A Simple Hiking Guide for Beginners- Hiking tips for beginners
Hiking is a great way to enjoy the outdoors. While hiking is one of the most fun experiences you can have, it can sound very daunting and overwhelming for first-timers. It is definitely not the easiest hobby in the world. Hiking can also be uncomfortable and strenuous if you lack the knowledge, proper gear, and confidence. Worry not, here are some hiking tips for beginners put together by a fellow beginner. All the tips I have listed will ease hiking for you and tell you everything you need to know to get started.
Hiking Tips for Beginners
Before the Hike
- Easy/ Beginner Hiking Trails
Before choosing your trail, it’s important to be honest with yourself about your fitness and experience level. It’s okay to challenge yourself and push your limits but also understand that you might be doing your body more harm than good. It will also not be a fun experience and you run the risk of hating hiking. If you’re new to hiking, start with the easier trails and work your way into the harder ones. Alternatively, if you do choose to go on a harder trail, hike at your own pace. Plan your hike according to your fitness level.
I would recommend starting with long walks such as Karura Forest, Oloolua Nature Trail, and Haller Park (Mombasa) and then gradually moving to beginner-friendly hikes such as Thigio, Nachu Caves, Kabete, Gikuni Caves, KeFRI, Buxton Tunnel, Tigoni, Hell’s Kitchen Marafa (Malindi). Check out Let’s Drift for more info on these trails. Start with trails that are mostly flat with little or no steep inclines.
From there you can go on intermediate hikes to places such as Ololosokwan, Kereita, Ragia Forest, Cianda, Githiga, Riabai, Ngong Hills, Ihiga ria Guoya(Ndeiya, Limuru), Mt Kilimambogo, Ngare Ndare, Mt Ololokwe, and Menengai Crater.
The idea is to progress to more challenging hikes like William Hill, Gicheru Mines, Sleeping Warrior & Ugali Hills, Mt Longonot, Aberdares(Gatango Falls, Mt Kinangop, Rurimeria Hill, Dragons Teeth and Oldoinyo Lesatima and Elephant Hill), Mt Suswa, Ololosukan, Ndiuni Hills, Kijabe Hills, Castle Forest, and Mt Kenya (Lakes and Summit). No pressure though, it’s perfectly fine if you wish to stick to beginner hikes.
There are plenty of companies that organize hikes in Kenya. Keep your eye out on Facebook hiking groups and on Instagram. Notable mentions include Xtrym Adventures, Bucketlist Adventures, Outdoorer KE, Tranquil Adventures, and HikeManiak.
It is important to monitor the weather situation before you plan your trip. Also bear in mind that the weather could change drastically especially in the mountains. Extreme weather changes will affect your hike-whether its rain or extreme heat. Make sure you ask your guide about the weather before you embark.
If you’re hiking on a hot day, make sure you wear sunscreen. I got some pretty bad sunburn after the Tigoni hike and would not wish it upon anyone. Also, start your journey early in the morning to avoid hiking in the scorching midday sun. A good number of hiking trails in Kenya are scarcely shaded so chances are you will be hiking directly under the sun.
If you’re hiking in the heat wear a hat, apply sunscreen, and carry sunglasses to reduce the glare from the hot sun. You can also try finding a trail that is shady.
If you’re going to the mountains especially Mt Kenya and the Aberdare Ranges, ensure you carry rain gear- a rain coat and a change of clothes as the weather changes drastically.
- What to wear
Comfort is key when picking out clothes to wear for hiking. Avoid jeans! It is also important to layer, that way you can remove some clothes when it’s hot and put wear them when it gets cold.
For hot weather, wear light clothes that are made of breathable material and that dry quickly. Don’t forget to wear a hat/cap. You can also wear a tank top and shorts though you are encouraged to wear long-sleeved tops and long trousers/leggings for sun protection. If you can get UV protective clothing even better (I know, I was also today years old when I found about they exist!) For day hikes, to hot areas gym wear will do.
For colder areas, wear thick socks, a marvin(beanie), carry an extra jacket, a pair of gloves, and thermal wear generally especially thermal pants/leggings.
Shoes play a very important role in determining your pace and comfort during the hike. For short day hikes, sports shoes/sneakers will do. For longer and more challenging hikes, you need a good pair of hiking shoes or hiking boots. When buying hiking shoes, factor in comfort, grip( they should have good grip), they should be waterproof, they should have good ankle support and they should have padding to protect you in case you hit your foot against a rock or tree.
For your bag, carry a backpack, a monkey bag will also do for short hikes. Your day pack should be able to carry all your essentials and it should not be heavy. I learnt this the hard way on the hike to Lake Ellis. My bag definitely wore me down and slowed me down. Carry only what you will need. The hike will be so much easier without the extra weight. If you are on a multi-day hike then you will need a big backpack. Again, comfort is key when choosing a daypack/backpack.
You can source hiking wear, shoes, and bags from a variety of places such as Amazon. In Nairobi, you can source them from the Gikomba market, Toi Market, and Temboh Outdoors in Ngara. You can also check out Flo for shoes, Woolworths for thermal leggings, and Instagram shops such as OutdoorerKE.
