So you’re excited about going hiking, maybe you have even pencilled a date in the diary and chosen a route! But you’re still a little unsure what you need to take with you and what you need to wear.
Don’t worry you’re not alone.
If you’ve just started out hiking, then this list of hiking essentials is perfect for you to put your mind at ease, so you can be sure you are heading into the hills fully prepared! The list is also a good reminder for more experienced hikers.
Many novice hikers either take far too much stuff, making their packs unnecessarily heavy and uncomfortable, take all the wrong stuff, or worst of all…they take nothing at all!
The good news is you don’t need a lot of kit to go walking, which is why it one of the best ways for people to get outside and enjoy nature, but there are some items out there that can make the day easier, more comfortable, more enjoyable and potentially safer.
This kit list below is based on my personal experience as an adventure for 15+ years and as a qualified hiking guide. A lot of the items you hope you will never need, like emergency shelter, but in the event you get lost or injured, you will be so glad you have them.
Right, let’s get stuck into that list.
Small Backpack – I would recommend a pack that is somewhere between 20 litres and 35 litres, that you find comfortable when loaded. I would recommend a pack that has a waist strap/hip belt, as a hip belt places the load of the pack on your hips rather than your shoulders, making it much more comfortable. A chest strap can also add additional comfort by keeping the pack close-fitting.
Pack liner – (optional) An added layer of internal protection against the rain, particularly useful in the UK. Many backpacks come with a waterproof cover, these are okay but can often blow off in strong winds. I would recommend instead, or as well as, getting a large pack liner/drybag to go inside your backpack, to keep everything dry if rain is forecast. (A heavy-duty bin bag will do if you’re looking to save pennies!)
Walking Poles – (optional) Poles reduce the impact of walking on joints, add stability going up and downhill on tricky terrain and spread the weight of your pack. They are of either telescoping or folding design, and most rucksacks have external attachment points for carrying poles when not in use. I personally always use them, but many people will never hike with poles and others like to have just one pole with them to help on any steep descents. Just do whatever you are used to and comfortable with. However, if you’re thinking of some multi-day long-distance hikes in the future, where your pack weight will be heavier, then it’s worth having a go with poles and getting used to them.
Map & Compass – Never head out on a hike without a map and compass. They can help you know where you are in the event you get lost, or maybe you will need to take a detour from your planned route for a large flood or something. However, both a map and compass don’t do any good if you don’t know how to use them. If you are struggling to learn how to use them and are feeling apprehensive about heading into the hills then I recommend you hire a Mountain Leader / Hiking guide. They will not only keep you safe but can also show you the ropes so you will feel more confident on future hikes.
GPS – (optional) A GPS device is a good addition if you are heading into the mountains or moorlands, but you must still take a map and compass too. When a GPS is used in conjunction with a map and compass properly, you will have a pretty failsafe navigation system. Make sure you take spare batteries or a power pack to keep it charged
A Torch / Headtorch – You shouldn’t need this on most day hikes. However, it is an important piece of safety equipment in case of an emergency so always take it with you.
Sit mat – (optional) This is one of my favourite pieces of inexpensive hiking equipment. A folding foam sit mat costs just a couple of pounds and can prevent a wet, muddy bum when stopping for breaks and lunch.
Rubbish bag – I always suggest you bring a small rubbish bag with you, not only for your rubbish but also great if you can pick up any litter you saw on the route so that we leave the environment in a better state than we found it.
First Aid Kit – Please always take a first aid kit with you. Just have it in your bag and keep it there so you never forget it! While it’s unlikely that you will have an emergency, things like blisters, scrapes and cuts are more common, so make sure you have at the minimum; some sterile dressings, a bandage, paracetamol, blasters and some zinc oxide tape for blister prevention.
Safety / Repair Kit – It’s rare you would ever need it, but a mini repair kit can help you fix the unexpected, like a broken backpack strap or a broken shoe and prevent a ruined day! I would include; a fire source of waterproof matches or a lighter, a small knife or multitool, a spare lace, maybe some repair patches, some cable ties, and that oh so important gaffa tape. I tend to wrap the gaffa tape around my water bottle or trekking pole to save space, rather than having to pack a roll with you. You also want to include a whistle as it’s the easiest way of attracting attention in an emergency. Although many rucksacks now incorporate a safety whistle as part of the chest strap buckle.
Emergency Shelter – I always take a heat-reflective foil blanket with me, they weigh next to nothing and can be a lifesaver. Again just keep it your bag and never take it out, that way you will never forget it. If you are hiking in a group, then instead or as an addition, I would recommend taking a Bothy Bag shelter. Not only is it fantastic in an emergency to get everyone out of the elements, but it’s also good to get in for lunch on a bad weather day.
Hiking Clothing & Footwear
Having the correct clothing with you can be the difference between a wonderful days hiking and a very long miserable slog! The key to comfort is the principle of layering, adding or removing layers of clothing in response to changes in weather conditions and body temperature. Please don’t think you have to buy lots of ‘technical’ outdoor kit, you probably have plenty of suitable layers already.
