Your Guide to Hiking Gear for Women
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If you’re new to hiking, you may be a little lost on what gear to get, or what you might need. But we’ve got you covered! We’ll be going over all of the basic hiking gear for women, plus some of the specialty gear that you may need for inclement weather.
We’ll go into more detail below, but the basic hiking gear for women list is:
Boots or shoes
PLUS the Ten Essentials which are needed for every hike to be prepared in case of emergencies:
First aid kit plus a modified kit if you’re hiking with your four-legged family member(s)
Sun protection: sunscreen, hat, sunglasses
Headlamp and extra batteries
Navigation aid: compass, map, GPS device, personal locator beacon (PLB), or satellite messenger (while a map on your phone is nice, if your phone dies, it’s not much use, so paper maps are the best)
Fire: matches, lighter, tinder, etc.
Shelter such as an emergency blanket or bivy
Extra food beyond the minimum
Extra water beyond the minimum
Extra clothes for warmth or if your original get wet
And then a few extra things you may want/need:
Now we’ll go into the details of all of these. First, hiking clothing for women:
Boots or shoes
A well-fitted, comfortable pair of boots or shoes is important to protect your feet. You can get fitted at outdoor gear stores for these, and a general rule of thumb for women is to size up a whole size from your normal everyday shoes to give your toes enough room in the front to move around without hitting the front. If your toenails repeatedly hit the front, you can make them black and blue or even lose them!
You’ll be faced with the option of waterproof or non-waterproof boots. It seems like a no-brainer that you’d want this extra barrier to protect you on the trail, but it comes at the price of breathability. Think of it like this: If you’re going to be doing multiple day treks, or winter hikes, you’ll likely want waterproof so your feet can stay dry and toasty. If you’re planning to do hikes in a warmer client, opt for non-waterproof or something lighter weight so it’s more breathable.
The next factor to consider is low-top vs. high-top hiking boots for women. Low-cut models weigh less, making them popular for day hikes. The ankle flexibility offered by low-cut hiking shoes also comes in handy when climbing up and down steep slopes and rock-hopping across lakes and streams. High-top boots provide more ankle support, as well as protection from elements on the trail. They also allow you to tighten the laces more efficiently and keep them securely in place during a rough hike, but are heavier and more difficult to maneuver in. It all comes down to personal preference!
If you’re a woman with wider feet, try Oboz or Keen. Other tried and true brands include Merrel, Solomon, and La Sportiva. Some brands also sell shoes in a wider "D" width than the standard "B" width.
Cotton socks can cause blisters, so be sure to get wool or synthetic socks. You’ll want taller ones for boots, and beyond that, there are lots of options. Smartwool and Darn Tough are great brands to check out.
Get something moisture-wicking and synthetic. Bootcut pants will help keep debris and rain out of your boots, but you may prefer the fit of leggings. Shorts can be better for heat, but your legs can get scratched by bushes, or could get chaffed. Backcountry.com has lots of different styles you can explore.
You’ll want a synthetic or wool shirt for your hikes. Are you noticing a pattern yet with the synthetic? Wool is great for winter to keep you warm even when wet with sweat, and synthetic is great for summer. We’re partial to a nice tank top for summer and a comfy long sleeve, quarter-zip wool shirt in the winter.
Layers are super important when hiking and you’ll want to be sure to layer up for colder weather! A light fleece jacket is great for warmer cold weather, and synthetic down is good for wet weather. Real down is also nice, but it isn’t ideal for wet environments. Here’s a quick breakdown of down vs. synthetic insulation:
Down insulates by trapping air and is prized for being light, easy to compress, long-lasting and breathable. It’s the insulation of choice in cold, dry conditions, or whenever reducing weight and saving space are top priorities.
Synthetic insulation isn’t as warm, but is popular for its strong overall performance and friendly price tag. If there’s a chance your jacket might get wet, you’ll want it to be synthetic.
We recommend considering a jacket with a hood! It’s always nice to have the option to pull it up to block the wind, or contain heat.
A good rain jacket will help keep the rain off of you and even help keep the wind from your skin. There are lots of different materials out there and you don’t have to spend a ton of money to get a good one. You can purchase either a hard shell, a softshell, or a hybrid.
