With the arrival of autumn, we’re settling into the perfect season for hiking. Not only are you enjoying the crisp air and changing leaves, but you’re also getting exercise. With the pandemic limiting the number of activities we can do, hiking interest is spiking—Google searches for open hiking trails are up 1,050 percent. If you’re new to hiking and want to know how to get started, Meaghan Praznik, head of communications at hiking app AllTrails is here to share beginner hiking tips.
“Hiking is not just good for us physically, but spending time outdoors and in nature is incredibly beneficial for our mental health, too,” says Praznik. “Hiking is a fairly accessible activity for outdoor lovers of all levels, experience, and ability. There is minimal gear required, it’s affordable, and you usually don’t have to travel far to find a trail. Not to mention it doesn’t take place in front of a Zoom screen—something we can all appreciate right now.”
To start, be sure to do your research. You’ll want to choose the right path.
“As with any outdoor activity, it can be easy to get intimidated—things like elevation, trail length, gear, or technical terrain can be enough to keep anyone from hitting the trail,” says Praznik. “The key is to make sure you do your research so you’re not getting out over your skis.” Consider downloading the AllTrails app (available for Apple and Android). Easy-to-use filters help you find the perfect trail for you while maps prevent you from getting lost.
Once you’ve got your trail, dig a bit deeper to make sure you’re prepared.
“Ask yourself: ‘How much food and water do I need? What is the weather going to be like? How exposed is the trail? Is the terrain technical?’” says Praznik. “Additionally, because of the pandemic, many parking lots and facilities are closed, but the trails are open. This could mean making a different plan for accessing the trailhead.” These are questions you can answer by looking at state park websites, vacation review sites like TripAdvisor, or the AllTrails app. Because of the pandemic, it’s best to seek out less-crowded trails. If using AllTrains, filter for trails with light traffic and loop routes to avoid oncoming hikers.
What not to do on a hike
Whether you’re a novice hiker or advanced, you shouldn’t venture off trail.
“It’s really important to stay on the trail when hiking. Getting outdoors and in nature helps us appreciate the importance of conservation and protecting our wild places, but we also need to be respectful of our planet’s natural playgrounds,” says Praznik. “Stay on the trail so as to not disturb any wildlife, foliage, or the terrain. It’s also important for safety—you never know if you could hit a slippery patch, loose rock, or wade into poison oak, for instance.”
Especially if you’re new to hiking, you shouldn’t hike alone.
“If you can, it’s always best to head out with a friend, partner, or family member,” says Praznik. “If this isn’t an option, check out the Lifeline safety feature in the AllTrails Pro app—users can select up to five safety contacts so friends and family can track your hike and stay up to date on your whereabouts and progress.” This is especially helpful since it’s likely that you’ll lose cellphone service during your hike.
Additionally, you’ll want to be mindful of the space you’re in. Don’t take anything from the trail, such as rocks, pinecones, or wildlife. “They may look cute, but we promise forest creatures don’t make good pets,” she says. You should also be mindful of your waste.
“It’s important to make sure you’re properly prepared with food, water, or another form of hydration, but it’s equally important to make sure you pack out what you pack in,” says Praznik. “This means energy bar wrappers, food containers, gear, and water bottle—although we hope you’re not using disposable water bottles, anyways! Be mindful of waste that could fall out of your pack or pockets, and dispose of trash properly.” And if someone else drops trash, consider picking it up. “If we want to continue basking in our planet’s beauty, it’s up to all of us to do our part.”
Whilst being a prepared and mindful hiker, don’t forget to have fun!
“Hiking should be fun—we’re outdoors, in nature, and hopefully with friends,” says Praznik. “Say hello to others on the trail, smile, and politely call out to other trail-goers if you need to pass from behind.”
What to bring on your next hike
“Ultimately, the kind of gear you bring depends on the hike you’re doing,” says Praznik. “If you’re going on a two-mile urban hike, you’re not going need the same kind of gear as on a 15-mile through-hike. That said, it’s important to consider the basics.”
