Read this guide before you step into nature!
There is nothing more embarrassing than a city lost in the woods. So let us know where to go, what to wear and what to bring.
That way, your first hike will be fun, adventurous, and most importantly, safe!
Today we're going to cover:
Glad that you are passionate about hiking and I can't wait for you to get started!
I took the above picture many years ago while hiking through Killarney National Park in Ireland and every time I look at it I keep thinking of Tolkien's Middle-earth masterpiece so I (not really) apologize for all that lord of the rings nerdery runs through this post!
Our community members also love hiking. In one of our recent success stories, hiking was cited as one of the fun activities she loved to do to lose 50 pounds:
By the end of today's post, my goal is for you to choose a path, pick a date, and identify a guy or girl to join your community (Galship?).
Before we jump in, are you here because you are learning to hike to lose weight? Have you heard that exercising and getting your body moving is fun?
Then you've come to the right place!
As mentioned earlier, some of the clients of our hugely popular 1-on-1 online coaching program have used hiking as part of their weight loss training. These people prefer to go outside than jump on a treadmill, and our trainers have designed a program so they can do just that!
This is how it works: Your NF coach will create a custom training plan based on your level of experience and goals. Training to climb a literal mountain? Maybe you need to get rid of an old ring? We'll create a plan to get you to the top!
Okay let's hike you!
How do I find hiking trails near me? (How do I start hiking)
When you think of hiking, you can picture a group of road-tested long-time travelers with oversized backpacks trekking through epic mountains for weeks.
Or maybe a couple of hobbits embarking on a worldwide adventure to destroy a ring of formidable power.
If you are just beginning your journey to a better lifestyle, just thinking about serious hiking can be enough to keep yourself in your comfortable hobbit hole.
Hiking can be an epic endeavor, but it doesn't have to be!
A hike can also be super easy and fun:
- A quick trip (such a great word, isn't it?) Through your local park after work.
- Explore the forest behind your house with your kids on a Saturday morning.
- A half-day hike with your friends on a fun nature trail.
- A full day or night hike that also includes camping.
Here is my definition of wandering: a person (or a halfway or self-conscious robot) exploring their surroundings and feet is on the actual ground. Like dirt. And grass.
Some might say it must be difficult to have a certain change in altitude, require a blah blah blah. It literally doesn't matter.
What matters is that you go outside and do something that you wouldn't otherwise have done.
Here in the Nerd Fitness Rebellion, hikers would fall into the Adventurer class.
If you're looking for a fun “cardio” activity and want to exercise in an exciting way, hiking is a great way to get your legs, feet, and body used to strenuous activity.
You can choose your speed and difficulty and always find the right challenge for you.
HIKING 101: 5 STEPS TO PLAN YOUR ADVENTURE
1) Decide how long you need to hike. This is a beginner's guide to hiking. We don't want to hike the Appalachian Trail. Instead, we'd like to start with trails that can be covered in less than a day that don't require you to pack a tent or bring extra clothes to change. Pick a hike based on your time – do you have the entire Sunday? Or do you only have a few hours on a Tuesday afternoon? It took Frodo and Sam 6 months to get to Mordor, but you probably don't have that much time.
However, if you wanted to "go to Mordor" I got you covered there too. You're welcome!
2) Decide whether you will hike alone or with a friend / group – I love to hike alone – it's mobile meditation for me. However, it is also more dangerous if something happens while you are on the go! If you are traveling in the wild, I would recommend meeting up with a friend or significant other for your hike. This is the perfect gluing opportunity. This is especially true if they have more hiking experience or know the area in which you are hiking.
3) Determine your level – If you are a novice hiker and are terribly out of shape, embarking on an eight hour hike through the unmapped wilderness is incredibly unintelligent. And like your mom probably told you before, "I thought you were smarter than that."
Start slowly and find places in your city where you can stop if necessary and quickly get back to your car or home. No need to be a hero; It's always better to come back excited and say, "Wow, that was easier than I expected!" than realizing that you are six hours away from home and without steam. Being a hero is cool. But not THAT kind of hero.
4) Choose your hiking location – Keep it simple! Go to AllTrails.com, enter your zip code and find your trail!
Or go to Google Maps and look for large green lots. We call these "parks". Google the park name, find out more and decide if you want to go there. Don't make this step too complicated. Just start.
Ask your active, adventurous friends or colleagues if they know of any good jobs.
The world is full of hiking trails and attractions – you just need to know where to look.
