*All photos are protected by copyright and the property of Briana Nickas unless they are stock photos or otherwise noted.
Are you thinking of heading out for a hike but you’re wondering what the best hiking gear for beginners is that you should bring along?
Hitting the trails for a day hike is one of the best ways to escape to the outdoors and enjoy nature while getting some exercise in.
Whether you’re staying close to home or venturing further out, doing an easy hike or summiting a mountain, being prepared with the hiking gear essentials is a must!
Let’s face it, nature is unpredictable, and you never know what could happen. Planning ahead could save your life or at least save you from having a miserable hike.
So once you’ve figured out which trail you want to hike, you need to make sure you have all the hiking gear you need for a safe and enjoyable hiking adventure.
Not sure where to start? Don’t worry! I’ve put together a list of the best hiking gear for beginners you should bring and wear on every trail.
I’ve also included a free printable Hiking Gear Checklist for you!
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Best Hiking Gear for Beginners
When it comes to hiking gear, it’s best to start with the basics. So let’s talk about beginner hiking essentials.
These are the must-have items that are good to have on every hike. Then we’ll get to the other best hiking gear to bring along.
When doing a day hike, you want to keep your pack as light as possible while having everything you need. So start with the 10 hiking essentials and then add any other items that are must-haves for you.
And as one of the benefits, members can shop and trade in gently used gear in addition to rewards, discounts, and special offers.
The 10 Hiking Gear Essentials
There are 10 items that have been deemed “hiking essentials” in the world of hiking. Even if you’re just doing a short hike close by, it’s better to be on the safe side and have this hiking gear with you.
The 10 hiking essentials are all about being prepared and can be the difference between an enjoyable or miserable hike or even life and death.
The AllTrails App is one of my absolute favorite hiking tools! It’s awesome for finding trails to hike. You can filter trails based on their location, level of difficulty, length in mileage, elevation gain, rating, activity type, and more!
It also usually gives details about the trail, such as whether or not there’s a parking fee. And you can check reviews for tips from other hikers like the current trail conditions.
Some trails aren’t easy to find. But with the AllTrails App, you can use the Directions feature to sync with Apple Maps or Google Maps for turn-by-turn navigation right to the trailhead.
I also love the Navigate feature, which shows the trail (where you want to be) as well as your route (where you’re actually hiking) to make sure you’re not veering off the trail.
It also tracks your time, distance, and elevation. This is a great way to see how far you’ve hiked and gauge how much further you have to go.
And the best part (aside from the fact that it’s FREE) is that you can use it in Airplane mode, so you don’t drain your phone battery while you’re hiking. Love, love, love the free AllTrails App!
There’s also an affordable AllTrails Pro version that will give you access to even more features like being able to download maps, get off-route notifications, keep family or friends informed with Lifeline, and more.
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If you’re on a short, popular hike with a good amount of traffic, GPS may not be necessary. But it’s still handy to have.
And if you’re going to be hiking in remote areas or the backcountry, GPS is a must!
This compact Garmin InReach Mini Satellite Communicator includes GPS. With a monthly satellite subscription, you can 2-way text with family or friends and trigger an interactive SOS to search and rescue.
Having a satellite communicator could save your life in the case of an emergency if you’re in an area with no cell service. Wondering what other GPS units are available? Check out REI’s GPS options.
Technology isn’t always reliable (#amiright). So it’s a good idea to bring a compass and paper map as back-up.
Not sure how to use a map or compass? No worries! REI offers Navigation Classes for different skill levels and scenarios.
Water is an absolute necessity for hiking! A good rule of thumb is to bring 1 liter or roughly 32 oz of water for every 2 hours of moderate hiking in moderate temperatures.
For more strenuous hikes or higher temperatures, you may need more. It’s better to err on the side of caution and bring extra water along with a water filter as a back-up if you need to purify water.
Use the AllTrails app to check the trail stats, such as the distance, difficulty level, and elevation gain to gauge if you’ll need even more water. Start with an easy, short hike on gentle terrain with a minimal increase in elevation.
As you hike more, you’ll get a good idea of your average pace (i.e. how long it takes you to do a hike) based on the different trail variables. Below are some options for water bottles and filters.
Keep in mind that plastic will be the most lightweight option but could potentially leach toxic chemicals into your water. Stainless steel is the healthier option but is weighs more.
Nutrition is important to keep your energy levels up. Bring calorie-dense snacks that have a long shelf life and don’t require any cooking. Think energy bars, trail mix, granola, jerky, nuts, and dried fruit.
I try to stick to organic foods and look for low to no added sugar. For beef jerky, I recommend grass-fed, pasture-raised.
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Always check the label and do your research on the ingredients to decide which ingredients you’re comfortable with and which ones you’re not okay with.
