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7 Must-Have Things for the Brand New Hiker

Here’s what we’re adding to our cart before taking on our National Parks.

Social distancing partnered with our desire to do anything other than binge watch TV has introduced us to a slew of hobbies we never before considered to be in our wheelhouse. People who prepared four-course meals in their microwave have taken up baking and at least two people in your social circle with no artistic bone have opened their own Etsy stores. For some of us (the unadventurous included), the move has been toward hiking, giving us amateur-trailblazers a moment to breathe in the fresh air while being far from human contact.

For those getting a bit tired of their neighborhood walks and looking for something more scenic, we’re here to help you prepare. Whether you’re a first-time hiker or simply looking to better prepare for your next, we have you covered. From the outfit down to the snacks, this is what you’ll need before hitting the trails.

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Hiking App

Before we commit ourselves to being one with nature, it’s good to spend some last few minutes on the phone (but don’t even think about opening Instagram). There are a multitude of hiking-related apps (AllTrails and ViewRanger are just some to choose from) for your phone, some local, others nationally, that will give you advice on what trails are near you, how to prepare, and what other hikers have to say about it. Some even allow you to track your progress and trails completed—why not make it a competition with other friends looking to finally be the outdoorsy type?

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Here’s the thing: old running shoes will totally do for the more basic trail. But if you’re looking to explore some more extreme terrain (or just find that online shopping is a good quarantine hobby), new hiking shoes might be something to consider. What shoe you want depends on where you’re looking to hike as well as how practical you want them to be—are you looking strictly for a hiking shoe or something a bit more versatile? REI has created a guide for finding a boot that perfectly fits both foot and occasion. And for those looking for versatility, Nike has created eye-popping trail shoes that can quickly go from trail to streetwear.

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Sun Protection

If me and my pale skin have learned anything over our years in the sun, it’s that, no matter how seemingly shaded a place might be or how overcast your weather app predicts a location, there is still room to burn. Those UV rays will find their way to you, and, without proper protection, the hike will end a lot more red than it started. There is a simple solution so many of us are guilty of all-together ignoring: SPF! Put it on your face, neck, arms, scalp—any exposed skin should be coated in a layer (or two) of sunscreen. For those less inclined to apply, whether it be because of the feeling, look, smell, or ingredients, don’t throw in the towel and turn over your skin to the sun just yet, there are still SPFs out there to explore (and that will fit your needs)! Supergoop! has made a name for themselves in the sunscreen world, making SPF—we’re going to say it—cool. Creating products for different skin types and wants, this clean brand might just change your mind on sunscreen (your skin and dermatologist will thank you).

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There’s nothing fun about getting woozy on a hike—the downside to a hike is that, halfway in, you can’t just call it a day and be done; you have to be able to make it back to your car. Sometimes, the difference between a hike where you feel you can’t make it any further and one where you feel like “I could do this all day” is as simple as a snack. You’ll want something easy to pack and healthy, loaded with nutrients to push you through to the end. Adding something like Karma Nuts, an apple, and a packet of Gatorade powder (for when you’re feeling a little electrolyte low) to your bag adds little weight while providing the nutrients you might need if a mid-hike woozy strikes.

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Water Bottle

And while we’re on the topic of things we need to keep our bodies healthy, lest we not forget water. No one needs me to tell them the importance of drinking water, so let me simply reiterate that, once you start a hike, you have to finish it, and it’s easiest to do so with a hydrated body. There are a variety of great water bottles to choose from: there’s the Hydro Flask if you’re feeling fancy (and spend-y), the Platypus Platy Water Bottle (which collapses when empty) for those looking to save space, and the classic Contigo, an always reliable and reasonably-priced option.

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First Aid Kit

A first aid kit is something you never want to pack, but the moment you incur any sort of injury, whether it be a blister from the new shoes or a fall, you wish you had on hand. Don’t allow yourself to get to the moment of, “If only we had packed the Band-Aids!” Plan for the worst, and hope for the best. You can put together your own kit to prepare for your worst-case scenarios, or you can buy a small prepacked one to throw in your bag day-of. Welly makes stylish first aid kits (yes, stylish!) that makes your “Nervous Nelly” tendencies feel a little cooler.

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If it wasn’t already made clear, you’ll want a bag; we don’t expect you to hold all of the above items in hands and pockets the entire hike. When looking for a bag, this is our criteria: holds our belongings, not bulky, can withstand a little (or a lot) of sweat. You don’t have to go for a traditional hiking backpack if you’re just getting started—these tend to be big and great for campers—but for our first-time hikers, something as easy as this packable Baggu backpack, which folds down when not being used, can be perfect. And if you want something you might use outside of your hikes, Topo Designs has created the perfect throwback backpack that’s water-resistant, lightweight, and cool enough to head to class in.