Let’s be honest, when it comes to hiking gear, it seems like everyone has a must-have gadget that you simply cannot hike without. However, hiking is simply walking down a trail, so what do you really need to go hiking? Let’s break down the essential hiking gear for women, where you should spend your money first, and what you can get away with MacGyvering from what you have at home.
Hiking Gear Essentials
Realistically, the only things you need to go on a hike is yourself and a water bottle. You can certainly go for a low-mileage hike (a mile or two) with nothing but the clothes on your back and some water. However, for longer hikes, it’s essential to be prepared and bring a few extra creature comforts to make your day more enjoyable. Below is a hiking gear list containing the essentials for your big hike.
New to hiking? Start here:
- How to Plan a Big Hike
- The Ultimate Guide to Hiking Like a Boss
- How to Find Amazing Hiking Trails Near You
The Ten Essentials Plus a Few
Before you leave on any hike, it’s important to carry a few essential pieces of hiking gear that will help you out in case of an emergency or if things don’t quite go to plan. Here’s what you should bring on a hike:
- Navigation. You’ll want a map and compass (with the know-how on how to use them) along with a GPS (I love the Topo Maps+ app for my iPhone). I bring both since paper maps don’t have batteries.
- Sun protection. Even on a cloudy day, UV rays can penetrate clouds and reach your skin. Be sure to bring sunscreen, a hat, and sunglasses.
- First Aid Kit. You can opt to carry a small hiking first aid kit or make your own. For the ladder, be sure to include tweezers, band-aids, gauze and tape, antiseptic, rubber gloves, ibuprofen, anti-acid, Benadryl or similar product, and a few water purification tablets.
- Headlamp with extra batteries. You don’t need anything fancy (I love this $20 headlamp from Black Diamond). A headlamp is far handier than a phone because you may need your precious battery to help you navigate if it’s dark. Also, headlamps let you go hands-free.
- Knife. Again, you don’t need anything too crazy, but you want something useful. A pocket-sized knife like this Gerber works great. I always have on me while I’m climbing or hiking.
- Firestarter. This can be something as simple as a lighter or magnesium fire starter. Again, nothing too fancy. I like to take both, in case my lighter decides to break, I can still start a fire with the magnesium.
- Extra clothes. Before you head out, you should always check the weather and plan accordingly, but keeping a few spare layers like a hat, rain jacket, fleece and gloves is always a good idea, even on a fair-weather day. You never know if you may end up stuck on the trail late at night.
- Extra food. I’m a snacker by nature and I try to bring enough for what I’ll need to hike, plus a little extra. Don’t forget an extra little baggy to pack out your trash!
- Shelter. So you don’t need a full-blown tent to go hiking, but this little, virtually weightless emergency bivvy will do the trick (and only costs $17). If you or a partner get injured, a small bivvy goes a long way to prevent shock. Also, if you spend an unexpected night under the stars, you’ve got something to keep you warm.
- Extra water. For a day hike, I’ll usually bring 1.5 to 2 liters of water. Typically, I’ll use a water bladder, just because I find it easier to remember to drink (just blow back into your bladder in cold temps to help prevent the hose from freezing). If I’m hiking in a humid or hot environment, I may pack more water, or my water filter so I can refill. Water is super-heavy and balancing how much water you carry versus what you need takes some practice for longer hikes. Always take a few iodine purification tablets just in case.
- Something to store your ten essentials in. I’ve always wondered why a hiking pack is not listed as one of the ten essential hiking gear items. We will dive more into packs in just a second.
- Bathroom kit. Coming across dooky along the trail is never pleasant, but when you’ve gotta go, you’ve gotta go. Always follow Leave No Trace Principals when it comes to potty breaks. You’ll want to bring along a small plastic shovel, a roll of TP, hand sanitizer, and a plastic baggie to throw your used TP in. Some hiking trails require wag bags, essentially a glorified toilet in a bag. Be sure to check with your local regulations. Ladies – consider using a product like a Kula Kloth to avoid carrying excess amounts of TP.
Pssst, Ladies, don’t leave for the trail without these bathroom hiking gear essentials. Check out the secret to a hassle-free pee on the go!
Best Beginner Hiking Packs
If you’re just starting off with hiking, the best beginner hiking pack is going to be whatever backpack you have on hand. Why? It’s free. There’s no need to spend tons of money on hiking gear when you are just starting out. See if you actually like hiking first, then invest in a few key pieces of hiking gear to get you on the trail longer.
Be sure to get fitted properly for your hiking pack, especially if you opt to buy something that costs a little more and comes in different sizes. Try on your hiking pack with some weight and walk around the store. Go up some stairs if you can. Any mildly uncomfortable spots will surely cause issues on the trail, so try something different if you experience discomfort.
Here’s a look at a few of my favorite hiking packs. These packs offer great support and comfort and make an excellent choice for hiking gear for women (and men).