1. Hiking Boots: Salomon Speedcross 5 GTS W ($130)
“Chances are you don’t need a ton of complicated gear for a day hike, but if you are going to invest in one piece of clothing, make it a durable pair of hiking boots,” says Praznik. “You not only want to make sure you’re feet are comfortable, but also safe and protected from any rocks, burs, poison oak, etc.”
She loves this red, white, and gold pair from Salomon.
“A few years ago, I did a 42-mile trail run in these bad boys,” she says. “My body may have been broken, but my feet were perfectly comfortable, without a single blister. While these shoes aren’t particularly light, and the tread is pretty aggressive, they are protective, incredibly cushioned, have great stability, and fantastic grip. Even though they are designed for more aggressive terrain, I still wear them on more casual hikes because they are just that comfy!”
Shop now: Salomon Speedcross 5 GTS W ($130)
2. Map: AllTrails (Free, $30 annually for Pro)
“What is a hike without a map! AllTrails is home to the largest collection of hand-curated digital hiking trails,” she says. “Use the app to find the trail that’s best for you, check trail reviews and from the trusted community of over 20 million members, and navigate the trail with the app’s built-in GPS when you head out.” The app is available to download on Apple and Android devices.
Shop now: AllTrails (Free, $30 annually for Pro)
3. Comfortable layers: Northface Women’s Flight Futurelight Jacket, $280
“Make sure to check the weather, but for varying temperatures, dressing in comfortable layers is always a good idea. Lightweight compressible rain jackets not only keep you warm, but dry in case of a shower,” she says. “I love this North Face jacket—it has everything a girl could want. A hood, it’s warm, can easily fold up and be packed away if things are heating up, and the colors are great for keeping you visible on the trail.”
Shop now: Northface Women’s Flight Futurelight Jacket, $280
4. Day pack: Nathan Sports Trailmix7 Liter Women’s Race Pack, $100
“You’re going to want something to carry your phone, wallet, keys, layers, water, and food, so a lightweight day pack is also a good idea,” says Praznik. “If my hike is short enough and requires less gear, I like to use a hydration pack over a hiking pack and water bottle. My favorite is the Nathan pack. It’s so nice to see packs specifically for women, designed to fit our upper bodies. Hooray, no chafing! Plus, I also love to trail run, so if I’m feeling the urge, this is light enough and won’t bounce around if I decide to pick up the pace on those flowy, dreamy switchbacks.”
Shop now: Nathan Sports Trailmix7 Liter Women’s Race Pack, $100
5. Mask: Under Armor Sportsmask ($30)
The Centers for Disease Control recommends wearing a mask in public settings and when around people who don’t live in your household, especially when other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain. When on a remote trail with light traffic, Praznik opts for the Oiselle Flyte Gaiter ($22). But, when she knows she’ll be passing a lot of people on her hike and wants something more protective, she wears her Under Armor Sportsmask.
Shop now: Under Armor Sportsmask ($30)
6. Hand sanitizer: Grown Alchemist Hydra-Hand Sanitizer, $30
“Not only is this a good idea to help prevent the spread, but because many restrooms and facilities are closed, bring along our own sanitizer to help wash up and stave off germs,” says Praznik. If you’re looking for something a bit more luxe than Purell, tons of beauty brands have stepped into the hand sanitizer game in the past few months. Consider the Grown Alchemist Hydra-Hand Sanitizer ($30).
Shop now: Grown Alchemist Hydra-Hand Sanitizer ($30)
7. Snacks: Clif Nut Butter Bars ($20)
“I’m a big fan of mid-hike, old fashioned PB&J on fresh sourdough, but if I’m headed out for a shorter hike, I love the Clif Nut Butter Bars. Specifically, the Coconut & Almond Butter,” she says. “The taste is heavenly, and its the perfect size to keep me satiated and from becoming hangry, but not stuffed and uncomfortable. If I’m thinking about throwing in a little bit of trail running, I opt for the Clif Salted Watermelon BLOKS Energy Chews ($42). Particularly if the temperatures are a bit warmer, the extra salt is important to help replenish lost electrolytes. They’re easy on my stomach, and the small, individual pieces are perfectly portioned so you can eat as you go, depending on your needs.”
Shop now: Clif Nut Butter Bars ($20)