Hiking for Beginners

7 Must-Have Essentials to Bring on Every Hike

“I really want to try hiking but I don’t know what I need to get started.” 

Beyond a few basic supplies that you probably already have at home, all you need is YOU and a POSITIVE ATTITUDE. That’s it! And that’s the best damn thing about hiking. 

If you’re thinking about hiking for the first time, or are fairly new at it, it can feel overwhelming thinking about what special gear or equipment you may need. But beyond just a few basic things (which you probably already have at home), all you really need to do is pick the trail you want to hike and get out there. 

I created this Hiking Starter Pack for beginner hikers after my friend from jiu-jitsu, Dion, told me how excited he was to try out hiking but didn’t know what he needed to get started. I’ll share the basic supplies and equipment you’ll need for a positive, comfortable and safe first experience. After a few hikes, you’ll get a better idea of exactly what you’ll need and if it’s a hobby you enjoy enough to start investing in.

My hope is that this guide makes it less intimidating for you to start hiking more.

Hiking gives me the opportunity to be alone with my thoughts and is one of the few things in my life that make me feel liberated and alive. And I want to share this experience with as many people as possible. 

So if you’re ready to pop your hiking cherry, let’s get you ready to go.

7 Things to Bring on Your Hike

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Backpack

For short, simple hikes

You'll need backpack large enough to hold your water, food and any lightweight clothing you may need. It doesn't have to be anything fancy - you can typically get away with a normal backpack. But if you’re wanting a more fitted and functional backpack, you can look into investing in a day pack.  

There are day packs made specifically for hiking. They typically include hydration reservoirs (“bladders”), large water bottle pockets, and come in a variety of torso sizes and designs that fit your body for a more comfortable hike. A day pack with a capacity of 15 - 20 liters is sufficient for a short, simple hike. 

Three hikers descending beautiful red canyons at Red Rock National Park with their hiking backpacks.

Personally, I like to hike light...especially for hikes less than 3 miles. Because I only needed a bag large enough for water, snacks and my car keys, my larger day pack was overkill. So I recently purchased the REI Co-op Flash 18 after hearing many of my hiking friends rave about it's functionality. And I absolutely LOVE IT!

The REI Co-op Flash comes in two sizes: 18 liters and 22 liters. These extremely lightweight packs (only 9oz for the 18L bag) are compatible with hydration bladders and have a waist belt and straps for a comfortable fit.

If you're looking for a simple, light-weight, and affordable day pack to start off with, I recommend the REI Co-op Flash. It's perfect for those times when I'm on a short hike and want to carry less.

For Longer hikes (or hikes in less ideal weather)

Three men hiking along the snowy mountains of Banff National Park in Canada, while carrying hiking backpacks.
Hiking along the Plain of Six Glaciers Trial (9.1 miles) in Banff National Park required us to bring day packs large enough to bring cold weather gear, food, water and safety equipment.

Longer hikes call for more water, food and gear, especially if you're expecting colder or rainier weather. For these hikes, you will want to bring a larger backpack with more capacity to fit all of your supplies.

For these heavier loads and longer treks, it’s even more important that your backpack is properly fitted and well-adjusted to your body, for a safe and comfortable hike. 

Here is an in-depth backpack fitting guide to understanding how to:

  1. Determine and buy the right size backpack for your body
  2. Properly fit and adjust your backpack to your fit you

After getting bit by the hiking bug in 2014, I decided it was time to invest in my first daypack. I wanted something large enough to carry my supplies and a hydration bladder, but was lightweight, comfortable, and provided sufficient support.

A hiking woman looking out into the golden, rolling canyons of Death Valley National Park. She is carrying her Osprey day hiking backpack.
Seven years later, my Osprey Women's Mira AG 18 continues to be my go-to day pack. The internal frame, suspension system and adjustment straps allow me to get a comfortable fit for my body.

My Osprey Women’s Mira AG 18 hydration pack will always hold a special place in my heart, as it's my very first day pack. 7 years later, and it's still my go-to day pack! The Osprey Mira AG, an 18 liter pack, comfortably fits my body with it’s suspension frame design, while providing additional support for heavier loads with the padded waist belt, and load-lifting straps. The rain cover that comes with the pack has saved me quite a few times when I got caught hiking in rainstorms, especially in I was in Mount Rainier!

It looks like this pack is only sold in the 22 liter size as the Osprey Women's Mira AG 22 Hydration Pack...which is great! I did find my 18 liter pack to be a little too small when I was hiking in weather where I needed to bring extra layers or a rain jacket.

For a men’s version, my brother has been using the Osprey Talon 22 since 2016 and recommends it for day hikes.

Footwear

Imagine how MISERABLE (and UNSAFE) your hike would be if you wore the wrong footwear.

But determining the right hiking shoes isn't about how expensive the shoe is or the name brand. It's more about understanding the terrain you'll be hiking in and what's most comfortable to you.

