How to Hike: Overcoming the Elements of Mother Nature for Newbies

How to Hike
Russell McCarty
Written by Russell McCarty

There’s not a single day in my life that goes by when I’m not constantly reminded of how lucky we are to dwell in such an exciting world. Living in a beach town on the South Austrian coastline, it’s become the idyllic location for any outdoor enthusiast to stretch their wings and become one with nature.

Originally born in San Francisco, I relocated to Australia 5 years ago for work, until that point in my life, I’ve strictly been a city boy living in the concrete jungles of America without a clue on how to hike.

A new life in Australia has opened my eyes to the diverse world of outdoor activities which surrounds me everyday. Cycling, kayaking, swimming, fishing, trekking are just to name a few, but perhaps my most desired of all was hiking. As mentioned before, I’m a converted city boy taking on a new venture in a new country and in my opinion the best and only way to get out there to see my new land was by foot.

how to go hiking

Making hiking excursions the obvious choice for my expeditions. To start, I figured I could easily pick a destination, strap on my backpack, hiking shoes and off I go. Not so fast! I never realized the importance of planning and experience is required in learning how to go hiking correctly and safely.

See also: Best Hikes in America: The Top 12 Most Scenic Routes

Over my first few years as a novice hiker I’d end up making my fair share of blunders and mistakes that could have easily been avoided only if I had some basic beginners knowledge prior. Now that I’ve learned the hard way, I feel it’s my duty to enlighten all you newbie adventure seekers some of the basic knowledge on hiking with confidence.

Preparation is the Backbone to Any Successful Trek

As life goes, hiking is no different, as it times takes time, patience, educating and preparation for a successful journey. For many beginning enthusiast, as you learn how to properly hike, start out on the wrong foot as we think we can just head out into the unknown and experience the great outdoors without a care in the world.

Sure, leaving the stresses of the world behind is the whole idea. However, if you’re not properly prepared first then you’re about to unleash a whole new world of stresses and in a much more unforgiving environment. Take the time to organize and plan before you set out, you’ll be glad you did and by doing so only enables you to maximize your recreational time to its fullest.


First step in preparation is my list of questions. I find preparation and organizational skills are utilized much better when starting with a simple list, even if the answer is completely obvious, still include it on the list nonetheless. Here’s a sample of questions I like to ask myself prior to any departure.

  1. Where will you be going? ie: mountains, beach, desert, swamplands, etc
  2. Am I to bring my family? friend(s)?
  3. Is this a day trek or overnight haul?
  4. Is my destination extremely remote or will there be others in the near vicinity in case of emergency?
  5. What time of year will it be? Summer or winter?

By answering these basic questions you can start to envision a method of preparation required to get you set in the direction on hiking safely and effectively. Let’s review.

Where will you be going?

Are you heading into the mountains, beach trails, or the arid desert moonscape of the Outback? Each destination varies dramatically in terrain, climate and conditions that should be respected by all. It’s mandatory that you’re prepared adequately with proper attire to protect you from harsh conditions mother nature can dish out at any given moment.  

hiking with family

Am I bring my family? friend(s)?

Nothing brings be greater pleasures in this world then being out in nature with my family. A true gift from the gods, however, this isn’t always the case when going out for a hike. Some days I may trek alone, other days I might be in a group, or simply just heading out with a mate for a challenge.

Check out: Best Hiking Dogs: Which Four Legged Friends are Best Suited for the Trail?

It’s important to consider the skill level of hikers involved with your trek. Traveling with more advanced hikers can be rewarding, though, costly if you’re not prepared to be challenged throughout the hike. On the flip-side, if you’re taking the family and kids with basic skill levels on a trek then be very mindful of where you are heading so you’re not taking them into harms way in the process. For guidelines when you are camping alone, see our earlier article.

Is this a day trek or overnight haul?

For a simple day out hiking you’re looking at the bare essentials for equipment. By starting small and light weight seems practical, however, be logically as well. Sun protection, water, food, and first aide should always be included no matter how lengthy the hike.  

hiking remote destinations

If you’re hike requires a stay out under the stars then it’s time to prepare in depth. As my father always told me about life, “hope for the best but prepare for the worst.” Same logic applies here.

Must read: Night Hiking: Planning Your Perfect Hike in Dark Evenings

Think about every possible scenario and mishap that could be encountered and prepare yourself for it, whether mentally or physically. Have options available and plan in place for a worse case scenario.  

Is my destination extremely remote or will there be others in the near vicinity in case of emergency?

This is so important and can’t be stressed enough — know your surroundings! Will you be engaging with others or will you be far removed from civilization in a remote locale where emergency services aren’t readily available to assist in case of emergency situations?

