New To Hiking: What Do I Need?
Exploring the great outdoors on foot is not only excellent for fitness, it also offers the perfect opportunity for you to relax, immerse yourself in nature and boost your mood. With so many scenic places to discover and no specialist skills required, just about anyone can enjoy hiking.
If you're looking to make hiking trips a more regular fixture in your life, you're going to need to invest in the right gear. Having these things will keep you safe and comfortable on your hikes and prepared for different situations that may arise so you can make the most of your time out on the trails.
Day hiking absolute essentials include:
Waterproof Outer Layers
Whether rain is in the forecast or not, it pays to have a good-quality raincoat on hand. If you're expecting poor weather, pack some waterproof pants too. These will keep you dry and well-protected from the elements. It's all very well for the jacket to keep the rain out, but if it doesn't have a decent amount of ventilation, then moisture will accumulate on the inside from your own perspiration - yuck! When you're feeling soggy and uncomfortable, you're unlikely to be enjoying yourself.
In terms of fit, you want something that will sit comfortably alongside your body but still leave room for extra layers below. Also, make sure that your jacket is constructed of a breathable material to keep you ventilated throughout your hike.
When heading out for the day, you'll want to dress for the kind of hike you're anticipating. Be familiar with the type of terrain you'll face and the unique challenges it brings. You might opt for long pants and a long-sleeved shirt even in balmy conditions if you're looking for extra sun protection or if bugs might become an issue.
However you decide to dress, the clothes closest to your skin are most vital for moisture management. Pick activewear constructed from quick-drying, moisture-wicking fabric that will keep you dry and chafe-free. Nylon or polyester will be better than cotton here as the latter traps moisture against your skin rather than removing it.
Don't forget about your underwear which is arguably the most vital base layer. After all, painful thigh rubbing can really ruin an otherwise good day. You will want to go with performance underwear specifically engineered for those with active lifestyles which offers support and separation without restriction that will keep your fellas downstairs happy, fresh, and nicely breezy.
As the weather can quickly turn from dry to wet, temperatures can also quickly plummet, especially at higher altitudes. So even on a warm day, pack an extra layer or two just in case. Lightweight gloves, scarves, and hats can also be good to fight against the wind chill factor. There's nothing worse than being cold out on the trail and having nothing you can do about it.
Again, the type and thickness of your layers will depend on the conditions expected and the room available in your pack. You might go for a synthetic gilet, a micro-fleece hoodie, or a down-insulated jacket. Experts typically agree that having a couple of lighter layers is preferable to a single bulky one, especially when hiking in warmer climates. In this way, you can tailor your layers for your comfort.
Walking Socks & Shoes
Depending on the type of terrain you will be tackling, you may opt for lightweight trail running shoes. Alternatively, you may prefer more supportive over-the-ankle boots, which can support your feet through the stresses and strains of walking across diverse and often uneven terrain. Either way, having a real top-notch pair of walking shoes or boots can mean the difference between an enjoyable hike and a painful, limping, blister-filled disaster trek.
Whichever shoes you choose, make sure they are well broken in before you set out on your adventures - new shoe related issues can really put a damper on things. This is best done with the socks you are planning on wearing out on the trail, which should be constructed from wool or synthetic fibers to further protect your feet from the effects of sweat-based rub. It's also good to pack a spare pair for mid-walk freshness.
As you'll need something to heft around all that gear and those extra layers, you'll need to purchase a decent, weatherproof rucksack. For close-to-home walks, get something around 15 to 25 liters. This will provide ample space for all you need. If you're looking to venture further afield, a 33-liter bag will be big enough to hold all the additional items you need while not being too bulky or burdensome to carry long distances.
Whichever one you pick out, it's helpful to do a few practice runs before heading into the wilderness. Pack your new pack full of clothes, groceries, and water bottles and tote it around the garden a few times to ensure it sits comfortably on your shoulder and along your back (bags come in different sizes depending on the length of your torso) and that you can happily hoist that much stuff about too.
Safety & Protective Equipment
Stashed in your brand new bag, you'll also need to keep a few bits and bobs to keep you safe and on the right path. A map, compass, GPS device, route descriptor, or guidebook will help you know where you are going. A basic first aid kit of bandaids and antiseptic, at the very least, will enable you to deal with any minor injuries that may occur along the way. You're also going to want to pack plenty of sun protection - sun block, sunglasses, a hat, a sun shirt… even if the day starts off cloudy.
Do keep in mind that items on this list constitute the bare minimum. You will need to adjust your requirements based on your specific hike, the terrain, altitude, expected weather conditions, remoteness, etc. Depending on the remoteness of your route may need to also carry matches, multitools, a flashlight, and a basic shelter. It's always better to take extra items and not need them than to find yourself in need of something and not have it.
Water Bottle & Snacks
Finally, no hiker's pack is complete without water and snacks to keep your energy up as you go. A water bottle will dramatically add to the weight of your pack unless you have a way to filter or treat water on the road. So, make sure you are prepared to carry as much water as you'll need for the entire day.
Plan for around half a liter per hour on average (you will obviously need to factor in hike intensity and duration, your age, sweat rate, body type, weather conditions, and altitude). It's always a good idea to carry more than you need, especially in the early days when you're still guesstimating. For food, aim to eat around 200-300 calories an hour to keep your strength up. Quick, easy energy foods such as bars, gels, bites, and chews are best.