The Ultimate Hiking Guide: Our top hiking tips!

In this guide we’re sharing all of our hiking tips to help you get started hiking, plus help you improve your hiking adventures!

Hiking has changed our lives. It might sound like a bold statement to make, but it’s true!

Years ago, I (Kathryn) hated being outdoors. I didn’t like sweating or bugs, so I preferred to stay inside. I am not sure what exactly changed in me, but around 2016 or so I began hiking. And it has made a huge impact on my life. Heck, I now live (mostly) full time in a van!

Hiking has not only helped us experience some of the most beautiful places on earth, some of which you cannot reach by vehicle, but it has also been crucial for my mental health and has been a great way to get exercise. It is sometimes type 2 fun, as in it is miserable in the moment, but fun when you look back on it, but there has never been a hike that hasn’t had a positive impact on our lives.

We have been hiking as much as possible for over 6 years now and have learned quite a bit along the way. And in this guide we’re sharing all of our hiking tips, plus tools we use to find trails, what we bring, and so much more! Whether you’re looking to go on your first hike and aren’t sure how to get started or you’re a casual hiker that wants to improve their trail experience, we hope that these hiking tips can make your next hiking adventure a success!

Note: this guide contains affiliate links, which means that if you use the links provided and make a purchase, we get a small commission at no extra cost to you. We will only ever recommend products we truly love, actually use during our adventures, and think you can benefit from too!

The tools we use to find hikes

The first step to hiking is picking a hike! There are tons of hikes to choose from all over the world and it can be a bit daunting to even figure out where to start when finding the perfect one for you. Below are our go-to resources to research hikes!


The #1 tool we use for researching and planning all of our hikes is AllTrails! AllTrails is an incredible website full of hiking trails all over the world, with important trail information, such as mileage and elevation gain, plus user reviews.

Whenever we are planning to hike somewhere, we search that area on AllTrails so we can see which hikes are popular or well loved, see photos, and read reviews to better understand what to expect.

For example, if you plan to hike at Yosemite National Park, you can search “Yosemite National Park” on AllTrails and will see a list of trail options.

While AllTrails has a free version, which allows you to research trails and read reviews, we are AllTrails+ members and it is more than worth the yearly fee! We’ll explain a bit more about these below, but some of the features we love are offline maps (so we can navigate even without cell service), wrong-turn alerts, and its 3D maps feature, so we can get a feel for trails before we hike. 

Want to get 30% off an AllTrails+ membership? Click this link or use our code aplusk30! Note: you must redeem this code on the website, not the app.

Blog posts and YouTube

Another method we use to find trails are blogs and YouTube videos about specific parks or hiking areas. A simple Google search like “best hikes in Washington” will likely bring up a bunch of different blog posts, where people will list their favorites and their experience.

Similarly, looking for hikes on YouTube not only can educate you about trails you didn’t know about, but it’s a perfect way to visually see the trail and what to expect along the way.

If you need some hike ideas, we have tons of blog posts about different hikes all around the US, plus some in Canada and Europe. We also have many YouTube videos all about our experiences hiking and backpacking!

Look at AllTrails lists

You can also find curated hiking lists on AllTrails itself! Many users will have different lists, with their favorite hikes or hikes they want to conquer in the future, which can be a good way to get some ideas!

We have a favorite hikes list, as well as a hiking to-do list that we hope can help you! You can also follow us on AllTrails here!

Local websites to your area

Some states and regions of the United States have local hiking websites, which are similar to AllTrails in the sense that you can search for hikes, read recent reviews, and see photos. When we lived in Seattle we loved using the Washington Trails Association to discover new hikes close to home! 

Facebook groups for your area

Even if your region does not have a website for trails, it likely will have a Facebook group! There are some great hiking related Facebook groups, including region specific groups, gender specific groups (ex: Women Who Hike Washington), and more, where you can not only discover trails, but maybe even find new hiking buddies!

Things to consider when choosing a hike

Not all hikes are created equal and choosing a hike that is right for you is very important to ensure that you not only have fun, but stay safe! As you search for hikes using the tools we mentioned above, here are some things to look for and consider.

What kind of hike do you want?

What we love about hiking is that every single hike is different. Some hikes offer mountain views, while some have desert scenery, lakes, rivers, or just beautiful trees. Some are a loop, where you experience something new the entire hike, while others are out and back, where you hike the same trail in both directions. Some will take you mostly through the forest and offer a view at the end, while for others it’s less about the destination and you have many views the entire way.

