January 28, 2015
For many people, nothing relieves stress and rejuvenates the soul more than a long walk in the woods. Taking an extended vacation in the great outdoors remains one of the most popular American pastimes. In fact, approximately 38 million Americans went hiking in 2014 and about 43 million people went camping in the United States. To get the most enjoyment from your hiking experiences, and to ensure a safe return (remember, leave a hike plan with someone you trust), keep these important gear items in mind before you head out:
Here’s where your feet make contact with the trail. Over and over and over. So the top priority is a comfortable fit. Hold off on going to the store until the end of the day, when your feet are swollen from everyday activities. But don’t bolt without grabbing your favorite hiking socks first. At the store, get your feet properly measured by an expert, and be prepared to answer a few questions: What kind of hiking will you be doing? Will you be traveling light on day trips? Or toting heavy loads on multiday expeditions? Will you be on paved or well-maintained trails? Or will you be out on more rugged, root- and rock-strewn trails and wading through water? Your answers will affect your boot buying experience, and an expert can guide you into the right shoe, taking into consideration different brands, shoe construction and sizing. Be prepared to try on at least three pairs or more until you achieve the best possible fit.
No cotton. Cotton holds the moisture when you sweat. Sweaty feet in wet socks equals hotspots on your feet. Hotspots turn into blisters and pain. End of fun. Wool or synthetic socks are the ticket here. They wick moisture away from the feet and provide another layer of cushioning. Thickness is a personal preference, and some people prefer to wear more than one pair at a time. Always plan to hike with an adequate amount of socks so you can keep your feet as dry and painfree as possible.
Layering is the way experienced adventurers deal with the changing temperature outside and their own bodies. The idea is to add or shed layers as you warm up or cool down during your hike. Start with a light, moisture-wicking base layer (against your skin). Think synthetic fabrics again here. Next comes more of an insulating layer, such as a fleece pullover. Then there’s your outer, or shell, layer. This is where a jacket comes into play. And don’t forget to tuck raingear into your pack.
Staying hydrated is crucial, and can make or break your hike. In hot conditions, you can sweat your way into dehydration or worse. Cool conditions often fool people into thinking they don’t need to drink as much but then they run into the same trouble. Always bring a more-than- adequate amount of water in a hydration bladder or water bottles. Another choice is to pack a water purification system, such as a filter pump or one of the various chemical drops on the market today. This way you can safely refill your supply from natural sources you come across.
Though this list can be varied by specific destinations and conditions, don’t hit the trail without these essential items: navigation (map, compass, GPS) , sun/bug protection, extra clothing, a knife, light sources (flashlight, headlamps), fire-starting supplies (matches, flint, lighter, etc.), first-aid kit, food, water and emergency shelter. It’s always better to be prepared.
Hiking requires energy, even more if inclines are involved. Take energy foods that keep your metabolism burning steady instead of rising and crashing. Trail mix is a common go-to source of energy while walking. For extended stays in the wilderness, plan out a healthy menu with plenty of protein-rich foods for those evenings in front of the fire when you get to relax.
Even day hikers should have a way to protect themselves from the elements (tarp) should an emergency prevent them from returning on time. There are many options available when choosing a sleeping bag (down or synthetic, mummy-style or rectangular) or a tent (three-season or four-season, backpacking solo or with a group), so your destination and situation may affect your choices. Consult with experts at an outdoor retailer who can guide you through the buying process of each item.
Backpacking is not as simple as throwing your supplies in a bag with straps and walking into the woods. The proper backpack, properly fit to your body, makes taking those supplies easier, which allows you to enjoy the experience more. A properly fit pack begins with knowing where you’re going and for how long. Day hikers carry fewer items, so a smaller capacity pack is sufficient. Thru-hikers, those who hike long distances, then resupply and continue on, carry much more gear and food, and thus their needs are different. An expert at an outdoor retailer can walk you through the pack fitting process, which entails measuring torso length and waist belts, determining proper pack capacity and features.
Of course this list is not all-encompassing. Some people stay connected and share their experiences via cameras and smartphones. Others unplug a bit more and prefer to carry binoculars or trekking poles. To each his own.
What are the must-haves on your hiking gear list? Tell us in the comments.