Male hiker with a backpack in a rainforest - get ready for your first hike

First Hike: Tips for newbies

Going for your first hike is both exhilarating and a little anxiety inducing. Will I get lost? Will I step on a snake? Will it hurt? What if the hills are too big and I can’t walk up them? With adequate research and preparation, you’ll be fine. Use your common sense and don’t take on more than your body is capable of hiking or you’ll end up sore and tired and sadly put off hiking forever. A gentle introduction can set you up with a love of hiking for the rest of your life.

Preparing for your first hike

Call me a complete nerd, but I think that the research and preparation part of hiking is just as fun as hiking itself. I love researching the area where I’m going to hike, working out how long the hike will take, what the elevation is like (so I know how tough it will be) and even how I’ll get there.

I also like to do circuit walks which don’t require a ‘car shuffle’ (where you take two cars, drive 2 cars to the end point and  drive one back to the start point) and you don’t have to walk out and back along the same path (boring!), so I usually narrow my hikes to circuit walks. Out and back walks are good for a first hike because there’s less chance of getting lost and you can turn around at any time if you become too fatigued or develop blisters.

I refer to my collection of hiking boots and check out the length of the hike, the terrain, the elevation, and the level of difficulty to find a hike that I would like to do.  I also search Google for hiking information (like on this blog), or refer to websites such as Walking Maps, Bushwalking Victoria’s Where2Walk,  or All Trails.

I get in touch with my hiking buddies to coordinate a date, or I take my husband, young son and perhaps my sister and we just go.

Around Melbourne, the You Yangs or Werribee Gorge are great places to start. It’s hard to get seriously lost out there and there are some well-signposted walks to do.

Everything you need to know about going on your first hike

Things to consider

  1. Time of day – don’t start a hike, especially your first hike, late in the afternoon. Make sure you know when sunset is so you can be safely back at your car or other transport well before then.
  2. Know how far you can realistically go – don’t set out on a hard eight-hour 20km hike if you find it challenging to walk a few kilometres around the block. This goes for anyone hiking with you. Over undulating and rocky terrain, you may only travel 2-3km per hour (approx 1.5 – 2mph) or less if you’re hiking up a steep mountain.
  3. Go for an urban hike first – this way you’ll get to know if your clothing, footwear and backpack are comfortable and how far you can walk before getting too tired or sore. Consider it a test run before the real thing. This is especially important if you’re hiking with kids, or will be carrying a baby in a baby backpack carrier.
  4. Avoid the wilderness – choose somewhere that’s not remote so that if something does go wrong (e.g. someone sprains an ankle), you’re not too far from civilisation and help. If you get lost, you can ‘bushbash’ your way back to the main road. I’ve had to do plenty of bushbashing in the past when I’ve become lost.

Gear you need for your first hike

For a hiker, there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad gear. Be prepared with the right clothing, footwear and backpack and rain or shine, you’ll be fine on the trails.

For a hiker there's no such thing as bad weather, only bad gear. Be prepared with the right clothing, footwear and backpack and rain or shine, you'll be fine on the trials.

So true!

Footwear and clothing

Your choice of footwear will largely depend on the type of trail your choose for your first hike. Your everyday runners might be OK, provided the surface and conditions are OK. Runners are definitely OK on a sealed path. Runners are also fine on gravel paths. You’ll find both of these surfaces on plenty of urban and semi-urban hikes.  But as soon as you go off-road, you’ll find that runners have their limitations. Runners get slippery in wet conditions and don’t offer the same sort of grip or support as a pair of hiking books, trail runners or hiking shoes, plus their soles are flexible and unstable.

I personally love hiking shoes. They’re not as bulky and heavy as boots and they offer loads more grip than runners. The soles are stable and not flexible like runners so they keep your ankles more secure when trekking over rocky and uneven terrain. They’re also made of waterproof materials so keep your feet quite dry and they dry quite quickly when they become wet.

You don’t need to spend a fortune on your hiking footwear. There are often great sales at Ray’s Tent City, Anaconda and Kathmandu where you can pick up a pair for a fraction of the original retail price.

I got a pair of Columbia brand hiking shoes for about $27.00 from a clearance sale at Ray’s, reduced from $180. They are gold!

In terms of clothing, I dress for the weather and prepare for all kinds of conditions but I always wear pants rather than shorts for extra protection from long grass, other scratchy plants, leeches (yuck!) and of course, snakes. I wear hiking pants rather than track pants and NEVER  jeans, which are heavy and don’t dry if they become wet through sweat or rain or river crossings. Hiking pants are also made of light-weight and sometimes stretchy fabric which will wick water or sweat away, keeping you more comfortable and dry than track pants. Again, you can pick up sweet deals on hiking pants at the end of season clearance sales.

The rest of my clothing is all about layering so I can peel off outer layers if I become warm but stay warm and dry if the conditions are cold.

I wear breathable hiking shirts or exercise t-shirts with wicking technology. Either are better than a regular cotton t-shirt which can become quite wet with sweat and not very quick to dry.  Wicking fabrics move the sweat away from your body and dry quickly.

