From our favorite hiking boots to the best times to hike, we've got you covered.

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New to hiking? In light of the coronavirus crisis many across the nation are slathering on their sunscreen and lacing up their hiking boots for the first time ever and hitting the trails to get some much-needed fresh air in a safe, socially distanced way. First things first, don't be intimidated if you're new to the activity. We love the advice of Bridgette Mongeon, a Houston resident who founded the Houston Women's Hiking group on Facebook, with over 1,400 members and counting: "Don't be inhibited by the word hike. A hike can be a walk in the woods, or it can be a climb up cliffs with a backpack. In Houston Women's Hiking, we have women recovering from heart problems and surgeries, women with fibromyalgia, a blind hiker, and someone who hikes with oxygen. Please do what you can do, where you can do it." Certainly great wisdom to keep in mind as many of embark on a hike for the first time or venture out after a long time away from the sport. Regardless of which camp you fall into, or even if you're a relatively experienced hiker, read on for expert tips and our favorite hiking essentials for your adventures.

1. Do research before you head out.

"One of my first hiking tips for newbies is to do your research about your upcoming hike. Search online or in hiking guides for specific trail info—how many miles is the trail and how long does it usually take to hike?  What is the difficulty rating? How hard is it? Online reviews can give you an idea of what you may be getting into," suggests Andrea Gentry, the woman behind the outdoor adventure website Embracing the Wind, who calls the foothills of the Northern Georgia mountains home. "It is so easy to see a beautiful hiking destination online and end up on a trail that is much harder than you realized," she continues, noting you should always look to see if there is a water source along the hike and always bring enough water for your outing. Our favorite water bottle? This handy collapsible water bottle with a leak-proof twist cap from Nomader for $24.95.

2. Know how long your hike will take you before you go.

"The average person can walk a mile in 15 to 20 minutes. However, hiking on a trail can take a lot longer than this. Carefully calculate how long your hike will take or you might end up still on the trail after dark or without enough water to last you the entire hike," offers Diane Vukovic, founder of Mom Goes Camping. "The general rule of hiking is to allow 30 minutes for each mile plus another 60 minutes for each 1,000 feet of ascent."

To track your mileage and keep yourself motivated, consider buying a pedometer. The iTouch Slim Fitness Tracker is a great option and currently a steal at the sale price of $29.99. For something more sophisticated, consider the iTouch Sport Smartwatch, currently on sale for $59.99.

3. Always be prepared.

"Hiking is generally very safe but bad things do happen, such as sprained ankles, sudden changes in weather, or getting lost. Even if you are just going for a short day hike, make sure you bring all the essentials for surviving an unplanned night on the trail," says Vukovic. In addition to dressing appropriately for the weather—whoever said it's hard to be stylish in nature hasn't seen ouur favorite Women's MQM Ultralite Insulated Full Zip Hoodie from Merrell—also important to carry other essential items with you on your hike: "These survival items include water, a water filter, whistle, rain clothing, headlamp, map and compass, mini first aid kit, knife, emergency shelter like a tarp or Mylar bivvy [insulated blanket for protection, like this one from Amazon], and a fire starting kit." Even though it's always important to maintain proper hand hygiene, right now we're all paying particular attention to it. Milk and Honey's $6 hand purifier with 80% alcohol and soothing lavender and eucalyptus leaf oils is our new go-to.

To lug all your stuff? Try High Sierra Pathway 40-Liter Backpack for $74.99 on Amazon Prime. We know we'll also be loading plenty of snacks and an emergency kit like Uncharted's Triage Kit for $49.99, which includes a space blanket, eight BAND-AIDS, two Aspirin, five blister gels, and several other first aid items.

4.  Invest in a comfortable pair of hiking shoes or boots.

"Get yourself a great pair of hiking boots because they make the world of a difference," says Jarrod Heil of Florida-based travel blog Ramble Around the World, who reccomends doing so after being on your feet for the bulk of the day or after a short hike in running shoes. "Walking around all day before you try on a pair of boots allows your feet to swell to a similar level they’ll be after a

hike, [ensuring] your new boots have enough room to fit your feet comfortably after a long day on the trails." These days, we're loving Merrell's best-selling Moab 2 Mid Waterproof currently on sale for $107.99 and Forsake's Patch, hiking boots for women for $149.95. To pair with your hiking boots, try a pair of hiking socks, like the Orvis Outsmart Hiking Socks for $29.

5. Use the buddy system.

Meaghan Praznik, Head of Communications, AllTrails, a leading app for finding and navigating trails shares the following: "It's always best to hit the trail with a partner. If this isn't an option, make sure to tell someone where you are going, when you are leaving, and how long you expect to be gone," she suggests. "Novice hikers should also understand that there is a good chance they could be without a cell signal once on the trail. There is no need to be scared of hiking and the outdoors, but it is always important to be prepared—and this goes for all levels of expertise!"

To help keep you safe when you don't have cell service, consider safety products like Gen3 from Spot (currently $99.99), which lets family and friends know you're okay and can send emergency responders your GPS location with the push of a button.

6. Time your hike smartly.

"Go early, on a weekday or both," recommends Erin Gifford, who founded Go Hike Virginia. Right now, given the pandemic outbreak, this advice rings truer than ever. "Especially on weekends, trailhead parking areas can fill up quickly, often before 10 am. Plan on an early start, or better, go on a weekday when there are fewer other hikers on the trails." If you live in a popular area for hiking, try to opt for a lesser-visited park.

It's particularly important for Southerners to keep in mind the heat when planning their hikes. "Trying to hike, even after 9 a.m., can be dangerous in Texas in the summer. So, even though you may be raring to go at 10 a.m., look at the temperature," says Mongeon. "Personally, I won't hike after 8 a.m. in the morning in the Texas summer or temperatures over 80 degrees. So it is a sun-up hike for me in Texas in the summer heat."

7. Be respectful of the trail.

"Not only should you stay on the trail so you don't get lost, but going off trail may mean disturbing fragile ecosystems," advises Kristen Bernarsky, trip manager of Boundless Journeys, a tour operator based in the Green Mountains of Vermont. "In addition, practice leave no trace, which means whatever you bring in with you such as snack wrappers or tissues, you should carry out and dispose of properly. Keep nature clean and pristine!"

Here's to having a fun and safe time outdoors, everyone. We'd love to hear from you: Where are your absolute favorite places to hike? What places are you most looking forward to hiking in the future?