7 Hiking Essentials for Beginners


By: , SparkPeople Blogger
  :  84 comments   :  151,655 Views

Walking is a great way to get fit, but if you're ready to add a more challenging element, go take a hike! Hiking works different muscles and burns more calories as you navigate rolling hills and uneven terrain. As an added bonus, you'll get to reconnect with nature and escape from everyday stressors.  

Whether you're exploring one of these epic U.S. hiking destinations or just trekking the trails in your own backyard, having the right gear is essential to making the most of your experience. Before lacing up and striking out on your first hike, try to gather these basic essentials.

1. Camelbak Hydration Pack ($49.95)

Image courtesy of Amazon

Water backpacks are a great way to haul your food and supplies on a hike while staying hydrated. This 50-ounce size is great for longer hikes, and there's a pocket to hold energy bars and your keys.

2. ExOfficio Women's Nomad Roll-Up Pant (starting at $34.96)

Image courtesy of Amazon

Even if the day starts off sunny, you'll likely need an extra layer or more coverage when you start your return trip. Roll-up pants are convenient and versatile, and more practical than the kind that zip off. (Who wants to risk losing a pants leg in the woods?)

3. YUOTO Outdoor Fanny Pack ($21.99)

Image courtesy of Amazon

A prepared hiker is a happy hiker. This roomy hip pack has plenty of space to stash snacks, water bottles, your cell phone and a small first aid kit.

4. Larabar Energy Bars ($20.99)

Image courtesy of Amazon

Hiking burns major calories, especially if you're hauling gear or climbing hills, so be sure to take along some fuel. Larabars are calorically dense (about 200 calories each) with a clean ingredient list--no weird chemicals or flavorings. They come in dozens of flavors, so you can pick your favorite.

5. Hammers Hiking Poles ($17.99)

Image courtesy of Amazon

To ease the uphills and gain traction on steep downhills, use hiking poles. This one comes with a built-in compass and thermometer to help keep you safe and sound.

6. White Sierra Women's Trabagon Rain Shell (starting at $31.32)

Image courtesy of Amazon

Weather forecasts aren't always the most accurate when you're in the middle of the woods or on the side of a mountain. It's important to always have an extra layer--especially if rain is possible. This lightweight, perfectly waterproof jacket is small enough to stash in a backpack, with an adjustable hood and plenty of ventilation.

7. Smartwool Hiking Socks (starting at $13.75)

Image courtesy of Amazon

Is there anything worse than cold, soggy socks? Cotton socks hold onto moisture, but wool wicks it away while insulating. Smartwool socks have arch support and plenty of cushioning, which will help keep your feet comfortable and free of blisters.

What is your "must-have" item for hiking?

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  • ZRIE014
    very helpful - 4/4/2017   12:18:47 AM
  • 33
    Come on, girls... no one posting about a trusty little helper like my GoGirl! I don't go hiking without it! :) - 4/3/2017   5:18:32 PM
    Saved to my Favorites for reference! - 7/22/2016   11:22:32 AM
  • 31
    I bought one of the earlier generations of Camelbaks years ago and loved it, as I was only tromping around in my neighborhood. Not sure what has happened to it over years of moving around. So that purple one you showed here is adorable and I'll look for it. I first read about the SmartWool socks elsewhere in different article on SparkPeople and I loved mine so much I bought some for my husband when he goes "wogging". He loves his now.

    Also love the Larabars since they don't tend to have soy in them. About the only thing you didn't mention and I love using here in Kansas (which might be why you hadn't tried one as weather might be more nicer where you are) and that is a Buff Band. I have both the Original - which is longer and more versatile , as well as some of the UV protecting ones and the sweat absorbing headband style. They have several different styles but it's thin enough that you can use it for wind protection around your ears, neck, face as needed, to keep warm, or when it gets too hot then you can use it in a variety of ways to keep your hair off your neck and absorb sweat etc. There are some other similar bands more for sweat absorbing, like Bondi Bands, but I found their "one size fits all" to be too snug around my head, so I really don't wear them as much (plus they are more of a headband, like for yoga or running, not as long and as thin as the Buff Bands.).

