Hiking Essentials: Your Guide to the Must-Have Gear for a Successful Hike

If you are new to hiking, you might not know what gear you need. 

I’ll share the gear Robert and I have, why we selected it, and why we recommend it. We will also share the gear that we don’t have yet but feel is important to consider depending on your particular needs.

I’ve been hiking for over 20 years. In that time, I’ve really put some wear and tear on our gear and replaced everything multiple times. We selected a lot of our gear via trial and error. Hopefully, my tips will help you avoid some of our mistakes.

Keep reading to learn more about the hiking gear you need to get started.

As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

Table of Contents

Quick Note on Gear for Kids

If you plan on hiking with kids, you will need some gear, but it might not be the stuff I’m sharing for adult hikers. 

Of course, they make nearly everything I’m sharing in kid’s sizes. I sometimes wander into the kids’ section to score some deals. 

You might also be able to get some of this specialized gear for kids second-hand. That way, you won’t spend too much on clothing and gear that they will outgrow. 

Pregnant mother and son wearing hiking clothes and shoes while exploring Amicalola Falls State Park in Georgia.
My toddler wearing hiking base layers and hiking shoes during our camping trip at Amicalola Falls State Park in Georgia.

Gear for Hiking with Mobility Needs

Trekking poles and walking sticks can be a great place to start. They provide stability and the ability to test an area for firmness before moving forward.

There are also all-terrain rolling walkers or wheelchairs. Some state and national parks have all-terrain wheelchairs that can be reserved, so definitely ask about that before visiting. 

The list of mobility aids goes on. I found many resources on Cyber-Sierra’s website. Here are some of their recommendations:

Zoomability electric all-terrain wheelchair in action

Footwear & Socks

Do you need specialized footwear and socks to hike? Not really. All you really need to get started are closed-toe, sturdy walking shoes and socks that you like. 

Once you start hiking more, especially in muddy or rough terrain, I recommend getting waterproof hiking boots or hiking shoes. They are made to protect your feet from rough terrain and they’ll keep your feet dry (for the most part, at the very least, drier than in regular shoes). They typically have good traction, too, and that can come in handy on your treks. 

You’ll want hiking socks to go with your trail shoes and boots. I’ve tried to wear regular socks with my hiking shoes and ended up with a callus on my big toe! My foot was sliding around my boot and scraping that toe. When I wear my hiking socks, my foot stays put, and I don’t have any injuries. 

I wear these Smartwool hiking socks: https://amzn.to/3Ujh4TY.

These are my hiking shoes (yes, I wear kid’s shoes, lol): https://amzn.to/3JnFHZv. However, I recommend trying them in-store and talking to an expert. Also, I wear hiking shoes instead of boots because hiking boots never fit me right (thick ankles and boots don’t mix).

Mother and toddler exploring the ruins while hiking at Sweetwater Creek State Park in Lithia Springs, Georgia.
More than a decade ago hiking with my toddler at Sweetwater Creek State Park in Georgia wearing hiking shoes.

Clothing – This is a Doozy

At a minimum, I recommend wearing moisture-wicking layers, especially if you are hiking somewhere with elevation changes or fast-changing weather. You can basically wear anything moisture-wicking when you start out hiking, especially if you go during lovely days and ideal conditions at low elevations. 

Now that I hike mostly in Florida, I wear yoga pants, a sports bra, and another moisture-wicking top. When it’s colder out, I add a fleece layer on top. If you plan on hiking in Florida, check out my Florida Hiking blog post for tips and advice. 

Hiking Pants

When I hiked in Georgia and Colorado, I wore hiking pants and tops. Hiking pants are lightweight and have built-in sunblock (UPF 50+), moisture-wicking properties, and good pockets. 

The hiking pants I used converted into shorts. They weren’t cheap, but they were the only ones I had, so they were well worth the investment. They were also water-repellant and had tons of pockets. 

There are convertible hiking pants for men, too! My hubby had them and loved them. 

Hiking Shirts that I Wish I Had

I love a good hiking shirt with pockets and sunblocking abilities (UPF 50), that are convertible (roll up those sleeves), and, of course, moisture-wicking. Again, this specialized shirt is not cheap, but it is so versatile and can be used all season long – it’s worth considering. 

There are also hiking shirts for men with the same specs available. 

Base Layers

When hiking in the winter or during cold weather, I recommend wearing base layers. They will keep you warm, dry, and comfortable. I really enjoyed them when we would do winter walks and hikes in Colorado and Georgia. 

You might already have some things in your closet that may work. If you’re not sure where to start, check out this article: “How to Choose Base Layers,” from REI.

Father and toddler wearing winter hiking clothes and shoes at Amicalola Falls State Park in Georgia.
I don’t even know how many layers my toddler and husband are wearing here. But they are nice and warm and can peel off layers as they warm up.