Looking to up your hiking game? I’ve got you covered with these fantastic resources:
- Acclimatizing Safely for High Altitude Adventures
- Basic Tips for Hiking in the Snow for Not-So-Basic Babes
The REI Flash 22 Pack Review
I have been a huge fan of the smaller-volumed REI Flash Series for years. I started with the Flash 18, an excellent choice if you hike in a region where you don’t need puffy layers. But for $15 extra dollars you get quite a bit more and it’s worth it in my opinion.
The Flash 22 is an excellent choice for a beginner hiking pack. First, it’s an ultra-lightweight pack that doesn’t break the bank. If you plan on traveling or backpacking the REI Flash 22 easily compresses into another bag without weighing a ton or taking up much room. At $55 it is one of the cheapest hiking bags on the market. You get tons of great features like a key ring attachment, mesh side panels, hiking pole storage and even a top storage compartment. I love this pack and it’s my go-to for almost any hike that doesn’t require special gear. It isn’t ideal for winter outings or carrying technical gear such as crampons, axes or tools, and rope.
Pros: lightweight, loaded with features for the price, easily packs down into another bag for multiple different types of use
Cons: minimal so it doesn’t have the support of a full-blown hiking pack
Men’s Version: These packs are unisex
The Osprey Kyte 36 Hiking Backpack for Women Review
To be totally transparent with you, I am a huge fan of Osprey and have been for nearly a decade. They essentially corner the backpacking and hiking pack market. I’ve tested over 12 backpacking packs for Outdoor Gear Lab and I keep coming back to Ospreys. What makes the Osprey Ktye 36 so great is how comfortable it feels, even when loaded down. The Kyte 36 gives you the incredible suspension systems that Osprey is famous for and this women’s hiking backpack can handle any day hike you may have in mind. Bonus: You can fit this in an overhead compartment if you like to travel with a backpack. The Osprey Kyte is an essential piece of hiking gear for women who go on serious hikes or occasionally take technical gear along with them.
Pros: Extremely comfortable, loaded with features, bottom, and top access, roomy hip pockets.
Cons: Expensive. Shorter users sometimes complain that their head bumps up against the top of the pack (typical for many packs).
Men’s Version: Kestral 38
The Gregory Jade 38 Women’s Hiking Pack Review
So I’ve got a confession to make, I actually haven’t tried on a Gregory pack that fits me just right. So why am I recommending one? At 5-foot 8-inches I’m rather tall, lean, and I have very broad shoulders. Osprey packs tend to be built with my frame in mind, while Gregory excels at creating cozy packs for my shorter colleagues. With that being said, the men’s version of this pack, the Zulu 30, fits me like a glove. Gregory packs are a great option for women who are a bit shorter and have smaller torsos with narrower shoulders. Many of my lady adventure pals rock the Gregory Jade 38. John has a Zulu 35 that I’ve worn plenty of times and love.
Pros: Plenty of nice features, fits well for certain body types.
Cons: Pricey, not suitable for taller, yet broader frames.
Mens Version: Zulu 40 (also comes in a 30 size)
Get Your Free Hiking Gear List and Hiking Planner!
Stay organized with this easy-to-use hiking planner and checklist. Complete with planning info, hiking packing list, emergency contact and more! Simply fill it out and send along to a trusted friend.
Do I Need Hiking Poles?
One of the questions I get asked over and over again is what are the best hiking poles? First, I’ll counter with do you actually need hiking poles to go on a hike? The short answer is maybe. Reliable, long-lasting hiking poles aren’t getting any cheaper, but they may be a necessary hiking gear item if you find yourself falling into the following categories:
- You have knee problems. Hiking poles (along with KT Tape) are an absolute life-saver if you have bad knees. I’ve got two bad knees and I take at least one hiking pole with me everywhere I go.
- You plan to hike steep trails. Hiking poles can do a lot to help relieve stress on your legs and knees over steep terrain. In fact, some studies show that hiking poles can reduce the impact on your knees by up to 40%. If you hike in hilly, steep, or mountainous terrain, consider snagging a pair of hiking poles.
- You hike in winter. Snow covered trails can quickly become slippery and unstable. Hiking poles will help you keep your balance. Most poles come with removable snow baskets to keep them afloat in snowy terrain.
- You hike long distances. Even if you’re traveling over flat terrain, poles can be useful on 15 to 30 mile days. Since they save your knees, you may find that having hiking poles helps keep your legs fresh.
- You backpack. A backpacking pack weighs a ton and poles help lessen the burden.
What to Look for in a Pair of Hiking Poles
The key to selecting a good hiking pole isn’t to purchase the cheapest thing you can find. Since poles are often carrying a heavy burden from your legs to your arms, they can take quite the beating. You want a pole that’s durable, long lasting, and ergonomic. Look for hiking poles that have:
- Cork grips. Although cork is more expensive, they absorb sweat better from your hands and are slightly more malleable (moldable) than rubber or plastic. They aren’t as hot and they won’t leave you with blisters like their plastic counterparts. Bonus points for being more eco-friendly too!
