and our food can do detrimental damage to them. So let’s keep our wilderness and animals wild and beautiful.

If you haven’t heard of the Leave No Trace Principles, familiarise yourself with these guidelines before setting out on your adventure. This is our planet and it’s all of our responsibility to keep it healthy.

Pack The Hiking Essentials

If you’re armed with the essentials, you have a much higher chance of survival if things turn sour. Take a look at our post on the hiking essentials to make sure you have all you need for a successful hike.