Hiking Backpacks & Covers

You will most likely need a bag of some sort for hiking. You might think stuffing things in your pockets or carrying a water bottle in your hand is enough, but if you are serious about hitting those trails, a bag will make that hike much better.

A hiking backpack can be as simple as a hydration pack with a few extra sections for other supplies that I’ll talk about later on in this post. 

Some bags can hold a lot of stuff, like food and all the hiking gear you need for a full-day hike and beyond.

For new hikers, I recommend the hydration pack with extra sections. It’s nice and simple, and the pricing is decent, even if you buy one for all the hikers in your family. They sell kid’s sizes and even fanny pack ones. 

Hiking Backpack vs. Regular Backpack

I recommend getting a hiking backpack after you decide you want to keep hiking. Why? Because the material on a hiking bag is made for rough conditions like being set on rocky or gravel paths and is resistant to extra wear and tear from hiking trips. You don’t have to be so precious with them. Also, you don’t want your nice backpack that you use for other things to end up with stains or holes.

Why the Cover?

As much as we plan for fair-weather hikes, sometimes the weather changes and it ends up raining. The cover will keep your backpack and all its contents dry.

Costs

You can get inexpensive hiking backpacks starting at less than $20 all the way into the triple digits. As always, I recommend that if you are new, you should start out with a lower-cost product and then work your way up. If you find out that you are going to keep hiking, you can then go to a more expensive, highly-rated pack when it’s time to replace your old pack. 

A small group of hikers wearing hiking backpacks while trekking in the woods at Amicalola Falls State Park in Georgia.
Hiking with friends wearing our hiking backpacks.

Hiking Baby Carriers

If you love hiking and are expecting a baby, you might want to think about hiking carriers for your baby

We had one (almost exactly like this one), and we used it for both of our kids. We were able to sell it when our kids outgrew it. I recommend getting one with the largest weight capacity. Carrying a 30+ pound toddler in your arms will wear you out quickly. Having them on your back is much easier. 

And even if you have one that is interested in walking and running, they always get tired on the trails. The backpack carrier lets your toddler take a nap or just rest their legs while you continue your hike.

Costs

Baby carriers for hiking typically start in the $80 range and can go up to the $500s. I never had one that was that expensive – my cheaper one worked really well for me. Always do a bit of research on the best ones for your needs. 

Collage of mother and father smiling with their child in hiking backpack.
Get a backpack that grows with your child, like the one that we had.

Bear Spray & Bells

If you will be hiking in bear country, I suggest having bear spray and bells. Bears can be found anywhere in Florida. They even walk through neighborhoods and cross busy streets. Other states throughout the USA also have plenty of bears in the woods and backcountry. 

Bear Spray

Bear spray is like pepper spray but made for bears. It can come in small, easy-to-carry containers, but bigger containers are also available. 

Be careful about the wind direction when you spray. You don’t want to get it in your eyes, nose, or mouth! Just ask my hubby. Whoops.

Bear Bells

There are different kinds of bells. The ones we use can be attached to shoes, backpacks, or clothing with hook-and-loop fasteners. 

They can also be quieted so you aren’t jingling all the way to your hiking spot. And unlike the bear spray, you can’t hurt yourself with them.

I will say that sometimes, they do ruin the peacefulness that comes with hiking, so keep that in mind.

Pricing

Bear Spray

Like most of the other items on this list, pricing varies widely. This is the one that we use and we always keep it in our car so there’s no excuse for forgetting it. 

If you need something a bit cheaper, there’s one that runs around $26. It also has good reviews. 

Bear Bells

Unlike the bear spray, bear bells are much cheaper. The ones we have are only $6

Someone holds a green SABRE Frontiersman Bear Bell in their hand.
This is one of our 3 bear bells. They come in various colors.

Trekking Poles and Walking Sticks

Not only can these be used as weapons against wildlife (not to just randomly attack, but to protect yourself against an aggressive animal or person), but they can also help with balance and stability on the trails. 

Whether you have mobility needs or you just need them for muddy, icy, or steep hikes, they are great to have. 

We have both and take them when we are feeling tired or know the trail is a bit more challenging than just a casual nature trail. 

Father and kids sitting on a built-in bench on a boardwalk with trekking poles at Spruce Creek Park in Port Orange, Florida
Hubby and kids with trekking poles. Taking a break at Spruce Creek Park in Port Orange, Florida.

Sunblock/Sunscreen

Sunblock and sunscreen are a must whenever you are outside, especially on sunny days. Some hikes are shady, but we have found ourselves completely exposed before.

If you didn’t know, sunblock and sunscreen are not the same thing. The most obvious difference is that sunscreen goes onto the skin and blends in, whereas sunblock sits on the skin and is visible. There are other differences, too, and you can read about them in this Forbes Health article. 

We use sunscreen. 

Application Tips

Even if you are wearing layers, apply sunscreen. You might get hot during your hike, and removing those layers will leave your skin unprotected.

