Wondering how someone goes from an anxious, overweight doctor to a chill, healthy outdoors lover? Well, look no further because, for me, it was finding hiking. Here’s my guide to the best hiking essentials for women and tips to get the best out of it!
So, confession time. I used to roll my eyes when people told me they were going on a hike. I wondered what on earth the point was.
Why go on a really long walk when you could go on a foodie tour? Or visit a winery? Or a museum/art gallery/castle/insert literally anything you like here?
Of course, I was also overweight, unhealthy and pretty miserable. And then I started walking. Ten thousand steps a day became my religion. I’d walk the streets, staring at forests and mountains in the far distance. And then I decided that those would be a nice change.
So I started walking up hills. And then I was going out for hours. I needed a backpack. And boots. I started planning routes. Then one day I realised I was planning my days around walking long distances along marked trails and had a revelation.
I’m a hiker.
Now I love the outdoors. I start getting stir crazy if I don’t get in a couple of hours of wandering every day. I’m healthy and I feel strong. I’m happier than I remember being in a really long time. So, apparently, all those people I used to roll my eyes at were onto a pretty good thing.
So whether you’re at the start of the journey, just an enthusiastic walker, or a little further along and looking to invest in your hiking, this is the guide for you.
You’ll find a comprehensive list with all the essentials – what hiking gear I use and why. There’s a handy checklist so that you don’t head off without something you really need, like your water bottle (it was one time). So here’s my guide to the best hiking gear for women.
MY FAVOURITE HIKING GEAR FOR WOMEN
The features in this post were hand-selected by a picky diva (that’s me) and some of them are affiliate links. If you buy via these, I may earn a commission on some of these awesome recommendations at no extra cost to you. Thanks for your wonderful support – Cat.
There’s nothing worse than being on a hike and getting too hot, too cold or soaking wet. You need to have clothes that are comfortable, lightweight and right for the job. Whether that’s keeping you cool, warm or dry. In my experience, quality gear costs a little more, but you’ll be glad of it when you’re comfortable on the trail for years to come.
I invest in lightweight gear to keep my pack as easy to carry as possible. This also allows me to bring more camera gear!
Layering is essential when you hike
This is true no matter what you’re doing, but it’s even more important when you’re hiking. You want to be able to regulate your body temperature depending on the weather and how sweaty you’re getting!
The basic rule is to have a breathable base layer that pulls moisture away from your body, an insulating mid-layer to keep you warm and a waterproof and/or windproof insulating top layer.
Merino is the best material for hiking clothes
There are endless debates about merino vs synthetics but, in my experience, merino wool is the best option for hiking gear. Especially for base layers. Avoid anything cotton, because you’ll just end up cold and wet. Some synthetic fibres, like Tencel, wick moisture well but tend to smell after a day of exertion.
Merino, on the other hand, will not only keep you warm and dry but also doesn’t smell for days. It has the added bonus of being compostable and not shedding microplastics into the environment every time you wash it too!
Everything recommended here is tried and tested and what I wear when I hike. It’s picked for comfort, durability and ease of use (quick-drying, multi-day adventures etc). Things have only been replaced because I had to downsize my hiking gear once I got really into it!
I wear merino undies for hiking – comfortable and no smell even after a day of sweating uphill. My favourite is the Icebreaker brand but any good quality merino wool will do the same thing. For comfort, I prefer the fit of the hot pant, but I know that a lot of people love their boy shorts.
This will depend on the conditions that you’re hiking in. For very cold weather (think Russian Arctic) I wear an Icebreaker siren tank, with a long-sleeved merino top. For cold weather, just the long-sleeved top and for anything else, a merino T-shirt. I have both Icebreaker and Kathmandu brand upper layers and they’re both excellent.
For the long-sleeved top, I prefer the scoop neck, but Icebreaker also does a crewneck version.
Thermal leggings are great. I’ll often wear these as pyjama bottoms as well as using them as part of my normal hiking gear in cold weather. I have them in two warmth ratings – Icebreaker 175 leggings for spring/summer and Icebreaker 260 for autumn/winter. I’ve recently discovered the joys of fleece-lined leggings too, and they’re a game-changer for winter hikes.
I prefer fleece for my mid-layer top, preferably with a hood in case the wind picks up but I don’t want the warmth of a hat. I have fleece tracksuit bottoms that I’ll wear over my leggings if it’s really cold, but I’ve only really needed those in the Arctic. In my experience, you won’t need these unless you’re hiking in extreme cold.
In summer, I rarely hike with a base layer on my bottom half, although I still bring the leggings to sleep in. Instead, I hike in my Patagonia Pack Out Tights. The side pockets are so useful that I miss them in colder weather!
If you prefer hiking trousers, then the Arc’teryx Gamma LT are awesome. They’re warmer than the tights, super flexible, weatherproof and comfortable.
