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I would like to get into hiking, and would like some ideas on gear.training to start. I have always enjoyed nature walks and even did some hiking when I was a kid in boy scouts, but that was years ago and now I am out of shape. Don't take that as I need a buggy at Wal Mart, I don't. Any recommendations on how to train and what gear I should consider for training?

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    Start by stepping outside and putting one foot in front of the other. – Schwern Aug 13 '15 at 6:17
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    Less flippant this time... where are you located? That will impact the availability of local trails or even sidewalks. – Schwern Aug 13 '15 at 6:26
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    North Texas, or DFW airport area – El Turner Aug 13 '15 at 14:46
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    Surprisingly, none of the answers so far have mentioned two of the most awesomestest pieces of gear on the market today: youtube.com/watch?v=ZAtzN_ScKXY – Ben Crowell Aug 14 '15 at 21:48
  • Depends what country you live (or want to walk) in. I can advise about Britain. Also done a little in the Appalachians. – chasly from UK Aug 16 '15 at 18:37

15 Answers 15

39

The only gear you need is a good, comfortable pair of running shoes and any cheap backpack (extra points for Hello Kitty).

There is a popular belief, probably based on pop-culture images dating back to the 1960s, that people need big, heavy hiking boots, or that ankle support is necessary if you're going to carry heavy loads or walk on uneven ground. Totally untrue. Ray Jardine led the way on converting to lightweight shoes with his idiosyncratic and highly influential 1992 book Beyond Backpacking. Running shoes become impractical only in very specific situations. They aren't good in snow, for slogging through mud, for technical rock climbing, or for very cold conditions.

You do not need trekking poles, which make you less efficient and are almost never useful except as a way for REI to make more money from you. See Are trekking poles proven to be helpful?

You do not need special clothing. If wet weather is a possibility, just keep in mind that jeans and a cotton T-shirt are not the best choice. Whatever you do in ordinary life to keep from being miserable in the rain, just do that.

You do not need any fancy water-carrying system. It works fine if you just use lightweight, ordinary water bottles (the kind they sell bottled water in), and refill them. People have a lot of mythologized, inaccurate beliefs about hydration: Drinking Water for Hiking: Myths and Facts

As far as how to train, just go out and hike, and enjoy yourself!

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    trekking poles, which make you less efficient and are almost never useful except as a way for REI to make more money from you. Wait, the conclusion in your own post on that question was that trekking poles make you less efficient, but reduce the wear and tear on your body. Given the number of folks with bad knees who still like to hike, that's hardly 'almost never'. – Charles E. Grant Aug 13 '15 at 0:32
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    Link for lazy people: outdoors.stackexchange.com/q/4470/3993 – Zach L Aug 13 '15 at 1:06
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    I agree with Ben Crowell 100% on the adequacy of running shoes, except to say that they are OK even in muddy mud. Long ago, I read somewhere that one pound on the feet is equivalent to five pounds on the backpack. As for the trekking poles, one pole is a handy thing to have, but two poles are a nuisance. And do a few modest hikes to start with. – ab2 Aug 13 '15 at 1:28
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    Trekking poles are nice for a few things, though: keep your balance on slipery or uneven terrain, go up faster, ge easier on the way down. – njzk2 Aug 13 '15 at 2:11
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    "You do not need trekking poles, which make you less efficient and are almost never useful except as a way for REI to make more money from you" [not in citation given] – Michael Hampton Aug 14 '15 at 16:40
18

Two ways to get started on a hike: with either your right foot, or your left foot :P

First and foremost you need comfortable footwear. Doesn't matter what it is to get started, I've led people over mountain ranges and all they wore were cross trainers. When you get more serious into it, then you should determine what type of trails you want to hike on and buy an appropriate pair of boots, hikers, or trail runners for the terrain you're going to be trekking over. If you're going to be hiking on uneven ground or carrying a heavy backpack, get something with good ankle support, if you're going to be hiking on muddy/wet trails, get something that's also waterproof, if you're hiking somewhere hot get something that breathes well, if you're going to be walking on smooth, flat, well maintained trails, just get a pair of comfy trail runners will likely be more than adequate. Don't go out and get the most intense pair of boots you can, it's vital that you get the appropriate boot. I have many pairs of boots, and I pick and choose which one I'm going to wear depending on the hike.

