SP Premium

7 Hiking Essentials for Beginners

By , SparkPeople Blogger
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?

We hope you love these products as much as we do! SparkPeople may collect a small percentage of revenue from the links on this page. 

Click here to to redeem your SparkPoints
  You will earn 5 SparkPoints


A large brimmed hat and sunscreen are essential for me. Also I much prefer Glenny's fruit and nut bars to Lara bars. Healthier balance of nutrients and they also travel well in my car when I have to travel long distances. Report
Sorry...this article left me "cold"... Its more advertising and selling unnecessary items than useful information. I've hiked for years, including backpacking and Search and Rescue...and I wonder if the author actually hikes?!!
Larabars? How about a decent lunch?! Fanny pack and Camelbak? Duplicates.... How about a simple backpack/knapsack and a water bottle, then you have room for your lunch and rain gear, first aid kit, water and other, real essentials? I do use hiking poles---but a cheap set with a "Built in compass and thermometer" (oh be still my beating heart!) is not going to keep you "safe and sound". LOL

I do agree with rain gear, nylon/polyester clothing/and decent socks. Smartwool are great--but not the only brand!! Ditto for their selections for pants/raingear.

If Beginners really want to do it right and be safe then go to a seminar at REI or another quality outdoor store! Get a list of the real 10 Essentials from the Mountaineers' website, find polyester clothing, decent shoes, take real food, and KNOW WHERE YOU ARE GOING: map!! Be certain someone at home knows WHERE you are going and WHEN you will be back. Stay Safe Out There--and learn to love it!! Report
Good information Report
Great article Report
I have wanted a pair of those hiking pants for years but I'm still a long way from size 14. Manufacturers seem to think us larger gals don't do any actual fitness activity. Report
Water bottles are easier to refill when you are hiking where the cool streams are clean, on the maintains. And you don't have to log around heavy load of water on your back. Report
When I walk/hike away from home, I also wear a lanyard with my ID and contact info of family members or who I am staying with close by. I' ve used my first aid kit more for other hikers who weren't prepared., but that's o.k. I love the wool socks year round. Try eating Kind bars. They are good and healthy! Report
Good recommendations. Report
Tell someone outside of the hiking group where you are going, sign in at the trailhead and most importantly know how to use a map, compass and keep an eye on the weather! Report
Camelbaks are awesome...hiking poles are great to use as well, though if you have soft or sensitive hands, you may want to use some sort of gloves to protect them as you walk. I'd recommend a good pair of shoes, too. Invest in your hiking shoes-the more expensive brands like Keen (my favorite) deliver in terms of quality and comfort. Report
I went hiking a couple times with my husband, the wildland firefighter. I spent most of my time sliding down the mountain on my butt. Hubby was at least 15 feet in front of me the whole time. I think I would have enjoyed it if I didn't spend the whole time falling. I kind of missed the scenery as I was first trying to step on rocks for traction, and then when that didn't work, trying to avoid the rocks and still slipping. I was hoping that this article would help me with that. Report
who knew? Report
I never hike with out my buff! (Like the TV show Survivor Buff) Report
Love my smart wool socks, and I use them for every day use too, also poles are a must. I used to wear good quality leather hiking boots, but because of toe issues have now switched to trail running shoes and I love them, so grippy and lightweight but not as much support as hiking boots which are better to prevent rolling your ankle on uneven terrain. DEET is a must here because of all the ticks. Love the BUFF too. I use the Vest of Many Pockets from Tilly to carry all my essentials -it even has two large built in pockets in the back to carry large items in a comfortable manner. I never go anywhere without my camera, I have no Smartphone, just a standard flip phone. I also use a Sunveil hat that has a flap down the back and sides, and I also have the Sunveil shirt for hot days. I hike along a river trail system so lots of up and downs along the steep banks -the trails were made by mountain biking enthusiasts who maintain them :-) We have some 40 miles of trails running along the river that splits our city in two, the dog loves running in it and chasing rabbits. The city allows no development near the river, great foresight by the founders to leave it natural for generations to enjoy! Report
Larabars are a mass of carbs and not much else - this comes from my dietician. Report
great tips Report
"ACLAYJAR" said it best!

"You will need a bigger pack to fit in the real -10 essentials.
Sunglasses and sunscreen
Extra clothing
First-aid supplies
Extra food

And let me reiterate - MAPS, MAPS, MAPS! Please don't go hiking without one. Don't rely on your phone or some APP that may or may not work when you need it. Report
I particularly liked the socks and the light rain coat! Great article! Report
the water and the snack are the biggest must have for me at all times Report
Great tips! Thanks! Report
Must be a serious hike with that hardware Report
I always carry a small first aid kit: bandaids, ibuprofen, antibiotic ointment, benadryl, alcohol wipes. Maybe I'm just accident prone, but I have used it on many occasions. Report
The protein bars are essential when you are out and up. Just what you need to do the return trip and keep your blood sugar even too. Report
I like my snow sneaker boots from LLBean. They are great on all types of terrain. Report
Just thought I'd add that I have those exact poles already as they're some of the least expensive that come up on an amazon search. They work fine as walking poles but the compass does NOT work....fine by me as I didn't care about that feature, but maybe good to know. Report
This article is informative, and I would like to add protection from ticks and flying insects. A way to close the pant legs with out tucking in socks would be nice also. Happy hiking! Report
This article was great! I've always wanted to take up hiking!!! Report
thanks Report
very helpful Report
Come on, girls... no one posting about a trusty little helper like my GoGirl! I don't go hiking without it! :) Report
Saved to my Favorites for reference! Report
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. Report
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. Report
Thanks so much for all the useful information here!! As always SparkPeople give out they're all when it comes to exercise & maintaining!! Hugs! Report
Must haves: first aid kit, supportive shoes, GPS and map, knife... Report
Be sure to tell someone where you are going and when you expect to return Report
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! Report
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 Report
I have a camelback. I take it with me on hikes and 5ks! Report
You will need a bigger pack to fit in the real -10 essentials.
Sunglasses and sunscreen
Extra clothing
First-aid supplies
Extra food
Lots of practical advice below. More like a sales pitch above. All well to consider. Enjoy your hike! Report
I don't hike but I love the info. Report
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! Report
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 Report
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.
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!) Report
Lots of good tips. I'll add blister bandages to the list. We like Compeed because they cover and add extra protection. Report
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.
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. Report
Walking Guide