Help Yourself: A Beginner Hiker's Guide to Boots and Packs

by Shelly Ingraham, Girls Who Hike New York Ambassador

Real talk: It doesn’t have to be expensive to hike. Many people get caught up with the brand names. They think they aren’t a hiker unless they are on a trail, covered in North Face, or they need that Osprey bag because nothing else will cut it. That’s simply not true. People tend to focus on the names rather than on the gear they need. Today we’re going to talk basics: boots and packs.

Everything I’ve read about hiking says not to skimp on your footwear and your pack. This is one thing I 100% agree with. If you read Jennifer Reyes’ blog “Finding Affordable Gear,” you should already have an idea of how to find cost-effective gear. There is one spot, however, you don’t want to buy secondhand: your footwear! Yes, boots are expensive, but it will cost you far more in the long run if you injure yourself because of improper footwear than the initial spend on new boots. 

If you aren’t sure how to pick the exact boot type that you’ll need, REI has a great guide you can read by clicking here or you can read Backpacker’s guide by clicking here. Both of these guides will assist you in picking the best boot for your needs. Things to keep in mind when purchasing the best boot is what you’ll be doing in it. Thru hikers have different needs than day hikers. Do you roll your ankle easily? Make a point to look for something with ankle support. 

I love thrifting. I prefer to purchase things secondhand if I can, but footwear isn’t a good thing to pick and I’ll tell you why. Those shoes have already been broken in, but to someone else's feet, and tread patterns. This can cause issues you don’t want. 

Now it’s time to talk packs. There are two things to keep in mind when purchasing a backpack. What size do you need, and what are you going to do with it? I found my bag, a Kelty Redtail, on a local Facebook Buy/Sell group for $25. It’s not the latest model, but I’ve taken this bag all over the country. While I won’t deny sometimes I get jealous looking at other girls and their fancy bags (my hip strap doesn't even have pockets), my bag fits my needs (mostly day hikes) and I haven’t found the need to replace it yet.

Don’t buy a bag based off some girl you saw on Instagram. Buy a bag based off what you are going to do. For day hikes, you’ll need something completely different than if you’ll be doing a thru hike. Another really important thing to do is to make sure your pack is the correct size.

Some brands are unisex, others are for men and still others are geared just to woman. It’s up to you to pick what you prefer, but either get professionally fitted (any place selling packs should be able to fit you) or learn how to measure yourself by clicking here. Believe me, your back will thank you for it. Once you’ve been fitted, don’t pay full price; grab a second hand bag and use it while you figure out more about what you might need. 

Don’t pick a pack that’s too big for your needs. If you intend to do day hikes, something between 20-35l should suffice. My bag is just a 30l and it truly fits all my gear. I’ve taken it on overnights and a few multi days. Again, each person is different. What works for me (a die hard minimalist) may not work for you. You’ve got to find your balance. 

Not sure about a boot or a bag? Read the reviews or pop in to the Facebook group, Backpacking Gear Reviews & FAQS, it’s a great resource. Need to find a secondhand bag? Facebook has a plethora of groups dedicated to the buying, selling, and trading of hiking gear. Above all, don’t be afraid to ask questions and don’t skimp on your feet and your pack.

Happy hikes!

Shelly is the Ambassador for our New York chapter. You can join her local meetups and discussions through the New York chapter by clicking here.

To become a member of Girls Who Hike, click here.