I started off hiking in a t-shirt, shorts and some river sandals that I already owned. My feet were not appreciative.
Over the last 4 years, we’ve acquired all of the things on this page. I’m not suggesting that you go out and buy all of this at once. What I am suggesting is that you consider purchasing a few of the following items* you may not already have in order to enhance the enjoyment of your hiking experience, because they will!
Wearing clothes and shoes made specifically for hiking in the outdoors really makes a difference in your comfort, but you don’t have to spend a lot of money to “gear up.” From seasonal sales at any recreational equipment or sporting goods store to discount retail stores and thrift or secondhand shops, you can find some great new or gently used hiking clothing and not break the bank.
The first things to get are a hat, a good pair of hiking shoes and moisture wicking socks. You’ll also need some effective sunscreen, lip screen and WATER. Additionally, the single most valuable piece of “equipment” we use is a hiking stick. Beyond these essentials, you can add and customize the rest of the items based on wants and needs.
Why wear a hat? It provides protection from the sun, helps keep your hair out of your eyes, keeps your head warm in the winter, will deter any falling insects or substances from landing on your head, provides protection from the wind and most importantly, keeps the rain out of your eyes if you get caught in a shower on a trail. Believe me, the hat thing is pretty important when you’re trying to see and navigate a trail in the rain.
Our Tilley® outback styled hats were originally designed for sailing. These hats provide SPF 50, float in the water, are washable and have a chin strap that tucks into the hat when not in use. Our Tilleys were purchased over 20 years ago for traveling and are well worn, but still work great and are very comfortable. There are many brands and styles of hat available to choose from, but we like this one.
Shoes, Boots and Insoles
Proper footwear is key. I see folks hike in bare feet or flip flops to dress shoes…and everything in between, but hiking feet benefit from hiking shoes and boots. I recommend waterproof hiking shoes for warm months and waterproof hiking boots for winter months or rocky terrain.
Waterproof is an important component when choosing hiking shoes or boots. Wet feet can mean blistered feet, so you want footwear that protects your feet from rain and moisture. Good hiking shoes and boots can be a major purchase, but they pay off on the trail and last a long time. These shoes and boots protect your feet and provide extra grip on trails, over rocks and through streams. They are technically designed with the structure and foot support needed to handle all terrain hikes and they get the job done.
Both my husband and I currently wear Salomon® waterproof hiking shoes for warm weather and light terrain, which are perfect for our warm climate most of the year. Hiking boots in general provide additional ankle support and protection from rocks in rougher, mountainous terrain and are warmer in cold weather. I have Keen® Women’s Targhee II Mid WP Hiking Boots and hubby wears Asolo® GTX.
Because shoes and boots are a larger purchase, it may take a while to acquire both. It’s worth your time and money to go to an outdoor recreational store and try on the shoes and boots for proper fit before you buy them anywhere. Most stores have well trained sales folks who know how these shoes and boots need to fit and can help you. They often have a simulated rocky surface you can try out with the footwear as well.
Additionally, I wear Superfeet® insoles in all of my shoes to help with some chronic foot issues. They’ve been a lifesaver for me, literally keeping me on my feet. There are different kinds available for different sports, arches or needs. If you think you can’t hike because of foot issues, you might want to check these out.
Undergarments and Socks
Two words: Drying time. Briefs, bras and socks that wick moisture, dry fast and are cool in summer and warm in winter really help keep you comfortable. And when it comes to socks, they really are as important as your shoes. If you only purchase one piece of clothing for hiking, make it good socks. Our hands down faves are light wool socks made by Darn Tough Vermont®. We have short, lighter weight ones for hot months and longer, heavier weight ones for winter months.
Sweat proof is best, at least SPF 30 on the sunscreen and SPF 15 or higher on the lip screen. Yes, you can get sunburned even in the deep woods, so do wear sunscreen.
Water and Packs
Water is a must. Don’t you dare let me catch you on the trail without it. You can go ten times further with it and you’ll bonk quickly without it. I speak from experience here.
After carrying the non-ecofriendly plastic water bottles for a year or so, we started carrying Camelbak® packs. We can carry most anything we need for short hiking trips plus 2 liters of water per pack. The water bladders also fit most larger day packs for longer duration hiking or camping. Our Camelbaks are a size that can hold 2 liters of water, nibbles (more on that below), sunscreen, some extra layers, keys, wallets and any extra small gear you might need. They are not too large, comfortable to wear and come in both men’s designs and ergonomically correct designs for women. The Camelbak allows you to get water whenever you want it without having to open your pack. There are many other ways to carry water and nibbles, but we like this one for our Saturdays.
