How to Hike

How to Hike

Hiking for Beginners

Hiking is a great way to explore the outdoors. There are a multitude of health and well-being benefits. And not only can it clear your head, but walking through the wilderness can feed your curiosity and help you learn more about nature. Taking those first steps from your front door to the trailhead can be intimidating; most likely you’re going to make some mistakes. But that’s okay. Trails and trees are things to become acquainted with over time, and the learning curve never ends.

In this guide, we’ll be going over the basic equipment and knowledge we wish we’d known before stepping onto our first trail. Our experience is hard-earned, so we hope with this guide you’ll be able to avoid some of the mistakes we made when we first started packing up and heading out to the trails.

There’s a lot to cover, so to make our guide a little more digestible we’ve split it into three parts. The first is concerned with how to pick a trail and prepare for a hike. The second deals with how to pack and what to wear for different scenarios. The final section offers some basics on-trail hiking tips and a brief intro to good outdoor etiquette.

How To Hike Mountain View

Planning and Preparation

Experience is the best teacher, but doing your research before you start walking pays off in the long run. We’ll be going over:

  • Resources for finding hikes in your area
  • How to choose the right hike
  • Safety precautions you should take before venturing out
  • Be prepared with the right gear (at least a waterproof jacket)

Use your Community

The biggest and most valuable resource at your disposal is your local outdoor community. Chances are you already know someone with a little bit of outdoor experience, they would be flattered if you came to them seeking a hiking buddy or advice on their favorite beginner hikes.

Beyond this, there’s a good chance that your area has one or more hiking clubs and trail organizations already in place. These are excellent tools to learn more about the specific considerations for your area, find hikes of all difficulties, and meet other enthusiastic hikers. It might sound counterintuitive, but the expansive solitude of the wilderness is a great place to make friends.

Finding a Hiking Partner

If you’re gearing up for your first ever hike, you may want some backup. There’s safety in numbers, but there’s also the moral support factor. We all have the occasional bad day and sharing your gripes helps lighten the load. If you have a savvy friend willing to take you along for an appropriate hike- you should seize the opportunity.

Even if you’re with an experienced friend, don’t just follow them blindly into the woods. Make sure you agree on the length and difficulty of the hike beforehand, and make sure you’re prepared with enough supplies and gear for two people.

When all else fails or if you have a strong preference for hiking by yourself, there’s much to be gained from a solo outdoor experience. Because you have fewer safety nets you should adjust your hike accordingly- pick a trail that is shorter and busier, and cover all your preparation bases so you are ready in the event of an emergency.

Hiking partners are for more than just taking cool candid photos of you. Sometimes.
Hiking partners are for more than just taking cool candid photos of you. Sometimes.

Where to Go

It pays to know before you go- and to taper your expectations according to your experience and physical ability. Before most hikes you’ll want to dig a little deeper into the specifics before you head out on the trail.

Where to find a hiking trail

  • Experienced locals, friends, and hiking buddies
  • Your local trail organization’s website
  • Guidebooks for your area
  • Park trail maps
  • Hiking apps like AllTrails or Gaia GPS

Finding a hike appropriate for your ability level is the best way to ensure your safety and enjoyment while getting started. Pick an easy hike without too much elevation gain – usually this means anywhere between 1-5 miles depending on the terrain.

Make sure you have some idea of what you’re getting into. In the past, I’ve fallen victim to friends who have dragged me blindly up truly horrible trails. I’m also very guilty of subjecting unsuspecting friends and family to the same thing.

Key Considerations When Picking a Hiking Trail

  • How much time you have to hike
  • The difficulty of the hike (based on length, trail conditions, and elevation gain)
  • Weather
  • Permit or access restrictions

It’s your responsibility to know of any fees or restrictions in the areas you’re hiking around. Public lands often require some kind of access charge for parking or backcountry travel- state and national parks are prime examples of this. The details can be confusing so check with the park’s website, ask at the visitor center, or call up the region’s ranger office to be aware of any red tape.

