One of the questions that we often see in hiking forums goes something like this: "I really like the idea of hiking. I love the outdoors and I like to challenge myself physically. The problem is that I don't have the slightest clue as to how to get into hiking and ensure that I'm doing it right."
Well, we're here to try to address some of those concerns with this simple "get hiking now" guide. We're always excited when people decide to get active and get outside. Especially when it's done for a passion or to instill that passion within children...who we think should spend much less much time on their phones and more on the trails.
Here are more questions about hiking that we love answering...
The main thing to remember is that different people prefer or require different gear or needs for hiking and camping (just anything else). This list is not all-inclusive, nor will all of our suggestions fit for all people. Better, this is a list of tips and suggestions based upon years of hiking and military experience.
What Kind of Gear Do I need?
Well, this is a subjective question. It really matters how long you're going to be out on the hiking trail. Several hours? Several days? Did you research the weather and if so, how volatile is the weather in the area that you're going to be hiking?
Day hikes require very little. This includes good hiking shoes or boots, a backpack (we prefer hiking packs that have built-in hydration systems)
Don't forget to pack layers in case you need to warm up a bit or protect yourself from rain and/or win.
Lastly, one of the most important items you'll need is sunscreen. This includes sunglasses as the sun can play havoc on the eyes as well.
How about hiking footwear?
Hiking shoes are dependent on the length of the walk, the durability of your feet, and the weight you're carrying.
Some people's feet are more durable and less likely to blister (see below) others will need time to "toughen" up, particularly if you're wearing brand new footwear.
You can either go lightweight or heavy-duty hiking boots. Keep in mind that if you're going to be traversing streams or hiking in muddy areas. You'll just need to figure this out as you hike. To be aware of the environment you're going to be hiking in then do as much research as possible about that particular trail before going.
- Day hikes are okay to wear trail running shoes or light hiking shoes.
- For hikes that are going to last multiple days then a more durable boot (mid-cut preferred for ankle support) and the entire make-up of hiking shoes will help support your body.
- For anything longer than 2 or 3 days, or hiking in bad weather, you should opt for nothing less than a good, waterproof, heavy-duty hiking boot.
Get on the Trails with Hiking Shoes
How do I prevent blisters?
Here's a great article and graphic on preventing blisters on the trails. By keeping on top of it and taking action by preparing your feet prior to the hike then you'll have a much more comfortable and successful hike.
A few things that 22 years in the US Army about blisters is that it's all about prevention with moleskin and a thin layer of vaseline on your feet and over the moleskin prior to putting on CLEAN, DRY socks.
- Hiking Blister Care: Tips for Blisters from Hiking
How about clothes?
Again, it is dependent on the hiking trail and the weather. The simplest solution is to dress in layers to the point that you're warm. Not only does layering clothes keep you more insulated and warmer but it's also very easy to peel off layers if you get too warm.
There are certain ways to layer for comfort and warmth to be most effective: A thermal layer at the base. An insulating layer in the middle. Finally, a weather-resistant layer that can repel rain and water as the shell.
Many hikers swear by merino wool and Gore-Tex® or similar material. You can't go wrong with either of those. Merino also dries quickly and doesn't retain odor. Remember, you're hiking...that body odor can build up.
Also, scents from the trail like campfire smoke, dirt, mildew etc all can add to discomfort and stench. Best to get something that is odor preventing. Your Old Spice probably won't cut it...
Do I need hiking or trekking poles?
Right up front, we prefer to hike with a good pair of trekking poles and we put a lot of research and even money into buying the best. Why? I'm 42 years old now and my knees are a wreck after 2 ACL replacements and a meniscus tear. They hurt... And I didn't always use trekking poles when hiking.
Hiking poles help carry the load and your balance...meaning that they are both a knee saver and a core muscle assistant. I can imagine that if I had then my knees wouldn't be in the condition that they're in now.
If you do start hiking with poles and decide that you don't need them you can always stow them and carry them on your back with your pack. They're lightweight...plus, if you could use them later on in the hike (especially multi-day hikes or very long stints) then you'll always have them.
So, short answer: Do you need them? No. Do they help now and in the future? Very much so.
More info on Trekking Poles:
Do I really need to buy all of the equipment right away?
