If you are new to the world of hiking, you want to be sure you have the appropriate gear to stay safe and comfortable on the trail. You don’t want to spend tons of money on gear you may never or seldom use if you’re not an avid hiker. You’ll also want to avoid the opposite problem- buying really cheap gear that doesn’t last over a season. Here are some guidelines and suggestions for hiking gear. This article will be focused on day hiking gear with another article coming soon that covers backpacking specific gear.
The first warning I will give you is this: there isn’t one solution for any type of gear or problem that works for everyone. Some people like hiking boots while others prefer trail runners. Along the same lines you’ll find some footwear is far too narrow for your feet while they fit your friend perfectly. These are merely suggestions and I recommend you continue your own research as well as try out a variety of options before committing.
What you’ll need:
First Aid Kit/Ditty Bag
We’ll go into some detail about each topic and I’ll include recommended brands/models that I personally use (marked with a *) or know is highly praised.
As I mentioned above, some people like boots while others go with trail runners. In fact, I know a few people that hike barefoot or with very minimal shoes. We’ll stick to the basics, though! Most trails have sections that are steep, wet, or slippery. You’ll want footwear that has good traction designed for trails. If you have an ankle injury or particularly fragile ankles, get boots with good ankle support. If you don’t, low cut boots or trail runners will work great. I personally wear trail runners because they’re light (one pound on your feet is equivalent to 5 pounds on your back!) and not having my ankles isolated makes my knees happier. Boots tend to be more expensive but last longer. My trail runners become yard shoes when I retire them. I personally found I got a lot of blisters wearing boots which is what drew me to trail runners. It took me a couple of years to find the right trail runners for me.
Brooks Cascadia– new versions have different fit, 8’s are a popular favorite among hikers
Lowa Renegade GTX Mid -I have heard great things about this boot. I did my first round of the NH 48 in a pair of Lowa Bora boots before switching to trail runners.
Ahnu Montara Boot (women’s boot)
It’s important to stay hydrated on the trail, no matter the season. For most day hikes you’ll be able to bring enough to drink throughout your hike from home. 2-3 liters is typically good, but it all depends on how strenuous the hike is, how much you sweat, the weather, etc. If you are going on a very long hike or are worried you may need to refill during your hike, a water filter like the Sawyer Mini* is great to have on hand.
If I want to carry water bottles I will simply reuse a Smartwater bottle. The reason I use this brand is because it fits nicely in my backpack’s side pockets and it can be threaded with a sawyer mini for easy filtration. It is also much lighter than a Nalgene bottle. I only use Nalgene’s in the winter as the wide mouth options and thick plastic helps keep my water from freezing.
Make sure you have plenty of electrolytes and other minerals. Nuun tabs* are great for this.
You will burn a lot of calories hiking so I recommend bringing nutrient and calorie dense options- that you look forward to eating! Here are some snack options for the trail. I prefer to snack throughout a hike rather than bringing a large lunch. I always bring a summit treat like chocolate to enjoy! Depending on how much time you plan on hanging out on the summit, you can bring a basic sandwich or even your cook set to try out a variety of meals from prepacked backpacking food to meals you cook and dehydrate yourself at home!
It is important to make sure you are fueling your body as you’ll burn a lot of calories hiking. One of my favorite parts about hiking is you can get away with eating whatever you want before, during, and after your hike 😉
One of the biggest misconceptions I find hikers have with gear is you can have one pack that can do it all. Unfortunately that’s not the case. If you want to get into backpacking you’ll need a higher capacity pack with different storage compared to a smaller, more basic day pack. You can get a pack that can double up as a day pack and for a spending a night on the trail if you dial your gear in with a highly compressible sleeping back, smaller cookset, and generally have a more fine tuned setup. You will not comfortably use an overnight pack as a daypack and vice versa.
I am fond of Gossamer Gear’s packs as they are made well and lightweight. My favorite for day hikes is the Type 2*. The Kumo is a great pack for carrying a bit more for day hiking to a couple nights out on the trail.
