Taking a hike could be an excellent way to improve your physical and mental health. It’s also a unique opportunity to get closer to nature, see beautiful wildlife, and explore. But many new hikers can feel intimidated by the amount of hiking gear for beginners they need to purchase.
Fortunately, there are several smart ways for beginners to save on essential gear. Reducing your hiking gear list to cover only the most vital items is a great first step. But proper planning can also help you keep your expenses low. After all, you won’t need a tent for a simple day hike.
Hiking doesn’t have to be an expensive hobby, especially if you know where to look for budget-friendly gear. Let’s explore what essentials you’ll need before hitting the trail and how to reduce overall hiking costs.
Complete Guide to Hiking for Beginners on a Budget: 12 Essential Items
There are about a dozen essential items that hikers should have at all times, regardless of the trail, the weather, and the duration of the hike. Understanding why these items are crucial is a great way to learn more about hiking and to learn what you can expect while out on a hike.
If you’re adhering to a tight budget, you could save money by only investing in these essential items. Of course, if you do have excess funds to spend on hiking gear, you may want to choose a few additional items to make the experience more comfortable.
This is especially true of overnight hikers that plan on camping out. However, we only recommend a beginner go camping if you have experienced hikers with you. That said, the twelve most important hiking tips for beginners are to have:
- Navigation Tools
- First Aid Kit
- Communication Devices
- Extra Clothing
- Waterproof Containers
- Cutting Tools
Reviewing this hiking gear list before heading out can save you a ton of trouble later on down the line. After all, the perfect day hike can quickly turn sour if it starts to rain and you don’t own any rain gear.
And even the most cautious hiker can get painful bug bites or accidental scrapes, which is when having a first aid kit comes in handy. Still, you shouldn’t have to spend the entirety of your bank account on these items.
There are budget options for each of the above pieces of gear, and we’re going to explore them in this beginners guide to hiking!
While you might think of massive backpacks with multiple body straps when you think of hiking backpacks, there are actually several different styles and sizes from which to choose when going on your first time hiking. Beginner-level hikers will naturally want to choose smaller, more compact backpacks when starting out.
Beginners often hike trails that are five miles or less, and a multi-day backpack isn’t necessary. Most beginner-level hikes will only last between one and four hours. You can give your shoulders a break by investing in an option that suits your projected hike time.
Even better, day hike backpacks tend to be fantastically affordable. Instead of spending several hundred dollars on a full hiking/camping backpack, you could save by choosing a simple 20-40L option.
The Venture Pal 40L daypack is a convenient option for longer hikes, with an internal wet pocket that’s large enough to hold onto soaked socks or a drenched rain poncho. It’s roomy enough for all your hiking gear, and it includes a nifty chest strap!
However, you could also choose the ZOMAKE 20L daypack. It’s half the size of the average day hike backpack and one of the most budget-friendly options. And thanks to the helpful compartment bags, you’ll be able to fit all your essentials.
Even if you eat a hearty meal before setting out when hiking on a budget, you could get hungry while wandering the wilderness. When you go hiking, you naturally burn more calories than if you were sitting around at home or performing a seated activity.
As such, your body may need an extra boost of energy and nutrition along the way. As a beginner-level hiker, you’re free to choose almost any type of food item. However, there are a few general tips and tricks that can help you pick a tasty option.
Firstly, it’s a good idea to avoid snacks that require refrigeration or preparation. Because you’ll likely only be hiking for a few hours, you won’t need pots, pans, or dining gear. Instead, it’s a great idea to choose snacks that are wholesome, full of protein, high in natural fats, and provide a boost of sugar.
Trail mix, a combination of nuts, raisins, and chocolate, is a great option that can help keep your hunger at bay. You can make your own trail mix, or you can purchase a store-bought option. Of course, after you’ve filled your belly, you might start to feel a little thirsty.
Staying hydrated is crucial while exercising, so you’ll want to bring plenty of water when hiking. If you’re taking a hike on a particularly sweltering day, you should try to bring double the amount of drinking water that you’d typically consume. To stay safe, it’s wise to bring at least one liter of water. If you’re exploring the outdoors with your child, invest on youth hydration packs to ensure that they are properly hydrated.
Dehydration is dangerous and has several notable impacts on the body. It can also lead to heatstroke, a life-threatening condition caused by rising internal body heat. When you bring plenty of water, you can help yourself avoid these issues and enjoy your hike.
