The beauty of hiking unlike more gear-intensive sports is that you can get started after making a few simple purchases. Regardless of the type of hiking you intend to do, there are only two essential pieces of hiking equipment that you need to own: hiking boots and a backpack. If you focus on these two items to get started, you'll be venturing out on the trail in no time.
Before heading to the sporting goods store, take some time to think about the type of hiking you plan to do. Will you be taking mostly day hikes or longer, multiday backpacks? Are you a fair weather hiker or will you go out no matter what it's doing outside? Think about the season you will primarily hike in, or if you will hike year round. All of these questions will begin to guide your search for the proper hiking equipment.
There is a huge range of hiking boots available. The lower end of the range will be for the day hiker who primarily sticks to dry, warm weather hikes. These will be canvas and/or nylon construction, a thinner sole and water resistant. Hikers who plan to hike in a variety of different weather conditions will want to find waterproof boots, to better protect their feet from the elements. Multi-day hikers will want to invest in a higher quality hiking boot. These might be of leather construction and should definitely be waterproof. The soles should be thicker than those of a cheaper boot, and they will be considerably more durable and long-lasting than a day hiking boot.
Whether day hiking or backpacking, it is essential to have some type of pack to put basic supplies in. Again, the range of packs available is extensive. A smaller fanny pack might be all you need for a short hike. These often have multiple compartments and one or two external spots for a water bottle. The waist belt is adjustable and they are worn comfortably around your waist, supported by your hips.
Smaller backpacks or "daypacks" are perfect for a day hike. These are worn over the shoulders. Some may have an additional strap at the hips, which provides extra support and comfort for longer hikes, or when the pack is on the heavy side. Daypacks should have multiple compartments both small and large to store extra clothing, food, water, and other hiking essentials such as sunscreen and bug spray.
Multi-day hikes require a much more involved backpack. Even within this category there are a wide range of packs. Compare internal frame packs, where the metal frame is unseen inside the pack, and external frame packs, which have a visible frame that the pack itself is attached to. Most companies make packs specifically designed for male or female body types. Look for packs that not only offer a thick hip belt, but a chest strap to relieve additional pressure on the shoulders. These packs should offer multiple places to latch gear and small objects to, various sized pouches or pockets, and they need to provide superior comfort. Comfort must come first when purchasing any type of backpack, but especially a multiday backpack. Load up the pack in the store and spend a good deal of time walking around with it, and taking it on and off to see how cumbersome it is.
If you arm yourself with just the right hiking boots and backpack, you will have all of the hiking equipment you need to embark on your first hiking adventure.