Hiking is more than just physical exercise. It’s also an opportunity to de-stress and connect with nature. In fact, on the best hiking trips, you’ll hardly notice that you’re exercising at all. It’s easily one of the most challenging and immersive activities that you can engage in. It’s also one that’s sure to provide impressive rewards. Best of all, hiking is absolutely free. However, before you lace up your hiking boots and take off, there are six newbie hiking tips that you definitely need to know.

Start Off Easy

Don’t make your first hike a rigorous, 10-mile stretch that takes you far out into the wilderness. One of the most important things to remember when you’re hiking is that however far you hike out, that’s how far you’ll have to walk back. Although you might feel robust and full of energy at the beginning of your trip, you’ll probably be dealing with sore muscles, tired feet, and general fatigue on your way back in. Set modest goals and gradually build your way up to more ambitious, challenging trails.

Let Someone Know Where You’re Going

It’s always a good idea to give your family members and a few close friends a heads-up about your planned hiking adventures. This way,if you get lost or injured, you can rest assured that someone will be looking for you. Give your loved ones the exact location of of your chosen path, and let them know approximately how long you’ll be gone. These details will make it infinitely easier for rangers to find you in the event that any mishaps occur.

Choose the Right Footwear

Many brand new and incredibly ambitious hikers invest in the best hiking boots they can find, or in comfortable men’s or women’s sneakers. Unfortunately, however, most wait until the day of their actual hikes to put their new boots on. Like all boots, hiking boots need to be broken in. Wearing them fresh out of the box for several miles can leave you with abrasions at the heel and painful blisters. Make sure that your hiking shoes fit and feel good, and that you’ll be comfortable wearing them for several miles. Look for options that offer good arch support and a generous amount of flexibility at the mid-portion of the foot. Some of the top options in hiking boots are relatively lightweight, and have breathable outer materials, or inner materials with natural wicking properties. These features will limit the likelihood of foot fatigue and keep your feet nice and dry.

Pack Extra Socks and Outerwear

No matter how short you intend your trip to be, or how good the weather is when you start out, be sure to pack extra socks and extra outwear. Dressing in layers in smart. You can always take unnecessary layers off, but if you don’t bring them along, adding additional warm layers will prove impossible. One of the best ways to avoid foot problems is by packing extra socks. This way, if you step into an unseen puddle or build up a nice sheath of foot sweat, you can stop and put on a clean, dry pair. When it comes to preventing excess sweating and chaffing, synthetic or wool socks are far preferable to cotton ones. There are a number of lightweight, insulated jackets that can be rolled or folded into a compact bundle and stowed in your backpack or pocket. If the temperature drops before you get home, you won’t have to worry about hypothermia.

Practice Good Hydration and Bring Plenty of Sustenance

The best way to hydrate while hiking is in slow sips. Don’t wait until you’re thirsty and then try to gulp down massive amounts of water at once. In fact, remember that thirst is actually an early and sure sign of mounting dehydration. Carry a large-sized water bottle or a top-rated, portable water filter. Drinking steadily throughout the day will keep your energy levels high, and prevent headaches, dizziness, and other common dehydration symptoms. You should also pack plenty of nutrient-dense and high-protein snacks. Trail mix, nuts, small packets of nut butters, jerky, dried fruits, and granola bars are all good options.

Be Ready for Anything

Always be prepared for the unexpected. This means carrying a lightweight yet comprehensive first aid kit, and a complete bug-out bag in case you need to take shelter. If you’ll be hiking deep into the woods, you should also bring along a knife and bear mace. Although you might have a hard time seeing yourself as using these things, you’ll be remiss to find yourself without them if confronted by a grizzly, a mountain lion, or any other aggressive predator.

Becoming a true trailblazer can be absolutely life-changing. Learning how to plan safe, productive, and enjoyable hikes will make you more mindful, more peaceful, and better able to shed the stress of everyday living. With the tips above, you’ll be well-prepared for any surprises that the trail throws your way.

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