If you are new to hiking, you have probably asked yourself, and possibly many other people, what equipment you need to get out hiking. With almost as many lists of essential hiking equipment as there are hikers, how can an inexperienced hiker determine what he needs? Depending on the length of hike you are planning, you will basically need clothes, sustenance, something to sleep in or on, and something in which to carry everything. Sticking with strictly the basics, those are the only things you really need.
Traveling clothes do not need to be anything you do not already have in your dresser or closet. You will, however, need to plan differently for your clothing needs than you might in your everyday life. Often times you will start the day out colder than you will be once you are walking along, and your body temperature may drop at rest times if the weather is cool. Also, whether hot or cold you will need to protect your skin from the sun, so a long sleeve shirt and pants are better than a tank-top and shorts in most cases. The only specialized clothing you may need to invest in is hiking shoes or boots, if you expect to encounter rough terrain.
You will always want to bring along water on any hike, or at least have a way to filter or purify water on the trail. Unless you are planning to hike for only an hour or two, you should bring some food along with you as well. While some snacks will provide you with enough energy for a short hike, you will obviously need to bring more food with you on a longer hike. Dehydrated foods are often the best because the water in food can add unnecessary weight, and you will want to make sure you bring a good balance of protein and carbohydrates to provide you with the nutrition you need.
And to carry all of this along the trail, most hikers opt for some kind of backpack. If you are going on a short day-hike, a small backpack or even a fanny pack could be sufficient, but for a longer hike you will want a pack that offers some of the most common having an internal frame. This will help to distribute the weight of your equipment and if properly fitted it will help reduce fatigue and strain. There are various sizes of these backpacks to suite different styles of hiker from the ultralight to the luxurious, as well as the length of the hike.
The final item is one that may cause some debt, but if you are going for more than a day-hike, you should definitely bring something to either sleep on or in. Depending on the weather conditions, you will need some way to keep warm and dry at night. Even in the warmest weather having something to insulate you from the ground will usually help you get a better nights rest, making it easier to face additional hiking the next day. While for many a sleeping bag or bedroll will fill this spot, others opt for the hiking hammock which is typically lighter and can be more comfortable as well.
As you can see, the deciding factors in finding the essential hiking equipment are usually the length of your hike and your personal hiking style. Of course, being new you may not know your hiking style, but let the rest of your life be your guide, and remember that the luxury you enjoy from the additional equipment can be offset by the added weight of carrying it, so try to find a comfortable balance.