When it comes to planning your first hike there’s lots to think about, such as where to go? What clothing should you wear? And what essentials should you bring with you in order to be ready for whatever the elements might throw at you? In this article I’m going to be talking you through everything you need to know about going for your first proper hike.
I’m Jack, and back in 2020 I walked 476 miles from Heck Q in North Yorkshire, all the way to Bude beach in Cornwall! I completed this challenge in December. Yes… cold, windy and very wet December! Having not really had much experience prior, I had it all to learn and I’m very grateful to have had a successful trip with no major issues along the way. I completed the walk in 29 days, averaging on 18 miles per day. (I walked a few extra miles due to poor directions, signs or lack of concentration).
So where to start?! Here’s a list of points I’ll be covering, so if you have anything in particular you would like to know feel free to skim to that point.
- Benefits of hiking
- How to plan and prepare
- What to pack
- What clothing should you wear?
- What food and drink should you bring with you?
- Safety tips
- What to do post hike?
- Hiking etiquette
BENEFITS OF HIKING.
You don’t need me to tell you that going for walk out in the fresh air is good for you, but it is worth noting a few benefits that stood out to me when out on a big hike. First of all, it’s free and accessible to everyone! It’s totally up to you what kind of hike you plan, be that to the summit of your local peak or keeping it flat along your local canal, there really is something for everyone. They can be as long or as short as you like, and you can work to increase your milage over time which is a great feeling. A big one for me when hiking is that it’s a great time to switch off from your busy day-to-day life and appreciate the outdoors. Many other benefits include reducing risk of stroke, reducing anxiety, loneliness & depression, along with improved balance, co-ordination and joint flexibility.
HOW TO PLAN AND PREPARE
Planning your route and preparing yourself for a big hike is essential. First of all, you need to choose your hike. You can do this by searching on Google ‘hikes near me”. You’ll then be able to browse local hiking groups, forums, websites, blogs and apps. An app I would recommend and that I used for my walk to Cornwall is ‘ViewRanger’. This has thousands of hikes to offer, all you have to do is put in your location. Within ‘ViewRanger’ you can also plot your own route which is a really great feature and it’s pretty easy to use. Ordinance Survey maps are available within ‘ViewRanger’ (for a small charge), which makes navigating the route much simpler, especially because GPS tracks your location, so it shows you exactly where you are in relation to the route. I’d recommend taking a look at some videos on Youtube where there’s plenty of explanations around how to read and navigate when using an OS map.
Things to consider when choosing a route is location, distance, elevation and time. Knowing how many miles your route will be is helpful when it comes to preparing your gear which we will come on to shortly. I tend to walk at around 2.5 miles per hour, so I divide the miles that my route is by 2.5 to estimate how long the route is likely to take. For example, if I were to do a 12-mile hike I simply divide twelve by two point five, which equals four point eight, so I’d know the hike is likely to take around five hours without any breaks. Elevation gain (hills) can play a part in slowing you down so it’s good to have an idea of this before you set off.
Checking weather conditions specifically for the area you will be hiking is a must! Check the night before and again before you set off. This will give you valuable information on how to dress and what to pack. If the weather is forecast to be awful, it will give you the chance to alter your plans instead of getting caught out and have an unexpected surprise whilst out.
I use an app called Strava to track all of my walks & adventures. It’s easy to use and tracks information such as mileage, pace, elevation gain and plenty more if you own a smart watch. It’s definitely worth checking out!
WHAT CLOTHES TO WEAR?
HIKING BOOTS - A good pair of walking boots is essential when it comes to hiking. They offer support, grip and stability across all terrains. I wore some boots from the brand ‘Hoka One One’, and the model’s name is ‘Sky Kaha’. I’d highly recommend these as they’re nice and light, have good grip and also have quite a high sole to help you step through puddles.
WATERPROOF JACKET - A waterproof jacket helps to keep everything underneath warm and dry, so definitely a must in the British wintertime. I rep a RAB Firewall; it’s windproof, have lots of pockets and also has perspiration zips to help cool down when climbing those big hills.
INSULATED JACKET – There’s nothing worse than being cold out on a big hike, so a nice warm, preferably down, insulated jacket to throw on when you stop for a quick break is a must. I use a Jack Wolfskin Helium Jacket and although it’s probably too hot to wear whilst walking, it is great for lunch stops or when the weather gets really cold. An advantage to lots of down jackets that are on the market today is they pack into a small, compact bag, so don’t take up too much room in your rucksack.
