HIKING FOR BEGINNERS: 10 TIPS TO BE A SUSTAINABLE AND RESPONSIBLE HIKER
I don’t know if the hiking trend is worldwide or just an Italian phenomenon, but over the last few years I have seen and an increasing number of hiking beginners.
Why suddenly everybody wants to go hiking?
I think this is the result of a change in our lifestyle looking more and more for outdoor experiences, body health, and a sustainable life.
But I also believe social media have played a big role, influencing hiking beginners who are being attracted by the dreamy pictures you see each day on your Instagram.
At this historic time in particular, after a long lockdown due to the coronavirus, millions of people are now turning towards the outdoors, hiking in the mountains, or trying other challenging activities.
Whichever the reason, it’s not uncommon to see basic mistakes by inexperienced people.
I don’t consider myself a professional alpinist but Miles and I often go hiking in the nearby Apennines or Apuan Alps, as well as at the Cinque Terre (only offseason though).
Also, I have been working for the last 5 years in the tours & activities sector collaborating with professional guides, which has allowed me to learn a lot about hiking and how to move in the wild.
I have seen customers showing up for a river trekking in sandals, or sign up for an e-bike tour when they could hardly ride a normal bike. The worst are those who are beginners but think they can do anything and often put themselves in danger.
That’s why I’ve decided to share my experience (and mistakes) in this list of hiking tips for beginners, to help you enjoy your hike while being responsible and sustainable.
10 HIKING TIPS FOR BEGINNERS AND NOT
“It’s a sunny day, let’s go hiking”
It’s not enough to look out of your window to determine the weather condition in the mountains. It’s advisable to always check a trusted weather forecast website before planning a hiking day since temperatures and wind conditions may be very different once you reach the top.
I’ve learnt the lesson on my first ever mountain hike.
We were with a small group of friends who are keen hikers. We left Home with a lovely sunny summer day but once on the Apennine ridge path at 1700+ metre asl, the weather suddenly changed and a strong wind prevented us from pitching our tents where we had planned, forcing us to walk 12 hours before we could find a safe shelter.
“It’s a short hike, anybody can do it!”
Wrong! You have to check carefully the trail features and be honest with yourself, choosing according to your physical preparation.
You can use either a map or online gpx tracks, but be reminded that the difficulty of a mountain trail is rated according to the hiking time, elevation gain, and obstacles or type of path, rather than kilometres!
This means that a “short” trail doesn’t necessarily mean it is easy to walk.
In the Us, for example, the Us Forest Service uses a scale of difficulty based on 3 levels:
Easiest: Requiring limited skill and involving a limited challenge to traverse.
More Difficult: Requiring some skill and involving some challenge to traverse.
Most Difficult: Requiring a high degree of skill and involving a high degree of challenge to traverse.
The Italian Alpin Club, who is generally in charge of mapping and signing the mountain tracks in Italy, ranks the hiking trails as follows:
T: Tourist level, short and quite easy, no particular fitness requirement.
E: Hiking suitable for beginners, walking on signed trails (usually marked with white and red signs and/or marks on stones, trees, etc.). It’s advisable to be used to hiking for a few hours.
EE: Hiking for experienced hikers, with good physical training, no vertigo, and possibility of meeting obstacles.
EEA: Hiking for experienced hikers with specific equipment such as ropes or similar (usually iron ways know as “vie ferrate”).
“It’s an easy path, no need for hiking boots”
“Shall I wear hiking boots?” That’s a typical question people who subscribe for a hiking tour ask.
Well, I would say YES! Also if the hiking trail is apparently easy, I think that wearing good ankle-high hiking boots is always advisable, both to protect your ankles as you don’t want a sprained ankle when you are hiking in the mountains, and to protect from animals too.
What are hiking boots for otherwise?? 🙂
“I don’t need this, it’s nice weather!”
We always try to travel light, but there are some hiking essentials we never give up on such as a packable wind/rain jacket and a light but warm jumper.
Indeed, the weather can change suddenly when you are in the mountains and you don’t want to find yourself at the top freezing or soaking wet.
“I know the way”
Always take along a map or download gpx tracks on your phone as well as look at landmarks to get yourself oriented because sometimes the signs or marks are not so clearly visible.
“It’s never gonna happen”
Also if you are walking an easy path, unfortunately, incidents and injuries can happen.
That’s why we always take along a small first aid kit with some basics such as plasters, disinfectant, and a bandage to support in case of injury.
Just recently we went for a hike with some friends and one of them has broken a small bone in his foot. Luckily, Miles had a band with him so we could fix the foot enabling him to walk back to the car.
“I will top up at the fountain”
That’s good to travel with your water bottle (always choose a BPA free inox steel bottle, it’s plastic-free, safer and it preserves better your drinks).
However, especially in summer, you could get to a mountain fountain to discover there is no water! Make sure to always carry enough water for your hike, 1 litre each 2-hour walk is the advisable quantity.
Last year, we were in a mountain shelter for the night when a couple arrived exhausted (see point 2!) and with no water left. As we were coming back home the following day we offered them some of our water, but that’s a good lesson because you should never run out of water!
“I need energy “
True, when you hike you need good energy but I know people who have a huge breakfast before hiking. It’s important to introduce food that gives you energy without making you feel like a stone on your stomach.
I know that because I have a very delicate stomach and a few years ago during a hill-tribe trek in the Chiangrai hills in Thailand I was swearing while walking uphills because I couldn’t digest my pad thai properly and I was feeling sick.
You’d rather bring along some snacks such as energy bars or dried fruit.
Also, you’d better avoid savoury food like Parma ham or focaccia-style bread because they can make you very thirsty and uncomfortable during the hike.
“Tissue paper dissolve easily”
“I need a wee” it’s the typical question when you take beginners hiking.
Of course, you should take a wee far from the hiking trail, but most importantly if you use tissue paper don’t throw it in nature!
You know how much time does it take for a tissue paper to dissolve? Up to 3 months!
So please, do not litter our mountain paths, take it Home as any other trash.
“It’s organic so it’s good for the plants”
It’s true that banana peel is rich in potassium and phosphorus so it’s a good fertilizer for our plants or garden, but this doesn’t mean you should throw it in nature.
Indeed, organic food (especially exotic fruits) can have a negative impact on the environment, both on the soil balance and on the ecosystem, because animals are not used to eat them.
I hope this hiking for beginners guide has been useful.
Happy and safe hikes!