10 Mar The Absolute Beginner’s Guide To Hiking And Walking Gear
You’ve decided to take up walking and hiking? That’s brilliant news; you’re in for some great times ahead! What are you planning – regular walks, a challenging trek, a walking holiday? Whatever your goal beginner hikers need some specialist walking gear, right – and you’ve just discovered that all that Gore-Tex costs an arm and a leg… Well don’t let that put you off; there’s another way to get started.
Are you inspired to get out more and explore new and exciting places, or itching for a challenge? This guide for beginner hikers will help you prioritise your purchases and show you how to make your hiking gear more versatile. Without spending a fortune!
First Piece of Advice for Beginner Hikers
Don’t Go For A Walk With A Gear Snob!
There are hikers and walkers that are real ‘gear-snobs’ with very best of hiking gear that money can buy. If one of them happens to be your friend and tries to convince you you need all the latest kit before you step outside your door, ask them to do the decent thing and lend you theirs!
All that fancy gear isn’t necessary for a beginner hiker. You won’t be climbing Ben Nevis in winter conditions just yet! We all start something new at the bottom (quite literally in hill walking), which for the newbie hiker means the lowlands and valleys. You can wear much less technical clothing in this sort of terrain. So, before you head to the shops or hit the ‘pay now’ button take a few minutes to answer the following questions.
What All Beginner Hikers Need To Consider
4 Questions To Ask Yourself Before You Buy Anything
- Where do you plan to walk?
Beside lakes and rivers, woodlands, coastal paths, country lanes, footpaths, city streets?
- How often do you plan to walk to begin with?
A day walk every weekend? A few miles every other day? Longer distances when you can?
- How many miles do you think you’ll walk each week?
A day walk at the weekend might be 10 miles, or perhaps you’re thinking about walking 5 or 6 miles a couple of days a week, along with your usual 3 mile a day dog walks?
- What time of year do you plan to start?
More to the point, what type of weather do you expect? Cold and windy? Wet and blustery or dry and sunny (you’ll be lucky!)? Are you prepared to walk in ‘all weathers’ or are you going to stick to dry weather to begin with?
What Suitable Hiking Gear Do You Already Have?
Bear in mind your answers to the questions above and have a look through your wardrobe.
What have you got?
A comfortable pair of trainers
These are great for walking in most conditions the beginner hiker is likely to come across. In fact there’s even a sizeable group of experienced walkers and hikers that prefer trail running shoes for all types of walking. They’re much lighter weight and dry more quickly than traditional leather walking boots.
A waterproof or windproof coat
It doesn’t have to be the latest Gore-Tex model (see above!). Something to keep out the wind and keep you dry for a few hours on the trail will do just fine. If it’s got a hood, so much the better.
A fleece or a gilet
Great for an extra layer. If not, a wool jumper will do in the meantime (as long as it doesn’t get wet). At a push you can get away with a hoodie for a while (as long as you’re not getting too sweaty from exertion)
Trousers? Shorts? Leggings?
Jeans are a definite no-no! When they get wet they stay wet, which means you’ll get cold very quickly. Lightweight trousers or shorts are a better option. If you happen to have a pair of running tights or leggings tucked away, they’ll be perfect because they’re usually made of synthetic materials (which dry fairly quickly). Also, the Elastane in them makes them comfortable for climbing over stiles and the like.
Look at the care label. Is it cotton or linen? These fabrics are much more uncomfortable when they get wet because they take so long to dry. A sports type t-shirt (a running top for example), is a much better bet. The synthetic fibres are lightweight and dry quickly. Some of them are breathable too and good at wicking moisture away from the skin, which is just what you need in a base layer (the layer you wear next to your skin).
Hat, Scarf, Gloves
Doesn’t matter what they’re made of, you’ll always be warmer with them than without! And a standard baseball cap is ideal for keeping the sun off in the summer.
A sports bra is much more comfortable for hiking than the everyday underwired affair. They offer more support and ‘racer-back’ styles ensure the straps stay in place. Make sure there are no buckles or bulky seams that will sit under your rucksack straps – the friction can be really painful. This is probably the first thing to put on your ‘to buy’ list. Be comfortable from the bottom up!
As for specific knickers for hiking or walking in, wear whatever you find comfortable at this stage. Consider something that doesn’t ride up every time you climb over a stile though! 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!
How To Make Your Hiking Gear More Versatile
The best way to keep your initial investment costs down is to ensure your individual pieces of kit are as versatile as possible, and last as long as possible. Building a hiking kit can be fun and creative; this section will give you a few ideas to think about.
A combination of gaiters and waterproof socks is definitely worth considering if you've already got a decent pair of trainers or summer-style walking shoes. It'll cost you less than half the price of a pair of waterproof shoes and can last a whole lot longer. (I've had my well-used Gore-Tex gaiters 15 years!)