What time of year will it be? Spring, summer, autumn or winter?

This is the pretty obvious question to ask. The time of year will decide many factors on your hike. Whether it’s hot, cold, dry or wet you need to prepared for all conditions with proper footwear, hydration, etc.

Overview and Tips for Hiking on Your Next Journey

For the most part, as humans, we all have various skill levels of ability, talent and commonsense that can be harnessed and applied to your hiking experiences. It’s important to recognize your intangible strengths.


However, there may come a day when your mental awareness may save you from a dire situation. Combined with some tangible tips, tricks and personal experiences from more experienced hikers, this only makes for limitless hiking options and enjoyment.

No matter where you reside or travel on this globe, once you leave the front door, the world is your oyster to explore by foot. In my opinion, hiking or trekking is the only way to discover the beauty and diversity that mother nature has laid before us.

My non-hiking friends always have this misconception that hiking is only done in the mountains. Which is somewhat true, but it’s only a portion of your hiking options. As well, they continuously ask me, “what’s the difference between hiking and trekking?”

A brief answer to that question is easy. Hiking is usually the more recreational activity done on hiking trails within charted paths and usually accomplished in a day or over night. While trekking is more a lengthy and challenging journey endured on uncharted terrains where transportation isn’t readily available and under more difficult circumstances.


Both activities, but usually hiking, can be classed by difficulty rating scale enabling you to select the perfect category for you. Whether you’re hiking or trekking let’s review some of the basic terrains by definition.

  • Mountain – “a large natural elevation of the earth’s surface rising abruptly from the surrounding level; a large steep hill”
  • Desert – “a waterless, desolate area of land with little or no vegetation, typically one covered with sand”
  • Coastal – “relating to, bordering on, or located near a coast”
  • Plains – “a large area of flat land with few trees”
  • Metropolitan – “relating to or denoting a metropolis”
  • Bush – “wild or uncultivated country of shrubs with stems of moderate length” (known mainly in Australia & Africa)
  • Jungle – “an area of land overgrown with dense forest and tangled vegetation, typically in the tropics”

Now that you understand the vast terrains that can be covered by foot, it’s vital that you understand the rating scale applied for hiking. I’m a believer of challenging yourself, when you challenge your abilities you learn and gain valuable experience and confidence.


However, if you bite off more then you can chew, you may find yourself in a situation you may not recover. Understanding the rating scale will help you determine the perfect level of difficulty as well challenge your existing skills to the next level.

Charted trails are normally graded on a difficulty rating scale from one to five.

  • Grade One – acceptable for the disabled with assistance
  • Grade Two –  suitable for all families with abled young kids
  • Grade Three – recommended for hikers with some experience
  • Grade Four – for experienced hikers
  • Grade Five – for very experienced hikers

Now you should have an overview of the types of terrains and rating scales you’ll be faced with when selecting your next hike. At this point, it’s a good idea to start your planning stage. The following section will cover some useful tips that you should apply during preparation and execution of your journey.

Plan Your Hike in Detail

Purchase topographical maps and/or trail maps of the area. Study the details in depth and locate the difficult section of your path. Plan plan plan and leave yourself enough time for a safe return. The average person paces out at 2-3 MPH, covering only 0.5 – 1.5 miles over mountainous terrain. Scale out your hike to the hour setting landmarks throughout enabling you to remain on pace with your itinerary.

Hike in Detail

Leave Your Itinerary with Someone at Home

After you’ve completed your details on the map, leave it with someone behind. If you’ve executed your plan you should have a good idea how long your hike will take and when you should be arriving back. If you miss this return time, then red flags can be sounded by those that are back at camp/home to assist in a rescue situation if needed.

Stay Hydrated

Hydration is life, be sure you’re well supplied for your entire journey with enough to spare.

No Cotton Clothes

As water is life, water is just as deadly and cotton is an absorbent fabric that can quickly cause hypothermia. Don’t disrespect hypothermia as it’s the number one threat to any outdoor enthusiast who is caught ill-prepared.



Bring ID, Insurance Cards, Credit Cards on the Trail

No, your not going to be shopping, though in any worse case scenario if you’ve become unresponsive to a rescue situation, just having ID can save your life.

Haircut (my recommendation)

I always depart for my expeditions with a tidy haircut. I’ve alway found trekking the great doors with unmanageable hair only creates more a nuances then a benefit.

Hike in Numbers

The old saying, “safety in numbers” might as well been taken straight from the hikers book of grand ideas. The more you travel with the more likely you’ll be safe from the environment & predators, rescued or recovered.



Know the Weather Forecast!

