January 21, 2023
Whether you have been hiking for years, months, or have never hiked before and want to try, there is always more to learn! No matter how experienced you are, we can always enhance our skills in the outdoors either in different terrain, conditions, or even amount of time spent outside. I am continuously trying to expand my knowledge in the outdoors, but after a couple thousand miles under my belt solo hiking, I wanted to share some things I’ve learned along the way. You can find my tips below so you don’t have to make the same mistakes!
6 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Started Hiking:
You read that right…no cotton, basically ever! Cotton doesn’t dry quickly, so if it gets wet or sweaty on an adventure, it can be dangerous depending on temps, with greater risk of hypothermia. Why does this bring greater risk of hypothermia you may ask? Have you ever heard the saying “cotton kills”? This is because cotton holds no insulative value, so when it gets wet, it will not be able to keep you warm in any way. The only cotton MIGHT be nice, is in the desert, however desert temps can drop QUICK at night, so even then, cotton would not be your best choice. It’s better to opt for something more breathable and moisture wicking, such as merino wool or a synthetic blend.
HYDRATING IS KEY
Electrolytes & hydration are important! Proper fluid intake and electrolyte balances are essential and can be a matter of life or death at high temperatures/altitudes. I’ll also add that proper hydration can buy you time if an emergency does occur. To prevent dehydration, the general recommendation is 1L for every 2 hrs hiking in average conditions and temperatures, and it can help to drink electrolytes a couple hours before activity. You will also want to consider the environment you are in (aka for a desert trip, you may want to bring extra electrolytes, etc).
TREKKING POLES ROCK
Use trekking poles! I was against them for years but poles for years, but if you hike often they can really help in the long run and save you a lot of pain! Trekking poles definitely aren’t always necessary, but they can be extremely helpful in certain instances depending on the hike you’re doing. Trekking poles are helpful because they can relieve pressure off your knees, because you end up dispersing more of your weight across your body rather than directly on your feet. Using trekking poles can also improve uphill hiking time by offering increased endurance during inclines and steep hills. This is partially due to dispersing your weight, but using poles can also help you get in a rhythm when you’re hiking, thus increasing your speed! Trekking poles also offer a little extra stability going over uneven terrain or downhill, especially in steep areas or icy spots. These are my favorite trekking poles by far, made of aluminum, however my partner really likes these ones that are carbon fiber.
USE RELIABLE MAPS
Apps like AllTrails are not always reliable. Don’t get me wrong, AllTrails is a great place to start and I use it regularly for trail reviews, but the reality is, it’s a user generated app which means it is NOT a reliable source for navigation, because it is not a true map! Another problem with user-generated apps like this, is the stats you see are not always accurate. Understanding how to read and download offline maps is an essential skill if you plan on being on the trails a lot. If you’re out hiking often, especially solo, I highly encourage you to invest in a 2-way satellite communication device. These are awesome tools for tracking your location and sourcing reliable digital maps, as well as communicating with the outside world when you’re out of cell service in the backcountry. I use mine every trip to notify my partner when I start my hike, when I get to the top or set up camp for the night, and when I get back to the car. If you’re not looking for a GPS/communication device but still want a way to download digital offline maps for FREE, check out this video resource! Lastly, knowing how to use a paper map is an extremely helpful tool in the outdoors that can benefit anyone, and a paper map & compass should always be carried with you. I highly recommend taking a course to learn if you don’t know how to navigate with a map and compass already! Always take the extra time to research the trail you’re wanting to hike, and be sure to check multiple sources! The US Forest Service is one of my favorites that I’m sure to always check before a hike.
“…experts say to consider bringing a paper map. That’s because hiking organizations and rescuers around the country are seeing an increase in injuries and rescues. One of the reasons for the additional mayhem on the trails is sheer numbers. Hikers logging treks into the popular AllTrails website increased by 171% in 2020.
– Robin Young and Camila Beiner of WBUR News.
USE TRACTION DEVICES WHEN NECESSARY
If you’ve ever been hiking and slipped a little on an icy spot, traction devices could have been helpful. The most common traction devices are microspikes, and let me tell you – they are magical! Mine stay in pack about 8 months out of the year here in Colorado, and have lasted me several years across many seasons and hundreds of miles with only mild care. Just be sure to let them dry properly after using! Another common alternative to microspikes are Yaktrax, which do not offer as much traction as microspikes but are a bit cheaper. I do not recommend Yaktrax unless you are traveling in only minimal icy areas. If microspikes do not offer enough traction, or you plan on climbing in mixed terrain such as rock and ice, then you may want to opt for crampons. Crampons typically need to be used with a specific type of boot, called a mountaineering boot, and are not usually worn hiking – they are most often used for ice climbing and mountaineering. Lastly, if there is a lot of snow and you need floatation in addition to traction, go for snowshoes! Snowshoes have a large surface area and attach to your boot to help distribute your weight over the snow, so that way you can float overtop of it and not sink down as much! If I could have any pair of snowshoes, it would be these ones.
Research and being prepared are definitely necessary when getting outdoors, especially when you’re first getting started. But if doing all this research and watching a ton of videos, trying to get everything perfect, is stopping you from hitting the trail, you’re missing the whole point! I learned more in one night backpacking than I ever could watching countless YouTube videos. Start small and build up to more difficult adventures and challenging terrain as your confidence grows (if that’s something you even want to do)! And remember, you can always reach out with questions and ask for help if you need to! Helping people conquer their fears in the outdoors is my day job 😉
This list could go on, but I’ll stop it at six and continue the rest after some more miles. I hope these tips helped, but ultimately the best thing you can do to expand your knowledge and experience in the outdoors is to spend more time outside! Go hiking, camping, backpacking, and get out of your comfort zone! Just make sure you’re prepared, have your 10 essentials, and let someone know your travel plans. The more you get out, the more confident you will feel outside.
As always let me know if you have any questions! Happy trails 🙂
*Please note that some links above are affiliate links, which means I earn a small commission on any purchase you make – at no additional cost to you. Thank you for your support!
Read next: What To Do If You Get Lost in the Wilderness
Hi there! I’m Shelby, a
Colorado hiking guide!
I’m here to inspire you to climb your mountain from the ground UP.
I’m an avid hiker and backpacker, and also love camping, fishing, and anything else I can do outdoors, even if it means going alone! I believe nature is the best teacher of all, and I find joy sharing this knowledge so you can feel empowered on your own adventures!
I’ve trekked through forests, scaled mountains, and camped under the stars to bring you this trail-tested gift guide, sure to cover every outdoor enthusiast on your holiday list. If you’re shopping for a seasoned backpacker, an avid day-hiker, a summit crusher, or even someone just beginning their hiking journey, this guide has it all.
Discover the profound mental and physical benefits of hiking. Learn how hitting the trails can boost your well-being, and get wellness tips to enhance your hiking experience. Step into the great outdoors for a healthier you.
Discover the ultimate guide to cold weather backpacking attire, with expert advice on layering, materials, and must-have items to ensure you stay warm, safe, and comfortable on your fall and winter adventures.
Stay Up to Date With The Latest News & Updates
Book a Guided Hike
Explore what the Rocky Mountains have to offer and expand your outdoor education along the way with a guided hike with Ground Up Adventures.
Join the Adventure Squad!
Subscribe to my newsletter for monthly for hiking tips, adventure stories, and outdoor news.
Find more free resources and educational content on my socials!