Specific trails or sections of trail are sometimes closed for reasons ranging from rehabilitation to fire danger. Respect all closures and never hike off trail as a beginner.

The Details


What constitutes a hard versus an easy hike is subjective. The grading scale varies widely depending on the person, guidebook, or hiking organization you’re asking. If you look online, most well-trafficked hiking trails will have some user reviews to color in any gray areas.

Length is an easy benchmark to start with when choosing a trail, but it’s far from the only factor involved. For beginners I’d recommend keeping your hike between 1-5 miles roundtrip. If you’ve never walked more than a couple miles at a time, keep it closer to your comfort zone and usual distance because walking down a dirt trail can be very different from pavement or sidewalk.

Elevation Gain

Elevation gain is where difficulty really starts to pick up. I’ve arbitrarily chosen four mile hikes expecting a quick walk only to discover an endless stack of switchbacks extending into the sky. But how do you judge elevation gain?

An average of around 500 feet of gain per mile is a healthy amount of climbing, but not excessive. 1000 feet of gain per mile is pretty burly hiking regardless of the shape you’re in. Don’t expect to be doing much of anything but going uphill, and anticipate your pace being much slower for prolonged climbs.

Consistent elevation gain adds a considerable amount of difficulty to any hike
Consistent elevation gain adds a considerable amount of difficulty to any hike

Trail Conditions

Trails differ wildly depending on the season, the terrain, the traffic, and the amount of maintenance they see. Popular, well-trafficked trails tend to be in much better shape and make for easier walking than those off the beaten path.

Large patches of mud, river crossings, downed trees, loose rock, and other unpredictable factors are common on less popular trails or those that venture deeper into the wilderness.

These unpredictable trail conditions factor into the difficulty of any hike. So a short hike might be rated as difficult if there are loose rocks or river crossings along the way. Keep in mind that conditions change over time and you may find any of these factors on any trail regardless of difficulty.

Conditions can easily complicate navigation and route finding
Conditions can easily complicate navigation and route finding

Check the Weather

Checking the weather is a crucial part of planning and preparing for your hike. This goes a little beyond looking out your window. Thunderstorms roll in through the summer months, sometimes bringing lightning, wind, or hail, and even more treacherous, flooding through gorges. You can encounter an entire change of season between elevations. Planning your hike means being aware of the whole range of conditions you may encounter outside.

Depending where you’re hiking, checking the forecast for your area should be enough to make an educated guess about what conditions you’ll likely encounter. Those who plan on venturing into snowy upper elevations should be aware of avalanche conditions in their area.

Leave a Lifeline

Cell reception is by no means guaranteed while hiking, and for that matter, neither is battery life.  Even if you’re with a buddy, it’s good form to make a third party aware of when and where you’re hiking. This gives search and rescue a big head start if you should encounter an emergency.

Depending on your hike this can look like a few different things. It could be as simple as shooting someone a text letting them know where and when you’ll be hiking, and sending them pictures afterwards to share your rad views.

Many trailheads have a group registry where hikers can list their group size and trip plan. You can also make a copy of your itinerary and leave it with your car at the trailhead. The bottom line is you want to set yourself up with a support network- just in case. 

As a final note, recent years have seen the rise of emergency beacons such as the Spot Beacon or InReach. Personal Locator Beacons (PLBs) and satellite messengers allow you to put out a distress call to emergency services when self rescue is no longer an option. Some models even let you send specific details about your situation. PLBs are a great tool for frequent recreators, but lay a little outside of the needs of the vast majority of day hikes. There are also apps that mirror the function of PLBs, though with a lesser degree of reliability and accuracy.

Clothing and Packing

I wore cut-off jorts and construction boots on my first backpacking trip; purple bandanna tied around my head like a grape-flavored Rambo. I’ve never looked better, but over time I’ve found a more practical and comfortable hiking getup.

The outdoor industry is gear-driven, and quick to sell you a whole garage worth of gear marketed as “essential.” Chances are you’ll be just fine with whatever is lying around in your closet.