We don't recommend making your first hiking adventure a multi-day or thru-hike so you probably won't need all the stuff on this list for your first couple of hikes.
Actually, we recommend trying a few short hikes to understand your body and condition level (and to start building your conditioning) before you start hiking longer. In the meantime, the below tips may help:
- Borrow Gear or Share it with a Hiking Buddy
- Stay on the trail in huts and lodges...this reduces the need for shelter.
- In the military, we have this thing called "MWR" which stand for Morale, Welfare and Recreation where we can rent just about everything. Do a quick Google search for "rent hiking" gear and you'll know if it's available in your area.
Do you offer advice on buying hiking gear and wear?
Of course...you can shoot us an email anytime by reaching out to firstname.lastname@example.org. Or you can peruse all of the pages here on Hiking Hydration for some great reviews and tips.
Are hiking socks really necessary?
Nope. But a good pair of hiking socks that have been designed specifically for trekking provide extra comfort, padding, and dryness...so, remember that big spiel about "preventing blisters" above? Yeah, these kinds of socks will definitely help.
Do I need a first aid kit?
Most definitely! We always prefer to buy a hiking first aid kit and then take out or add to it whatever we think we'll need. This is the kind of thing that you'll learn the more you hike. However, there are some NECESSARY items that any good hiking/camping/outdoors first aid will have.
- Various sized adhesive bandages
- Tape (medical)
- Moleskin (see above)
- Motrin® or another type of ibuprofen
- Some Benadryl for allergic reactions
- Ointment antibiotic
- Sterile, alcohol wipes
How about a tent?
As discussed above, there are trails that offer shelters, huts, lean-to's that are maintained and available for sleeping or locking down in bad weather. Just be sure to know where they're located.
Other than that, yes, if you're multi-day hiking or thru-hiking then definitely have a good backpacking tent. These are lightweight and offer protection for all sorts of elements.
Read more here:
What's your top recommendation on a hydration pack?
We love a lot of hydration packs. We are partial to those that double as a backpack and have a built-in hydration system. For short, day hikes, though, you may need just a basic hydration pack. We really like the Teton Sports Oasis 1100 and the Osprey Scarab.
Do I need to bring food? What kind? What kind of food is good for the trails?
For multi-day hikes, you really need to think about eating several times per day. You'll need the calories to keep going. For shorter, day hikes you can really get away with packing snacks but for a longer time on the trail then you'll need to think about a lot more.
- 10 Lightweight and Nutritious Hiking Foods for the Trail
- Hiking Food Tips: 4 Useful Tips for the Hiking Trails
- Hiking Food for Energy & Hydration
How about water? What if I run out?
It's always a possibility that you'll run out of water while hiking. Of course, you can't just drink any water that you come across and you definitely need water. So what do you do?
There are a lot of ways to find water in the great outdoors, but to actually treat that water and be able to consume it is a different story entirely.
Should I bring bear spray or be worried about wild animals attacking me?
There are some good resources that you can find online to help educate you on run-ins with wild animals while hiking.
What if I get lost?
This is kind of where I take military training for granted. I know how to read a map, use a compass, etc. If you don't then make sure to buy a map and then learn how to read it.
Here is an awesome resource from National Geographic for learning to read maps and use a compass.
This article should have given you a good idea of what you need to get started. Remember though that you can do short, easy trails with nothing more than a good pair of comfortable shoes.
So just get out there in the fresh air, get some exercise and breathe...you'll feel so much better for it!
- 1 Here are more questions about hiking that we love answering...
- 2 What Kind of Gear Do I need?
- 3 How about hiking footwear?
- 4 How do I prevent blisters?
- 5 How about clothes?
- 6 Do I need hiking or trekking poles?
- 7 Do I really need to buy all of the equipment right away?
- 8 Do you offer advice on buying hiking gear and wear?
- 9 Are hiking socks really necessary?
- 10 Do I need a first aid kit?
- 11 How about a tent?
- 12 What's your top recommendation on a hydration pack?
- 13 Do I need to bring food? What kind? What kind of food is good for the trails?
- 14 How about water? What if I run out?
- 15 Should I bring bear spray or be worried about wild animals attacking me?
- 16 What if I get lost?
- 17 Summary