by Diane Spicer
Why a beginner gear guide for hikers?
Many women ask Hiking For Her for advice about how to get started with buying the right hiking gear and clothing.
Others (guys, you know who you are) ask for recommendations for a great gift for a female hiker.
So I'm guessing that since you're here, you also might find a basic gear guide useful.
Let's sit down together right now and take a look through this beginner gear guide.
And because I have trusted REI gear co-op for my own outdoor gear purchases since 1977 (not a typo!), it makes sense to do our shopping there.
What's not to love?
Disclosure: If you make a purchase through the links in this guide, Hiking For Her will receive a small percentage of your purchase price.
By sticking with one of the most
trusted gear companies on the planet, REI gear co-op, you have
several advantages for gear shopping:
Hiking For Her's five decades of trail experience, using hiking gear from REI under all sorts of conditions, also makes this gear guide a fast, reliable way to select the best choices for your hikes.
But first, a bit of problem solving.
As a beginner, you need to solve two problems to hit the trail in comfort and confidence:
Is it possible to be successful in solving both problems?
This beginner gear guide for hiking presents excellent choices for the basics:
Everything in this beginner gear guide is something I own or have tried on the trail and am confident will work well for you.
Each category of hiking gear will have at least two choices for you to consider.
Prices may vary from what is shown on this page, depending on REI sales and seasonal close outs.
Let's start with fundamentals in this beginner gear guide:
What to put on your feet?
Hiking is much different than strolling through a park or walking your dog.
Your feet will feel the difference right away, and that's why you need hiking footwear to provide:
If you are starting to hike on flat, well maintained trails, a pair of trail shoes is a perfect way to ease your feet into things.
I wear low rise trail shoes from well respected companies for this purpose, like these:
But I also love the support and stability of full size hiking boots, like these KEENs.KEEN Targhee III Mid WP Hiking Boots
None of the KEEN choices requires a "breaking in" period.
For a complete list of recommendations for the best beginner hiking boots and trail shoes, read this.
And to avoid foot fatigue or soreness as your feet are becoming hardened to the reality of the hard work they perform on a hiking trail, consider a good pair of hiking insoles.
Far too many hikers are taken off the trail because of foot problems, and I don't want that to happen to you.
Here's my simple rule:
Trail shoes pair well with lightweight, thinner hiking socks.
Hiking boots like the Keen pair you just saw?
SmartWool is a company that has been making hiking feet happy for many years, including mine.
Take a look at two different choices of lengths and weights:
This lower cut sock has more cushioning, for cooler weather hiking.
|REI Co-op CoolMax Midweight Hiking Quarter Socks - Women's | REI Co-op|
Technical socks like these might seem expensive at first glance.
But remember, taking good care of your feet is your top priority, so don't under-buy on your hiking socks.
Boot wearers need liner socks, too.
The goal: to wick away your sweat and keep your feet from sliding around in your boots, thus reducing the possibility of blisters.
Two ways you can go with liner socks, both of them good choices:
Now that we've got your feet covered (literally), let's turn our attention to outdoor clothing suitable for hiking women.
There are two "rules" for choosing good hiking clothing in this beginner gear guide:
The good news about that short list?
It's really easy to find appropriate hiking clothing at all kinds of price points.
Here's the bad news:
So let's design a great hiking clothing layering system from the inside out, using my two rules: the right fabrics, used in layers.
We begin with the top base layer, and for women hikers, that means a supportive, comfortable sports bra.
As you hike, your breast tissue needs a supportive sports bra made of moisture wicking material.
Otherwise, you run the risk of chafing, pinching and binding.
Workout sports bras that you already own may do the trick.
A well designed sports bra also eliminates the need for wearing two flimsy ones a time.
Take a look at these sports bras from companies that in my experience work well for women hikers:Brooks Fiona Sports Bra | REI Co-op
Trail hiking is considered a medium impact workout, but I'd recommend that you err on the side of high impact if you're well endowed.
Don't toss your sports bras in the dryer.
The high heat shortens their lifespan.
What about the bottom base layer?
What you wear when you're not hiking probably won't make a smooth transition onto the trail.
Slippery fabrics like nylon, with a cotton panel, can work well with your mid layer bottom choices (coming up: shorts, tights and pants).
Quick dry fabrics that soak up sweat but don't stay cold and clammy (cotton, we're giving you the evil eye here) are a great choice when hiking in variable weather patterns during spring and fall.
Base layer tip:
If you plan to take a dip in a stream or lake at your hiking destination, choose your sports bra and briefs with camouflage in mind:
Now we're transitioning into the mid layer of our layering system in this beginner gear guide.
