Need-to-Know Hiking Tips

May 01, 2020
New York-New Jersey Trail Conference


Need-to-Know Hiking Tips
Couple Hiking. Credit: Adobe Stock


This article was edited on 5/15/20 to reflect the easing of restrictions on activities in the midst of COVID-19. Specific tips for hiking in the era of physical distancing can be found here.

Learn these "Hiking 101" how-tos now for a safe, enjoyable experience on the trail later.

As more people begin to seek a connection with nature, a little know-how is needed to have a safe, enjoyable experience outdoors. Here's where to start.

Find the Right Hike for YOU

The most popular hike that pops up when you search Google for “Hikes Near Me” isn’t necessarily the best hike for you and your hiking partners.

Our Hike Finder tool allows you to search for hikes by difficulty, length, and features, such as accessible trails or waterfalls. There, you can also view a list of all hikes or list of all parks to find your next adventure.

The Trail Conference also has several webpages and articles on finding “less traveled” trails that are still fun and rewarding. Check them out on our Top Trails page. Why? When you walk a trail that doesn’t see as much foot traffic, you are helping to prevent issues such as erosion and the destruction of the habitat around the trail. Think of it as helping to prevent the land from being “loved to death.”

Also, take note of several hikes in the area you plan to visit. It’s good to have alternative hikes ready to go in case trailhead parking lots are full.

Show Up Prepared

It’s important to be prepared on your hike. That means wearing weather-appropriate clothing and sturdy shoes. These days, outdoor essentials also include a face covering and hand sanitizer. It also means knowing where you’re going and carrying a physical and/or digital map—don’t rely solely on trail markers or the person ahead of you! (Not sure how to read a trail map? We've got you covered.) Bring plenty of water and snacks and a bag to carry out your trash. It’s always a good idea to carry a first-aid kit and knife or multi-tool as well. 

We also recommend carrying a small boot brush to clean your boots and gear before and after your hike. Invasive species love to hitchhike in the dirt that gets stuck in your gear. And these weeds and pests are massive threats to our native habitats. Give invasive species the brush off! Remember: Play, Clean, Go.

For hikes in the backcountry where being self-sufficient is important to your well-being, the 10 Essentials is recommended.

Leave Only Footprints

The Trail Conference encourages all trail users to learn, practice, and share the seven Leave No Trace principles. These simple steps keep you safe and help protect the environment.

Leave No Trace includes:

  1. Plan ahead and prepare.
    Know park regulations before you go. You can find information for most state parks in our region at Make sure to bring a map! Take advantage of the Trail Conference’s digital map offerings.
  2. Travel and camp on durable surfaces.
    Stay on the trail!
  3. Dispose of waste properly.
    Whatever you carry in on your hike, you must carry out. Don’t expect to find a trash can! Bring a bag to carry out your waste.
  4. Leave what you find.
    Don’t pick flowers or carve into trees. Take only photos!
  5. Minimize campfire impacts (be careful with fire).
    Much of our area is currently under a burn ban to reduce the risk of wildfire.
  6. Respect wildlife.
    Do not approach animals. Do not attempt to feed them.
  7. Be considerate of other visitors.
    Do your part to respect others’ experience connecting with nature.

Learn more on our Trail Resources page. 

To learn even more outdoor skills and prepare for your next adventure, check out our Online Learning Library for on-demand content. Or sign up for a live webinar! We’re posting new digital workshops and presentations frequently.