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The basics for new hikers

A great feeling to be hiking back country and camping, but need the proper equipment.

From boots , to tent, to sleeping bag, to water purifier, etc.

Where do you start so you don't buy junk equipment?

14 Replies

@Mac well, we're somewhat biased, but we'd recommend starting exactly where you did - REI and this community!

A few thoughts:

And finally, you can always ask us specific questions here in the community and REI employees (and other community members) will weigh in! It's helpful to include some specifics about you - where you're going, how long, gear you already have, specifics about you for product fit, etc. Hope this is helpful without being overwhelming!

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

@Mac Hiking covers everything from short day hikes to multi day backpacks over challenging routine.  I recommend commencing with short day hikes, three miles or less (assuming you are in decent physical condition) and then extending gradually from there.

Even on a short hike carry a least a quart of water. something in the way of first aid, snacks, a flashlight of some sort, and hopefully a map, perhaps even a compass.  Get into the habit of using an appropriate map, ideally a 1:24,000topo map - knowing where you are and where you are going is fundamental.  Bring along your cell phone.  Be properly clothed for conditions, including proper head gear.    As you venture out, hopefully with experienced companions, you will develop preferences for gear.  Learn about the "ten essentials and start ASAP to carry at least a rudimentary version of them, even on day hikes.

The three B's are fundamental - boot, backpack, and sleeping bag,  On a short trip on easy terrain, normal sneakers will do just fine.  Most versatile is a low cut boot or shoe with lug sole (pretty routine these days), probably some sort of leather and fabric construction.  From there the sky is the limit.  Depending on your inclinations, you can possess several pairs of boots for different situations.  There is a good selection in every REi store I have ever visited.

Backpacks - you will certainly need at least a good, well fitting daypack, capacity about 40 liters IMO, but some prefer less capacity.  You can begin with less but this should be a high priority for acquisition.  Proper fitting and sizing is crucial.  For overnights and longer you will want a pack with more capacity, 65 liters or so at least.  Proper fitting is even more important here and this is a major item, so take your time and evaluate carefully.

If you get into the activity, you will want a quality sleeping bag, along with a decent pad.  You can get by with expedient items, perhaps just a spare blanket of two, but eventually, if you do many overnights, you will want a down bag, weighing three pounds or less, and rated for a comfortable night's sleep at 20-25F.  This is another major purchase, so take your time and be sure you will use it.  if you do, it will soon become a cherished item.

Most indispensable will be informed and capable companions.  They will last a lifetime (trust me, I know).

There's lots more, so pay attention to this forum.  Lots of good stuff here,


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one or more gifts or other benefits from the co-op.

Thank you! I’ve taken a lot of grief (and still do) when I tell people my day pack is 40L. 

I have a 20L pack made from the same material as the larger UL packs and although I can cram everything into it, the shoulder straps are not padded enough and there is no hip belt. I hate carrying it and as a 6’ guy, it looks ridiculous on me. 

Sure, my 40L is heavier but the hip belt let’s me carry the 11 essentials (10 + bourbon) far more comfortably than my 20L. I carry a larger medical kit than most so the larger size is great. 

as long as the pack has cinch straps to pull the load tight then there’s no worry about the contents flopping around and making the pack a burden. 

“Between every two pine trees there is a door leading to a new way of life.” (John Muir)

Superusers do not speak on behalf of REI and may have received
one or more gifts or other benefits from the co-op.

@Dad_Aint_HipLOL! "Bourbon." For medical purposes, I'm sure.

Bah, not to worry, my winter pack is 70ltr, which is also my summer pack (I typically carry half that capacity in the summer, I just cinch it down).

I would add that "backpacking" IMPLIES hiking and camping, but is not LIMITED to hiking and camping. It could include all sorts of things:

I always bring an ultralight rope and rig to get at some water sources I would otherwise not be able to reach, or to take a quick shortcut (besides, rappelling is so D**N fun!), a pen-fishing rod and miniature tackle to add variety to my diet (besides, fishing is so D**N fun!), or sometimes I'll bring my packraft to get across, or go down, rivers (besides... you get the idea).


I like that idea, going to take from it.  some rope and fishing tackle.  Probably some dyneema cord though.

REI Member Since 1979


Well, if you're concerned with multi-use options, think about 1,000lb paracord. It's like very slim rope, but is made like regular paracord (just more strands than 550). Dyneema is one use and static, not dynamic. It is light, though.

Hi @Mac !  that's such a broad question, like asking at a restaurant, what's good?

If you are just starting out, I recommend going to your nearest REI and just wander around and talk to the vests.

Starting out can be sooooooo expensive due to the this equipment intensive activity.

And of course equipment is season dependent and so situational (is that a word?)

There's what you mentioned, plus clothes, cooking stuff, bear protection stuff, navigation stuff, first aid stuff, get the point.

I also recommend you get what you can afford, go out in the spring/summer/fall, then replace as needed.

I've never meet a backpacker who didn't have multiples of EVERYTHING.  It's sort of a 'learn as you go' kind of thing.

best of luck

REI Member Since 1979

I would ad, take some sort of first aid course, preferably oriented toward the outdoors, if you have not already done so.

Its not that hiking and backpacking are particularly dangerous, but sooner or later, slips and bumps will occur, either to you, a companion, or a complete stranger encountered on the trail. Actually, you will most likely use first aid in a domestic setting or around an auto accident.

Superusers do not speak on behalf of REI and may have received
one or more gifts or other benefits from the co-op.

Hi Mac,

I echo pretty much everything that has been said so far,by @REI-JenK , @hikermor , @Philreedshikes .  And Phil, yes, situational is a word.  It's part of one of my favorite phrases, "situational awareness". 

Going back to the topic at hand, I would have to say that if you are just starting out, your first purchases should be your clothing and footwear choices.  Try to stay away from cotton for cold weather, because it retains moisture.  I recommend wool socks without question.  For your other layers, wool is awesome, but can be pricey, so some synthetic layers are fine.  Don't go overboard until you know what works best for you.  

Again, reiterating previous commentary, start with local state parks to build your stamina, to comfort level in the wild places, and carry the basics; water, snacks, first aid, the 10 essentials.  As your experience, knowledge and comfort grow, you can expand your gear.  Like all other regular outdoors people, I have multiples of just about everything.

Read up on this Forum, and on the REI Expert Advice columns to get some background, then bring your questions here, or to an REI store.

With more specific questions, we can all help provide more guidance.  

Good luck, and welcome!

Superusers do not speak on behalf of REI and may have received
one or more gifts or other benefits from the co-op.