On that note, hiking and outdoor-specific gear does make a huge impact on comfort and performance. If you’re lucky, like me, and have outdoorsy friends, they’ll probably let you borrow some until you start to build your own setup.

Amazing places are accessible without the need for special gear or technical experience
Amazing places are accessible without the need for special gear or technical experience

What to wear

Styles and preferences vary widely within the hiking community. Some people prefer pants to shorts due to vegetation and bugs. They’ll choose long sleeves over t-shirts or tank tops, or hiking sandals over traditional boots. Ultimately you’ll want to do what you find comfortable. Hardline rules are few and far between, and the one you need to remember as a new hiker is to avoid cotton at all costs.

“Cotton Kills” is a foundational adage tossed around a lot in the outdoor community. Cotton is so reviled because it’s slow to dry, breathes poorly, and loses all heat retention when it’s wet- leading to hypothermia. If you have any doubt about what to wear, materials found in sports or athletic wear are great most of the time.

On your feet

We build our hiking setup from the ground up, what you have on your feet is one of the most important things you wear while hiking. A pair of hiking boots, hiking shoes, or trailrunners are your best bet for keeping your feet happy. These shoes are built with the demands of singletrack trail in mind: aggressive lugs for traction, more support around the ankles and arch of the foot, and cushioning to keep you comfortable over long distances.

If you don’t have a pair of hiking shoes or boots yet, don’t worry. They’re a great place to start building your hiking setup, but you have options in the meantime. Any running shoes, while not ideal, should do the trick for entry level hikes. Pick your most comfortable pair of shoes that you’d use for walking or athletic activities.

You should do your best to avoid cotton socks as well. Wool or synthetic socks are the ideal for hiking. Any athletic sock that you’d use for sports or other activity should do the trick, but they probably won’t have the same amount of cushioning.

The most important part about your footwear choice is comfort. If your feet don’t feel good while you’re not hiking, chances are they won’t get any better once you start moving. 

While a good pair of shoes or boots is the safest bet, sandals will take you further than expected
While a good pair of shoes or boots is the safest bet, sandals will take you further than expected

Next to skin

Layering for the outdoors is somewhere between an art and a science, but the foundation is a good base layer. Your ideal hiking base will be quick dry underwear and shirt, or something a little tighter and warmer depending on the season. The most important thing is that it wicks moisture away from your skin and dries quickly.

Wool and polyester base layers are more important for hiking in cold weather. But seeing as most people prefer to get out when the weather is warmer and the days are longer it’s more important to emphasize keeping any layer close to chafe-prone areas dry.

Breathability is crucial in any base layer, regardless of the season
Breathability is crucial in any base layer, regardless of the season

Sun protection

Running off the assumption that you’ll be doing most of your hiking during the sunny spring and summer seasons, you could say the most dangerous thing about being outside is prolonged sun exposure.

As such, it’s important to assess how much sun exposure you’re willing to accept and understand that a day of hiking in the sun is much less controlled than spending time at the beach. When you’re a few miles deep in the wilderness there’s no guarantee of a shady umbrella or a cool body of water to escape the heat and UVs.

When it’s warm, a UV-resistant t-shirt or long sleeve is a great way to limit your chances of being burned. You’ll be spending most of your time in one of these light, breathable layers once you start walking and warming up. They’re typically nylon or polyester, and are of the same make as most breathable workout shirts. Even if you’re hiking in the fall and winter, sun exposure is still something to consider- the worst sunburn I’ve ever had was from skiing on a clear winter day. 

Of course, all of this is most effective when coupled with a sun protective hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen. Ultimately what this looks like is up to you. For example I (almost) never hike in anything but shorts (it has to be pretty cold to get me to budge) but I’m always wearing a hat, even when it’s overcast.


We’ll talk more about what to carry in your hiking pack below, but for now just know that it’s important to have warm clothes with you regardless of the conditions. Initially this may just be whatever jacket or midlayer that you have at your disposal, eventually you may want to look into a more dialed layering system.

