Saturday, December 9

The Complete Guide to Mountain Hiking for Beginners


While Americans often end up as the butt of jokes for leading sedentary lives, it’s not true across the board. Many people enjoy outdoor activities like running and hiking. Courtesy of Covid, hiking saw a huge uptick in popularity with a little under 58 million people giving it a go in 2020 alone.

Of course, some people like to push the difficulty level of their outdoor activities and that holds with hikers. When regular hiking isn’t enough, you can always try mountain hiking.

Not familiar with mountain hiking? Keep reading for our guide to mountain hiking and some key tips for beginners.

What Is Mountain Hiking?

When most people think of hiking, what they imagine is lowland hiking. You essentially walk through relatively level terrain out in a natural setting, such as the woods or the desert. It’s usually done near to where you live.

Mountain hiking exists as a kind of midpoint between lowland hiking and mountaineering or mountain climbing. The key difference between mountain hiking and mountain climbing is technical skill.

Mountain climbers typically use a wide array of gear, such as ropes, crampons, carabiners, and even harnesses to ascend mountains. Using that gear safely to climb a mountain takes training and skill.

Mountain hiking takes some basic gear, such as sturdy boots and a rugged backpack, but generally requires no special training. The objective of mountain hiking is, however, generally to reach the top of a mountain.

So, with the basic definitions out of the way, let’s look at some tips that will make your mountain hiking experience a successful one.

Get in Shape

Yes, you can potentially use mountain hiking as your method for getting in shape, but it’s not the best plan. Mountain hiking takes a fair amount of endurance. That’s especially true if you want to reach a summit.

Spend some time working on your endurance. If you’re just getting back in shape, start with walks and extend them over time until you can comfortably walk several miles.

Upgrade your walks to lowland hiking. Even with lowland hiking on trails, the terrain is rougher and more like what you’ll face on mountain trails.

Practice on lowland trails for a while until you can comfortably hike for most of the day. While not every mountain hiking trail will prove an all-day affair, many of them will.

Gear Up

You’ll want the right gear for your mountain hiking adventure. Some of the gear is straightforward, such as appropriate footwear, a waterproof backpack, and sun protection. Think in terms of sunscreen, a hat, and sunglasses.

Beyond that, you must pack with a couple of scenarios in mind: getting hurt and getting lost. In terms of getting hurt, you need some basic hiking safety gear, such as a first aid kit in your pack.

To address the problem of getting lost, you should carry several items, including:

  • Map
  • Compass
  • Lightweight tent
  • Fire starter kit
  • Extra clothing

Also, don’t forget about snacks for hiking. Dried fruit, nuts, jerky, and hard cheese are good options. Always take extra water, even if you don’t think you’ll need it.

Buddy Up

In the early days, especially on your first few mountain hikes, look for someone with mountain hiking experience to go with you. Hiking with someone is typically safer.

Plus, going with a more experienced hiker lets you pick their brain as you go. They can give tips on everything from pacing your hike to the kinds of food you want to bring and estimating how long a trial will take you.

There is very little that can replace getting advice from someone with firsthand experience.

Mind the Weather

Once you get up into the mountains, you’ll find that shelter becomes difficult to find. That makes weather a much more serious threat than you might normally find it at lower elevations.

If the weather indicates some potential for thunderstorms or snow, you’ll want to take a pass on the mountain hike for another day.

Pick an Appropriate Trail

Mountain hiking trails come at kinds of difficulty levels. If you’re a beginner, focus on choosing hiking trails that fall into the easy category. The Yosemite Decimal System is good for this purpose.

Stick with class one trails at first and then move on to class two or class three trails after you rack up some experience.

Also, keep in mind the length of the trail. Don’t overestimate your fitness level. That’s a great way to find yourself still on the trail when it gets dark.

Set a Sustainable Pace

Hiking a mountain trail as a beginner isn’t about setting some kind of speed record. It’s about completing the hike. The only way you can do that is if you set a sustainable pace from the get-go.

Also, take periodic breaks to hydrate and have snacks. You’ll sweat and burn a lot of calories on a mountain trail. You need to replace that water and those calories.

Tell Someone

If you do plan on taking a solo hike, tell someone you trust where you plan on hiking. Also, make a plan to touch base with them when you get down off the mountain. That ensures that someone can alert the authorities if you don’t check-in.

Set Reasonable Goals

Don’t let impatience get the best of you. While you may have your sights set on hiking Kilimanjaro, that shouldn’t be your first hike. Make a plan to level up the difficulty of your hikes over time. That gives you time for improving your fitness until you can make those hikes without nearly killing yourself.

Mountain Hiking and You

Mountain hiking can provide an alternative to outdoor activities like jogging or even lowland hiking. Even so, it’s not something you want to rush.

Take some time and work on your endurance. Start slow with class one trails. Get the right gear and pack for potential problems, like getting hurt or getting stuck on the trail overnight.

Always tells someone where you’re going and when you expect to be back.

Looking for more outdoor activity ideas? Check out our Sports and Health sections.


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