February 24

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Hiking Skills: An In-depth Guide to Explore the Outdoors

By Michael Bryant

February 24, 2023

hiking, hiking gear, how-to, tips

The Skills you Need to go Hiking

You probably already walk for exercise. Turn those steps in hiking skills!

Get excited about taking the time to experience nature. We've all been cooped up from quarantine here in North America and more people are looking to get outside.

You should too

After all, breathing fresh air can breathe some fresh air into your life. I know I need it, I think the world needs it.

Clearly we are not alone. In 2021 campsite reservations went up 500% compared to last year.

If you are completely new to hiking or looking to upgrade old hiking gear. This is our best resource for hiking skills and gear. 

Why Go hiking?

Wide open spaces, dense forests, silent deserts or sandy beaches. All hold their unique wildness and are waiting for you to explore them.

What skills do you need for hiking treks?

We're going to cover all of that and more. Make 2022 an opportunity to learn or re-explore your hiking skills and gear to improve and groove your way to the next trailhead and beyond. 

Choosing a Hiking Partner

You will be in a quiet setting and it's often tough to talk when hiking uphill. So not feeling awkward silence is nice. Remember you came to exercise, enjoy the outdoors and clear your head. 

Choose someone or a group that has similar fitness levels. No one loves to be left behind and fast hikers can get grumpy if they have to wait. So be honest with yourself and your partner about expectations.

If you are looking to push yourself, go for it! Pay attention to your resources, daylight hours and food and water rations.

Just in case you get really tired unexpectedly. Trust me, I'm a master at biting off more than I can chew. Sometimes it works, other times, not so much. 

Hiking Groups Near You

This is an awesome option, especially if you are new to an area. It gives you some free tour guide advice and a new group to belong to. The outdoor community is a gentle group of happy and helpful people.

Places to look might be REI groups or bulletin boards at local gear shops. Check Facebook groups in your area and start asking questions. Or, gather up some friends and colleagues to get them involved.

I know all of the best places I've found have been word of mouth from getting involved in the community and just listening. Resources are plentiful. Plus the people you meet might let you borrow gear if you're not ready to purchase or low on coin. 

Hiking Alone

A more advanced hiking skill and there is nothing wrong with being a lone wolf. It's honestly some of the best personal time you can get. Simply away from it all and only you to decide where to go. 

Benefits of solo hiking include solitude and autonomy, all decisions are up to you, good or bad. Not to mention hiking at your own comfortable pace, stopping for rests, food, or photos anytime and anywhere. I think you'll reap some serious mental and physical health benefits from the occasional solo hike.

Just be safe, know the area and the risks involved. Keep an eye out on time and for wildlife. Count on there being no one around should something go wrong. Otherwise, enjoy yourself. 

hiking across eagle creek

Choosing a Hiking Trail

Let's get a little nerdy here for a moment. Have you ever wondered what a 4th Class scramble was? Or why rock climbing difficulty grades are 5.8, 5.10+, or 5.12b?

Hiking Difficulty Scale

This called the Yosemite Decimal System (YDS), developed in.... you guessed it beautiful Yosemite. I order to give difficulty rankings to hiking trails and rock climbs. 

This measurement will be a guide to your the hiking skills and gear you'll need. It's strange but simple. Within hiking we will never go above Class 4. Here's how it goes:

  • Class 1 Trails is essentially walking on a trail, not steep and relatively smooth. No technical skills or gear required really.
  • Class 2 Hiking Trails will have changes in altitude but the hiking surface will still be walkable with generally no need for hands to balance. May want to put on descent footwear here but very little danger potential in this category.
  • Class 3 Hiking Trails is getting more technical and the hands may be needed to scramble in some sections. Trails will be steeper up and down, so more hiking skills and better footwear or trekking poles may be needed. You may also get some exposure on this terrain and falls in the wrong places could be fatal.
  • Class 4 Hiking and Scrambling: This trail or route type is usually referred to as scrambling or easy rock climbing. Experts usually leave the rope at home. However, beginners may want a rope, harness, a mentor and climbing gear to navigate steep and more technical ground. Often some long hikes or easier mountaineering routes will have short sections of 4th class and the rest of the hike may be 2nd or 3rd class. 
  • Class 5 is roped rock climbing. If you are interested, we have information here at Adventure Lifers if that's what you're looking for.

