First Hike? Equip Yourself with Sensible Gear and Some Wisdom!
There is enough tips posted on the internet about hiking for beginners that the reader and aspiring outdoors person ends up obfuscated.
Therefore, let’s try to cut to the chase while saving you a couple of bucks on adrenalin-fueled purchases and aimless wandering down the retail aisles—not to mention hours sifting through the internet.
Let’s start with a handful of watchwords for beginning hikers: safety, warmth, dryness, comfort, feet, hydration.
Don’t try to put them in order of importance; simply swallow them all at the same time.
Now let’s save you some neophyte grief: A lot of what you need may already exist in your cabinets, drawers or closets at home.
Your first hike should not result in research tantamount to a term paper or thesis.
All of the following advice in this article finds its base from the aforementioned watchwords.
Moreover, your first hike should be a day hike if you never before set foot on a trail. This minimizes your pack load as well as discouraging strains or gear surprises overnight.
Outside of clothes and boots lie greater, more environmentally oriented safety issues, such as topography, the season, the altitude and knowing where you are going.
Again, digest all of these collectively and forget about priority.
Hiking Packing List – 10 Hiking Essentials
Overview 10 Essentials:
- Navigation: Map, Compass and/or Hiking GPS device
- Sun protection: Sunscreen, sunglasses, hat
- Insulation: Fleece or polypro layers as well as gloves
- Headlamp with extra batteries (for unexpected on unplanned hours in the dark)
- First aid kit
- Fire starter: matches in waterproof container or a waterproof lighter
- A knife or tool for cutting
- Extra food in case you become lost
- Water, of course
- Emergency shelter: A tent, tarp, poncho, bivvy or other ground cover
The first item listed in Hiking’s Ten Essentials (learn them as you did the alphabet when young) is “navigation”. It translates to always carrying a map of your route, a compass and/or a handheld hiking GPS. It doesn’t hurt to add a hiker’s guidebook on the region you are hiking.
In this vein, you owe yourself a little research or study. If you live near a major outdoor recreation retailer, such as an REI, you can easily find out about any map and compass reading seminars that require no more than a few hours to absorb all you need to know about navigating with these tools.
If such stores lie far beyond your reach, check out YouTube or other sources of videos, preferably those sites or YouTube tutorials run by outdoor organizations.
Appalachian Mountain Club, The Mountaineers, the Sierra Club and Colorado Mountain Club are good places to start.
The ability to read a map, set your course on it by applying your compass bearing to the map and how to keep your bearing on the trail are all interrelated to keeping your trip fun rather than frenetic.
But, if you do become lost, your Ten Essentials can help your weather the situation until you are again found.
You probably own a pair of sunglasses at home as well as a hat and some sunscreen (greater than 20 sunblock rating preferably).
Insulation can simply consist of some nylon long johns and accompanying long-sleeve shirt you have used for cold winter weather or snow skiing.
You might need to buy a headlamp, but a small flashlight from home will do. Don’t forget extra batteries.
First Aid Kit
First rummage through your bathroom cabinets before buying a first-aid kit from the shelf. You might already own a tube of Benadryl for insect bites, an antibiotic ointment for cuts, some gauze, tape and wraps for other injuries and some moleskin for blisters (simply cut a piece that extends about three-quarters inch around the perimeter of said blister just like a Band-Aid).
Bring a cutting instrument; a pocket knife from home works wonderfully.
Always carry some extra food, in case you get lost. This can include energy bars, nuts or fruits for quick energy.
Browse your guidebook, read trail reports on outdoor association websites and study your USGS or Green Trails map to learn about water sources on your first hike.
Carrying two gallons of water in your pack for a 5-6 mile hike that sports a two or three thousand feet in altitude gain will wear you out not far from your trailhead.
Part with $60-$80 for a water filter from an outdoor retailer and plot out the locations of streams or other bodies of fresh water on your trail map or in your guidebook. Filters are tailored to fit a few different sizes of Nalgene water bottles.
Note that no matter how clean or gin-clear a stream or lake looks, bacteria from wildlife or minerals can abound. A case of giardiasis outdistances the discomfort of any blister you might acquire on your feet.
Got a poncho? A tarp without a tear or hole? Count it as an emergency shelter.
Stash all of these home-found supplies in a sizable freezer bag with a zip lock or a plastic food container and put them in your pack. If you need one or two of the items, hit the drug store.
Learn more about your route
Since you learned how to read maps via video or seminar, pay attention to the contour lines on the map before you head out. These will tell you where the most extreme inclines will be on the trail.
They will also indicate altitude and possible temperature drops as well as areas where you can duck for cover should a lightning storm hit. Remember that in general, the higher you go, the quicker the weather can change.
On average, if the trail is not going up a huge mountain, you will be hiking close to 2 mph if you keep your day-pack cargo to fewer than 30 pounds. With this data, you can estimate on your map approximately where should be at a certain hour in your hike.
