Before going into the woods to explore, all hikers, regardless of experience level, should be sure to have the proper gear. As outdoor recreation has exploded in popularity, so too has the industry outfitting people’s newfound hobby.
Properly gearing up for a hike isn’t as simple as good footwear and a water bottle, though. And with the recent influx of brands accommodating the industry, it can be hard to know what gear is useful and what is just unnecessary stuff.
Use this list to help guide you on what you need and what you don’t need before you hit the trails.
Why you need it: The ability to read and use a map, in conjunction with a compass, can help prevent a hiker from getting lost, no matter the situation. Carrying a map should be part of any hiker’s pack to be prepared in case of an emergency.
How to use it: Use a map with a compass to orient yourself to the surrounding landmarks. Things like water features and topography can help you to get your bearings.
Price range: $10 – $15
Why you need it: The ability to always know which direction is north will help you to ensure you’re heading in the right direction. This is a crucial capability, both for ensuring you’re heading where you intend to and in the case that something goes wrong and you get lost.
How to use it: Use the needle on the compass to determine which direction is north. From here you can determine the degrees from north you want to head and from which direction you’ve been hiking.
Price range: $5 – $20
#3 Hiking Shoes
Why you need it: Proper footwear is an absolute must for anyone hitting the trail. Comfortable footwear will make a world of difference in your overall enjoyment of the hike, and skimping here or wearing shoes not cut out for the trail can lead to blisters and a miserable hike.
How to use it: You’ll use hiking shoes just the same as any other piece of footwear – by putting them on your feet and lacing them up. You’ll want to be sure that you’re getting the right kind of shoes for the elements you’ll be tackling. If you expect to go through shallow streams, consider getting a waterproof model. Short hike on well-groomed trails? Try out some trail runners.
Price range: $40 – $140
#4 Hiking Clothes
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Why you need it: As is the case with any physical activity, you’ll want to dress appropriately for both comfort and the potential elements. This means wearing lighter, sweat-wicking material that will keep you cool and dry, while having layers on hand in case the weather changes.
How to use it: You’ll wear these just the same as any other kind of clothing – pants on your legs, shirts on your torso. The key here is to dress in layers that can be easily removed or added to adjust to the weather and your core temperature.
Price range: $25 – $100
#5 Water Storage
Why you need it: No matter how strenuous of a hike you have planned, you’ll want to carry more water than you might expect to need. Whether it’s with a hard-plastic bottle like a Nalgene or a water bladder with a drinking tube, carrying drinking water while hiking is a must.
How to use it:A hard-plastic bottle is fairly straightforward in how to use it, but a bladder can be a bit trickier. Bladders will generally slide into a compartment on your daypack or in a pack specifically made to hold it so that you can carry it on your back as you hike. The tube then runs out the pack and can generally be hooked to a shoulder strap for easy access.
Price range: $10 – $45
Why you need it: A backpack will help you carry and organize all of your gear. With many designed specifically for hiking, made of durable materials and tailored in both size and functionality, a good backpack can make it feel like you’re hardly carrying anything at all.
How to use it: While you’ll use it just the same as any other backpack, you’ll want to make sure that you’re getting one that fits your needs. Some models can be a bit extravagant in their designs and features, so make sure you aren’t buying more backpack than you need for the hiking you’ll be doing.
Price range: $30 – $100
#7 Sun Protection
Why you need it: As with any other outdoor activity, you’ll want to be cognizant of the sun and its effects on your skin. This can mean wearing a long sleeve shirt, but more likely means using some type of sunscreen if the weather is warm enough.
How to use it: Just like any other time you would use sunscreen, you should be applying and reapplying fairly regularly. Sunscreen doesn’t last forever, and if you’re going to be sweating, you’ll want a variety that can stand up to that.
Price range: $10 – $25
Why you need it: Similar to the need for sunscreen, a hat can help to keep the sun off of your face as you hike, eliminating the need to apply sunscreen there. In colder weather, a knit hat can help you to stay warm and retain body heat.
How to use it: On your head, like all other hats. Similar to the backpack, be careful to not get a hat that’s more extravagant than you need. Anything that keeps the sun off your face or keeps you warm in the cold will suffice.
Price range: $15 – $30
#9 Rain Gear
Why you need it: Depending on when and where you’re hiking, the weather might be unpredictable and rain can roll in quickly. Getting caught in the rain midway through a hike without rain gear can be a miserable experience, and also an unsafe one. Rain gear can also double as a great shell layer in case the weather gets windier or colder than expected.
How to use it: As with the other clothing options on this list, there is a wide variety in price and features when it comes to rain gear. Some jackets will be incredibly light, thus not weighing you down when you aren’t using them, but the lighter the gear, the pricier it will be. Make sure to get rain gear that fits your needs and budget.
Price range: $30 – $200
#10 Bug Repellant
Why you need it: Depending on when and where you hike, bugs might be a constant annoyance that you’ll face throughout your whole hike. You’ll want to combat them with some form of repellant to prevent them from getting eaten alive while you hike.
How to use it: Bug repellant can come in a few varieties, from sprays to wipes and wristbands, and will vary in strength and capabilities by brand and type. For backwoods hiking, you’ll want a heavier duty type that contains some amount of DEET.
Price range: $5 – $15
#11 Utility Knife
Why you need it: A utility knife can come in handy for a variety of reasons. Whether you find a need to cut a rope or cord down to size or simply to open the packaging on your lunch, a utility knife can accomplish a number of things in a compact tool.
How to use it: Depending on the utility knife you decide to get, you might have a lot of additional tools and features to learn how to use properly. Make sure when buying that you know what features you’re getting and if they’reabsolutely necessary.
