How to meet people to hike with: there is this great website and App, called MeetUp. Enter in your outdoor interests, and search some local groups. Last summer I met some amazing people (and for those who drive, you could save a ton on gas and travel!) and we would always 'meetup' and car pool, but there are probably a ton more people using it now. When using these type of Apps, I will always make sure a handful of people close to me have every detail of my trip, just incase anything were to happen. It’s great to meet new people, but remember, these people are still strangers! If you aren’t taking a buddy along with you, just be wary of your trust and make sure to stay safe and go with your gut instinct!
Cold winter walks: let's face it, you're not ready for a winter hike. You just found out what 'meetup' is.
TIPS: know where you're going. Taking on unnecessary hours to a winter walk might not be a good idea. Get hydrated! I know you may not be sweating because it's cold, but You actually lose a lot of water in the winter because the air is so dry. Don't believe me, need evidence? See your breath in the air- that’s water vapor.
Gear tip: have good boots with grip. Floppy winter boots like Sorel's or Doc Martens are going to take you on a one way trip straight to blister town. Also, if you’re thinking of picking hiking up as a serious hobby, be wary of Hikers Foot and make sure your boots are proper hiking, insulated boots and make sure your socks are moisture wicking and double layer!
If it's icy, get yourself a pair of micro spikes. Those little guys are small and light to pack and can get you through any icy terrain. Buy them at any outdoor store, usually range in price from $20-$80. The higher the price the more intense the spike. I found a pair for $40, mid spike, I've used on dozens of hikes and swear buy them. Back to winter walks: it's just walking, in the winter, yes that's a thing. You'll be fine. Go forth.
Summer hikes, in bear county: bring bear spray, but more importantly, know how to use it. Also, have it accessible, not in the bottom of your pack. There are bear-aware day courses you can take, or just read up online. Basically, most bear sprays give you a total of 8 seconds spray time. Use it wisely. If there is a bear near you that appears to be a threat, give a 2 second warning spray when it's approx 10 meters away. When it approaches, spray 2 seconds again aiming for its face spraying above its height as Gravity will bring the spray down. Obviously wind direction is something you should consider. I know, this sounds like a lot to ask when you're being attacked by a bear, but hey, better in the bears face then yours. Now you're down to 4 seconds of spray, backing away spray it as needed. When the bear stops to clean itself or run, back away to safety, do not run. Running means you're food, and bears can run faster than you.
Prevention is key: hike in groups and make noise. Personally I hate bear bells, but that's just me ( and most mountain hikers). Just be loud, have a good time. In grizzly country, hike in groups of 4. If you see a grizzly, back off. That's the grizzlies home. Don't be that jerk that takes a selfie. Best case scenario, you live and have a cool pic on insta. Worst case scenario, you get mauled to death, and the bear will be hunted and killed, and it will be all your fault. If you're hiking alone in bear country, make noise! Give a big holler in advance of any blind corner or thick brush.
Hiking poles: I know you look like a tool, and you want to look great for your instagram pic, but just put them down for your pics. Hiking poles are life savers. They engage your arms in the hiking which helps out two fold: 1) you take some load off your legs 2) it keeps your momentum going. If you're carrying a large pack, poles are your best friend. On uneven terrain, they are helpful for uphill naturally, but they also help on the downhill. As you walk down hill slamming your poor knees with every step, you can use the poles to reach out and weight bear and reduce the load to your knees. Your knees will thank you after you've crushed your 10,000 steps that day. When buying poles, don't cheap out. Poles go through a lot of abuse on the trail and will break quickly if you get cheap ones. They are expensive and range in price. Personally I went midrange and have used them on easily 1000km of hiking over 2 years already and they're still going strong. When you get into the really expensive stuff, you're paying for the fancy ultra lightweight poles like carbon fiber for the minimalist in the backcountry. If you plan on just using them for day hikes, get the poles that might be 5 ozs heavier, but they will be $50 cheaper. Poles are telescopic to fit onto the side of your pack when you're not using them, so they have different locking systems to open them: twist, or latch. I've met a lot of hardcore hikers who swear but the locking latch. But mine are just the twist-lock and seem to be fine. The only time I run into issues is when I hike in the mountains at higher altitudes in the nasty cold; the air pressure changes mess with the lock system and the cold messes with the metal and sometimes they won't twist and lock into place.
And don't even get me started on all the multipurpose aspects of hiking poles; being used as tent poles for backcountry hikes!