5) Regardless of where you go, let someone know where and when – If you're traveling alone, take the time to email or call someone and let them know you are going to hike and when you can expect to be back.
We don't want to hear anything over 127 hours (1) of stories about NF that would make playing video games significantly difficult.
You don't have to tell them the brand of your underwear (please tell me you are wearing underwear) or how many almonds you are bringing, but let them know the important details so they don't hear from you for a while they know the alert the relevant authorities.
So right now you should have answers to the following questions:
- How much time can you devote to hiking?
- Who you will be hiking with.
- Your experience
- Use AllTrails.com or GoogleMaps to choose your hiking location.
- Who you will tell about your hiking experience.
- How much XP will I earn with it?
This last point is about our fun new habit building app that will help you get up (literally) by walking or hiking.
You can try it for free here:
What shoes do I wear hiking? (Correct footwear)
It's easy: stilettos, your favorite mini skirt, a net halter and a raw meat vest. You're welcome!
Wait, don't do that.
I'm a big fan of feeling great without breaking the bank. You probably already have most of the clothing you need for hiking.
What shoes should I wear to wander in?
We cover shoes in detail in our article on healthy feet, but I'll cover shoes specifically for hiking here.
At Nerd Fitness, we're huge fans of Merrell products – various types of Merrell shoes have treated me well for the past decade.
Just don't let a lack of quality hiking boots stop you from hiking. If you're concerned, just to be safe, choose an easy hike with your current shoes on and head up when you can boot up your gear!
Some people hike the Appalachian Trail barefoot (must be part of the hobbit). Whatever you do, don't let your shoe options stop you from getting started. Just make sure to break in your shoes and take them on test drives! Don't take off the labels of a new pair of shoes and then go on a multi-day hike – that's a recipe for blisters and a miserable time.
Okay, let's take a look at our feet.
After doing that, let's look at a few shoe options:
LEVEL 1: Walking shoes – "Hiking shoes" are ideal if you occasionally go on simple day hikes or hikes: They have a good grip on the ground, offer sufficient support, but are not too heavy to represent an obstacle.
Here are my favorite options when looking for new easy walking shoes in the market:
- Merrell Vent hiking shoe
- Merrell Trail Glove 4 (men) – I have the blue ones. They rock.
- Merrell Trail Glove 4 (women)
Oh, what's this? "Steve, I don't have walking shoes! Is this the end of the world?”
Do you have a sports shoe Depending on the grip on the ground, they can be fine for an easy hike. If sneakers are your only option, lace them up, take a beginner's hike, and see how they work. Just be careful on slippery surfaces – your kicks may not give you the grip you need to get over them.
LEVEL TWO – hiking boots – I don't hike enough or do enough multi-day hikes to justify the cost of hiking boots, but I would refer back to Merrell boots when you're in the market.
"Why boots over shoes, Steve?"
While many prefer trail shoes (like yours, really), I can absolutely see the value of a great pair of hiking shoes if you're going on a serious hike, traveling for several days, or longer. They have more ankle support, thicker profile, thicker shoes and offer your feet significantly more protection.
REI has a great article to help you choose between trail shoes and trail boots. My advice? Before deciding whether or not to invest in big boots, start with what you have right now. Once you've built the habit of hiking and decided to make it a bigger part of your life, it's time to make the investment.
My advice? If you are looking to buy boots, go to a professional store, get dressed properly, and then break them in for many weeks before going on a trail.
Strange but fun for easy hikes: Vibram FiveFingers – I have hiked around the globe in various situations and worn my Vibrams for almost 4 years. I felt like a ninja monkey and a hobbit. I looked weird, but something just felt right when I could feel the contours of the floor below. I will say when hiking in Vibrams it can be easier to turn an ankle when stepping on a root or rock. Stepping on sharp rocks can hurt. That's why I watched my feet a lot more than expected.
I'm much more of a trail shoe type these days, but some still swear by Vibrams!
If you are looking for new boots in the market, this short video is a great introduction:
WHAT SOCKS SHOULD YOU WEAR?
Whenever you wear boots or trainers, you'll want to wear socks that won't blister you or make your feet sweaty and gross.
Depending on how long the hike is, how serious you are about hiking, and what your budget is, merino wool socks can be your deal.
Like the rest of your outfit, what you wear on your feet largely depends on a few things:
- Weather! Are you hiking in the forest and it's 72 degrees outside? Or do you hike up the mountain when it's cold?