A few questions to ask yourself are:

  • What type of scenery do I want?
  • Would I prefer to hike a loop or out and back?
  • Do I want views the entire way or is a view at the end, or at one specific point, sufficient?
Cirque of the Towers Wind River Range Wyoming


A HUGE factor to consider when hiking is the distance. Not only does the distance impact the amount of time you’ll spend on the trail, but depending on your hiking experience, doing too many miles right away may be too difficult for you and could even lead to injury if your body is not used to it. 

For us, we try to keep day hikes to 10 miles or less, although we have done 15 mile day hikes, but these take the entire day. Typically we prefer to backpack (and camp overnight) if the hike is 15 miles or more, as it gives us more time to enjoy it. 

But everyone is different and we are a firm believer that you should always do what is best for you! There are many hikes that we have not completed or attempted that many others have (looking at you Angel’s Landing) because they don’t feel right for us, and that is okay…safety is #1!


Elevation, plus elevation gain, can really make or break a hike. A hike may look short on paper, but short doesn’t always mean easy. We have done a 4.8 mile round trip hike that gains about 4,000 feet of elevation (that is over 1,600 feet per mile!), so elevation can really make a short hike harder.

One thing we love about AllTrails is that it rates hikes on a difficulty scale, taking both elevation gain and mileage into consideration. This makes it easier to know by glancing at a hike how tough it will be. But in general, we’d say anything under 500 feet of elevation gain per mile is not too hard, between 500-1,000 feet is moderate, and over 1,000 feet is difficult. 

Beyond elevation gain, the starting and ending elevation of a hike can heavily impact the experience. When hiking in Colorado, almost every hike starts over a mile above sea level and when your body isn’t used to this, it can make hiking 10x harder and also seriously impact your health. Make sure to be aware of the actual elevation of the hike (not just the gain) and if you want to do a hike in higher elevations, make sure to give your body time to acclimate.

One cool method to get a better idea of the trail experience is to use AllTrails+ 3D maps and their new trail preview feature, where you can virtually “walk” the trail from a birds eye view and get a better feel for the elevation gain and overall experience.

Length of time 

Looking at the distance and elevation gain is helpful, but one key thing to consider when choosing a trail is how long the hike will take. If you only have 3 hours to spare, it is crucial to pick a hike that falls comfortably within that time frame.

One method we use to determine the length of time we should expect on the trail is AllTrails. For each hike, AllTrails will usually mention in the hike description how long it usually takes to complete (sometimes this is not easy to find). 

While this is helpful, one other trick we use is to look at activities on AllTrails for specific hikes and see how long it took other users to complete it. We find that by doing this, we are able to see a variety of times from different people and make a solid estimate of how long it will take us.

Do you need a permit?

Some hikes require permits or fees, either to park or for the trail itself. And sometimes there are daily limits to how many permits they give out. Make sure to research if the hike you’d like to do requires a permit, as you will likely have to get it ahead of time.

If hiking at the US National Parks or on other federal lands, we recommend getting the America the Beautiful Pass, which is $80 per year and gets you into all National Park Service managed sites and federal lands for free.

The Ultimate Hiking Guide: Our top hiking tips!

Are dogs allowed?

If you’re like us and have a furry friend that loves to explore with you, make sure to check if a trail is dog friendly or not. For example, national park trails are almost always NOT dog friendly (minus a few exceptions), but you may not know this if you didn’t look for it beforehand.

If you are able to bring your dog on a hike, please follow any leash laws (not all dogs, including ours, plus other humans enjoy strange dogs running up to them!) and PLEASE not only bag your dog’s poop, but take it with you! We have backpacked for three days carrying a dozen dog poop bags. It stinks (literally), but it’s just part of being a responsible dog owner and hiker.

Crowd levels

Over the last few years, some trails, especially ones in national parks, have become insanely popular and crowded. This has quite a few negative side effects: more trash on the trails (DO NOT leave trash!), more damage to the trail itself, and a less peaceful nature experience.

While some people may not mind having a lot of other people on the trail with them, we personally prefer to hike without a ton of people around us. Escaping the crowds isn’t always possible, especially in popular areas, but there are some tactics we use to have a bit more solitude!

