Learn What To Wear Hiking – The Ultimate Guide for the Beginner

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Hiking are the ultimate ways to enjoy the outdoors, filled with the challenge of discovery; the freedom of the trail; a new adventure ’round every bend. The hiking equipment you choose, even the food you take, can make your outdoor adventure a joy or a hell. Interested in hiking, but you don’t know what to wear?

Following are the most important things you should keep in mind while preparing a hiking gear:

A Sturdy Pair of Backpacking Boots

Hiking boots have come a long way in the last twenty years, and engineers have studied the contours of the foot, the angle of the foot striking the ground, and hundreds of others factor to develop protective footwear that is lightweight, waterproof, and sturdy.

When we’re out and about in our daily lives, we don’t think much about our footwear, other than “How does this look on me?” But when you’re out trekking through nature, you’re going to need something that is specially made for hiking and/or backpacking.

Here’s why: even on more gentle hikes, you’re probably going to encounter various types of terrain. It might be dusty dirt; it might be puddles with slippery bottoms; it might be thick mud. I’m always surprised when I’m on more comfortable hikes and I come across something that I wouldn’t want to cross wearing sneakers.

Here’s the other “why,” and it’s just as important: if your footwear doesn’t fit right, you’re going to get blisters on your feet. If you’re two miles into a five mile hike and you’re getting blisters, the rest of your hike is going to be absolutely miserable.

We’ll throw in a third “why” while we’re here: boots protect your sprained ankles. Most boots come up past the ankle and past the Achilles heel, to give you support as you’re striding along. That may feel strange at first, but the protection it offers you is priceless.

Quick note: If you’re going out hiking later today, and you don’t have boots, wear sneakers–but make sure they have good tread on them, and if you have high-tops, take those over low tops. Sandals are a bad choice; flip-flops are a very bad choice. Just keep in mind that once you do some serious hiking, you’re going to want hiking boots. It’s one of those what to wear hiking staples.

Socks Made from Wickable Material

You might think, “Socks—well, obviously.” Here’s the thing: your socks will make you or break you. Good socks make hiking fun and enjoyable and something you want to do again. Bad socks will give you blisters and wish you hadn’t gotten out of bed that morning.

The kind of socks has a wickable material. It’s actually a really cool idea: a wickable material is one that is designed to disperse moisture from one side of the fabric to the other side. Here’s why it’s important: when you are trekking through the wilderness, and your feet are sweating, they are more prone to blistering. Wickabe material takes the moisture from your feet and disperses it so that it doesn’t cause your feet to get pruny or blistered.

If you can handle synthetic materials, a wickable material is the way to go. CoolMax is a type of breathable, synthetic fiber, and people love it. If you can’t do synthetic materials, Smartwool socks come highly praised. Try to avoid cotton, if you can. Cotton, as a material, soaks up moisture, meaning that your socks will get damp and heavy. There have been other times when I’ve been on shorter hikes and worn cotton socks and my feet come back all gnarled up. If you have the opportunity before you go hiking, pick up a pair. You’ll be glad you did. Hover here

Here’s a tip: If you can, change your socks frequently. Hikers are usually a little more “earthy,” and probably won’t mind.

Pants with a Ton of Pockets

If you’re going on a casual hike in the spring, summer, or fall, jeans will do you fine. You might not be super-comfortable, and you’ll be in rough shape if you get wet or have to trek through some mud, but you’ll be ok. If you do have the time or the means to buy hiking pants, it’s a great idea.

