Hiking Tips for Beginners and the Out of Shape: Strategies for Success on Every Mountain

Updated on May 26, 2016
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Walking the trail is an excellent way to keep children healthy.
Walking the trail is an excellent way to keep children healthy. | Source

The first time my friend invited me out to the hiking trails, I thought little of the adventure. I thought of walking trails through the mountains as peaceful, wandering paved paths surrounded by beautiful trees and cute furry critters. It wasn’t until I was actually out there walking the trail that I realized a hiking trail can be incredibly challenging.

That first trail walk had my heart pounding to the point I could hear it beating out of my ears. I had to stop in the middle of the smaller hills, so you could imagine how I felt when the hiking trails meandered through even steeper hills. I quickly learned that walking trails are lined with trees and offer a lot of fuzzy creatures, but if you can’t breathe and are terribly out of shape, trail walks are stressful!

Thankfully, my friends were accustomed to long hikes and they gave me effective tips for getting through the tough moments. I admit I sat down on my first visit to these difficult hiking trails wandering beautifully up the side of Crowder’s Mountain in North Carolina. As everyone else continued the long hike without me, I knew I could not just sit there. Utilizing the hiking skills that my friends had equipped me with, I got up and fought my way to the top of that mountain. I have never since sat down and allowed difficult walking trails to beat me.

That satisfaction of completing a long hike is quite powerful. While I am not yet a seasoned hiking trail fanatic, I have learned the following hiking tips to make it to the top every time, regardless of how difficult the walking trails may be:

Hands Over Your Head!

If you are walking the trail and feel like you cannot breathe, put your arms up over your head. My friend can often be found trail walking with her arms resting on the back of her head. I have tried this on a couple hiking trips, but find my shoulders get tired. If you have stronger shoulders, walking the trail like this at difficult points will open up the chest so breathing is much easier. You can also do this if you need to stop and catch your breath on a long hike.

There is nothing like looking down from a hiking trail and realizing you are closer to the top than the bottom!
There is nothing like looking down from a hiking trail and realizing you are closer to the top than the bottom! | Source

Break Up the Trail

Rather than focusing on how many more miles your walking trails may stretch out, it helps to break it into pieces and focus on the piece before you at the moment. If you have a pedometer, focus on making it through a half mile or mile at a time.

If you don’t have a pedometer or are motivated by visual stimulation, pick a point up ahead of you somewhere and focus on getting to that point. The better you know the hiking trails, the better you will be able to break them into pieces, since you know the course. I have been on very difficult walking trails where I had to focus on just getting to the next tree, or a prominent rock along the hiking trail.

Baby Steps

When you are walking the trail and come to a steep incline, do not try to race up it. Long hikes are not all about speed, which I learned quickly on my first trail walk. Slow and steady with tiny steps is the way to preserve your energy and support your body through the most intense points of a long hike.

Some hiking trails include man-made stairways, bridges, and other obstacles.
Some hiking trails include man-made stairways, bridges, and other obstacles. | Source

Let Your Backside Do the Grunt Work

This is one of the beginner hiking tips that has been the most helpful when climbing up very difficult hiking trails and mountains. When my legs are screaming for a break and I am trying not to stare up at a massive winding hill stretching out before me, I turn around and spend some time trail walking backwards. This is another one of the hiking skills I learned watching my friend on some of the more difficult inclines our favorite hiking trails.

Once I tried walking the trail backward, I was amazed at how much easier the more difficult trail walks became. My lungs opened up and I could breathe! The front of my thighs were relieved and my rear end was put to good work on a long hike. You just have to be careful you don’t wander into a side ditch or over the edge if you are trail walking on mountain trails. Having someone there to guide you, or taking turns going backward, is a good idea.

Some walking trails will feature sandy areas, creeks, tree swings, and playgrounds. Some have restroom facilities outside the trails, others do not.
Some walking trails will feature sandy areas, creeks, tree swings, and playgrounds. Some have restroom facilities outside the trails, others do not. | Source

Don't Look Up

While taking baby steps on a trail walk, look down at the ground, just in front of your feet. Do not look up and focus on the steep walking trail ahead of you. This doesn’t do much to physically help you power up the hill, but it does a lot for your mental focus while walking the trail. Your trail walk proceeds one step at a time, and you don’t see the steep hill you are actually climbing.

Make sure to bring snacks for a long hike. You may want to enjoy a picnic while you are out.
Make sure to bring snacks for a long hike. You may want to enjoy a picnic while you are out. | Source

Controlled Chatter

It is fun at times to cruise through the walking trails talking to a good friend. You lose track of time and the miles fly by, but you can’t always do that on a long hike with difficult passes. Stop talking when you reach difficult points on long hikes. Focus on breathing instead.

Game Time

When you are really stressed out, you can turn walking trails into a game. Walk the trail forward twenty steps and then backward twenty steps. Walk sideways. Challenge yourself to get to the next curve in the hiking trail without stopping or within a given number of minutes. If you have someone walking the trail with you, give each other a challenge. Have one person take as many steps up as they can without stopping while the other person rests. Then the person at rest has to see if they can match those steps or reach the same point in the hiking trail without stopping as well.

Eye on the Prize

What’s the prize? Sitting at the top of a mountain at the end of a difficult trail walk, looking out at the world from miles above, and feeling that overwhelming sense of accomplishment…that is the prize! You didn’t give up. You pushed through the pain. There is more strength inside you than you ever realized. You will never know this feeling or how amazing it is until you push yourself to reach the top of a difficult hiking trail or mountain. Keep all of these beginner hiking tips in mind, or write them down and put them in your pocket, because they will really help you get to the end of a long hike every single time.

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    • profile image

      Ari 

      2 years ago

      Your tips helped me so much. Thank You! I'll be hiking up a mountain it takes about an hour or less. I heard it's just rocks and its not flat it's actually really inclined. I'm a small girl and have zero experience. However, I'm going to do it. These tips willing surely help.

    • profile image

      Savanah 

      2 years ago

      My bro and I walk backwards all the time. But only on the rode. If we hike straight up the mountain we just stop and take deep breaths

    • profile image

      angela 

      4 years ago

      I just got back from a hike that I literally cried through because it ended up being so much harder than I thought! I'll definitely keep these tips in mind next time and maybe I won't look like such a wuss!! +0:

    • profile image

      AnonymousJane 

      4 years ago

      I will remember your tips (and perhaps jot them down on my iNotes so I can read 'em) while hiking Pohono Trail in Yosemite Valley on 8/23/2014. I am a little anxious and found your article helpful. Many thanks!

    • profile image

      kthor 

      4 years ago

      Try walking backwards hiking half dome ...

    • Loreva13 profile image

      Lorenzo M Vasquez III 

      5 years ago from El Paso, TX

      I've been hiking for years and have never heard of or for that matter tried walking backwards up a steep trail. This is something I am going to try next time out on the trail. Great hub!

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 

      6 years ago from England

      Lol!

    • TheInspiredLife profile imageAUTHOR

      TheInspiredLife 

      6 years ago from North Carolina

      Nell Rose, I was surprised that walking backward helps so much. On some big inclines I felt like I could not breathe, but turning backward I could instantly breathe better. I also think my backside is the strongest muscle in my body, so it makes sense to put the workload there!

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 

      6 years ago from England

      Hi, I love the idea of walking backwards, to help your legs recover, I have done this a few times up a very steep hill, but not when out hiking. another great idea is putting your hands above your head to help you breath, its all these little things that can make the hike go much easier, really interesting thanks! rated up!

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