Day Hiking Essential list for Beginner Hikers
Are you new to hiking and are a little overwhelmed with what to pack or even where to start? Here's an easy basic hiking gear list for beginners (I've also included some extras depending on the season you hike). It may be a little bit long but always remember that you want to prepare for the worst-case scenario when hiking. Every hike will be different in terms of length, distance, and wilderness (some hikes are close to cities, and some are in the middle of nowhere) and you should always be prepared for all.
An important note for new hikers is that your safety is your responsibility. Do not really on others to keep yourself safe. This means always researching a trail before you go (knowing the distance and time and anything else about it), bringing all the essential items with you (first aid, water, snacks, etc), and also speaking up on the trail if you think something is not safe (if you do not feel well/exhausted, not comfortable with a shortcut route).
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Table of Contents
Hiking Gear for Beginners
This beginner gear list of items is what you will need to start hiking and items you should always bring with you when you go hiking:
1. Hiking Footwear
Invest in proper footwear when hiking. You will be hiking over a lot of different terrains and you need footwear that will support your feet. Which brand or style will depend on your feet and the terrain/climate. Buy footwear that fits your feet well and is comfortable. Sometimes brands are less important than the fit.
Tip: When buying new footwear, always wear the sock you will be hiking with to make sure it properly fits (some hiking socks are thicker than others). And ALWAYS wear your footwear first before going on a hike (basically to prevent blisters).
Budget Option: purchase shoes instead of boots that can be worn for other occasions and upgrade once you become more involved in hiking.
You want socks that wick away sweat, keep your feet dry, and provide some cushion. Wet feet can cause blisters. Get socks that are made from wool or a polyester blend, do not get cotton! Always carry an extra pair of socks with you just in case your feet sweat. As soon as they sweat, change your socks! I ignored this and my entire foot was covered in blisters. Smart wool and Icebreaker are socks I have had and still use. I've also heard Darn Tough Wool is great too.
Probably not something you might have thought of but most insoles that come with your shoes aren’t always the greatest and are more or less to give it the finished look. Take a look at what your feet need (high arch, shock absorbent), and pick one that’s suitable for you. All of my footwear has insoles in them and they make a world of a difference.
4. Athletic Clothing
You do not need to buy specific hiking clothing as long as you have some athletic clothing at home. You want clothing that is wick-away, fast drying and allows you to move. I would highly recommend not wearing cotton as it tends to be heavier, doesn't dry as fast, and is cold when it's cold and hot when it's hot.
Budget Option: If you're looking for hiking clothing, lots of hiking stores have clearance sections in the store or online or offer sales during long weekends. Keep an eye out and order your gear then.
5. Rain Jacket
Always bring a rain jacket just in case. The weather is super unpredictable the higher you go. You can get rain jackets that are super thin that pack down and weigh nothing.
6. Extra Clothes/Layers
Always bring some extra clothes/layers with you.
Extra layers: I normally like to bring a thin thermal layer (bottom and top), even in summer just in case I need to spend the night and the higher you go, the cooler it gets.
Extra Clothes: if you sweat, bring extra clothes to change into. This is also important if you hike in the winter, you always want to stay dry. In the summer, you want to prevent chafing.
This is one of those items I'm starting to bring more and more, especially during the summer. You will experience some hikes that are completely open with little shade and a hat will do wonders for you.
1. GPS device
There are fancy GPS devices that allow you to send messages when you have no internet but they do come with a price tag. If you cannot afford one, download a hiking app that allows you to download the map (AllTrails, Maps.Me, GAIA GPS, etc) and use it offline. I have had to use these maps so many times when hiking, especially in the winter when the path is covered up with snow. Always tell somebody where you are going, how long it should take, and when you think you'll be back.
2. Day Pack
Invest in one that has a hip belt, fits your back nicely, and is able to fit everything you will need for a day hike in your area (snacks, water, extra clothes). Sore shoulders and back can make for a long hike. Anywhere from 20-35L will let you fit everything you need, in any season. Make sure you try it on before you buy it!
Budget Option: purchase one that can be used for different occasions (mine is a hiking bag, overnight bag, or weekend trip bag).
