Hiking with Shawn’s
Beginner Hiker Series:
Choosing the Right
Choosing the right hiking gear is important when you are a beginner to hiking. To kick off a brand-new series of mine completely focusing on beginner hikers, this first article will be solely focused on hiking gear tips for the beginner hiker. While this article will not list everything you might need, it focuses on the most important pieces of gear that you might consider carrying. If you enjoy this article and wish for me to continue the series, please support my efforts by sharing this article and considering becoming a Patreon Supporter of Hiking with Shawn.
Hiking Gear: Clothing and Footwear
You could put on a pair of heavy cotton sweatpants and sneakers like you would in the gym, right? You could… but when you get done with your hike, if the hiker is a longer one especially, you’ll find yourself really uncomfortable and potentially even injured. This is because the outdoors is not like the air conditional/ventilation-controlled gym. Chances are that the trail you choose to hike is rugged and hilly if you live around the Shawnee National Forest. Even if you live elsewhere, cotton sweats and regular sneakers are probably going to be a bad choice. There is hiking clothing and footwear designed for the technical aspects of walking in the outdoors and the sooner you get on board with such products, the better experience you will have.
Let’s talk apparel and footwear from head to toe (For both genders):
- HEAD: It is important to protect your head. In the event that a lot of sun or cold air is involved in your hike, you will want to protect your head. A wide brimmed hat is good for sun protection while a sock cap or beanie is good for protecting you head and ears from the cold. In the hot summer, you might consider getting a headband for sweat. Myself, I sweat more than I am able to take in during hydrating, so a headband is usually something I carry with me frequently.
- NECK & FACE: In this day and age, it is a good idea to bring a face cover of some kind. I’m not going to tell you to wear it the entire time you hike. But if you have to get around others and you are concerned about germs; you might want some kind of face cover. And if its cold out, you could kill two birds with one stone and take a scarf which can double as a face covering and of course a fabric to keep your neck warm.
- TOPS: In the summer, I wear technical tee shirts made out of ‘dry-fit’ type material like spandex so that sweat wickers off of them easier. I try to choose lightweight shirts because I can often wear them as a base layer when it is colder. When it is cold, consider wearing layers that you are able to shed off if it is too hot. You don’t want to sweat when it is cold outside as it can be more harmful than just being annoying and gross. If it is cold, I usually wear a base-layer tee, an insulated long sleeve shirt over it, a hoodie over that, and then my hiking coat depending on how cold it actually is. If it is super warm or hot, I try to get tank top shirts that are dry-fit material.
- BOTTOMS: So, when it is warm, I prefer shorts and most of the time, I prefer fitness-type shorts such as compression or “bike-styled” shorts. I think they are fashionable in terms of hiking, cycling and fitness for either gender and they’re also really comfortable and it is easier to move in them. I consider hiking a fitness activity, so I usually dress for such. For easier hikes in the heat, I wear cargo shorts that are made up of thinner material. This is really a personal preference and you can decide how you dress for the hotter hikes. For colder hikes, just like with tops-layering is KEY here. Per the temperature-in the winter, I may wear cargo-styled thicker material hiking pants or insulated running tights. For colder weather, insulated running tights are often worn under the hiking cargo pants which compression shorts under the tights. This allows me to take away layers if needed. If you wear the right tights, you can wear them alone without “exposing” yourself with see-through material. Tights and yoga pants are also very popular among female hikers as long as you get the right material like poly, Merino, spandex, etc. Complete cotton will hold in moisture, make you sweat more and can lead to serious cold weather-related injuries.
- RAIN: Make sure you bring proper rain gear with you on your hike. Myself, I bring a raincoat or my waterproof hiking coat if I know for sure that I’ll be hiking in the rain. If there is just a slight chance, I pack a poncho (more on that later) for that sort of thing. You might consider rain pants and a raincoat yourself which may act as an additional layer if it is cooler. It is really up to you on what you want to use for rain protection, though.
- HANDS: During colder weather, it is ideal to bring gloves or mittens. You should go with insulated and waterproof types. If it becomes too warm, you can always take them off for a while until you need them again. Glove liners are also an option if it is supposed to be a lot colder. I use glove liners myself and I think they are a really good invention. And as a bonus hack, air activated hand warmers in between the top side of your glove liner and outer glove is an additional source of heat that works really well.
