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Beginner hiking gear

I have been hiking for a few years but nothing really serious. My kids recently moved in with their dad which leaves me time to enjoy hiking camping etc. I want to hike the AT but want to make sure that I am prepared. Suggestions??

23 Replies

The first question to be asked is always, "What type of hiking are you interested in?" There is day hiking, distance hiking, wilderness hiking and bushwhacking, the approach and gear requirements are different for each. If you're interested in the AT, that's distance hiking.

Of the four types of hiking, despite the occasional deaths in this group, distance hiking is statistically speaking the safest. Some of the markers of this type of hiking (regarding gear) is light/ultralight "base weight." Base weight is the weight of your pack minus consumables (typically food and water). Up to 10-15 pounds is usually considered ultralight.

Another marker is distance hiking often has a prominent social component. So be prepared to meet lots of people and different personality types. Also, distance hikers are often going into town to "resupply" food (and get beer, pizza, a movie, a hotel room, etc.). So, I often describe distance hiking as more akin to "touring" rather than "hiking." That said, you need to look at light/ultralight packs, sleeping systems and sheltering systems.

One basic rule is "Good gear costs good money!" That doesn't mean you can't enjoy yourself by pinching pennies, it just means good gear costs good money!! And ultralight gear costs MONEY!!! But I would spend that money FIRST on your clothing layers, then your sleep system, then either your pack/shelter. After that, be sure your basic needs are covered (shelter, fire, water, food).

Another major component to distance hiking is logistics. KNOW how you're going to resupply, be sure you have enough TIME and MONEY, etc. Any kits you have can be minimal in approach because you can resupply along the way and help (in the form of other hikers) is usually not far away (especially in season). Just do NOT overdo any particular kit. Personally, I would also suggest taking the time to assemble a GOOD survival kit (which you should keep on your belt, NEVER in a pack!!!).

I would suggest beginning with reasonable day hikes, gradually lengthening the.  I found it helpful to incorporate a regular running and cycling program as well.  Progress to overnight trips and work out the logistics and gear of sleeping comfortably and food preps.

this is about all I can meaningfully contribute, because hiking the long distance trails like the AT does not appeal to me.  i much prefer wilderness and its challenges.  But the above will get you fit for all kinds of great experiences, however defined.

My take is that the AT and similar are a series of 5 to 6 day trips,linked by supply points where you can replenish provisions and modify gear.  if I am out for 6 days,I much prefer wilderness, but everyone is different and that is fine.

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Agreed, be sure you have all the necessary information AND be sure you are up to the hike physically. That will dramatically lower the chances of problems.

I prefer wilderness hiking. The outings are much longer at a stretch (often weeks instead of days), I'm in the backcountry, so I need to be much more self-sufficient which means dependable gear, backups, etc. and my kits are more robust than in distance hiking.

Even footwear has different considerations; for distance hiking, you can generally get away with simple sneakers (trail runners are a popular option). But the rougher the trail, the more you expect to go off-trail, the more you NEED boots!

Another suggestion I give beginners is if you have friends/family with a lot of experience, ask them for guidance! They will likely give you good advice and suggest good gear (saving you a lot of money and bother!!)

@Feisty-Muffin thanks for reaching out to our community for help with this evolution of your hiking! We have a few helpful articles you might check out:

As you get going, don't hesitate to reach out here with more questions! We love to recommend specific gear and specific places!

At REI, we believe time outside is fundamental to a life well lived.

I generally agree with the above, save two points:

1) The best exercise for an activity is the ACTIVITY itself, or, an exercise that closely emulates the activity. On this point, I'm referring to "rucking" or "rucksacking." You get a sturdy pack, put weight in it (i.e. sandbags, etc.), and start climbing steps, hills, etc.

2) The "ten essentials" REALLY needs an update! It's a short list of items that are generally "essential" and common to all gear lists. First and foremost, it's inaccurate and IRRESPONSIBLE to suggest a short list of items will make you safe (which is almost always the case). And second, it's about time the inclusion of a SURVIVAL kit made the list!! (if for no other reason than it already has many of the "essential" items typically suggested). Here's my UPDATED "10 Essentials":

1- Survival kit (Carry on your belt, NEVER in a pack)

2- Smartphone (in a waterproof-shockproof case & spare battery or battery bank)

3- Water for the day/duration (may include water filter/treatment)

4- Appropriate clothing (base and outer layers PLUS a thermal layer and a rain shell)

5- Sleeping pad with a good R-rating (head-to-hip mandatory, head-to-heel optional)

6- Area topographic map (printed on waterproof paper)

7- Personal Locator Beacon (feat. ACR RescueMe, Garmin inReach Mini)

8- Food for the day/duration

9- Necessary prescriptions (i.e. glasses, medications, etc.)

10- The Five Essential Steps (booklet)

In addition to a number of items, some minimal instruction/information should ALWAYS be included! That's where "The Five Essential Steps" comes in:

1- Planning,

2- Preparing,

3- Proficiency,

4- Backups, and

5- Basic Survival (strategies and concepts)

These are NOT random "suggestions", they are based on analyzing hundreds of wilderness survival stories. For example, Steps 1 and 3 alone will cut your odds of getting into trouble (and having to be rescued) at least in HALF! Not to worry, I have a link too:


Wow, what an exciting group of folks to learn from. Thank you so much for all the advise and tips. I have been looking on line and reading a lot of different information. I think that is what has confused me as to what gear to purchase. There are an endless array of options. While options are great it’s exhausting trying to figure out which pack, sleep bag etc....I live in Indiana and have hiked the Knobstone Trail and have done a few other day hikes but I am craving a more robust hike. I am 49 and most everyone around me think that I’m going through a mid-life crisis!! I am currently unemployed, kids moved in with their dad and this is the first time in 30 years (my entire adult life) that I don’t have anyone else to take care of. I want to live. To do the unexpected. To challenge myself physically as well as mentally. We only  get one chance to I want to live it with gusto!! Thank you for all your help and info...and keep it coming!!

OF COURSE you have someone to take care of... yourself!

@Feisty-Muffin Are you serious about trying the AT this year? What gear are you having trouble deciding about?


I thought about it but the more I am informed I understand that I am not even close to being prepared.