Yes yes yes!! Weather is the most unpredictable element in all your factors. Mother nature can turn on you in a heartbeat. Be prepared for all weather situations, even if the forecast is great for the next seven days. Be ready for anything at any time out there.

Sun Protection and Insect Repellant  

Proper protection is key as well. Of course your attire is critical, we’ll just assume you’re prepared already for that. However, additional protection from the sun and insects will ensure a more comfortable hike.

First Aid Kits

Never leave home with a kit and prior to departure take stock on your supplies. Make sure you replenish any used items from previous use. Remember, the goal is to have no surprises after your departure.

Hiking First Aid Kits

Keep Unused Clothes and Accessories Dry

Whenever possible you should ziplock your additional clothes and accessories such as matches, lighters, exposed foods, compasses, maps, etc from getting wet. Staying dry is so important for any hikers’ mental & physical health.

Functional Tools, Gear and Equipment

Moving along now you’re almost ready to take to the bush and begin! Though, over the years the biggest blunder I see newbies make is they either bring unpractical or over functional gear for the type of hike. Trust me, you won’t need crampons hiking through the desert. Here’s a list of practical tools and applicable hikes to use them — mountain(M) / desert(D) / coastal(C) / plains(P) / metro(Met) / bush(B) / jungle(J)

  • Clothing – There’s two categories of clothing to consider. Hot-weather and cold-weather all require adequate protection from either element. Ponchos, raincoat, rain pants, non cotton socks, gloves, proper footwear, long underwear, bandanas, scarfs, Balaclavas (M/D/C/P/Met/B/J)
  • Sharp Knife – Used to chop, saw and cut (M/D/C/P/Met/B/J)
  • Cordage – Cordage is important for overnight shelters and survival situations (M/D/C/P/B/J)
  • Digging Tool – Not always required but the minute you don’t have it, you’ll wish you did. (M/D/C/P/B/J)
  • Lighter, Matches or Fire Starter Kit – Probably the most important tool required for any over night hike.(M/D/C/P/B/J)
  • Light – Once the sun sets, light is essential to continue onward down the path (M/D/C/P/Met/B/ J)
  • Medical – Don’t forget that first aid kit (M/D/C/P/Met/B/J)
  • Environmental Protection – Lip balm, sun protection, sunglasses, hat, etc (M/D/C/P/Met/B/J)
  • Water Kit – A water kit is practical if you’re fresh water supply runs out and you have access to a questionable water supply in the wild. (M/D/C/P/B/J)
  • Compass/Maps – Navigation is the only way to get yourself home. (M/D/C/P/Met/B/J)
  • Watch – As you made your detail plan in preparation, make sure your watch is working well in order to stay on schedule with your itinerary. (M/D/C/P/Met/B/J)
  • Cooking – Utensils and pots are a bonus for any overnight hike. (M/D/C/P/B/J)
  • GPS/Radio/Walkie Talkie/Laser Pointer Additional electronics can save your life if you lose your way.
  • Hygiene – For me, I never leave home without my toothbrush and a stick of deo for my BO. Don’t forget to bring biodegradable toilet paper if you must!

hiking equipment

Ready to Apply Your New Found Knowledge?

You should be well equipped at this point with some of the basic requirements of hiking the great unknown. We’ve covered the importance of preparation, planning and executing, and you should understand the common types of terrains most hikers thrive in.

You should now be equipped with the general knowledge of planning your hiking adventures with the proper tools and equipment required. With this knowledge I’m hoping you can apply this experience for further expeditions without ever asking how to go about hiking again.


Besides the adventure of hiking itself, it has also brought a new level of accomplishment to my life. The benefits of hiking are limitless. It’s a healthy activity for the body, mind and soul as you discover uncharted realms, not to mention, character traits you never knew dwelling inside you. Opening new challenging and rewarding opportunities for you and the family to encounter as you progress in skill level.

hiking guidelines

Remember that these are basic tools and guidelines to assist you out there. As you proceed on your own journey you’ll discover what works best for you in any given situation. I challenge you to find new and efficient means of survival and comfort. As I’m always seeking new and innovative ways to accomplish a feat. How can you make your adventure better?

I’d love to get feedback on your experiences, or what you’ve applied differently, or even how I can change my traditional techniques. It’s readers like you that influence others so share your thoughts and ideas to help the hiking community and with this great big open world out there, let’s all go see it by foot!


Russell McCarty

Russell McCarty

Russell considers backpacking one of his great passions in life. He actually managed to transform his passion into a living becoming a professional adventurer. Russell loves long-distance backpacking and he enriched his portfolio with famous trails like the Alaska-Yukon Expedition or the Appalachian Trail. With thousands of miles under his feet, Russell is the expert to consult when it comes to how to prepare for a successful outdoor adventure.