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Just Starting Out Hiking?

To get properly equipped when just starting out can be an expensive proposition. This can be daunting, so I have put together this walking checklist on the most economic/practical way to do it, based on my own experience. This list refers to day walks. For multi-day backpacking, the list will be longer! I have divided the list into Essential - items I really think you cannot ignore and Consider/Nice to have? - optional items.

There are a few notes on each item but here is a basic Checklist as a pdf just for ticking off.

Much more information on individual topics can be seen via the subjects in the list above.

Essentials Notes
Boots Some might claim trainers or walking shoes are adequate and in many circumstances they might be. However, if you are planning much countryside walking and especially if venturing on to moorland or hills, I strongly recommend boots. Two reasons:

1) The higher sides will help keep the inevitable mud/puddles out;
2) On rough/steep ground, the boots will provide more support and help prevent turning an ankle.

Fabric or leather? My first pair of boots were a cheap leather pair of unknown brand, which I think came from Poland. Hardened walker would have laughed. BUT, with plenty of regular waterproofing they did the job for a year or two until I could afford something better. So, if you are strapped for cash, go for cheap leather not cheap fabric. I once bought some fabric boots for summer simply because they were 'a bargain'. They were rubbish and leaked on first time out, despite having been sprayed with waterproofing. My advice would be not to buy fabric, unless you can afford really good quality, Gore-Tex type boots. Take the socks you intend to wear, when you buy them to get the right size.

Socks Some cheap loop pile socks will do. Long ones are good for tucking your trousers into, to keep them cleaner and keep out insects, especially ticks. With leather boots, I like to wear a thin base layer sock under thicker, loop pile ones but this is down to preference. With fabric boots in summer, I wear one pair of shorter, loop pile type.
Map/Compass You may have a whizzy smart phone and think you can rely on that plus some App or other for navigation. However, Mountain Rescue Teams regularly get called out to people where this approach has failed - phone run out of power or whatever. However else you economise, please take a 1:25000 scale Ordnance Survey map and compass. See my section on Finding Your Way.
Map case A waterproof map case will protect your valuable map. A wet map is quickly an ex-map!
(outer layers)
Any cheap cagoule and trousers are better than nothing. "Breathable" waterproofs are best but expensive. The argument for the breathable type is that they let out perspiration, whereas with the cheap type you get soaked with it. Well, true but I have found that I get soaked, even with expensive Gore-Tex, which seems to stop breathing when it gets wet. The main thing is that even the cheap type will give you protection from wind and reduce risk of hypothermia. Minimise perspiration by reducing layers of clothing underneath.
Shirt (base layers) At a pinch, any man made fabric items in your wardrobe will do. Avoid cotton shirts which are cold and clammy when wet/damp. Man made breathable base layers are available from many outlets quite cheaply. If it is warm enough, I use these as single  T-shirts when walking. If I anticipate getting really hot and sweaty, I sometimes take a spare shirt and change at the top of the main ascent.
Any cheap fleeces will do. They are mostly made of similar stuff. The main thing is (depending on the weather) to carry 2/3, mostly thinner ones so that you can adjust your layers to regulate temperature. A mixture of fleeces/jumpers/shirts can be used. Avoid wool which can be heavy if it gets wet.

Put an extra layer on (or waterproof) as soon as you stop for lunch in cold weather. Don't get chilled first!

I would avoid windproof fleeces as they can make you too hot. Use extra layers or waterproof instead, if you need wind protection. This is more flexible.

Trousers You could use any roomy trousers made of man-made fabric. Proper walking trousers are best as they dry quickly if they get wet. Those with the zip off legs which convert to shorts are useful in our fickle climate. Some seem to like lycra but it is not for me.

Above all, do not go walking in jeans. If they get wet, they are heavy, will not dry and so increase the risk of hypothermia, not to mention just being dammed unpleasant to walk in.

Depending on the temperature and your own susceptibility to cold, consider base layers (or coms!) for the lower body/legs, underneath your trousers or wear insulated trousers. A pair of ladies tights also makes a big difference - I have tried it.

