A beginner’s guide to hiking gear


We can almost guarantee that once you’ve experienced your first exhilarating hike, you’ll want more. That’s why you should get the right hiking gear from the start. It’s an investment in your health and enjoyment that you’ll never regret.

So if you’re wondering how to start hiking, particularly concerning equipment, read on. We’ve put together our essential checklist of women’s and men’s hiking gear to take as you head off into the world.

Hiking footwear 

Hiking is all about footwork, so your number one priority is safe, comfortable boots. Ankle boots offer maximum protection, but can be heavy on long hikes. Pro walking shoes are great for long walks on relatively solid surfaces.

The things to look for in your hiking footwear are dependent on the style of hiking you intend to do. Look for these factors:

  • A good fit. Try your footwear on before you set out. Have a short walk around in them in your hiking socks. You’ll get an instant feel for whether they’re too loose or tight. You’re looking for a snug fit with a little freedom, as your feet will swell after hours of walking. If you’re buying online, check out the retailer’s returns policy.

  • Grip. The sole should be firm but flexible, with generous lugs so every step is dependable. The thickness of the sole will also influence its insulation if you’re walking on frozen ground.

  • Water protection and breathability. Choose waterproof shoes when hiking in wet weather or across damp terrain. Shoes with a breathable-waterproof FUTURELIGHT™ membrane shield against rain and allow any moisture inside to escape. The height of the ankle also plays a part in waterproofing if you’re hiking around puddles or streams. 

  • Insulation. If you’re going out in the cold, insulation is vital. However, if you’re hiking in hot conditions, choose something lighter.

  • Ankle support. Off-track, where you’re scaling rock and loose stone, slippages are frequent. Sturdy boots with ankle support can prevent twists and knocks to your ankles.

Don’t forget to wear a good pair of hiking socks, and take a spare pair in a plastic bag. There’s nothing like a fresh pair of socks halfway around a long hike.

Appropriate clothing

There’s no answer to the question “What are good hiking clothes?” It’s dependent on the terrain and conditions. Trekking in summertime Corsica has different demands to a winter hike in Scotland. Some general rules always apply to hiking clothes, though:

  • Layering. The cornerstone of hiking clothes is layering. As you ascend and descend elevation, and as the weather changes, your needs will evolve. Wear a base layer as standard, and bring a few T-shirts and long-sleeve tops in your backpack. 

  • Breathability. You’re going to sweat on your hike, even in cold conditions. Breathable clothing helps to keep you dry from the inside.

  • Water resistance. A waterproof jacket is always worth having, but check the weather reports to see if you need to take it. A lightweight shell jacket could be a good compromise.

  • Visibility. If you’re out in the wilderness, wear a bright colour that’s in contrast to the surrounding landscape. It could save your life if you need to be found.

  • Appropriateness to weather. You should have an idea about whether you need a fully insulated coat or a light waterproof layer. Read up on your destination for the relevant season before you leave.

Support. Hiking gear for women and men is mostly identical, but make sure you wear an appropriate sports bra if you feel you need one. Long hikes can cause discomfort if you’re wearing a regular bra.


You must use a backpack that’s appropriate to the type of hike you’re going on. Key things to look out for are:

  • Capacity. Short hikes only require a few clothing layers, as well as the items listed below. If you’re in for an overnight stay or are expecting changeable or extreme weather, you’ll need a larger capacity.

  • Fit and comfort. Look for a backpack with adjustable shoulder straps, a padded back panel and a hip belt.

  • Weight. Opt for a backpack that is lightweight yet durable. Don’t forget that the weight of your backpack adds to the load you’ll carry.

  • Accessibility and organisation. Multiple compartments and pockets for easy organisation and access are always useful.

Hydration system

Regular hydration is vital, so choose a system that makes it easy to drink your water while you’re on the go. A bottle in easy reach on the outside of your backpack is usually fine. However, you can get bladder systems with a feeding tube that allows you to take sips without stopping.


Snacking is a great way to keep your energy levels up on a long walk. Take nuts, fruit (fresh or dried), energy bars or jerky sticks to nibble on as you walk. You’ll also need a more substantial meal every few hours. Remember that cans and lunchboxes add weight, so consider using sealed food bags.

Navigation aids

Make sure you have a paper map of the area, and that you know how to read it. Your phone or dedicated GPS device will get you through many hikes. But of course, their batteries run flat, they lose signal and they get damaged. Keep your map handy and regularly confirm your location on it.

Walking pole(s)

Many hikers use one or two walking poles on their long walks. They have multiple benefits, the main one being that they can take the strain off your knees, ankles and back. On rugged surfaces, they can give you more points of contact with the ground, helping your stability. They can also be used for brushing aside brambles, foliage and nettles.

Sun protection

Never underestimate the power of the sun, even when it’s cold. Spread on some sunblock if it’s sunny when you set out, but take it with you too, as it might need topping up. A hat or cap will protect your face and neck from sunburn. And don’t forget your sunglasses – polarised ones are best.

First aid kit and emergency signals

Always prepare for the worst, especially if you’re hiking far from civilisation. At least one of your group should carry a basic first aid kit, containing plasters, bandages, antiseptic cream and a tourniquet. 

Don’t rely on your phone to call for help. Take a torch, a mirror, a whistle and a brightly coloured flag so you can attract people’s attention – whether they’re looking for you or not.

Shop The North Faces hiking gear

When it comes to hiking boots, bags and clothing, The North Face has it covered. Take a look through our men’s, women’s and kids’ hiking collections for all your essential outdoor gear.