For those looking to get outdoors, but without the time or inclination to plan an extended camping trip, a simple hike in the woods can be just the thing to help commune with nature. While a hike can be as simple as throwing on some shoes and taking a walk in the woods near your house, those who want a little bit more exertion and adventure don't need to do too much more to have fun outdoors.
Good Hiking Boots or Shoes
The most important piece of gear to purchase for hiking is a good pair of hiking boots or shoes. These come in various types, from boots that come to mid-calf and that offer a greater amount of support for more rigorous hiking, including backpacking, to boots that really resemble running shoes with added traction. If you're planning on doing more strenuous hikes, or hiking over rocky areas, a boot that offers greater ankle support is desirable. If you're merely walking on paths in the woods, just about any comfortable shoes will do, but the 'comfort' part is key. Improper footwear can hurt your feet, and make taking a hike in the future less desirable.
Though it's by no means necessary, waterproof boots―those that include 'GoreTex' or a similar waterproof material―can make getting caught in the rain much less of a downer. As for socks, when it's cold out, wool socks are still the old standby and they work quite well. Just make sure that your feet do not fit too snugly in the boots after putting the socks on, as a bit of room in the boot is necessary to keep your feet warm. For warmer weather hiking, light, non-cotton socks are a good choice to keep your feet dry and free of sweat.
A Rugged Backpack
If your hike in the woods will be longer than a few hours, taking a backpack to carry extras is a good move. The backpack should be large enough to hold everything you want, and the material strong enough to resist getting snagged or torn on branches and brambles. Use the pack to carry an extra jacket, sunscreen, bug spray, water, and any food that you may want to bring. If you're inclined, a first-aid kit and a knife are good additions, though these are typically not necessary unless you're going on an overnight backpacking trip.
Water Bottle or Other Receptacle
Any water bottle will do, especially if you tend toward 'going on the cheap'. But if you want to really get into things, there are a variety of metal water bottles that are all BPA free, as well as specialty receptacles that are made for running and hiking, and that have tubes and valves for easy access to water without having to open your pack. Platypus and CamelBak are two companies that make such containers, though there are other brands available as well.
For casual hikes, just about any clothing will do, but if you're going hiking in cold weather or in extreme heat, avoiding cotton is a good idea. Cotton tends to soak up water or sweat, and then takes a long time to dry. Wool and synthetic materials, on the other hand, tend to wick moisture away from the body and are more quick-drying. In the warmer months, this is merely a matter of comfort, but for cold-weather hikes, having cold, wet clothing on your body can be dangerous.
If you're hiking in or near an area where hunting is permitted, make sure to wear clearly visible clothing. There are various hats and vests that are made in so-called 'safety orange', that will allow hunters to easily distinguish you from their prey, an important point when entering the woods during prime hunting seasons.