Yes, you could just throw on any old pair of shoes and go hiking, but this is truly a bad idea. Hiking is sometimes underestimated, many people group it into the same category as 'going for a walk'... But if you don’t use hiking gear designed specifically for the job, you might find the going gets tough, and you could even get into a spot of trouble.
So you’re probably wondering what you need to start hiking. The great thing about hiking is that it’s relatively cheap to get set up, and once you’ve got the clothing, footwear, and essentials it’s fairly cheap to maintain your gear.
And the best part? There’s no door charge for the great outdoors!
So what exactly do you need to start hiking or bushwalking? Well, a basic one-day hiking gear list might look something like this...
To use this gear list at home, just right click, save the image and print out a hard copy!
Now that list is pretty long, but don’t freak out just yet. If you are just going out on your first few short, day hikes (1 – 2 hours), you can get away with packing only the necessary clothing and essentials. It all comes down to where you are hiking and the facilities that are available to you.
Now that you have an idea of what you need, we are going to look at some of the items on this list in a bit more detail starting with the most important item of all, your shoes.
Hiking Boots & Shoes
The most important item in any hiker’s kit bag: your shoes are your vehicle to the outdoors.
A good pair of hiking boots or shoes should have strong arch support, a thick, durable sole with plenty of grip, and in the case of boots, plenty of support around the ankle. Hiking shoes come in different styles, suited to different environments and climates. Synthetic boots are typically suited to warmer, wetter environments, whereas full leather hiking boots are great for cold / snowy conditions.
If you are hiking in summer on fairly flat terrain, low cut shoes will do fine.
Most importantly, your boots need to fit really well. You’re going to be spending quite some time in your hiking boots, so try on a few different styles before settling on your first pair.
It might surprise you to learn that hiking socks are very different from any other pair you got at Xmas. While you certainly can wear a pair of casual socks, they just don’t offer the benefits of a hiking specific model.
Hiking socks are constructed with additional padding at the heel and at the ball of the foot, they are usually thicker, and are also better at wicking away moisture from your feet, helping to prevent you feeling sweaty and uncomfortable.
They are available in different thicknesses suited to different temperatures, so it's good to pick up a few different pairs in different weights so that you've got all possible conditions covered.
Don’t forget to pack a second pair to change into when your first pair, well, needs changing...
Hiking shorts / zip-off pants
If the weather is warm any pair of shorts will do, but if you prefer to wear long pants while hiking, a product designed by outdoor gear specialists is the way to go. Hiking shorts and hiking pants are incredibly versatile: you’ll find that they are great for other sports and outdoor activities as well.
Hiking shorts are usually made from lightweight, quick-dry materials that help you stay you cool and dry while keeping the wind and rain at bay with some degree of waterproofing.
We know what you’re thinking...“Really? Zip-off pants?”
We thought that too at first, because to be honest, zip-off hiking pants are really not very cool. But ‘cool’ in the outdoors is different to ‘cool’ in the big city, so get over it!
In the outdoors is all about fit and functionality, not fashion. And besides, zip-off pants have so many pros they are hard to turn down.
Quickly transform from pants into shorts (and vice versa)
Protect your legs from scrapes and stings
Feature many pockets for storing accessories
And best of all they (almost) look like real pants.
Quick dry shirts & clothing
Modern synthetic clothing materials are great at keeping you cool in hot conditions and dry quickly when they get wet. Many hikers, backpackers, and climbers choose long sleeve shirts constructed from quick-dry materials. They are sturdy yet lightweight, and can be washed and dried, ready for the next day’s adventures.
Thermal base Layers, mid Layers, and jackets
Layering is an essential technique for any outdoor enthusiast to learn. Base layers are great, even in warmer conditions as they can be used to insulate and wick moisture, but also can be worn on their own.
Throw a mid-layer fleece on over that, and wrap up in a hard outer shell and you’re layered.
Check out our article on “how to layer clothing in the outdoors” for more info.
Gloves and hats
Capping off the list of clothing items you’ll need are the accessories, such as gloves, hats, and sunnies — not always used on every trip, but always in your pack just in case.
Keep your extremities warm, keep the sun off your head, and keep the glare out of your eyes helping you to see changes in the trail and spot wildlife.
After your boots, your backpack is your most important item. A good backpack should fit you well, and have enough storage space for a day trip at least. Backpacks are rated based on their carrying capacity in litres. If you are just getting into hiking, 30 litres should be plenty for one day trips.
The main things to look out for are solid seam and zip construction, adjustable hip and shoulder support straps, and compartments for your smaller items.
Our gear expert Tim Ottaway delves in to the process of choosing a backpack in our handy guide.
Water bottles and hydration reservoirs
Heat exhaustion is one of the most common ailments experienced outdoors, and dehydration plays a massive part. It’s vital that you take enough water to last you for the duration of your trip, plus some extra in case things don’t go to plan. Reusable water bottles and hydration bags are the best choice for carrying your water with you on a hike. It’s also a great idea to take a small stove, a UV water purifying device, or water purification tablets on longer journeys so you can refill on the go.
Switching to a reusable water bottle is a life choice that benefits you on your hiking trip, but one that's good for the planet as well.
Whatever it is you do in the great outdoors, you should always have first aid equipment with you. Personal first aid kits are small enough to fit into a side compartment of most day packs for quick access if something should go wrong. You’ll be surprised at how often you tap into your kit for minor ailments such as scrapes and blisters, and other common outdoor injuries.
Food, sunscreen, insect repellent
Some items should go on any gear list, regardless of how experienced you are, or your destination. Make sure you always have enough food for your journey; you’ll be expending a lot more energy than you would while walking your dog, so be sure to pack plenty of snacks. And of course, don’t forget your sunscreen, and insect repellent!
Your phone will only get you so far in the great outdoors. Rather than relying on your phone’s applications, try to use it as a last resort. Instead learn to use technologies that don’t require power. Basic compass and map techniques are invaluable to any keen hiker and might just save you if you get disoriented. Triangulation is a great skill to learn to help you pinpoint your exact location in the wilderness.
To go one step further, you might consider getting advanced outdoor navigation equipment such as a satellite phone, or handheld GPS device.
Additional accessories / items
Plenty of hikers have hit the trail with every intention of returning before nightfall, and ended up getting lost. Make sure you carry a handheld torch or head torch on every trip so you can find your way in the dark.
Having some cash in your back pocket is always a good idea, even if it’s just to grab a snack on the way home when you’ve really earned it. And small sowing kit – even just a needle and some thread – is a good addition and can take care of a huge range of minor gear problems.
You’ve probably seen hikers using these to stabilise themselves on long walks, and while it might seem strange at first, they really do help take the load off.
Hiking poles are fitted with stabilisers at the base which act like a spring, absorbing impact from each step. Using poles also transfers some of the effort to your arms, helping keep your legs fresh for longer, especially on the descent.
Pack smart, be flexible
This list is by no means all that you will need for multi-day adventures and is intended only to give you an idea of what you will need to get started. Make sure that you always pack enough for your trip, but also take into account that trip plans often change short notice so you need to be flexible. Plan your trip: make sure someone knows where you are going and when you expect to return, and establish a plan of action they need to take if your return is delayed.
Take the right gear, and have fun out there!