Pack extra food in case you’re out longer than expected. And please be sure to follow the Leave No Trace principles by bringing any wrappers and trash with you.
4. Extra Layers
Weather can change quickly and without warning. Or you could end up having to spend the night out in the wilderness due to an injury.
So think about what you would need to stay warm and dry in those situations. It’s a good idea to bring along extra layers that include moisture-wicking and quick-drying items, extra socks, and rain gear.
As for the basic what to wear hiking items, keep reading!
5. Sun Protection
Did you know that UV radiation intensity increases with elevation? According to the World Health Organization, UV levels rise by roughly 10% for every 1,000 meters (3,281 feet) in elevation.
So be sure to wear sun protective clothing and gear, such as a hat, a face gaiter, and sunglasses. You should also use sunscreen and consider using a lip balm with an SPF.
For more information, see the EWG’s Guide to Sunscreens. I recommend using one with non-nano zinc oxide. Here are some helpful articles that outline why non-nano is better than nano zinc oxide:
- Why Is Non-Nano Zinc Oxide The Safest, Most Effective Sunblock Ingredient?
- Nanoparticles in Sunscreens
You can find some non-nano zinc oxide sunscreen options below!
Natural Lip Balm with SPF
6. First Aid Kit
Be prepared for potential injuries on the trail by having a first aid kit with with you. You’ll find some options on Amazon below, including some for your dog if you like to bring your pup along on hikes!
And for even more options, check out all the first aid kits on REI.
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If you like to start early before the sun rises (good for you!) or you get stuck on the trail after dark, you’ll want to have a light source like a headlamp and/or flashlight.
Headlamps are great because they’re hands-free making them easy to see the trail if you’re hiking in the dark. And flashlights can be used to easily direct light elsewhere.
Look for something compact and lightweight. And if it’s battery-operated, be sure to bring spare batteries. There are a bunch of lighting options on REI!
A knife is a handy tool to have hiking and can serve many different purposes from making kindling to food preparation to gear repair and more.
9. Fire-Starting Gear
With all the tragic man-made fires that happen, I have to preface these fire starter items by saying please USE RESPONSIBLY AND WITH CAUTION!
In case of an emergency, you need to have the tools to be able to start a fire and keep it going. A fire can be used to keep you warm or as an emergency signal.
10. Emergency Shelter
If you get injured or stranded on a hike, you’ll want an emergency shelter to protect you from the elements and keep you warm.
For more emergency shelter options, be sure to peruse REI’s Emergency and Survival category. And remember, always be prepared!
TIP: If you’re going to be hiking in a remote area or backpacking for an extended time, be sure to inform someone of your hiking plans, including the trail and when you’re planning on returning.
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Must-Have Hiking Gear for a Day Hike
In addition to the 10 hiking essentials above, there’s some other hiking gear that’s essential or at least helpful to have on the trail.
First of all, a backpack is a must! You’ll need a backpack to carry all the hiking essentials along with any other gear you want to bring along on your hikes.
When deciding which backpack to get, look for one that’s lightweight, breathable, and evenly distributes the weight on your shoulders for a comfortable hike.
I’m currently using a Cotopaxi Luzon 18L Daypack and love the size along with how lightweight and comfortable it is. But truth be told, I wish it had more pockets for easier access to things.
Here are some other popular backpack choices, including affordable options:
12. Phone Carrier
I like having a waist pack for easy access to things I use throughout my hikes like my phone and lip balm. My hubby makes fun of my “fanny pack,” but I don’t care. I adore the functionality!
If you don’t want to keep your phone in a waist pack, another option is to use a phone lanyard for easy access.
13. Trekking Poles
You may not always need trekking poles (aka hiking poles). But if you do end up needing them, you’ll be happy to have them. And if you’re going to be doing any winter hikes, trekking poles are a must-have!
They give you more stability. This is really helpful when going downhill, especially if it’s rocky, slick, or there’s loose terrain. You’ll also want them for stability if you need to cross a creek on slippery rocks.
Trekking poles also help reduce protect your knees by reducing strain on your joints. And I like using them to also incorporate my arms and shoulders for a full-body workout.
There are tons of trekking poles to choose from. So if you’re feeling overwhelmed, REI has a great article on how to choose and use trekking poles.
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14. Electronic Devices & Accessories
I know, I know… you want to get out in nature to get away from electronics. Right on! But it’s still helpful to have a few devices with you on a hike.
Portable Charger / Power Bank
A portable power bank is an absolute hiking must-have item! I tend to take entirely too many photos and videos with my phone. So my battery doesn’t last long.
Having a portable phone charger is so handy to have on hand! You can also get a hard travel case for the portable phone charger to carry it with the charger cables.