Price range: $15 – $75
#12 Light Source
Why you need it: Having a light source like a flashlight or headlight is a must for anyone going into deeper backwoods areas. Getting caught out past dark without a light source is a good way to make your situation go from bad to worse, and can help you both find your way out or signal for those who might be looking for you in the event you get lost.
How to use it: Be sure to get one that is lightweight and packs easily. A headlight is ideal, as this will allow you to keep your hands free. Always be sure to check the batteries before going and pack extras if needed.
Price range: $15 – $30
#13 Emergency Kit
Why you need it: The name of the game when it comes to spending time outdoors is to be prepared for anything. One way of doing this is to carry an emergency kit of sorts. These can contain any number of things, including an emergency blanket, first aid materials, and duct tape.
How to use it: Ideally, you don’t ever have to use this. That said, it’s always a good idea to pack it once and just leave it in your pack. If you don’t unpack it, you can’t forget to bring it.
Price range: $15 – $45
#14 Fire Starter
Why you need it: You can log this in the emergency prep category, as, ideally, you don’t find a need to start a fire on your day hike. That said, this is an inexpensive, lightweight piece of equipment that could save your life if you find yourself lost and having to spend the night in the woods.
How to use it: This will vary depending on the kind of fire starter you get. Before going into the woods, be sure to acquaint yourself with how it works and make sure you can use it to actually get a fire going. Nothing is worse than getting into a situation where you need it to work to only realize you don’t know how to use it.
Price range: $5 – $15
#15 Water Filter
Why you need it: Carrying a way to purify water can be both a preparation tactic and a way of cutting down on how much weight you need to carry. If you’re planning a longer hike with ample water sources, you might decide that carrying water is unnecessary and that filling up at each water source is the better option.
How to use it: This will depend on the model you get, but most are fairly intuitive in how they work. If you’re getting one just for use while hiking, aim for a smaller, lightweight model.
Price range: $15 – $45
#16 Hiking Poles
Why you need it: Hiking poles can be a somewhat polarizing piece of equipment. Many people refuse to use them, but those who do swear by them. Hiking poles can add an extra point of stability when hiking and can help balance over trickier sections. Hiking poles can also come in handy as shelter supports in the event you have to spend a night in the woods.
How to use it: Using hiking poles is fairly straightforward, but you’ll want to avoid putting too much weight or trust in them. They aren’t designed to bear significant amounts of weight, and you should always use them as a balance rather than a support.
Price range: $20 – $65
#17 GPS Device
Why you need it: Anyone going out on a longer hike into the backwoods can benefit from the security that a GPS device provides. While the ability to use a map and compass should always be the first resort, having a GPS device in places where cell service is nonexistent can be a lifesaver.
How to use it: This will vary by model, but many new models are fairly user-friendly. Get acclimated with your device before going into the woods, and determine if you need to download anything beforehand. Many models will also let you download your own tails via specific file types.
Price range: $75 – $300
Why you need it: Anyone who has spent a sunny day outside without sunglasses knows that constant squinting can quickly become unbearable and headache inducing. Additionally, it’s unsafe for your eyes to be exposed like that for extended periods of time.
How to use it: Don’t overthink this. You know how to use a pair of sunglasses. In addition, you’ll want to consider the possibility of them falling off your face at some point. Whether this leads you to buy a more expensive and rugged pair or a pair you won’t mind having to replace is up to you.
Price range: $15 – $100
Why you need it: Admittedly the first piece of gear on this list that can be considered a luxury item, a good camera can help you capture the natural beauty that caused you to venture into the woods in the first place.
How to use it: Consider taking a photography course before really digging into hiking with your camera. This will help you learn how to operate your camera better and how to get the best photos out on the trail.
Price range: $100 – $500
#21 Low Gaiters
Why you need it: These are a fairly niche piece of gear, but can make a world of difference if you frequently hike in wet areas.
How to use it: Designed to keep water from running down into your boot, gaiters act as a sort of stirrup-style ankle cover. With a strap that runs under the heel, gaiters use an elastic band to suspend around the calf.
Price range: $25 – $60
#22 Camp Chair
Why you need it: A camp chair for hiking? Come again? If you’re at all like me though, you might design some of your hikes around a destination, making them a sort of daytrip. Maybe you hike to a beautiful outlook to watch the sunset, or maybe a lake to spend an afternoon. This is where a lightweight camp chair comes in handy.
How to use it: Most lightweight models can fold up pretty compactly and be strapped to the outside of your pack.
Price range: $30 – $100
Why you need it: In addition to helping you remain fashionable while on the trail, a bandana can serve a number of purposes, including as a sweatband, a washcloth, and an emergency tourniquet.
How to use it: You can either keep one in your pack or wear one as a headband. Either way, you’ll have it in case another need arises.
Price range: $5 – $15
#24 – Paracord Bracelet
Why you need it: A paracord bracelet is a great way to make sure you have a key emergency material on you at all times.
How to use it: Designed in a braid that helps to compact the length of the cord, a paracord bracelet packs an extended length of cord into a wearable bracelet. Simply cut the cord at one end to unravel the bracelet and give yourself an emergency cord to use.
Price range: $10 – $20
#25 Lightweight Towel
Why you need it: Similar to the camp chair, you might be hiking to a destination that offers the possibility of going to for a swim. If so, you’ll want a lightweight towel that can help you dry so you aren’t relying entirely on the sun to do it.
How to use it: How fancy of a towel you get will depend on your budget and willingness to carry more bulk and weight. Some towels are ultra-light for their drying capacity, while others are bulkier and less efficient.
Price range: $10 – $50