Some other daypack options:
The goal of hiking navigation is to know where you started from, where you currently are, where you are going, and how you can return to your starting point. By referring to navigational tools, you can verify you’re on the correct route, and gives you a reasonable estimate of how much distance you’ve covered and how close you are to your destination.
It’s best to stick with the basics with a map and compass and understand how to use these tools. Redline Guiding has a great navigation class for those in New Hampshire and there are classes offered by your local mountain club, REI, and other outfitters.
In addition to know how to read and navigate by compass, you’ll need to know to to read a topographical map. Make sure you review the map before your hike, look at books and/or online resources with planning, and know you are bringing the right map with you. Often maps are broken up into regions to be more detailed. Take a look and see that your entire route is on the map you are bringing with you.
Hiking clothing is one of the most personalized choices. You will need to see what is most comfortable and effective for your hikes as some sweat more or find certain types of clothing to be better fitting than others. Two rules to live by:
- Cotton Kills- seriously, just don’t wear cotton or jeans for that matter
- Layers are key. In colder weather you’ll still work up a sweat hiking uphill. It’s important to have multiple light wicking layers for versatility.
Here’s a general guide on laying-
Layer 1: Outerwear
Look for a jacket with features such as sealed seams, zipper guards, and cinch-able hoods. Armpit zips, mesh pockets, and waist drawcords will help you ventilate when working up a sweat. If conditions are very dry, you can get away with bringing a shell that’s windproof. These usually aren’t very waterproof but are fairly breathable, and they pack smaller and lighter than waterproof models.
Layer 2: Insulation
A shell or rain jacket will keep you dry and prevent wind from penetrating, but won’t keep you very warm. It is important to have an insulating layer. Insulating layers include synthetic fleece, wool, down, and high-loft synthetics like Polar-guard, Micro-loft, and Primaloft. Synthetic pile and fleece are the most effective all-around materials for insulation and your best choice for wet weather. The advantages of these materials are numerous: They’re breathable and easy to ventilate. They keep you warm even when wet. They’re warmer for their weight than wool. They trap heat while absorbing very little water. And they’re durable and machine washable. The benefit of wool clothing is the material helps to keep you warmer when it’s cool out and cooler when it’s warm. In summer, I’m often dressed head to toe in wool!
For cold weather hiking, add a light down jacket to your wardrobe. Lightweight and highly compressible, down won’t add much to the bulk or weight of your pack, yet it will help you keep warm during rest stops and around camp.
Layer 3: Base layer/Underwear
The last layer you’ll need is a base layer that will wick moisture away from your skin so you stay dry and comfortable. This is essential when you’re working up a sweat in the cold mountain air. Fabrics include silk, polyester, and wool, along with many other blends. Along with long underwear, make sure your underwear isn’t cotton! Nothing like having a cold butt during a winter hike!
Several weights of fabric are available. For general three-season hiking/backpacking, the lightest weight is your best choice. If you’ll be winter camping, add a heavier “expedition”-weight top and bottom to your clothing bag.
Need specific suggestions? Check out some of my gear lists here!
First Aid Kit/Ditty Bag
I won’t go into much detail as I have a whole guide here. Again, you’ll always want to put together a kit that is right for you. Be sure to include things like an Epi Pen or medications for allergies, and put together a first aid kit specifically for your dog if you bring one hiking with you.
Common sense is the best thing to bring with you. Having mental clarity and the right skill set will do you more good than having a bar of gear you don’t know how to properly use.
- Be sure to go on smaller practice hikes with your gear.
- Let someone know where you are going with specific details of your hike.
- Plan a turnaround time and stick to it, even if it doesn’t mean making it to your destination.
- Carefully observe changes in weather and turn back if needed.
- Look at all possible routes, not just your planned trails. Know bailout points if weather turns, there’s an unexpected trail closing, or hazard to navigate around.
- Keep track of your location. Always go back to the last place you can identify on your map if you become lost. If you are disoriented, stay put.
Do you have suggestions to share? Leave them in the comments section below!