When I’m hiking, I love exploring nature and capturing it by taking photos of everything! So a good quality, compact, and lightweight camera was a necessity for me.
After countless hours of research, I decided a mirrorless camera would be the best option for me, and I ended up with the awesome Canon EOS M50.
It takes great photos, weighs practically nothing, and is a convenient size perfect for hiking. If you’re a snap-happy photo-taker, you’ll be thrilled to have this camera on a scenic hike.
I scoured the internet, searching high and low for a lightweight (yet decent quality) tripod that I could hike with without being weighed down. After searching extensively, I finally came across the ideal lightweight tripod weighing just slightly over 1 lb!
This tripod only holds a camera weighing up to 4.4 lbs, but lucky for me, my Canon EOS M50 camera weighs much less than that! The total weight for both my camera and tripod is just barely over 2 lbs! Plus, it also works with smartphones.
Wanna know what the best part is though? This tripod is super affordable! Sure it’s not top-of-the-line quality, but it works great! It’s the perfect lightweight tripod for hiking adventures.
If you want to keep it simple and just use your phone to take photos or videos on your hikes, a simple selfie stick that doubles as a small tripod might be the way to go.
Selfie sticks are super compact and lightweight, making them perfect to bring along in your hiking pack.
If you live for adventure and want to document your hikes, you might want to consider taking a GoPro on the trails.
The GoPro HERO8 Camera is a waterproof action camera you can use to take videos and shots of all your outdoor hiking adventures. Photos are great, but video is next level!
Extra Hiking Gear
Beyond the 10 hiking essentials and other must-have hiking gear listed above, there are a few extra things that can come in handy on your hike.
15. National Parks Pass
National Parks feature some of the best trails around! So if you’re planning on hiking in any National Parks, be sure to pick up an annual America the Beautiful Pass first.
It will give you access to more than 2,000 federal recreation sites in the United States, including all the National Parks for you to explore their trails! This Pass pays for itself after the first few National Parks and is well worth it!
16. Bug Spray
Depending on where you are hiking, bug spray might be more of a hiking essential than an extra item. But either way, it’s good to have some on you, especially if you suffer from skeeter syndrome like I do (it’s a real thing)!
I don’t recommend using any products with the chemical DEET. There’s been research showing that DEET is a neurotoxin as well as other research showing additional health concerns with the use of DEET.
While the EPA and other “experts” have deemed DEET “safe” to use, I don’t trust them. And I don’t want to take that risk. So I prefer to stick to natural, chemical-free, non-toxic products whenever possible.
Another all-natural bug spray option is Primally Pure’s non-toxic Mosquito Repellent Spray.
17. Bear Spray
And if you haven’t noticed the theme of this post yet, it’s all about being prepared. If you’re concerned about having to carry something else and running out of space in your hiking pack, this one comes with a handy carrying holster.
18. Hand Sanitizer
Some trailheads have bathrooms, but most don’t have soap or even water to wash your hands. So I like to carry hand sanitizer with me in case I need to go to the bathroom while hiking or my hands get sticky/dirty from hiking snacks, tree sap, dirt, a runny nose, etc.
Here are some natural hand sanitizer sprays without toxic ingredients like chemicals, artificial fragrances, parabens, or phthalates:
19. Bathroom Gear
Speaking of going to the bathroom, there may come a time when you need to relieve yourself while out on a hike.
Please be sure to follow the Leave No Trace principles and bury solid waste while packing out toilet paper and hygiene products.
Wondering how to go about doing that? REI has gear for all of your hiking bathroom needs.
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My nose always seems to run when I’m hiking. I blame gravity. Looking down at the trail to watch my step gives me a runny nose.
And it runs even more during winter hikes when it’s cold out. So I like to carry a travel pack of unscented, non-lotion tissues.
21. Extra Batteries
Don’t run out of juice, electrical juice that is! Be sure to bring some spare batteries for your headlamp, flashlight, GPS, or any other electric devices you take on a hiking trek.
Wondering why you should bring a whistle on your hike? An emergency whistle can be used for SOS signaling or even if you just get separated from your hiking buddies.
23. Trash Bag
Sadly, not everyone follows the Leave No Trace principles. Please don’t be one of them. You can also use a trash bag to pick up other trash you come across on trails.
I know what you’re thinking. We shouldn’t have to clean up other peoples’ mess. But we can also do our part to leave places better than we found them. 😉
24. Dog Waste Bags & Waste Carrying Pouch
If you’re going to be hiking with your pup, please use compostable dog waste bags to dispose of their waste and pack it out as well.
You can even use one of the following carriers to hold the waste while you’re hiking (some are even odor-blocking!).
Looking for more hiking accessories for your fur-baby? Check out all of REI’s dog gear for hiking!