This is a funny thing to write, but here goes: “Pants are important, and here’s why.” Hiking pants have a number of benefits, including:

  • Pants protect your from sun, dirt and grime, and most importantly, plants that can mess you up. Poison ivy is no fun; neither is running through a raspberry bush, which has long thorns that can dig into your skin. A good pair of hiking pants will protect you from sunburn, but also shield you from other entities that would harm your skin.
  • Pants provide storage that is quickly accessible. You’re out in nature, right? You don’t need your credit cards, or your wallet, or your lipstick… but you will need some other things that you won’t want to dig through your backpack for. Hiking pants sometimes look like cargo pants, because they have a ton of pockets at the waist, in the front, and in the rear.
  • A lot of hiking pants are convertible. They function as full-length pants but have hidden zippers right about the knees that allow you to zip the lower portion of fabric off, turning them into shorts. That can be excellent when it’s the summer and you’re overheating, or it’s evening and you’re getting chilly.
  • Most hiking pants are waterproof and/or quick drying. That can be a huge benefit, especially if you get caught in the rain, or if you sweat a lot. Walking around in wet pants is miserable, and having pants that magically dry is wonderful.
  • They’re incredibly comfortable. I used to wear hiking pants only when I was hiking; now I wear them all the time. They feel great, and I can carry a ton of stuff around.

A Long-Sleeved Shirt and an Undershirt

This one depends on the season you’re in. If it’s the spring or fall, you’ll want to bring layers. Regardless of the temperature of the air, your experience of the temperature will change as you heat up and cool down. A t-shirt and a long-sleeve shirt is a good start for spring or fall, coupled with a waterproof fleece or jacket. In the summertime, a shirt plus suntan lotion will do you well, along with a hat. Keep in mind, though, that the temperature falls at night, and you’ll want to throw something on your torso to stay warm. In the winter—if you’re a beginning, it’s not really wise to be hiking in the winter. But if you do, layers are still the way to go, and an undershirt, long-sleeve shirt, fleece, and coat should keep you warm. That sounds like a lot, but if you’re outside for more than an hour, you’ll be amazed at how cold you can feel, and remember, you can take off or add layers as your temperature changes.

A Waterproof Jacket or Fleece

When you’re thinking about what to wear hiking, a windbreaker or fleece is a necessary item, and comes in handy during all seasons. The best jackets are breathable, and waterproof is excellent. These kinds of jackets can get a little pricey, so you might want to make sure that hiking is your thing before you buy one specifically for treks out in the wild.

If you don’t have a jacket specifically made for hiking, a zipable jacket is a good alternative, because it will allow you to cool off quickly if you get overheated. And, if you’re going out without a hiking jacket and it might rain, it never hurts to bring a plastic poncho, or even a plastic garbage bag.

Vitally Important: A Hat

A hat can be a great addition, if you’re out in the summer. Hats are mostly about blocking the sun from eyes and keeping you from getting sunburned. A good hat will also do wonders for keeping the sweat off your face. A baseball hat works well, but a floppy hat or a straw cowboy hat will also protect the back of your neck.

Hats in the fall, winter, and spring are a lot more important, because they maintain your body temperature. One of the warmest fabrics is wool, but many people go crazy when they have wool against their skin. Synthetic fibers such as fleece are much gentler on the skin, but they don’t often protect you from a strong and cold wind. The best of both worlds is a hybrid that contains a wool shell and a fleece inner lining. They are very comfortable and warm.

A Backpack with Many Compartments

This is perhaps the most important article of hiking equipment, even for beginners. When you’re starting out, the type of backpack you bring isn’t really that important; you’ll get a feel for what you need and what your particular tastes are as you go along. For now, what’s important is what you put in your backpack. Here’s a list of things you’ll want to bring or consider bringing.

  • A large bottle of water. No matter how casual your hike is—even if it’s just a mile or two–you should bring water. Sometimes hikes go longer than expected, and if you find that you’re in the hot sun or the cold weather, you’ll need to keep hydrated. Bringing water is an absolute must.
  • Food. Hiking burns a lot of calories–especially hiking over uneven or hilly ground. Foods that are high in protein are an excellent pick-me-up after you’ve been trekking for a while, and beef jerky is a great snack. Trail mix that has fruits and nuts is also good, because it has the healthy fats and protein from the nuts and the carbs from the fruit. Even better, though, is to simply bring nuts and fresh fruit, as store-bought trail mix often has a ton of extra sugar and chemicals that can make you feel tired.
  • Sunscreen, bug spray, a change of socks, and a clean undershirt.
  • A basic first-aid pack and a flashlight, in case you get lost and the sun sets (it happens!).
  • If you’re super-careful, a rain slicker, if it might rain, a poncho–sometimes it rains out of nowhere.
  • Maps of the hike you’ll be taking.
  • Any medications / inhalers / etc that you need. That’s important–there are no pharmacies in the Great Outdoors!
  • Your cell phone, car keys, wallet, keys to your house/apartment.

