Best Hiking Gear For Beginners: 5 Must-Haves For New Hikers
So you've given this hiking thing some serious consideration and have finally told yourself, "I'm gonna do it!". Now you just need to find the best hiking gear for beginners. And what a task it is.
Unfortunately, it's not always as simple as hitting the local sporting goods store and picking up the cheapest gear you can find.
Just because you're new doesn't mean you don't need the proper equipment. Still, you should properly equip yourself to prevent injury and annoyances on the trail. We don't want you getting scared off from this great sport so early on!
Remember: hiking takes a toll on your body, even if you don't immediately notice it.
Taking the first step as a hiking beginner is exciting, fun, and brings all sorts of health benefits. It does come with challenges, however.
The task of picking the best hiking gear for a beginner can be daunting. There are so many choices, so many factors to consider. How do you know what the best choice is?
Here's the good news: I went through this same exact process, years ago, so you don't have to. The gear listed in this article is gear I've personally used and swear by. Some I still use today.
Are you prepared?
You don't need to build a surplus of gear for the occasional recreational hike. But, if you want to have the best experience from your hikes, there some absolute must-haves for new hikers. Let's take a look at what qualifies as the best hiking gear for beginners.
What's The Best Hiking Gear For A Beginner?
As a new hiker, you can often get by with the basics. After all, you likely won't be scaling Half Dome or taking on any multi-day treks for your first outing.
Because your first few outings will likely be easy-to-mildly-challenging, we want gear that's not over-the-top. But, we should also go with the gear that will provide great longevity for future hikes, too.
The essential must-have hiking gear for beginners:
- Hiking Shoes/Boots: Don't hike in sneakers. Always wear proper hiking footwear to prevent injury and maintain good form. These days, hiking footwear comes in several varieties, such as boots and shoes made of different materials.
- Hiking Pants: Avoid denim and cotton. Polyester hiking pants are lightweight and adaptable to different weather conditions. The right hiking pants should keep you cool in the heat and keep you warm in the cold.
- Lightweight Hiking Backpack: Get a pack that's lightweight. Since you will be taking on easier trails for your first few outings, there's no need to buy a large, trekking backpack to haul a bunch of camping gear.
- An Insulated Water Bottle: Insulated water bottles will keep your water cool for a long time. Some people will disagree with this and say you should opt for a hydration pack or a clear, plastic water bottle because of their reduced weight. I understand the argument. However, because your first session of new hikes will likely be mild in intensity, it's okay to sacrifice weight for cooler hydration.
- Hiking Socks: Don't slip on a pair of athletic socks before hitting the trails. Wearing cotton hiking socks will cause more friction and discomfort on your feet, leading to blisters and possible muscle strain. Stick to a hiking sock made primarily of wool. Proper hiking socks are comfortable, secure, and help prevent sliding on your hiking shoes.
Here's a quick chart showing our picks for best hiking gear for beginners:
|Salomon X Ultra 3 GTX Hiking Shoes||0.83lbs||Strong construction, tough sole.||Suitable for different weather conditions and different activities||Waterproof, lightweight, and comfortable.|
|Columbia Silver Ridge Convertible Hiking Pants||10oz||100% Nylon. Non-rip proofing.||Keeps you warm in the cold and cool in the heat.||Water-resistant, lightweight, and converts to shorts.|
|Osprey Stratos 24||2lbs||Nylon & Mesh w/ Ripstop.||Works for hiking and everyday use.||Breathable fabric, light weight, comes with rain cover.|
|Takeya 32 oz insulated water bottle||0.80lbs||Stainless steel. It'll withstand just about anything.||Insulates cold drinks for 24 hours. Preserves heat for 12 hours.||No taste-transfer. Will last nearly forever.|
|Darn Tough Coolmax Micro Crew Cushion Socks||2.3oz||Merino wool, nylon & spandex. Very durable for long hikes.||They're extreme comfort levels make them great for everyday use.||Prevents blistering. Keeps feet warm. Fabric is breathable and secure.|
Best Hiking Gear for Beginners: The Factors Considered
Most newcomers of any sport always assume beginner gear should have a lower price point.