Disclaimer: This is for informational purposes only. Make sure you know the dangers of what you are attempting. Work your way up in hiking skills so you don't put yourself in a sketchy and dangerous situation.


Beginner Hiking Trails 

These Class 1 and 2 type trails are the best places to start. Even if this means a few weekly walks around the neighborhood park trails. We  all start from somewhere and to be honest at this point after the winter, I am starting to feel weak legs. So I'm going to be getting back to refining my hiking skills and dusting off hiking gear with you.

What's You Current Hiking Fitness Level?

Starting here before getting to the trailhead is a good idea. So find somewhere close to hike and start really small. Is there somewhere in your city, parks or neighboring hills you can do a quick day hike at? Go there for an hour.

There is nothing too much better in my book than grabbing some crunchy bread, cheese and a bottle of ice water to get an hour or 2 in nature. It's refreshing and will give you a baseline of fitness to base longer hiking goals in the future. 

Track your fitness

It's easier than ever with fancy watches and trail guides for mileages. With more knowledge over your current conditioning, it can be fun to see those incremental improvements. Take notes and pictures, hell start a blog of your journeys!?


5 Ways to Get in Shape for Hiking

  1. Walk places daily and take the stairs. Simple, everyday, park further away strategy works!
  2. Download a 10 minute/day workout app or step counter. They can give you feedback and reminders to stay active.
  3. Short day walks or hikes whenever you can.
  4. Plan 1 full day hike 1 per month and increase distance or hiking difficulty as you go
  5. Find a hiking buddy and motivate each other.

Hiking Trail Loops vs Out and Back Style

This is actually very important. Remember "don't to bite off more than you can chew?" Choose wisely.

A hiking loop is nice, you don't have to see the same spot twice. But if you can't get around before it is cold and dark. Or, you are out of food and water, you're in a bind.

Furthermore, it's much easier to get lost on loops, especially if there are intertwining trails and turns. Know before you go!

Out and Back is probably the best choice for complete hiking beginners. Less chance of getting lost and you'll be able to remember landmarks to find your way back to the car.

You can also turn around at anytime and there's no shame in that. Turning around at the right time can be the difference between you enjoying a day hike or having and unnecessary adventure epic. 

Intermediate Hiking Skills: Trails and Scrambles

All of this information is meant to be built on itself. So knowing the basic hiking skills and utilizing prior information will be on any trail or peak you are scaling. Onward and upward!

Things to Consider on Difficult Hikes

  • Daylight! There isn't much worse when hiking than unexpectedly early darkness.
  • Bring a headlamp and clothes for unexpected time-loss and nightfall. 
  • Use the 3-2-1 Rule for Calculating times and distances. If you walk on the sidewalk with no backpack at 3 mph, you'll likely do 2 mph on a trail, add a big pack and maybe you'll get 1 mph. Be conservative with your ratios depending on hiking difficulty and your fitness level. 
  • Elevation gain plays a huge role in advanced hikes. This will make differences in what you pack and your hiking speed. Once again, be conservative and honest with your capabilities. 
el cap

Essential Hiking Gear:

There's about a million gear options to choose from in the hiking category and you don't need all of them at once.

If you are a true beginner hiker and you only have a bookbag, water bottle and some descent shoes. You're basically all set. 

However, as you progress, having quality and specified clothing, footwear and gear will be necessary. This will make you're hiking adventure more comfortable and convenient.

I like storing my pack "ready to go" if you will. Minus the food and water. That way it is as simple as getting dressed and out the door.  


