Summer Hiking For Beginners: A Super Simple Guide (2023)
Summer hiking for beginners can be overwhelmving. Whether you’re heading out for day hiking or working towards a major thru-hike, make sure you have the right hiking clothes, the right hiking footwear, and all of the equipment to have a safe and successful trip.
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Hiking is a magical experience. It offers you a chance to escape the stress of everyday life, spend time in the great outdoors, and the opportunity to disconnect from your phone and social media.
If you’re a beginner hiker, it can be overwhelming to know where to start. You’ll likely have questions about what gear to buy, which trails to try, and even basic trail safety and etiquette.
That’s why we put together this super simple, yet comprehensive beginner's guide for summer hiking. We’ll discuss the type of clothing you should wear, the hiking gear you’ll need, and the gear you probably don’t. We’ll also talk about how to care for yourself, the benefits of hiking with others, and wildlife while on the hiking trail.
Summer Hiking For Beginners
Summer is a great time for beginners to start hiking.
That being said, there is more to hiking than simply spending time outdoors. If you plan to head out on your local trails this summer, you’re going to need the right clothes and the right tools.
How Many Layers Should You Wear for Summer Hiking?
You will likely only need a base layer of essentials like moisture-wicking socks and underwear, and an outer layer consisting of your clothes, shoes, and a hat. The biggest consideration is likely whether you are fully protected from the sun.
You should start with a base layer. This layer is the items of clothing worn closest to the skin. Base layers of clothing should be lightweight and made of a material that can wick away moisture from the skin.
Fabrics like polyester, silk, or merino wool are best for hikers. Cotton is best avoided because of how absorbent it is.
For your outer layer, considerfunction and comfort above style. For instance, pockets can be very useful when hiking, but you don't want clothing that is so heavy that it weighs you down. Finding pants or shorts that are specifically designed for hiking can be a big win.
As with your base layer, avoiding 100% cotton garments may serve you well. While cotton is breathable, it also absorbs sweat and rain. This will make cotton clothing articles heavy and uncomfortable. Look for light polyester or light merino wool clothing.
If you can find a very lightweight shirt, you may actually consider long-sleeves even though it is hot outside. It is important to protect your body and your skin. You may find that a long-sleeve breathable polyester-based shirt is comfortable during the hot summer months.
Lastly, think about your boots and shoes before you head out. Like a long sleeve shirt, a hat will protect you from the sun. Any hat will do to keep the sun off of your face, but a wide brim hat will also protect your neck and ears.
In choosing the best shoes for hiking, many will choose high-tops because they provide ankles support. This is wise, but high-top boots also get hotter, so consider whether reviews for your shoes indicate that they are breathable.
Best Fabric For Hot Summer Hiking
**The best fabric for desert hiking is loose-fitting polyester. It performs well at wicking away moisture from the skin, so you’ll stay nice and dry. It’s also lightweight and breathable. **
When hiking in the heat of the desert, it’s important to cover as much of your body as possible. To avoid overheating, you must outfit yourself in long sleeves and even lightweight pants. Light colors are best.
How Do You Stay Cool While Hiking in Hot Weather?
Although the clothes you wear are important for keeping cool on your hike, you can stay cool in various ways.
If you happen to be hiking near a body of water, you can dip your hat into the water and wear it to cool your body down. You can also freeze water in a bottle, so the water stays icy for the duration of your hike, but drinking lots of water is important.
In fact, staying hydrated is very important. Exercising in the heat without being properly hydrated can lead to dizziness, muscle cramps, nausea, headaches, and other signs of dehydration.
If left unchecked, it can lead to serious medical conditions, like heat stroke or heat exhaustion, as the body’s temperature rises to unhealthy levels.
To avoid dehydration or worse, it is best to hike with a hydration system like those offered by Osprey or Camelback.
Finally, keep cool during a hot weather hike by avoiding the trail during the hottest parts of the day. You can do this by starting your hike in the early morning or the evening.
What Are Hiking Hydration Systems?
