One of the main reasons why I love hiking is how accessible it is.
No matter who you are or where you live, you can head off into the woods and get some great exercise, peace of mind, without a huge bill for gear, clothing, and lessons/training. In most cases, you can just go hiking wherever at the drop of a dime, even if it’s your first time. What other adventure sport can you say that about?
But with that being said, there are still a few essential items that any new hiker would be smart to own and use while out on the trail.
I put trekking poles at the top of this list, because unlike most pieces of technical backpacking, climbing, and outdoors gear, basically anyone can use them and benefit from using them.
Trekking poles are a great way to increase your stability while hiking or backpacking and can take a huge amount of pressure off your knees.
Look for a set of poles with adjustable lengths, comfortable grips, and durable tips, and then take them out for a spin on a local trail or walking path.
One quick note: trekking poles should be sized so that when they are gripped on an even surface, your arm and elbow make a 90-degree angle.
First Aid Kit
The first rule of adventuring in the outdoors – is to expect the unexpected. It might be rain and thunderstorms, a nasty fall, or just something simple-yet-deadly like dehydration, hypothermia, or heat exhaustion. Whatever it is, you gotta be ready for it.
A great way to be ready for whatever comes is a well-stocked first aid kit. But before you buy the largest kit in stock at your local outdoors store, there are a few things you’ve got to consider.
The first thing to consider is the number of people you’re expecting to care for. Good first aid kits are generally sold in sizes corresponding to the number of people they could potentially care for, so don’t go buying a kit for 10 people, when you’ll only reasonably need to care for two.
The second thing to consider is items your kit will carry and your level of first aid training. You should never carry first aid items that you don’t know how to use. A tourniquet or suture kit isn’t going to do anyone any good if they aren’t used properly by trained hands.
Water is life. A cliché I know. But when you’re hiking and it’s hot, the cliché is very true.
Hikers need approximately one half-liter of water per hour, depending on the difficulty of the hike and the climate, and with long day hikes, especially out in the backcountry, that water is going to have to come from somewhere safe and clean.
There aren’t a whole lot of water fountains in the backcountry, so a good purifier or filter is going to be your water lifeline.
Like first-aid kits, filters and purifiers come in all shapes and sizes and are largely categorized by the amount of water they can treat.
Some filters and purifiers are strictly for one person, others can treat water for large groups all at once. As a new hiker, I would suggest picking a filter or purifier that’s compact, inexpensive, and easy to use, like the Sawyer Squeeze filter or Grayl Water Purifier Bottle.
Maps, GPS Beacon or GPS App
I feel like I shouldn’t have to say this, but maps and navigation gear are often the last things people consider when going out hiking – getting lost isn’t a whole lot of fun. If you’re new to hiking and unfamiliar with the hiking spots in your community, you should always have a map, a way of navigating, and a plan for whatever adventure you’re embarking on.
Paper maps are great, GPS maps are good (assuming you have battery and cell service), but my rule of thumb is to always have two ways of navigating, no matter where I’m going.
Sometimes, especially as new hikers or backpackers, the time we spend out on the trail seems to go by quicker than we anticipated, and the sun is already beginning to set when we’ve still got miles left to hike.
In cases like that, and many other cases in the backcountry, it’s great to have a reliable source of light that leaves your hands free to carry things, react to situations, and hike in the dark.
If you haven’t ever used a headlamp, and have only ever used traditional flashlights, you’re in for a nice surprise, because they’re convenient, easy to use and are easily stowed in a backpack, handbag, or glove box for use in any situation.
As a starter, look for a comfortable headlamp with a narrow beam, a high lumen count, and a few different features like a red light, a strobe, and water resistance, which should be about all you’ll need at the beginning of your hiking journey.