Hiking For Beginners – The Comprehensive Guide 2020

Are you new to hiking? Then our thorough post for hiking for beginners is useful for you.

Following the useful after hike recovery post, we thought to share an advanced one on what to do before you start hiking at all.

In this post, we cover points for:

  • Preventing muscle soreness
  • How to choose the right backpack
  • How to warm up before hiking
  • How to get in shape for hiking
  • Hydration for hiking
  • Why eat correctly for hiking
  • Know Your Body Know Your Limits
  • The importance of Trekking Poles
  • How Pain is your friend (!)
  • Yoga for Hikers
  • The role of Recovery
  • Why having the right mindset is crucial for hiking

Lots of things to learn, right? With that information, you will avoid the common mistake beginners to hiking do; thinking of just the right pair of boots is enough.

They then end up with lots of pain, and some abandon hiking and its benefits. When you hike for many days, your body tends to react a lot.

Small pains get bigger. Fatigue piles up.

Your mind starts telling you things like, “Woah! What a nice forest”, but also things like “Stop walking, you are tired.”

Fortunately, there are many and different ways to work around all the mind and muscle fatigue. All this information is for hiking for beginners, but also for those who want to refresh their knowledge.

Your body is your instrument. When the body is affected, then your mind gets that too. Then it can become a vicious circle that wears you down.

So, let’s start learning.

Hiking for Beginners: Prevent Muscle Soreness

Could it be that easy? Read along and pay attention to all the factors that can affect hiking soreness and stiffness of muscles.

  • Does your gear fit properly?
  • Are your hiking socks and hiking boots or hiking shoes of good quality?
  • Is your backpack weight well balanced on your body?
  • Do you have all the necessary hiking props and aids?

You need to think of these. Preparedness is the key. 

When it comes to gear, especially for hiking for beginners, it sums up to three things:

  • The Hiking Boots (read this on how to select them)
  • The Backpacking gear
  • The Trekking Poles

Choose and Wear the Right Backpack Right

Did you spend time in one-day hikes, trying, testing, and playing around with all the straps and openings of your backpack?

Did you get the right backpack by measuring the length of your torso, or you just ordered the next fancy or affordable one from an e-shop?

Is your backpack sitting nicely on your hips and waist? Have you adjusted all the straps to achieve that?

Did you search on how to place things in and around your backpack to achieve optimal weight balance, while walking for miles, but also to be able to reach them fast if needed?

Better ask your back and legs first. A poorly attached backpack, or one where things have been thrown in without thinking, will speedily create pains on back, waist, and legs.

Neglect to adjust the straps properly, and your hips and pelvis will ring a bell, crying, “please, no more.”

Research and adjust all straps and weight appropriately.

As a novice, you will make mistakes in choosing and investing in the right gear. 

Avoid that by reading this thorough post for Ultralight Backpacking Tips and Gear.

The Importance of Two Trekking Poles

On a multi-day hiking trip, poles will be used frequently if not all the time.

Trekking poles are not just to help you go uphill or downhill.

They need to be used in zero angle ground too. Their correct usage will take the weight from your back and knees.

If you don’t believe us, just walk a problematic route without poles and try the same with poles. You will notice the difference.

Despite the big help they provide, you give yourself a pretty good upper body workout.

You see that we mention poles (plural) and not “a pole.”

A pair of good poles weigh very little and provide you with equal body balance when hiking.

One pole shifts weight to one side, and gradually, you will build up waist and shoulder pain. Maybe not the first time, but it will be there.

You can also move very fast when you learn how to use two poles. Take a couple of classes in a Nordic Walking class (sounds weird, right?).

We did that, and we learned to walk so fast, it was like hovering. Not to mention that we learned to walk with our full body and correct posture.

Try to find one near you.

Read this thorough post for choosing the right Trekking Poles for Men and Women.

Pain from Hiking Gear is a Friend Who Talks

Pain while hiking is not a thing you want, but there are many kinds of pain.

Sharp pain in joints and muscles is not a good sign, while the soreness pain can mean that you are tired due to reasons mentioned here.