After boots, when you feel like you want to upgrade and get some more creature comfort hiking accessories, you should look at investing in breathable technical clothing, a water bladder, trekking poles (poles make a huge difference on your legs in the long trails or steep climbs, and save your knees on the descents), and gradually get larger and larger backpacks as you find your going out on longer and longer hikes.

To get fit, just hike often, walk lots, take the stairs instead of the elevator or escalator, and just get up and move around more often. Any kind of activity will prepare you for getting into hiking.

  • I'd one up this but don't have the Rep yet, Thanks! – El Turner Aug 12 '15 at 22:51
  • I don't like water bladders because: a/ you don't know how much left there is b/ to refill them you need to take out completly and put them back in, a bottle fits on the side of the pack c/ It is not convenient if you have to treat water on the go d/ the tube freezes when it gets cold. – njzk2 Aug 13 '15 at 2:04
  • There aren't that many sizes of backpack. The way I see it, there are 3 parameters: a/ whether you need to sleep or not b/ how much food you need to carry c/ do you need specific equipement (warmer clothings, snowshoes, climbing stuff...). – njzk2 Aug 13 '15 at 2:10
  • Ankle support is overrated (some will argue that it weakens the ankle muscles as they don't work, resulting in less frequent, but more important injuries). Waterproof boots will get soaked, after hours or days of rain (often by water dripping along the calves into the boot). – njzk2 Aug 13 '15 at 2:24
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    @njzk2, go carry a 50lbs bag up and down steep mountain ranges in vibram five fingers for a couple days then tell me ankle support is overrated. I'll tell you what to expect: one morning you'll wake up and your shins will feel like they've been splintered . It was a long agonizing hike out of the woods that helped me realize exactly how much of an advantage ankle support was when carrying a heavy bag. – ShemSeger Aug 13 '15 at 2:45
15

Start small and simple. The important thing is to get back into the habit of walking long distances and times again. You probably haven't walked a mile in a while.

For starters, walk around your neighborhood. Walk to the store. Walk to the movies. Walk to the bar (and stumble home again). Google maps provides walking times, distance and directions.; use it to decide if you can walk there instead of driving. Slowly increase the distance you're willing to walk. A half mile. A mile. Two miles. These 15 to 30 minute walks will do a lot to get you in shape both physically and mentally. You don't need any special equipment or preparation, just walk out your door.

Once you consider a wilderness hike, don't worry about fancy equipment. Any simple pack to hold a liter of water and some snacks. Some decent walking shoes. Maybe a rain jacket if it rains a lot where you are. And a smartphone with GPS.

Find a book or website of easy, local hikes close to home. For example, "Walk There!" is for the Portland, OR area. Many cities have large parks and trails. Some are along rivers, some are along old railroad tracks.

A book I would recommend reading is Bill Bryson's "A Walk In The Woods". It's about a schlubby, middle-aged author who decides to walk the Appalachian Trail with no training. It goes about as poorly as you'd imagine. It's an excellent description of why people hike by someone who does not hike. It's also a dire warning to not overdo it at the start.

  • I can second the recommendation for A Walk in the Woods. – pkaeding Aug 13 '15 at 21:36
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The single most important piece of equipement you need is a good reference on the hiking trails around where you live. Read it through, pick a few that you want to do. Those books usually give you a good idea of how long it takes and how hard the hike is.

For the rest, Ben Crowell has a pretty good answer.

