5 Experts Weigh In – What You Need To Know Before The Hike

prepare for beginners hike
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Beginner Hikers Rejoice – Your Prayers FAQ’s Have Been Answered

Everyone and their mother (myself included) set a New Year’s resolution to hike into the wilderness a little more. I planned a series of breathtaking hikes through the state, but I’ll be honest, I had no clue what to pack, wear, or prep with, so I decided the best fix was to quiz some mighty mountain people in a quest for wisdom. I was lucky to get some invaluable advice from friends, fellow bloggers, and dope ass adventurers. This feedback was an absolute godsend to read before I hit the trail. This is an excellent resource for beginners like me to prepare for their next hike. Make sure to comment with any handy tips, hikes, or additional questions you might have!

Meet The Experts

Ashliegh of www.darlingnomadess.com

I live in Vail, Colorado which is located right in the middle of the Rocky Mountains. This area offers a lot of wonderful hikes. I’ve also been hiking since I was young. I spent my summers at my grandparents’ cabin in the Appalachian Mountains. In 2016, I hiked 7 national parks.

Raechel of www.northwestwanderers.wordpress.com 

I have a BA in Environmental Education and 10+ years of outdoors experience in hiking, backpacking, skiing and climbing.

Kaitlyn of www.gettingitdoneinc.tumblr.com

I have hiked over 500 miles on the Pacific Crest Trail in Washington state. I mountain biked in local forests for 3 years and hike random mountains and trails throughout Washington whenever I have free time.

Sara of www.lostinthepacificnorthwestblog.wordpress.com

I’ve been hiking for my entire life (my mom even hiked while she was pregnant with me). The PNW is my home turf and what I know the most about, but I’ve also hiked in China, Iceland and Sweden.

Theresa of www.pnwtraillovers.com

I’ve been hiking since I was a kid, but it became a more essential and consistent part of my life back in 2014 after I completed grad school and had more time to get outside. I wouldn’t call myself an expert, but I definitely have lots of experience hiking and backpacking in a variety of conditions. I tend to err on the side of caution, so, before getting really into hiking and backpacking, I did a lot of research (read books, attended seminars, sifted through numerous gear reviews, etc.) I also had the pleasure of participating in a NOLS course (https://www.nols.edu/en/), which helped further my backcountry knowledge and skills.

The Questions

Where do you find great hiking shoes and what should I expect to spend?

Ashliegh: I have a pair of Columbia’s that I purchased from Sport Authority. They were roughly $125.

Raechel: A great hiking shoe is one that fits your foot and needs. Sometimes you can find a well-fitting leather shoe at a big box store for $50 while some people may have different technical and fit requirements that require them to spend $200 or more at a fancy outdoor store. I prefer to shop at locally owned outdoor stores whenever possible. Make sure you talk with a good shoe salesperson prior to purchasing your shoes to ensure you are getting a product that fits your needs. Once you have found the perfect shoe take the time after hikes to clean them off to ensure the shoes longevity. I clean and dry my shoes after every hike using a shoe brush (if there is a lot of dried mud) or a clean rag. One to two times a year (depending on the weather) I re-waterproof my shoes using any waterproofing conditioner I have on hand (brand does not matter but be sure to check the conditioner on a hidden spot to see if it will discolor the material).

Kaitlyn: REI is the way to go for anything hiking. I’ve searched Big 5, Target, Fred Meyer, JcPenny’s, etc. REI is the only way to go. I spent close to $200 on my Gore-tex with Vibram soles, La Sportivas. I just bought this pair three years ago, in the likes of my previous pair with Gore-tex and Vibram soles that lasted me well over ten years before they started talking to me.

Sara: I like to browse gear reviews like OutdoorGearLab.com and I also shop sales and discount websites like steepandcheap.com.

Theresa: REI usually carries a decent selection of hiking footwear and they have an awesome return policy. Local outdoor retailers are also great places to check out. Expect to spend anywhere between $100 and $200 on a decent pair of boots or trail shoes. If you plan on getting into mountaineering, expect to spend quite a bit more ($300 to $700) for specialty boots.

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What kind of clothing do you wear hiking? What do I wear for different weather conditions?

Ashliegh: I wear a pair of khaki hiking shorts and a sport bra, and a tank top. I keep a lightweight rain jacket in my backpack.