Pain -when you pay attention- tells you that something is wrong or/and you are doing something wrong, and you need to take measures.

Inflammation that causes pain -usually- manifests in the form of these: sharp or intense pain, heat, stiffness, swelling, redness.

Your body sends a message, and you need to respond.

How do you respond? Here comes -again- the importance of preparedness.

Your pain may be related to your gear and how you use it so far, or your body limits & status.

There is a long list of more posts at the end of this one, especially for gear selection for hiking for beginners.

For example:

  • Are your hiking boots/shoes too tight? Did you spend time “breaking into them”?
  • Maybe your laces are too tight, and you must adjust them accordingly?
  • Are your socks the proper ones?
  • Is your overall lower body moving freely? Some times, improper pants limit movement, and legs get strained. After many hours this leads to pain and soreness. Same happens when you carry many things in your pants side pockets (if you wear such pants)
  • Are your trekking poles correctly adjusted? Perhaps they need a re-adjustment
  • If you feel pain in your palms and arms, maybe you need to loosen your grip on the poles? Many do that unconsciously
  • If your back, neck or shoulders are in pain, this can mean wrong backpack adjustment or incorrect weight distribution, or even carrying too much weight for many hours without resting
  • Pain on the head can mean improper nutrition, hydration, heat stroke and many other things, even issues with vision

Make necessary adjustments and deal with inflammation and pain before it becomes a chronic case or gets worst in the same day.

Most of the time, the best cure for sore toes is to take off your shoes and socks and dip them in cold water.

It is a method used by many hikers and runners that helps re-adjust blood concentration in blood vessels.

Some dip them alternatively into warm and cold water, ending with cold. There are different methods.

There are lots of gear to use, especially for legs, for example, a pair of compression socks (that must be suitable for hiking).

If you know how to give yourself a foot massage, then do.

Same stands for all aching points of your body. Give them a treat and lots of love.

Important tip: There are cases where your body will present symptoms of soreness the 3rd day after the hiking day.

So, you may feel a bit sore the day after the first one and much more on the day after that.

You need to eat, drink, and exercise properly before any hiking trip.

Prepare to reduce as many issues and problems as possible during your trip.

Start each hiking day with stretching and end it in the same way.

Did you know that you can use visualization too, to relax your whole body, after stretching? Sit or lay down, close your eyes and imagine soreness flying out from your body parts like steam from water.

Your mind is a tricky thing and can relax your body on command if you train it like that.

Hiking for Beginners: Is your Body Ready for Hiking Trails?

Yeah, stretching is great, but your body needs to be in good condition to be able to hike for many days or to cope with a single day demanding hiking route.

Do you workout? 

If you hate the gym, try to follow some daily routine that keeps your muscle groups active.

  • Getting the stairs instead of the elevator is a good one
  • Walking whenever you have the opportunity (after/before lunch/dinner, to get to work or return and such)
  • Pump iron. Have some dumbells or simply get to the gym for weight strength exercises
  • Do HIIT (High-intensity interval training) or do Cross-fit
  • Hate pumping iron? Do aerobic exercises. Biking, swimming, walking fast, even dancing are some of them.
  • Do you yoga? If so, you will have the “tools” to build up, warm-up, and stretch before and after your daily hiking plan. Read this post for yoga for runners that also applies to hike
  • There are tons of complete online exercise routines you can adopt and do in-house too

Last but not least, listen to your body. Learn to accept and know your weak spots in your body and handle them properly during your hiking.

Do you need some motivation, or you prefer to participate in groups?

Find your local hiking group and participate in one-day hiking excursions.

You will make new hiking partners, optimize your gear, exchange knowledge, spot the mistakes you do, and exercise at the same time.

In all ways, you need to build up your capability for multi-day hiking and hiking soreness prevention.

Hiking for Beginners: Warm-Up

Ever been into a gym? Most probably, you are.

Rule number one is to warm up your muscles before attempting any kind of heavy exercise.

That is the case. You reached your hiking entry point with a bus, or you drive there.

Your body is stiff after all these hours, and you are about to put it under strenuous work for -maybe- more than one day.

It needs some foreplay by heating up on those muscles.