- Use snap locks. Twist locks and z-folded poles don’t last as long. The snug fit will wear out over time, while a twist lock is easy to secure and lasts far longer. Snap locks have the added bonus of having a screw, so if things do start to feel a little loose, you can easily tighten the screw
- Have foam underneath the grips. This is a nice feature if you travel on steep terrain or over snow. Sometimes the slope you are on is steep, and you’ll want to shorten the uphill pole, you can do this by simply grabbing the foam part of the pole. This isn’t a necessary feature, but it’s a nice cushy plus.
Best Hiking Poles for Women
There are only two hiking poles that I recommend for women, the Black Diamond Trail Ergo Cork’s and the REI Traverse Power Lock Cork poles. Both poles offer a stable, ergonomic grip, can easily be packed down, and have any feature you may want. I’ve been rocking the BD Trail Ergo’s for over 5 years and they still perform just as good as they did on day one.
John has the REI Traverse Power Locks and I’ve used them countless times. The REI poles are a more budget-friendly option, but they don’t have the foam grip underneath them and the cork is slightly less comfortable. We’ve also found that the snap locks do tend to come loose over time, but it is is easy to secure them with a screwdriver and some Lock-Tite.
What to Wear on a Hike?
When you first start hiking, it’s fine to hike in whatever athletic clothes you may have on hand. Unless you’re hiking in the desert, you should try to avoid cotton. Have I hiked in cotton clothing and survived? Yes. But would I recommend you do the same? No. However, if it’s a matter of going on a hike while wearing cotton and not hiking at all, just go for a hike. However, be conscious that if your clothing gets wet from excessive sweat or water, you won’t be able to dry your clothes quickly.
When it comes to hiking gear for women, hiking clothing has come a long way. However, in my opinion, there is still quite a bit of work to be done. I have dedicated an entire post about hiking clothing for women on any budget, so I won’t go into too much detail here. However, do be prepared for the conditions you’re hiking in, and always bring an extra warm layer just in case things don’t go to plan.
Be sure to wear comfortable footwear that can handle the terrain. Whether or not you hike in a shoe or a boot is a personal preference, but be sure to note any water-proofing qualities and select footwear that fits. Even the smallest discomfort can cause big, blistery problems on the trail.
Looking for hiking footwear advice, check out the Complete Guide to Hiking Footwear.
Hiking Gear for Women
Most essential hiking gear is actually unisex. Aside from clothing, footwear, and packs, hiking gear tends to be geared towards any sex. However, there are a few women’s specific hiking gear essentials that I recommend for my fearless female pals.
- A pee funnel. As an adventurous woman, the ability to pee standing up changed my life. My Freshette is my go-to piece of gear for any outdoor endeavor (it also works for road trips and overseas travel).
- A Diva Cup. The cup is both worry-free and eco-friendly. I switched over to the Diva Cup a few years ago and I’ll never go back. The upfront cost pays for itself in just a few months and you no longer have to worry about changing a pesky tampon ever again.
- A pee rag. Personally, I love Kula Cloth. These eco-friendly, anti-microbial pee clothes are the perfect companion for no matter how you go.
- A sun shirt. As someone who spends plenty of time in the sun, I love to rock my Outdoor Research Women’s Echo Hoody. It’s lightweight, UV-protected, and packs down to nothing. It keeps the sun off of my skin (and new tattoos!) so I don’t look like a desert tortoise. Added bonus? There’s a ponytail hole in the hood.
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How to Find Hiking Gear for Cheap
Finding cheap hiking gear is part art, part science. There are several ways to score great deals on hiking gear, but here are a few of my favorite quick tips:
- Sign up for brand emails. Yes, you’ll be spammed, but you’ll also be the first to know about sales
- Shop used. There are plenty of used outdoor gear options out there. The REI Garage, Patagonia Worn Wear, Outdoor Flea Market Facebook Groups, local gear stores with consignment shops, and more
- Join an outdoor club. Many clubs offer pro-deal perks for their members. Some even give discounts at local gear shops.
Buy the Women’s Guide to the Outdoors Ebook!
Ladies, want to up your wilderness game? I’ve got an e-book, The Lady Dirtbag’s Guide to Freedom, that’s JAM PACKED with tips, tricks, and real stories to help you excel outdoors! I’ve even included several training worksheets, checklists, worksheets, and more! Climb your mountain, go on a thru-hike, and get the knowledge you need for the adventure of a lifetime!
It’s time to hit the trails this year with this insider’s guide to hiking gear for women and men. You don’t need a mountain of gear to enjoy a hike, you simply need to understand the basics and be prepared for the conditions you may encounter on your hike.