The problem with that approach is a new hiker might go through cheap gear quickly, oftentimes leading them to believe that future hiking gear isn't worth the investment.
Focusing on cheap hiking gear, solely to save a couple of bucks, can cause new hikers to buy the wrong gear for the wrong reasons.
A better approach to picking the right hiking gear for beginners is to look at several considerations, like weight, durability, versatility, and cost. This will help you get the best bang for your buck. It also allows you to choose hiking gear that will last a long time, even as you transition to tougher hikes.
Here are the factors we're considering for this list of hiking gear for beginners:
- Durability: Durability is going to consist of materials used and the construction of the gear. This is important because a lot of cheap hiking gear that's aimed at beginners might be made of cheaper materials, leading to early wear and degradation. We'll focus on products that are built to last, regardless of the price tag.
- Weight: You don't want to be bogged down on your first few hikes. The items on this list are lightweight. Remember: it's always easier to take on mild trails with light gear than it is to take on easy trails with heavy gear.
- Versatility: As a new hiker, you likely won't need any ad hoc hiking gear, meaning gear made for one, specific use. We're picking gear that is useable in several different conditions.
With these points considered, you can hike with the peace of mind knowing that your gear will hold up for quite some time, ensuring you've picked up the best hiking gear for beginners, and great gear for an intermediate hiker, too.
05. Proper Hiking Shoes
Choosing the best hiking shoes for a beginner can be challenging.
Should you get boots?
Will hiking shoes be better?
There are so many questions when it comes to picking a good hiking boot or shoe for a new hiker. And it's difficult to sift through all the answers.
Here's one question you may want to ask yourself: do you care about your physical condition & safety?
The answer will likely always be, or should be, "yes".
The first thing you should keep in mind as a new hiker: Never, ever neglect your feet.
I can tell you from personal experience that wearing the wrong shoes for hiking can lead to all sorts of problems like blisters and even strained muscles.
This led me to deal with harsh pain in my gluteus medius for six months. No joke.
Taking a simple walk was challenging. It hurt to get up from a sitting position. And, even worse, the more I stayed off my feet, the more tightened the muscle became, causing even more pain.
That incident was easily preventable had I just picked up a pair of good hiking shoes.
Depending on the type of trail you choose, you can expect to navigate difficult terrain. Sometimes you've gotta get over some rocks, teeter on a narrow path, or even get across a creek.
Your hiking shoes also need to be flexible but solid enough for the proper foot support. Unless you're going up mountains, it's fine to start with a hiking shoe rather than a hiking boot. Trust me: it absolutely sucks to hike with blistering feet and aching arches.
If you're a new hiker and you want some good boots to start with, check out our reviews on the best hiking boots under $100.
Best Hiking Shoes For Beginners
You might notice this section isn't titled "best hiking boots for beginners". That's not a mistake, and "shoes" isn't being used synonymously, here.
As a new hiker, you want to get used to the motions. You want your body to adapt. Because of this, we're skipping boots for now and looking at hiking shoes, instead.
Why? Because hiking shoes are a little more lightweight, flexible, and versatile than hiking boots. Good hiking shoes can endure several different conditions and terrain factors.
Using hiking shoes will allow your body to adapt to the natural movements of hiking until you're ready (don't get too ahead of yourself!) to upgrade to some heavy-duty hiking boots.
And the best part: good hiking shoes have great grip, just like hiking boots. This ensures you aren't sliding all over the surface or, worse, down a hillside.
My Pick For Best Beginner's Hiking Shoe:
The reason these made the list: They're low-cut, very comfy, and are very durable. They're also used for trail running, making them very versatile. Even better, they're water-resistant, making them usable in various conditions without causing the excess heat insulation a water-proof hiking boot would. Perhaps the best part: my muscle pain faded away shortly after using them.
The Stats Of This Hiking Shoe:
- Durability: These shoes are made with a synthetic upper that's coated in polyurethane, the same stuff that's used on wood varnishing. This helps with water resistance and durability. These shoes are also lined with Gore-tex, which offers further water-proofing and great breathability.
- Weight: The best part about this shoe, probably, is that it's very lightweight, coming in on the scale at 380 grams (just under 1lb!). This will help you build up your strength for hiking without dealing with a bunch of extra weight on your feet.