What Hiking Gear to Bring? 

And... Where to Get it?

If you want to support a company that respects places we love. Buy at REI! Click the link below.


Backpacks or Daypacks for Hiking

Having a comfy daypack is going to make the hike a lot more enjoyable.

Learning how to efficiently store things where you want them, for when you need them is crucial.

Not only will you be able to organize gear better but daypacks will have straps and compartments to keep everything from bouncing around back there and digging in to you. Not comfy...

These packs are usually 10-20 liters in capacity and are suitable for full days or just enough to hold some extra water and clothes. Some feature you might want in a pack are things like.

  • Water bladder, hydrating on the fly is always nice
  • Straps and Waist belts for holding the pack close to you and to minimize bouncing
  • Water Bottle Pockets and other small outer pockets for multi-tools or snacks

Consider your average length of hike and gear requirements and decide based upon that.

Note: There are also hip/waist packs that trail runners use and they are comfortable and hold enough for bare necessities on very short hikes. Check out some here...


Hiking Boots and Shoes

Likely the most crucial piece of hiking gear you will want to spend money on is a solid, well fitted and comfortable hiking boot. There's nothing worse than sore feet on a long hike, you'll probably turn around cussing and not want to go hiking anymore. So let's avoid this and find you the proper pair of hiking boots. Here are the 3 main style of hiking shoes and boots.

Hiking Shoes

These are usually lower cut, lower weight and less stiff than the other models. Anything from trail running to day hiking will be in this category and is the perfect place to start for a beginner or expert in these fields. They even make some hiking sandals if you want to avoid some swamp foot. 

Hiking Sandals

Sometimes it is fantastic to feel the wind between your toes! Hiking with sandals might also mean more rocks in your shoes too, so it's a trade off. But in summer months or warm wet springs, I'll always be wearing my sandals. They fit snug, have a back strap and sticky rubber soles. Comfy as it gets. 

hiking sandals

Day Hiking Boots

Usually have a stiffer midsole than hiking shoes but can also come in a high-top if ankle support is a worry. Good all-around boot for longer day hikes and even short backpacking trips. They can have feature such as, water proofing/repellent, sticky rubber soles etc. 

They do require a bit of a break in period due to the stiffness, so remember that when purchasing. 

Backpacking Boot

These are the high-cut workhorses, meant to carry heavy load for longer distances. They offer extra support and less flexibilty, with some even having partial shanks in the sole for stiffness. Perfect for the long hiking hauls if you need them but not the best for ballet or bar dancing.

Lifer Tip: When trying on shoes, take into consideration what sock type and thickness you'll be wearing outside and bring them if you buy in store. 

If you like online shopping, here are some of our favorite choice we've used and abused.

Hiking Clothes

This is honestly up to your seasonal and weather needs. More is generally better but it is a day hike so don't go overboard. The one thing I always recommend is having a rain jacket in the daypack. Should the rain or wind gust up, you'll always be grateful to have that lightweight jacket to pull on.  

  • Hiking Jackets can be anything out of your closet but being selective for your circumstance will benefit you.
  • Puffy Jackets are great for insulation.
  • Rain gear is essential and light.
  • Having a solid underlayer that wicks moisture will also help keep the body temperature regulated.
  • Layer clothing to make sure you can pull on and off clothing. It gets hot going up hill but as the sun sets and you descend, it can get pretty chilly by the time you meet the car. 
  • Hats including beanies or sunhats can be a hiker's best friend. Either avoiding heat loss from that smart head of yours' or keeping your retinas intact from a scolding sun. Plus, hats are fun and come in a lot of shapes and styles. Could be your conversation piece for those you meet along your trek?!?

Maybe some mittens too eh....why not.

Below or some Lifer suggestions on quality hiking clothing.....

Hiking Water Bottles and Hydration Systems

Ah, the lifegiver of H2O. You better not leave home without it, especially if you're going hiking. If you are just doing a quick day hike, take more than you think you'll need.

