Day Hiking for Beginners [8 Essential Tips]

I know going on a day hike for the first time can seem overwhelming. I’m here to make things a little easier for you with my top tips for beginner hikers!

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Day hiking is a great way to experience the outdoors, get some exercise, and even take a break from social media. I want you to set yourself up for a successful and safe hike, so proper planning, preparation, and gear are all really important.

If you’re a beginner hiker, this post is for you!

Disclaimer: This post cannot alert you to every single hazard. It is intended to provide general information. When you follow any of the procedures described here, you assume responsibility for your own safety.


8 Tips for Beginner Hikers

Tip #1: Tell someone where you’re going and when you’re expected to be back.

This is such an easy and quick thing to do before a hike. Your plan should consist of the four w’s: the who, what, when, and where.

  • Who – Who is going? Is it just me or am I going with friends?
  • What – What activity am I taking off to do? For example, a trailhead might have access to a river for fishing, hiking trails, and/or ATV trails. If someone came to the area you said you would be in, they need to know exactly what activity you’re actually doing for each day of the trip.
  • When – When do you plan on leaving? When do you plan to be back?
  • Where – Where are you going? Be very specific. Give trail names. You can even leave coordinates. A trailhead parking lot might have access to multiple trails. You need to leave information about exactly where you are going.

This information should be sent off to three or four responsible friends or family members before your hike.

Tip #2: Start small.

I’m an advocate for starting small.

For example, if you’ve never gone on a hike, then going on a strenuous multi-day backpacking trip is not a good idea. It would be better to start with a short local day hike. Start small, get experience with your gear, and then build up your confidence and abilities.

Along with starting small is knowing where your deficiencies are and what you’re comfortable with.

For example, if you’re really uncomfortable with heights, don’t go on a hike that requires you to scramble up a steep slope over boulders with drop-offs.

Use common sense and assess the risk along with your abilities so you don’t get yourself into situations where you’re uncomfortable.

Tip #3: Make sure everyone in your hiking group knows the hiking plan.

If you’re hiking with other people (which I recommend), make sure everyone in the group knows the route you’re planning to hike.

If you’re hiking with experienced hikers, make sure you’re an active participant in the planning and navigation.

It’s tempting to let other more experienced hikers plan everything, but I really recommend that you make sure you also know the plan and be prepared to navigate.

If you get separated from the group for some reason, you need to know where you are and how to get back to the trailhead.

In addition, knowing the plan will help you mentally prepare for the distance and duration of the hike.

You don’t want to end up on a hike that is too challenging or technical for you. It is so crucial that you know and understand what type of hike you’re getting ready to do.

For example, you should know the mileage, elevation gain, and starting/ending elevations before the hike.

Tip #4: Carry the proper gear (that you know how to use).

The day hiking essentials are the things you should carry on every day hike.

If something unexpected happens and you have to stay out longer than you thought, you’re going to be so glad you packed these things.

In short, the essentials include extra food, extra water, extra clothing, a knife, first aid, illumination, a way to start a fire, an emergency shelter, sun protection, navigation, and communication.

While this might seem like a lot for a day hike, I assure you that it’s not. Most of these things are very small and lightweight!

They won’t take up much space in your backpack and they really are important.

Other factors like the time of year, location, distance, duration, and the weather should also be considered when packing.

Knowing how to use the gear is just as important as packing it.

A map and compass won’t help you navigate if you don’t know how to use them! Take the time to properly set up and practice using your gear.

Tip #5: Check the weather right before your trip. 

Of course you want to check the weather before your trip, however, the weather can change quickly in the mountains.

Sometimes, if the area you’re planning to hike is remote, it can be really hard to even find a weather forecast for that exact location. That’s why it’s important to pack extra layers, and rain gear. (Extra clothes are part of the day hiking essentials mentioned above.)

When I go hiking in the mountains, I always bring my rain jacket, even if there’s no chance of rain.

If the weather forecast predicts crappy weather, consider hiking another day. You don’t want to be out hiking in exposed areas during a lightning storm.

Tip #6: Be aware of local wildlife.

Do some research on the local wildlife in the area that you’re hiking.

For example, if you’re traveling in bear country, you might need to pack bear spray and in the desert, there are rattlesnakes and so you might want to consider wearing high-top boots.

It’s important to know what animals are around, so that you can take additional precautions and learn how to avoid them.

LEARN MORE >> 7 Tips for Desert Hiking (that you NEED to know)

Tip #7: Remember to look up.

Going for a hike is an awesome way to clear your head, get some exercise, and take a step back from social media and the demands of your to-do list.

I’ve noticed that a lot of beginner hikers spend the entire hike looking down at their feet.

This makes sense, because you don’t want to trip over something, but it also means that you’re not looking around at the scenery.

Make sure you stop throughout your hike to take a deep breath, look up, and notice nature all around you. It’s a good habit to take mental notes of landmarks as you hike to help keep you oriented on the trail.

Tip #8 Be self-aware and proactive.

When hiking, rest before you’re tired, drink before you’re thirsty, remove clothing layers before you’re hot, and add on clothing layers before you’re cold.

Make sure you’re aware of your needs and taking care of yourself!

If you’re with a group of more experienced hikers and you need to take a break, speak up! Tell them that you’d like to rest for a few minutes.

If you’re lost: stop, sit, drink, and think. Keep calm and keep thinking.

Always make sure that you PLAN and research every hike and tell someone where you’re going, make sure that you’re PHYSICALLY ready for the duration and challenge of the hike, and PREPARE with the proper gear, clothing, and navigation.

You are responsible for yourself!

RELATED >> What I Pack on a Day Hike (my day hiking essentials)

I hope you find these tips for day hiking helpful!

When I first started hiking, I didn’t know what I was doing, and I learned a lot of these hiking tips the hard way. I hope this blog post saves you some time.

Other day hiking resources you might like:

Please check out some of the other related blog posts linked throughout this post for more information.

I want you to feel confident and prepared on the trails, so if you have any questions, ask me in the comments below.

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