Hiking for Beginners: How to Get Started
One of the most common questions we hear at Miss Adventure Pants is how to get started with hiking (or backpacking, rock climbing, mountaineering, etc.). Hiking for beginners can be overwhelming. People wonder things like, what do I wear? How do I find people to hike with? Will I get eaten by a bear?
The good news is that hikers are a friendly bunch. No matter where you are and what you want to learn, there’s probably someone out there who would be thrilled to introduce you to the sport they love. You just need to find them.
So today’s post is all about hiking for beginners. I’ll show you where to go to learn the skills you need and find new people to play outside with.
To learn more, play the video clip above, or read the transcript below for the quick and dirty version.
Hiking for Beginners
Hi guys, it’s Sarah from Miss Adventure Pants with your weekly live chat. Today we’re going to talk about one of the most common questions we get on the blog, and that’s how to get started with hiking and mountain climbing.
Hiking for beginners can be kind of intimidating, Maybe you’ve moved to Colorado or Seattle for the first time and you see everyone around you doing all this crazy outdoors stuff. Or maybe you’re someplace like Ohio or the South where it’s not as popular, but you’d like to get into it.
The good news is that no matter where you are, I really believe you can learn what you need to get started.
When I talk about hiking for beginners, there are two things I like to emphasize.
First, you need skills
Exactly which ones depends on where you are and what you’re doing. Obviously, if you’re going to climb a class 5 pitch with ropes, you need a lot of skills.
But I also think you also need skills if you’re just going out and hiking on trail with your friends. For example, here in Colorado, you need to know things like how to dress, so that if you get wet, you won’t freeze and get hypothermia.
(By the way, did you know hypothermia is actually the number one reason for fatalities in Colorado among outdoors people? If can happen even in the summer.)
You also need to know things like where to get a map, how to follow it so that you don’t get lost, and how to get help if you do get lost. And you need to know how to avoid hazards — things like lightning, falling rocks, and avalanches.
The other thing you need is community
I think anyone who’s into outdoor sports can attest that we make some of the best friends of our lives hiking, backpacking, and mountain climbing. It’s one of the few ways left that you can be together and people won’t be on their phones or distracted by their social media.
At least here in Colorado, we don’t get a signal up in the mountains, so everybody’s completely offline. You really have to talk to each other like it’s the 1990s, and it really is great for your relationships. There are people that I’ve been on backpacking trips with for a couple days that I’ve gotten just incredibly close to.
Another great thing about community is you can take a bit more risk than you would by yourself. There’s no reason you can’t do easy hikes alone. But if you want to do something harder, if you want to step it up a notch, you’re definitely going to want to find people to do that with.
So where do you find people, and where do you learn skills? Let me give you a couple of places you can look that are all about hiking for beginners.
1. National and regional outdoors clubs
Here in Colorado, we have Colorado Mountain Club. Up in the Pacific Northwest, they have The Mountaineers. My friend who moved here from California was really active in the Sierra Club. And out east, the Appalachian Mountain Club is really big.
Most of these clubs have local chapters. They’ll lead hikes where you can get together and meet other hikers.
They also offer classes. In the past few years, I’ve gone from just being a regular trail hiker to being able to climb snow and some easy rock. I’m going to Bolivia to climb a 21,000-foot mountain in September. I learned these skills in the Colorado Mountain Club.
Another great thing about these clubs: you can get discounts. Because you’re going to find when you start hiking that you want to buy more gear and clothing.
So at Colorado Mountain Club, for example, we get the same pro deals as people in the Armed Forces, the Alpine Rescue Team, and the outdoor industry. It’s through a program called Experticity that offers 40 to 70 percent off a lot of amazing brands.
The downsides of big national outdoors clubs
First, you have to pay dues. For Colorado Mountain Club, it’s $75 a year.
There are also a lot of rules if you go on a club hike, because the organization is responsible for you. You have to hike together and look out for one another. The leader makes decisions for the group, because they’re ultimately liable.
In some ways, that’s great. These trip leaders usually have a lot of training and keep the group super safe. But if you’re a person who just likes to do your own thing, it can cramp your style a bit.
If there’s no club by you, or if you’re looking for a bit more freedom, definitely check out Meetup.com. Basically, you create an account on the website and check off your interests — hiking, rock climbing, mountain biking or whatever. And then you can join Meetup groups near you.