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What to Wear Hiking for a Day Hike
When it comes to what to wear hiking, you want breathable, durable, and, most importantly, comfortable clothing.
Keep in mind that weather can change. So these are the basic items to wear (or at least bring along) on a hike.
24. Hiking Boots
High quality hiking boots are absolutely essential! They can make or break your hike. So be sure to invest in a good pair of hiking boots.
Be sure to wear boots with good traction as well as ankle support. You don’t want to roll your ankle halfway into your hike.
I also recommend finding waterproof hiking boots. That way, they’ll be versatile if you come across wet conditions, such as stream-crossing, rain, or snow.
I’m absolutely obsessed with my waterproof HOKA ONE ONE hiking boots! They check off all the boxes by being super comfy, having amazing grip, and being waterproof. But they seem to be discontinued. Boo!
For easy hikes on smooth trails with little to no elevation gain, boots probably aren’t necessary. Instead, a good pair of hiking shoes like sneakers or trail running shoes should be sufficient.
Below are some options on Amazon. For even more hiking shoes to choose from, check out REI’s hiking footwear selection.
25. Merino Wool Socks
Merino wool is a top choice amongst hikers for hiking apparel. Unlike regular wool that can be itchy, Merino wool is thinner and softer, making it more comfortable to wear.
It regulates body temperature, insulating when it’s cold and moisture-wicking when it’s warm to keep you cool and dry. This makes it great for layering. Merino wool is also odor-resistant. Score!
Here are a few choices from Amazon. But there’s a huge selection of Merino wools socks on REI!
When you’re hiking, it’s usually best to keep your legs covered by wearing pants. This protects your legs from the sun as well as from getting bug bites or scratches from brush.
But you want a pair of pants that are comfortable, easy to move around in, and wick moisture, keeping you warm without being too hot. Convertible pants can be a good option. They offer a zipper to remove the bottom half of the pants and convert them into shorts if you get hot.
Cargo pants are another comfy option. And the pockets are a bonus! I typically stick with leggings though. They’re what I’m most comfortable in since they’re stretchy and give a wide range of motion.
In fact, I am LOVING these resistance leggings by SweetFlexx with built-in resistance bands to take my hikes to the next level! Use code “next.destination” for 15% OFF some for yourself!
For more pants to choose from, take a look at REI’s moisture-wicking pants with sun-protective fabric.
27. Base Layers
This is the first article of clothing you’ll put on to go for a hike. Depending on the weather, your base layer could range from a tank top to a merino wool long sleeve shirt.
28. Outer Layers
After your base layers, come the outer layers. It’s all about layering when it comes to hiking. It could be chilly if you start out early in the morning, then warm up as the sun rises overhead.
Add an elevation gain, and you’ll be breaking a sweat in no time. So you want to be able to take layers off when you heat up and put them back on when you cool off.
You can start with a long-sleeve layer or a jacket. Use a lightweight one in warmer weather or a heavier one like fleece in colder temps.
29. Rain Jacket or Poncho
If you can find a rain jacket with Gore-Tex, even better. Gore-Tex is a lightweight, waterproof fabric that’s also breathable.
It’s a good idea to keep a compact rain jacket or poncho in your hiking pack at all times. Because you never know when the weather will shift.
In Colorado, weather changes quickly. In the summer, we get afternoon rain and thunderstorms. So we make it a goal to get down the mountain before that happens.
A rain jacket or poncho can also be useful if you’ll be hiking to a waterfall. That way you can get up close and personal with the raging fall but not get soaked by the spray.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by all the different rain jackets out there, check out REI’s Best Rain Jackets of 2022: Staff Picks.
You’ll definitely want to wear a hat while hiking for sun protection to shield your eyes and face from the sun. You might be able to get away with wearing a baseball hat. But the better option is a broad-brimmed hat to also protect your neck.
If you’ll be hiking in cooler temps or doing a winter hike, you’ll be happy to have gloves to keep your hands warm.
Consider touch-screen compatible gloves if you like to use your phone to take photos so you don’t have to constantly take your gloves off. You’re welcome! 😉
Wrapping Up the Best Hiking Gear
Gearing up for a hike doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Just start with some of the must-have hiking gear for beginner hikers to have a safe and enjoyable hike:
- the 10 hiking essentials
- a good backpack
- high quality hiking boots
- comfortable clothing and extra layers
- a portable charger
Then you can gradually build your hiking arsenal with other helpful gear. As you do more and more hikes, you’ll figure out what else would be helpful to have.
Are you wondering who to hike with and looking for some new hiking buddies? Or perhaps you’re interested in learning about backpacking. REI offers hiking classes and events!
Leave a question or comment here!
To make sure you have everything you need on the trail, grab your FREE Hiking Gear Checklist!
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