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Getting Started Hiking



A green hiking trail marker with the words "hiking basics" in white.

If you are new to hiking or are someone who just wants to get outside in nature more, the thought of taking on a new hobby can be overwhelming, especially one that requires both time and money investments. Hiking can be a dangerous endeavor sometimes, simply because nature is always unpredictable. But, a little planning and minimal investment can get you safely out on the trail enjoying nature in no time. Once you get the basics down and see if you enjoy hiking (I bet you will!!), then you can look into making more investments in gear and clothing.


As not to reinvent the wheel, so to speak, I will drop some links throughout with advice from the experts at the American Hiking Society, the National Park Service, and the outdoor retailer, REI. I’ll add some of my own preferences and practices below.

The American Hiking Society has a plethora of resources, including a detailed breakdown of hiking basics for beginners. They break down their resources into planning, necessary outdoor skills, and gear.


The National Park Service has abundant resources as well in their Hiking 101 section. If you are planning a hiking-heavy national park trip, a great way to prepare is to start hiking locally to get in shape.


And yes, REI wants to sell you all the outdoor gear you want, but they do have some solid resources on their website. Their Hiking for Beginners section has tons of links to help you get started.


Preparation & Planning


I spend a lot of time planning before I even think about hitting the trail, and that’s not just because I’m a guidebook author. Even when I am hiking for fun, there’s a lot of prep work that goes into making a hike both fun and safe.


It’s super important to be honest with yourself about your fitness level. You may want to hike 10 miles, but your body may think otherwise. If hiking is new to you, shorter hikes will help you understand your level of fitness and how you feel both while hiking and afterward. It’s also important to think about how much time the hike will take you and how much literal ground you will cover during that time.


While you are thinking about your fitness level, consider a hike’s elevation profile. The elevation profile tells you how much uphill and downhill you can expect on a given hike. I much prefer downhill, personally, but a strenuous downhill can stress your body, too. Much like distance, if you aren’t sure how your body will tolerate elevation change, start with flat hikes and gradually work your way up to those with more elevation change.


If you are looking for a place to get some Winter sun surrounded by beauty, look no further than our state’s arboretum, Morris Arboretum. Located in the Chestnut Hill neighborhood of Philadelphia, Morris Arboretum has something for every nature lover, and acres of open green space for children to run and play.


I don’t include Morris Arboretum in my 60 Hikes book, simply because it costs money to go inside, and I tried my best to make all of the hikes in the book free. And, they are, except in Delaware where one has to pay to park to visit the state parks. Other than that, all the hikes in the book are as free as the wind, as access to nature should be.

But even though I didn’t include it in the book, I absolutely adore Morris Arboretum. From its grove of dawn redwood trees, to the stately champion katsura tree, the arboretum is always gorgeous. Even in winter.


And this year’s wacky weather has brought Spring to the Delaware Valley early this year, and there are signs of Spring popping up everywhere at the arboretum. So, if you are looking for a dose of sun, trees, and flowers, Morris might just be the place to go.

Morris Arboretum is close to the many trails at Wissahickon Valley Park, several of which are featured in 60 Hikes. Check it out!

 

Logistics and weather are also two important pieces to planning. Always check the weather to determine how to dress and prepare. Logistics can include everything from where you’ll get lunch before or after to making sure all members of your party stay safe and have fun. And always tell someone before you go hiking where you’ll be and when you plan to return.


Check out the links above for deeper dives into getting started hiking.


Essentials


REI has a list of 10 essentials they urge all new hikers to consider before hitting the trail. Click here to read the full article, but the basics are: a backpack, comfortable footwear, insulation in the form of appropriate clothing, illumination in the form of a headlamp for emergencies, a navigation device, food and water, a first-aid kit, fire making tools, and a knife or other item useful for repairs or cutting, and emergency shelter. Each one of these items can be its own blog post, and all are super important. Most important in my mind is always food and water. Always carry food and water, even if you think you are just going for a short hike. Always.


My Backpack

My daypack is one I bought off of Amazon. You don’t need a fancy name brand to get the job done. Important features for me were a small pack with room to put in a water bladder if I wanted or pockets for a water bottle. You should also make sure any pack you will take hiking has an emergency whistle attached.


Things I always make sure I have in my pack are food and water. Salty snacks are my best friend. I also have a carabiner that doubles as a fire starter. I also update my first-aid kit regularly, making sure that it’s always got enough band-aids and moleskin for any potential abrasions or blisters.


I also always pack waterless soap, a headlamp, and a pocketknife. I also tend to keep a blaze-orange hat in my backpack for those days that I want to hike during hunting season. I also carry electrolyte salts and chewables due to some health issues I have. They are great to have on hand on any hikes that make you super sweaty.


Guide Book


One surefire way to help you prepare for hiking is to get a good hiking guidebook! That’s where I come in. My hiking guidebook, 60 Hikes within 60 Miles: Philadelphia, cuts down on the amount of research you have to do. And the first section of the book is a detailed introduction to hiking and the outdoors in the Philadelphia area and will set you up for successful hikes.


You can purchase the book here:


Happy hiking!

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