I’m not saying that you should bring a ski jacket to the desert in summer, but weather can change quickly over the course of the day and temperatures drop significantly at night. If your hike ends up taking longer than you anticipated, it’s well worth it to have a warm jacket.

Again, avoiding cotton like you’d find in most hoodies or pullover shirts is ideal for outdoor insulation. A wool or synthetic knit pullover, or a lightweight puffy jacket are your best bets.

Rain, wind, and snow

Whether by choice or circumstance, eventually you’re going to end up walking in wet, windy weather. Prudence dictates you should have some sort of water-resistant layer in your kit before you venture out on any hike- just in case. What you carry always depends on the season and weather, it can range from a lightweight windbreaker to a rain shell.

Brand name hardshells and soft jackets are expensive. Depending on your area, and how much you hike in the rain, some of these high-quality brands are a worthwhile investment you’ll want to make sooner rather than later. In the meantime, chances are you have something reasonably water-resistant. While it might be leaky after a few hours of exposure to the rain it’s definitely better than nothing.

A good hiking outfit should be comfortable and adaptable to changing conditions
A good hiking outfit should be comfortable and adaptable to changing conditions

Packing for a Day Hike

What you bring along for your day hike will vary nearly as much as what you wear. Below we’ll cover the basics of what you should bring on every hike, as well as some examples of what we’ve brought on a wide range of hikes.

The 10 Essentials

The 10 Essentials are a long-standing set of guidelines that first appeared in the 1974 edition of the legendary textbook Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills. The 10 Essentials are the conservative baseline for what you should bring on every hike, endorsed by most major outdoor organizations.

The 10 Essentials include:

This is quite a bit of gear, maybe more than you’d need for a couple miles on a well-trafficked trail. Keep in mind that this is a conservative recommendation. Is it a good idea to bring these things along for every hike? Absolutely. Do I bring an emergency shelter for every short and crowded day hike in a national park? Absolutely not.

It’s a lot like what we went over in sun protection- you assess your preparedness, the conditions, and the level of risk that you’re willing to accept and decide what to bring from there. 

Day Pack

A comfortable pack is an absolute necessity for carrying the rest of your gear. I have a few different options that I use for day hikes. These range from lightweight 25 liter packs with no external pockets, to more fleshed out 30-45L packs with hip belts that double as ski packs or overnight bags.

If you’re just getting started, a supportive backpack will do in lieu of a dedicated daypack. A lifestyle or commuter pack would work well, while a drawstring sports pack will likely be uncomfortable over more than a couple miles.

The most important things to consider when choosing a pack for your purposes are comfort and carry capacity. Adjustable shoulder straps, a breathable back mesh, and hip belt are a great way to make a carry less noticeable on a long hike.

I’m of the opinion that you can never have enough pockets in a hiking bag. Hipbelt, large mesh water bottle pockets, and external stuff pockets are helpful. An internal port to run a hydration pack hose and removable brain (top storage cover) are also great features.


Water is perhaps the most crucial thing to bring along on every hike. It’s key in keeping your body functioning normally during any kind of activity- and you should expect to consume quite a bit of it while you’re hiking.

How much you should bring depends on the terrain that you’re hiking, the weather conditions, and the demands of your body. Adults need at least .5L per hour while hiking, I definitely drink more than that.

Water weighs a considerable amount (around 2lbs per liter) so you don’t want to carry an excessive amount. On the other hand, running out of water with miles left to go is pretty miserable. I’ve been burned before and err on the side of caution in all circumstances.

I highly recommend investing in a large refillable bottle or water bladder for your hiking purposes. Disposable water bottles aren’t a great look in the outdoors, and rarely have the capacity that you’ll need for most hikes.

While it’s a good idea to come prepared with all the water that you’ll need for most day hikes, sometimes it’s unrealistic to have enough to get you through a long, strenuous day. It’s good practice to have some means to treat your water, be it a filter, UV light, chemical treatment, or some other method.

