Hiking 101 Part 2: Selecting clothing and gear
Luckily for us hikers, very little of the gadgetry and technical clothing is actually necessary for a safe, enjoyable hike, and even the essentials don't need to be expensive to be trail-worthy.
Essential Item #1: Footwear
Hiking boots provide support and comfort for your feet and ankles on long trails and uneven terrain. But your boot only needs to be as technical as the hikes you're taking them on, which means its best to keep in mind a few questions before heading to the store:
Do I plan to go out in wet or cold conditions?
What type of hiking will I be doing?
What will the trail conditions be like while I'm hiking?
Do I have any ankle problems?
Take a look at the article Finding Boots for your Hiking Feet for some tips on what to look for in fit, style, material, etc. And remember, fit is critical, so try on lots of styles! If it's not comfortable in the store, it certainly won't be on the trail.
Essential Item #2: Proper Clothing
Clothing: What to you need?
You don't need to buy a new wardrobe before you hit the trail, but you'll need a few basics to stay safe and comfortable. While you don't need the most expensive gear, avoid cotton: it's a poor insulator when wet, making you feel colder and increasing your risk of hypothermia. Look for synthetic or wool materials instead.
- Base layer: If you’re hiking in mostly warm weather, this usually means a synthetic t-shirt and shorts. In colder weather, this will include long thermal underwear.
- Warm, insulating layer: Do you have a fleece jacket? How about a comfy wool sweater? Both of these work great as a insulating layer that provides warmth if it gets chilly.
- Waterproof/ wind-proof layer: This includes both rain/wind jackets and hiking or rain pants. The jacket will keep you warm and dry on windy ridges and rainy days, and the pants will keep you warm and protected from brush and mud.
- Socks: Hiking-specific socks offer more cushioning and breathability than cotton tube socks and protect them from blisters (particularly important on long hikes).
Essential Item #3: The Pack
As with the first two items, your pack only needs to be as technical as the trails you’re hiking, so you don’t need the multi-day backpack quite yet. The basic bag needs to be big enough to carry your food, water, extra clothes and Ten Essentials comfortably. If you’re sticking to short, easy hikes, a book bag-style backpack will probably do the trick. Once you move onto longer, more challenging hikes, using a small daypack like the ones reviewed here and here will make hiking much more comfortable, particularly if you have back problems.
Essential Items #4-13 (and a few handy ones)
The 10 Essentials
To ensure the safety and comfort of your hike, there are 10 pieces of gear that hikers world-wide consider “essential”:
- Map and Compass (On clearly marked trails in city and state parks these won’t be necessary, but they can be lifesavers in the backcountry.)
- Water and a way to purify it
- Extra food
- Extra Layers and Rain Gear
- Firestarter and matches
- Multi-tool or knife
- First aid kit (read here for what you'll need)
- Flashlight or headlamp and extra batteries
- Sun screen and sunglasses
What’s good to have:
Insect repellent, whistle, watch, emergency blanket, mirror (for signaling), duct tape (great for repairing anything), gloves, extra socks, and an orange vest (during hunting season)
What you may want:
Trekking poles, particularly if you have joint problems, camera and binoculars for recording memories and viewing wildlife and water-proof cases for carrying them.
What you can skip (for now)
Until you start backpacking or taking on technical hikes, you can skip fancy GPS systems, locator beacons, high-end technical gear, tents, sleeping bags or pre-packaged backpacking meals.
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