    So reading this is encouraging me to begin thinking of places I could easily drive to and do some hiking here in the city. - 3/28/2016   6:06:02 PM
  • 30
    Good article. The only items you bring/wear that I also bring/wear are SmartWool socks, a snack and a hiking pole.

    I love hiking too and bought my first pair of real hiking boots this year. They're so much nicer to use than my sneakers are. And, at this time of year, I also bring lots of tissues for my drippy nose and I dress in layers so if I get too warm, I can shed some and alternatively, if I'm getting cold, I can add layers.

    I'm currently looking for a way to carry a water bottle that doesn't have the capacity of a Camelbak but I don't have to wear around my waist on a fanny pack either as I don't find that comfortable. I thought I found a cross-body one on Amazon but they didn't have any new ones and the "used" ones were too expensive. - 12/4/2015   6:49:25 PM
  • 29
    Thanks so much for all the useful information here!! As always SparkPeople give out they're all when it comes to exercise & maintaining!! Hugs! - 10/30/2015   10:59:55 AM
  • 28
    Must haves: first aid kit, supportive shoes, GPS and map, knife... - 4/2/2015   2:24:46 PM
    Be sure to tell someone where you are going and when you expect to return - 1/22/2014   1:41:41 PM
    I do a lot of trail running, which is pretty similar. My shoes are definitely the most important thing I bring with me. I am also saving up for a camelbak because it is such a convenient way to carry water when running! - 4/23/2013   12:22:19 PM
  • 25
    oops - 4/18/2013   10:12:32 PM
  • 24
    Whoa, whoa, I know it is very early spring, surely you haven't all forgotten the most necessary of outdoor accessories. OFF, Muskol, DEET in your preference of wipe, spray, gel, lotion. Also gotta have a stock of the wipes to replenish the sweaty bits. I spray my naked self, get dressed, take dog drive to trail and re-spray over my clothing and still take wipes.
    I have great Zamberlan leather boots, they don't breakdown from the friction with snowshoe straps as my composite boots did, and I tend to wear the same boots all year. I have a Camelpack pack, it was grand when I hiked Zion Nat'l Park Christmas day last year (2011) and when I hiked some of the Nat'l Forest preserves the following week, in Utah, and Nevada where I was staying. Cushioned the blow that I couldn't get to the Grand Canyon as all the north side roads and trails are closed at that time of year. Now really, who thinks of the Grand Canyon with SNOW in it, eh? Well it was a GOLF trip so I had to hire a hiking guide who knew the area and I had to keep my possession of the rental car to within the time it takes to play a round of golf and visit a bit in the 19th hole. Poles? I walk rough limestone trails and often see other people's poles left against a tree where they got tired of carrying them, and will pick them up again on the way out, so I kinda think I'll give them a miss. Because my home trails are mostly cliff tops less than 500 meters from the lakeshore I usually don't carry water for Pixie unless the woods are very very dry. Compass? Map? I take the appropriate page out of my trail guide, but frankly I don't know how to navigate with a compass anyway, but the Bruce Trail is very well marked, and with a 250 ft drop to your right leaving home and to your left coming back I don't get lost until I get back into my car LOL. Bought an iphone to get an off road GPS, bought the ap, then found it erased itself every time it lost contact with the satellite so it is useless for that, the phone works quite well along the escarpment with just blips here and there and of course not so good at all if you get into the woods any distance.

