Day Hiking for Beginners – Skills and Techniques

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Anyone can learn the skills and techniques of hiking.

Hiking is not difficult, it is something we all can do and enjoy. However, like any other sport, there are certain skills and techniques that will make it that much more enjoyable and safe.

The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” ~ Lao Tzu

What is Hiking Skills and Techniques?

It is the way you hike, you’re planning, your footwork, rhythm, and how you keep pace.

Skills and Techniques for Day Hiking

  1. Hike with a friend, group, or club.
  2. Choose the correct hiking trail for you.
  3. Learn to hydrate.
  4. Find the right shoes and learn the layer system.
  5. Tell a friend or family member that you are going on a hike.
  6. Learn how to read a topographic map.
  7. Create a journal.
  8. Take the 12 essential items on your trip.
  9. Keep it light.
  10. Trail etiquette.

1. Hike with a friend

Hiking can be done alone but if you are just starting out find a hiking partner. If you don’t know the area find a club, hiking clubs can be found on Facebook or at Information Centers at Parks.

Hiking clubs normally taking into consideration if you are a beginner and they go on different levels of hikes.

I hike with my teenage son, it is something we both enjoy and it is our bonding time.

2. Tips in choosing a Day Hiking route

  • How much time do you have? If you only have two hours don’t do a four-hour hike. Take into account you have to get to the hike and get back home as well.
  • Your fitness level. If you are not fit, walking 1 km can take you between 12-18 minutes. If you are healthy and reasonable fit 1km will take you about 10 minutes to walk. Athletes take about 5 minutes to complete 1km.
  • The distance you are going to hike. Length of the trail is very important, in hiking terms, taking in consideration that you are healthy a 5km trail should take you an hour but if the length of the trail shows 1 & half hours/5km then you must check out the map to see if there is an elevation gain.
  • Elevation gain. This is the context of the mountain level. Going up a mountain will take more effort and you will hike slower than on a flat trail. Please click here for the best explanation on how the elevation gain is worked out for hiking.
  • Time of the year and weather. Weather plays a big role especially if you are going to hike in the mountains.

Make sure you check the weather before you go on your hike. Time of year will play a role as well you have to take into account how much water you will take especially if it is hot.

If you are Hiking in Winter, then warmer clothes must be taken.

If you are hiking in rainy weather then you will have to take gear to accommodate that.

  • Logistics – how are you getting to the hike? Can you drive there, can you park your car, do you have to pay for parking. What kind of road is it, can you access it with a car or is it better to have an off-road vehicle?

Do your due diligence about the hike, read about it on websites, ask your friends or buy a book.

3. Learn to hydrate

Beginners often make the mistake to take not enough water. Running out of water is a very bad thing not only is it very uncomfortable to be so thirsty that your tongue stuck at the roof of your mouth it can also lead to serious medical conditions like dehydration.

Here is a quick guide on how to hydrate:

  • One (1) liter for every 2 hours depending on how hot it is and your pace.
  • I always take a 500ml Energade/Game frozen extra with my water.
  • I leave an extra 500ml Energade frozen in the car. I am always very thirsty after a hike.

So going on a 2-hour hike I will have 1-liter water and 500ml frozen Energade in my day pack and 500ml frozen Energade in the car. However, my teenage son will take 1.4 liters of water and 500ml frozen Energade in his day pack and 500ml frozen Energade in the car.

4. Find the right shoes and clothing

Hiking boots are important, you want a boot with a good grip, comfortable and light. Waterproof will depend on the hike you are going to take. There are a lot of hiking boots available but day Hike boots do not have to be that expensive as long as you take the 4 criteria into consideration, please see my post on Best 5 Day Hiking Boots.

Clothing is all about the layers. They keep you warm or cool and dry if it is not dry around you.

