No hike should ever be taken lightly. Whether you’re trekking through a local greenbelt or climbing up a 14er, you always want to make sure that you have the right gear. Nature has a way of catching you off-guard, so you should always be prepared for the unexpected. To help you out, we’ve put together a list of equipment every hiker should have.
It makes sense to start this list with the gear you’ll be using the most, footwear. You may have loads of running shoes in the closet, but when you’re hiking unpaved trails, you need footwear with extra protection. The biggest concern should be the actual soles of your feet. They’ll absorb every small pebble and jagged rock that crosses your path, so make sure your footwear has a solid sole that will spread the impact across the entire foot.
Aside from the sole, the biggest difference in hiking footwear is the low-top shoe and high-top boot. The decision between the two is based on the type of hiking you expect to be performing. I personally recommend the high-top boot because they prepare you for any adventures that may come your way. Not only do they provide ankle support, they are often much sturdier. This is especially important for backpackers.
Keep in mind that you should always size up when buying hiking footwear. The reason this is so important is because when you’re descending steep trails, your feet tend to slide forward. Having shoes that aren’t sized appropriately can literally take the nails off your toes. Believe me, this is not something you want to happen.
Although there are plenty of great hiking boots and shoes available, I’ve come to find the Vasque Breeze 2.0 to be extremely comfortable, well-made, and ready for anything. Before you buy, it’s important that you try on several pairs. The general rule of thumb is that you don’t want to notice anything odd, while wearing your shoes. This is because that as you start walking, whatever annoying feeling you have will only get worse. REI has a great return policy, which is why I highly recommend shopping there.
Your backpack will be the next most important piece of gear you purchase. On longer treks, you could be carrying up to 40 lbs. of equipment, which means you’ll need to leave the old Jansport at home. The key aspects of your bag are shown below.
The capacity of your bag greatly depends on your expected use. If you’re planning to do multi-day backpacking, it’s best to have a bag with a 40 – 60 liter capacity. Most bags with offer some type of expansion capability, giving you the ability to increase your capacity by up to 10 liters when necessary.
Structural Frame Support
The frame of your bag gets more and more important as its capacity grows. As you carry greater loads of gear, you’ll need a pack with a stronger frame that redistributes the weight from your shoulders to your legs.
Of course, none of the other criteria will matter if you’re not using a pack that fits according to your size. Most bags will offer some flexibility in adjusting the fit, but you’ll want to make sure you test out several packs before making a purchase. Keep in mind that most packs need a little breaking in, so you may find some awkwardness, but the goal is to make sure the waist straps of your bag are capable of resting around your hip bones. As you hike, you’ll likely need to adjust both the waist and shoulder straps to ensure your legs are carrying the majority of the weight.
As with all other gear, your ideal clothing will be dependent upon your expected use. Specifically, you’ll want to understand the climates you’re hiking in most often.
In warmer climates, you’ll want to make sure you’re protecting yourself from the sun. This means light, loose-fitting material that keeps your body cool with proper ventilation. Long-sleeve is essentially the default due to the added benefit of protecting your arms from the sun, insects & mosquitos, & even brush & plant life. A couple suggestions are shown below:
In cooler climates, you’ll want to make sure you’re keeping your body well insulated. Temperatures can drop quickly when you’re at higher altitudes and the sun begins to fall. The toughest part about staying warm is that jackets tend to be heavy and bulky. Fortunately, there are a few clothing outlets that produce quality jackets that will easily keep you warm without requiring much space and weight. A couple suggestions are shown below:
The last, and most important piece of gear is to find a hydration system that fits neatly into your pack. For most day hikes, experts recommend carrying a minimum of 2 liters of water. Personally, I went with the 3 liter Platypus, which offers ease of refilling with a quick release mechanism for the valve. These are great bags and fit into just about any pack above 30 liters in capacity. Having a hands-free valve also makes staying hydrated far easier.
Below are a variety of items I’d recommend to throw into your pack:
- First-Aid Kit & Whistle
- Fixed-Blade Knife
- Water Proof Watch
- Hat, Sunscreen, & Sunglasses
- Walking Stick(s)
- Matches or Lighter
- Hand Towel & Wristband
- Water Treatment Tablets or Filter