1. Start early! This is hands down one of our top hiking tips! We try to start almost every hike at or before sunrise. While it is tough to get up early to hike, you not only escape crowds this way, but you also get some stunning early morning light.

The only time we do not do this is if we are hiking multiple trails in one day or if a hike looks best midday (for example: glacial lakes sometimes are more beautiful with the sun directly over them). Sunset can also be a good time to hike, as it’s usually less busy than midday!

2. Choose less popular areas. While popular areas are usually popular for a reason, there are often just as beautiful, but less known, spots nearby. A good example of this are the national parks. Many national parks are close to national forest land or state parks, which have similar scenery and way less people. Plus they are more dog friendly too!

3. Go on longer hikes. We have found that the shorter the trail, the busier it is, so by choosing a longer hike, there is a good chance you’ll have less crowds. This doesn’t always apply, but in many areas it works! 

It’s important to recognize that by being on the trail ourselves, we are also adding to the crowds. So if you are going to hike in a crowded area, make sure to pack out what you pack in and be respectful of others.

Painted Canyon Road

Road Conditions

Some trails may require you to drive down rough roads, including roads that require 4×4. Make sure to look into the road conditions before choosing a hike so you don’t risk damaging your vehicle or getting stuck!


Parking lots heavily vary among trails. Some trailheads, like at national parks, may have huge, paved lots, while others may only have a small dirt section that can fit two cars. Knowing the parking situation in advance is important, so you can determine if you need to arrive very early to snag a spot.

This may not apply to everyone, but for us, since we drive a longer Sprinter van, we always try to use Google Earth to look at trailheads before we go to ensure that we can park our van without taking up too much space, risking blocking someone in, or getting hit.


While this may not make or break your decision to choose a trail, it may be worth checking in advance to see if the trailhead has a restroom. Not all trails have them and if you think you’ll need to go before you hike, you’ll want to have a plan to do so!

Also, many trailhead restrooms are not well cared for and may not have toilet paper. So it’s a good idea to bring some with you!

The Ultimate Hiking Guide: Our top hiking tips!

Read reviews 

We always read AllTrails reviews before going on any hike! While you can get a general feel for the trail by looking at its mileage, elevation and elevation gain, and seeing some photos, reading reviews helps us learn about current conditions and the overall experience.

For example, when reading AllTrails reviews for hikes we sometimes learn about partial trail closures, extremely muddy conditions, snow or ice, if there are a lot of bugs or aggressive wasps (which unfortunately did get me!), safety concerns, crowd levels, and other important details that can make or break the experience.

Hiking Safety Tips

Hiking can be a dangerous activity. We don’t say this to scare you, but to ensure that you are aware of the risks when recreating outdoors and are as prepared as possible.

Even the most experienced hikers can have safety mishaps and it’s not always where you expect. For example, when we went to Mammoth Cave National Park we decided to go on an easy hike before our scheduled cave tour. This hike was a straightforward trail through the forest, with a slight incline at times. It had just rained the night before and there were some wood strips on the trail and I (Kathryn) slipped on one and fell onto my hand on the ground, slicing my hand open with rocks.

I will spare you the gory details, but it was the most painful injury I have ever had and required us to spend the next part of our day at urgent care getting it cleaned (the worst pain!) and stitches. I still grimace over a year later as I write this.

I am grateful that it was not worse, but it still shook me. This trail was easier than so many trails we had hiked the previous years and on paper seemed so safe, yet it was the one that injured me. You truly never know what will happen and it’s best to be prepared, even for the “easy” hikes. Here are some of our top hiking safety tips to hopefully keep you safe, as well as prepared in case something does happen.

Check the weather

Always check the weather before hiking! While we don’t let rain stop us from getting outdoors, it does sometimes impact the trails we choose, as we don’t want to visit an epic lookout and it is fogged in. So instead, we will change our plans and visit a waterfall, or something that doesn’t rely as much on a clear day.

Weather can not only impact views, but it can impact safety. If you are hiking a trail that requires a river crossing or visiting a slot canyon, you will not want to do this hike on a day that it may rain, as there is a high risk of flash floods. Similarly, you also wouldn’t want to hike a trail with steep drop offs if it may be icy.

AllTrails+ | The Ultimate Hiking Guide: Our top hiking tips!

Something else to look into before your hike is smoke. If you plan to hike out west in the summer, wildfire smoke is very prevalent and not only can it obstruct the views, but it can also make it really unhealthy to hike. AllTrails+ has a map overlay for real time air quality, which can help you see what the air quality is like before your hike.