There are 3 Layers:

  • Base – Underwear, keeps the skin dry by wicking away the moisture. Use material like polyester, silk, polypropylene, and in winter merino wool.
  • Insulation – Retains your body heat and protect you from the cold. Use fleece, it is light, warm, and if wet dry fast. Or down.
  • Outer – Protects you from wind, snow, and rain. Get waterproof or water resistance clothing that is quick-drying.

Clothing must be practical, you can always shed the layers if it becomes to warm but you cannot add layers if you don’t have layers to add.

3 Layers Clothing

5. Tell somebody you are going on a hike

Tell a friend or family member that you are going on a hike and provide the route you are going to take as well as the time you should be back.

If something happens on the hike and you cannot contact the emergency numbers at least you know somebody will look for you.

I am part of a WhatsApp group that tracks the hike information. You tell them via message, how many people be going on the hike, where the hike is, and how long it be going to take.

When you are back, you let them know you have completed the hike. If they don’t hear from you and they cannot reach you, they alert the emergency units.

If you are hurt on the hike or need assistance, you can also WhatsApp and then they will send help as well. I use Safetymountain Tracking.

It is also very important to pre-program the emergency contact numbers on your cellphone so that you can call them if you need assistance.

PS: Keep to your trip plan, don’t wander off, without telling somebody, if something happens and there is a search launched for you, they are first going to look on the route you provided.

6. Learn how to read a Topographic Map

A topographic map is a detailed and accurate two-dimensional representation of natural and human-made features on the Earth’s surface.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Do your homework on the Trail. Make sure you know the length of the trail, is there flooding when raining, do you need to book for the trail?

You can download the topographic map from google maps or a very nice app I sometimes use on my cellphone is Windy App, it is available on google store.

I like to buy my maps especially if I am going to do a lot of hiking in a certain area. I use Slingby maps they have hiking and touring maps.

I like the idea that the map is waterproof, tear-resistant and they keep the maps up to date.

The maps show distances and estimated times. It has a brief description of each route and photos. It shows important safety instructions and emergency numbers.

A GPS or cellphone can stop working so having a map is an excellent idea.

7. Create a Hiking Journal

A journal is a fun way to plan for your hikes as well as setting goals for how and when you are going to do a certain hike.

A Hiking journal can be like a keepsake, you can take photos and later put it in the journal, you can draw what you see around you or you can write what you are feeling and seeing.

You are in nature and there is wildlife everywhere, the views are spectacular, you are taking a break, just breathing it all in.

Wouldn’t it be nice to make a little note on how you are experiencing nature?

I have a hiking journal, I plan my hikes in it and then when doing the hikes, make little notes, sometimes I try drawing because let’s face it when you are in nature you feel like you can do anything!

Every time I do a hike, I learn something new about myself and my environment.

5 Reasons to keep a Hiking Journal

Hike Journal

 

 

8. Take the 12 Essentials on your hike

  • Map & compass, you need to hike the trail.
  • Buff, hat, sunscreen, sunglasses, is very important especially when it is overcast, that is the time when you burn. Putting on sunscreen right, dab the underside of your shin and the inside of your ears and nostrils.
  • 3 Layered Clothing, Hiking Boots, and Day pack.
  • An emergency blanket can be used to keep you warm, dry, or shelter you from the wind. It can even be used as an emergency tent.
  • Adventure medical kit that includes Allergic tablets.
  • Loud whistle & Lighter, when you are hiking and you hear a loud whistle you know that someone is in trouble. A lighter is good to have even for a day hike, you never know when you might need to make a fire.
  • Duct tape, safety pins.
  • Multi-tool knife.
  • Water (I use water bottles that already have a filter in).
  • Food like nuts, dried fruit, bars.
  • Fully charged cellphone with emergency numbers programmed.
  • Fully charged power bank (solar-charged). I use my cellphone to take photos as well so having a power bank that can charge while I am hiking Is absolutely amazing. My power bank, also has a lighter, flashlight, waterproof, and shock-resistant.