I wouldn't worry about having to purify your own on trail. Whether you put it in a standard bottle or a hydration pack, bring more than you'll need. I know I've sucked off of other folk's hydration packs and felt silly.

There are some really awesome self purifying water bottles on the market now, such as the Lifestraw. So if you are worried about running out and know there are some streams along the way, these purifying water bottles are wicked awesome yo!

Hydration Packs are a favorite of many and most daypacks will come with the ability to add a water bladder that you just carry along with you. Super convenient and you don't have to stop moving and grooving if you don't want to. Always Up!

Looking for fun, silly and useful hiking gear, check out our post here...

Other Hiking Essentials & Miscellaneous Gear

  • First Aid Kit
  • Maps and Navigation
  • Multi-tools
  • Watch 
  • Sun/Bug Protection
  • Headlamp w/ Batteries
  • Trekking Poles
  • Lighter 
  • Emergency Blanket

Hiking Etiquette

While it is the wilderness, it is all of our wilderness. Remember the "sea to shining sea" song? Great! Here are some of the basic principles of good hiking etiquette to always abide by.

  • Uphill hikers and especially horseback back riders have the right of way. Step slightly off-trail and let them progress upwards. Be careful not to startle the animals, or people for that matter.
  • Stay on the trails, bushwhacking and cutting switchbacks causes erosion and will damage the ecosystem for others.
  • Bury your waste 6 inches deep and 200 feet away from water sources. Pack out your TP because no one like to see the toilet paper tulips sprouting in their wilderness.
  • "Take only picture and leave only footprints." One of my favorite mantras in the backcountry. Follow the https://lnt.org/Leave no Trace anthem my Lifer friends.

Dangers Hiking in the Backcountry

Poisonous and prickly plant's are all over this country so it's best to consult the interwebs for what's common in your area.

In the west I've ran into stinging nettle, poison ok and poison ivy. None of which made my day more fun. All the more reason to stay on trails!

Wild animals should be left alone, If you see something. Gently give it space by going back or walking very far around it. For more in depth information consult with the National Parks Service

River Crossings are the 2nd biggest killer of hikers in the backcountry after hypothermia.

Not to be taken lightly, here are some tips. But if you feel like you won't make it, just back down, the river will be lower at another time of year. Better safe than sorry. 

  • Test the rocks you'll be walking on, they could be slick and/or wobbly
  • Cross at wider spots where the river runs slowest
  • Unfasten your pack, if you do fall it can trap you with it
  • If it looks too fast, it probably is, find another spot to cross or go back

Just be safe out there people.

Now that you have all of the hiking skills and gear needed for a successful long day trip. You're on your way to multiday backpacking.

If you choose to climb that proverbial mountain we here at the Adventure Lifers are happy to assist by answering any questions you have.

We are a resource four you. Give us a shout!

Enjoy the day Lifers!

FAQ

What is considered hiking?

Hiking is a more strenuous walk that is done in the outdoors. This can range from day hikes to multi-day backpacking trips. The goal is fresh air, exercise and immersing yourself in nature. A walkabout if you will. 

What is the benefits of hiking?

Hiking is a great workout for cardio. Getting the heart beating, lungs breathing and legs burning. Not to mention a mental step away from the stressors of daily life. 

Can you lose weight hiking?

Yes you can! Hiking burns more calories than walking. That said, a lower calorie diet will decide whether weight comes off. 

Does hiking reduce stress?

Why yes it does! The immersion into nature coupled with endorphins, has been shown to improve mood, reduce stress and give a somewhat "runner's high." Also it helps to howl at the moon. 😉

Michael Bryant

About the author

After a lifetime spent in the outdoors and 10 years in the outdoor sports industry, I figured out what I'm best at. Finding great mentors to show me the ropes. Without the Lifers that taught me all I know, I wouldn't be where I'm at, which is... "pretty solid" at most adventures outside.

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