Walking Boots or Approach Shoes – When walking all day and covering good mileage it is really important to have good support for your feet. A hiking boot will provide your ankle with more support and it will offer better protection in wet and muddy conditions, but if you are used to hiking in a specialist hiking trail shoe and feel comfortable with this then that’s OK. Please DO NOT hike all day with new boots that you have not sufficiently worn in, as the blisters will very likely ruin your day! If you have any hot spots that have blistered in the past, then I highly recommend buying some wide Zinc Oxide tape (Strappal) and pre-emptively tape your feet before you even leave the house.
Socks – Breathable hiking socks keep your feet ventilated as much as possible and provide some cushioning. I wear just one pair of mid-weight hiking socks, but some walkers opt to wear a pair of thin liner socks and a thicker outer pair. This is completely personal preference, so my suggestion is to go out and try walking in various socks on hikes of just a few hours to see what works well for you. Do not try new socks on a big day… blisters are a real spoiler.
Spare pair of socks – A spare pair ensures that a little rain doesn’t dampen your spirits.
Base Layer – This next-to-skin layer wicks away sweat to help keep you warm when it’s cold, cool when it’s hot and as dry as possible at all times. Long-sleeve or short-sleeve is down to personal preference, as is whether you choose a technical synthetic fabric or merino wool. Try to avoid cotton layers if you can, as stays damp and heavy and loses its insulating properties when it gets wet.
Mid Layer – Your mid layer’s breathability and thickness should be chosen based on the weather forecast, but a standard mid-layer would be a fleece or a softshell.
Outer Layer / Hard Shell – Your outer layer is your waterproof layer and your windbreak and should have a hood. This is the one piece of hiking kit that is worth investing in and spending a little bit more money on if you can. Gortex jackets are ideal.
Rain Poncho – (optional) If you are in any doubt of the waterproofness of your jacket, or if the weather forecast is predicting very long periods of heavy rain, then I would recommend considering a cheap plastic poncho to go over the top of everything (£10 – £12 hiking poncho on Amazon). You might not look great, but being wet through is no fun!
Insulated Jacket / Gilet – (recommended optional extra depending on the time of year)I would highly recommend having an insulated down or synthetic jacket in your bag as an additional mid-layer. This can be a useful spare layer for emergencies or to put on during rest stops.
Trousers – Lightweight yet rugged trekking trousers, made from a quick-drying fabric are a great choice, but if you don’t have any then you can also hike in sports/running leggings.
Waterproof Trousers – Waterproof trousers to go on top are essential if there is any chance of rain, plus they can also add an extra layer of protection from the wind on a cold day.
Gloves / Woolly Hat/ Buff – It’s advisable to pack a warm woolly hat or beanie, just in case temperature drops, and a warm pair of gloves as it could be chilly when you set off in the mornings. A buff is a great option, as it can be used to keep you warm or wick sweat and protect you from the sun.
Cap / Sun Hat – (optional) If you are lucky enough to be forecast with warm and sunny weather, then a peaked cap or brimmed hat would be recommended.
Sunglasses – Protect those eyes.
Food & Hydration
Hydration – You will need a couple of robust water bottles or a hydration reservoir/bladder that is capable of carrying up to 2 litres of water. Either is fine but you may find it easier to stay hydrated during active walks with a water bladder due to the ease of drinking on the move, but it’s a personal preference. I tend to carry just 1 litre of water at a time and work out before departure where in the day I will be able to refill. But if refilling is unlikely, then be prepared to carry 2 litres, as that should last you the whole day. If you are planning to refill in streams and springs that you know will be flowing, then you can pack a purification system like a Lifestraw or water purification tablets.
Flask / Hot drink – (optional) Personal preference, but a warm drink on a cold day can put a smile back on anyone’s face 🙂
Packed Lunch / Snacks – Take all your lunch items and snacks you need for the day. Don’t skimp on this, on a 6-8 hour hike you will be burning more calories than you think, especially if its cold. Also include a few emergency extras… never underestimate the restorative power of a little packet of Haribo :). There may be opportunities to buy additional goodies all on the way, but don’t assume this is the case, as a shop or pub may be unexpectedly closed and your morale will plummet.
Hygiene – Toilet paper, and a zip lock bag to store used paper in, hand sanitiser or wet wipes.
Sun cream – In the hope you have a beautiful sunny day.
Insect Repellent – Depending on the time of year and location of the hike.
Money – There ‘might’ be the opportunity to buy cake on the route, so have money with you just in case.
Charged Phone – Bare in mind there is often no phone signal up in the hills, so although it is good to take it with you don’t rely on it for navigation. I would also possibly take a small power pack to top up the charge, particularly if you will be using your phone as a camera, and don’t forget to bring the right cable to plug in your device.
Watch – If you’re anything like me, you probably use your mobile phone to tell the time these days. Well in the great outdoors it’s best to not rely on your phones battery life too much, so a traditional wristwatch would be advised.
PLB – (optional) A Personal Locator Beacon is very much an optional extra, as they are quite expensive, but if you find yourself heading into the mountains and moorlands on your own more and more it may be something you want to consider investing in. Whether its a Garmin InReach or a Spot tracker, they allow you to contact emergency services via satellite even when there is no phone signal. They can offer both you, and your friends and family, peace of mind when you’re heading to more remote locations.
Feel free to ask me any questions, happy to help where I can.
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