Meetup is very informal. Basically, the organizers will send out an email invite to their members saying, “Hey, I’m leading a hike to Mount Falcon, and we’re all gonna meet in this place to carpool. Here’s what the hike is like. Come along, if you can!” And to RSVP, you just hit a button.
Another thing you can do is start your own Meetup. I have a friend who was living in Austin, and there weren’t many outdoors clubs. So he started a hiking Meetup, which costs about $15 a month. I think he teamed up with one other person to split the cost.
Downsides of Meetups
First, they can be a bit willy-nilly. Once the guy I was carpooling with actually left me at the trailhead in the middle of a national forest.
Also, remember that literally anyone can start a Meetup. The person doesn’t necessarily know anything about hiking. For example, someone in Denver posted a trip to Mt. Yale, which is this huge mountain about three hours away. And they wanted to leave Denver at 8 a.m.
Now here in Colorado we try to climb early and come down before noon, because of lightning danger. So if you knew that, you’d see this invite and be like, “No way!”
It’s great to go on Meetups. But make sure you know what you’re doing and that you’re not relying on the organizer. Don’t sign up for a hike unless it’s something you could do by yourself.
3. Outdoors stores
Another place to look for “hiking for beginners” classes and trips is your local outfitter.
The REI here actually offers a ton of awesome classes. I had a couple mountaineering students who wanted to take rock rescue with Colorado Mountain Club. However, the timing didn’t work for them.
So they said, “We’re gonna go to REI and take it.” And I’m like, “Oh, crap. I hope you live.”
But they actually had a wonderful experience. They learned from instructors from a a private mountain school who were AMGA certified, which is the gold standard for rock climbing instruction. And the class wasn’t super expensive, which was nice.
Another great thing our REI does: they have climbing wall nights. They actually have some that are especially for women, which can be great if you want to meet other girls who climb. I know some people who have really enjoyed those.
And it doesn’t have to be a big box store like REI. Where I’m from in Ohio, The Backpacker’s Shop and some of the smaller outfitters actually put on classes and trips. So definitely, those are great place to check out.
National parks, state parks, and local park systems all do outdoor programming. Some teach skills and lead trips.
A really great example: my mom came out here from Cleveland, and I took her snowshoeing for the first time in Rocky Mountain National Park. We got to Nymph Lake, which is this tiny lake about a mile from the trail head, and it was like she had climbed Mount Everest.
She told me, “This is great. I’m gonna snowshoe when I go back to Ohio.” And I’m like, “Oh. I don’t know about that.”
But, you know, I was totally wrong. She lives near Cuyahoga Valley National Park, and they actually offer snowshoeing classes and trips. They do the same for cross-country skiing. She found that; I never would have guessed. So yeah, parks are another great place to look.
5. Private guide services and schools
So if you want some really intensive, professional instruction, check with any guide services near you. This is a great option if you really want to progress quickly at more technical stuff. You can join a small class, or you can get one-on-one instruction with somebody who’s very qualified.
Here in Colorado, we have something called Colorado Mountain School, which offer tons of classes and trips led by professional guides. It’s more on the expensive side, but the quality is top-notch. They offer everything from basic rock climbing to avalanche awareness to ice climbing.
Bonus tip: start an email list
As you’re meeting new hiking friends, start to gather them onto your own email list or Facebook group.
I personally have an email list through a free service called MailChimp, and it works great. When I meet cool people at Colorado Mountain Club or Meetup or even just randomly, I’m like, “Hey, join my email list.” They can even fill out a form on my phone.
Then, when I want to do a hike or trip, I use MailChimp to send out an invite. For example, if I want to climb Angel of Shavano this weekend, I can always find at least two or three people who are excited to do that with me. It’s been nice to make my own community and hike with people I like.
Hiking for beginners with Miss Adventure Pants
Here at Miss Adventure Pants, we love helping people get started in hiking, backpacking, and climbing. In fact, our weekly Facebook live chat is all about hiking for beginners! It’s a great place to ask your questions about gear, food, finding great trails, and more.
To make sure you never miss an episode, follow us on Facebook.
Hope to see you there! In the meantime, happy hiking.