Hiking 101

Courtesy of the Green Mountain Club.


Hiking 101 Series

Mastering Hiking 101 will allow you to explore new places, like sunset on Mt. Mansfield.
Hiking Mt. Mansfield at sunset. Photo by: Laura Greenwood

New to the backcountry? Don’t sweat it. These Hiking 101 tutorials and guides provide a beginner-friendly introduction to the backcountry skills you’ll need. Learn about everything from packing a daypack to surviving a winter camping trip. With these preparedness guides and a little practice, you’ll be on your way to feeling comfortable in Vermont’s forests in no time!

Hiking 101 in Vermont

Vermont is beautiful year-round for an outdoor excursion, but “Hiking Season” is generally considered to be between Memorial Day (May) and Indigenous People’s Day (October).

And with GMC’s 500+ miles of trails and recommended hikes, it’s easy to explore close to home, across the state, or explore Vermont as a visitor.

Before you head out, consider seasonal conditions and weather, safety concerns, gear, navigation, and group size, among other things.

Trail conditions. When picking a trail, do your research on the conditions, elevation, and mileage. Be realistic about your ability levels to keep yourself and others safe. It’s always better to turn around early than to risk pushing your limit to reach a summit or other pre-conceived “destination.” A search-and-rescue mission not only requires a lot of resources, but it can be dangerous for first responders. It’s crucial that you avoid dangerous situations and know how to get yourself back out of the forest.

Trail conditions will vary with the seasons, weather, varying levels of daylight, and wildlife activity. You don’t want to cross an open summit in a thunderstorm, slosh through wet trails during Mud Season, or be caught in the dark without a headlamp. Here are some general conditions to consider for a hike during each season; click each image to enlarge:


Safety. Before heading out, make sure you leave your plans with someone you trust. It’s equally important to know when to turn back as weather, fatigue, and unexpected conditions affect your hike.

Hiker 101: have a map and headlamp, always.
A map and headlamp are useful tools when you run into unexpected conditions. Photo courtesy: GMC Archives

Gear. Planning ahead will help you prevent future emergencies. Your gear should always reflect what sort of trip you’re planning and include emergency supplies. This includes insulation, a headlamp, a first aid kit, and tools. View the 10 Essentials before you head out.

Timing. A hike can span anywhere from a few hours to a few months. Be realistic about the time it requires for you to complete a hike. Generally, plan to hike 1-3 miles per hour; harsh weather, steeper terrain, and possible injuries will slow your pace. Trail guides generally include time estimates but know that every ability level is different, which is okay too. Knowing your skill level will help you plan accordingly for your safety and that of a group.

Have fun. Vermont’s Green Mountains, Northeast Kingdom trails, and Appalachian Trail section are great for adventure and exploration. These special places are also great for sharing: bring your family, your dog, and join a group. Just do so responsibly.

Keep scrolling for videos and articles to build your backcountry skillset.

Tentsite at Willoughby State Forest.
Practice Leave No Trace principles by not establishing campfires in dry, leafy areas. Photo courtesy: Angie Hilsman

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