Remember to reapply. Sweating and water will wash away the product after a certain amount of time. There is nothing worse than thinking you are protecting your skin and ending up with a sunburn. 

Pricing and Recommendations

Like most things, you can get low-cost brands. Just make sure that whatever you get will work for your needs, skin sensitivities, and budget.

Walk and Paddle Family with walking sticks hiking at Meriwether Lewis National Monument in Hohenwald, Tennessee.
Obligatory trail selfie! If you look closely, you can see that Robert and I are both holding walking sticks.

Lip Balm with SPF

So often, we forget about our lips! The skin there is sensitive and requires SPF that is safe to use around this area. Lip balm with SPF will protect your lips and keep them nice and healthy all year long, including keeping them crack-free on those cold days. 

Badger makes a water-resistant lip balm that comes in a 4-pack! If you want to make a statement with your lip balm, consider buying this one.  

Hat

You probably already have a hat you can use on your hikes. The best hats are wide-brimmed with a strap or baseball caps (my favorite!). 

Regardless of what hat you choose, make sure it protects you from the overhead sun and stays secure on your head as you hike or if it’s a windy day. That way, you don’t have to chase down your hat or, worse, completely lose it! 

Not only will you get sun protection, but you will also be able to keep the brightness from hurting your eyes. I wear a hat for nearly all my hikes. 

Jessica Meinhofer, owner of Walk and Paddle, with her youngest at Spruce Creek Park in Port Orange, Florida.
Posing with my youngest and my hat!

Sunglasses

Like a hat, sunglasses help protect your eyes from the sun. Polarized sunglasses can also reduce glare. 

I’ve really loved being able to see clearly with my polarized lenses, especially if my hike takes me to a lake or other body of water that reflects sunlight. No squinting for me! 

I recommend purchasing a strap (aka eyewear retainer) to keep your sunglasses in easy reach and so that they don’t get lost. They are inexpensive too! 

Jessica Meinhofer, owner of Walk and Paddle, jumping in front of the Silver Springs Wings at Silver Springs State Park.

Insect Repellant

Insect repellant is optional, but I love having it here in Florida. Mosquitos and no-see-ums bite and can be present throughout the year in the woods and near the water. The last thing you want is to have a great hike ruined by bug bites!

Flying Biting Bugs

You can choose whatever works well for your needs and your skin sensitivities, but I really love NSBeachy MOSKEET-NO Natural Insect Repellent Spray. The best thing is that it actually works and doesn’t smell bad!!

Ticks

There are tons of options out there, but we actually just use Off! Deep Woods Tick Repellent. It’s gross, but not as gross as searching for ticks all over your body and your family. 

A tick on someones hand with the "No" circle with a line through it.

Headlamp

A headlamp is a good thing to have, especially if you will be hiking in the early morning or later in the evening. It will provide you with plenty of light even if the sun isn’t out. You don’t want to be out in the woods without any light. 

It’s about Safety

These are safety items, and hey, if you are a paddler or camper, you can use them during those activities, too. 

You can find these for pretty cheap, so it’s definitely one of the items to have, just in case. 

Jessica Meinhofer, owner Walk and Paddle, holding a flashlight while standing in a clearing in the woods.
Any flashlight will do!

GPS Tracker

You can probably just use your phone for this. Of course, depending on where you are hiking, you might not have service, and of course, your phone wasn’t necessarily designed for this type of activity or emergency response. 

You might be able to use the AllTrails or Strava apps on your phone, but whatever you choose make sure it has the ability to send an SOS signal.If you can’t use your phone, consider a standalone handheld GPS tracker like Garmin. You can read more from GPS Leaders about the reasons for having a separate GPS device here.

A Note on Pricing

There are all kinds of GPS trackers out there. Like so many things in life, they can vary in pricing. The starting price is around $150, and it goes up from there. 

Just do your research, and don’t buy the most expensive one right off the bat. Try a budget-friendly model and then upgrade if you know you’ll be using one regularly. 

Handheld GPS device for hiking.

Poop Bags – For You and Your Dog

You read that right, you need poop bags. Most trails don’t have toilets for you, and of course, your dog can’t use the facilities anyway. Remember, you gotta pack out whatever you bring in. Leave no trace. 

To bag or bury

If the idea of bagging your own poop is horrifying, you might be able to bury it instead, but you have to know when and where you can do that. So far, I’ve only had to worry about my dog’s poop, but here’s a great article from PACT Outdoor that can help you find out whether to bag or bury

A Note on Pricing

Dog poop bags are pretty easy to get, and you can get inexpensive ones (these are the ones we use). In a pinch, you can even use a plastic grocery bag. 

However, when it comes to poop bags for humans, I have no idea! I’m referring you to this article by Treeline Review about human waste bags to help you decide on what you need and how much it will cost. 

That’s All You Need

Hopefully I gave you a good, solid list of gear you need for hiking. 

Always start out small and simple and scale up if and when you need to.

Happy Hiking, my friends!

Leave a Comment