Essential hiking skills for hitting the trail

Hiking is a fantastic outdoor activity that allows you to immerse yourself in nature, challenge yourself physically, and enjoy breathtaking scenery. However, hiking can also be dangerous if you don’t have the necessary skills and knowledge. It’s important to note that the specific skills needed for hiking can vary depending on the difficulty level of the trail, the location, and the season, so it’s always a good idea to research and prepare for the specific conditions of your hiking trip. Obtaining training and guidance from experienced hikers or outdoor organisations can be beneficial for developing and improving your hiking skills.

There are several essential hiking skills that can help ensure a safe and enjoyable hiking experience. Some of the key hiking skills include:


Knowing how to navigate is the most crucial skill for any hiker. It is essential to be able to read a map and use a compass. You should also know how to use a GPS device or a smartphone app to navigate and understand trail markers. Understanding topographic maps, orienting the map, and following trails or landmarks is also important. Before you hit the trail, make sure you know the route you plan to take and have a backup plan in case you get lost.

Awareness and observation

Being aware of the trail conditions, including understanding trail markers, following trail etiquette, and identifying potential hazards such as loose rocks, slippery surfaces, or steep drop-offs, can help prevent accidents and keep you safe on the trail. Observation is a vital skill for hike navigation. By observing your surroundings, you can identify trail markers, assess terrain and hazards, identify landmarks, and enjoy the scenery. So, the next time you hit the trails, remember to take a moment to observe your surroundings and make the most of your hiking experience.

Weather awareness

Understanding how to interpret weather forecasts, keeping an eye on weather conditions, recognising signs of changing weather patterns, and knowing how to prepare for different weather conditions, such as rain, snow, or extreme heat, can be crucial for planning and staying safe during your hike.

First aid

Accidents can happen when you are hiking, so it is important to know basic first aid skills. Basic first aid skills such as treating blisters, cuts, sprains, and managing common outdoor injuries can be important for managing minor injuries on the trail until professional medical help can be obtained. You should also know how to recognise the signs of hypothermia, heat exhaustion, and dehydration.

Wilderness first aid

Basic knowledge of wilderness first aid can be invaluable in case of injuries or emergencies while hiking. This includes knowing how to administer basic first aid, manage wounds, handle fractures, and recognise signs of hypothermia, heat exhaustion, dehydration, and other outdoor-related ailments.


Being prepared with the right gear, including appropriate clothing, footwear, food, water, emergency supplies, and a personal locator beacon (PLB) is crucial for a safe and enjoyable hiking experience. Knowing how to dress appropriately for the weather and trail conditions is important. Always wear comfortable and sturdy hiking shoes or boots, and dress in layers that can be easily removed or added. Make sure to pack the essentials, such as water, food, a map, a compass, a headlamp or flashlight, and a whistle. Knowing how to use your gear effectively and efficiently is also important.

Water Purification

Knowing how to properly filter or purify water from natural sources such as rivers, lakes, and streams is essential to prevent dehydration and illness from waterborne pathogens.

Leave No Trace

Hikers should always leave the trail and the wilderness as they found it. Knowing the Leave No Trace principles is crucial for reducing the impact of human activities on the environment. Leave No Trace principles include practices such as packing out trash, minimising campfire impact, respecting wildlife, and staying on designated trails, is important for preserving the natural environment and minimising your impact on the wilderness.

Camping and shelter building

If you plan on camping during your hike, knowing how to set up a tent, build a shelter, and use camping gear safely is important. Understanding how to choose a suitable campsite and properly store food to prevent attracting wildlife is also essential. If you become lost in the bush, most people panic through fear they will run out of food. Did you know you can survive three weeks without food provided you have water and shelter? Knowing how to construct a survival shelter is an important skill.

Fire building

Being able to start a fire safely and responsibly can provide warmth, cooking, and signaling capabilities in the wilderness. Familiarise yourself with fire safety rules and regulations in the area where you are hiking.

Physical fitness

Hiking requires physical fitness, so it is important to train your body before hitting the trail. Start with shorter hikes and gradually increase your distance and elevation. Make sure to also incorporate strength training and stretching into your routine. Being physically fit and prepared for the demands of hiking, including endurance, strength, and flexibility, can make your hiking experience more enjoyable and help you avoid injuries and navigate challenging terrain with ease.

Risk assessment and decision-making

Before embarking on any hike, it is essential to assess the risks involved. This includes checking the weather forecast, trail conditions, and potential hazards such as wildlife or steep drops. Always be prepared to change your plans if conditions become unsafe. Being able to assess risks and make informed decisions, such as knowing when to turn back due to weather, trail conditions, or personal limitations, is a vital hiking skill that can help prevent accidents and keep you safe on the trail.

Outdoor survival skills

Knowing basic survival skills such as the Rule of Threes, building a shelter, starting a fire, purifying water, finding food, and signaling for help can be essential in case of an emergency or unexpected situation on the trail.

Proper preparation, planning, and knowledge are key to a safe and enjoyable hiking experience. It’s always a good idea to research and familiarise yourself with the specific trail, environment, and regulations of the area you plan to hike in, and consider taking a wilderness skills course or hiking with experienced hikers if you’re new to the activity. Hiking can be a great way to enjoy the outdoors, but it is important to have the necessary skills and knowledge to stay safe. By mastering these essential hiking skills, you can ensure a safe and enjoyable hiking experience.

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