Hiking hydration systems also called hydration packs, are a way to drink water on the go. The water sits in a leak-proof bladder and is attached to a drink tube. When you’re thirsty, simply grab the tube and take a drink. There’s no need to stop and unpack a water bottle.
The system enables you to drink water as you hike in a convenient manner. When you are loaded up with a backpack and want to keep moving forward, this is a game-changer.
They come in several forms but are mostly available as inserts into hiking backpacks (and child carriers too). Depending on the model, hydration systems can also have on/off switches and quick-disconnect tubing.
Most operate with a bite valve in which gently biting on the valve creates enough space around the hard centerpiece for water to flow to your mouth.
Should You Use Sun Protection When Hiking?
Sun protection is of the utmost importance when hiking, especially in the summer when the sun is strongest.
Sun protection can take several forms. The most obvious is sunscreen. To protect your exposed skin from UVA and UVB rays, which can cause skin damage and lead to skin cancer, use a sunscreen with at least an SPF of 15.
This sunscreen should be applied a minimum of 30 minutes before going outside and reapplied every two hours.
You should stay in the shade as much as possible, especially when the sun is at its strongest. You should also wear sunglasses and a hat.
Keep in mind that most clothing offers protection and that a long-sleeve shirt also acts as a form of protection from the sun.
Does a Sun Hat Work?
Although sun hats are a useful clothing item to protect your face, neck, ears, and the top of your head from sun exposure, it isn’t enough on their own. You need to accompany your hat with sunscreen and sunglasses to protect yourself from the sun’s harmful rays.
What Other Hiking Gear Do you Need?
Now that you’re aware of all of the necessary clothing you need to successfully hike in the summertime, let’s take a look at the other hiking gear you will need. Keep in mind that if you are starting with beginner trails, your needs will look quite different than if you are headed out to conquer the longest trails at Glacier National Park.
When we think about hiking for beginners, we think about making consistent progress. You don't need to run out and buy all of your new equipment at one time. Boots or shoes designed for hiking, backpacks, clothing, hiking cookware, etc. can all get very expensive.
When you start taking full-day hikes, you will need most of the gear noted above, but if you just plan to hike for an hour or two on a beginner trail, you should travel light with a focus on hydration and protection from the sun.
Should You Wear Hiking Boots or Shoes?
When you are just getting started, you might assume that hiking boots are a must, but for shorter trails, there are plenty of people that just wear athletic shoes. Still, shoes specifically designed for hiking do offer benefits, such as sufficient grip and lug depth, and proper foot and ankle support.
Also keep in mind that while boots are more prominent in hiking circles, there are brands that make lower hiking shoes as well. Beyond hiking-specific shoes, trail running shoes offer many of the same features but come in a more lightweight form.
On the other hand, hiking boots are heavy, durable, and offer maximum protection against difficult terrain. Hiking boots also feature a higher ankle for additional support, which is great if you end up taking them to a rocky hiking trail.
For shorter hikes, shoes with sufficient grip should work just fine, but as your hiking excursions become more advanced, you will likely want to transition to hiking boots.
Some people may also choose the wearsecure outdoor sandals, like Chacos or Tevas. This is especially true during the hot summer months, but we recommend that you start with shoes or boots that provide more protection and support.
Should You Use Trekking Poles?
Trekking poles aren’t a must-have hiking item, particularly for beginner hikers. They are designed to help you keep your balance and maintain a good pace while hiking.
They alleviate stress on your ankle and knee joints by absorbing the shock of each step. Trekking poles are ideal for uphill hikers or a hiking route that requires minimal climbing.
However, trekking poles can be cumbersome on trickier hiking trails that require you to use both of your hands.
Unless you’re a beginner hiker that requires additional balance due to an injury or disability, it’s unlikely that you’ll need to purchase trekking poles. The easier hiking trails will be flat and easy to navigate without them.
As we think about hiking for beginners, our goal is to buy the necessary equipment you will need, and then add on additional equipment as your hikes become more advanced.
