The Beginner Hiker’s Guide To Day Hiking And Walking Gear
This Beginner Hiker’s Guide To Day Hiking And Walking Gear is put together with hikers in the UK in mind:
The weather in the UK is pretty notorious for being, umm a bit ‘unpredictable’ (aka varying degrees of wet!), so this guide is all about making your gear as versatile as possible
And, of course, to help you give some thought to your budget and what you need to prioritise.
It also explains all those hiking gear terms you’ve probably heard of but aren’t sure what they mean! Then there are suggestions for different clothing options for different scenarios as well as a section on what to pack for a day hike in the UK. This section includes a free downloadable checklist – and a guide to choosing which rucksack to pack it in!
Adventure awaits, so let’s get into it!
- 4 Things All Beginner Hikers Need To Consider
- Hiking Clothes And Waterproofs – underwear/socks, base-layers, mid-layers, warmth, waterproofs, recommended brands
- Walking Boots And Shoes (and gaiters)
- Outdoor Equipment For Beginner Hikers, women’s fit rucksacks, waist packs
- 11 Essentials Beginner Hikers Need To Pack For A Day Hike – including a free download: The Day Hiker’s Packing Checklist
- Accessories Beginner Hikers Will Love, water bottles/bladders, walking poles, mobile apps, navigation, phone battery, multi-tool
When you’re a beginner hiker it can be so hard to know where to start. Maybe you’ve done some fun walks around the UK on your holidays, or you’ve started walking more at home and want to kick it up a notch and hike in some new places.
If this is the case you’re probably wondering what you might need now and what you can upgrade later on. This guide is designed to help you figure that out, so first off you need to ask yourself a few questions.
4 Things All Beginner Hikers Need To Consider
Clarify Your Ambitions!
Let’s face it, deciding what you need can be a bit of a nightmare, especially if you don’t know anyone with more experience. Outdoor stores can be really helpful, but there’s nothing better than over all first-hand experience. And in my experience,
You’ll make the best choices if you know what you expect your gear to do
This is why I recommend you answer these 4 simple questions to help you clarify what this might be :
- Where do you plan to walk?
Beside lakes and rivers, fells, mountains, woodlands, coastal paths, countryside?
Answering this question will help you decide on things like how much warmth you’ll need, what type of shoes will be most appropriate and so on
- How often do you plan to walk to begin with?
A day walk every weekend? Longer distances when you can? Regular weeks away?
This will help you decide how durable you’re clothes need to be. Regular walking in rough country might call for more durable trousers for eg
- How many miles do you hope to do on a day hike?
You might not be planning long distances at this stage, but if you are it might mean you get more variable weather during the day. This means you’ll need to think about carrying spare clothes for extra warmth, or perhaps give more attention to the type of shoes you wear
- What time of year do you plan to start? More to the point, what type of weather do you expect?!
Weather in the UK varies a lot, but you can usually expect rain at any time of year. It’s colder the higher or further north you go too. And of course, the higher you go the warmer your gear needs to be
Your answers will help you decide what you should wear for beginner hiking, but this guide assumes you’re not going to head into the fells and mountains in winter just yet, so let’s get into the details.
Hiking Clothes And Waterproofs
Hiking clothes and waterproofs are often broken down into 3 or 4 categories. Working from the inside out these are:
- Base layers, including underwear
- Warmth and windproof
Underwear And Socks
A sports bra is much more comfortable for hiking than the everyday underwired affair. They offer significantly more support and ‘racer-back’ styles ensure the straps stay in place. You can get mesh-type fabrics to help wick away sweat, even merino wool (see below) for its anti-bacterial, wicking properties.
Make sure there are no buckles or bulky seams that will sit under your rucksack straps – the friction can be really painful.
As for specific knickers for hiking or walking in, wear whatever you find comfortable at this stage (but try and avoid cotton as it doesn’t dry out). Consider something that doesn’t ride up every time you climb over a stile though (shorts-style for men for eg).
In time you might want to upgrade to a merino pair that wick sweat and (crucially) have antibacterial properties, which means you won’t stink!
Once again, avoid cotton. There’s a huge choice of sock types available from waterproof to toe-socks and you can find more info in my guide 23 Ways To Care For Your Feet On A Hike Or Long Distance Walk.
Other Base Layers
Base layers generally refer to thermal layers, which could be important at particular times of year or on higher ground like moorland, fells or mountains.
And some of us just get cold more easily in any weather! You might decide on long or short sleeve tops and/or leggings, and they come in various weights too.