Feet You’ve found a half decent pair of trainers in the back of your wardrobe, but it’s autumn and you’re worried your feet will get soaking wet and thick with mud at this time of year. Time to buy some walking boots? No, there’s another way you may not have thought of…
A decent pair of waterproof walking shoes or hiking boots can easily cost upwards of £120. And they’ll last about 500 miles. That’s why you need to estimate how far you’ll walk to begin with – 15 miles a week over a year, is 780 miles!
are worn over your hiking shoes and will protect you from mud and water ingress around your ankles and through the laces. They cost from around £20 for a budget brand and average about £40. They’re a great addition to your kit even if you’ve got the latest high spec walking boots. Check out Waterproof gaiters on Amazon UK. (Links to a general page, not a specific recommendation.)
Another alternative is to buy a pair of waterproof socks. Depending on the style you buy they can cost from around £25 (average is more like £35). They come in various styles from lightweight ankle socks to thick knee-high hiking socks. Sealskinz is a reputable brand to go for. Have a look at Waterproof socks on Amazon UK.
A pair of waterproof over-trousers should be high on your ‘to buy’ list if you don’t already own a pair. We’re walking and backpacking in the UK: it rains! Rain may not be forecast, but the weather can change quickly and as well as keeping you dry they keep you much warmer in strong winds. But it doesn’t mean you have to spend a fortune to begin with.
I have a cheap-as-chips £20 pair of Mountain Warehouse over-trousers (yes, I said the MW words, so what Ms Gear Snob?!), which are perfectly adequate for some of my needs and would recommend to beginner hikers too. If I’m only going out for an easy 3 hour walk with the potential of one or two showers along the way, why do I need a pair of trousers that are designed for the worst winter weather the UK can throw at me? I don’t. If I’ve decided to go for a walk along the north Cornwall coast on a really windy day in November it’ll definitely be cold and some over-trousers will make me more comfortable, but I won’t need trousers that are suitable for an arctic freeze!
Be realistic, think about what you’re expecting from the clothes you need and how much, if anything, you want to invest to begin with. A £20 pair of over-trousers might be all you need to get you through the late spring and summer months. You’d be better off investing in a decent pair of gaiters at this time of year instead, saving your money to buy a good pair of over-trousers later in the year.
What Beginner Hikers Need To Carry
As well as your clothes you’re likely to need a small rucksack big enough to carry a few essentials, which should include:
- a set of waterproofs and an extra fleece, whatever the weather
- hat, gloves and scarf
- a sandwich and some snacks, and maybe a flask
- a personal first aid kit
- map and guide
- a torch (most of us have a torch at home, you can upgrade it to a more practical head torch sometime in the future)
- possibly a camera and binoculars
- a walking pole, which is as useful for detecting firm ground in mud or hacking your way through bracken as it is for actual walking. You can always do a Nicholas Crane and carry an old fashioned umbrella instead. I love things with a dual purpose so I regularly take one along!
- space for your usual keys, phone, etc.
Osprey, Women’s Specific Tempest 30L Day Sack (Amazon UK)
When I head out for a full day-hike I use my Osprey Tempest (women’s specific) rucksack. It has a 30L capacity and gives me plenty of extra space in case I need it. I’ve been using this day sack every week for a year now (at the time of writing) and highly recommend it to beginner hikers. It’s lightweight and robust and so comfortable I don’t know it’s there, even when it’s full to capacity. When you’re planning to buy a new rucksack I recommend you take everything you need on a walk (binoculars, id guides, map, lunch, etc) to the store with you. This way you can make sure it will fit in your preferred choice and, more importantly, feels comfortable with ‘real’ weight in it. This is exactly what I did with my Tempest. See below for where you might find one at a reasonable price.
Go On A Bargain Hunt
Buy the minimum you need to begin with and you’ll have time to save and bargain hunt for the things you might need or want to upgrade in the future. Here are a few ideas for places to shop:
Borrow! Do you know anyone that could lend you what you need for a few weeks to try out? It’s a good way to be sure it’s something you really need.
Charity shops They never have what you want when you need it, which can be a pain for beginner hikers who need to put kit together in one go. But save your pennies and be prepared to wait and you could just find that bargain you’ve been looking for. You do have to pop in regularly for a scout though. I’ve known friends that have picked up unused hiking boots, clothing such as fleeces – I’ve even picked a Rohan travel jacket myself – for a mere £5!
Facebook Groups There are some good outdoor groups where you can pick up used hiking clothes and accessories more than suitable for beginner hikers at bargain prices. I highly recommend Outdoor Gear Exchange for a friendly group selling quality stuff.
There are plenty of other shops of course, but this short list should be a good starting point.
Get your kit on and get outside!
To sum up, sort out what you’ve already got that will serve you well for a while. Then try and make what you have a bit more versatile with some considered purchases. Once you start walking regularly experience will tell you what to upgrade or add in due course.
Get your kit on and get out there, because good times await!!
Got A Tip Or Recommendation For Beginner Hikers?
Share your experiences with us in the comments 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? What was your best buy and what couldn’t you do without? We’d love to know!