Hiking Skills: Basic (But Necessary) Skills Every Person Needs

Hiking is more than just walking in nature; it’s an art form that, when executed correctly, offers immense satisfaction and a profound connection to the great outdoors. As with any art, mastery requires learning some basic skills. 

These foundational abilities might seem rudimentary, but they’re essential for ensuring safety, enjoyment, and overall success on the trail. Whether you’re a newbie looking to embark on your first trail or a seasoned hiker, it’s always good to brush up on these fundamental skills.

1. Navigation: Reading a Map and Using a Compass

In today’s age of GPS and smartphone apps, traditional navigation skills might seem obsolete. However, batteries die, and technology can fail, especially in remote areas. Understanding topographic maps and knowing how to use a compass are invaluable skills regardless of the type of hiking tour you are embarking on.

Map Reading

Familiarize yourself with contour lines, symbols, and scales. Recognize landmarks and correlate them with your surroundings.

Compass Use

Learn to set a bearing, identify north, and adjust for magnetic declination.

2. Pace and Endurance

Maintaining a consistent pace conserves energy and ensures you cover the intended distance. It’s not about speed; it’s about sustainability.

  • Start Slow: It’s common for beginners to start too fast. Begin slowly and increase your pace gradually.
  • Use the “Rest Step”: For challenging, uphill terrains, use the rest step technique, where you lock your back leg briefly to rest your muscles.

3. Leave No Trace Principles

Preserving the beauty and integrity of nature should be every hiker’s priority. The Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics lists seven principles:

  1. Plan Ahead and Prepare
  2. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
  3. Dispose of Waste Properly
  4. Leave What You Find
  5. Minimize Campfire Impact
  6. Respect Wildlife
  7. Be Considerate of Other Visitors

Adhering to these principles ensures that the trails remain beautiful and accessible for future generations.

4. Proper Foot Placement and Balance

The uneven and unpredictable nature of hiking trails requires careful foot placement.

  • Watch Your Step: Always be aware of where you’re placing your feet, especially on uneven terrain.
  • Use Trekking Poles: They help in maintaining balance, reducing strain on your knees, and can assist during river crossings or slippery paths.

5. Weather Awareness

Understanding and respecting nature’s whims is crucial for safety. Before heading out:

  • Check the Weather Forecast: Understand the expected conditions for the day.
  • Recognize Signs: Dark clouds might indicate impending rain, while sudden temperature drops can signify an incoming storm.

6. Basic First Aid Knowledge

Knowing how to handle minor injuries can make a difference in critical situations. At the very least, learn how to:

  • Treat Blisters: Use moleskin or blister pads.
  • Handle Cuts and Scrapes: Clean with antiseptic and cover.
  • Recognize Signs of Hypothermia and Heatstroke: Understand basic treatment principles for both.

7. Water Procurement and Purification

Water is vital. Knowing how to source and purify it is crucial for extended trips.

  • Source Selection: Always opt for flowing water sources over stagnant ones.
  • Purification: Use filtration systems, purification tablets, or boiling to make water safe for consumption.

8. Signaling for Help

In unfortunate events where you might need rescue:

  • Three of Anything: In the wilderness, three signals (like three whistle blows or three fires) are a universal distress sign.
  • Use a Mirror: Flashing sunlight via a mirror can attract attention from afar.
  • Stay Put: If you’re lost and believe people will be searching for you, it’s often best to stay in one place.

9. Basic Knot Tying

From securing your tent in high winds to creating a clothesline or even first aid uses, knot tying is an essential skill.

  • Bowline and Clove Hitch: These are two fundamental knots every hiker should master.

10. Wildlife Etiquette

You’re in their home. Respecting wildlife is both for their protection and yours.

  • Observe from a Distance: Never approach or feed wild animals.
  • Store Food Properly: Use bear canisters or hang food from trees in areas with bears.


While the allure of hiking centers around freedom, adventure, and a connection with nature, the foundation of every great hike is the application of essential skills. By mastering these basic but necessary abilities, you not only ensure your safety but also enhance the quality of your hiking experiences be it a self guided adventure or with one of our hiking adventure tours. After all, as with any art form, the deeper the understanding, the richer the experience. Happy hiking!