Day Bag: Amazon
3. Reusable Water Bottle or Hydration Reservoir
Get a water bottle that is at least 1L as that is the recommended amount you should bring on hikes. I use HydraPak for both. My water bottle is collapsable and my reservoir is insulated and can store ice and keep my water cold. Both have lifetime warranties. I had the same water bottle for 4 years until it got a hole in it and they sent me a brand new one for free.
4. Hiking Poles
I think hiking poles are one of the most underrated hiking gear out there. You will not understand how much they can help with a hike until you use them. For long, steep hikes, they help relieve pressure off your knees and allow you to use the whole body to get up that mountain. And when you're tired, they are great to have that extra support to lean on.
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5. Headlamp with extra batteries
Always carry a light source because you never know how long a hike will last. I've gone on hikes that were supposed to a few hours that turned into hiking down at dark. If it runs on batteries, carry extras with you.
6. Rain Cover
Most hiking bags today come with a rain cover (found in the bottom pocket) but if they do not, invest in one. You want to make sure that whatever you bring hiking, stays dry.
Most of us use our phones to take pictures and to navigate which eats up a lot of our battery. And if you hike when it's cold, your battery dies even faster. Make sure your charger can charge your phone for up to a day.
Power Bank: Amazon
8. Waterproof Case
I like to carry my important things in waterproof/water-resistant bags. My electronics go into a waterproof bag and my other essentials (layers, socks, fire starter, etc) go into a water-resistant bag. I want to prevent anything from getting wet.
These are made to prevent blisters and to use if you have blisters. You can get pre-cut ones or buy a roll and cut them yourself.
2. First Aid
Always have a first aid kit with the basics in it. You can buy premade kits or make one yourself at home. Just remember to keep it in some sort of water-resistant bag.
3. Emergency Blanket
This is relatively cheap, and lightweight but can save your life when you need it.
4. Sunscreen (face/lips)
Always wear sunscreen when you hike, especially on your face regardless of the weather. And don't forget your lips!
Lip Sunscreen: Amazon
I like to pack snacks I can just keep in my bag and are higher in calories (energy bars, protein bars, trail/nut mix, sugary candy, etc)
Cliff Bars: Amazon
6. Water Tablets (or another purification method)
Always carry these with you because you never know when you might run out of water and need to get some from a water source on a hike.
Water Tablets: Amazon
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7. Fire starter-lighter/candles
Always have some sort of waterproof fire starter and some source to get/keep a fire going (especially in the winter or if it rained). I like to carry lighters and candles that burn for 8-hours.
Get a lightweight knife to keep in your bag. You never know when you might need to cut something.
9. Bug Spray
Keep a small bottle in your bag. Some hikes will have zero bugs, and on others, you will get attacked.
Extras Hiking Essentials for Beginners
Here's a list of extra hiking gear/items you may want to invest in if you decide to hike all year round, in all weather.
You wear these around your ankle area to prevent your feet from getting wet from water or snow.
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2. Waterproof Pants
Waterproof pants are an amazing addition for fall/winter/spring hiking when the weather is a bit unpredictable. I've also used these as wind protection in the winter. They are lightweight and take up very little space.
3. Waterproof Gloves
Keep your hands dry and warm when in cooler weather or even when it's raining/wet snow.
Waterproof gloves: Amazon
Trail conditions change the higher up you go. Carrying spikes will let you hike during all seasons. Having to walk on ice is not fun.
5. Down Jacket
This adds a ton of extra warmth without the bulk! And it is very easy to layer with other layers.
Down Jacket: Amazon
Buy one that has a fleece lining around the ears or is fleece lined. This will prevent the wind from coming in and keep your head a bit warmer.
Not really essential but I absolutely love taking mine hiking. It makes taking those photos/videos a lot easier.
If you're like me and burn easily and hate wearing sunscreen, buy arm sleeves. These protect your whole arm and even go over the top of your hand.
Arm Sleeves: Amazon
9. Bear Spray
This is really dependent on where you live and what animals you have. If you live in a bear country (or other wild and dangerous animals) you should always carry this with you.
Bear Spray: Atmosphere