- Versatility: Because of their weight, materials, and overall construction, these shoes are perfect for hiking and trail-running in various weather and terrain conditions. They can be used as a multi-purpose shoe, which gives them the win as far as versatility is concerned.
04. Lightweight Hiking Pants
A lot of new hikers overlook the importance of using the best hiking pants for beginners.
It's a blunder that isn't as detrimental as wearing the wrong hiking shoes, but using the wrong pants for hiking can still cause several issues.
Beginner hikers will sometimes throw on a pair of cotton sweats or denim jeans, figuring they need something either flexible or rugged for their trail walking.
This is a big no-no.
I'll tell you why: cotton is really poor when it comes to moisture. It absorbs a ton of it and takes a long time to dry. What's more, cotton is not the greatest when it comes to regulating temperature. They're called sweatpants for a reason, after all.
As far as denim goes, it gets itchy, heavy, and is a bit too rigid for hiking. Believe me, you don't want to suffer from overheating on a hike. And picking a pair of cotton or denim pants for your hike is a fast track to being overheated.
Another important factor that's overlooked far too much is the UPF rating of your pants. High UPF-rated pants will keep your skin free of harmful UV rays.
Yes, just because your legs are covered doesn't mean they're immune to radiation.
Best Hiking Pants For Beginners
At the end of the day, you want a pair of hiking pants that will not only protect you from the sun but will keep you warm (or cool), that are less prone to tearing and ripping and can be used for activities other than just hiking.
Another thing to consider is how much brush you'll be dealing with on a hike.
If you're navigating through plant life, you need a pair of pants that will protect you against the annoying and painful pricks of thorns and twigs, especially in the dry seasons. This is also where durability comes into play: a pair of less-than-durable hiking pants are going to get chewed up quickly.
So, let's avoid cotton and denim, and stick with a pair of beginner hiking pants that offer a multitude of uses.
My Pick For Best Beginner's Hiking Pants:
For versatility alone, you can't go wrong with these Columbia Silver Ridge Convertible Hiking Pants. And, for the ladies, here's a pair for you.
They're 100% nylon, making them very lightweight and resistant to rips and tears. This is important because, considering the rugged terrain of hiking, they'll hold up for a very long time. Something else that's worth writing home about: they're convertible. So you can unzip them at the knee and convert them into a nice pair of hiking shorts.
From a personal standpoint, these pants have been amazing for me. They've allowed me to hike at various speeds, in various terrains, without even thinking about my pants. I can't tell you how many times I've worn shoddy hiking pants that were a nagging discomfort in the back of my head the entire time.
These hiking pants also have a 50 UPF rating. Simply put, you'll stay cool in the heat and also protect your skin from potentially harmful UV rays.
- Durability: 100% nylon construction provides durability and rip-prevention. They're tied together with a partial-elastic waistband, making them flexible in different situations, which will provide a longer lifespan than a pair of hiking pants with a non-flex waistband.
- Weight: These hiking pants weigh in at 10oz, making them very lightweight. It's easy to pack an extra pair in your backpack without worrying about adding a ton of weight to your pack.
- Versatility: Because they're convertible, these pants can be transformed into shorts. The nylon fabric makes them a lot better for moisture than mostly cotton pants, too. They're great for hiking in hot weather and hiking in cold weather. Though, they're probably not a good choice if you're trekking through sub-zero temperatures without a base layer.
03. Lightweight Hiking Backpack
If you're a new hiker, you're likely going to bring more supplies than you need. That's okay if you want to just get a feel for what you'll need on a journey, but you should at least make sure your backpack is a suitable size and weight and isn't too big or heavy.
You'll need a pack that can carry all your needed items like snacks, extra clothing, and water, all while keeping weight to a minimum.
But, you also need to consider the sun. It can heat up a backpack real fast, causing certain foods to perish and water to reach an unpleasant temperature.
Best Hiking Backpack For Beginners
The ideal choice for the best beginner's hiking backpack is going to be one that we can use anytime, anywhere, without weighing ourselves down.
Because we'll be carrying important items, like snacks and water, it's also important to consider the heat resistance of the backpack. As mentioned, gulping down swigs of hot water during a hot-weather hike feels awful.
