Hiking boots that don’t fit, a water bottle that isn’t big enough, a phone battery that never lasts – these are the things that pass from mere annoyance to sheer torture – even abject danger – on a long walk. Don’t fall into these easy-to-avoid first-timer traps – stay on track with our top hiking tips.
1. Put your best foot forward
First things first: boots. Do. Not. Scrimp. This cannot be emphasised enough. Your boots are your best friend on the trail and you need to spend some time picking them out. Get help at your local outdoor store and test out as many pairs as it takes to find a comfortable fit.
Don’t ignore the faux mountain slopes in the store, either – have a walk up and down them, jump, wiggle your toes. The most common mistake is thinking boots will stretch out – but a size too small is the surest way to a black toenail. Buy bigger if in doubt. And pick up spare laces too. If yours snap on the trail these will be worth their weight in Gore-Tex.
2. Stick to the path
Sounds simple, but taking a “shortcut” is how most people end up lost. It may look quicker to “cut a corner”, but that corner could be hiding a swamp, thick jungle, a steep slope, anything.
Follow the signs, stick to marked routes and accept that the person who marked out the trail probably does know best.
3. Take a guide
Concerned about being alone out there? If you’re at all unsure about where you’re going, or whether you can hack it, join a group. Numerous operators (Macs Adventure, Headwater, Ramblers) offer guided group walks around the UK, Europe, the USA and further afield – and there is, after all, safety in numbers. Many also offer self-guided walking holidays, with all route notes provided.
4. Don’t descend into madness
Everything is flat on a map – but you and your muscles both know that this is far from reality. Learn to read the contours, the circular lines that join points of the same height together, on your map and you’ll be able to see the height change and prepare for – or avoid – steep ascents and descents.
Remember that contour lines closer together mean the slope is steeper, and that downhill can actually be much harder on the muscles than uphill. Reduce the number of miles you plan to walk if the terrain is steep and you’ll avoid burning thigh muscles.