Beginner Hiking Gear for Hiking
the Shawnee National Forest
Beginner hiking gear is an important topic if you are just getting into hiking. The Shawnee National Forest isn’t a huge National Forest that requires mass amounts of gear like that of the Pacific Crest Trail or the AT or something like that. Beginner hiking gear just includes the basic gear you’d need to have a safe and enjoyable hike anywhere in the Shawnee National Forest. In this article, we are going to focus on five beginner hiking gear topics for you no matter what type of hiker you are.
Beginner Hiking Gear: Food and Hydration
You have to stay fueled and hydrated while hiking in the forest. Much of the Shawnee National Forest is made up of rolling hills. This means that you’re likely going to sweat out your salt and important natural vitamins that your body needs to remain in good health. So food and hydration is a pretty important piece of beginner hiking gear to consider! But what type of food and hydration do you need to take with you and how much?
The type of food I suggest bringing is two forms or types of food. Bring a meal and bring a few snacks. If you’re hiking for a few hours, have one of your daily meals while you are hiking. I usually try to bring a sandwich on a day hike or a freeze-dried meal during an overnight hike. Just make sure you counter in the weather and temperatures per the food you decided to take and how long it can be stored in your backpack without refrigeration. For snacks, I recommend something easy to eat like trail mix, beef jerky and other snacks that don’t require special temperatures and preparation needs.
And for hydration, this really depends on your needs. I require sports drinks like Gatorade or PowerAde to hydrate me as well as put the salt back in my body. Some people just need water. Your hydration should be the main weight of your pack and you should have more than enough to keep you healthy and hydrated for how every long you are planning to be hiking. You might also carry a water filter with you as long as you test it out first and no how to use it properly in case you need to filter water for emergency drinking needs.
How much food and hydration should you be carrying, though? I usually practice a 3-day standard whereas I can bring enough food and hydration to last three days. This is especially the case when I plan to stay overnight in the Shawnee National Forest. If I come back home after hiking and I have food and hydration left over from my hike, then I feel like I properly prepared myself for the hike. This really depends on how much you will consume but always consider rationing in mind when far away from civilization such as being deep in the wilderness areas of the forest.
Beginner Hiking Gear: Footwear
Footwear is probably the one type of beginner hiking gear that I recommend you spend the most money on. In most cases, your feet are going to be critical of your hiking experience. You need your feet to hike with and you especially need them in order to get back to where you started the hike. Footwear consists of not only a good, sturdy pair of comfortable shoes or boots but the right type of socks as well. Going the cheapest route possible just means that you don’t care that much about your feet. I wouldn’t spend anything less that $60-$100 on a good pair of waterproof hiking boots. In the winter, if you get your foot wet and you’re far from heat, your hike will surely be miserable and your safety will be threatened.
So when it comes to winter, I recommend boots that are waterproof and slightly bigger than your normal size or even wider than normal. Bigger and wider means that you can wear thicker or multiple pairs of socks and still have room in your boot to ensure comfort. It is critical to keep your feet dry and warm when the temperatures are cold and wet. In the warm summers, feel free to get hiking shoes or open-toed shoes/sandals as long as you can tolerate them. When it comes to socks, I prefer hiking-specific socks because they are often designed specifically with the hiker in mind. They deal with moisture better, they wick sweat and they are often padded for long walking activities.
The Shawnee National Forest is made up of many creeks and these creeks often have to be crossed on different trails and often multiple times. For this, I recommend bring a pair of crocs or sandals with you to be worn for crossing these creeks. You want to keep your main boots/shoes and socks dry so these will come in handy and most practically weigh nothing. Now some of you might just walk the creek barefooted. I really strongly advise not to do that. Diseases are more common these days than of the past. If you are barefooted and cut your feet, it could result in a health crisis. It is better to be safe than sorry.
Beginner Hiking Gear: First Aid and Sun Protection
Tending to injuries and protecting yourself from the radiant sun are two things that can easily be grouped together for this piece of beginner hiking gear. I put my sun block in with my first aid kit. They sell little travel bottles of sun block at dollar stores and those are perfectly fine and they fit perfectly with my first aid kit. For my first aid kit, I pack what needs to be packed and what I know how to use. Never pack a large amount of first aid kit gear that you have no idea how to use.
Let’s go over some items to include with your first aid kit. I pack specifically to the potential hazards I might face in the Shawnee National Forest. Band-aides are a basic need and can be used from covering up a minor cut to placing over a blister to make walking way easier. Alcohol prep pads can clean a small wound and even take off seed ticks. The ointment brand ‘Tecnu’ is awesome for soothing seed tick wounds as well as preventing poison ivy rashes. Scissors are a good idea if you need to cut away clothing – your knife might do it but you also risk harming yourself even further. Lastly, I carry two items that most never consider – anti-diarrhea tablets and stop-bleed wound clotting powder which I feel define themselves without a need to further explain.
Consider special needs as well when creating a first aid kit. For example, in 2019, I discovered that I am allergic to bee sting venom. I hadn’t been stung in over 20 years and never had any issues before then. I was stung and my face swelled up and massive hikes broke out all over my body. I now carry anti-histamines with me to help control the allergic reaction if I am to be stung again. Luckily my breathing isn’t impacted otherwise I’d need to carry a prescription epi-pen with me at all times. Do you need special medication with you for special considerations? Make sure you pack for this.