Do a few (or just one) hikes and adjust your equipement based on how you feel. (e.g. that raincoat was to warm/heavy/not breathable, when coming back, go to you local sport shop and get something that breathes better)

There are a few things you should always have with you. The list depends on where you live, how far you hike, how many people hike the same path as you do... but basically:

  • Enough water
  • Extra food
  • Something warm enough for the night, even if you plan a day hike (typically a thick fleece)
  • Something to make fire
  • A map/compass whatever you need to make sure you can find at least your position, if not your way back (useful even if the trail is well marked)
  • A weather forecast
  • Someone that knows where you are going (ok, not necessarily with you)
  • A knife, a length of rope, a space blanket (or whatever emergency )

Last point, be careful of the big backpacks. The bigger a backpack, the more things you tend to put in it.

8

The most important thing is a bottle of water, which you can carry in any kind of backpack (does not have to be a special one for a start).

Further more, it depends very much on what terrain you like to go hiking.

Comfortable running shoes are fine if the trail mostly consists of normal soil, but I would recommend hiking shoes with ankle support if you climb up stones in a karst landscape or go down on steep, slippery paths.

I would recommend a stick if you go downhill more than say 400 meters of hight. This can be trekking poles, or it can be a wodden stick you pick up from the ground. Going down is usually more difficult (for you knees and your balance) than going up (which requires more fitness).

I would start with hikes that cover no more than 300 meters of height and slowely train until you can manage higher height differences. If you are in the alps, you will find many cable cars that can carry you up the mountain, so you can hike on the mountaintop. If you have more training, you could hike uphill and ride the cablecar downhill (going up is better training and better for your knees than the other way round).

If you hike alone, always tell someone your planned path, so they can look for you should you injure your leg and not come home.

8

Most of the answers seem to be telling you how to walk so I'll assume that's covered. I think part of this is motivation as well - one thing I have enjoyed is getting a hiking book with some destinations to see, which will get you out of the house and going to see something instead of just wandering around.

Maybe check this book out: 60 Hikes within 60 Miles: Dallas / Fort Worth Guide Book by Joanie Sanchez (Menasha Ridge Press). That's just a starter..

You can also check out Meetup - there are always hiking and sightseeing groups in an area that will have people who can help you go farther.

Good luck, and the second step is always the hardest.

8

Hiking isn't too different from walking, except that the terrain may be rougher (depending on the path) and navigation might be more difficult (again, depending on the path). I am in the northeastern U.S. and can tell you that most people already own the equipment to hike many of the most difficult all-day mountain trails in my region. You're not even planning to stay overnight.

Stage 1: Short, Flat Walks

How far do you walk already? For starters, don't do anything too different. Go to the local city or state park and walk the fraction-of-a-mile boardwalk or paved trail. You could probably do this today. Bring a bottle of water or another kind of drink if it's hot. The type of container you store the water in isn't important, as long as it's light enough for you to carry. Wear sunscreen or a hat if it's sunny. Otherwise, wear whatever clothes you find comfortable, and whatever shoes you'd choose if you didn't care how you looked and wanted to walk from one end of your indoor shopping mall to the other. On an even paved trail for a fraction of a mile, you'd be OK even if your favorite walking shoes are flip-flops or high heels.

If you want to learn more about what you're seeing, read a book about the local nature. I find it enhances the experience. :)

Stage 2: A Bit More Rugged

Congratulations. If you're having fun on the easiest hikes and want something more challenging, you're ready to do what I would consider serious hiking.

A 1-2 mile trail through the heart of a state or national park, possibly on rough and rocky terrain, can really make you feel far away from civilization. Make sure you bring plenty of water and wear sturdy shoes. Sneakers or any kind of sturdy flats are a good choice, and hiking boots are also okay. You might want to wade through streams or into lakes, and choosing stable trekking sandals as your footwear can make that fun. But don't drink the water without purifying it first.

Do NOT wear: Shoes that stretch or wobble. Examples: Flip-flops, leather sandals, Crocs, most dress shoes. On rough trails, these increase the risk of ankle injury. You also want to think twice where you put your feet when the trail is rough, and resist the urge to rush downhill. Uphill or downhill, keep a steady pace on rocky trails.

