You may be asking yourself what you need to get started in hiking. Well all it requires is a desire and a place to do it in. Many communities have local walking trails that are excellent for getting out and walking. No special equipment is required, although a bottle of water will be welcome after about a mile of walking.
If you plan on hiking, be prepared. Know what the worst weather you can expect is and have the proper clothing. Most hazards on the trail are not bears, wolves, snakes, etc. they are weather - dehydration, sun burn, hypothermia, etc. A good, light, windproof, rainproof jacket is better survival gear than almost anything else.
Leave no Trace! It is the "Prime Directive" of good hikers. Nothing is worse than a good trail that is covered in beer cans, cigarette butts, and general trash. Kids with hatchets cutting down trees for fun, people carving their initials on everything around them, and graffiti artists painting rocks and trees ruin a trail, and could lead to it being shut down (I have seen that happen to some good places) from everyone. Stay on the marked trails, don't dig up or cut down the wild life. Don't leave trash - "Pack it in, pack it out", and carry out other trash you may find. Leave the trail better than you found it.
Have fun, but don't infringe on others. Loud, obnoxious day hikers can ruin the experience for others. Nothing is worse than enjoying the quite woods and have a screaming rowdy group run right up to you and scare every living creature for miles away. It can be very hard with children, but it gives them great practice in respecting others.
Know where you are going, how long it should take, and when you plan on being back. Then let someone know in case you are late. They are your safety call!
Hiking: Hiking is merely walking along trails. There are day hikes and overnights. Anyone walking a trail is a hiker.
Backpacking: Backpacking is carrying everything you will need for one or more nights out on the trail with you.
Thru Hiker: Some one that is hiking the entire length of a long trail.
Slack packer: Someone that hikes with just enough gear for a day, stuff like rain gear, a water bottle, and some snacks.
Equipment: Here are some things to start with. More detailed information is listed under the equipment link.
Water: One of the most important things to carry. The biggest problem people have on the trail is dehydration. People bring sodas and beer, neither of which keep you hydrated. For someone hiking, the usual water need is 1 gallon (128 ounces) per day. It will depend on your fitness level, weather, distance, and distance between sources. Water in those beautiful mountain streams and springs may be free of contamination, parasites, or bacteria, but there isn't any way to check. A good rule of thumb is to treat all water by boiling for 1 minute, filtration, or treatment with iodine tablets. Iodine tablets are the easiest, but some people don't like the taste. It can be covered with some drink mixes. For an excellent article on the real safety of water in the back country, check out this article:
Rain Gear: Rain Gear can be important. There are many different fabrics out there, but basically you need a jacket that is water resistant and wind resistant. Rain pants can be optional depending on time and place you go hiking.
Warm Clothing: If you plan to go hiking when there is cold weather possible, bring an extra layer of warm clothing. There is a hikers' saying "Cotton Kills!" Cotton absorbs water very well (that's why they make towels out of it) but doesn't dry out fast. Synthetic materials are now just as affordable, and do a much better job. One of the best natural materials is wool. Wool socks, wool shirt and wool pants. Silk does a great job of wicking (pulling the sweat off you body and drying quickly) but can be expensive.
Map and Compass: If you are going somewhere where there are multiple trails or a place where a trail isn't well marked (or not at all) then you will need to have a map to guide by. A compass will allow you to orient the map to make sure you have it facing properly. There is a section (under construction) on how to use a map and compass together.
Knife: It shouldn't be a "RAMBO" knife. A good pocket knife or pocket tool like the Leatherman makes the best camp knife. They can be used as your all purpose tool.
Food: If you plan to stay out for a while, then you will get hungry. Avoid eating a bunch of sugary snack foods because they cause sugar highs - and the later drop. GORP (Good Old Raisins and Peanuts) is a mix of nuts, raisins, some M&M's, dehydrated fruit, etc. is a great energy food. Canned foods are good for short hikes, just carry the cans out. For long backpacking trips, I look for pasta mixes, jerky, grits, dried fruits, etc.
Foot Gear: Footwear can be important. You don't need $150 boots to get started with, just shoes or boots that protect your feet from the environment. These days even some full time backpackers are switching over to running shoes instead of boots. I wear running shoes now after years of only wearing boots to backpack and hike.