The ‘be all and end all’ of thermal layers are clothes made from merino wool. Its warmth to weight ratio is renowned and it has natural anti-bacterial and wicking properties too. The downside is that it’s expensive.
Never fear though, there are more affordable synthetic fabrics (or mixtures of merino and synthetic), which might suit the beginner hiker’s budget much better. Just be sure to buy a specific wicking fabric, which means that moisture is drawn away from your skin to the outer layers.
There’s nothing worse than feeling damp (wet even), which also makes you cold when your activity level drops (when you stop for a break for example).
Hiking Mid Layers
A hiking mind layer top is the layer you’d usually wear over your thermals in cooler weather, or perhaps the only layer on a warm summer’s day. There’s a wide choice from long or short-sleeved t-shirts to more traditional shirts, which can be quite versatile if they have roll-up sleeves (and collars to protect your neck in strong sun).
Whichever you prefer make sure you go for something that has a lot of stretch, especially if you choose to wear a shirt (something specific for hiking rather than travel).
Don’t forget to go for something with those all-important wicking properties too, especially if you’re planning to wear it over a base layer
Shorts or long trousers, maybe even leggings? Or possibly the more versatile choice of trousers with zip-off lower legs, turning them into shorts? Another good option for spring or autumn is 3/4 length trousers.
There are a lot of things to consider that will affect your comfort including the weather and terrain
Always look for stretchy fabrics to make climbing over styles or boulders easier. But also consider durability. If you’re planning to hike over bouldery terrain for example there are options to buy trousers with reinforced panels over the knees and bottom. And,
Here’s a tip you’ll thank me for: if you know you’re going to be wading through drifts of bracken make sure you wear trousers (whatever the weather) to keep the ticks off your skin!
Other choices include insulated trousers for extra warmth, even leggings. Be aware though, that although leggings are really comfortable they’re not often the warmest or even windproof option, so definitely give this some thought.
It makes sense to pack something for extra warmth at any time of year, even if you don’t need to wear it when you head out. (Think about being out later than you expect, for example, or a change in weather.)
Options include soft shells, fleece tops or padded jackets for your top half and insulated (often fleece-lined) trousers for your legs
Tops come in different weights for different scenarios, and equally, you can choose to go with or without a hood, long sleeves or a gilet.
Choose something that allows you to regulate the warmth, and of course offers breathability
A zipped fleece, for example, whether it’s just a short zip at the neck on a jumper style or full zip, offers the opportunity to cool down without taking the layer off completely.
Another thing you might consider is a windproof garment, which again comes with different purposes in mind. You could check out a softshell for autumn or a lightweight jacket that’s easily packable in summer.
And don’t forget a hat, gloves and a scarf or buff
Naturally, you can buy technical hats (including caps) and gloves too, but they might not be worth the investment at the moment.
There is one very versatile, affordable ‘technical’ item that’s always worth having, and that’s a Buff
Wear it as a scarf, a hat or a headband.
Never go out without them!
There’s a minefield of choice here from the budget to the super technical – and it mostly comes down to cost and the suitability for your terrain and activity level. Here are some pointers, but your local outdoor store should be able to give you expert advice. And if they can’t? Walk on!
Gore-tex is the waterproof brand everyone’s heard of. The fabrics come in an impressive array, from lightweight Paclite for easily packable jackets and over-trousers (ideal for UK summers), to Gore-tex Active and hard-wearing fabrics for mountaineering.
There are other waterproof fabric brands too, such as eVent and Pertex. All these fabrics are extremely waterproof with varying degrees of breathability, but they come at a premium.
Fortunately for the beginner hiker, other outdoor brands produce their own waterproof fabrics, Sprayway’s HydroDRY for example, and there are plenty of others. (I had some Sprayway waterproof trousers that worked brilliantly for years.)
The way to compare waterproofing capabilites to is look at the ‘hydrostatic head’ info that you’ll find on the label
The higher the number (in mm) the more waterproof the product is likely to be (but it’s also less breathable). And, of course, your outdoor retailer will be able to advise the suitability for the terrain and weather. (This is a really easy to understand guide to Hydrostatic Head from Rab, which is worth a read before you visit your retailer).
Waterproof Jackets And Over-Trousers
First off, you need both if you’re planning to go hiking regularly. Lightweight ones are ideal for summer (and you can go for a lower hydrostatic head), but you might want something more hardwearing and warm for other seasons.
As usual there’s a lot of choice, but,
What beginner hikers need to know is to choose something that allows for plenty of movement and a way to control temperature and moisture
‘Pit zips’, 2-way zips down the front of jackets, and adjustable cuffs for example. Even over-trousers offer long zips along the sides that allow you to partially open them for ventilation (as well as get them on and off without taking your boots off).