To be on the safe side, you'd want to hike with a partner starting at this level. Any type of physical activity incurs a small risk of injury, and you don't want to be alone in a remote area if you're in trouble.

You would also want to be familiar with the trail markers, and make sure you can clearly see the markers or the trail at all times. (On some trails this is a challenge...)

Stage 3: Moderate Day Hiking

3-6 mile trails can lead you through several different habitats, around lakes, or up small mountains. At this level, you can start to really know the hikes in a major state or national park.

Make sure you're in reasonably good physical shape before you attempt a hike of this difficulty. You should be very comfortable doing the easy trails. These harder hikes will take several hours, so you should wear shoes that won't give you blisters. Bring meals or snack food (such as gorp) as appropriate. You may also want to bring a flashlight, in case you miscalculate the time and find yourself stuck on the trail after dark. If you think the weather might change, bring or wear layers of clothes.

Stage 4: Are You Going to Follow the Call of the Wild?

If you're comfortable with the easy and moderate hikes, you're ready to leave your old life behind and spend a full day immersed in a trail.

You probably want to wear some of the sturdiest shoes you own - sneakers or hiking boots, so long as they don't give you blisters. I recommend you take yourself to New Hampshire, which the poet Robert Frost called "one of the two best states in the Union. Vermont's the other."

http://famouspoetsandpoems.com/poets/robert_frost/poems/733

He wrote this for a reason. You can take one of his (and my) favorite trails. It's unforgettable.

http://www.hikenewengland.com/FranconiaRidge081011.html

If you hike the whole loop, you will ascend above the Northwoods and reach tundra and spectacular views. New Hampshire isn't quite as rugged as Jack London's The Call of the Wild, which is set even farther north. Still, its motto is "Live Free or Die" and despite its small size, it would mess with Texas.

Perhaps you will be asking the question "Hiking: How to stop?" Don't.

7

As others said, you don't need special equipment.

Shoes: If you're going on sufficiently marked, easy short trails, you can even do it in bad shoes or barefoot. Our family, including my 6 year old has covered enough trails under 3 miles in Crocs. Having said that, I do most of my shorter hikes in running shoes, and longer ones (6+ hours) in hiking shoes.

Water: depending on where you hike and how long the trail is, you will need water. From our experience, it's minimum 1.5x of what we normally consume for the same time period. Our most recent hike was a 6 km round trip moderate difficult trail. For our family of 4 (2 adults, 6 year old and 3 year old -- the little one was carried about half the time), it took us 6 hours, and we consumed 3L of water in total, with plenty of juicy fresh fruits complementing the hydration need. Even then, we were thirsty by the last 30-45 minutes and could certainly consume another 500mL-1L in total. If there is running streams or lakes along the way, it is possible to capture and treat that (e.g. filter and/or chlorine tabs) if you really don't want to carry all the weight. I've only done it during back country camping.

Food: we usually bring trail mix, crackers and fresh fruits for snack. For longer hikes or hikes near meal time, we also bring bread and canned or cured meat for sandwiches. For starters, I don't recommend fruits with pits or canned food, as you have to bring the waste out with you on most trails.

Tools if the trail is sufficiently marked, you can probably do without map and compass. Don't assume you'll have cell phone coverage for map and directions if you're outside urban area. A Swiss army knife or other multi tool is nice to have. I'd also bring a flashlight just in case. Lightweight waterproof jacket with hood should be good enough to cover most weather conditions for 3 seasons. Kleenex/TP for cleaning if you want. Sunscreen and bug spray as needed. Hat is almost always a must.

Backpack Since you're bringing water and food and gear, you'll want a comfortable backpack. Any would do, as long as it's comfy.

As long as your legs knees are not totally busted (and even that isn't necessarily a deterrent for some people), you can almost certainly hike. Just start with shorter, easier trails. Most state and national parks I visited have easy trails under 2 miles. Bring someone along, 4-legged ones if you want to, to make the hike even more enjoyable.

6

Another good idea would be to remember back to your Boy Scout days.