Each of our hiking sticks was purchased at a state park visitor’s center. They are simple sticks of sturdy wood, cut to the appropriate height to hike with and they cost us $8 U.S. Boy what a difference having one makes when you are hiking! From climbing, to fording a stream, to just resting, I couldn’t hike without one. Think of it as an extra hand or foot for balance or rest. They really help your knees, too.
My husband looked up hiking stick online, found a YouTube video and decided to customize our plain sticks. He made adjustable macrame wrist loops out of paracord and drilled two holes in the top part of each of our sticks to loop it through. The paracord loop has an added advantage in that it can be unwoven to make a splint with the stick in a real emergency. He also added a rubber tip to the bottom of each stick, just like the ones used on a walking cane, along with taped grips just below where the cord is tied so that the sticks aren’t slippery to hold or plant on the ground, even in rain. Our spiffy hiking sticks never fail to get noticed and we constantly hear “Where did you get that stick?” or “We need one of those sticks!” Our answer, DIY!
Another must. You need to see the trail in all light conditions. Coming out of the forest into the bright sun can be blinding, causing you to lose your footing if you aren’t careful. You’ll also want to protect your eyes from the bright sunlight and reflective water so that you can better see all there is to see out there. Serengeti is my favorite brand of sunglasses because they enhance colors without overly distorting them and I bought mine discounted online, but many options and brands are available.
Shirts, Pants, Vests and Jackets
You may already have some active wear clothing or good options to get you started hiking. But I will say again that wearing clothing designed for hiking really does make the experience so much more pleasurable. It’s all about comfort. Lightweight fabrics that wick moisture in the summer and have some SPF level are best, and the same thing is true for winter but with longer sleeves and legs in many layers. Once you start hiking, no matter the season, you will warm up…so layers you can peel off are essential in winter. We have acquired these items for seasonal hiking: Short sleeves, quarter sleeves and long sleeves shirts with SPF protection, shorts or capris with SPF protection and/or long pants that you can zip out the legs to make shorts (dual purpose!), a lightweight windbreaker jacket, a fleece zip jacket, a fleece vest and a possibly a heavier jacket with zip fleece lining for really cold climates. Just remember, you’re going to work up a sweat no matter the season so don’t wear anything that won’t dry quickly next to your body. As I mentioned above, thrift and discount stores are a great place to find some of these items to get you started.
Yep, you’ll need one of these eventually as well. And not the kind that’s made with that glossy, thick and unbreathable plastic on the outside and inside because you’ll sweat to death. It needs to be one that was designed for hiking and sports. Just make sure if it is a second hand item that the water resistant material hasn’t worn off. A thin plastic rain poncho works in a pinch, too. They are inexpensive, last for a few uses and are very easily packed.
In winter, these are really good to have. They need to be able to grip things like your stick, water, phone, camera, branches, etc. The ones made for hiking are best.
Phone and/or Camera
We always take our phones which have great cameras. All the images you see on this blog site are taken with an iPhone. You’ll want a camera to make pictures of all the amazing sights you’ll see and it’s always good to have for an emergency, GPS or weather updates as well.
Maps and All Trails App
We always pick up a map at the visitor’s center if we’re in a park where they have one. We also study the posted trail maps in state and national parks, follow blazes on trees and cairns on the ground that cross-reference these maps, look at markers along the way, or take a photo of a map in a hiking book or a screen capture of maps online so that we have some guidance. Additionally, I recommend you download the free All Trails app for your phone. It will show you all of the trails in any given area you are hiking. It’s a fantastic tool as long as you have phone service.
Be it a granola bar, some trail mix or a full-on picnic, you’ll want something to nibble on while hiking. We find that at about the halfway point, a bar or some trail mix give us just the right boost of energy to finish our hike without feeling like you want a nap. Whatever you choose, think about how it will fare in hot weather…does it melt?…and pack it in resealable plastic bags to protect your pack and to keep the food smell contained. Please pack out your trash, too.
First Aid Kit
It never hurts to have a simple one with you in your pack or pocket.
*Please note that at this time the Saturday Hiker is not endorsing any brand names mentioned on this site. Should this change in the future, we will make proper note of any endorsements.