A buff is by far the best piece of hiking clothing you will ever own.

 

My Essentials for a Day Hike – I prefer to drink a protein shake before I go hiking.

Essential list for Day Hike

 

 

9. Keep it light

Your gear should not be too heavy, you are there to enjoy yourself. If the day pack be too heavy you will have a problem with balance as well and the hotter it becomes the heavier that pack is going to get.

Use a comfortable Day pack, mine is a Karrimor Horizon 20L day pack, it has a padded harness and padded back panel, with a waist belt. It closes with clip cables and is made from super-tough 600D ripstop polyester.

10. Trail etiquette

If you have to use the bathroom, make sure you’re off the trail and 200 feet from the water. Then, dig a hole about 4 inches wide and 6–8 inches deep to bury no. 2 (a camp trowel/multi-tool knife can help with the digging). Experienced hike. might wipe with natural objects, such as large leaves (make sure they’re not poisonous), smooth stones, and even snowballs, but you can also use toilet paper and bury it in the hole.

If it is just for no. 1, ladies drip-dry is the way to go, however, a nifty picnic-tool helps a lot 😉

Ladies Picnic tool

 

 

Trails tend to be busy and there are a lot of hikers going up and down as well as trail runners and bikes, the best way to navigate the traffic is to abide by the following etiquette.

Hikers vs. Hikers: Hikers going uphill have the right of way.
Hikers vs. Bikers: Mountain bikers are generally expected to yield to hike but they are so fast that it is easier for hikers to give way.
Hikers vs. Horses: Horses get the right of way.


Leave only footprints, clean as you go.

Leave only footprints

The best advice

I can give you, is to go hike once a week at a local park, this you can do alone should you wish to. You can practice your rhythm, pace, and footwork here. You can test out your gear and see how much water you drink and if you get hungry when hiking.

You can practice your map work and take beautiful photos. You can enjoy nature and have fun.

Let’s go hiking.

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8 thoughts on “Day Hiking for Beginners – Skills and Techniques”

  1. You did a great job Cornelia! I believe that this is the information that can’t be find on the web easily and you decided to share it with others for free, that’s really great!
    I didn’t know much about skills of day hiking for beginners but I’ve been always interested to know more about this topic and your comprehensive guide helped me a lot. I don’t know if you wrote this post 100% by yourself or got help from other sources as well, anyway, it has really brilliant information which convinced me to share it with my friends on social networks.
    I think, the Internet needs more quality posts like yours these days, especially when we see a lot of crappy ads and scams about this topic. You can’t read a post easily on a website without seeing tons popups but your site and post is an ideal example of a quality article which is not covered by annoying ads, has very useful information and lets readers enjoy reading every piece of it.

    Thank you again and I wish you continue providing such that quality information in the future which turn the Internet and blogs into a better place to surf!

    Best,
    Ali

    1. Hi Ali,

      Thank you for your comment. I was a beginner once and wished I knew half of the “S & T’s”, so that is why I created the guide 🙂

  2. This website is really cool! I love how you don’t just help beginners with routes and boots, but also why it’s healthy.

    This is definitely the website I’m checking out before I plan my next trip.

    Thank you Cornelia!
    This is gold.

  3. I’m sure if there is one outdoor activity we can still engage in at low risk during this COVID situation it has to be hiking. With the exception of very narrow paths I guess, but that just has to be a matter of choosing a trail with no or few narrow parts. Some of the most memorable hiking I have done was when I worked for a few months in South Africa. Every weekend we would hit a trail with a large hiking club. That was also when I experienced some of the most spectacular and memorable views that are etched in my memory. This is an excellent guide and checklist. I’m quite sure I would not think to take some of the items and precautions you advise here. Thanks for an excellent and informative article. Best regards, Andy

    1. Hi Andy, thank you for the comment. Yes, hiking can definitely be a low-risk activity if you can find a trail that is not so well used. After all, life is always better when we hike.

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