- Shoes! Are you in light hiking shoes, light hiking socks for victory. Hike in big boots in the cold months? Big thick warm socks are almost a requirement.
- Budget! Do you buy specific socks? Long or short? Great. If you are new to hiking, just wear the athletic socks that you wear during your workout.
- What's the environment like? If you are hiking through grass, tall plants, etc. I would wear high socks (with your pants possibly tucking in too). You're not out there to win a fashion show!
Here are Switchback Travel's best 2018 hiking socks, and here's a great article from Art of Manliness on proper foot care after a hike or a jerk!
What do I wear when hiking? (Dress)
SHOULD I WEAR PANTS OR SHORTS?
Pro tip: don't go through the wilderness without pants. I cannot stress this enough.
The real advice when it comes to pants depends a lot on your surroundings. When it gets cold, shorts can make you shiver. When it gets hot, the pants may become too uncomfortable.
Jeans? Ehhhhh. For sure. ONLY when the temperature is comfortable and you have no other choice. Being sweaty and hot in jeans isn't much fun.
I'm a big fan of my nerd pants – the Columbia Silver Ridge pants. While they look kind of goofy, they're incredibly light, dry quickly, and can transform from pants to shorts in just a few seconds!
Are you traveling through forests and not sure what you will come across? Wear light pants. I'm terribly allergic to poison ivy and who knows what else, so I keep as much of my body covered as possible when hiking to make sure I don't come into contact with anything I'm allergic to. (2)
What kind of shirt should i wear?
My favorite options are long shirts and t-shirts made from merino wool: they're lightweight, wick away moisture, hide odors, and breathe easily – although you pay the highest price for them.
If you're just starting out, pick an old t-shirt and rock this – you can work on optimizing its performance once you've done a few hikes.
If you are going on a multi-day hike in a variety of conditions, it's great to wear lightweight hemin wool shirts that you can pull on and not wash. But just go for a hike in the woods in your garden? Whatever you would wear while running, exercising, etc. Aka, whatever won't rub!
SHOULD I BRING A JACKET?
I've worn this Mountain Hardware jacket on most of my hikes and it's been fantastic (10 years and up) – very light so packing is no problem, waterproof to keep me dry in the rain and heavy enough to block the wind to keep me warm when it's cold
Don't go out of your way to buy a new jacket if you have a decent windbreaker, but if you hike a lot or look for a new coat in the market, here's my advice: go to a local store and give it a try off all jackets until you find one you like.
When you find the perfect jacket, go home and check online (sometimes you can find the same jacket for up to 60% less). Then ask the local dealer if the price is the same or just buy them online.
Should i wear a hat?
You should definitely bring a hat. I usually rock my nerd fitness hat or Red Sox (Booo Yankees) hat, but when hiking in Australia I wore a hat with a huge floppy brim to protect my ears and face from the sun.
The tops of your ears and your neck are very susceptible to burns along the way. So either take sunscreen or wear a hat to cover it.
The same goes for keeping pesky things out of your hair, the sun scorching your ears and face, and keeping you a bit cooler.
What kind of backpack should I bring?
Immersing yourself in the specifics of backpacks is way beyond the scope of this article. I would recommend that you check out my friend Chase's Bag Review Youtube channel – guaranteed to have the greatest fun learning bags ever.
What would I recommend to a beginner on a hike? The bag you have right now! If you're going for a short hike, just start with the bag you have. The lighter and more convenient it is, the better.
Multi-day hikes where you live out of your pocket every day, pack and build a tent – that is beyond the scope of this article. I rocked a Kelty Coyote bag that I lived on for months and used it for multi-day hikes too.
If you have the resources and the time and are planning specific hikes, go to an outdoor specialty store, speak to a professional, and customize your body type and the type of hike you are doing!
THE MORAL OF HISTORY: VERSATILITY
If your weather forecast is "75 and sunny" and you are hiking through a gradually sloping forest in the afternoon, then you can severely limit what you bring with you.
When it's questionable or when things could change during the day, versatility is your best bet – a jacket, pants that can turn into shorts, a long sleeve shirt that you can take off or roll up your sleeves, etc.
Don't go out and buy anything new until you are sure hiking is an activity to invest in. Borrow from friends and do with what you have
NOW YOU SHOULD HAVE A BIG IDEA WHAT YOU WILL WEAR!
In your head you should say, “Steve, how can you read my mind ?!