Random weather hiking tip: If hiking in Colorado in the summer, afternoon thunderstorms are very common (even if the day looks nice!) and it’s recommended to always be off a mountain summit and back in the trees by noon. For that reason, many hikes in Colorado require you to start super early!

Know what wildlife you may encounter

On some hikes the most exciting wildlife may be a squirrel, but on others it could be a bear! It’s important to know what wildlife calls the area you’ll be hiking home and understand what to do if you have an encounter with larger animals, like bears, moose, cougars/mountain lions, and elk. REI has some great tips for many major animals!

The Ultimate Hiking Guide: Our top hiking tips!

Download offline maps

As we mentioned above, one of our favorite features of AllTrails+ is the ability to download offline maps. It’s very common for hikes to have zero cell phone service and by having offline maps, we are able to ensure we stay on trail throughout the entire hike.

NOTE: You must download the map while you have service!

AllTrails+ also has wrong-turn alerts, which will alert you on your phone if you have taken a wrong turn. We let my brother, who doesn’t hike often, use my AllTrails+ account when he went for a hike by himself one time and he called me afterwards to tell me how it actually prevented him from getting lost. He said that the trail had so many trail junctions and he went the wrong way at first, but got alerted from the app and was able to turn around quickly.

While offline maps and wrong-turn alerts do require you to keep a charged phone on hikes, they are such an important safety tool!

Want to sign up for AllTrails+? Don’t forget to use our code aplusk30 for 30% off!

Tell someone where you are and your plans

ALWAYS tell someone where you’ll be hiking, plus your estimated start and end time. Even if you’re hiking with someone else, you never know what will happen and it is important to have someone who is not on the hike aware of your plans. 

If you and your group get lost and are not back by the estimated time, but you never told anyone your plans, no one will know to come looking for you. This can have a big impact in getting help quickly!

Carry a Garmin inReach

Besides downloading offline maps on AllTrails+, our #1 safety tool for hiking is our Garmin inReach Mini. This is a satellite device that has SOS functionality in case you need to call for help (for yourself or someone else), plus has the ability to send messages via satellites to loved ones. We use this all the time when hiking to send family members messages to let them know we are okay or if we finished a hike (and don’t have cell service). Thankfully we have yet to use the SOS feature and hope we never have to!

Carry the 10 essentials

The 10 essentials are a list of items that you should always have with you when you head out for a day hike or backpacking trip. These items will help keep you safe in case you get lost, stranded in inclement weather, or have to spend a night out in nature unexpectedly.

To see the 10 essentials and what items we pack for each, check out our guide to creating your own 10 essentials kit!

Check reviews one last time

Before hitting the trail, make sure to read reviews one final time, just to make sure that nothing has changed and the trail is still accessible and safe to hike. This is especially crucial if there have been recent storms in the area, which could have impacted the safety of the trail.

Hide your belongings in your car

Again, we don’t want to scare you with this one, but break-ins can occur at trailheads (this is especially true in our former home state of Washington), so please make sure to hide your belongings to avoid coming back to a smashed windshield. Even having a jacket in the backseat may be tempting to a thief! 

You can usually find out if break-ins are common by reading reviews, but even if no one mentions it, we’d suggest still hiding everything just to be safe.

What to bring hiking

To see everything we take hiking, check out our hiking gear as well as our guide about how to make a 10 essentials kit, but there are a handful of items we really want to stress bringing with you on the trail!


Make sure to always bring enough snacks and food for your hike, plus a little extra in case it takes longer than planned. You can see what food items we like to bring here!


You’ll want to make sure you have lots of water on your hike. We like to carry our 3L Camelbak bladders while on any hike, which makes it easy to store a lot of water and drink while on the go. We also will bring a water filter for longer hikes if we think we will need more than 3L each, so we can filter water, assuming there is some on the trail.

Visiting Denali National Park | Things to do in Denali National Park

Bear spray (if applicable)

Bear spray is a must have item when hiking or camping in areas where bears are present. Thankfully we have yet to need it!


Even if you don’t plan to hike for sunrise or sunset, it’s a good idea to have a headlamp on you. We’ve been using these headlamps for awhile now and they are bright, affordable, and comfortable.