- FEET: Socks are really important for hiking comfort. You need socks that offer some kind of padding if you are new to the outdoor activity. Go with a shorter sock during the summer or a thinner longer one with boots. If it is cold, get a thicker hiking-specific sock with adequate padding where it needs to be. For really cold weather, I highly recommend Merino wool socks or alpaca wool socks that are thicker in material. You might even wear a thinner sock as a liner under the thicker ones. For shoes, I use different kinds for different hikes and conditions. I have hiking sandals for warm easy shorter hikes. I have hiking shoes for longer summer hikes. Some people choose trail runners as an option. I have hiking boots for winter that are insulated and waterproof. PRO TIP: Buy boots that are a size larger than what you wear but can still be tied tightly and fit well. Larger means you can wear thicker socks and not be uncomfortable or get injured in the process of the boot not fitting right.
- WATER SHOES: If you will be crossing a creek, I highly suggest packing a pair of water shoes or crocs, even. Getting your feet wet in the summer can mean blisters and foot injuries. Getting your feet wet in the winter can result in frost bite. Bring shoes for quick crossings and bring a little hand towel as well to dry your feet off. Just go for lighter weight material water shoes or crocs since it is an extra piece of gear that you probably won’t use all that often. There is no need to add a whole lot of extra weight to your carry, right?
That pretty much covers hiking clothing and footwear. Take note I didn’t throw out any brand names here. I didn’t want to do that for the sake of keeping this article series free of a bunch of advertisements. Brands are really personal preference and I encourage you to look around. Sometimes the cheaper brands work best but other times they don’t work all that good. It is defiantly good food for thought.
Hiking Gear: Backpack and its Contents
If there is one thing, I can recommend you buy is a really good backpack made specifically for hiking. Depending on your frame, fitness level, hiking level, height, weight and so on – the size of the pack depends on your preferences. I usually go for a 30 to 50-liter backpack for day hiking and a larger liter pack for overnight hiking. The trick with liter-based packs is to not over pack them or it won’t work out well for comfort or injury prevention. You don’t need to take as much with you on a day hike as you might on an overnight hike but you can usually find the right liter pack to act as both day and overnight if you only want one pack. But please, please understand-there is a HUGE difference between hiking backpacks and regular school-like backpacks. They are both not designed to be universal; trust me on that! For me personally, I choose backpacks that have some form of framed support for my back, breath in between my back and the pack and have a waist belt feature.
Now let’s move on to the basic contents of what you should pack in your backpack. Note to self, always pack what you’ll use the less on the bottom but arrange everything where it fits good without jabbing you in the back and the weight is balanced on both sides:
- SHELTER: For an overnight hike, obviously, you need pack your sleeping bag first. Make sure you buy a sleeping bag that has a temperature rating. Get the rating you need for the temperature you are going to sleep in. If it is colder, you can also get a liner for your sleeping bag. I suggest packing your liner in the sleeping bag to make it easier to pack. On top of the sleeping bag should be your shelter: this will depend on your sheltering needs. Tent, hammock or even just a tarp-however you want to sleep is up to you. I suggest only getting a tent that fits the amount of people you need it for. My girlfriend and I go overnight backpacking therefore, we only need a two-person tent. You might also want to pack a backpacking sleep mat/pillow if you choose to use that type of gear. For me, the inflatable pillow really makes the difference.
- FOOD/FILTER: For any food that you plan to eat/cook after setting up camp, you should pack on top of your shelter gear. This is also where you should be keeping your water filter system as well. If you bring a cooking device or stove, pack it here and any eatery items like plasticware and cookware, etc. should also be stored here. A note to self on filters – be sure you have used and know how to use your water filter before taking it hiking. Not knowing how to actually use on can be devastating if you really need to clean water.
- FIRST AID/SURVIVAL WARE: The next layer in your backpack should be first aid and survival ware items. So, when it comes to a first aid kit, pack only what you need and what you know how to use. Don’t pack a CPR shield unless you know how to do CPR (You should learn CPR!). And don’t pack anything other than basic supplies-if an injury requires a trauma surgeon, then first responders need to eb sought after quickly. I like to carry antihistamines, anti-diarrhea, Ibuprofen, aspirin, tums, sting relief, alcohol pads, poison ivy gel, clotting powder, CPR face shield, sheers, band aids (different sizes), gauze, tourniquet, tweezers, and hydrogen peroxide. I carry a good synthetic material-based towel which evaporates sweat quickly. For survival ware, I carry waterproof matches, a lighter, poncho (used for rain or an emergency shelter), duct tape, paracord and waterproof neoprene socks. I also carry a sandwich bag with lightweight insulated running tights and insulated running long sleeve shirt in it. This is my emergency change of clothes if I fall into water and get my clothing wet. Dry clothing, even if thinner is a lot safer than wet clothing when it is cold.