Proper hydration is a major issue, particularly in desert environments
Proper hydration is a major issue, particularly in desert environments


Calories count while you’re hiking- as do salt and electrolytes. I take food with me on every hike, and I’ve recently started bringing some sort of fuel along on most runs as well.

I’m hesitant to tell you how much food you should bring because it varies so much from person to person. The one thing I can tell you is that it never hurts to have more. In my very food-motivated experience, a spare peanut butter sandwich can be the difference between a good day and a bad day. It’s embarrassing how quickly a little bit of chocolate can turn my mood around.

I try to bring food as calorie dense as possible, along with a little bit of salt and sugar. When I shop for hikes I try to buy foods that are packable and won’t get too squished while I’m out on trail. I’m no stranger to Clif Bars and other prepackaged snacks, and I’ve had a few life changing Snickers experiences when I was low on fuel. Knowing myself, I usually try to bring something more substantial- a PB&J or a bagel with salami and cheese are in heavy rotation. I’ll supplement my sandwich supply with trail mix, granola, dried fruit, or other sugary odds and ends.

For longer day hikes, overnight trips, and cold weather you might be interested in a hot meal on trail. Using a camp stove to heat water for instant noodles, boxed mac and cheese, or other minimalist meals is great if you’re not in a hurry. Otherwise freeze-dried packaged meals from brands like Mountain House or Backpacker’s Pantry can save you some time while delivering the calories you need to keep moving.

There’s nothing wrong with a frozen burrito or other quick meals while you’re out and about
There’s nothing wrong with a frozen burrito or other quick meals while you’re out and about


Well-trafficked and maintained hiking trails are usually easy to follow, clearly marked with blazes, and sometimes feature trailside maps to help you find your way. No matter how well-traveled the trail, you should always have some sort of backup. I’ve lost a trail from washouts, snow, and overgrowth in the past and without fail it’s an absolutely miserable feeling.

There are plenty of hiking-oriented GPS apps available for free or purchase on your phone. Some, like Alltrails, allow you to find hikes in your area based on your GPS location. Google maps has some popular hiking trails available for download. Personally, I use CalTopo because it’s what I’m used to, and has some cool features for winter or off trail travel.

All this goes without saying that a GPS app doesn’t do you any good if your phone is lost or broken. Navigation with paper maps and compass is a hugely valuable skill, and can be a fun thing to practice while on trail.

As a final note, it’s easy to focus too much on your GPS app at the behest of common sense. These trackers are rarely 100% accurate, and are better used as a large scale frame of reference. I’d highly encourage you to rely on your intuition and whatever physical trail markers are out there than get lost looking at your screen.

Access to dependable navigation is even more important when there’s no trail to follow
Access to dependable navigation is even more important when there’s no trail to follow

First Aid

You never want to venture into the backcountry without the means to adequately care for yourself, self-rescue is paramount. That said, the majority of circumstances that require basic first-aid skills and equipment will be more convenience and comfort oriented than anything else.

Blisters, minor cuts, rolled ankles and other minor problems can be quickly and adequately addressed with a basic first aid kit. Longer and more technical hikes might require a bit more comprehensive kit to help you be prepared to deal with complications while waiting for help. 

Shorter day hikes aren’t going to require much, and you don’t need to invest in a full-blown wilderness medicine setup right off the bat. You can get by with a very basic setup of band-aids and bandages, an ACE-type elastic wrap, and over the counter drugs for most day hikes. You can’t understate the mental benefits of having basic first aid tools close at hand. Ibuprofen or other anti-inflammatories have done wonders for me.

As a final note, pursuing some kind of wilderness medicine education is one of the most valuable things I’ve done in my outdoor tenure. Even an entry level Wilderness First Aid certification gave me confidence and changed my decision making process for every outdoor excursion. They’re also a great networking opportunity, I’ve made lifelong friends on these kinds of courses.


