A Guide to the Essential Hiking Kit List

Claire Copeman - May 06, 2021 - Inspiration2730Guided2730Self Guided

From hiking boots to base layers, here is our guide to the essential hiking kit list. If you’re planning a hike or getting ready for a hiking holiday, this is the kit list for you!

Woman stands on a rock with her hands in the air wearing full hiking kit

The days are getting warmer and we’ve got a long summer ahead of us just waiting to be packed full of adventures. For us, that means it’s time to start planning some epic hikes.

As much as we love the more extreme activities we offer like canyoning or coasteering, sometimes you can’t beat the pure simplicity of hiking. It’s accessible, easy and something most of us can enjoy.

From Mindful Walking to the much more active 14 Peaks Experience, hiking appears in most of the tours that we offer. It’s something everyone loves, especially when you see the places we take you to in Wales.

Man is bent over to walk out of a tiny mountain bothy in Wales with all his essential hiking kit waiting in a backpack outside

However, if you don’t have the right kit or you’re not prepared, that hike you’ve been planning for months can quickly turn into a nightmare.

We’re here to help make sure it’s nothing but good times ahead with our hiking essentials. All of the items featured in this list are things we’ve tried and tested ourselves over the years. And trust us, they really do make a difference on a long hike.

If you’re planning on getting outdoors and exploring on two feet this summer, here are some hiking essentials for your next adventure.

Retro photo of the essential hiking kit items laid out on a wooden floor

Hiking boots & shoes

There’s a reason why whenever you read an essential hiking kit list, hiking boots are always at the top – they really are the most important item when it comes to enjoying hiking.

Having the right boots or shoes for your feet can really make or break a hike. Too tight and they’ll give you painful pressure points. Too loose and they’ll rub causing blisters. Plus you want good foot and ankle support, as well as grip for the kind of terrain you’ll be walking on, whether it’s grassy fells or rocky mountain slopes.

We could easily write a blog post just about finding the right hiking footwear, including the question of boots vs shoes – there’s just so much variation. The best advice we can give when buying new hiking boots or shoes is to pop down to your local outdoor store, such as Alpkit or Cotswolds, and speak to an advisor. It’s their job to find the perfect fit for your foot, and their expertise is worth paying for.

Your hiking footwear doesn’t have to break the bank, but if you plan to walk regularly it is worth investing in good quality. We find Salomon footwear offers a good fit, great grip and are reasonably priced. But every foot is different so go try a few for yourself and see what works for you.

Grippy sole of a walking shoe of someone walking across dry dusty ground

Walking socks

Along the same lines as above, it’s really important to have socks that are comfortable. You’re about to give your feet a pretty tough time, so be nice and provide them with protection and support!

Warmth and comfort are key too, with natural fibres to assist with wicking sweat away from the skin to help reduce the risk of blisters. Merino wool socks are our go-to all year round and Smartwool have a great selection to choose from. Give their handy sock finder tool a try!

Lightweight hiking trousers

Another hiking essential for comfort out on those hiking trails is a good pair of hiking-specific trousers. Nobody wants to be wearing jeans or a heavy material when going on a longer 4-hour plus hike.

Ideally, you want trousers that are water resistant and stretchy, but most importantly they should be a quick-dry fabric. That way if you do get wet, you’re not carrying that water around for hours! Hiking trousers generally come with lots of pockets too, handy for your phone, compass and a cheeky snackette.

Acai is a great Welsh brand for ladies outdoor wear and their Max Stretch Trousers are perfect for most of the regular hikes we do. Lightweight, splashproof and super stretchy, they’re great for summer hikes. Plus, layer them with a set of Acai Thermal Seamless Base Layers (see below) and you’ll be warm and cosy throughout winter too.

Our go-to trousers for men, and for those tougher days in the mountains, have to be the Revolution Race GPX Pro range. They are incredible all-round trousers, hard-wearing, warm, light, breathable, good value – they’ve got it all.

Co-founder Claire climbs over a stile wearing her khaki Acai hiking trousers

Base layers

Hiking in the UK means being prepared for all weather! Even if it’s forecast to be 20 degrees it can still be windy and cold, especially hiking up in the mountains. And even on a cold day, we’ve all found ourselves sweating as we puff our way up a steep ascent.

The trick is to dress so you’re at a comfortable temperature when under mild exertion but with enough easy-to-wear (and carry) layers that you can keep warm when stopped at the most exposed point of your walk. Even if you don’t plan to stop, you never know when an emergency could happen and you may have no choice.

Good layering starts with a quality, breathable base layer. We’ve recently discovered the Acai Thermal Seamless Base Layer Tights and Thermal Top which are super toasty.

These thermals are right up our street because they’re made from NILIT Heat Yarn technology. With recycled coffee bean shells integrated into the nylon fabric, they’re comfortable, stylish and sustainable. The perfect hiking base layer.

Merino wool is another great natural fibre for base layers, providing breathable warmth and a natural deodorising effect. We often carry a spare base layer on long hikes, especially on cooler days or when we’re taking on higher peaks as they pack away so small in your daypack.

Softshell mid layer / warm fleece

Continuing with layers, another item we recommend taking with you is a softshell mid layer or warm fleece. This is particularly useful when you stop walking and that chill starts to settle in.

Waterproof and windproof jacket

Another year-round hiking essential, especially with the UK’s changeable weather!

You don’t want to be sweating in a bag as you hike up that hill and you don’t want to be soaked to the skin after the first sign of rain. So when choosing a waterproof jacket, the most important place to start is the waterproofness and breathability ratings. Here’s a quick guide:

Waterproofness Ratings

5,000mm: This is the minimum rating for a jacket to be called rainproof, however, it won’t stand up to much more than a light shower.