Because I'm not sitting right beside you in person, I can't ask what season you plan to start hiking.
So to cover all the possibilities of your trail time, here are two different sleeve and neckline options for you - from companies that get this whole mid layer thing right.
|Patagonia Nine Trails Shirt - Women's | REI Co-op||REI Co-op Midweight Base Layer Half-Zip Top - Women's | REI Co-op|
I have been known to layer them when heading out for a cool weather hike, knowing I have the ability to respond to improving trail conditions by removing one or the other.
Some women really like the versatility of zip off hiking pants, like these.REI Co-op Sahara Convertible Pants - Women's | REI Co-op
I count myself among them!
If convertible pants are too trail-ish for you as you begin to transition into the hiking lifestyle, how about these?REI Co-op Activator V2 Soft-Shell Pants - Women's | REI Co-op
You can wear them any time and no one will know they're trail pants!
Shorts are an obviously good choice for warm weather hiking.
But be sure to choose breathable fabric, not heavy denim or moisture hogging cotton.
Beginner gear guide tip:
These hiking shorts do the job!
Just select the length you like.
Don't overlook how shorts can be used for shoulder season hikes (cool spring and fall weather).
Here's where you can wander into some pricey neighborhoods.
Lots of technical jackets have features you don't need yet - so why pay for them?
For now, you should carry a rain repellent jacket (shell) that zips up and provides a hood, at least one pocket, as well as a sturdy zipper.REI Co-op Essential Rain Jacket - Women's | REI Co-op
This one is available in plus sizes.
Layering tip: Just add another mid layer like a vest under your jacket if you're going to be hiking in cool spring and fall temperatures.
Or double up on your shirts, as noted above.
I routinely go up one size, for this reason.
I would be surprised if you haven't seen the infamous list of stuff that every hiker (yes, even you as a newbie!) should carry for your own safety and well being.
Note that extra clothing, such as your jacket, counts as an essential.
Now let's quickly cover a few other lightweight, versatile and inexpensive Ten Essentials to stow in your backpack.
As always, we will focus this beginner gear guide on the fundamentals: your well being and safety on the trail.
Your hydration level becomes very important on the trail, so drink at least once per hour during a hike.
To make this easy to remember, carry an inexpensive but durable water bottle in an outer pocket on your backpack.
Do travel tips belong in a beginner gear guide?
Here's one anyway:
Just in case you get delayed on the trail, carry an illumination device in an outer pocket of your backpack.
Either of these headlamps are a good choice, because you get a lot of brightness without a lot of weight or cost.
And you can keep your hands free for trekking poles or map reading, too.
You might also find yourself using your headlamp for chores around the house.
Staying with the theme of illumination, another essential item is a way to protect your eyes during strong sunlight hours.
If you don't already wear sunglasses for outdoor activities, consider how much sun exposure your corneas receive during a long sunny day hike.
Were you expecting that our beginner gear guide would start with the best backpacks?
In reality, a backpack is merely a transport unit for your ten essentials.
So while it's important, your choice of a beginner backpack is not as important as what you're wearing.
Here's a big heads up!
There are many ways that choosing your first backpack can go wrong.
And as with trail footwear, if the pack doesn't seem to fit right away, it might drive you away from this AMAZING sport of hiking.
So let's be careful to focus your attention on backpacks that will treat you right from your very first step on the trail.
Here's what they look like.
Here's why I chose these particular backpacks for you to look at in this beginner gear guide:
And my best reason:
I own several day packs from both of these companies, and have never been disappointed with fit, function and performance.
Just three simple rules in our beginner gear guide:
That was easy, wasn't it!
Thanks for letting me be your guide to beginner hiking gear today.
You can read lots more about each of the gear categories introduced in this beginner gear guide by popping a word like "backpack" or "socks" into the bright green search area below.
Or you can contact me, and we can get those questions answered pronto.
Here's to a successful first season of hiking!
Beginner Gear Guide
About the author
Diane is the founder of Hiking For Her.
She’s been on a hiking trail somewhere in the world for nearly five decades & loves to share her best hiking tips right here.
Hiking For Her only recommends what works. When you make a purchase from the links on this website, HFH may receive a small amount of your purchase price.
But you pay nothing extra.
So you get great advice, high quality gear from a trusted merchant, and the pleasure of hiking, while HFH can keep cranking out gear advice.
Thanks for being a hiker :)
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Photo credits: All photos on this website were taken by David Midkiff or Diane Spicer except where noted.
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