Scouts are required to always to bring their ten essentials:

Hydration (Water bottle ... probably 1 or 2 liters)

Illumination (If you won't be out late, you can probably leave this)

Extra Clothing (A lightweight jacket that still keeps you warm)

Pocket knife (multitool)

Matches (Another thing you could probably leave home)

Map and Compass (Even if you have your iPhone or GPS, bring a map and compass)

Snacks (Something light, like Honey Stingers. Do not bring a pound bag of peanuts)

Sun Protection (Sunscreen and hat)

First Aid Kit (Get a hiking one from REI or Sports Chalet)

Rain Gear (Just look at the weather before hand, but if you have a light waterproof jacket, just bring it anyway)

If you want high quality equipment, probably got to a nearby REI. For shoes, hiking boots are definitely recommended. I know my boots saved my ankles at least three times from being twisted on my most recent backpacking trip and I am still young. For daypacks, it depends one how much you are carrying, but approximately 25 liters of space would work great. For trekking poles, if you are going up and down steep hills, one or two would be very helpful.

I am a runner, so of course I recommend running in preparation for hiking. When you run, you place way more weight on your legs than just your body weight. Also, over-preparing for hiking will allow you to enjoy the area you are hiking through much more than if you are absolutely exhausted. Try to run a couple of miles a weekend and you will be great for a few mile hike. Of course you don't have to run, but it would still help considerably for the hikes.

5

The other answers covered what you need as far as equipment goes - which isn't much - but I didn't see any that talked about what you need to know.

You need to know about any potential dangers and how to avoid them. For example, in the DFW area:

  • know how to recognize and avoid the types of poisonous snakes (and any other dangerous wild animals) that live around there
  • learn the importance of staying hydrated and how to recognize signs of heat stroke
  • learn how much water you need to carry while hiking in hot weather

In addition to local environmental dangers, there are also things you should be prepared for that apply to hiking anywhere:

  • work up to long trails - don't start with a 10 mile hike if you aren't in decent shape already. 1-5 miles are probably plenty for total beginners, but you will quickly improve.
  • Know the length and grade of any trails you plan to follow, and make sure you give yourself plenty of time to make it back to your vehicle in case of injury, bad weather, or any other unplanned difficulties. Most people consider 2-3 miles per hour a leisurely pace. 4-5 mph is a fast pace, almost a jog.
  • If you plan to hike by yourself, make sure someone knows where you are going and approximately when you are supposed to be back.
  • It's a good idea to learn at least basic land-navigation techniques and to use them, even on well-marked trails.

If I'm going more than a couple of miles, I also like to pack a small emergency kit with a knife, bandage, flashlight, firestarter, camping toilet paper (biodegradable), hand sanitizer, antibacterial ointment, bug repellent, and some food.

  • Not the flammable paper like that cyclist in Idaho! usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2015/07/24/… Thanks for the feed back – El Turner Aug 13 '15 at 21:25
  • Well, don't burn it if you are in an area where wildfires are possible :). You can just bury the biodegradable stuff in most places, but check the rules of any parks you are going to - they vary. That brings up another good item to bring though - something you can use to pack out your trash. I usually carry a plastic bag in my pack and pick up any trail trash I find along the way. – thomij Aug 13 '15 at 21:30
3

Start small and work your way up, walk round your local parks etc. You will probably be surprised how many options there are even within a short distance of where you live.

Also start with what you are comfortable and build up from there. Challenging yourself is good, but deciding to do something you're obviously unprepared for and failing horribly is only going to be painful and off putting.

I would recommend going hiking with friends or family, while many people enjoy the solitude of hiking having people to talk to on route can make it more interesting and they can also provide encouragement/support if you start to struggle.

If you can't persuade anyone to go with you maybe consider joining a local hiking/ramblers club. This also has the advantage of giving you a ready supply of more experienced people who can give you advice and know of interesting walks in your local area.

For kit:

  • decent trainers/running shoes. I like walking boots but they are not really necessary when you start.

