To set out on day hikes on well-trodden trails, you don’t need a lot of equipment.
That’s what makes hiking such a great activity. It’s accessible for a lot of people.
All you really need is a decent forest and the will to get started.
Well, that’s almost all you need.
Hiking on will and the lure of the woods alone sounds all well and good until you get a grumble in your tums or twist an ankle, and realize the mountains might have been calling, but you should have stopped to gear up before you answered.
While you don’t need much when you first start hiking (it’s wise to stick to shorter hikes on the easiest in-and-out trails), a few pieces of hiking gear will keep you safe and comfortable on those most basic of trails.
Here are our must-haves for beginner hikers, split into two segments: easy day-hikes and longer hikes with the potential of losing the trail.
Easy Day Hike Hiking Gear
When it comes to easy day hikes – we’re talking the absolute simplest of trails, the ones that are paved or cleared and where you cannot possibly get lost – you can get away with five basic hiking supplies.
Those supplies are:
- Insulated water bottle or hydration pack
- Sun protection
- First aid kit
Insulated water bottle or hydration pack.
If you’re determined to take only one of the above items with you on a very short hike, that item should be a water bottle or hydration pack (with water).
Something to carry your water supply is your most basic equipment on a hike, and is an absolute necessity.
It doesn’t matter if you’re hiking ten minutes or ten miles, you NEED water with you on a hike.
Don’t leave your water in the car at the trailhead. Don’t think “It’s only a mile out-and-back.”
Water. Water. Water.
If you take nothing else on your hike, take water.
For some of the best water bottles for hiking, check out our articles Staying Hydrated On The Trail: Best Stainless Steel Water Bottle For Hiking and Insulated Water Bottles We’d Stake Our Hydration On.
For the shortest of hikes on well-cleared trails, you may not need a backpack.
But for anything longer than a couple of hours, or if you’re going off-trail, you should carry storage of some sort.
While any form of storage will do (cargo pants with ample, deep pockets are another good option), a backpack is ideal because it provides plenty of space and evenly distributes weight across your body, so you won’t be feeling all lopsided and glitchy-backed when you come off the trail.
For some great daypacks that get the job done, see Hit The Trail With The Best Daypacks for Travel and Hiking.
Hiking burns a lot of calories. A lot.
At an average hiking speed of 2 mph, hiking burns about the same amount of calories as walking 5 mph on a flat surface. (That’s basically the equivalent of race walking or jogging.)
As such, you’ll probably get hungry sooner than you think, and a hungry hiker is an energy-deprived hiker, which isn’t good for either effort or safety.
To keep energy up on long hikes, seasoned hikers tend to graze as they go, eating small snacks every one to two hours.
So, bring snacks.
Lightweight, calorie-laden snacks, like granola bars and trail mix, are ideal.
If you are hiking anywhere there’s sun, you need sun protection.
And the higher in elevation your hike will take you, the more sun protection you’ll need.
Most of this sun protection you’ll start out in if you’re properly dressed.
Brimmed hats and sun glasses are essential components of our What To Wear Hiking clothing list.
But, if you’ll be out beyond a couple of hours with exposed skin, make sure you bring the sunscreen along.
Chapstick with SPF is also a good idea.
First aid kit.
It might feel silly to bring a first aid kit along on a mile hike where you can see the parking lot from the trail, but the thing about most hiking terrain is that it’s kind of fashioned to jack you up.
The same roots, thorns, rocks, sand, and plant life that make hiking hiking also create natural hazards, which can trip you, stab you, and generally make walking more of a challenge.
In short: it’s much easier to get hurt hiking than walking on a sidewalk.
This makes it good practice to carry a first aid kit whenever you hike (we’ll give some leeway for entirely paved or boardwalked trails).
And, if you have old injuries, like a bad knee or ankle, there’s no reason not to throw that brace in your pack… just in case.
For more on hiking safety, see Hiking Safety Tips For Beginners.
Longer and Backcountry Hike Hiking Gear
Since our essential hiking gear list is specifically for beginner hikers, we won’t go into too much detail on the gear you’ll need for longer, off-trail hikes. (Honestly, stick to those short, easy trails until you get a feel for things.)
But we will mention it.
On longer hikes where you have the potential to get lost, along with everything above, you will also need the following:
- Topographic map + compass
- Personal locator beacon
- Flashlight or headlamp
- Extra water (or, even better, a water purification system)
- Extra food
- Extra clothing (including waterproof clothes)
- Matches and tinder
- Emergency shelter/blanket
How do you know if you’re on an easy hike or if there’s the potential to get lost?
When it comes to determining the safety level of a hike, we like to keep things pretty simple.
Can you see buildings, a road, or a parking lot from the trail, or are you on a paved or boarded out-and-back trail in a populated park?
If so, you’re on an easy hike with practically zero chance of getting lost, and the basic day hike supplies should be all you need.
Are there trees all around you? Can you see zero civilization from the trail?
Are you heading into an unpopulated area where the trail is cleared, but could easily be covered by falling debris or a change in the weather?
If so, you’re on a hike with the potential to get lost.
It doesn’t matter how short that hike is or if the trail is marked.
Even marked trails are often not marked well enough.
If you can’t actually see your way out of the wilderness, you should assume you can lose your way in the wilderness and should carry adequate emergency supplies.
More Hiking Info
Well, that’s about it, everything you need to get started hiking.
Need help dressing for your first hike? See our article What To Wear Hiking.
Just getting started with hiking? Check out our article Getting Started With Hiking.