Now when it comes to sun protection, a simple bottle of sun block might not be enough. This really depends on how much you burn. In the summer months, I wear a t-shirt and shorts most of the time. I don’t really burn that bad though so basic sun block lotion is really all I need most of the time. However, I also try to wear a full brim hat to keep the sun off my face and sunglasses if it is really bright. Protecting my eyes from the sun is critical for me. There are also different types of sun protection clothing styles you might choose to wear to help keep you from getting burned. It really depends on how badly the sun will impact you and your needs.
Beginner Hiking Gear: Navigation
Basic beginner hiking gear should also include at least 3 forms of navigation. While the Shawnee National Forest is small compared to other surrounding national forests, it is still big enough and wild enough to easily get lost in if you get off track of where you are supposed to be. Some folks say you can just walk in any direction and hit a road in 10 miles. However, you need to also consider the rolling hills, dangerous cliffs and hazardous elements that you will likely come face to face with while doing that. Avoid that by simply packing basic navigational gear that will keep you on the right track of where you want to go.
Get a GPS system and know how to use it. While I recommend a dedicated GPS device, as long as your phone can keep a charge (consider charging bricks), you can use apps available for most smart phones for this need. Understanding your GPS is important! Most of all, I recommend you learn and understand topo features that show bluff lines and how steep the land in front of you will be. This can ensure that you are able to navigate through obstacles and the many rolling hills that you will encounter in the Shawnee National Forest, especially if you go off trail.
GPS also works in areas where cell phone signal will not work and it will show you other trails and roads nearby. My favorite GPS phone apps are Gaia and OnXhunt (not sponsored) paid features. You will need to be able to download (with cell phone data) maps from these apps to be able to use them online. For a great free app, get Avenza with the R2R Trail bundle, all free and all officially used by the US Forest Service. A dedicated GPS and a phone app as a backup is really the best thing to include in your pack for navigational gear.
A good compass is also a good piece of navigational gear to add to your pack. Now before you pack your compass, use it at home and make sure you know how to use it. The non-toy compasses that we adults use are often features with controls and uses that you never needed to know about as a kid. My compass is military grade and can be used to help read a map. It is important to know how to use the features that are included with your compass. Before you start your hike, point your compass at your parked vehicle or the start of the trail and jot down the direction. This will come in handy in case you do need to walk in one direction towards the place where you started.
And finally, don’t assume paper maps are useless. You can get these maps for free from the Forest Service offices in Harrisburg, Vienna and Jonesboro. You can also order nice maps of east and west side of the forest from Friends of the Shawnee National Forest or by purchasing one from Garden of the Gods Outpost. I try to keep a few different maps in my pack of the forest just in case my electronic navigation is disabled for whatever reason. You can also buy other types of maps out there as well which might provide you additional information such as actual forest roads that you might wish to drive down or mountain bike down aside from hiking. Maps will also show you most of the horse trails in an area if you are into equine activities.
Beginner Hiking Gear: Layers
The last piece of beginner hiking gear that I recommend you carry with you during all hikes is extra layers. You never know when you might need more layers. You never know when you might need to change clothes if you get wet from a sudden rain storm or if you fall into the creek. Sometimes the night time and evening hours in southern Illinois can get rather chilly and extra layers will often help make the hike or camping trip a lot more comfortable. It is never a bad idea to pack extra layers with you and wear the right kind as well.
Wearing the right kind of layers is your first step. In the winter, the idea is to layer up appropriately where you can take off layers when you get too warm or add layers if you need to get warmer. I use a lot of compression gear like compression shirts and tights for adding great layers during colder temperatures. I also pack an extra pair of tights or something like that because it is extremely light weight. I’d also pack an extra pair of socks as well because protecting those feet is a priority you should have. And don’t forget sock caps and gloves when it’s cold out even if you just throw it in your pack until you actually need them.
Lastly, I recommend rain gear. Usually I carry a tall poncho with me in my backpack. The poncho acts as two things when hiking. It is rain gear that keeps you dry as it is intended to be. But in case you need a shelter, you can make a pretty good tent out of a basic tall poncho to keep most of the elements off you. I’ve slept under a poncho quite a few times as a kid. It also helps to get an oversized taller poncho to not only cover you in the rain but also cover your backpack as well to ensure that your other entire beginner hiking gear is also dry and protected from the elements.
This article sums up the very basic beginner hiking gear that you would need to enjoy a trip in the Shawnee National Forest. As you develop more experience as a hiker, you’ll discover other hiking gear that you will want to carry with you and you might find yourself leaving some of it behind as well. My only other word of advice when it comes to choosing what gear to take and what gear not to take is never taking safety out of the priority! Weight should never be placed as more important than safety otherwise you risk harming yourself out there and not having the needed gear to keep you healthy and alive. Always put safety first, no matter what!
Thanks for taking the time to read my article about basic beginner hiking gear for enjoying day hiking and overnight backpacking in the Shawnee National Forest. If you would like to see more articles like this one, please share this article with others, especially on social media. Please follow me on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter for more information, articles, videos, photos and resources about hiking and outdoor recreation in the Shawnee National Forest. Consider becoming a premium member of my Patreon Page or purchasing some official Hiking with Shawn Merch from my online store. So until next time, I’ll see you on the trail!
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.