We covered quite a bit of ground in our packing list, and have consistently returned to the idea that these are guidelines and what you actually bring with you depends on the hike itself and your experience level.

In order to give you a better idea of how this varies, we’ve included a few examples of our packing lists for different hikes that we’ve done over the years. I’d be lying to you if I claimed I brought the 10 essentials on every hike, but I do my best to make sure my bases are covered and make a real effort to up my carry when the distance and exposure requires it.

Broken Arch Loop, Arches National Park

2 miles, June, 93°F

This short desert hike is one of many accessible from the extensive road network in Arches National Park. Even in the heat of summer, this park attracts a ton of tourists with its iconic views of suspended rock arches. Given the length and popularity, I chose to carry a lighter load- but made sure to account for the heat with plenty of water and sunproof layers.

What I wore

What I carried

Petrified Forest Loop, Theodore Roosevelt National Park

10.3 mi, August, 70°F

Theodore Rooosevelt sees less traffic than other North American National Parks, and many of its trails are rough and boggy with a high likelihood of bison encounters. While the weather was near perfect for hiking, this trail is reasonably long, and features hazards like a river crossing lots of mud, and heavy overgrowth. This hike I carried my basics, along with an extra jacket, food, and a headlamp in case I ended up outside longer than anticipated.

What I wore

What I carried

Enchanted Valley Chalet, Olympic National Forest

26 mi round trip, October, 49°F

I had intended to make the push to Enchanted Valley, along with an additional few miles up to the Anderson Glacier in a single day. Fortunately, when my group’s pace wasn’t as fast as anticipated we brought everything we needed to spend a night in the wilderness just in case. This isn’t a decision I’ve made every time I’ve done a hike like this, but after this experience I weigh the chances of needing to spend a night outside heavily before making a final decision.

What I wore

What I carried

Hiking Tips and Etiquette

Be responsible in using public land
Be responsible in using public land

Basics of LNT (Leave No Trace)

Trail systems are a shared space, and responsible use of public land is intimately tied up in the idea of collective stewardship. Leave No Trace Ethics are a widely accepted set of principles that guide recreationists in conserving the land they use. The seven principles are as follows:

  • Plan ahead and prepare
  • Travel and camp on durable surfaces
  • Dispose of waste properly
  • Leave what you find
  • Minimize campfire impacts
  • Respect wildlife
  • Be considerate of other visitors

We’ve talked about several of these concepts already, and the rest aren’t too hard to understand. Staying on trail, drowning your campfire, and avoiding trying to ride the wildlife are fairly obvious, common-sense actions that can help minimize your impact while being active outdoors. We’ve only scratched the surface of these principles, and many would argue (myself included) that responsible recreation demands more than just “doing no harm.”

Decision Making on the Trail

We’ve discussed planning and preparation at length, but making choices doesn’t stop at the trailhead. Being aware of changes in conditions, weather, and my own internal state has been one of the most rewarding skills that I’ve developed as a hiker. My biggest rule with hiking is it’s okay to change your plans, turn around, or bail on the trip before you even get on trail.

While I’m a big proponent of challenging yourself, it’s easy to succumb to “summit fever”- being so dead set on your end point or arbitrary goal that your decision making process is impaired and you allow more risk than intended.

Knowing when to call it, can be tricky, and abandoning something you’ve invested time and energy into accomplishing is painful. All I can say is I’ve regretted pushing things too far before, but I’ve never regretted turning around. 

Hiking Tips

Over time, you’ll develop your own preferred style of hiking and figure out what works to get you where you want to go at a pace that you find comfortable. Regardless of whether you’re taking a stroll to look at every toadstool, or power walking uphill, here are some basics everyone should be aware of.

