Essential Hiking Gear for Beginners

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Heading out for the adventure of a lifetime? Whether you’re off to faraway lands or set on exploring some places closer to home, there are many places to go and see, either with family and friends, or all by yourself.

If it’s your first time, it might sound intimidating and a little bit scary, but don’t worry! You just have to overcome that scary first step and pretty soon, you’ll become a pro at it!

One thing you need to do before taking that first step though, is to make sure you got the right equipment. You’ll need proper boots, enough water, warm clothing and a backpack with a first aid kit for starters.

But what else would you possibly need?

If you’re unsure about what you need and what to bring on your hiking trip, check out this guide. We go through the essentials, and if you’re a beginner this list is a great place to start!

1. A Good, Sturdy Hiking Backpack

Man walking on a snowy trail with a backpack
A sturdy backpack is an important piece of equipment for a beginner going on a hike. It holds all the necessities, and is comfortable to carry for longer periods at a time.

You might be wondering if you can just bring any backpack or any sling bag, shoulder bag, or even just a purse or wallet. You might, but if you want to go far, you’ll have to bring essential hiking and camping gear, and the only way to do so is in a proper hiking backpack. It could be a small day backpack or a large backpack with proper space for your belongings..

In order to pick the backpack that will go perfectly well with your hiking or camping trip, here are some things to consider:

  • Duration of the trip (Is this a day trip? Overnight? Extended time away that will take you 3 or more days?)
  • Frame type
    • Internal – body-hugging backpacks that keep the bearer stable in an uneven terrain
    • External – appropriate if you’re carrying a heavy, irregular load (such as a kayak to the lake)
    • Frameless – for those who like to hike fast and light
  • Ventilation (some backpacks have a suspended mesh back panel on the part that touches your back, and that will usually grant a few inches of space between the actual backpack and your back, to allow fresh air to flow through to your back)
  • Pack access
    • Backpacks that only open on top (in which case, you have to pack the things you won’t need till the end of the day deep down inside)
    • Backpacks that offer a zippered front or side panel (this makes it easier to reach the items that are deeper in your back)
  • Pockets
    • Elasticized side pockets – flat when empty but can stretch out to hold a lightweight water bottle, some snacks, or other loose objects
    • Hipbelt pockets – can accommodate items you want to reach quickly, such as a smartphone, some snacks, energy gel, etc.
    • Shovel pockets – flaps stuck to the front of a backpack with a buckle closure on top where you can stash a map, a jacket, or other lightweight items
    • Front pocket – can hold smaller, less bulky items

Naturally, the longer your trip is, the more items you’ll have to bring. It really helps to plan your trip ahead of time so you can take everything into consideration, from your backpack to the different items you will be carrying.

See the best selling hiking day packs on Amazon.
See the best selling internal frame hiking backpacks on Amazon.

2. Proper Clothing and Footwear

Woman wearing hiking boots while walking on stones
You need proper clothing and footwear to get you through a day of hiking and exploring. Pick your shoes based on what type of terrain and pace you want to hike in.

As you plan your hiking trip, always remember to check the weather forecast and make sure that you are dressed for the conditions. It’s also best to be prepared for a sudden change in the weather and an unplanned night out in case there is a sudden storm or you’re unable to leave your camping grounds and have to extend your trip another day. It’s handy to pack extra clothes and to also consider what are the best kinds of clothing to wear for the trip you are going to take.

For hikes and camping trips that are on smoother trails and don’t require much effort, hiking shoes or trail runners (check out the different possibilities for men and women) are enough in terms of footwear.

Here are some quick tips for clothes when it comes to hiking:

  • Don’t wear denim jeans. They hold on to water and will make you feel sweaty in hot temperatures and give you chills when the weather turns cold and wet.
  • Get comfortable, sturdy pants. You never know what you’ll come across when you hike. Some trails are steep and may require you to maneuver quickly, so it’s good to wear something that will help you move freely and easily.
  • Bring along a warm jacket or a rain jacket. A warm jacket will help for colder conditions while a rain jacket will block the rain and the wind. This is particularly important if you’re planning on hiking in the mountains, where weather can be tricky to forecast.
  • Stay sheltered from the sun. Bring a hat and even a pair of sunglasses to protect yourself from the sun.
  • Polyester does the trick. From pants to t-shirts to undergarments, you might want to consider getting clothing that’s made from polyester, nylon, or merino wool. They dry fast and have a good moisture management ability.
  • Get sturdy shoes. You don’t have to wear leather boots, but make sure your feet are comfortable and that the shoes you wear will provide support and protection from rocks, roots, and give you traction for both wet and dry surfaces.