I have a Kathmandu technical fleece, but the Patagonia R1 is very similar. I also have a lightweight down jacket that comes everywhere with me – one that’s treated to repel moisture is a good idea since down becomes useless if it gets wet. The best ones are lightweight and stuff down into an unbelievably small sac.
This is where you’re going to make sure you’re both waterproof and windproof. Nothing spoils a hike faster than getting wet and/or chilled to the bone. If you’re going to be in serious cold, you’ll want to ensure that this layer is also insulting – a heavyweight down would be a good idea, but make sure it’s also waterproof. I survived the arctic in this incredible jacket from Mont.
I recommend looking for a jacket with a double zip system so that you don’t have to remove everything to get at anything in your mid-layer pockets. If you’re likely to be hiking in areas that are wet but warm, then being able to unzip the sides to allow for airflow is a really great option.
A snug-fitting hood with a stiff peak will stop the rain from getting in your face or working its way down the back of your neck. Which sucks.
I currently have a waterproof jacket (Arc’teryx Beta) that’s about 3 sizes too big for me. Since I’ve only been hiking in cold or dry places lately, that’s been fine since it allows me to layer up easily underneath. I do recommend sizing up for a hiking outer layer if you’re in doubt.
After pretty extensive research, my next (size-appropriate) rain jacket purchase will be the Outdoor Research Aspire to keep me cool during wet hikes in warm weather.
For the bottom half, I use Outdoor Research trousers which have a zip up the side, making it really easy to get them on and off whilst leaving your boots on.
Lightweight, waterproof hiking boots are a great option, no matter the season. You’ll need to find what width and style suits you since there’s not really any such thing as a hiking boot that’s perfect for everyone. You’ll want to pair these with decent wool socks.
This is probably the most important piece of hiking gear you’ll buy. Make sure you get it right – I strongly advise going to a specialist store and trying on lots of different pairs if you can.
I use the Salomon X Ultra Mid 3 GTX boot and they’ve kept my feet happy and dry in most conditions. The first time I wore them was for a 6 mile hike and I had zero blisters, which was incredible. They’re not so great for very cold weather though.
For the cold I recommend the Keen Revel III hiking boot, since they’re waterproof, high profile and also insulated. They’re sturdy enough to handle micro-spikes and snowshoes too.
If you hike over particularly rough terrain then you’ll want to consider a waterproof boot with better ankle support. The Meindl Island Lady MFS Active walking boot are a fantastic option for this. They’re my next buy when my Salomon’s fall apart.
In a move surprising nobody, I have merino wool liner socks that I pair with Icebreaker hiking socks or thicker Bridgedale socks for cold weather. The liner socks are to help prevent blisters, but I only really use them when I’m doing multi-day hikes since my boots are otherwise fine with a single pair of socks.
My main socks are the Icebreaker Hike+ Light Crewe, and I like that they’re marked with which foot they’re for. Not because I can’t tell my right from my left, but because it means the socks don’t get stretched out of shape over time. The Bridgedale Explorer socks are specifically for cold weather and were great in the Arctic regions.
I thoroughly recommend bringing at least one more pair of socks than you think you’ll need, since there’s nothing more miserable than having wet feet for days on end. Dry socks = cosy feet. If you’ve ended up wading through a river then it’s really nice to have dry socks once you finish your hike.
Sandals & Gaiters
I really only hike in my sandals if it’s very hot or I know there are going to be a lot of river crossings. My Teva Tirra sandals have saved me from having to walk across rocky river beds and are really sexy paired with socks for an evening around the campfire. Trust me.
I tend to only use gaiters if it’s really muddy (gorilla trekking in Rwanda) or I’m anticipating a decent amount of snow on the trail. They’re also good if you’re in an area where ticks are prevalent and you’re walking through long grass. I’ve used both short (mud) and long (snow) versions of the Outdoor Research gaiter.
Head & Hands
This is the sort of stuff that you tend to forget when you’re first starting to put together your hiking gear. Eventually, an awareness of what other hikers are doing slowly enters your brain in a weird sort of osmosis. Basically, the rules are simple: protect your head from being too hot or too cold, your eyes from going blind and your fingers from falling off. See? Simple.
Hat, buff & sunglasses
I probably have more beanie hats than most people have had hot dinners. It’s a weakness. It does however mean that I’m sorted when I go hiking. I always recommend taking a beanie hat, but in the summer you should still have something to cover your head. I usually opt for a simple baseball cap. In colder weather I also have a merino buff which is wonderful for keeping your nose warm.
Sunglasses are an absolute must. I use the same pair year-round – the Oakley Clifden. They’re mountaineering glasses (and also that they’re for men, but they’re a great fit for this woman – maybe I have a big face??), but you can easily remove the extra glare protection areas to make them more suitable for summer. I also love that they have a handy neck cord so that I can easily take them on and off for photography. Or maybe it’s because I’m secretly a grandma.