Gloves Nothing is designed to make you more miserable than freezing hands. Any cheap manmade fabric will suffice until it rains, at which point waterproof gloves come into their own. These are relatively expensive but worth it. Mitts are always warmer than gloves but can be cumbersome depending on what you are doing and might need frequent removal e.g. to use a phone, eat sandwiches etc.
Rucksack For day walks, a 20 to 35 litre capacity rucksack is the range to go for. There is not a huge difference between the weights, size for size. What weighs is what you put in them! Therefore, get too large rather than too small.  Most importantly, get one with a lap belt AND chest strap. These stop the rucksack moving about. The chest strap stops the straps slipping off your shoulders, which can be a particular problem when wearing relatively slippery waterproofs.
Rucksack Liner Rucksacks are generally not waterproof. Plastic liners are cheap and will keep spare clothing etc dry. To be honest, I just use a strong bin liner! Also take a small plastic bag for smaller zip compartments, where you might stow a wallet, guide book etc. Some rucksacks come with a built in "raincoat" or you can buy separate slip on ones.
Hats In summer you might need protection from sun but in winter you need a hat to keep warm. My preference is a balaclava, which can be pulled down to protect the face in biting winds or turned up to form a cap. My summer hat is a simple, cheap cotton, small brimmed hat. Larger brims can blow off easily, unless you tie them on and I don't like the string under my chin. When it rains, I do not like the waterproof directly on my head so even in dull weather will wear the hat.
Food Unless it is a very short walk, I would always take food. My preference is sandwiches, tomatoes and cake/biscuit plus apple. Some prefer snack bars to munch on the go. I have tried this and it is ok but I like to have a proper stop. Some extra high energy food is a sensible precaution if venturing into exposed areas.
Drinks Container I carry a metal water bottle (Sigg). In cold weather, I take a small flask for a hot drink. In hot weather, I dispense with the flask and take extra water. Try at least to get a reusable plastic bottle, rather than pollute the planet with disposable ones! Some prefer bladders but these can produce off flavours depending on how cleaned/stored.
Watch Especially in winter, it is important to be able measure your progress against time/daylight available.
First Aid Kit It is inevitable that sooner or later you will get a cut/scrape at least, on a walk. Comprehensive first aid kits can be quite pricey and heavy. As an absolute minimum, I would suggest you take a range of plasters, including blister plasters, antiseptic pads, micro porous tape, crepe bandage plus safety pins, paracetamol and a tick removal tool. Ticks are nasty blighters and need proper removal as soon as possible. Consider lip salve.
Medication I would pop any pills out of their blister packs into a small plastic container to put in the rucksack, rather than risk popping them outside. Sometimes, they seem spring loaded! Better to take before you go if possible.
Emergency whistle Easy to write this off in the days of electronics but should you ever have the misfortune to need rescuing, this cheap little tool could be invaluable to attract rescuers. See section on Safety for the signaling technique.
Survival Bag I would only class this as essential if you are venturing into exposed hills, as they are quite heavy.
Torch There is a weight issue but if there is any danger delay could cause you to be on the hills at night, or you might want to look into a cave, I would regard as essential. See section on Safety.
Toilet Paper You never know! You don't need a full roll!
Sunglasses/Goggles If it is bright sun and especially if there is snow on the ground, sunglasses are a good idea, Reflections off snow can quickly induce a headache. If there is wind and driving rain, or especially hail, goggles can be a boon.
Route Plan Plan your route in advance, assessing the time it might take - see Walking Time Calculator. If climbing to mountain tops, in case of mist/cloud, it is worth noting  strategic compass directions before you go, in comfort, rather than in a howling gale! Consider emergency escape routes and leaving details of your plans with someone.
Consider/Nice to Have?  
Mobile phone I walked for years before these were invented/affordable, so obviously, they are not essential but nowadays, it makes sense to carry one for emergencies. Bear in mind, you cannot assume a mobile signal is everywhere. I carry a cheap, push button, non smart type. Smart phones can do strange things if the screen gets water on it. They are also power hungry. For those reasons, I would not recommended them as the sole means for navigation. A map and compass should always be carried (see Essential section)
GPS receiver These are better for electronic navigation than phones but are relatively expensive. In any case, a map and compass should be carried (see Essential section).
Spare Batteries/Power pack What you need depends on what electrical gadgets you take, relative to the time of the walk.
Sit mat These are as cheap as chips and weigh (next to) nothing. Broadens scope for somewhere to sit for your picnic, if dry rocks benches etc are not available. A wet bum is a cold bum!
Walking Poles I walked for years without poles. However, once I tried them and with advancing years, I now always carry two, if there is any steep ground to walk. In particular, they greatly help protect the knees on steep downhills. I find they also help prevent backache on steep climbs, carrying a heavy rucksack. If you are young and fit, you can perhaps do without these - for now!
Gaiters When I started walking, I managed without. However, a few wet feet situations persuaded me to get some. Some are quite cheap. It really depends where and when you are walking as to whether these are worthwhile. I find they make my legs hot in warm weather.
Crampons/Ice Axes If you are just starting out, you are not likely to (will not!) need these. Essential for winter walking in snowy mountains and you need to know how to use an ice axe for emergency braking in the event of a slide. Crampons are not suitable for all boots, especially cheaper ones. Seek advice first.
Penknife/Multitool Some would not go anywhere without one. I have never carried one. Note rules on penknives say the cutting blade must be 3 inches or less and foldable - not a lock knife.
Insect Repellant Depends on your susceptibility. I get bitten to death!. I do not believe all the old wives tails about eating garlic, marmite or Avon products. The only thing that works for me is Deet. When venturing into midge territory, I have found a face-net invaluable.
Hand Sanitiser Relatively heavy. It depends on your attitude to hygiene. Many never bother with this product in the rucksack, although if you use the toilet paper mentioned in 'Essentials' you might like it!
Wet wipes As above. Please never flush these down a toilet. They clog the drains!
Sun cream Could be classed as essential depending on how much you can cover up and skin type.
Camera More weight but nice for the memories. Obviously, most modern phones also take good photos but beware power usage.
Binoculars More weight again! Depends on whether you are a keen wildlife watcher or whether you think there will be anything worth seeing. I carry mine less as I can use the zoom on my camera.

For a list of virtually anything you could possibly want in the way of clothing/equipment, see the Hiking Store page.

All information on this site is given in good faith and no liability is accepted in respect of any damage, loss or injury which might result from acting on it.