Some hiking tips may recommend specific equipment, but the beauty of hiking is that you don't really need that much to get started.
Do You Need Trail Mix For A Short Hike?
It is always helpful to have a small snack with you when you go hiking. Even on a shorter hike, having a small snack can be a nice way to pause mid-hike to regain your composure, and refuel your body.
Don't take more than you need, because you don't want to get weighed down. Also, remember to keep any wrappers with you to throw away when you are done hiking. To leave no trace is a key tenant of hiking.
Trail mix packets are usually lightweight and packed with nutrients. The sweet and salty combination works well for a quick snack when you pause to enjoy the scenery.
Learn Basics & Hiking Essentials
When you are just getting started, there are only a few things that you need to have with you every time you go hiking. Those items include sun protection, a small first aid kit, water, and food.
If you are only hiking a mile or two on a well-populated trail, those items are likely all you will need. This is especially true if you are hiking with friends.
As your hiking gets more complicated, there may be other items that become more essential. If you plan to tackle less populated trails, you will likely want navigation such as a GPS, compass, or map.
If there is any chance that it might become dark, you must ensure you also have a headlamp or flashlight.
As you consider tackling more complicated (and longer) hikes, you will need to start familiarizing yourself with fire starters, tents (or shelter), and potentially camp cookware. Still, the reality is most people don't do this type of hiking.
Since we are talking about hiking for beginners, sunscreen, proper clothing, a first aid kit, water, and food are likely all you will need. You might add a knife in for good measure.
Do You Know About Hiking Trail Etiquette?
The National Park Service has established some general guidelines for hiking etiquette. It’s wise you familiarize yourself with these guidelines before beginning to hike.
Always follow the correct right of way yields in the place you are hiking. Note that hikers climbing uphill have the right of way. Hikers descending should step just off the trail to let them pass.
As you start out on local parks and trails, you may also encounter mountain bikers. They are usually moving at quicker speeds at which it is hard to stop, so yield the path to bikers as well. As you take on more advanced trails, it is likely that mountain bikers won't be allowed.
It’s polite to say a quick hello or nod your head when you encounter other hikers on the trail. If you come upon a group and would like to pass them, it’s polite to make yourself known to avoid startling them.
You should never disturb the wildlife you encounter on the trail, especially when hiking through bear country. 😅 After all, you’re in their home while outdoors. You should endeavor to stay on the trail at all times unless you’re yielding to a passing hiker. Both of these guidelines will help you adhere to the “Leave No Trace” principle.
Furthermore, it’s important to be aware of your surroundings at all times. Keep an eye out for dangerous plants and animals, and you should know what to do if you encounter them. Limiting the use of technology and its sounds can help you avoid disturbing the wildlife.
When you are just getting started, staying on shorter trails that are well-populated will also make it less likely that you will encounter any wildlife. Still watch out for that poison ivy, though, because it can cause some very unpleasant reactions!
Start With Beginner Hiking Trails
At the start of most hiking trails, you’ll notice a trail rating guide that helps you identify the trail conditions. The easiest trails will be paved and have almost no obstacles. Moderate hikes, for instance, will have trails that are at least 24' wide and average less than 10% slope grade. Elevation gain will vary significantly based on the length of trail chosen.
The most difficult will be made up of rocky terrain with potential drops or overhangs, numerous loose rocks and other obstacles, and at least a 20% grade.
As a beginner hiker, you’ll want to start with hiking trails meant for novice hikers. Look for trails marked “easy.” These trails will have dirt and slightly uneven paths, with the occasional rock or rut. They will have a very minimal grade and will be well-maintained.
Beginner pathways are also wider, which means there is plenty of room to hike in a group, and the trail is likely to be busy with other outdoor goers.
Avoid Too Much Elevation Gain To Start
Beginner hiking trails are generally flat. This is a good thing. As a beginner hiker, you’re going to want to avoid tackling trails that have high elevations or mountainous terrain. Hikes on coastal terrain or flat forest ground are just as beautiful and memorable as tackling an uphill hike.