Still, you have several options when it comes to water bottles. The first thing you’ll want to consider is size. If your chosen backpack has side bottle carriers, you might want to choose water bottles that fit those carriers. However, if you’d rather use a clip and daisy chain to tote your water bottle, you could choose a heftier option.
Storing your water outside of your backpack is an excellent way to save internal storage space. However, it’s vital to choose water bottles that are BPA-free, as your water may spend a lot of time in the sun. The last thing you want is water that’s tainted with chemicals!
That said, you may want to avoid standard glass bottles as well. These can shatter upon impact, which is exceptionally dangerous. If you trip over a root or slip over a rock, you could end up covered in glass shards. A stainless steel bottle, like this Klean Kanteen water bottle, might be the best way to go. It won’t shatter, release chemicals, and it’s incredibly durable.
What is the primary mode of transportation when you’re hiking? If you answered ‘the feet,’ you’re correct! And when you’re a beginner-level hiker, one of the most essential things to keep in mind is caring for your feet, which means a good hiking shoe.
Not only can your feet end up feeling sore, swollen, and achy after a long hike, but the wrong pair of boots can mangle your poor toes and soles. Choosing the right type of hiking boot and breaking it in before the big hike can make a drastic change for the better, helping you enjoy longer and more comfortable hikes.
Beginner-level hikers should choose lighter, simpler boots to start. Not only are these boots comfortable and supportive, but they’re often more affordable than heftier shoes. Still, one of the greatest monetary hurdles that beginners face is purchasing a pair of boots.
Admittedly, it’s challenging to find quality hiking boots for less than $100. However, it’s not impossible. For men, the NORTIV 8 hiking boots could be a smart buy. They’re made of durable leather and breathable mesh, helping keep your feet safe and dry during short and long hikes.
Women may appreciate the Hi-Tec hiking boots, especially for their support. The rubber sole is also a great addition that can help with traction when hiking through wet or muddy areas. It’s a waterproof option that can help you enjoy miles of gorgeous trails.
Your hiking boots are bound to chafe if you’re not wearing comfortable socks. Hiking socks aren’t expensive, and they’re great for keeping your feet dry in warm weather. You can purchase whole packs of hiking socks or a few pairs.
Either way, it’s vital to wear ankle-to-calf length socks when hiking. Shorter socks can quickly curl to the heel, resulting in blisters and chafing. Besides, longer hiking socks provide an extra layer of protection against bugs and thorny undergrowth.
We’ve all experienced a day where the weather forecaster predicted sunny skies, but there was nothing but rain. In life, it’s best to expect the unexpected. That’s why you’ll want to bring some compact rainwear with you while hiking.
A five-mile trail can take several hours to complete, especially if you’re strolling and enjoying the sights and sounds. If a sudden thunderstorm develops, you could end drenched by the time you make it back to your vehicle or home.
Some of the best beginner-level hiking rainwear includes rain ponchos and rain jackets. Rain ponchos tend to be the more affordable of these two options, but rain jackets can keep you warm in cool weather. The better option for you depends on your environment!
7. Navigation Tools
Though you may be exploring a relatively short trail, it’s a good idea to have a navigation device. Whether you choose to use a traditional compass, your smartphone, or a portable GPS is up to you. Still, most beginner-level hikers on a budget may prefer to use their phone’s built-in GPS or a smartphone compass app.
8. First Aid Kit
First aid kits save lives. Having one in your backpack could mean the difference between enjoying an adventurous hike and suffering through an agonizing trail. That may seem like an exaggeration, but it’s not.
The average first aid kit contains a standard set of helpful items, including:
- Sterile Bandages
- Sterile Adhesive Bandages
- Alcohol Wipes
- Ibuprofen or Aspirin
- Insect Bite Ointment
- Antibiotic Ointment
- Gauze Padding
- Medical Tape
If you’d like, you can invest in a simple first-aid kit that includes these basics. However, it might be better to choose a compact, hiking-specific option. Not only will it fit nicely inside your daypack, but smaller kits tend to be extremely budget-friendly.
This I GO compact first aid kit is a worthwhile option for beginner-level hikers. It comes with more than 80 pieces and is only 6in long! To save internal space inside your daypack, you could hang this kit on the outside of your bag using its built-in carabiner.
9. Communication Devices
Having a few emergency communication devices with you can help you stay safe while hiking. Naturally, beginner-level hikers may not need much more than a charged cell phone. Unless you’re undertaking an extremely challenging hike (which isn’t recommended for beginners), you likely won’t lose cell phone coverage while hiking.
