New Hiker Common Sense FAQ

New to backpacking or long-distance hiking? This is a bullet-point list addressing many of your questions. Again, this is only for folks new to hiking.

  • Should I get my advice online? You’re already here, but get advice anywhere you can find it. Be wary of armchair hikers, though. Is that me? Well, there are hikers with more experience than me, for sure…but if you’re coming through NW Georgia, I’d love to show you around the Pinhoti. I’ll also shuttle you to Springer Mtn for the cost of gas in my little bitty beep beep car.
  • What everything should I get? Use whatever you like and won’t harm you. REI, Dicks, Cabelas, Walmart, they all have a return policy. Use it. Don’t wait until your first multi-day trip to figure out you don’t like sleeping in a hammock. Just avoid military surplus. I’m not a gram-weenie, but heck that stuff is heavy.
  • What’s shoes should I wear? Don’t go straight to trail runners. Get hiking shoes. They are (essentially) halfway between a boot and a trail runner. By the time they wear out, you’ll have developed an opinion on going lighter or more sturdy.
  • Do I need gaiters? Depends on where you’re hiking. Woods, probably not. Dusty, snowy, or sandy environment, definitely a good idea. If in doubt, carry a pair. Gaiters are inconsequentially light.
  • What socks should I get? Wool. Buy from an outfitter so you don’t get a counterfeit. Don’t Skimp On Socks! $10-20 a pair is worth it if they save your feet. You only need 2-3 pair anyways. If you are really blister prone, get a couple pairs of sock liners (synthetic thin dress socks with no textured patterns.
  • What clothes should I get? Warm weather: cheap, moisture-wicking workout clothes. Zip off pants and running tees are my preference. Cold weather, do much more research. There’s a big difference between clothing in lows of 50 and lows of 0. Avoid cotton. Jeans will be mocked in person and potentially online.
  • What pack should I get? None. Get your gear first. You need to know how much gear you have to know how much pack you’ll need. When you have your gear, take it to a friend or outfitter. Get the lightest pack that hold all your gear and feels comfortable. If you don’t like the pack, return it. LEAVE ROOM FOR FOOD.
  • Should I use trekking poles? Try it, if you don’t like it…return them. Tada! Personally, they keep me from regularly busting my teeth on the ground.
  • Should I go *fireworks* Ultralight *fireworks*? No. If you’re new to hiking there are two basic principles: “Avoid misery” and “Get on the trail.” Ultralight cuts out many comforts and is expensive. Money and Misery kill hikes. Once you have some experience and preferences, go ultralight if you want. When you get out there with other hikers, you’ll find out UL hiking is less common than the internet hypes it to be. A safe bet is to stay under 40lbs with food and water.
  • Should I go stoveless? No, you can go stoveless later. Mess kit gear is cheap. Give yourself the option of warm food.
  • Isopro or alcohol stove? Isopro. Alcohol comes with a greater learning curve and can be spilled in your pack…or on you…while lit…
  • What food should I bring? Oatmeal packets, ramen, instant mashed potatoes, instant rice mix, nuts, granola, jerky, or just google it. There are a ton of options, but long distance hiking limits your options to resupply, unless your doing mail drops…which I don’t. I do always carry a little bag of chia seeds because Fiber.
  • Tent or hammock? Try both. Both have their advantages.
  • What kind of tent/tarp should I get? Anything light with good reviews. You can seriously go to REI and pick a 1 or 2 person setup you think looks neat. Hiking tents are already near the pinnacle of performance. They will all be good enough for long distance hiking if you treat them like you should.
  • What kind of tent stakes should I use? As long as they are lightweight, who cares. Sand, snow, and rocks are special cases, but just lash your guys to a stick and bury it. If you’re genuinely worried about this, check out the Tent Stake Review on The Trail Show.
  • What kind of hammock should I get? Doesn’t matter much. Go on Amazon and search for hammocks. I have 4, from various manufactures, and they all sleep the same. I mainly use this one. It’s easier to lay flat in a double, though. Just make sure your hammock tarp is longer than your hammock after you set your ridgeline or you’re going to get wet. If you don’t know what a hammock ridgeline is, google it.
  • Hammock straps or rope? I don’t care. Go check out Hammock Forums.
  • Do I need a compass? Depends. Are you bringing a real map, then yes. If this is a guthook and guidebook kind of trip, you probably wont. Check recommendations specific to the trail.
  • How do I use a compass? Take an orienteering class. You can also learn this on YouTube or by rummaging around the internet, but you’re gambling on not learning everything you need or taking in misinformation.
  • How do I stay dry(ish)? Hike in the desert.
  • How do I stay cool? Hike in the cold.
  • How do I stop bugs from biting me? Bug spray, loose tight-knit sleeves, and Permethrin treated clothes. Don’t Mess With Ticks. Lyme disease is no joke. Permethrin treatments are your friend. Follow the directions on the treatment and ticks will literally die after touching your clothes. And don’t try to use peppermint or eucalyptus. Not only will they fail to realign your Chakra, but do you want bears? Because that’s how you get bears.
  • Should I worry about bears? No. Don’t worry, just have a healthy respect. See this great article by PMags.
  • Where do I poop? 80 paces from trail, water, and campsites if you can make it. Please try to make it, but don’t crap yourself trying to get far enough from the trail either.
  • How do I stay clean? You don’t. Just avoid crapping yourself.
  • How do I wash my clothes? Washing machine, in town. You can rinse in the backcountry, but please don’t use soap. Don’t rinse directly in a stream either. Carry some rinse water away from the source. As a volunteer water quality monitor for GA Adopt-A-Stream, I’d say don’t put your clothes in a body of water you can’t swim in. Those little streams are teeming with life potentially unique to the conditions of that one stream. Avoid altering those conditions whenever possible.
  • What essential oils should I carry? Get out.
  • Is it hard to sleep outside? Depends on the person. If so, you’ll find a workaround. For example: I have bad tinnitus.  The distracting ringing keeps me awake during the winter silence. Worried about animal sounds? That’s gonna happen, but you’ll overcome it. Earplugs or headphones help for some people. Isolation anxiety? It just kind of goes away.
  • Am I fit enough to hike? Yes*, most people are. *check with your doctor before starting a new exercise plan. Side effects include blisters, bug bites, sore knees and ankles, broken limbs, joining conservation or hiking organizations, and pink blazing.

This is just a collection of no BS stuff I’ve felt impassioned to address, primarily inspired by stuff new hikers ask on social media. I’ll update this list as I feel is needed. If you have any No BS advice to new hikers, feel free to leave a comment below…and toss in your trail name for kicks.

If you made it this far, click the like button below, please 🙂

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