You should aim to build up your endurance and overall stamina with smaller, shorter hikes on flat terrain. Gradually introduce hikes with hills or elevation to avoid burning yourself out too quickly.
Start With A Short Hike Before Advancing to Day Hikes
Before starting on any summertime hike, you’ll need to come to terms with your physical fitness level. Before you set out on full-day hiking, you’re going to need to start with building up your muscles and endurance.
It’s best to start on short hikes of a few miles with well-marked trails to avoid overwhelming yourself on your first outdoor adventure. As your physical fitness improves and your confidence grows, you’ll advance to lengthier hikes.
Consider Joining Hiking Groups
If you’re new to hiking, consider joining local hiking groups. Hiking groups are clubs for outdoor enthusiasts, which might include beginner hikers experienced hikers and hiking guides.
Hiking groups are an excellent place to find hiking buddies. You don’t have to have any experience to join one of these groups, and it will allow you to connect with people who can show you the ropes.
Learn From Fellow Hikers
Fellow hikers and other outdoor enthusiasts are an excellent resource for you. They will be able to use their hiking experience to teach you everything you need to know about the best safety gear, how to choose trails, how to read a trail map, and how to fit a hiking pack.
Fellow hikers make an excellent sounding board for questions you may have about hiking clothes as well. They can give you their opinions on hiking footwear, such as trail shoes and trail running shoes. A fellow hiker can even help you learn the best hiking layers to set out in.
Hiking Tips To Build Endurance
As a beginner hiker, you’re going to need to build endurance before tackling a strenuous hike. This will likely mean improving your fitness level. You can improve your hiking stamina by:
If you plan to go out for a walk in a park, you can also bring some of your equipment, like your backpack. That way you can get a good feel for what it will be like out on the trail.
Be mindful of the temperature and weather. Don't try to tough it out in extreme heat when you are just getting started. This is one reason that joining a hiking group can be beneficial. They will offer insight on what is doable, and if you struggle with the heat, they will be nearby.
Build Up To A Day Hike With Hiking Buddies
Finding a hiking buddy is a great idea for a beginner hike. In addition to distributing the weight of your equipment between multiple packs, you also have someone with you to talk to while you build up to a day hike. Having a hiking buddy for a few hikes is also a great way to improve your interpersonal relationships.
Should something happen on one of your training days, you’ll have someone with you to assist.
If you can’t find someone you know who is willing to help accompany you as you build your endurance for a day hike, consider joining social media groups, local hiking groups, or even trail-specific groups to find hiking buddies.
There are plenty of people out there just like you without a ton of hiking experience that needs a hiking buddy to hit the trails with. If you can’t find a hiking group, start one.
Find Hiking Trails To Use As Motivation
There are some incredible hiking trails throughout the country. You may have heard of one or two of them and thought about making a trekking journey across one. Chances are, if you’re a beginner, you’re going to need to work up to a thru-hike. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t use these major hiking trails as motivation while you practice.
If you’re not sure where to find established trails for beginner hikes, do a quick search on National Park websites. These sites are full of valuable information for your first hike, from trail conditions, what hiking gear you’ll need to start hiking, trail etiquette reminders, and more.
Hiking at Pacific Crest Trail
One of the most famous hiking trails in the nation is the Pacific Crest Trail. It’s a National Scenic Trail that runs from Mexico to Canada, cutting through California, Oregon, and Washington.
The trail is 2,650 miles long and is a popular spot for thru-hiking and long-distance hiking trips.
Hiking at Olympic National Park
Olympic National Park consists of a million acres with diverse and complex ecosystems and wildlife. There are over 70 miles of coastline to explore, with sights to see like temperate rain forests and mountain ranges. There is camping and lodging throughout the park as well.
Hiking on The Appalachian Trail
There are over 2,190 miles to explore on the Appalachian Trail, making it another highly sought-after hiking experience for thru-hikers. Hiking the entire trail takes between five to seven months, and only one in four hikers make it through the entire trail.
