20 things to Know Before You Start Hiking

Hiking is easy and preparation is key, so having the right info helps. Here are 20 things to know before hiking to get started.

If you’re looking to start hiking and don’t know where to start there are plenty of resources available. The great thing about hiking and the hiking community is that people are more than willing to share their experiences to help each other out. I don’t claim to be an expert at any of this, but I’m not afraid to ask for help to get better. I asked the Hiking & Backpacking in Texas Facebook group for some knowledge and they were all really willing to help, so I’ve compiled a list of 20 things to know before you start hiking.

Hopefully, you find some information that’s helpful as a new hiker, or you’re rediscovering some things as a seasoned vet. Either way, if you enjoy this post please share it with your friends. I’ll really appreciate it.

These are more in the realm of life lessons. I have a separate post for The 10 Essentials which is important for any hiker. You can check that post out here.

The suggestions fall into three categories: Essentials, Gear Knowledge, and Life Lessons.


#1 Clip Your Toenails

This one came up pretty frequently. Michael D. says, “Long toenails have been a pain on many hikes lol. They’ll also eat through socks faster.” So clip them down before long hikes. My daughter learned this the hard way growing up. When her toenails got a little longer they bumped up the front of her shoe frequently and then the nail dies. It’s not pleasant, and sometimes they grow back weirdly. You don’t want to deal with this on the trail.

#2 Leukotape/Duct Tape/Moleskin

All of the tapes! These will help you in a variety of situations with your feet and any cuts and scrapes.

#3 Bug Spray

Protect your skin from bugs is something you don’t always think about, and it’s not necessarily one of the 10 essentials. I’ve learned having some kind of bug spray has come in handy, especially if I’m hiking somewhere that typically has stagnant water.

#4 Double check your first-aid kit before you leave

This seems like a no-brainer, but it’s like my camera batteries; sometimes you just forget. A long-distance trail would be a tough place to forget.

#5 Water, Water, Water

# 6 Food, Food, Food

These are the most neglected items I feel, and part of the 10 essentials. Always pack more water and food than you think you need. But remember water can get heavy really quick, so ensure you’re aware of your hydration situation before a long hike. Nick S. reminds us, “A pound on your foot Is like 20 on your back”.

Gear Knowledge

#7 Buy the best you can afford

“Buy once, cry once”. Find the quality you can afford. Having to buy three backpacks because they fell apart is no bueno.

#8 Good quality deals

Don’t be afraid to buy second-hand for good quality items at a great deal. There are many options like REI garage sale or Goodwill. There are items, even if it’s just clothing, that can be scoured at a deep discount.

#9 Proper sunwear, especially the hat

UPF has come a long way. If you hike in Texas during the summer, then you should be wearing moisture-wicking, breathable, UPF fabric. Always. And a good hat should cover all around your head, not just the front. I started wearing the Buff that I wear for fishing to give me extra sun protection.

#10 Good Socks should really be #1

The best socks for hiking are Merino wool blends. Don’t try and fight me on that. Read more here about the best socks for hiking.

#11 Hiking Poles are important

A hiking staff or trekking poles are a really good investment to make to save your knees and give you the balance on going up and downhill. There are plenty of options too. The full Trekking Pole guide is posted here.

#12 Don’t forget the water filter

So you ran out of water, but you’re standing in front of a creek. Should you drink it? I wouldn’t. I water filter increases your water options tenfold. Don’t hit the trail without one. I have a list of my recommendations.

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#13 Good hiking shoes that fit

Whether you are a boot person or a trail runner person, good shoes are imperative. It takes time to find what works best for you style-wise, but the most important thing regardless of looks are how your shoes fit. Landon B. shared his story, “Get boots that are one size bigger! Not 1/2 size too small! (Lessened learned 30 yrs ago at age 13 on day two of a 10 day, 130-mile trek through the Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico) 13 blisters that day… remember like it was yesterday”. Ouch. I definitely would know more from that event for sure.

#14 Girls gotta pee too: Pee Rags

Guys. Don’t ever forget how much easier we have it out on the trails. Ladies have to contend with a multitude of issues out on the trails, and peeing is definitely one of them. Pee Rags give extra sanitation to peeing out on the trail and help cut down on waste if you don’t want to pack out your toilet paper. They are antimicrobial on one side and waterproof on the other, so you can use them to wipe and they drive quickly. Someone on the group suggested you can burn it for your campfires, but that may not always be an option. Kula cloth is the biggest brand for these, but others make these as well.

#15 Waterproof what you can

Waterproofing isn’t really something I thought I’d need to know before hiking. Not everyone wants to or has the ability to buy each piece of specialty gear, so if you can waterproof your stuff ahead of time you may be able to save some money. This might be more of a camping suggestion, but it’s a good lesson to know either way.

Life Lessons

#16 Learn to read a map and a compass

A lot of the people commenting really wished they knew how to read maps better when they started hiking. It seems like that would definitely be something you should know before hiking, but it often gets forgotten. It’s a life skill whether you’re out on the trail, or just in general. I learned at Lost Maples SNA that cell service isn’t always guaranteed. So taking one and knowing how to use it with a compass will save your life.

#17 Plan out your day before you get there

This is really important. Make sure you have a general idea of where you wanna go, or where you need to be before you get there. I’ve been stuck out on trail with time constraints and had to scramble through decided best routes for my return. Not a great spot to be in.

#18 Check the weather report

This goes with number 17, but knowing the weather is crucial. Especially if there’s a chance of rain or more importantly lighting. But also knowing what to do in those situations as well.

#19 Take your time and Watch your step!

My biggest bad habit is I typically only hike for exercise. I forget to slow down and really enjoy the trail. To take in the views, take some pictures and really just admire the beautify of Mother Nature.

#20 Start Early/ Embrace that it doesn’t last forever/Don’t turn down a trip

And the biggest lesson people should know before hiking is the realization they should’ve started earlier.

We all discover the outdoors at various times in our life, but it’s really important to find it at an early age and really enjoy and embrace everything that it has to offer.

A handful of commenters don’t find it so easy to get out and hike as much anymore because of ability or health, and just wish they got out and explored much earlier.

Part of that also includes missing out on some great adventures. If you have the opportunity to go out on a great hike, then do it!

So there you have it. I hope some of these give you good ideas to know before hiking and are valuable lessons for you. What are some of your ideas for things you wish you knew when you started hiking? Let me know in the comment section below!

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