- Food/snacks to carry for a day hike
The food and snacks you carry should have protein and fats to give you energy as you are going to be burning calories during the hike. Before the hike, you can have oatmeal, yogurt, and/or eggs to accompany your breakfast. For snacks, granola, nuts (eg peanuts), fruits (eg apple, banana, orange, tangerine), and protein/energy bars will do.
If you will be hiking in the heat, eat salty snacks, and drink lots of water to replace the electrolytes your body loses through sweating. Have at least 3l of water with you, carrying water is an absolute essential. I carried an energy drink with me to the Lake Ellis hike though it is not necessary. Remember not to carry single-use plastic containers and bottles with you and if you do carry them, do not leave them on the trails.
- Essentials to Pack for a hike
Painkillers and prescription medicine
Your phone for navigation and communication purposes and to take pictures and videos of you killing it(or dying lol) on the trails.
Camera- to capture memories
Extras -Not necessary for day hikes- headlamp or torch(if you are hiking to caves or for multiday hikes), pocket knife, first aid kit, whistle, insect repellent. Hiking poles are unnecessary for short and fairly flat trails. You can also make do with sturdy sticks you can pick up on the trail. For more challenging hikes it would be important to have a pole.
During the Hike
- Warm-up before the hike
This is an absolute must in order to stretch your muscles and avoid injuries.
Hike at a comfortable pace. Do not be intimidated by faster hikers if you are slow. Stay on your lane (literally). Listen to your body and take breaks if need be.
Breathe slowly and deeply, especially in high altitude areas. You will find yourself running out of breath a lot faster than usual. Huffing and puffing is nothing to be embarrassed about. Your body is just trying to acclimatize to the change in altitude. To increase your lung capacity you can do workouts, breathing exercises and/ or yoga before the hike.
Stop and smell the flowers, spot wildlife, and enjoy the view. It’s not every day that you get to in nature(unless you live in such areas) and so savour every minute that you are in the great outdoors. Be present, smell the crisp fresh air and enjoy the silence and calm presence in nature.
Your mindset is everything, your thoughts are what will carry you through the hike. Good vibes always.
If the will is strong it shall carry the bodyLegend, 2020
- Hygiene tips
Carry wet wipes, apply some vaseline or powder to avoid chafing- if you are prone to it and carry some hand sanitizer with you.
- Safety tips
Be aware of the wildlife around the area. Most animals are afraid of humans and will scatter when you draw near them. Andrey Josephs, mountaineer extraordinaire advises me that if you do encounter buffaloes, at close range, make as much noise as you can and throw stones towards it. It’ll run away but it’ll circle back, giving you enough time to run away. If you see an elephant, keep quiet and make no noise.
Stick to the trail to avoid getting lost.
If you are hiking solo, join a group trip. I find that hikes are better done with company.
- Trail etiquette
Do not litter. Carry everything you came with, do not leave anything behind.
Let faster hikers pass you and if you want to stop to rest or take pictures, step off the trail to avoid blocking the trail for other hikers.
Noise. Depending on your trail, it is sometimes advised not to be noisy especially near animals.
After the Hike
Stretch after the hike to avoid having sore muscles the day after. The morning after Lake Ellis I was really struggling to walk, mind you I did some stretches after the hike.
Change your clothes if they are wet.
Pat yourself on the back for making it through the hike.
Choose the most scenic trails/routes- those with spectacular views of the landscape or those leading up to a lake, river rapids or waterfalls.
If you are visiting some waterfalls/lakes, ask whether it is safe to swim. If it is then go ahead. Make sure you carry swimwear to change into or a change of clothes. Some of the best natural pools are Ngare Ndare, Sheldrick Falls(Shimba Hills), River Ngeng (Matthews Range/Kitich).
Always do your research before you start hiking so you know what to expect and plan accordingly! Some trails have natural obstacles such as rocks, fallen trees, narrow and steep hills, and rushing streams.
Watch your step and be careful not to slip, especially on muddy trails and trails with loose stones. I slipped and fell on our way to Lake Ellis, luckily I did not get hurt.
Hike more. Hiking is like a muscle that you have to keep building. The more consistent you are, the more your lung capacity will increase and the more endurance you’ll get.
It’s also not that deep, have fun with it. Enjoy the hike.
There are lots of physical benefits of hiking (it reduces stress, improves brain power and memory)and it is also great for building resilience and willpower. Not to mention how badass you will feel after conquering a hill/mountain.
Now that we are encouraged to keep social distance, I’ve found that hiking provides a great way of enjoying nature, getting a break out of city life, killing cabin fever, and keeping fit all while trying to stay safe. Those are some hiking tips for beginners and I hope that they will make your hiking experience smoother.
Are you planning to go on a hike, or looking to start hiking? Bookmark this post for future reference.
Let me know in the comments below what you like or dread the most about hiking.
Share these hiking tips with a fellow traveller 🙂
as always seek discomfort and until next time, Bye!