I just decided:
- I would hike in my current sneakers.
- I have garden trousers and high socks that I can wear.
- I have a floppy hat.
I feel good to go! "
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How much water should I bring on my hike?
If there's ONE thing you shouldn't leave your home without, it's a tank of water so you can stay hydrated.
"How much water should I drink on my hike, Steve?"
Good question. I knew you were smart when you started reading this article.
As a rough guide, drink 1 liter of water every two hours. Increase this amount if you are hiking in very warm / desert-like climates.
FAVORITE WATER TANK:
I like stainless steel bottles or aluminum bottles over nalgene or reused plastic bottles, but do matter with what you have. Just make sure you bring enough water to keep yourself hydrated during your adventure.
Go on longer hikes? Get a hydration pack (which doubles as a hiking pack!) To make the water transplant more convenient.
In addition, you should have consumed water before hiking so that you do not start out with a fluid deficit.
Hangovers + early morning walks – water = bad news bears.
What equipment should I take with me on my hike? (Sun protection, knife and first aid kits)
If you're just starting out, chances are you're not going to climb to the top of a mountain in Alaska, but rather take an introductory hike that will help you build your confidence and get you rolling.
I would recommend that you bring the following on your adventure:
- Sun protection – – If it's sunny outside and you're hiking through the forest or up a mountain with a cool breeze on your face, you probably can't tell that your ears and face are absolutely on fire. Get a waterproof, sweatproof sunscreen (SPF 30 minimum) to cover your ears, cheeks, and neck.
- Bug spray – – especially if it is "this time of year" in your region when the errors fully occur. Nothing worse than coming home to arms and legs covered in insect bites.
- First aid kit – It's a good idea to have first aid items with you: plasters and moleskin for blisters and cuts, neosporin or some sort of disinfectant for cuts / scratches, and maybe a bandage or two just in case. Outdoor stores sell travel first aid kits (as does Amazon), but I advise you to make your own (you should have these things in your medicine cabinet anyway – and then you'll know exactly where it is!).
- pocket knife – Not strictly necessary when in a park, but a good thing to take with you in the forest so you are prepared for anything. Like McGyver.
- Sunglasses – You don't have to go blind along the way. You probably already have sunglasses in your house: I would recommend bringing the $ 5 sunglasses instead of the $ 250 Ray-Bans.
- mobile phone – A phone can help you rescue you in an emergency. If you have a smartphone, it can multitask as a compass, range finder, mapper, etc. Even if you have a cell phone, it's not a bad idea to bring a compass or GPS system (unless it's bright and sunny and you can find your way around).
If you're going on a long hike, it's usually quite easy to bring a lightweight phone charger that you can use to quickly charge your phone.
What food should I bring when I go hiking? What should I eat on a day hike?
You know, the stuff that keeps us alive.
The answer to that depends a lot on how long you plan to hike, what time of day, and how much you enjoy snacking. So the advice here will largely mirror the advice we give in our nutritional posts!
While this is by no means an exhaustive list of snacks, I usually like to pack these in my bag before a hike:
- nuts – almonds or walnuts. Ideal for nibbling, loaded with healthy fat and protein. Nut butters are also a great healthy fat option – my favorite is Trader Joe's raw unsalted almond butter. Ingredient: almonds! However, they are high in calories. So if you are trying to lose weight, do not take a 10 minute walk and eat 4000 calories worth of nuts. We in the industry like to call this “counterproductive”.
- fruit – I throw two or three apples in my pocket; Apples and nuts mean I have pretty much all of the fat, protein, and carbohydrates I need for my day. Things like bananas, raisins, and other fruits are also good options – choose them based on your personal preferences and tastes. Be careful with dried fruits as they can be high in sugar and calories. So don't worry about eating 5000 calories worth of dried fruit and call it healthy! This is covered in our guide, "Is Fruit Healthy?"
- Beef jerks! Make your own or go with some good quality store-bought items. Lots of protein, easy to pack and has a long shelf life. Mmmmmm.
What about trail mix or granola bars? You'd probably think granola bars and trails are synonymous with hiking, but I'm also not a fan of either unless they're homemade – these products are usually loaded with salt / sugar and processed grains and damn unhealthy.
If you choose trails, make your own with dried fruits and raw unsalted nuts. When you have no other options, tossing a few granola bars in the bag isn't the end of the world.