    I am quite tickled at you all hiking with shorts or roll up pants......feast for the mozzies or blackflies, and what about poison ivy, eh? I remember meeting two guys waiting on an end to end participant with supplies, lounging with their beers against a tree in their shorts and no sock sneakers. In foot deep lovely glossy deep green poison ivy. I wear boots, knee high socks and long pants, and having stepped in an occasional hole my shin has been very happy the damage was limited.
    Happy Trails - 4/18/2013   10:09:55 PM
  • 23
    I have a camelback. I take it with me on hikes and 5ks! - 4/18/2013   11:33:56 AM
  • 22
    You will need a bigger pack to fit in the real -10 essentials.
    Sunglasses and sunscreen
    Extra clothing
    First-aid supplies
    Extra food
    DON'T HIKE WITHOUT THEM! - 4/17/2013   11:49:33 PM
  • 21
    Lots of practical advice below. More like a sales pitch above. All well to consider. Enjoy your hike! - 4/17/2013   9:00:38 PM
    I don't hike but I love the info. - 4/17/2013   6:10:39 PM
    There are so many reasons why I use hiking poles. The main reason is that my fingers used to swell when I hiked - by using the poles, they NEVER swell since they elevate my hands in a natural way and engage my arms so that blood is flowing. Other reasons include balance, burns more calories than walking without poles (10-15% more!!), can be used to move debris off the trail. Finally I am blind in one eye, so I have no depth perception. Poles allow me to "feel" how far down I have to step so that I don't jar my knees more than necessary! Love my poles! - 4/17/2013   1:12:18 PM
    Oh and hiking poles are wonderful. If you have balance issues or have issues with down hill they will help a lot. If you are doing flat hikes then no, you will not need them. I broke my ankle and they help me with balance now. On the down hill they take the pressure off your knees. True there are other basic things that you need but poles are good.

    Socks, I hear folks saying that you don't need expensive socks. I will tell you now that good wool socks such as smartwool will make all the difference in the world. The technology in the socks is amazing. They cushion most of the "hot" spots to help with blisters. Cheap cotton socks rub, don't dry fast or wick sweat, and cause blisters. True you will shell out 12 or 15 bucks for a pair of socks but it is well worth the money!

    Hiking shoes, if you are planning on making hiking a part of your life, as I have, this is a MUST. You can get by with tennis shoes for a few hikes but hiking boots/shoes are made to support your foot differently and the soles are made to help with gripping rocks so you don't fall. They are also designed for stability. Don't skimp on this. Your ankles are important.

    As with any sport, the proper equipment is essential for safety.

    The only thing I see here that is not that important is the fanny pack thing. If you have a simple backpack you can get by with just packing water bottles but the camelbak is nice for hands free... Yes they are a lot but if you are going to be an avid hiker you will be happy with your investment. If you choose your camelback wisely you can stash all of your other gear in the pockets. Whatever you do don't hit the trails with out water, pack more than what you think you will drink. You may need it or you may meet someone on the trail that needs it.

    Larabar, that's a good one but you can pack any snack bar like Cliff or Luna. I would just say no to bars like Quaker just because they don't have as much nutrition. Also Stinger, Shotblocks or runners beans are wonderful for a boost along the trail.

    The pants they mention are wonderful as well. There are several brands to choose from. They are good because again they wick sweat and they dry fast if you get wet. They are lighter than jeans and let you move freely. The ones I have are convertible and zip off to become shorts. Hiking in jeans is a bad idea. The rain jacket is good too. I own the one mentioned. You can pack a $1 rain poncho and it will do the trick as well. Pack some sort of rain gear because you never know when the weather will change. I was hiking once in late September in Flagstaff. It was clear when we started then clouds rolled in rain then snow! I did not have a jacket and was glad someone brought an extra. I pack one now for all my day hikes.
    Okay I'll stop with my rant - 4/17/2013   9:39:07 AM
    This is a great start. I would add a basic first aid kit with:
    1 Bandages
    2 Moleskin for blisters
    3 Feminine hygiene pads (sounds odd but these absorb well so for a big cut they are perfect)
    4 tweezers
    5 electrolyte tablets such as Nuun or Zipfiz
    6 Duct Tape (yes I said Duct tape, it can fix anything, shoes, patch holes in your camelbak, remove cactus stickers, and much more)
    7 small scissors
    8 water purification tablets
    9 Mylar emergency blanket
    10 chap stick... trust me you will use it
    11 sunscreen

