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Hiking 101 Part 2: Selecting Your Gear

You don't need to spend a fortune to hike safely and comfortably. But you do need a few essentials.

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.

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Taking a well deserved break a top Mount Challenger. Photo by Buff Black.

Footwear

There is a wide variety of hiking footwear out there to choose from -- each with their own unique benefits. For some folks, hiking boots may be the best choice thanks to their ankle support and ability to handle uneven terrain. Others may prefer trail running shoes because of their comfort and low weight. Some hikers swear by sandals (like Chacos or Tevas) for their breathability and quick-dry factor. Your footwear only needs to be as technical as the hikes you're taking them on, so you might want to ask yourself a few of these questions before make your first purchase:

  • What kind of weather will I be hiking in? Do I plan to hike in wet or cold conditions?

  • What type of hiking will I be doing? What will the trail conditions be like while I'm hiking?

  • Am I prone to ankle injury?

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.

Clothing

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.

1

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.

2

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.

3

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.

4

Socks: Hiking-specific socks offer more cushioning and breathability than cotton tube socks and protect them from blisters (particularly important on long hikes).

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Photo by Emma Cassidy.

Backpack

As with the first two items, your backpack only needs to be as technical as the trails you’re hiking. For a day hike in a local park, you likely won't need a 50 liter pack with all the bells and whistles. Your basic backpack just needs to be big enough to comfortably carry your food, water, extra clothes and a few other safety essentials. If you’re sticking to short, nearby hikes, a book bag-style backpack will probably do the trick. If you're venturing out a bit farther, you may want to invest in a small daypack like the ones reviewed here and here. These packs are specifically designed with hiking in mind, so they will be much more comfortable for longer days on trail, particularly if you have any back problems.

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The TEN Essentials

Before you hit the trail, make sure your backpack is loaded with the Ten Essentials. These include navigation, sun protection, insulation, illumination, first aid, fire starter, multi-tool, nutrition, hydration and emergency shelter. While hiking, you are responsible for your own safety and any one of these ten items may help to save your life. Carry each one and know how to use them.

A few other considerations

In addition to the Ten Essentials, there are a few other things you may want to pack to make your hike more enjoyable. Insect repellent, whistle, watch, emergency blanket, duct tape (great for repairing anything), gloves, extra socks, and an orange vest (during hunting season). Trekking poles can be incredibly useful while hiking somewhere with steep ascents or descents, of it you have joint problems. A camera and pair of binoculars are useful for recording memories and learning more about the natural world around you.