go hiking

Beginner's Guide to Hiking

Fall's the perfect time to go hiking; here's how to get started.

By Amy Ahlberg

Beginner's Guide to Hiking

Before setting foot on the trail, match your footwear to the terrain.

You’ve always wanted to get out there and go hiking, and the onset of fall’s crisp weather is kicking your desire into high gear. But sorting out what equipment you really need and doing the actual planning of it all? That part’s always been a bit intimidating. To help get beginners out on the trail feeling confident and prepared, we turned to Peter Koop, customer service manager at outdoor gear retailer Campmor ( He suggests taking these steps:

#1: Go prepared, but don’t overload yourself.
According to Koop, typical dayhikes require a simple, comfortable daypack between 1200 and 2000 cubic inches big. Some of the basic items to bring along when you go hiking include water, food, a first-aid kit (including a blister kit), a rain garment, and, potentially, an extra sweater/jacket, depending upon conditions.

Get fit and have fun this fall!
Start running: 10 Expert Tips for Beginning Runners
Learn to kayak: Beginner’s Guide to Kayaking
Ride a mountain bike: How to Start Mountain Biking
Try sculling: How to Start Sculling for Exercise

So what’s optional? Things like a compass or GPS, a hiking staff, and trail maps appropriate for the area may prove helpful if you're in a remote or unfamiliar area. Capturing great views will require binoculars and/or a camera. But Koop warns against bringing the "kitchen sink," adding “there’s no need to overload to the point where your load begins to take away from the enjoyment.” One piece of equipment you definitely want to bring: one or more friends. Not only is hiking a great social activity, but also the buddy system is a must for safety. And if your friend is a more experienced hiker, so much the better.

#2: Wear appropriate shoes.
Investing in footwear should come down to finding a pair of shoes/boots that are comfortable. You don’t have to go super high-end, as this goal can be accomplished at various price points. The key is to know where you'll be hiking: Different trails require different choices. “Select footwear designed for the terrain anticipated," says Koop. Gentle, smooth trails really don't require much more than a good pair of running shoes, while rocky, rough trails are best approached with a more traditional hiking boot that offers some height for ankle protection and support.

#3: Research your trail options.
Here’s where one of the oldest forms of exercise imaginable—walking around in nature—benefits from 21st-century technology. To start, “Google the region/state that you're interested in; there is a wealth of free information out there," Koop says. If you're considering a state or national park, many have detailed trail information on their websites. Once you've narrowed things down, try out some message boards on websites dedicated to hiking and backpacking. Look for sites for groups that have members located in the area of your choice. "Those folks are more than willing to provide feedback and share their experiences,” Koop says. Search for local hiking clubs that will help a newbie learn the ways of the trail—and advise you on some easy local hikes to get you started.

For East Coast hiking, we like the local chapter websites of the National Park Service. You'll also find tons of resources and info at Backpacker magazine's website,

#4: Don’t overdo it the first time out.
Assess your own experience level and your physical ability in relation to the area and terrain you've chosen to hike in. It’s smarter to take it easy on a close-by trail for your first outings, establish a comfort level, and attempt more challenging hikes after that. According to Koop, “Your conditioning, the severity of the terrain, your experience, even the weather will play a role here." There’s no hard-and-fast rule other than to stay in your comfort zone. And when you're out on the trail, there’s no need to be a hero; if you're getting tired, turn around and head back. Remember, this is about having fun!

#5: After exploring your area, think about hitting the road.
What do the seasoned hikers seek out this time of year? “The golden aspens of the Rockies, the classic fall foliage of New England, particularly Vermont, come immediately to mind. Those are my favorites,” says Koop. But he adds that there are many other fall hiking destinations to consider, and other locations will be far less crowded. One less-traveled option for fall? Give the Great Lakes region a try. For more info, check out the Great Lakes Information Network’s hiking page.


Published on: September 24, 2009

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Pennsylvania Trails Website

Here's a great (and convenient) Pennsylvania trails website run by the PA Dept. of Conservation and Natural Resources. Find a trail, an event, a hiking group, upload pics from your hiking trip, etc. An all-around great site:

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