  • Stay on trail- The easiest way to get lost on trail is to venture off of it. Without experience, it’s difficult to orient yourself in the woods or mountains and you can quickly lose your way. In addition to this, it’s bad form to wander off trail in popular hiking areas and damage the surrounding environment.
  • It’s not a race- Pace preferences vary from person to person, it’s important to find something that feels sustainable for you and the rest of your group. Take breaks as needed and try to move in a way that’s enjoyable. One thing that I try to remember is it’s not a matter of going faster, it’s a matter of starting earlier.
  • Hike within your ability level- It’s worth repeating that you’re not doing yourself any favors jumping in over your head. Take time to learn how your body responds to hiking, and don’t be afraid to turn back if things get too unpredictable or hazardous. You should make sure that the least experienced member of your group has the biggest voice when it comes to these decisions.
  • Change your plans with the conditions-  Keep an eye out for shifts in weather and trail conditions over the course of your hike. If there’s a big washout or if a storm is rolling in, it may be prudent to turn back sooner rather than later.
It’s not a race, make sure you occasionally take the time to appreciate the details
It’s not a race, make sure you occasionally take the time to appreciate the details

Respecting Other Hikers

Hiking trails are a shared space that people come to for all kinds of reasons. While you’re entitled to enjoy the outdoors in whatever way you find fitting, it’s important to be courteous to other hikers. Here are a few crucial considerations for on-trail courtesy.

  • Don’t play music on trail- Portable speakers significantly impact the experience of other hikers on trail, and are reviled among the hiking community. If you want to listen to music on trail, I’d stick with headphones and keep the volume down so you can hear other people and animals as they approach.
  • Don’t cut switchbacks- A lot of effort goes into building and maintaining trails. One of the biggest things you can do to make that work count is by following the intended path of popular trails and not taking shortcuts up switchbacks where they exist. This helps prevent erosion, keeping the trail and the surrounding environment in one piece.
  • Give people space- If you’re hiking around the same speed as another person or group, it’s considered good form to leave a little buffer room. No one likes the feeling of someone breathing down their neck, and not everyone will want to engage in more than a short, polite greeting.
  • Respect your hiking partners- Sometimes tensions run high on trail. You’re putting yourself in a vulnerable position and everyone responds differently. Make sure that everyone you’re hiking with feels like they have a voice in your decision making, and that you’re respectful of the needs of the least experienced person in the group.

Passing Etiquette

There is an official right of way guide to passing on trail, but there are certain circumstances where you may want to make common sense exceptions.

As a general rule, mountain bikers are expected to give hikers the right of way on trails whether they’re climbing or descending. This is good in theory, but in practice it’s usually better to step off to the side of the trail if you see or hear someone riding down ahead of you. Bikers are often moving pretty fast, so it’s likely safer for you to get out of the way and let them appreciate the uninterrupted downhill.

If you encounter horses or mules on trail, you’re better off stepping to the side and giving them plenty of room to pass. I’m not a huge fan of hiking behind horses, but dodging the occasional pile of manure is way better than getting kicked in the chest when you accidentally spook one of them.

In regards to hikers, it should go without saying that you should give faster groups room to pass while on trail. Don’t get caught up in a competitive headspace where you end up leapfrogging each other- it’s better in the long run to just be done with it.

If you find yourself approaching a slower group, giving them some sort of warning that you’re close by. A “hello” or an “on your left” can save some startling. Finally, you should give the right of way to uphill hikers as they have a more limited field of view and, let’s face it, are probably having less fun.

Beware of Car Break-ins

As a final note, you should take care in remembering to lock your car and remove all valuables if you’re driving to the trailhead. Unfortunately, trail parking lots have become a popular target for smashed windows and stolen gear.

The best way to avoid this is to keep everything important out of your car- or hide it well if you absolutely need to leave something.


Hiking is a great way to explore the outdoors on your own terms, and it’s also the best entry point into the larger world of outdoor recreation. Hopefully this guide has covered most of your questions about what you need to get started. That said, there’s much more to learn that no amount of reading can teach you. Getting out of the front door is the hardest part.

Thanks for reading, we encourage you to ask any additional questions or let us know what you do to prepare for your hikes in the comment section below.

On this page


Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Go to Frontpage