It’s simply reassuring to know that you are on pace for reaching your destination, getting back to the car and a beer with pizza on the way back home to celebrate your accomplishment.
The most fun hikes are those absent of unexpected surprises. Knowing your route will allow you to focus on nature’s abundant wonders and pleasures while you confidently stride into remote terrain.
Take it easy
While on the subject of routes, don’t overly challenge yourself. Keep it to a safe, doable three or four miles one way at most. A loop or two-mile hike should not bring shame. Many short hikes host many photo ops and breathtaking sights. It’s all about breathing in and enjoying nature.
Tell Someone Where You Are Going
Finally, tell someone where you are going to hike and when you expect to return.
It can be your doting mom, your sibling or the friend who always checks in on you whenever you miss a day of class or work. This can save rescuers—mostly volunteers—much time coursing wide expanses of terrain.
Even do so if you are heading out on the trail with one or two companions, which is the safest way to venture on a first-time hike. There is strength in numbers on the trail, should an unexpected emergency arise.
Don’t want to hike alone? Click here for 11 Ways to Find the Right Hiking Buddy
What to Wear When Hiking
Just like the first aid kit, you likely own some of the proper attire needed to survive your first hike.
Got a wool hat? It will work fine if you know you will be hiking during a cold autumn or early spring day. They scrunch up well to stash in your pack if the weather ends up nicer than expected. They also keep moisture off your head by absorbing it.
A baseball cap is fine for sunny summer weather; its bill helps protect your eyes from intense sun. Carry a rain hat as a backup if you so desire, such as a bucket hat you see seafarers use on the boat deck.
Don’t wear Cotton
Unless you are day hiking desert country in the Southwest, don’t wear cotton. It retains moisture and clings when wet to effectively accelerate your body’s heat loss in the wind. You don’t want your first hike to result in a bout of hypothermia.
Again, your nylon or neoprene undergarments for winter or skiing can substitute for spendy purchases of this or that moisture-wicking material from the outdoor retailer.
If you don’t own an old wool shirt, fleece or polypro liner, see where the best sales exist and add another $30 or so to your first-hike investment list.
You can always lose layers, but you can never gain them once on the trail, in case you become warmer than desired.
A nylon or Gore-Tex shell, windbreaker or similar (with collapsible hood) that features ventilation in the armpits and along the rib section provide ideal protection from rain and comfort on the trail.
Try to stick with long pants for protection from bright sun, mosquitoes and thorns or other sharp nuisances in the brush. Quick-drying fabrics, such as nylon, work best for wet understory or rains. If you know you will be hiking in the rain for the whole time, get some waterproof hiking pants.
If you think it’s worth the expense, however, you might pull the pocketbook out one more time for some light, zip-off pants that turn into shorts.
Footwear and Socks
Your footwear will most likely pose your biggest expense if you have never before hiked. If you live in an area prone to heavy snowfall, you might own some light moisture-resistant boots.
You will already know how heavy or cumbersome they feel if that is the case, which will lead you to an educated decision on whether to buy some waterproof boots for hiking.
You want to use boots with grippy lug soles, characteristic of Vibram outsoles. Stability on the trail ensures fewer chances of injuries by a fall or the turning of an ankle, which is also prevented by choosing boots with collars above the ankles.
Genuine leather uppers combined with Gore-Tex and breathable liners will provide plenty of water resistance from inside and outside the boot.
Hint: a collapsible hiking pole helps with stability but is not an essential on a first hike; you can craft your own from wood to save some cost.
An ethyl vinyl acetate (EVA) midsole provides great cushion and shock absorption while ensuring comfort to your feet. A boot with ample toe protection also helps to keep your sojourn free of pain.
As for socks, avoid ones too thick. Thinner wool blends are actually fine, but wool does gain weight when sweat or moisture in general accumulates inside the foot bed of the boot. Thin yet insulating synthetic blends that emulate wool, such as socks from Merino and SmartWool, prove ideal for comfort and dryness.
If you must buy new boots and socks, perform a few test runs around the block in the park or on a jogging trail near home to see how they feel and to break them in properly for the trail.
If you need some pointers on brands, first look at Asolo, Columbia’s Montrail, Merrell, Salomon, Lowa, Vasque and Scarpa.
If you don’t mind wearing slightly used boots, some urban areas host second-hand outdoor gear stores for hikers and mountaineers. Check them out to save $75 or even $100 for a dependable brand that fits and walks well around the store.
Look at your first hike as a test run, not a competition
If you wish to remain practical and solvent with your bank account, don’t believe you must look like a pro mountaineer on your first hike. Don’t even rule out bringing a collapsible hiking umbrella. If it can make your hike more enjoyable, swallow your pride and stay most comfortable in the rain.
As you add hikes to your outdoor resume, you will more keenly learn what you need in accordance to the type of hiking you like best. You can then plan and gradually build your hiker’s budget.