Be sure to follow Leave No Trace principle #3 and dispose of human waste properly. We use this trowel when we have to do our business in the wild. Thankfully this has never been needed for day hikes, just backpacking trips.

Toilet paper (and a bag)

Similar to above, if you need to do your business outdoors, make sure to bring some toilet paper. However, DO NOT bury this or leave this on the ground. Please take it with you! We will just put any used toilet paper in a dog waste bag and pack it out that way.

For the ladies, a pee cloth is also a good idea!

Hot hands 

If you plan to hike in the cold, hot hands are so helpful! While gloves do keep our hands a bit warmer, we find that these take warmth to the next level!


If it’s icy or snowy, spikes are a must! Our Kahtoola MICROspikes are AMAZING and one of the best investments we have made for hiking. They have made hiking in icy and snowy conditions so easy! We can basically run on ice without falling.

Hiking Poles

Trekking poles can really be a big help, especially for steep inclines. We have the Black Diamond Equipment Distance Z poles and recommend them!

External battery charger

It’s a good idea to bring an external battery charger so you can keep your phone or any other electronic items charged. Don’t forget the charger cord too!

The Best Things to do in Acadia National Park


And of course, you need a backpack to put all of these items in! We both have REI Trail 40 packs and LOVE them! They may be a bit big for a day hike (we plan to use them to backpack too), but they hold so much, come with a rain cover, and have some nice features, like hip pockets, a sleeve for a water bladder, and more!

What to wear hiking


Layers are key when exploring outdoors! There have been many days where we started in winter jackets and ended in a tank top. So make sure to bring layers, including a rain jacket in case it rains!

Hiking shoes

A good pair of hiking shoes make all the difference when hiking! Compared to regular tennis shoes, hiking shoes will have much better grip, which can help you from slipping on trails.

There are a variety of different hiking shoe styles, including boots, which cover the ankle, regular hiking shoes that do not cover the ankle, plus trail running shoes, which are lighter, but still made for the trails and have great grip.

I wear Lowa Women’s Renegade GTX on the trails and LOVE them! They are a bit pricey, but super comfortable and waterproof. Adam wears the ALTRA Lone Peak 6 Trail Running Shoe, and loves that they are not bulky and they dry fast if they get wet!

Hiking socks

We are big fans of wool socks and our favorite brand, so far, is Smartwool

Sun protection

We always hike with sun protection, whether it’s sunglasses, a hat, or sunscreen, to try to protect our skin. We also will often wear a pullover, even if it’s a bit warm, to get more coverage.

Mount Pisgah Vermont

PLEASE Leave No Trace 

Last, but definitely not least, before embarking on your hike, please review the Leave No Trace principles to ensure you leave every place better than you found it, so that others can enjoy these beautiful trails for many years to come!

  1. Plan ahead & prepare. Make sure you research and prepare for every adventure so that you know the rules, stay safe, and to minimize resource damage.
  2. Travel & camp on durable surfaces. Stay on the trail and only camp in designated areas, as well as the required length away from water sources.
  3. Dispose of waste properly. Whatever you pack in, pack it out! Make sure to carry out your trash, as well as any trash you find. If you have a dog, please do not leave poop bags on the trail. For human waste, use a trowel to dig a hole far from water sources or use a wag bag (sometimes required).
  4. Leave what you find. Do not take any items from the trail with you, including rocks, plants, or artifacts.
  5. Minimize campfire impacts. Know the rules of where you can and cannot have campfires and if allowed, use designated fire rings. Use local firewood to prevent bringing any pests or diseases to the area you’re visiting and make sure to fully extinguish your fire.
  6. Respect wildlife. Keep your distance from wildlife, control your pets on the trail, and never ever feed them! Make sure to keep your food stored properly as well (we like this bear canister).
  7. Be considerate of other visitors. Be respectful to others on the trail. Hikers going uphill have the right of way on hikes and it’s always courteous to let those quicker than you pass. Avoid playing music out loud, talking loudly, and having your pets bother others.

Ready to hit the trails?

Pin this guide with our top hiking tips to plan your next hike!

about us

Hi y’all! We’re Adam, Kathryn, and Kona, an adventurous married couple (+ pup!) living on the road in our self-converted sprinter van! You can often find us driving all around the US and Canada, scoping out the best coffee shops, eating tacos and ice cream (we’re a 5+ taco and 2+ scoop household), and enjoying nature.


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