10,000mm – 15,000mm: A jacket in this range will withstand most downpours as well as heavy snow, but will soak through over time if subjected to pressure, such as kneeling or sitting down, or carrying a heavy pack.

20,000mm or more: This is the rating you should look for if you plan to be out in all conditions carrying a heavy load.

Breathability Ratings

5,000 – 10,000g/m²: This level of breathability is fine for urban travel or camping in the rain, but will get a bit clammy during high-intensity hiking.

10,000 – 15,000g/m²: Jackets in this range are suited to more adventurous hiking, but heading straight up hill might prove too much.

15,000 – 20,000g/m² & above: An extended trip to the hills, trekking in warm climates or otherwise working hard and perspiring heavily will require a jacket this breathable.

It’s not about spending a fortune and going for the highest ratings, it’s about understanding that performance clothing is designed to do just that: perform. And you want it to perform at a level that’s suitable for you, not an elite athlete or an arctic explorer (unless you happen to be one, of course).

Once you know what you need your jacket to do for you, then you can think about the style, colour fit etc. A good quality waterproof jacket isn’t cheap but if you buy right and look after it, it will look after you for a long time.

Rab make some fantastic jackets. They can be quite an investment but in our opinion they’re worth it for the durability you’ll get. Ours have lasted… well, it’s too long to count but it’s been several years! And bear in mind we’re outdoors everyday in all weathers so they get worn a LOT!

A woman sits on a rock looking contemplative wearing a turquoise waterproof jacket and full hiking kit

OS map & compass

Having an Ordnance Survey map is an essential piece of kit for any long hike, especially if it’s your first time exploring an area. Use it to plan your route in advance and when you’re out on the trails, don’t just leave it at the bottom of your bag. Keep checking your position on the map as you hike so you know where you are at all times. It’s easy to take a wrong turn but if you don’t realise your mistake for a long time, you could end up way off track. Working out your location and navigating back to the route becomes all the more challenging in that situation. To use your map effectively you’ll need a compass to go with it. You don’t need anything fancy, £10-20 will get you a simple plastic-case compass that will do the job just fine.

There are several navigation apps which are great to use too. We often use the OS Maps app or Ride with GPS when we’re plotting and navigating new routes. But don’t fall into the trap of relying on them. Phone signal in remote areas is notoriously unreliable. Plus cooler temperatures often cause battery life to run much shorter than you’re used to, especially if you’re running a GPS app in the background. And if it’s raining… well we all know how annoying a wet phone screen is to use! Never mind the risk of it getting water inside and it failing altogether. So use a GPS app by all means, but take a printed map and compass as a back up, and make sure you know how to use them.

As an aside on battery life, a portable battery charger is also a handy item to take on your hike, especially if you plan to wild camp and need multi-day charge in your devices.

Hats and gloves

Even in summer it can get cold at altitude, so always take a hat and have thermal lined gloves. You’d be surprised how often you’ll find us wearing a woolly hat in the summer! If you can, get gloves which you can still use your touchscreen with. It’s the simple things but it does make a difference when hiking.

Sun cream and sun glasses

Again, it’s so important having these with you on a hike. Apply your sun cream before you set off and remember to reapply every few hours during your hike. When the air is cool in the hills, it’s easy for the strength of the sun to go unnoticed until it’s too late and you’re glowing like a beetroot over your post-hike beer! We always carry a handy mini tube of face sunscreen in our bags and recommend a minimum of SPF30.

Insect repellent

Scotland is notorious for its midges! But that’s not the only place you’ll find them in the UK. They love acidic peat soils so if you’re walking in an upland heath area, especially through sheltered forests where they’re protected from the wind, you’ll want a good insect repellent to hand.

There’s loads of brands out there but our go-to is Smidge. It’s tough on midges (and mosquitos) but being DEET-free it’s slightly kinder to you and your kit than most products.

Head torch

Don’t think that because you’re not planning to camp, doesn’t mean you don’t need to pack a headtorch. Even the best laid plans can go wrong and you might just find yourself out on the mountainside longer than planned.

Maybe you got carried away taking photos and lost track of the time. Or something more serious could happen, like getting lost or twisting an ankle. Before you know it the light is disappearing and suddenly following a simple footpath can seem almost impossible. You trip and stumble your way along, hoping you’re still heading in the right direction to reach your car. And how will you know, if you can’t see your map to check your position…?

Man stands under a starry sky wearing a head torch looking up at the Milky Way on a hike

Lightweight backpack

Now that you’ve got your essential hiking kit, you need a backpack to put it all in.

When choosing a backpack it’s important to go lightweight so you’re not adding to your carry weight unnecessarily. A good fit is also very important. We recommend visiting your local outdoor store and trying a few different bags on. The store adviser will help but a top tip is to put some weight in the bag so you get a feel for how it will sit when it’s full of kit. Cotswolds have handy bag weights that you can drop in easily when trying on bags and their advisers will to help adjust the various straps to get the best fit for your body.

And last but not least, make sure it’s big enough to carry all your essential kit, with plenty of pockets so you can access items in a hurry if needed. Osprey and Dakine both make great day packs in a range of fits and sizes for men and women. We find 20-30L is a good daypack size to carry the essentials.

There you have it, our hiking essentials. Getting these items right really can make a difference on a long hike. As the saying goes, there’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing. Or the wrong boots. Or bag…

Now all you need is an excuse to buy some shiny new kit! Don’t forget to check out our small group hiking holidays. Or how about a tailor-made hiking or wild camping experience for you and your mates?