- NAVIGATION: Navigation is important, and it goes beyond an app on your phone. Your phone can die or get some form of signal error. It is important to have a backup form of navigation. A dedicated GPS unit or Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) is a good idea. An additional paper map and compass is also a good idea. Take note that you need to learn how to properly use a paper map and a compass before trying to figure it all out – the same goes with GPS. Understanding topography, contours and other features of GPS and maps are critical if you have to bushwhack or go off trail.
- LIGHTS: The next item should be your lights. I suggest carrying at least 2 forms of light with you such as a headlamp and a flashlight. You should also pack some extra batteries in a waterproof container or sandwich bag as well. Even if you don’t plan to hike at night, anything can happen which is why it is important to have light and a backup source of light.
- SNACKS & HYDRATION: Lastly, put your snacks and hydration sources on the very top because this is what you will likely go for before anything else. Keep some good snacks that won’t melt all over during warmer hikes such as trail mix, trail bars, cookies and etc. Hydration is really your choice but electrolyte replacement is often essential if you travel a long way or sweat a lot so you might want to consider that importance. I carry both water and Powerade as well as bags of cookies and trail bars. I also carry some hard candy for a quick sugar source.
Hiking Gear: Additional Items
TREKKING POLES: Some people prefer trekking poles or hiking sticks. These come in all sizes and types. Many conventional trekking poles can often be expanded inward and outward for use and easy storage when not in use. Trekking poles and hiking sticks are great for balance in areas that are rocky or slick. If you are crossing a creek with any sort of current (Please use caution!), a trekking pole or hiking stick can help keep you from accidentally falling into the water.
CAMERAS: If you’re like me, then you take a lot of photos and a lot of video. One thing I have learned over the years is to attempt to take the lesser weighing device with me while out on longer hikes. I used to pack around a heavy SLR with many lenses risking getting damaged from weather, failed creek crossings and sweat-now I carry my phone for a camera or a point-and-shoot I have for better quality photos. As for video, the same goes-my larger and heavier camera will be a pain if the hike is long, but my waterproof GoPro is perfect for those longer hikes. Just make sure you bring plenty of batteries, charging bricks and SD cards as needed.
SNOW CLEATS: If you plan to hike in the winter months where snow is always a possibility, invest in a decent pair of snow cleats. Toss them into you bag and forget about them until you actually need them. Walking in snow conditions can be dangerous if you have no traction but with snow cleats, you can quickly get the traction you need.
CHAIR: No, carrying a chair is probably not a plausible thing to do as a hiker. Unless you get one of them carbon fiber small folding chairs that weigh nothing. You can also use a seat pad that rolls up or use nature. This really depends on the kind of preference you have for comfort. Myself, I skip the chair and seat pad but always remind folks on it just in case.
This concludes my article on the basic gear for beginner hikers. I hope you have enjoyed this article. Please comment below with what other gear you recommend and don’t forget to share this article with others. I’ll end this by saying you don’t always need to get the most expensive gear to have the best experience but often times, you will get what you pay for. So, if you buy the cheapest gear out there, it might not be to your expectations and it might not last long. Some gear you have to get more expensive on especially when it comes to taking things that weigh less. It is crazy that the things that weigh less cost more, isn’t it? But I suppose it is because the material is rarer to make or find than the standard material.
One last thing!
Filming the videos, taking the photos, editing everything and writing this article takes time and it’s all provided for free. Consider making a small monthly contribution to Hiking with Shawn by becoming an official Patreon supporter on Hiking with Shawn! You can also support us by purchasing official merch from the Hiking with Shawn online store. Lastly, please share this article and our videos and follow us on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Tumbler for more free guides, videos, photos, contests and more!
Thanks for checking out this guide and please share it with others if you’d like to see more of them made!
Shawn J. Gossman
Shawn is the founder and host of the YouTube Channel, Hiking with Shawn as well as Hiking with Shawn LLC. Shawn hikes, backpacks and visits various forested areas in the Shawnee National Forest, local state parks and other areas promoting outdoor recreational activities to obtain video to show to locals and non-locals alike. Please support Shawn’s efforts by sharing this post and leaving a comment below.