Of course, you want a jacket with a hood too – go for one with a peak to keep the rain out of your eyes. You can be sure of a good fit if you choose one that you can adjust (front to back as well as around the face) with an elastic pull. You can also buy jackets with stowaway hoods if you prefer not to have them floating around when you don’t need them.
Perhaps my best piece of advice though is to choose waterproofs with the minimal amount of zips and closures that you need (including pockets). This is because the fewer openings you have the less chance there is of water ingress.
A Note On Colour
Colour? That’s a fashion choice surely? Well, yes and no! From a practical point of view, bright colours are preferable. Imagine you get lost or you’re injured and you need the help of a rescue service – you’ll be much easier to spot in a bright red jacket than, say, a navy one. Hopefully, you won’t be caught in this situation, but it’s best to be prepared!
My Recommended Hiking And Waterproof Clothing Brands
I’m not going to go into a massive list of everything available, but,
Here are a few brands that I’ve used for hiking in the UK and would recommend
- Craghoppers– great stretchy trousers and shorts for a good price
- Berghaus– I’m currently using Gore-tex Paclight overtrousers, and have had a Paclight jacket in the past that lasted years (and a fleece or two as well)
- Rab– currently wearing a Cirrus gilet, which I really love (and you can see in the photos)
- Mountain Equipment– brilliant shorts, trousers, waterproof jacket – loved them all
- The North Face – nowadays they do a lot of ‘street-wear’ so be sure to choose their technical gear, which is great. I’m wearing some amazing lightweight, quick-drying trousers at the moment, but have had other garments in the past too
Walking Boots And Shoes (And Gaitors)
Once again, there’s a whole lot of choice and I go into detail in another article (also suitable for beginners): 23 Ways To Care For Your Feet On A Hike Or Long Distance Walk.
You can also check out a couple of my reviews for trail runner type shoes here: Salomon OUTline Women’s GTX hiking shoes, Salomon OUTline Hiking Shoes V Salomon OUTline hiking shoes.
A Note On Gaiters
They might look a bit weird but they’re awesome for keeping your feet and lower legs dry as well as protecting your trousers. They can really make your gear more versatile and again, I go into more detail in the article mentioned above.
You Might Also Like
Outdoor Equipment For Beginner Hikers
Rucksacks (Day Sacks)
If you’re going for a larger volume day sack a specific women’s fit takes into account our different hips and chest needs, which undoubtedly makes them 100% more comfortable
Whichever volume you prefer choose a style with lots of adjustments – you can buy different back lengths as well as adjustments for your shoulders, hips, and chest. A good retailer will show you how to fit your rucksack, but it’s a good idea to take everything you need for your walk to the store with you (eg binoculars, guides, maps, lunch) so that you can try them on fully loaded. (Some stores also have weights that you can use for this purpose.) Even if you ultimately decide to buy your rucksack online, make sure you get a fitting first.
When I head out for a full day-hike I use my Osprey Tempest rucksack, that I highly recommend to beginner hikers
Mine has a 30L capacity which gives me plenty of extra space when I need it (for drawing equipment and sketchbooks, for example). It’s lightweight and robust and so comfortable I don’t know it’s there, even when it’s full to capacity.
I believe there are smaller capacity versions available too. It’s not the cheapest option, but it’s really hard wearing and has lasted years.
Some rucksacks come with integral rain covers in a small pouch at the bottom of the sack and these are perfect – if it’s already attached you won’t forget to take it with you! However, some brands (Osprey for example) sell their rain covers separately, which obviously adds to the cost.
If you’re buying a separate rain cover, I recommend choosing one in a bright colour with some reflective material on the back. Why? Because it’s really handy if you have to do some road walking in low light or at night – and you can use it even if it’s not raining.
Waterproof Stuff Sacks
These are a really good alternative to rain covers. They come in different volumes, some big enough to be called ‘rucksack liners’ and others small enough to make sure your essentials (like your electronics) are always protected.
Lumbar packs, or waist packs as they’re also known, are worn around the waist with a comfortable padded strap much like you’d find on a rucksack. (Larger versions often have an optional shoulder strap too.) Obviously,
They have less volume than rucksacks (6-9 litres is average), but they could be a good option for shorter walks or ‘fast and light’ hikers
They come with various options including mesh water bottle holders (some with bottles too), side zip pockets and plenty of zipped back and inside pockets. You can expect to fit a lightweight jacket, your essentials (like phone, wallets and keys), a small first aid kit and snacks inside. If you’re lucky you can find larger versions that can also take lightweight over-trousers, hats and gloves and lunch.