A hard shell is an alternative term for waterproof but breathable gear. It’s stiffer than a soft shell, which integrates an insulating layer with a water-resistant shell. A softshell provides greater breathability, but less protection from the wind and cold. Softshells are best for high-exertion activities, where sweating is the greater concern. Hard shells are typically more expensive than soft shells.
The final factor to consider when purchasing a raincoat is the membrane layers. The three types of construction used in rainwear are a 2-layer, 2.5-layer and 3-layer design. A 2-layer rain jacket is often used for urban and travel environments. If you’re just starting out hiking, a 2.5-layer jacket is likely the right fit for you as it’s lighter and more affordable. A 3-layer jacket doesn’t have any coatings, but rather a membrane tightly sandwiched between a durable face fabric and a liner. The most durably constructed ones are the 3-layer jackets that are intended for harsh backcountry conditions. They are also expensive. When shopping, ask the staff at your local outdoor shop to help you navigate their selection.
It’s always helpful to keep a raincoat in the bottom of your pack. You never know when it might rain! More than that, though, it can also double as a place to sit on the ground, wind protection, or even sun protection if necessary.
For gloves you’ll want synthetic to help wick the moisture away. If needed, you can even layer gloves with mittens for extra warmth. We recommend a style that’s less bulky if you're going to use them during an activity like hiking, so you don’t sweat and you can still hold your phone and water bottle, and then a bulkier style, like mittens, if you’re going to be standing (and not moving) in the cold.
Useful as a neck warmer, hat, and even a face mask! Neck gaiters are great for winter, but they can also help protect you from the sun too. Check out Skida or Buff.
#Covid. Need we say more? But seriously, these are good to have on the trail to wear while passing people.
Get something warm and comfy! If it’s sunny, bring one with a brim, if it’s winter, bring a thicker or a wool hat. In the summer, it’s always nice to have a brim to block the sun from your face if you’re going on a long hike, and they also help to keep bugs off your face.
There are different sizes for backpacks depending on how long you’ll be out and what you’re carrying. If you’re packing for yourself and a human or fur child, you’ll probably need a bigger one. If you have all ultralight gear, you can get away with a smaller pack. If your gear is from the 1970s, you’ll need a bigger one. And if it’s winter, you’ll probably need a bigger one for the extra gear and layers. Backpacks come in different liter sizes, for most day hikes you’ll want one that’s 20-30 liters.
You can get fitted for backpacks at outdoor gear stores, but essentially, you want whatever is comfiest. They’ll feel different with weight in them too, so be sure to test them with weight.
For size, you can check out the below.
Day hike (1 day): 20-30 liters
Weekend (1-3 nights): 30-50 liters
Multi-day (3-5 nights): 50-80 liters
Longer trip (5+ nights): 70 liters or bigger
If you are a fan of having easy access to chapstick, your phone, as well as having a more balanced load, make sure to get a day pack with waist straps. Osprey and Gregory are two of the most popular backpack brands for women.
Now for the extra things!
Poles can help you keep your balance on rough terrain, take the weight off your feet, save your knees on relentless downhills, steady you on stream crossings, and even hold up some tents! They’re a great investment but if you’re already fairly steady on your feet, have good knees, and hike only in the summer, they may not be needed for you as you start out.
We can’t tell you how much we love our microspikes. They’re little spikes that wrap around your boots to grip snow and ice. These make it possible to walk up hills literally covered in smooth ice. They’re lifesavers and if you’re hiking in icy conditions, completely necessary!
Another great invention, gaiters help keep snow, rain, and debris out of your boots. They wrap below your knee and around the outside of your shoe and as an added benefit, keep your lower leg a bit warmer. They also make trail running gaiters to keep pine needles, dirt, and rocks out of your shoes, so there are lots of versions and uses for these little things.
A water bladder replaces water bottles and has a hose that attaches to your pack so you can drink and walk at the same time. It’s super convenient and we love them, but the hose can freeze in the winter so just be cautious of the outside temp if you’re using one.
The last thing on our list is a pee cloth. If nature calls while you’re out there, you can use an antimicrobial pee cloth to wipe after you’re done. We swear by these! Check out Kula Cloth.
Now that you know what’s needed to get out, you can start to prep your gear and head out on your next adventure. We love to see where you go and what you explore so be sure to tag us on social media so we can check it out!