For best selling hiking shoes for men, click here.
For best selling hiking shoes for women, click here.
For best selling trail runners for men, click here.
For best selling trail runners for women, click here.

3. Food and Water (Make Sure You Bring Enough)

Man taking a break during a hike with his dog
Make sure you bring more food and water than you’ll need – just in case.

Whether you’re going on a quick day trip or a long weekend journey, it’s good to pack a little bit of extra food in case you run out or in case the trip ends up extending beyond what you originally planned (due to an injury or bad weather). Pack snacks like energy bars, jerky, nuts, and dried fruit. They’re easy to carry in smaller quantities, they don’t require cooking, and they have a longer shelf life.

Packing and carrying water is important too. 0.5 gallons is the average amount of water needed per person for a full day, but that will fluctuate depending on the length and the intensity of the hike as well as weather conditions. So make sure you bring plenty of water, and consider getting a collapsible water bottle so it’s easily stored on your way back.

See the best selling water bottles on Amazon.

4. Navigation Equipment (And Other Electronics)

As much as we love adventure, and we believe that it’s out there for all of us, always think of your safety first. When going on a hike, especially if this is your first time, perhaps on the top of the list of your essential hiking accessories should be something that will help you navigate your way back (or to any inhabited area nearby). You can have one, or an assortment, or even all of the following:

  • Map – if you’re going on a trip on a road less traveled or an easy-to-miss trail, a topographic map is something you should take with you.
  • Compass – lots of smartphones have this, but it’s best to take a standard baseplate hiking or backpacking compass as well because it doesn’t rely on batteries and won’t take up much space.
  • GPS Device – while smartphones also have GPS apps, it’s also good to have a GPS device as a backup. Remember, however, that, like your smartphone, you will need to make sure that the device has batteries and that the batteries are fully charged.
  • Portable power bank – keep your phone, your flashlight, your GPS, and other electronic equipment charged with a portable power bank. They don’t cost much, but they are priceless if your equipment all of a sudden run out power.

5. Sun Protection

We talked about sunglasses and a hat briefly in the section for clothes and shoes above, but packing sun-protection clothing and sunscreen can go a long way. Forgetting to do so can end up with your getting sunburned or even contracting snow-blindness (if you are hiking in the winter), which in turn will result in premature skin aging and other possible diseases like skin cancer and cataracts. It’s important to keep yourself protected at all times.

Sunglasses will protect your eyes from potentially damaging radiation while sunscreen helps limit your exposure to ultraviolet rays. Don’t forget to apply lip balm as well to prevent drying and chapping.

Sun-protection clothing, on the other hand, is a good way to block ultraviolet rays if you don’t want to put on sunscreen on your arms, legs, etc. You can check out the different lightweight, synthetic pieces that come with an ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) and are really good items to wear or bring along when going on a hike.

6. A Light to Guide You

Man hiking in darkness using a flashlight
A flashlight is essential on every hike, so you can light up poorly lit areas along the way. It’s also great for emergency signals and evening hikes.

Sometimes, you’ll find yourself in a place where there isn’t much light (like a cave or a place in the woods where the trees are so dense). Or sometimes, you’ll find that your camping site does not have electricity and you’ll need something to guide you as you set up your tent or cook dinner.

In that case, it’s always a good idea to bring a headlamp, so that you can keep your hands free to hold things or prepare food or make camp. If you’re setting up camp, it’s also good to bring portable camping lanterns that will help you make your way around. Even if they have rechargeable batteries or come with built-in solar panels, it’s best to bring an extra pack of batteries around for emergency situations.