Raechel: I always stand by the age-old adage “cotton is rotten”. The only time cotton is preferable is in dry desert conditions, but please consult local experts, guides or rangers for their preferred gear setup. I prefer wool garments made by companies such as WoolX, and Ibex. But generally any synthetic material should do. In summer I like to wear shorts, a tank top, and a long sleeve shirt. I also always carry a baseball hat, sunglasses, and buff headband. In my pack in addition to the 10 essentials I carry a down jacket (or synthetic if it is raining/wet) and either a windbreaker or rain jacket. I run cold so in the winter and off-season months I wear two-three pairs of synthetic long underwear pants with fleece leggings and rain pants. On top I wear a short sleeve shirt, long sleeve, half-zip shirt, a fleece pullover, down or synthetic jacket and then a rain jacket. I also wear a warm hat and two pairs of gloves in addition to two pairs of socks.

Kaitlyn: I wear one pair of pants for a week-long trip, no point in ever bringing anything more than that one pair, it’s pointless. Light weight nylon pants that zip off into shorts. They are great and usually come with side pockets… ALSO don’t forget those long johns! Between the two of those, you are set for pants. I usually bring a long sleeve long john shirt and a single t-shirt. Also a tank top, with boob support and a sports bra. Undies and socks of course. REI has the thick socks you want and I like booty shorts for undies 100% of the time.

Sara: Anything breathable, and I try to avoid cotton. It rains a lot here so I wear water-resistant clothing and always bring a rain coat.

Theresa: It’s all about layers and synthetic/non-cotton clothing! Here’s a brief breakdown of what I prefer for different seasons/conditions:

– Top: synthetic t-shirt or tank top (wearing); softshell jacket
(carrying) for potential changes in weather
– Bottom: lightweight nylon shorts or pants, sometimes
running tights
Spring and Fall:
– Top: same as Summer, but sometimes a synthetic long
sleeve shirt/base layer if it’s colder (wearing); softshell
jacket and, if precipitation is in the forecast, a hardshell
jacket (carrying); on occasion, if temps are low, an insulated
down jacket (carrying)
– Bottom: lightweight nylon pants, softshell pants, or running
tights (wearing); if precipitation is in the forecast, a pair of
hardshell pants (carrying)
– Top: synthetic long sleeve shirt/base layer and softshell
jacket (wearing); down jacket and, if necessary due to
forecast, hardshell jacket (carrying)
– Bottom: softshell pants with running tights underneath
(wearing); if weather calls for them or I’ll be in deep snow, a
pair of hardshell pants (carrying)
General accessories:
– Liner gloves for Spring, Summer, and Fall (granted weather
is dry); waterproof gloves for Winter or cold, wet, snowy
– Buff! A great piece of gear that can act as several different
things, including a neck gaiter, a headband/bandana, and a
beanie; I bring one on all my outdoor adventures no matter
the season
– Always bring an extra pair of socks! On cold, snowy hikes, I
usually wear two pairs and carry a third
– Gaiters for keeping debris out of your shoes; I usually wear
lightweight, stretchy ones (like Dirty Girl gaiters) most of the
year, but I’ll bust out my Goretex ones (that come up to just
below my kneecap) for treks in deep snow or on hikes where
there might be several high water creek/river crossings

Do you use hiking poles? Why?

Ashliegh: I do not. I find that they just get in my way and I don’t like to carry a lot with me.

Raechel: I use hiking poles while backpacking and on trails that have steep descents. I have bad knees and find I am not as sore the next day if I use hiking poles.

Kaitlyn: I do!! I have a super lightweight set of poles that lengthen out and shorten for easy storage and packing. They are amazing on hills when your legs are ready to give out on you after a long day and they are easy to just tie back up to your pack when you have the energy!

Sara: If I’m going on a particularly steep hike or if I’m backpacking to help support my knees. I don’t use them for most day hikes.

Theresa: Yes! Trekking poles have been a lifesaver for my joints on steep hikes and on backpacking trips where I’m carrying 25+ lbs of gear on my back. They’re also great for stabilizing yourself during a creek crossing, checking snow or water depth, use as a trowel or tent stake, and general protection if you happen to encounter an aggressive animal (or human).

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How do you tell the difference between a hike that’s good for experts and a hike that’s good for beginners?

Ashliegh: I look at the elevation changes and the amount of time that those changes take place. If there’s a large elevation change in a short amount of time, that hike is more suitable for experts.