A good choice for the best backpack for a new hiker will be something that's lightweight, properly vented to deal with heat and a backpack that can be used in various conditions like rain or dry heat.
Let's not forget about the most important thing, though: your body.
Hiking with a heavy backpack can cause some serious back pain for hikers. Because of this, we should stick to a backpack that's lightweight. You want your backpack to feel balanced and not cause extra strain on your muscles.
Don't worry: you don't need to opt for a hiking backpack that's hard on the eyes, either. There are some great picks for a hiking backpack that works well and looks great, too.
My Pick For Best Beginner's Hiking Backpack:
With all things considered, my favorite hiking backpack is the Osprey Stratos 24.
It's made of mesh and nylon, which makes the durability great and helps prevent rips. This is also important when you factor in weather conditions; it won't absorb moisture the way most backpacks do.
Even better, it comes equipped with a rain cover for extra protection during those rainy-day hikes.
Inside you'll find an integrated hydration pack sleeve, too.
One of my favorite things about this hiking backpack is that it's lightweight, tipping the scales at just over 2lbs. I can't begin to describe what a relief it was when I switched over to it from a conventional, clunky backpack.
- Durability: Mesh & Nylon construction w/ripstop. This hiking backpack is durable even in extreme conditions. I've had mine for a couple of years now and it still feels brand new. It's also got a weight capacity of 25 pounds, making it useable when you transition to longer hikes that require more gear.
- Weight: The backpack itself weighs just over 2lbs. If you're a light packer, you'll barely notice it's on your back. This provides a great balance factor and won't cause excess stress on your muscles.
- Versatility: Because of its design, both structurally and visually, it's great for uses outside of hiking, too. The base weight of 2lbs allows you to use it for several different occasions and in several different conditions.
02. Insulated Water Bottle
Even with a hydration pack in your hiking backpack, it's still smart to bring some extra fluids. Hiking takes a lot out of you. You need to be fueled properly.
Most hikers choose a clear, plastic water bottle due to weight and easy-to-monitor fluid markers.
The downside to opting for a plastic water bottle, though, is they heat up very quickly on hot days. Sure, they lighten up your hiking pack a little bit, but I'll trade some weight for a cool swig of water any day.
Another downside of using plastic water bottles is the flavor. Though water is tasteless, using a plastic water bottle can transfer unpleasant tastes and chemicals. This sucks, especially on hot days.
Best Water Bottle For Hiking
Do yourself a favor and get a stainless steel water bottle, and never look back.
Sure, you might gain a few ounces in your backpack, but the tradeoff is totally worth it.
The best water bottle for hiking, in my opinion, is one that's not only durable, but has no plastic or acrylic flavor transfer, keeps my cold drinks at a bone-chilling temperature, and my warm drinks nice and toasty for cold days.
Because you're likely going to put your water bottle in your backpack, it's also wise to pick a hiking water bottle that is leak-proof. Trust me, there's nothing more annoying than opening up your backpack to discover your extra socks or items soaked.
My Pick For Best Beginner's Hiking Water Bottle:
I always carry around the Takeya 32 oz insulated water bottle.
The great thing about this water bottle is it stays ice-cold for up to 24 hours and can preserve heat for hot drinks for up to 12 hours.
Naturally, I was skeptical before I purchased it. But, man, Takeya lives up to their claims big time.
It keeps my water so cold that it's actually startled me a few times on hot days. I wasn't expecting the water to be as cold as it was, and it gave me a bit of a shock.
This thing is durable as hell and can take a serious beating. I've had mine for years and there's been no flavoring issues, no rusting, and it's barely gotten a ding. It's versatile and can be lugged around to the gym, too.
The only downside is it doesn't have water markers. So you'll need to pay a little more attention to how much water you're consuming.
- Durability: This water bottle is made of stainless steel. It can take a beating and hold up just fine. I've dropped mine several times and it only has one little ding on it. That's over the course of a couple of years.
- Weight: This bottle can get on the weighty side, but it's not terrible. It weighs in at 0.80lbs, which isn't terrible. That's a perfect weight if you're a beginner who won't be lugging around a ton of gear.