An Important Question for Planning Your Trip: What Season is it?

What you’ll need to go hiking depends heavily on what the season is (and, of course, where you live). If you live in an area that has four distinct seasons, here’s how it breaks down:

1.Spring

You’re probably excited for summer, and you’re hoping it’s going to be warm out. That means you’re probably going to dress a little lighter than you should. If it’s springtime, the name of the game is LAYERS (this is true for fall, also). The temperature of the air can change rapidly, and your internal temperature will rise and fall many times throughout the day. When you first start out, you’ll be chilly; after you climb a hill, you’ll be hot and sweaty. Being able to remove layers will help you adjust and keep your body temperature where you’re comfortable.

Here’s a good checklist: hiking boots, wickable socks, convertible or full-length pants, short-sleeved shirt, long-sleeved shirt, fleece or jacket (optional), backpack, hat.

2. Summer

If you’re hiking during the day, you’re going to get hot, and you’re going to get sweaty–but that’s part of the fun. The most important thing is being able to protect you from sun, and to keep yourself from overheating. It’s best to dress light, but in a way that provides your skin with protection.

Here’s the checklist: boots, wickable socks, convertible pants, a lightweight-but-breathable shirt, and a hat (either a baseball hat, or a wrap-around floppy hat). As during every season, bring a ton of water. If you’re going to be outside at night—maybe you’re going camping with friends–keep in mind that temperatures plummet at night, even in July and August. You might be ok in shorts, but you’ll also need a sweater and/or a fleece. A hat couldn’t hurt, either.

3. Fall

Just like in the spring, the most important idea to keep in mind is “layers.”

The checklist is the same: hiking boots, wickable socks, convertible or full-length pants, short-sleeved shirt, long-sleeved shirt, fleece or jacket (optional), backpack, hat.

4. Winter

You’re new to hiking, and you’re going hiking in the winter? Don’t be crazy! Wait until the Spring! If you’re new to hiking and you’re going out during the winter, ONLY go with someone who really knows what they’re doing, and ask that person what you need. On every hike, there’s the chance you could get lost–and lost is a bad place to be during the wintertime!

For  winter checklist: boots, wickable socks, lined full-length pants, long underwear, regular undies, thermal undershirt, t-shirt, long-sleeve shirt, fleece, coat, hat, and gloves. Again, if you’re new, do NOT go hiking alone during the winter. Go with someone who knows what they’re doing–how to read maps, follow paths, etc. 

Before you go–here are some tips for safe hiking:

 -If you’re new to hiking, go with a friend who knows what s/he is doing! It’ll make the experience much more enjoyable and much more safely.

-Avoid poison ivy. Not everybody is allergic to the oils of the poison ivy plant, but if you are, it can lead to a miserable couple of weeks.

-Know when to leave. Make sure you’re heading back home by the time the sun starts to set, because the sunlight can disappear quickly and there is no scarier feeling that stumbling through the dark and wondering if there are bears down the path.

-When you’re done, do a “tick check.” Ticks live in wooded areas, and burrow into your skin or scalp. When you’re done hiking, have someone look you over to see if you have any bugs on you, and run your fingers through your hair and over each inch of your scalp to make sure that no ticks are on you.

-Know your limits! A good starter hike is three or four miles. And if you’re in uneven terrain or climbing altitude, four miles can be a LOT. Take it slow and build your endurance.

Now, go have fun!

 

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