Your Hiking Checklist

To start hiking now, a little know-how plus the right gear will increase your enjoyment and your safety on the trail.

Hiking opens up a world of adventure, whether you’re climbing trails to payoff views atop peaks or simply meandering along a gentle path to soak in natural sights and sounds. It’s an activity that’s open to every age and skill level and one that’s available year-round. Plus, all you really need to step foot on a trail of any sort and start walking is a pair of shoes. But beyond that simplicity, upping your game with the proper gear will increase both your comfort level in all weather, and your safety. And when you’re comfy, covered and secure, you can explore more terrain for longer.

The Basics


You’ll want supportive shoes with grippy soles to keep you from slipping on varied terrain. Hiking shoes differ from road running shoes in that they have traction (often made of sticky rubber) as well as support around the foot that includes added protection in the form of toe caps and tougher material overlays. Hiking shoes differ from trail running shoes in they’re more supportive, often stiffer, and more protective. Some prefer hiking in trail running shoes for their lighter weight and added flexibility.


For longer hikes, especially while wearing a heavy pack (like an overnight backpack full of gear), or for people who want more ankle support than a low-cut shoe can provide, boots work great. Hiking boots have traction for varied terrain, support around the foot and ankle, are often stiffer than shoes to aid support, with a high-cut, padded collar around the ankles (though can take longer to break in).


For short day-hikes to all-day adventures, wearing a backpack allows you to contain and carry all your essentials. Shop for a lightweight pack that fits you properly. Multiple pockets that are easy to access helps keep gear organized. Most daypacks are designed to be compatible with a hydration bladder, with a portal on one shoulder strap for a hydration hose (and clip to keep it in place).

Hydration bladder/bottle

Hydrating on the trail is a must, though every option for carrying fluids comes with tradeoffs: in a hydration bladder frees up your hands for rocky scrambles or hiking with poles, but puts the weight on your back; in a water bottle shoved in a side-pocket of your pack allows easy refilling at streams (should you have the means to filter water), but can make you feel lopsided. And carrying a bottle—like a Nalgene—in hand makes for easy access to your water, but can feel heavy and awkward. 

Sun protection

No matter the time of year, you’ll need protection from the sun. If you’re hiking in heat, consider light and loose next-to-skin layers, particularly those with a UPF rating designed for UV protection. And don’t forget a hat that shields your face, sunglasses, and sunblock that stays on while you sweat.

Next Apparel Priorities 


Shorts made specifically for hiking are constructed out of durable material that wards off snags or tears. They often have pockets to help stash gear, and should move with you instead of hindering your mobility.


Like shorts made for hiking, pants made for hiking are durable, allow full mobility, and often have handy pockets. Some pants feature zip-off legs for versatility. Look for materials that are lightweight and quick-drying.


The ideal hiking shirts are lightweight, quick-drying, comfortable, and shield you from the sun. They should be void of seams on the shoulder panels so that, when worn under a backpack, the pack’s straps don’t create a rubbing annoyance.


Wearing socks that extend at least above the ankle bone will help keep out trail debris—tiny rocks, twigs, and dirt that can get between your feet and socks and cause blisters. Socks made for hiking tend to be padded in key areas for long-haul comfort. They should fit well to eliminate bunching and be made of temperature-regulating fabrics like wool, wool/synthetic blends, or synthetic fibers (just avoid all-cotton).


Trekking poles add two more points of contact on the ground, which creates stability over varied terrain and takes some pressure off your legs by distributing weight. Whether you hike with poles or not will depend on your personal preference, the terrain, and/or the length of your hike.

A woman smiles as she hikes

Safety Gear

First-Aid Kit

It’s always a good idea to carry a small first-aid kit on a hike. Make it easy with a pre-packed, lightweight, and compact one made just for hikers.

Water filtration

Having a way to filter water increases your safety if you’re hiking near water sources. Small and compact options exist, some that integrate with hydration bladders, soft flasks, or bottles.

Rain shell

Since weather can change quickly, shoving a lightweight, compact rain shell in your pack is good practice, even for mid-summer hikes. 

Gear for All Seasons

Weather-proof boots/shoes

So you can keep hiking through wet or snowy weather, shoes or boots with Gore-Tex or other waterproof material or treatment will keep your feet comfortable and extend your hiking to year-round.

Wool socks

Keep your feet warm and comfortable in wool socks made for hiking. Even if they get wet, wool naturally thermoregulates and can help keep your feet warm.

Rain shell

A thin, lightweight waterproof jacket with a hood will be indispensable year-round outings, but paramount for rainy hikes. Opt for the lightest-weight, fully waterproof options that fit you well.


When the temperatures drop, having a midlayer—like a fleece, wool, down, or synthetic midlayer—will keep you warm, and keep you willing to head out in the cold. If it’s cool and dry outside, you can get away with wearing your midlayer as an outer layer. (Add a rain shell in wet weather.)

Rain pants

Adding waterproof pants lets you hike in the wettest conditions comfortably. They can also pack down to stash in your pack for emergencies—and then pull over hiking pants or shorts when needed.

Rain hat

Most trucker- or ball cap-style hiking hats work well in the rain without getting bogged down by moisture.


Adding a pair of traction devices—like YakTrax—will keep you sure-footed on slick, icy trails. Beware: Slippery patches sometimes exist underneath fresh snow, and having toothy protrusions attached to your hiking shoes or boots provides the added traction to keep you safe and upright.

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.