How to plan your first day hike

I have a habit of spamming Instagram with pictures of my hiking adventures. This has led to a few friends asking me for tips and advice on how to get out there themselves. This post is based on what I have shared with them – I hope it helps you to get going on your first hike!

My advice is based on Spring/ Summer/ Autumn trail hiking on hills and lower level ground. A mountainous or winter route will entail more serious planning – and isn’t fully catered for here – although the basic steps are the same.

1) Decide where to go

If, like me, you are based in a city you’ll probably need to travel. As I live in London, without a car, I look at places that have a simple and fast train connection with travel under 1.5 hours each way. The South Downs is a great option from London as is most of Kent. You could also look at places a little closer to home such as Epping Forrest (great if you’re East London based!) or Box Hill.

2) Decide on your route

The main things to consider are how long you’d like to walk for and whether you want to do a A-B or circular route.

A-B or circular?

I personally find an A-B route more satisfying as it feels like I’ve had more of a ‘journey’; but that’s just me and my weird psychology! There are benefits to a circular route including being able to return to your car, and more straightforward train travel.

How long?

Around 10 miles is a good starting point for someone who is fairly fit and wants a full day of walking. You can obviously go shorter or longer depending on how comfortable you feel and your fitness level.

Be mindful of the daylight hours available to you and the time that you will need to travel to and from the route. I expect to cover 2 miles an hour – so a ten mile route will take me about five hours (plus a little more for breaks). I’m usually slightly quicker than that but I think it’s good to be conservative when planning.

In mountainous territory, where navigation is tricky or when I have large bag for camping, I can cover as little as 1 – 1.5 miles an hour.

2016-17 280
Seaford – Eastbourne

Where can I get some inspiration?

  • My blog! I’m slowly adding records of my day hikes.
  • I love reading other people’s blogs. The Walking Englishman is brilliant.
  • Books and websites, including the Time Out Book of Country Walks, and National Trail/ Park websites.
  • Social media
  • Maps.

3) Plan your travel

The Trainline app is really helpful for getting the best deal,  figuring out ways to simplify your journey, and making sure that the trains are actually running that weekend..! Make sure that you take advantage of any discounts available including group travel and railcards.

It sounds silly but I’m speaking from experience when I say that if you plan to do an A – B route make sure that there is actually a train station at your end point and be mindful that train services could be infrequent (or even non existent) from small towns at weekends.

If you are travelling by car think about where you’ll park and how you will get back to your car. Take some change for parking metres.

4) Plan how you will find your way

You have a few options:

  • Written instructions
  • A map
  • Trail signage
  • A GPS app

If you are comfortable with a map you can use one to plan your route. Many books, websites, and information centres provide detailed instructions and maps. Most national trails are well signposted (although not always!) and places like Epping Forrest have colour coded trails for people to follow.

As a newbie I found (and still find) a GPS app invaluable. I use the Outdoors GPS app (UK only) which works even in aeroplane mode – it’s great! There are plenty of other options that work worldwide including Viewranger. Find and download your route before leaving home. It’s a good idea to have a paper map as backup – I try to use one in conjunction with the app.

Hassocks – Lewes shown on the app

One thing to be aware of with apps is that they don’t always show the topography of the route (the ups and downs essentially). It’s a good idea to have a look at the elevation profile and all visual versions of the route available so that you have a good idea of steepness and type of terrain.

I always take a portable phone charger and ask my companions to download the app and route to their phone.

5) Get a simple outfit together

You won’t need to buy many new or ‘hiking specific’ items, or spend a lot of money. Running or gym gear will work just fine. You could even ask to borrow items from friends. Just try to avoid anything cotton as it won’t dry if it gets wet!

For a dry day at low level I’d recommend wearing:

  • A peaked cap
  • A short or long sleeved t shirt
  • Shorts or lightweight trousers
  • Hiking socks – good socks really do help reduce blisters.
  • Hiking boots or trail shoes.

Running shoes are OK if the terrain isn’t too rough and the weather conditions are good. I recommend getting a pair of lightweight boots or trail running shoes if you can. You’ll be more comfortable and it’ll save you from slipping around in the mud! Look out for sales and online deals – you don’t need to spend more than £100.

It’s a good idea to pack:

  • A lightweight warm layer such as a merino wool top or fleece.
  • A hat or headband that covers your ears.
  • A wind and waterproof jacket.
  • Sunglasses
  • Gloves.
  • A scarf or buff.
  • A warm jacket – I love my down jacket. I don’t often need it on a walk but my body temperature drops at the end and I get chilly. It’s also surprisingly cooler outside of the city.
  • Waterproof ‘shell’ trousers if the weather looks iffy.

Use your judgement – on a sunny day or in warm countries some of these items could be overkill. But I prefer to err on the side of caution in the UK (oh hey, rain) or if I’m going higher up.

Camino del Norte
Looking super cool

6) Get your kit together

In addition to clothes, I take:

  • A small ‘day pack’. 25 – 30lt is about right. Try to get one that has a hip belt as this will transfer some of the weight from your shoulders.
  • A ‘dry bag’ to keep my clothes in. You can use a thick bin bag.
  • Small sun cream (even if it’s cloudy).
  • Plasters.
  • Fully charged phone with app and route downloaded.
  • Fully charged portable battery pack and cable.
  • Water bottle/ s.
  • Cash, cards, and keys.

I also consider taking:

  • A whistle to get attention.
  • A head torch/ torch.
  • Map and compass.
  • Hiking poles (if it’s a really challenging route).
  • survival blanket or bag.

7) Plan your water and food

I love a picnic (and saving money) so I take a packed lunch. You won’t need to eat much more than on a usual day but I always take a little more than I think I’ll need. I also like to take some treats and a flask of coffee or tea.

I take 2lt of water per person. You may want to consider taking more on a very hot day, for a long route, or where there won’t be anywhere to fill up en route.

Many routes will have places where you can stop on the way for food and drink. Make sure that you plan ahead as this won’t always be the case. Don’t rely on your phone to find places as you may not have signal.

2016 and 17 535
A light afternoon snack

8) Consider giving friends or family a heads up

It’s a good idea to let someone know where you have gone and when you expect to be back. Especially if you are by yourself. Use your judgement.

9) Have an awesome time!


I hope you find this helpful – if you have any questions, shout in the comments!

2 thoughts on “How to plan your first day hike

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