What to bring hiking when you’re just starting out

what to bring hiking

As a beginner, you’ll probably always have cell service and not be far from civilization, so you don’t have to be prepared for the apocalypse on your first hike. BUT (there’s always a but) bringing a few basic supplies will make sure you have a good time and can deal with minor mishaps.

Here’s what I put in my backpack every time I go for a hike.

1. DIY first aid kit

Even if you’re not going very far, you should always bring a few first aid supplies in case of emergency. Buying the pre-made kits is more convenient, but ultimately WAY more expensive. You’ll only get one or two uses out of each item, when you could just spend a little more upfront and get a ton more supplies. You’ll need:

  • Antiseptic wipes (these ones don’t sting!)
  • Antibiotic ointment (get the generic at the grocery store for your cheapest option)
  • Band-Aids of varying sizes (the one thing I don’t go generic on since cheap ones always fall off)
  • Gauze squares
  • Ibuprofen (optional but have saved me when cramps hit while hiking – buy a big bottle and then dump 20 pills in your kit)
  • Tums (optional, but make sure to put them in their own bag so they don’t get powder all over everything)
  • Generic Benadryl (optional if you don’t have pollen allergies)

Put all of this into a regular plastic baggy and keep it in your backpack so you don’t ever forget it. I also bring a travel-size pocketknife just to make sure I have a way to cut things.

2. Extra clothes

I always pack an extra long-sleeved layer (like a raincoat) and a hat just in case the weather suddenly changes (or is just not as warm as I thought it would be).

3. Food and drink

Always bring water with you. Buying a reusable water bottle once is cheaper in the long run and more environmentally-friendly than buying plastic bottles from the store. REI sells a cheaper basic bottle that works great. Another option is a collapsible water bottle that folds up super small once it’s empty.

If you are going for a longer hike or carrying water for multiple people, you can also look into getting a reservoir that holds a liter or more of water at a time. In general, pack a little more than you think you’ll need.

I’ve got an entire blog about hiking snacks, so just because my photo has Pro Bars in it doesn’t mean you have to spring for those. Bring something filling and easy to eat on the go – trail mix, beef jerky, or a PB&J are all great basic options.

4. Sunscreen, hand sanitizer, chapstick, and bug spray

Chapstick with SPF and regular sunscreen are essential, along with bug spray. Bringing a travel-size container of hand sanitizer is also really nice considering most trailhead bathroom options don’t have running water, and therefore, no way to wash your hands.

Bottom Line

You may not use any of these things (besides water) your first time out, but eventually, you’ll need one (or all) of them while hiking. Whether you get hangry, the weather changes suddenly, or you trip and get a minor injury, you’ll be eternally grateful that you’re prepared to handle it.

Published by Laura Cardon

Laura Cardon moved to Colorado as an adult and quickly realized how difficult it was to get started exploring the outdoors in a state full of experts. She founded Outdoor Beginner in 2014 to fill the gap in beginner-friendly content for camping, hiking, skiing, and other outdoor activities. In addition to Outdoor Beginner, she coaches beginner trail runners and works at Runners Roost in Golden, Colorado, where she lives with her spouse and toddler.

23 thoughts on “What to bring hiking when you’re just starting out

  1. Love these tips! I always forget chapstick and then have to beg someone to let me borrow theirs, so now I have one in every pack AND in my car so I can put it on before I start hiking!

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