Consequently, the only thing you may want to bring along besides your smartphone is a portable phone charger. This American Red Cross Charger can clip onto your backpack or a carabiner keychain. It also doubles as a flashlight, and you can power it by cranking the reel on the side.
If you’re injured during your hike, this simple device could help you call emergency services and get the help you need. Of course, as you advance into more challenging trails, you may want to invest in a handy satellite phone or messenger.
10. Extra Clothing
Extra clothing goes a long way when you’re in the middle of the wilderness. And while beginner-level hikers won’t need to bring a full outfit, it’s a great idea to pack an extra pair of socks for the hike. You might also want to pack a light jacket, preferably one that’s waterproof.
Even though beginner-level hikers likely won’t spend more than four hours out on the trail at any given time, having a backup pair of socks and a jacket can make a significant difference. Sweaty feet and unseen puddles can make your feet soggy, leading to painful blisters as you continue to walk.
A light waterproof jacket can help keep you warm in cool weather and dry if it rains. Most options also fold down easily, ensuring an easy fit in a smaller hiking backpack. Remember, you don’t need to bring pants, shirts, or underwear. Just focus on the socks and jacket, and you’ll do fine.
11. Waterproof Containers
There are many things in life we simply cannot predict, and sometimes, this includes the weather. If you’ve reviewed the weather and it says that skies will be bright and sunny, there’s sometimes a chance that they won’t. It’s better to be safe than sorry, which is why waterproof containers are a must.
Keeping your digital devices safe from water damage couldn’t be easier than with the help of a slim waterproof container. These items are also handy for keeping your keys, wallet, and other personal items safe and organized.
The medium-sized geckobrands dry box is an excellent compact container for your personal electronics. It’s only 9in long and 2in wide, making it perfect for smaller daypacks. And if you accidentally fall into a lake or slip into a puddle, you’ll be glad that you had this case in your bag.
12. Cutting Tools
You should bring at least one cutting tool when going on a hike. This item might seem like overkill, especially if you’ve already invested in a first aid kit. But having a knife or multi-tool on you while hiking could save your life in an emergency.
Though it’s never pleasant, it is possible to get lost while hiking. If this happens, you’ll be glad that you have a knife, some firesteel, and many other of the essential items we’ve reviewed. You can start fires with a knife, keeping yourself warm overnight until you can safely find help.
As beginner-level hikers transition into more advanced hikers, a knife will become more useful. You’ll need a strong camping knife if you plan on conquering multi-day hikes, and it’s a good idea to invest in one sooner rather than later.
Below you will find the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions concerning hiking for beginners on a budget. Remember, if you cannot find the answer to your question here, an experienced hiker or sporting goods provider may be able to help before you go day hiking for beginners.
1. Why Is Hiking a Good Hobby?
Hiking is associated with improved heart health, muscle strength, lower blood pressure, and improved balance. There’s also evidence to support the idea that spending time in nature has a positive effect on a person’s mental state. Taking a hike could be one of the best ways to reduce stress while also enjoying mild exercise.
2. Is Hiking a Good Way to Get in Shape?
If you’re hoping to get into better physical shape and improve your fitness level, then hiking could be an excellent option. Unlike other forms of exercise, hiking is relatively low-impact and low-stress.
While you might not immediately get washboard abs while hiking, this activity can increase the strength of several muscle groups. If you hike consistently, you can expect to enjoy stronger legs, thighs, hips, and shoulders.
3. How Many Miles Should a Beginner Hike?
A beginner-level hiker should start with minimal-distance trails. This means choosing hiking trails that are shorter than five miles. It’s also a good idea to choose hiking trails that are mostly flat. Climbing uphill can be strenuous and may be too exhausting for beginner-level hikers.
To stay safe, don’t do more than an hour of hiking while you get used to it.
4. What Do You Need for Hiking?
On the surface, there aren’t many hiking essentials for beginners you really need to start. You can enjoy a simple day hike using only a pair of tennis shoes, a small backpack, and some food and water. However, full-day hikes or multi-day hikes often require far more gear, including a tent, cookware, and several sets of clothing.
5. How Can You Stay Safe While Hiking?
One of the primary concerns that many beginner-level hikers share is safety. There are several ways to stay safe while out on the trail. Firstly, you can choose to hike with a group of people, like friends or family members. If that’s not available to you, you may want to consider bringing helpful devices such as pepper spray, a first aid kit, self-defense alarms, a portable GPS, or a satellite phone.