A pair of wine colored Atra Lone Peak 4.5 trail running shoes. A landscape of canyons from Zion National Park in the background.
Whatever footwear you choose to hike in, make sure they are broken-in, comfortable, and provide enough traction and support.

For smooth, flat, and easy terrain, running sneakers, trail running shoes, hiking sandals and low-cut hiking boots are sufficient.

On these types of trails, I'll typically hike in my Altra Lone Peak 4.5 trail running shoes, as they provide incredible traction and amazing comfort, without that feeling of bulkiness. In warmer weather or wetter trails, my Chaco ZX2 are my go-to hiking sandals. Not only do these sandals have great arch support, but they also have a ton of traction for hiking.

For rougher, more rugged terrain, you may need sturdier hiking boots to provide the support you need. If you need extra ankle support, opt for high-cut hiking boots.

The footwear you choose truly is personal to you. In the picture below, my husband is rocked those Merrell Men's Moab 2 hiking boots for our 9.1-mile hike along the Plain of Six Glaciers.

But for whatever reason, he decided to hike Half Dome in regular running sneakers (that's a traumatizing story for another time)!

Whatever you decide, make sure your shoes are broken-in, comfortable and provide enough traction. As you get more serious about hiking, you can invest in a solid pair of lightweight trail running shoes or durable hiking boots.

Pro tip

Avoid cotton socks for hiking. Cotton absorbs moisture and is slow to dry, potentially leading to blisters and stinky feet if you sweat.

Clothing

Contrary to popular belief, you DON'T need any special or expensive clothing to go hiking! The only requirement I have for the clothes I wear on a hike is that they are comfortable and sturdy.

Believe it or not, 90% of my hiking clothes are from TJ Maxx! Personally, I prefer to wear athletic clothes on my hikes, like athletic tops paired with workout leggings and shorts.

However, there are a few key features I look for when picking out what I'm going to wear on a hike:

  • Moisture-wicking clothing - these kinds of clothing allow your sweat to dry quickly, keeping you light and dry during your hike. I opt for hiking clothes that are made of polyester, nylon, or wool and avoid cotton.
  • Flexible & durable pants - sometimes, hiking requires you to scramble across boulders and butt-scoot down canyons. You want to wear hiking pants that will stretch enough to allow you to move freely, but won't rip or tear along the way. One of my favorite pairs of hiking shorts, that are not only flattering and functional, but also extremely durable are my Kuhl Freeflex shorts.
  • Functional and comfortable - if your hiking clothes are not functional or comfortable, not only will you be miserable the whole hike, but you may risk your safety. Never compromise functionality for fashion!

Don't forget to check the weather when choosing your hiking outfit to make sure you're wearing weather-appropriate clothing.

  • If you're expecting large temperature changes during your hike, layering is a great way to adjust and regulate your body temperature.
  • Don't forget to pack a lightweight rain jacket if there's a chance of rain.
  • For those super sunny days, protect your skin by wearing sun-protection hiking clothes. Clothing with Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF) minimizes UV exposure.
A hiker wearing a flannel shirt, leggings, hiking boots and a hat. Hiker is sitting on a stone ledge with golden canyons in the background at Death Valley National Park.
You don't need any kind of special clothing just to hike. Anything that is comfortable and weather appropriate is all you need.

Water

Hydration is key for keeping your body’s critical systems working efficiently, like regulating your body temperature and keeping your muscles from cramping.

A general rule for how much water to bring on a hike is 0.5 liters per hour for moderate hiking in mild temperatures.

The more intense the hike and the hotter it is, the more water you’ll require. 

But don’t forget - bringing too much water can be heavy to carry! So it’s equally important not to overdo it and bring an excessive amount.


3 Liter Osprey Hydraulics Reservoir




DYLN Alkaline Water Bottle

*Use my code "adventuremore" for 15% off

To make sure I bring enough water, I'll usually fill up my hydration bladder to put in my hiking backpack (and additional water bottles if I need more water). I particularly love hydration bladders because their sleek and functional design makes carrying and drinking water so much easier for my hike. Although I use the 3.0L Hydraulics Reservoir by Osprey, there are a various brands that offer hydration bladders in variety of sizes. You can find water bladders anywhere from 1.5L to 10L!

For shorter hikes (especially ones where I won't be carrying a hiking backpack), I'll carry a larger water bottle with me that has enough water for my hike.

Pro-tip:

Figure out your water sources before you start hiking. If there aren’t many places to refill your water stash, carry a little extra. You can even bring iodine tablets (lightweight, inexpensive) or a water purifier (heavier, more expensive) to treat/filter water from rivers, streams and other natural sources. But make sure these natural sources haven’t dried up if you’re hiking in hot weather! Call the park rangers ahead of time to confirm.