Raechel: A beginner hike is generally short 1-5 miles and with little elevation gain. Sites like Washington Trail Association generally mention the hazards present on a trail. A good beginner trail will be well-maintained and have minimal fallen trees and other obstacles. If you are on a trail that is marked as beginner but you are beginning to feel uncomfortable or unsafe turn back. There is no shame in not completing a hike or backpacking trip. It is always better to be safe than sorry. Things can and do go wrong frequently in the wilderness even in well-used and well-marked areas.

Kaitlyn: Elevation gain!!! I like to use my favorite mountain as an example – it’s 4.5 miles uphill with 4500 ft elevation gain. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve hiked this mountain, over a dozen. I’d hike it at midnight and make it up to the top by sunrise. I first did this when I was 12 years old and it was an extreme challenge for me then, but has since become easier for me. Still, it takes me 5 hours or so to hike it, regardless of my age. I would consider this a hard hike. 4000 ft in 5 hours. Anything more than that is expert. That is solely how I gauge it’s level. If it’s less than 1000 ft per couple hours, it will be doable. A good beginning hike might be a couple thousand ft gain in a day hike. But… I consider myself an expert and don’t do too many beginner hikes.

Sara: A good beginner hike should be fairly popular so if a newbie gets into trouble there’s a higher chance of other people being around who can help. It should also be shorter and not have much elevation gain. As people get more experience and fitness they can go for the more difficult back country hikes.

Theresa: Most websites dedicated to hiking trails will rate the hike (easy, moderate, difficult, very difficult, expert) and provide details about the terrain. Elevation gain and mileage tend to be the biggest factors in rating a hike. Beginner hikes will usually have lower mileage and less elevation gain.

Where/how do you find out about hikes in the area?

Ashliegh: Living in Vail, CO, we have hiking maps available at all of the hotels and tourism offices.

Raechel: In Washington State I use the Washington Trail Association’s (WTA) online trail finder website to find good hikes in my area. I also primarily rely on word-of-mouth for discovering new places.

Kaitlyn: MeetUp.com, Pacific Crest Trail, anything near the PCT, or I just Google search it. Washington is amazing.

Theresa: theoutbound.com, outdoorproject.com, Oregon (and some Washington) hikes: oregonhikers.org, Washington hikes: wta.org, Map resource: caltopo.com/map.html, Numerous Instagram accounts @pnwonderland @pnwdiscovered @oregonexplored @washingtonexplored, Local hiking groups on Facebook and Meetup

Any other sage wisdom for new hikers?

Raechel: Remember to appreciate the plants, animal tracks and sights you find along the trail. It is not a race to the top.

Kaitlyn: If you think you might not need it, you probably don’t. Don’t forget your whistle, your thermal blanket (small thin silver blanket, amazing life saver if you get lost), mosquito repellant, maybe a mosquito net for your face! Duct tape can be wrapped around your water bottle so you don’t have to bring the whole thing. Don’t forget mole skin… it’s pretty much up there with water on importance, pocket knife to cut it. Cheese, salami, pb + honey mix in a squeeze tube, nuts. MSR Pocket rocket is THE hiker’s stove. 1 small thing of fuel should work for 3 days of hiking. REI has all the best pre-made freeze-dried food and I would suggest literally every meal they have. On longer hikes make sure you keep track of where you will be filling up your water, where you will have access to water to filter. You will need a water filter for more than two days. Platypus “kamel-backs” are the jam.

Sara: Stay cautious. Every year at least one person in my area dies from either going where they’re not supposed to go (e.g. near the edge of a cliff) or not being prepared for the trail conditions. Check conditions before you go, always obey signs and keep emergency survival gear on you at all times.

Theresa: Always be prepared and do your research for your own protection and to protect the environment you plan to explore. Educating yourself on the 10 Essentials (https://www.rei.com/learn/expert-advice/ten-essentials.html) and Leave No Trace principles (https://lnt.org/learn/7-principles) should be a top priority before heading out into the backcountry.

After studying up and getting this fantastic advise, I feel way more prepared for my next mountain adventure, don’t you? These ladies have been SO helpful, I really appreciate their input. Make sure to check out their blogs as each of them have fantastic and interesting stories to share!

This post includes affiliate links which boosts my travel & dog treat buying funds!

prepare for beginners hike

Author: Mercae

Travel writing is my dream job. With the help of the fantastic people in my life, I get to share the beauty of my home with the world. It fuels my soul to spend every day looking forward to my next adventure here in the Pacific Northwest.

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