Heading out on a hiking adventure is an amazing way to escape from the hustle and bustle of your daily life, get some much-needed exercise and enjoy nature. Whether you go with friends and family or you choose to hit the trail on your own, there is something magical about hiking.
For many new hikers, though, figuring out what to pack often seems overwhelming. There is, undeniably, a lot of hiking gear out there, and sorting out what you actually need isn’t always easy. If you are planning your first day hike, think about how far your trek will take you, how remote the location is and what the weather has in store. Generally speaking, the further you go, the more remote the location. And the worse the weather, the more gear you will need.
It is best to keep your first hike relatively simple. Go out during pleasant weather and choose a destination that isn’t too remote. Once you’ve chosen the perfect beginner-friendly hike, use this guide to figure out what to pack for your first hiking trip.
Before you can start packing, you need something to put all of your gear in. For beginners, a nice pack with a capacity of 11-20 liters is usually sufficient. Look for one that includes a hydration reservoir or water bottle pockets. Try on a few different models and choose one that fits your torso appropriately. Protect your back and shoulders by buying a model with padded back and shoulder straps.
Clothing and Footwear
Check the forecast before you head out on a hike. Even if you’re just planning a short hike in a local park, knowing what weather conditions to anticipate is always important. Plan your first hike on a day when the temperature is expected to be mild, and dress accordingly.
Moisture-wicking t-shirts and underwear are must-have items for hikers. They pull perspiration away from your body and allow it to evaporate. This helps you stay dry and comfortable all day long. Cotton t-shirts breathe well but do not have the moisture-wicking properties of polyester performance shirts. Consider a long-sleeve shirt as opposed to a short-sleeve one or a tank top. Long sleeves may be a bit warmer during the summer, but they help protect you from bugs and the sun’s harmful UV rays.
Choose socks that are made from wool or synthetic materials. Both options will help keep your feet dry. If you are hiking on a smooth trail, hiking shoes or trail runners are sufficient footwear. If, however, you’ll be exploring a more rugged, rocky terrain, invest in a nice pair of hiking boots. When choosing footwear for hiking, think about potential dangers like snakes, too. If you plan on hiking in areas where venomous snakes are prevalent, a good pair of snake-proof hiking boots is a must!
Throw a lightweight fleece jacket or a hooded sweatshirt in your backpack. You may not need it, but if the temperature suddenly drops or you get stuck out longer than you anticipated, you’ll be glad that you have it. Pack extra socks and an extra t-shirt or two, also.
Food and Water
Even if you anticipate that your first trek will be a short one, it’s always a good idea to pack some food and water. Things like jerky, nuts, and energy bars are easy to enjoy on the trail, and they can be a lifesaver if you end up being out longer than you expected. If you plan on being out all day, pack a sandwich or two.
As a rule, you should pack two liters of water per person for the day. Adjust accordingly depending on the length and intensity of your hike and the weather conditions. When it comes to water, though, it is much better to have more than you need than not enough. It’s also smart to keep a water filter or chemical treatment in your backpack in case you ever need to purify water in an emergency.
First Aid and Emergency Kit
Most of the time, hikers go out, enjoy their treks, and return home safely. Sometimes, though, things go wrong. Even if you are planning a relatively simple hike in a well-marked area, it’s important to have a first aid and emergency kit with you at all times. Start with a basic first aid kit containing bandages, antiseptic wipes, antibacterial ointment, and other essentials. You may also want to include a snake bite kit and a kit for dealing with insect stings. Your backpack should also contain a lighter and/or matches, a whistle, some type of emergency shelter, bug spray, sunscreen, a knife or multi-tool, flashlight (with extra batteries), and duct tape. It is also smart to carry essential prescription medications (in case you get stuck out overnight) and life-saving medications like Epi-pens as needed.
When you hit the trail, always make sure you have your ID and some cash or a credit card on you. Also, carry your cell phone (even if you don’t have service in the area where you are hiking). Bring a map or compass in case you get lost. If you are hiking in the backcountry, a personal locator beacon or satellite messenger is highly recommended. Personal GPS devices are extremely helpful, too.
Going on your first hiking trip is exciting, though a bit intimidating. While you may be eager to get out and explore remote locations, it is best to start simple and keep your first trek close to home. Choose a day when mild weather is anticipated, dress accordingly, and fill up your new hiking backpack with the gear listed above.
Before you head out, make sure someone knows where you are going and when you plan to return. This is especially important when hiking alone. Before you know it, you will be on your way home from your first hike and ready to plan your next adventure.