7. First Aid Kit

Woman with sprained ankle gets help from a friend using a first aid kit on a hike
A first aid kit should be mandatory when going on a hike, and it’s a great idea to check up on its contents prior to each hike, and make sure nothing is missing.

In case of emergencies, always make sure that you have and know how to use a first-aid kit. You can purchase ready-made first-aid kits as they usually have the essentials you’ll need for your hiking or camping trip, such as adhesive bandages, gauze pads, disinfecting ointment, pain medication, and more. If you, or anyone else on your hiking trip require special medication, don’t forget to pack it as well.

When deciding what kit to get, here are some factors to help you make the decision:

  • Group size – if you’re traveling with a bigger group, you might want to add more supplies in terms of medicine, bandages, and the like
  • Length or distance of trip – the farther you travel, the more items you’ll have to pack. Usually, pre-made kits have the estimated number of days they can serve in the description.
  • Trip activity – if you will be going over a body of water, for example, you might want to make sure your first-aid kit has something that will help you in case there is an emergency situation where water is concerned

Eventually, as you hike more and more, you’ll be able to estimate what you need and build a first-aid kit of your own that will best suit your needs and the needs of the people you are adventuring with.

8. Knife

A camping knife is one multi-purpose tool you’ll want to have with you when you’re going off on your hiking adventure. It can help you with just about anything and everything, from repairing things to helping you prepare food to making kindling and can even be used in first aid. A knife is an essential in every outing.

There are different types of camping or hiking knives. You have the pocket knife which has a blade which folds into the handle, making it ideal for hiking and backpacking. Pocket knives, however, are not as ergonomic or as stable as the fixed blade knives, which are stronger and more sturdy, but also take up more space and require a sheath or case to carry safely.

You can also opt to carry a multi-tool, which contains a mix of survival gear necessities, from pocket knives to saws, to clippers and scissors. Some multi-tools even contain axes to help you chop wood. They are extremely helpful and handy to have around and its multi-function use saves a lot of space instead of having to bring so many different tools separately.

If you’re unsure what to get, make sure you check out our guide on the best multi-tools for backpacking.

9. Fire-Starting Kit

Group of friends enjoying a camp fire
There’s really nothing like a camp fire to warm you up at night, and it’s a great way to create memories with friends and family.

One of the essentials in hiking is learning how to start a fire. In case of an emergency, you’ll want to have supplies that will help you start and maintain a fire. You can opt to have one of the following:

  • Butane lighter
  • Matches that are waterproof and stored in a waterproof container
  • Firestarter (this helps you jumpstart a fire even in wet conditions)
  • Dry tinder tucked away in a plastic bag
  • Candles
  • Heat nuggets (chipped-wood clusters soaked in resin)

You can also check out the different camping emergency fire starter kits.

Make sure you check for local fire bans in the area you’re hiking in. These are quite common during the summer months in some states, because everything dries out and requires nothing but one single spark to start a devastating wildfire.

10. Emergency Shelter

It’s always important to carry some kind of emergency shelter to protect you from wind and rain and other rough weather conditions in case you get stranded while you’re hiking. It’s also extremely helpful in case you or one of your companions get injured on the trail. You can check out the following kinds of emergency shelters:

  • Ultralight tarp (available in most major warehouses, hardware stores, etc.)
  • Bivy sack
  • Emergency space blanket
  • Large plastic trash bag (available in all grocery stores)

Keep in mind that a tent is only considered an emergency solution if you have it with you all the time. A tent that remains in your campground is not something you might be able to get to immediately, so it’s still best to carry something that will protect you and keep you warm in case something happens.

An emergency shelter-option is particularly important, if you’re hiking in bad or unpredictable weather conditions, on dangerous trails with a risk of injury, or in cold weather. You never know what may happen, and it’s always best to go prepared instead of regretting it later.

If this is your first time to go hiking or camping, don’t let your fears get ahead of you. It might seem daunting at first, but once you get to do it several times, you’ll start getting the hang of it. Don’t hesitate because you’re not sure about what might happen. Just get started! Plan that adventure, pack your hiking gear, invite a friend or two, and go! Who knows? It might be the start of something that will eventually become the journey of a lifetime.

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