Stretch your legs, back, shoulder, and hip muscles like in the gym.

Allow them to prepare for walking long distances, going uphill or/and downhill.

Give them a hint saying, “Hey guys, let’s start moving.”

Stretching will send more blood to the muscles. It is like having them well greased before any usage.

Hiking for Beginners: Post & After Hike Hydration

Why Drink Water during and before Hiking?

Get hydrated or get smashed.

Many think that proper hydration is limited to the hiking day. It starts days before. It has to do with your overall hydration habits and knowledge.

Your body is 70% water. That should be enough to say for proper hydration, but it is better to explain it a bit more.

What water will do for you (in any day and your hiking):

  • Flushes out things not needed
  • Helps to build up your energy
  • Helps and allows flexibility to your muscles

Hikers and climbers have one rule: When you feel thirsty enough, you are already dehydrated!

That is why you need to drink before you start walking and also drink as you walk.

A CamelBak is a norm here.

You don’t need to ruin your pace while at the same time, you can sip as much as you need.

But is it OK to drink as much as you like? At the same time, how much water can you carry?

If you carry lots of it, then that is extra weight. Extra weight means you get more tired and thus hungrier and thirstier.

Sounds weird, correct? That is why you need to know where water springs are along your route, and also carry a water filter to be able to convert dirty water into potable.

Despite the equipment, start “water training” yourself before the hiking trip. Drink double the amount you usually drink.

Any kind of “soda’s” or coffee and tea are not considered as “water.”

If you consume such while you walk, you are pulling water out of your blood, which gets out of your system with urination.

Too much water is not good either. Try to find a balance.

If, after drinking lots of water, you feel uncomfortable or having some belly pains, then maybe you drink too much. 

In rare cases, drinking a significant amount in a short time can be dangerous to your health.

It can cause the levels of salt or sodium in your blood to drop too low.

That has a name. It is a condition called hyponatremia (or water intoxication). It can be fatal.

Be moderate, and give yourself the gift of proper hydration.

Your kidneys will thank you and your skin too. Your muscles will be more flexible also.

Proper hydration is a must to avoid muscle soreness.

Some people love to enhance their water with electrolytes. That is an additional good idea as your body loses salt with sweat.

Electrolytes come in the form of ready to consume sticks, or as a powder, you can add to a bottle of water (follow proper dosage).

If you plan to hike during scorching days, it’s not wrong to have some spare.

Why Eat Well Before and After Hiking?

Two words: Proteins and Carbohydrates. Are you getting enough every day?

Muscles need food. They (have to) work hard for you day in and day out.

Not enough protein and gradually your muscles will reduce their performance.

Carbs will fuel you up too, but there are good carbs and bad carbs.

Good carbs will be released slowly into your system, and you will have the energy for longer.

Bad carbs (usually sugary sweets) will give you spikes of energy, and then it will drop fast, and you will need more to keep up.

Whole grains are a must to start the day and at lunch.

But -as mentioned- you need protein, especially after your daily hiking. Your muscles go under stress, and micro-tears are happening.

That is normal. It also happens in the gym when you lift heavy weights. Muscle tears apart, and you need protein (among other things) to help the muscle repair and get stronger.

For meat lovers, dried meat and fish is a good source of protein. For non-meat eaters, there are alternatives, and they will need more significant portions.

Proteins will also make you feel fuller and stabilize blood sugar for longer.

Nuts are another thing to eat, as they additionally provide healthy fats. They can be a snack or supplement to meals.

Your hiking menu must be well prepared and calculated before your hiking. It is part of the overall weight that you carry in your backpack and crucial for your health.

This information here is a general guide and not a nutritional plan or medical advice. Each person has unique needs depending on their health status, age, sex, etc.

Know Your Body and Mind Limits

About your Body during Hiking for Beginners

“Putting one foot in front of the other and start your journey of a thousand miles” might be a mantra in many philosophical books.

Keep walking is another “haiku,” and a famous brand slogan.

But are these enough? No.

You need to know how to walk on different terrains, under different weather conditions.

Depending on your age or your knee’s health, some routes may not be suitable for you.

