What to bring on a hike is an important question. Hiking should always be taken seriously, whether it’s a 2-mile jaunt or a 12-mile haul. In warm-weather areas, like Arizona, it’s common for folks to need rescue simply because they weren’t prepared with enough water. In colder, more mountainous areas folks often need rescue on “easy hikes” after taking a wrong turn or not having the right layers for unexpected weather.
We recognize that hiking is one of those activities that should be easily accessible to everyone, despite whether you own fancy gear or not. Below we’ve put together a list of twelve items that we believe are essential for your hike. Don’t worry though, most of this you can build from what you already have at home. Save money and slowly build up your fancy-gear-collection over time!
1. Small backpack
If you plan to keep your hikes under a few miles, and in temperate weather, a 15 Liter pack will do. If you want to be out for more than a few hours and weather is a factor (it almost always is) then we recommend a 30 or 45 Liter backpack.
Thrifty tip: Use an old school backpack! I know you’ve got one deep in your childhood closet.
2. Hydration bladder or lightweight water bottle
A hydration bladder is a great companion to a backpack designed to hold the bladder and allow the nozzle to come out towards the front, like a CamelBak. Otherwise, Nalgenes are a team favorite as they are lightweight and affordable.
Thrifty tip: Don’t go out and buy a hiking specific water bottle, just bring what you’ve already got at home!
3. Plenty of food
People are always surprised how hungry they’ll become while hiking. Well, of course, you’re burning calories! Bring plenty of snacks that are high in protein like nuts or jerky.
Thrifty tip: A classic peanut butter & jelly sandwich is one of the best trail meals because it’s affordable and offers lots of the macronutrients.
4. Good trail shoes
Owning a pair of trail-specific shoes is not necessary, but it’s a nice luxury! A pair of good trail shoes or hiking boots will offer more support than a regular sneaker. Some boots can be waterproof and some have sticky rubber soles to prevent slipping on rocks.
Thrifty tip: If you really want a pair of trail shoes or hiking boots, try shopping at an outdoor consignment shop or from somewhere like the REI Outlet for discounted gear.
5. Small first-aid kit
Pre-assembled first-aid kits are affordable and usually include everything you’ll need for a small injury like a blister or a scrape. Adjust your first-aid kit based on the time you’ll be out and how many people will be with you.
Thrifty tip: The most common hiking injuries are blisters, sprains, cuts, and bug bites. Look through your medicine cabinet and bring items to prevent or treat those ailments such as Moleskin, an elastic bandage, band-aids, and bug spray or hydrocortisone cream.
6. Knife or Multi-tool
A pocket knife is an essential item for hiking trips. They can be helpful in many situations such as first-aid, gear repair, food preparation, and more. Bring along a simple pocket knife with a single blade, or a complex multitool with screwdrivers and can openers.
Thrifty tip: There are some really great, but still very affordable pocket knives out there for anyone who doesn’t already own one.
7. Trekking poles
Trekking poles may not seem like an essential item to all, but they should be. If you want to still be hiking comfortably in your elder years, we recommend using trekking poles when there is any sort of elevation on a hike.
Thrifty tip: No trekking poles? Find a sturdy hiking stick to help relieve some pressure from your knees on steep downhills!
8. Moisture-wicking clothes and layers
Good hiking layers are important, but the good thing is that you probably already have some clothes like this at home. Cotton is not the best material for hiking, as it doesn’t breathe well, isn’t quick-drying, and doesn’t insulate heat. Wool or moisture-wicking materials like polyester are best.
Thrifty tip: Got a pair of yoga pants, basketball shorts, or a workout shirt at home? That’s perfect!
Even if your hike isn’t supposed to go into the night, we always recommend packing a headlamp. You never know what could happen, and you may end up staying later than you expect.
Thrifty tip: If you’re not ready to invest in a headlamp, try picking up a cheap flashlight at your local hardware store.
10. Some sort of map or GPS
A map of the area you’ll be hiking in is arguably the second most important item on this list, after water! Even on popular trails, folks often take a wrong turn, or sometimes the trail has become less clear after a storm and folks lose their way. Bring a physical map, invest in a GPS device, or pay a subscription fee to a GPS app on your phone.
Thrifty tip: Instead of buying a specific hiking GPS or paying for an app, just find the map online or at the trailhead and take a picture of it on your phone. Physical topo maps are sold at most local outdoor gear shops as well.
11. Sun protection
Sunshine, complete cloud-cover, or snow—it’s all bright to our eyes! Sunglasses are key (polarized are best), but a hat and sunscreen are great to throw in your pack as well!
Thrifty tip: Most of us already have one of these three at home, so bring what you can!
Looking to go camping, but not sure what to bring? Check out our “Camping for Beginners” article here!