Note: This blog post was written to help someone get started in hiking and not meant to be the definitive guide to equipment needed for hiking. If you are planning a full day or multi-day hike make sure you do further research and are comfortable with your knowledge about required equipment. If you have questions don’t hesitate to write me an e-mail.
The following is in response to an e-mail I received asking about a list of things to take on a hike:
My advice would be to start simple and build up from there. The essentials for a few hours hike would be a couple liters of water, some snacks, bug repellant and sunscreen, some good boots or sneakers, and a small pack to put it in. This is good for short hikes where there is little risk of getting off the trail and getting lost. This would include trails in cities or towns, or trails in parks that are well maintained. Its always good to stop at a park’s visitor center to find out about trail conditions.
As you start longer hikes (full day) you will learn to build certain comforts into your pack. Blister bandaids are always a good idea. Good hiking boots are important on rocky or rough terrain to provide ankle support and the ability to comfortably walk on pointy rocks. They are also important for keeping your feet dry on muddy trails. An extra pair of socks feels like heaven after hiking for the day. You should also have some type of rain jacket and fleece jacket for warmth. Weather conditions are more unpredictable the longer you are out. You are also usually farther fro the car if something goes wrong. That’s the adventure in it and what makes it fun. A good flashlight is always recommended in case you take longer than plan to return to the car. It gets darker, quicker in thick forest and a flashlight will mean the difference between getting back to the car or having to sit on the trail and wait until morning because you can’t see enough to continue. A small price to pay for that luxury. I use my flashlight frequently.
You should always be aware of your surroundings. This may be as simple as studying a map before you go so you know that the trail follows along a road or that the trail ends a long ways from any road. A map and compass and the ability to use them should be considered if you are on wilderness trails where you might lose the trail (less well defined). Basic map and compass means knowing the general direction you might want to travel and how to use the compass to point you in that general direction. GPS is also an option but GPS is better for showing you where you have been and is less useful for showing you which direction to travel. The combination of both map and compass, and GPS is the best of both worlds.
The amount of water you take depends on many variables (weather, terrain, etc.). You will learn from your short hikes how much water you will need when you start making longer hikes. If you are safety conscious purchasing a water filter makes a good backup.
If you start to venture out over night in the wilderness its a whole other ballgame. It’s all about weight vs. comfort vs. cost. Lighter and more comfortable equipment is usually much more expensive. You will also need a larger pack to fit everything into. The things you will have to add are a tent, sleeping bag and sleeping mat. Many people are now trying hammock camping, which can potentially cut down on weight but has its own pros and cons.
There are many other specific needs you may consider depending on the trail. You may need watershoes for a stream crossing, you may need waterproof matches to start a fire for a picnic, etc.
As I said at the first start simple and build up from there. It doesn’t have to be complicated to go for a walk in the woods but you want to be safe. Always tell someone where you are going. This could be as simple as posting a picture on twitter or facebook of yourself at a trail head so that people will know where to come look if you don’t come home.