  • Water. 1-2 L is recommended but this depends on the distance you are doing and climate. Use some common sense, but too much is definitely better than not enough.

  • Food. Again use common sense. Anything over 2 hrs I would at least take a snack.

  • Waterproof/appropriate clothes. Depends a lot on climate but should be obvious. Remember that weather can change a lot over a day. Unless your somewhere where it definitely won't rain bring a waterproof as being wet is a good way to get cold and miserable. I have a small pack-a-mak that is light and easy to pack for when it warmer/less lightly to rain and a bigger jacket for colder weather/when its definitely going to rain. Also if you are somewhere that gets heavy downpours make sure your jacket is sufficiently waterproof. I've been hiking with people how put on their jackets and are soaked to the skin 5 minutes later - which is not ideal.

  • Navigation. When starting your phone's GPS and local signage are probably sufficient for navigation. If you are going on longer trips into more remote areas it is probably not best to rely on your phone and a map and compass/dedicated GPS unit are better. If you use a map and compass make sure you know how to use it though.

  • You don't need the phone to navigate, period. People and their ancestors have been hiking for millions of years, and they did it without phones. – La-comadreja Aug 14 '15 at 17:46
  • Many people have a poor sense of direction and even more people do not know how to navigate. It is good to take a GPS in case you get turned around or hurt. If your in a group and the only one that knows how to navigate GPS because useful in finding help. – El Turner Aug 14 '15 at 18:49
  • You don't NEED the phone to navigate, but it certainly can make things a lot easier! – Michael Martinez Nov 11 '15 at 18:25
3

Use MeetUp to find local hiking groups. They can lead you to great hikes, and provide company and safety in numbers. @njzk2's answer has good recommendations for equipment you should consider for any hike. I used to use the Afoot and Afield series of books to find good hikes in my area.

3

You asked about equipment & training. What you didn't ask, but may be useful is where to hike and who to hike with. There are hiking & outdoor clubs all over the place. Most of them will accept beginners. Start on easier hikes and work your way up. You'll also get a chance to ask others on their equipment choices.

To find these clubs, just do a google search for outdoor club and your city, or try meetup.com

Have fun!

3

The gear answer depends on what kind of environment you're in: rainy and wet like the Pacific Northwest, dry and sunny like the Southwest. Mild climate, or very hot or cold.

At a minimum, comfortable hiking shoes that have decent tread/grip and cover your ankle. The most important criteria is comfortable. You don't have to get fancy or spend a lot of money. I met a guy once who hiked one peak every day for two years in different states, and he used $20 hiking shoes from Walmart. His other gear was minimal too: a light rain jacket, slacks, hiking stick, and a small waste-pouch for carrying a snack or bottle of water.

Physically the way to start is simply to start doing it. The thing I always remember is a passage from the book "A Walk in the Woods" where the author, who was overweight and out of shape, with no prior hiking experience, relates how he simply started, and by the time he was a few weeks into it, his body was already accustomed to it.

There's really nothing special you need to do for training. If you want you can go to the gym and get on the stairmaster. 30 minutes/day, 3 or 4 days a week is enough to keep you in shape. I sometimes will do this to prepare for a backpacking trip because I don't hike regularly, and this preparation helps a lot.

3

For any sport, my answer is you have to do it. Get out there and try! I kayak, hike, road bike, have windsurfed, etc. Get the minimal gear-for hiking you probably have comfortable soft soled shoes. I hate hiking with anything in my hands, so a daypack is wonderful to carry lunch, water, and a few clothes. Done. In all these sports, there are gradations that people who don't do them do not appreciate. You need to find what part(s) of the sport you want to do. For hiking, do you want to stroll along gentle trails looking at the scenery? Do you want to climb the tallest mountain around, even if the trail to the top is paved? Do you want to climb a technically challenging trail? As you hike, you will learn the answer to these questions. You will also meet people who do the version you like. Talk to them. Don't get me wrong, I think having the right gear is great-people have learned what works and it makes the day much better, but until you know what you want to do, it is difficult to figure out what the right gear is.

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