GOOD SOCKS - A decent pair of socks can make or break your hike. Avoid cotton at all costs! I’d suggest you invest in a pair that are synthetic or even better, made from merino wool. These will help to retain heat even when wet. Pack some blister dressings too, just in case you experience any irritation. I have a great pair of waterproof socks by Bridgedale, but Darn Tough also make some great socks. It’s always a good idea to pack a spare pair of socks in your rucksack.
WATERPROOF TROUSERS - Same as the waterproof jacket, waterproof trousers help to keep everything underneath warm and dry, so another essential to keep in your bag if you’re faced with some wet & windy weather. I had a Berghaus pair with me at all times. For fairer weather, I wore a pair of Under Armour trousers; they’re water repellent and most importantly breathable.
WICKING BASE LAYER - Similar to sock, try and opt for a wool or synthetic base layer as opposed to cotton, as it’s far better at retaining heat when wet.
WARM LIGHTWEIGHT FLEECE - Great for wearing as a mid-layer. Multiple layers are a good idea because warm air is trapped within each item of clothing, and so you can either put something on, or take something off depending on your temperature requirements.
HAT & GLOVES - A wool hat is another essential and can be used to control your temperature. I just whipped mine off when climbing a big hill to prevent overheating.
RUCKSACK – I’d suggest you invest in a comfortable rucksack to carry all of your essentials, clothing, food, water etc. The size and capacity of your bag will depend on the type of hike you’re going on. A chest & waist strap is beneficial so that your bag sits in the correct position. If you don’t carry your bag correctly it could cause some painful injuries. When purchasing a rucksack, most outdoor shops are really helpful in advising the right bag for you. Because I was carrying lots of items such my tent, cooking stove etc. I had a Osprey Rook 65 (litre). I had no back troubles at all!
WHAT TO PACK?
I guess this part depends on how long your hike is set to be, but these are what I would consider to be essentials on most hikes during British winter.
NAVIGATION - I always use my phone and the ViewRanger app. It’s recommended to take a map with you on a hike for back up. I managed my walk to Cornwall purely using View Ranger. Only thing to consider when using your phone for navigation is battery life and durability - I always pack a power bank and use a hefty waterproof phone case to prevent any mishaps.
WATER - I have a 2L Osprey water reservoir that slips into the back of my rucksack and makes it far easier to grab a drink on-the-go, as it comes with a straw that attaches to the chest strap on your rucksack. If I feel I have a tough hike ahead of me, I’ll throw an extra bottle (around 1.5L) with some electrolytes in there to keep me going.
FOOD - Whenever I have a big hike planned, I make sure I have a decent breakfast before I set off and some oat bars to chomp on throughout the day. Dependant on the length of the walk I’ll pack some lunch too. Just make sure its lightweight, well packaged (so it doesn’t get squished or wet), and ideally contains high carbs & calories.
CLOTHING FOR ALL CONDITIONS - as mentioned above, it’s great to be prepared for anything as the weatherman isn’t always correct.
TORCH / HEAD TORCH - So that you can see and be seen when dark.
FIRST AID KIT - a small first aid kit because you never know if you or others may need it.
LIP BALM - To save those lips when it’s cold out. You may need one that contains SPF depending on weather.
BUM BAG – This isn’t a necessity but handy to store/grab bits such as lip balm, phone, gloves without taking your big bag off.
CAMERA - There are many opportunities for a great photo in the great outdoors!
- Research your route & make sure you have navigation or a map
- Check local amenities; food & drink, parking etc…
- Pack essential items
- Wear correct clothing for conditions
- Wear adequate footwear
- Make sure to let somebody know where you’re heading
- Check the weather forecast
- Stay hydrated & keep energy levels high with the right foods
- Stick to the route
- LEAVE NO TRACE
- PRIORITY ON TRIALS, GENRAL RULE; Horse, Hikers, Bikers
- GIVE WAY TO PEOPLE GOING UP HILL
- SAY HELLO & SMILE
So, there you have it, everything you need to know before you prepare for your first hike. The main point of this article is to encourage you to get outside and get your daily dose of fresh air! This is achievable without a huge list of equipment, but should you be looking to venture into the wilderness and mountains then you should be well prepared. Now what you waiting for? Get out there and show ‘em what you’re made of…