There’s a big, beautiful world on the other side of your front door. America has never had more public wilderness set aside for your enjoyment than it does right now, and no matter where you live, there are most likely trails near you. Like all hobbies, the hardest part is starting out. Don’t be put off by the bewildering array of hiking gear competing for your dollars. It’s easier than you might think to stay dry, warm, hydrated, and safe. We have recommendations for everything you need for day hiking right here.
If you’re a little more experienced, be sure to check out our other buying guides, like the Best Tents, Best Camping Stoves, and Best Portable Coffee Makers. Now get out there and become the hiker you’ve always wanted to be.
Updated January 2022: We’ve updated pricing, swapped out a few picks for new ones, and adjusted retailers to reflect changes in stock. We also added more instructional information on how to use some pieces of gear.
Table of Contents
Shoes, Socks, and Base Layers
Let’s start with the obvious: You won’t have any fun on a hike—of any length—if you have bloody blisters on your feet or uncomfortable chafing under your armpits. You may need to experiment to find out which shoes you like best. When it comes to clothing, think in terms of layers, so you can easily add or remove them before you start to sweat. Check out our guides to the Best Trail Running Shoes and How to Layer for more info.
- A good pair of shoes for $120: For moderate temperatures, we prefer low-top, non-Gore-Tex mesh trail shoes, such as the Salomon X Ultra 3 ($120) or the Merrell Moab 2 Ventilator ($100). For areas still snowy and icy this time of year, the Lowa Renegade GTX ($245) boot is more stable, and the leather keeps wet snow from soaking through your boots.
- Wicking socks for $14: If your feet run hot, synthetic socks dry out more quickly than wool. This pair by Wrightsock are synthetic and have two layers to avoid blisters. Darn Tough also makes merino wool socks in a wide range of thicknesses, and they come with a lifetime guarantee.
- Wicking boxer briefs for $25: Baselayers are a thin layer that goes next to your skin. They can be made from a variety of materials, but they need to wick sweat away and keep you warm. For bottoms, even in most cold weather you’ll be fine with short underwear.
- Wicking undershirts for $75+: This guide has a few or our favorite base layer tops. I listed great lightweight, synthetic, wool, and blended options.
- An insulating layer for $129: Your mid-layer goes between your base layer and shell, even though it’s usually too warm to wear while hiking. More often, you’ll throw it on during breaks and while doing camp chores. I’m a fan of fleece for mid-layers.
- A puffy jacket for $199: Puffy jackets can be worn as mid-layers instead of fleece. They’re very warm, but more fragile.
- A rain jacket: Water-resistant jackets can be categorized as hard or soft shells. Soft shells are stretchier and more breathable, but not completely water-resistant; hard shells are a lot less susceptible to soaking through. I like the Mountain Hardwear Exposure 2 Rain Jacket ($300).
- Various hats: Depending on the weather, you may need a sun hat or beanie to protect your noggin. I like this Smartwool Merino 150 Beanie ($23) to guard your neck against sunburn; check out our guides to the Best Sun Protection Clothing and the Best Sunglasses for more suggestions.
- Fun extras: You will probably not need gaiters, but if you’re walking through dusty environments, you’ll welcome them. They prevent crud from entering the tops of your shoes in dusty environments. I like these fun Dirty Girl Gaiters ($20).
Bottles, Bladders, and Snacks
One of the biggest beginner mistakes is to not bring water or food, even on short hikes. Depending on the heat and your level of exertion, you could get thirstier than you think, and salty snacks help you retain the water you drink. For a short day hike, a liter bottle should be enough. If you’re heading out all day or if it’s particularly hot or dry, load up.