    I am sure that avid hikers can add to this list.
    - 4/17/2013   9:20:44 AM
  • 16
    I have done a lot of day hiking and I can tell you - a good pair of sneakers/socks, a hat, and water/snacks will do the trick. You don't need expensive high tech shoes or walking poles (my Dad and I think these are hilarious, esp. all the hikers we see here in the Midwest on COMPLETELY FLAT trails. Unless you have mobility issues, a healthy adult should be fine without them unless you are doing a VERY strenuous hike. We managed strenuous mountain hiking in Shenandoah JUST FINE without them!) - 4/17/2013   9:19:17 AM
  • 15
    Lots of good tips. I'll add blister bandages to the list. We like Compeed because they cover and add extra protection. - 4/17/2013   7:39:36 AM
    A friend of mine taught me to carry an extra pair of socks--and they can double as mittens in an emergency. I agree with the first poster--this seems a bit like a sales pitch and some of the items in the comments are really important. Still, I enjoyed reading it.
    - 4/17/2013   3:36:40 AM
  • 13
    This kinda' feels less like an Essentials list and more like a sales pitch. What about proper footwear? First aid? Maps? THOSE are the essentials you need to share with new hikers -- it's irresponsible to tell a novice that as long as they have fancy poles and nice socks, they'll be safe on the trail. - 4/16/2013   8:57:53 PM
  • 12
    I keep a bin for all my gear in one place,as it seems I misplace things too easily. In addition to all the good suggestions....my camera is super essential! I also take a whistle, sunglasses , ID, bear BELL and large brim hat. Hiking as I do in.Arizona,time of day and Where to hike are essentials here,!! - 4/16/2013   8:05:28 PM
  • 11
    I moved to Asheville, NC from Charleston, SC 2 years ago. I am really interested in hiking. The mountains here are stunning. Thanks for the tips! - 4/16/2013   5:11:31 PM
    my must haves, no matter the length or weather
    first aid kit
    rain jacket
    sun protection
    my iPhone (for emergencies and for maps)
    some bananas and/or granola bars - 4/16/2013   4:47:53 PM
  • 9
    Ever hear of the 10 essentials? Those are in my pack no matter WHAT length of hike or trip I am going on. More than once, this kit has come in handy when I least expected it to:
    Navigation (map and compass)--sometimes if i am in cell range, i use my phone for this.
    Sun protection (sunglasses and sunscreen)
    Insulation (extra clothing)
    Illumination (headlamp/flashlight)
    First-aid supplies
    Fire (waterproof matches/lighter/candles)
    Repair kit and tools (usually just a knife and some duct tape for me)
    Nutrition (extra food)
    Hydration (extra water)
    Emergency shelter --I typically use an emergency blanket like the kind given out in marathons. This keeps you warm AND dry in an emergency.

    Great article! Thanks! - 4/16/2013   3:28:58 PM
    I agree with the boot idea - very important ! - 4/16/2013   1:48:20 PM
  • 7
    Foot gear is one of the most important.This article did not mention the shoes/boots. You've got to have a good pair of boots. Preferably with good traction, water proof, and good ankle and arch support. Deep into the woods or high up a mountain is no place to realize your feet hurt like the dickens. Makes for a long, painful hike back. - 4/16/2013   1:29:40 PM
  • 6
    I love hiking! I go on a two hour hike which has a farm at the bottom of the hill for people with kids. It's so relaxing. - 4/16/2013   1:16:22 PM
  • 5
    Hiking isn't my type of fun, but those POLES look necessary especially with the compass. Always amazed at people who get lost in the woods. - 4/16/2013   1:00:14 PM
  • 4
    Double post. sorry. - 4/16/2013   1:00:11 PM
  • 3
    I have many hiking favorites. I love my Royal Robbins Trailblazer pants, my favorite. A good lightweight packable windbreaker is a must have for most hikes. Do get a headlamp & keep it in your pack. - 4/16/2013   12:56:58 PM
  • 2
    I live in an area where there are lots of hiking trails, some of which are very hilly. I love to take my dog and spend a couple of hours hiking. I have to make sure I take water and snacks for myself and the dog so a regular backpack is necessary. This is a great way to burn off some major calories and the hilly trails are what I call butt burners. - 4/16/2013   12:43:34 PM
    -Supportive hiking boots!
    -Bandanas (super versatile!)
    -Emergen-C powder
    -Jelly Belly Sport Beans - 4/16/2013   12:38:35 PM

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