- Versatility: As mentioned, I use this thing all the time. I take it to the gym. I take it on walks. It goes with me on hikes. It's my go-to. Believe me, I never thought I'd rave about something as simple as a water bottle, but this thing is untouchable, in my opinion.
01. Hiking Socks
Ah-ha! The most overlooked piece of clothing for hiking beginners is socks.
It's an easy oversight; we usually slip on a pair every day without a second thought.
The activity of hiking, though, puts your feet to more use than they're probably used to.
Picking the best pair of hiking socks goes hand-in-hand with wearing the best hiking shoes. They're symbiotic.
Sure, you can slide on a pair of Dri-Fit socks or your typical cotton socks, but I hope you're ready for blisters and aches.
Of course, socks alone won't cause aches, but the discomfort from blistering feet will cause you to adopt poor footing and posture. Leading to foot aches and cramps.
And don't get me started on cotton again. Having swampy, hot feet out on a hike feels awful. And wearing cotton socks on a hike is a surefire way to shred through your sock drawer.
Best Hiking Socks For Beginners
As a hiker, the best hiking socks should be a pair that are not only comfortable but have great breathability and durability, too.
We want to keep our feet cool on hot days and keep them warm on cold days. Regular socks don't do this very well.
Another thing to consider is how fast they dry. Your hiking socks should be made of a material, like wool, that dries fairly quickly.
And just because you've got a killer pair of hiking shoes doesn't mean you're immune to blisters or aches. The best hiking socks you can choose should not bunch up or cause foot sliding.
One more consideration is the seams of the sock. I can't tell you how many times I've worn a pair of socks only to be annoyed by the sewing seams chafing my feet. The best hiking socks you should be looking for will have an almost seamless feel to them.
My Pick For Best Beginner's Hiking Socks:
This is a no-brainer. Seriously. Do yourself a favor and pick up a pair of these Hiking Socks by Darn Tough.
They're made of 61% merino wool, 36% nylon, 3% spandex, which means they don't only provide great breathability, but also feel very pleasing to wear.
From my own standpoint, wearing these has changed my hiking game drastically. I know, that's a pretty bold claim for a pair of socks. However, the support they offer is fantastic, and I haven't had to deal with a single blister since I paired them with a good pair of hiking shoes.
The comfort level of these socks is through the roof. They're cozy, will keep your feet warm on those chilling days, and cool on those hot days. They can also be worn for everyday use with sneakers.
They do get a little warmer on hot days, but the comfort levels alone throw this downside out the window. Just remember to pair them with a good pair of hiking shoes; socks alone won't save you from blisters.
- Durability: The materials used are merino wool, nylon, and spandex. You'll have a tough time shredding through these socks. Even better, you'll probably have these socks for a very long time. Long-term value always outweighs the short-term, in my opinion.
- Weight: A pair of these socks weighs 2.3oz. Weight isn't always a big deal when it comes to socks, but it helps. There are definitely lighter socks out there, but for comfort and durability, you can't beat these.
- Versatility: Because of the comfortable form and materials used, these socks can withstand just about any weather condition. They dry quickly, don't absorb a ton of moisture, and are perfect for everyday walking, too.
Must-Have Hiking Gear For Beginners: Summary
In summary, the best hiking gear for beginners doesn't always have to be top-shelf products.
But they should be products that are durable, versatile, and aren't too heavy.
You should always pick what works best for you based on your needs. And sometimes that's difficult when you don't know where to start.
Best Hiking Gear For Beginners:
- Shoes: Salomon X Ultra 3 GTX Hiking Shoes Men's | Women's
- Pants: Columbia Silver Ridge Convertible Hiking Pants Men's | Women's
- Backpack: Osprey Stratos 24
- Water Bottle: Takeya 32 oz insulated water bottle
- Socks: Darn Tough Micro Crew Cushion
The gear I've selected should last you a long time, and guide you from being a new hiker to an intermediate hiker. This is one of the biggest reasons why I nominate these products as the best hiking gear for beginners.
Only when you've stepped up the intensity or duration of your hikes should you begin to opt for new gear.
Remember though, this article is based on my own use and opinion; your experience may vary.