Food

As you hike and burn off calories, you’ll need to replenish your energy. I try to bring along calorie (energy) dense snacks that are easy to pack, like:

  • Nuts or trail mix
  • Granola bars
  • Beef jerky
  • Fruit

For longer hikes, pack yourself a substantial lunch. Because they are easy to make and bring along, I like to pack a few peanut butter & jelly sandwiches or some tortillas and tuna packets. Sometimes, I’ll even bring along an avocado for some extra fats and protein.

Three hikers trying to pack their van with hiking food and snacks.

Here are some of my favorite go-to, nutrient-rich snacks I bring on every hike.

Pro-tip:

Bring extra snacks or sandwiches in case your trip takes longer than expected. You’ll be prepared to have enough energy to complete the hike and minimize the risk of fatigue, dizziness and other issues that may compromise your health and safety.

Trail Map

Bring a map (or take a picture) of the trail you plan to hike.

Trail map of the Arizona Hot Springs Trails.
Always have a copy of the trail map with you.

Safety Supplies

First Aid Kit

Although you don’t go hiking with the intention of getting injured, it can happen. The best way to handle these situations is to prepare for them. Pack a simple first aid kit with:

  • band aids
  • gauze
  • athletic tape
  • ibuprofen
  • any medication you may need

Sun Protection

Protect yourself from sun burns, heat exhaustion and fatigue, especially on longer hikes. Make sure to bring:

  • sunscreen
  • lip balm
  • hat
  • sunglasses

Light

In case you get caught hiking after sunset, you’ll need a flashlight or headlamp to help you make it to your destination safely. 

I can’t even imagine how different my experience would’ve been if I didn’t bring my headlamp hiking the Lower Calf Creek Falls trail in Utah. My friends and I not only started the hike later in the afternoon, but we swam longer than intended at the waterfall. By the time we headed back to our car, the sun had set and navigating the trail was difficult. Since my eyesight is essentially useless in the dark (I blame my astigmatism!) I’ll always carry my headlamp on hikes.

Tools

As a beginner, a simple pocket knife or multi-tool may come in handy if you feel like you need to bring one.

Tips for beginner hikers

  • Be honest when assessing your physical capabilities. This is crucial for appropriately selecting a hike that fits your fitness level. Don't overexerting yourself (I want you to have positive hiking experiences)!
  • Start off with day hikes closer to home 1-5 hours in duration. There's nothing wrong with starting off small and building yourself up to those bigger and bolder hikes
  • Start off with popular, less remote hikes to minimize your risk of getting lost or injured
  • Consider borrowing, renting or buying used equipment before investing in brand new gear. The last thing you want to do is spend a ton of money on top of the line equipment for a hobby you’re just not that into. 

Hiking safety and best practices

  • If you’re brand new to hiking, find a friend or group to hike with. Not only is it a great opportunity to build relationships and learn new skills from experienced hikers, but you won’t be alone in case you get lost or injured. I’ve had success connecting with other hikers through my local Sierra Club chapter and Meetup!
  • If you do end up hiking alone, be sure to tell a family member or friend which trail you’ll be hiking when you expect to finish.
  • As always, knowledge and awareness are essential for maximizing your safety. Before your hike, read up on the weather, terrain, animal safety and how to prepare. 

Conclusion

The best part about hiking is that you don’t need a lot of equipment or money to hit the trails. I’ve put this Hiking Starter Pack together to make it less intimidating for you to start hiking more.

The basics that you’ll need to bring on any hike are:

  • A backpack
  • Comfortable footwear and clothing
  • Food and water
  • Trail map
  • First aid kit and any medication
  • Sun protection
  • Other tools

As a beginner, it’s recommended to hike with a friend or a group of experienced hikers in case of injury or emergency situations. However, if you do hike alone, let a friend or family member know which trail you plan on hiking and what time you expect to finish up.

Researching the weather, terrain and animal safety before your hike will help you be as prepared as possible and maximize your safety.

I get so excited when a friend tells me they want to get into hiking. From stress relief to building mental strength, hiking has had a powerful impact on my life (beyond just a physical one). And I’m passionate about sharing that experience with others. 

So what are you waiting for? Take a hike!

What’s in your hiking backpack that I may have missed?

I only recommend products that I have used myself and genuinely love. All opinions expressed are honest and mine. This post contains some affiliate links, which means that I receive a small compensation at no additional cost to you if you make a purchase. Since The Adventure Diet is reader-supported, any purchases you make will help keep this blog alive! As always, thank you for your never-ending support.

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about the author
Molly Chhiv
What's up! This Cambodian kid is an outdoor addict, adventure blogger, & your personal HYPE GIRL. Through the outdoors, I've learned self-confidence, independence, & mental strength. My mission through The Adventure Diet is to share the power of the outdoors with you. I want to empower you with tips, tools and inspiration to get outside with confidence and find yourself.

So if you're ready, let's get out there and do this sh*t!

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