That being said, this is an incredibly difficult trail that takes hikers through gorgeous forests, national parks, and mountains. The trail runs from the Chattahoochie National Forest in Georgia up to Baxter State Park in Maine.
Hiking at Zion National Park
Zion National Park is located in Utah and consists of a handful of easy, moderate, and difficult hiking trails. The park is on the smaller side. It’s made up of 146,597 acres. However, in this space exist stunning sandstone cliffs and canyons.
The Narrows at Zion is incredible. The Narrows offer a chance for canyoneering, which is a little different than hiking. In the instance of the Narrows, you wear special water-resistant hiking shoes and hike up a small river. It is a unique experience, to say the least.
You can get in an excellent longer hike at this beautiful park.
What To Know Before Considering Backpacking Trips
Backpacking trips have been romanticized over the years, but the reality is much more complex. While certainly an enjoyable and memorable experience, trips of multiple days also require extensive planning and preparation.
There are a few common pitfalls that beginner hikers experience when setting out on a backpacking trip. Knowing how to prevent and prepare for them is critical to a successful day hike or thru-hike.
Check Your Equipment
While you should research the equipment you plan to buy, it’s wise to get properly fitted for items like boots and your backpack.
You should also make sure that you have practiced setting up your tent, using your camp stove, and packing and unpacking your hiking pack before hitting the trail. You should ensure that all of your equipment works as it’s meant to and that you have backups, extra batteries, and a contingency plan should something malfunction while you’re in the wild.
Take An Orienteering Class
Even though many major trails backpackers use are easy to follow, it isn’t unheard of for people to get lost. Plenty can happen on a hike, even in just a few miles.
Depending on the trail you plan to travel, it may be beneficial as a beginner to take an orienteering class. These classes will teach you how to use your navigational tools, like your compass and a topographic map so you can be sure you stay on the right hiking trail.
Food and Food Storage
Furthermore, you’ll need to think about how much food and water to bring. Backpacking takes a large amount of energy, and you’ll need the proper, spoil-free food to sustain you for however long you plan to be out on the trail.
Plan for one or two healthy, nutrient-packed snacks, even on shorter hikes.
You’ll also need to be prepared to store your food appropriately to avoid experiencing run-ins with wildlife.
Know What Not to Bring
The items you don’t bring with you on a backpacking trip are just as important as the items that you do. There are numerous items that a beginner hiker may think they need on the trail, but that will just weigh you down during your hike.
Stick to the hiking essentials and avoid bringing unnecessary items, such as:
As a rule of thumb, your pack should not weigh more than 20% of your body weight. If you’re going for a day hike, your hiking daypack should not weigh more than 10% of your body weight.
Hike With Hiking Companions
Whether you’re a beginner hiker or an experienced hiker, it’s always a good idea to hike with a hiking group, especially if you plan to undertake a multi-day hike like the trails mentioned above.
Traveling alone is a risk, particularly as a beginner. No matter how prepared you think you are, the wilderness is an unpredictable and sometimes formidable place. Hiking can lead to numerous injuries or emergencies you weren’t expecting.
As we mentioned above, traversing the trail with hiking companions can help you share the load of food, water, and camping equipment. Having a hiking buddy for your hiking trip also helps you split up responsibilities, like preparing food or setting up the tent.
Some people also choose to go hiking with their dogs. Dogs can be great companions, even on the hiking trail, but if you do choose to hike with your dogs, ensure that they have all of the essential dog hiking gear, such as a hiking harness and collapsible water bowl.
Getting Started Hiking In Summer
If you want to hit up a hiking trail or two this summer, you must take all necessary precautions and steps to prepare for the trip.
Whether you’re heading out for day hiking or working towards a major thru-hike, make sure you have the right hiking clothes, the righthiking footwear, and all of the equipment to have a safe and successful trip.
Those are the top tips for summer hiking for beginners. Enjoy the trails and stay safe on your adventure!
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