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How to Start Hiking

How to Start Hiking

By Erin Trombley

So, you’d like to take up hiking. You may be motivated by the growing popularity of hiking and its health benefits, which include stress reduction and improved fitness. Or maybe you’re looking for a new adventure!  No matter your reason, taking up hiking is a great idea. Let’s talk about how to get started.

Step 1: Buddy Up

First, find a friend or hiking buddy. A hiking buddy is there to share the experience, keep you company, and lend a hand. But most importantly, we recommend hiking with one or more people so that if one of you becomes injured, another can either assist in getting back to your vehicle or find help.

We recommend finding someone whose hiking pace is similar to yours. You can test out that pace compatibility by taking a walk around your neighborhood. As a slow hiker myself, I can attest that having a buddy who shares your pace can make a huge difference in how much you both enjoy the experience. It could be helpful for this person to have some hiking experience, though it’s not absolutely necessary.

Step 2: Make a Plan

Start by asking yourselves: “How far do we want to travel for this hike? How long or far do we want to hike? How strenuous would we like it to be?”

Once you have a general idea of the region and type of hike you want to take, contact someone who knows the area well to make recommendations and tell you what to expect. If you’re planning a hike in the Lake Placid region, contact our Cascade Welcome Center or High Peaks Information Center staff, who can help point you in the right direction.

With your destination set, you’ll want to get a paper map (and guidebook, if available) for the area. ADK maps, for example, will show you elevation gain, landmarks, and various trails you have to choose from. These tools will not only help you plan your hiking route but are essential for navigation too.

As you plan ahead for your hike, now is a great time to familiarize yourselves with the 7 Leave No Trace Principles, which will help guide you through a safe and low-impact experience.

Step 3: Select Your Gear

You’re going to need to get your 10 Essentials together first. The 10 Essentials include food, water, layers, safety equipment, and more. You’ll want to pack a few additional items depending on the season, expected weather, terrain type, and route elevation gain. We’ll assume for now that you’re packing for a day hike in late spring, summer, or early autumn, which requires less gear.

  • Shoes. This can be a hot topic, but let’s keep it simple. Your footwear needs to be comfortable, broken-in, suitable for the trail surface, and stay firmly affixed to your feet. For most hikes, you can expect a mix of smooth rocks, bumpy roots, gravel, and mud. The more rugged the terrain, the more durable you’ll want your footwear to be. Whatever you choose, you’ll want good traction on all these surfaces. If conditions warrant special gear like microspikes for ice (possible sometimes even into summer) or gaiters for deep mud, consider that as well when choosing your footwear.
  • A day pack. Packs made for hiking are tough, lightweight, and measured in size by liters. A suggested day pack size is 15-20 liters. If you want to use a backpack you already have, assemble your supplies and see if they fit inside. Then put it on to check for comfort.
  • Clothing. Beyond the garb mentioned in the 10 Essentials, you’ll want to start off with layers of synthetic or wool material (including undergarments) appropriate for conditions at the trailhead and add or take away layers as you go. Avoid cotton since it holds moisture against your skin, increasing the risk of hypothermia.
  • Rain gear. Even if the forecast calls for blue skies and sunshine, there’s a chance the weather will turn, especially at high elevations. Few things are more miserable than walking around soaking wet, again, increasing your risk of hypothermia. Pack a waterproof jacket or rain poncho, and if you have rain pants, you might want to bring those too.
  • A walking stick or trekking pole. This is optional, but on rugged terrain and uneven surfaces, you may find a stick or pole very helpful for balance and support.

Step 4: Share the Plan

Before you go, give your itinerary to someone and plan to touch base after your hike. You might not have cell service or battery to call for assistance if you get lost or injured. If your contact doesn’t hear from you or can’t reach you by a designated time, they can get help with the details you shared.

Step 5: Have Fun!

As you embark on your hike, remember that a hike is just a long walk. It’s not necessary to push yourself to the limit for it to be a “real” hike (though you can if you wish). It’s also unnecessary to buy expensive gear to start. If you discover a love for hiking and it becomes part of your lifestyle, you can upgrade later to specialized gear or gadgets that make things a little easier. (And buying second-hand can save a bundle!)

Finally, you don’t need to look a certain way, be a certain shape or size, age or ethnicity to hike. New York’s public lands and waters are for everyone, so get out there and enjoy them!

Learn More

Visit our YouTube channel for tons of resources like “Setting a Turnaround Time on the Trail” and other short videos to help you have a safe, low-impact, and successful experience on the trail.


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