During winter, I might hike with an exercise t-shirt under a long-sleeved hiking shirt and then a fleece jacket I can remove if I get warm, and always carry a jacket in my pack if I’m not wearing it. Bring a waterproof rain jacket even if the weather looks fine. A breathable jacket is best, something made with Goretex (or similar) that will keep you dry and not be like hiking in a sauna. On one of my first hikes I found out that the spray jacket I was wearing wasn’t waterproof when I got caught out by sleet on the summit of Mt Donna Buang. It was really hot and steamy in the valley below but freezing cold on the 1300m summit, which isn’t even that high of a mountain. So conditions on the ground are not a guide for conditions on the top of the peak. A lesson I learnt the hard (or cold!) way.

Other gear

You’ll often see me out on the trails wearing a daggy hiking hat rather than a cap. It’s kind of like the ones kids wear at school these days providing sun protection all around your head, rather than just on your face like a cap. Choose a lighter colour because dark colours really soak up the heat. On a warm day, your head will be baking in a black hat. White is best in warm weather because it reflects the heat away.

Sunscreen, sunscreen, sunscreen. Apply it before you leave home and reapply it later during your hike if you’re out in the sun for more than a couple of hours.

Your choice of backpack – is also important. It needs to be comfortable and not too big. Daypacks for hiking for up to 32 litres capacity should have plenty of space for everything you need. Consider buying a hiking daypack with a hydration bladder for your water. You can get a two or three-litre hydration bladder for your water supply. The bladder sits within a special section within the backpack, usually close to your back, and the hose will poke out and sit over your shoulder and you can easily drink from the nozzle. Something like the original Camelbak daypack or a similar cheaper version should be fine. See my hiking hacks for hydration bladder cleaning tips.

Hiking poles are optional and will depend on your personal preference. It may also depend on the type of hike you’re doing and the weather conditions. I love my hiking poles. They absorb a lot of your weight, can help get up a steep incline and provide extra support in slippery conditions. They can also be a pain in the butt to carry if you don’t need them. Check if your backpack has a place where you hang or carry your pole(s) for when you don’t need to use them. You can get cheap poles for under $20 from somewhere like Ray’s or Anaconda.

Staying fed and hydrated

How much water you need to bring will depend on how long your hike will be, but always bring more than you think you’ll need in case the hike takes longer than expected. Same with food. This is often the case when you’re new to hiking and don’t realise that it can take an hour to walk just 2km over steep terrain or you might take a wrong path and a 2-hour hikes ends up taking 3 hours.

For a short one-hour hike, I’d just take a 600ml bottle of water.

For a two-hour hike, I’d take two 600ml bottles of water.  Anything longer than that and I’ll take a two litre bladder.

For long day hikes of six to eight hours I’ll take the two-litre bladder plus a few other drinks like a sports drink and a juice box. If you freeze it, it’ll thaw during the hike and be cool and refreshing at lunch time. Perfect on a warm day. I don’t think I’ve ever run out of water during a hike. I’ve come close. I also leave extra water bottles and snacks in the car for when I return. I don’t rely on water sources along the way.  Especially not in summer – it can be quite dry in the hills around Melbourne and Victoria.

I love to eat things like nori rolls, sandwiches and my muesli slice. Make sure you take all of your rubbish with you.

Soon I’ll publish a post that looks at the pros and cons of hydration bladders vs bottles. Sign up to my email list to keep up-to-date with my hiking tips and advice.

First aid kit

For a day hike, I take a really basic first-aid kit. It’s easy to put together one. I use a large zip lock bag to keep all of my first aid stuff together and save space. In it I include:

  • band aids
  • blister pack
  • nurofen and panadol
  • Gastro Stop (you do NOT want the runs on a hike!)
  • compression bandage (for snake bites)
  • crepe bandage (for soft tissue injures such as sprains)
  • salt and a cigarette ligher (for leeches, just in case)
  • antiseptic wipes
  • tissues
  • space blanket.

Check out my post First aid kit for hiking, which is all about first aid kits and preparing the right type of kit for your hike.

Be safe

Perhaps the most important thing of all for hikers, newbies AND experienced walkers, is to tell someone where you’re going, your expected route, and what time you expect to be back. That way, the search party will have a good idea where to start if you’re not back in time…

Bring a mobile phone but don’t rely on it for coverage which can be really patchy in the bush. You can call 112 from any mobile phone in Australia to get through to emergency services, even if your phone is out of range of your telco service provider but only if it in within range of another provider.

Bring a map. Or two or three! I usually download and print maps from the Parks Victoria website (they have plenty of free maps), copies of pages from hiking guide books and a VicMap, if I have it. Store these in zip lock bags so they don’t get trashed and wet while you’re hiking. You can get waterproof map sleeves from the hiking stores, too.

Don’t bother bringing a compass unless you know how to use it correctly. Take a whistle – there may be one already on your backpack. It’s the universal way to signal for help in the bush.

Don’t forget to check out my other post on  Best ever hiking hacks – from avoiding ‘chub rub’ (aka chafing) and leeches, to tips for quickly drying your wet shoes.

Are you planning a hike any time soon? Where will you go?


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