I’ve tried so many gloves that I feel as though I deserve an award. They’re also the thing I frequently forget to put on after taking photos, only remembering that I need them when I realise that I can’t feel my fingers. I use lightweight merino gloves for most cool-weather hiking. If it starts raining then I have and thicker Sealskinz waterproof outer gloves if needed. The bonus of these is that they have touchscreen capability.
In really cold weather, hand warmers are also awesome to have in your pocket for that extra shot of warmth!
Backpacks for hiking
Unless you’re doing a multi-day hike then a day pack is more than sufficient. For the vast majority of people, 20-30L is perfect for the job. I use the Osprey Tempest Pro 28L bag for this since I carry a lot of camera gear too.
If you’re going to be carrying tents and sleeping bags then you’ll want to be looking at something in the 55-60L range. The Ariel AG 55 (also Osprey) is what I use. If you’re doing a lot of winter hiking I’d recommend increasing to a 65L pack.
I always use a waterproof liner in my bag, despite the waterproof rating, just because I carry a lot of camera gear and I would be most upset if it got wet!
These are optional, but if you’re hiking steep trails (like the Dolomites) or you’ll be doing a lot of walking on uneven ground then I definitely recommend them. Lightweight is a must, so carbon fibre is the way forward. There are loads of brands that have good options, but I use the Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Trekking Poles.
If you’ve got the option, a hydrobladder incorporated in your backpack is a great option. I love having cold water, so I use a Hydroflask unless I’m trying to save weight, in which case I suck up the warmth and use a Nalgene. My go-to Nalgene glows in the dark and I’m kind of obsessed with it. My SteriPEN Ultra is what I use to make water safe if I’m worried. If you’ll be hiking somewhere with a lot of particulate matter in the water then I recommend a Lifestraw.
Electrical Gear for Hiking
Whilst I don’t advocate packing a huge amount of electrical gear, there are a few things that I think it’s important to have. A powerbank is really useful, especially if you’re relying on your phone to also provide you with a map for your route. I take one that can charge my phone at least 5 times. It’s more than I hope I’ll ever need, but I’d rather carry extra weight than not have enough juice.
For any multi-day hike, I also take a small solar panel charger. My preferred brand is WakaWaka who are B-corp certified and distribute solar power solutions to people without access to electrical grids. I found mine in Rwanda and they do deliver to select companies, but not worldwide. There are lots of alternatives if you can’t get one of these.
Finally, if you’re hiking solo or in sparsely populated areas then I highly recommend getting a Garmin inReach mini. It’s a navigation, communication and SOS tool all in one. If you opt for the Freedom Plan then you can simply activate your device when you need it and don’t have to pay for it to be active all the time. It’s a great way to give everyone some peace of mind on the trails.
Health & Safety
These things are always in my bag, whether I’m going out for a few hours or a few days. If you’re anything like me you’ll likely end up with duplicates – one set for your day pack and one for your larger backpack. I find it’s easier not to have to move things from bag to bag – a sure way to forget something!
My multitool comes with me always. It’s great for opening things, securing things that have come loose and, just generally, you never know when you might need a sharp knife. There are loads of options, but mine is a Gerber multitool and I love it.
A head torch is another must. Even if you don’t think that you’ll be hiking in the dark, I highly recommend taking a head torch with you since you never know when you might get delayed. I’ve misjudged sunset more than once and been very glad of a torch to light the way for the last hour. I really like the Petzl range as they also make the Noctilight lantern case to turn your headlight into a camping lantern.
Other miscellaneous stuff includes a first aid kit – pretty basic if I’m only going out for a day hike (think plasters and a bandage), but more extensive for trips of several days. Sunscreen is another essential and I have some that just lives in my backpack. Other things that I highly recommend are nappy bags, toilet paper and biodegradable wet wipes. I’m sure that I don’t need to explain why!
So there you have it. All my tips for the best hiking gear that I’ve tried and tested. If you’ve got any hiking hacks or things that you can’t live without, I’d love to hear them – drop a comment below! You can grab my hiking checklist here.
READY TO TEST YOUR HIKING GEAR?
Check out these great hikes to get you started
- Hiking to Cadini di Misurina: Step-by-Step Guide, Map and Tips
- Tre Cime di Lavaredo Hike in the Italian Dolomites: A Complete Guide
- Visiting the Dolomites for the First Time | Ultimate Guide & Top Tips
TRAVEL INSURANCE | Don’t go anywhere without it! I use and recommend Safety Wing.
THOUGHTFUL TRAVEL | No matter where you go, try to always be aware of the fact that travel impacts the place and people that live there. Being a thoughtful traveller is more important than ever. Here are my top tips to make your trip a mindful one.
PHOTOGRAPHY | Love my photos and want to know how to take better shots on your own trips? Then my photography guide is for you. Here’s all the photography gear I use too. Want to buy one of my images? Head to the Print Store.
ESSENTIAL GEAR | You’ll find my travel essentials here, and a complete guide to all my photography gear here.
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