More tips on eating here:
Ur trail food
A book (optional) – I LOVE READING (more than I love lowercase letters) so I always travel with my Kindle. While hiking with friends can be fun, I also enjoy wandering to a secluded spot overlooking a valley or sitting by the riverside with a book so I can get lost in a story for a few hours.
If it's a multi-day hike and you're skipping tech, bringing a dead tree book is worth the extra weight in your bag!
One camera (optional) – Even though I have a camera that I travel with, most of the pictures I've taken recently were taken with my iPhone using apps like Camera + or ProHDR (which I fucking love). Both apps are worth the price.
You don't have to be a great photographer just to capture the moment to look back lovingly on an old-fashioned grandpa. Obviously, if you're a serious photographer, you've already planned to pack your DSLR so I can't go into that.
Seven hiking tips for beginners
- KNOW THE LOCAL WILDLIFE! Do a quick search on your trek to find out what types of critters you encounter along the way. If you are hiking in bear or snake land, this is very important to know. Whether you're carrying a can of bear mace or knowing what to look for, this can help you avoid serious problems. Also watch out for wild ostriches.
- CLEAN, CHECK FOR TICKS – If you are in a wooded area and carving through the wilderness, check yourself for ticks and shower with hot water and soap immediately when you get home in case you come into contact with poisonous plants or similar items. I can't tell you how many times as a kid I woke up with a puffy face from hiking through poison ivy the day before.
- TARGET FOR HIGH GROUND – I love to hike to high things: the top of a mountain, the height of a city, the roof of a building. It gives you a good half way to stop, have lunch or dinner, and enjoy the view. Plus, you already know exactly how far to go on your way down. One piece of advice on how to go down a steep mountain or many steps: shorten your stride and be sure to land on the balls of your feet with a bent knee if possible – landing thousands of steps on your heels can damage your knees and joints destroy as there is no shock absorption. I remember how painful my knees were the day after I hiked down Colca Canyon in Peru with my buddy Cash because I hadn't bothered to take my steps down and take care of my body.
- URBAN HIKING – "But Steve, I live in a city, I can't hike!" Why the hell not Charge your backpack, draw a route on Google Maps, you might even find a tall building – avoid the elevator, climb the stairs. Or, walk until you find a park, sit on a bench and read a book. Sure, it's not the same as hiking in the Rockies, but it will get your heart racing and your feet moving! As The Goonies teaches us, adventure can be found in your own backyard with the right mindset!
- KEEP IN THE LANE – If you have an iPhone or Android, download a hiking or running app to keep track of how far you go and how much you hike. While I haven't tracked my hikes abroad (I keep my phone on airplane mode when traveling), I've heard great things about RunKeeper and EasyTrails. If you have any other apps or suggestions on how to track your hikes, let me know in the comments and I'll add them here. Personally, I use a cheap Fitbit Flex 2 that tracks my steps and heights. Good enough!
- GEOCACHING – Geocaching is a lot of fun. Just go to the website, track your location, then decide which cache to look for. Think of this as a real version of Indiana Jones or Uncharted, minus the Nazis and undead warriors. We geocached in Sydney for a nerd fitness meeting and it was lovely!
- GIVE A HOOT, DON'T CONTAMINATE – Pack it up, unpack it. If you bring something, you'd better come with me. Don't leave any trash in the forest and get any extra trash you see out there. The wilderness thanks you for your service, citizens!
Not all who hike are lost (START HIKE TODAY)
This article is just an introduction to whet your appetite and get you excited to wander and explore the wonderful world around us.
Here are some other hiking resources if you want more information. Feel free to know more about me in the comments:
- Tips for Primal / Paleo hiking
- Hiking emergencies on art of manhood
- American Wandering Society
I urge you to plan a hike for the coming weekend. YES, even if you are on the opposite hemisphere and it is really cold!
Get great snacks, buckle up your shoes, grab a friend and start exploring.
I would love to hear from you about where you are going hiking this weekend.
Leave a comment below and let me know:
- Where are you going.
- When you go
- And what you look forward to the most!
- Promise you won't hike without your pants on.
- All the tips you have for your fellow hikers.
PS: Still not sure if you are ready for your big hike? I will remind you of ours again 1-to-1 online coaching program. We have clients who have successfully used the program to train for hiking on big mountains, and we'd like to see if we can help too!
PPS: If coaching isn't in your pocket, you can always use our new app to start your new adventures!
Photo credit: 77krc Mixed Nuts
All other photos from my photo stream