There will be moments in your trip where it will feel great when you do that “extra mile,” but you need to know what that means for you.

It is good to have practical knowledge of your fitness level.

The Mind Is Your Enemy & Friend

Either traveling solo or with a friend, there will be times that along the path, your mind will play nasty games as you hike.

Some of such thought trains will be about abandoning everything, while others will be about becoming too risky.

Using your common sense and being focus on the present is the best way to both enjoy your hiking trip and be safe.

If your “gut feeling” says “don’t do that detour,” then listen to your gut. It is better to stay safe.

If you feel tired, then rest. That is why to “train” by starting with some easy hike and then move to longer walks. 

If you are in pain, stop and deal with it. Don’t ignore the pain, especially when you have more days ahead.

Be aware of the surroundings and be prepared.

Start preparing your gear a few days before your hiking day. In that way, you will have the time to think over and again on the things you need to carry along.

Don’t leave things for the last minute.

Have a safety plan. A way to communicate with friends and relatives is needed, as much as your map and compass and GPS device.

Explore our advice deeper to find all the details about the critical things we mentioned here.

Recovery and Hiking

Recover Today Hike Stronger Tomorrow

As you are about to end the day, here are some essential tips to help you with your recovery and resting.

Slow down: Are you reaching your end-for-today time?

Then gradually start slowing down your pace and rhythm.

Allow some time to your body and mind to slow down and adapt to the upcoming resting as you approach your campsite.

Stretch enough: We mentioned that many times already.

Stretching is crucial before and after your hike, for recovery. It will also calm your mind along with your muscles.

Skip stretching and get prepared for some limping tomorrow.

Eat before you camp: Sounds strange, but your body has been under lots of stress.

The first 45 minutes period, after you stop for resting are considered a window where the intake of proper food and liquids gives the maximum benefits to your body.

You may have heard that in a gym, to take the proteins in the first 45 minutes after you stop exercising.

That is the maximum absorption window. Eat good carbohydrates and protein and nuts, not sweets. That food prepares your muscles for the next day.

Some claim that a reasonable amount for carbohydrates is approximately 1.5 grams per kilogram of body weight, but don’t count that as medical advice as each person is different.

Hydrate: Your next day’s performance depends on it. It is as simple as that. Your brain will work better too.

End the day with a proper meal: You need to have a complete and adequate meal.

Do not go to sleep without having such. You need a balanced meal of carbohydrates, protein, and fat.

Yoga for Hiking for Beginners: Post Hike and After Hike

Yoga helps prevent injury that is caused by stiff muscles.

Even if you trip and fall, your body has more chances to fall gently when it is flexible and not stiff.

You can help reduce minor aches and pains and recover faster from sore muscles.

You need no gear other than your body to do yoga, and that is a good thing. If there is grass where you hike, you don’t even need a mat.

Here is a beneficial video with post-hike stretches that you can do at the end of each day.

As I have practiced Ashtanga yoga for a couple of years, I know that these exercises work and people who fall under a “hiking for beginners” status can practice most of them.

Let People Know You Location and Schedule

Before any hiking trip, make sure you check the weather and carry a communication device (i.e., a cell phone), along with a first aid kit. It is also best to take a map and compass and know how to use both.

Some times cell phones won’t get a signal (same with hiking GPS).

You also have to let others know where you will be and -in case of multiday trips- when you expect to come back or/and reach different stations.

Things may get tough if you get lost. If you do, remember that in many cases getting higher is a solution.

Leave No Trace

What that has to do with hiking for beginners and getting prepared for hiking? Well, it has a lot.

When you are “out there,” make sure to treat nature with respect. Do not leave garbage in the environment. If everyone leaves trash, then that will return to all.

The National Parks belong to everyone to enjoy. That stands not only for our country’s’ parks but also for those of other countries.

Read this post from the Mountaineering Association (UIAA). It contains lots that are apt to hiking too.

Explore our Outdoors & Hiking Gear Posts

We have created (and more are coming up) a series of posts for the great outdoors, camping, and hiking. Feel free to go through them and find out more tips for things to take care of and how to choose proper gear.

Have fun!

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