I have a larger North Face one that I’d have for years and really love, but it doesn’t seem to be manufactured anymore. Other reputable brands that sell waist packs include Osprey, OMM and Montaine, available from companies like Ultralight Outdoor Gear and Cotswold Outdoors.
As well as being great for carrying less on shorter hikes they have added benefit like keeping your back free from the heat of a rucksack on warm days.
11 Essentials Beginner Hikers Need To Pack For A Day Hike
Whatever else you need, never head out without these:
- Food and Snacks
- Extra Clothes – including waterproofs, hat/cap gloves, Buff, sunglasses etc
- First Aid – don’t forget suncream, insect repellent, tick remover, personal medication
- Head Torch (you might get caught out and finish late in the day
- Route Map and Compass
- Guide Book
- Emergency Numbers
- Emergency whistle – these are often integral on the chest strap of your rucksack
- Hi-Viz (useful if you’re walking on the road or need to be found by emergency services)
- Spare shoe-laces (useful for all sorts of temporary emergency repairs)
- Personal alarm
Never leave your sandwich in the fridge again and print off your free packing checklist for day hiking!
Accessories Beginner Hikers Will Love
Because who doesn’t love something extra!
Water Bottles Or A Bladder?
This really comes down to preference I think.
Bladders are useful because theyr’e lightweight and have a larger capacity, but they have one big disadvantage: you don’t know when your water’s running low!
It’s true, a bladder can offer a larger capacity and the tube makes it easy to sip water on the go, which might make it a tempting choice. However, there’s nothing wrong with carrying a couple of water bottles instead!
There’s a huge array, from wide-mouthed, easy to fill varieties (good for filling with ice for example), some come with straws, others are insulated which will keep your water cool in hot weather…ad infinitum! But how about just re-using a couple of plastic bottles instead?! Water bottles can be ridiculously expensive, so this is an easy way beginner hikers can keep costs down.
Beginner hikers might not think these are essential, and depending on the terrain you’re planning to hike, you might be right. However,
If you’re planning on longer walks, or in more ‘technical’ terrain (bouldery or lots of uneven steps for example), even thick mud or bog – they can be a godsend
They’re excellent for balance but especially good for taking the weight off your knee and hip joints. This is because some of the weight is transferred to your arms.
They’re also useful for gauging the depth of a bog or bashing back overgrowth on narrow paths!
They come in all sorts of variations, but lightweight, collapsible styles make them easy to carry in your side-pockets when you’re not using them.
Mobile – Nav Apps
You should never rely on electronic navigation in case you lose your phone or you run out of battery but they’re brilliant for planning your route before you go
This is because they can tell you the distance, elevation, how long it might take you, even amenities along the way. Most apps also have routes you can explore that other users have uploaded.
There are some great apps out there to explore, including OS Maps App, Viewranger, Kamoot, etc. Try their free versions before you commit!
Take a good, detailed map with your route marked on it – waterproof maps mean you can mark your route and wipe it off when you’re done
A compass should always be with you, but especially in open terrain – make sure you know the basics at least. There are lots of online tutorials (including Ordnance Survey) suitable for beginner hikers, especially if you don’t want to go on a course at this stage. Practice in familiar territory.
Extra Phone Battery
I always find this useful – especially when I take video clips that drain my phone pretty quickly. Don’t forget your cable!
An all-round tool, like a small Swiss Army knife, is a great addition to your first aid kit when it comes with tweezers and scissors. And of course, it comes in handy for any number of unexpected things along the way.
Get Your Kit On And Get Outside!
Right about now you should have everything you need to know about hiking gear for beginners, and I hope you’re inspired to get outside and get walking! If you’ve got any more questions though, feel free to leave them in the comments below and I’ll help as best I can.
Don’t forget to download The Day Hiker’s Packing Checklist!
Have You Got A Tip Or Recommendation For Beginner Hikers?
Share your experiences with us too and let us know what clothing advice you’d give to beginner hikers. Did you make any mistakes when you first started out, or did you get your kit right from the off? We’d love to know!
Psst, Before You Head To The Hills
If you’ve found this guide useful, why not support me to write more? You can keep me going as I sit at my laptop beavering away in a cafe and buy me a coffee for £3 over on my Ko-fi page – I love a cappuccino, thank you!! (Ko-fi is where I share regular mini-updates as well, head over and follow me there too, it’ll be lovely to keep in touch.)
Another great way to help out is to share this guide on your favourite social media apps – and pin me to your favourite Pinterest board of course!
Thank you so much, I really appreciate it.