Welcome to the world of Hiking- an activity that can absolutely change your life! Hiking is great for your mental and physical health and is fairly inexpensive. Once you get the basics, then for the most part, all you need money for is food and fuel!
For your safety and comfort, it helps to have specific hiking gear. Below are suggestions on basics to get you started.
There is some debate out there as to whether hiking boots and/or hiking shoes are better than regular tennis shoes for hiking. I am still on the Team Hiking Boots Camp so this is what I am going to recommend. Hiking boots and trail shoes provide extra cushion on the soles to absorb shock from a heavy backpack. Tennis shoes are not designed to absorb the added weight.
Hiking boots are necessary when the trail is rocky, uneven or has obstacles and objects such as roots and big rocks. If it’s lightly raining or if the trail is wet, weather proofed boots will help to keep your feet dry. Hiking boots provide support to minimize the chances of you rolling an ankle on uneven terrain. I recently read an article that said science has not been able to back up that the ankle support works on boots. I can speak from experience though-I believe they do.
If traditional hiking boots are too heavy for you consider Trail Runners. These are somewhere between a walking shoe and hiking shoe. They are designed specifically for running in off-road conditions and more stiff than regular running shoes.
Choosing a backpack can be a bit overwhelming since there are numerous styles and brands of available in the marketplace. When choosing the right one, you need to take into account several factors. The weight, size, and comfort are all important to consider for a stress free hike.
If you plan on multi day hikes and carrying a heavier load, then you will a need a backpack that distributes the weight evenly so you don’t get as tired. Look for a pack that has shoulder straps and a hip belt that will shift the weight to your hips as opposed to straining your neck and shoulders.
Also make sure that your backpack has enough space and pockets to carry all the supplies you need. Obviously if you just go on day hikes, your pack can be smaller vs. a multi-day backpack.
The final feature you should look for is one that has a water bladder built into it. This will help you stay hydrated while you’re hiking since you can sip from the hose while you are hiking. In my opinion, this item is by far the most important. If you are with a hiking group that rarely stops for breaks, you can continue to sip from the hose. If you only have water bottles, then you basically have to wait to drink until you stop for breaks.
Hiking Poles are basically ski poles with a handle that you use while hiking. Most of the time, you’re going to use the two together. There is hiking staff (AKA a hiking stick) that is a single pole. You may not use poles every time you hike, but there are numerous reasons why they are great to have.
Using hiking poles can reduce the amount of stress on your feet, legs, knees and back by distributing the load more evenly across the entire body. This is especially true when carrying a heavy pack on your back. When I hiked the Grand Canyon, I used hiking poles and I’m so glad I did! Going down steep inclines can be rough on your knees. By using the poles, it took a lot of weight off my knees while I was going downhill. Then- on the way up, my legs were Jell-O so I used the poles to help lift myself up with every step.
Additional benefits include:
- Improving posture- being more upright can help with breathing.
- Improve your power and endurance when walking uphill
- Help you balance on uneven terrain
- Increase your speed (especially going downhill)
- Strengthens muscles that support the spine and builds muscles in arms, shoulders and neck.
- Make stream crossing easier- helps to keep your balance and from slipping on rocks
- Use to test how deep or muddy a stream is.
There are certain looks that hikers have for a reason. The clothes designed for hikers are meant to keep them safe, comfortable, and at their peak performance. Below are general rules for the best hiking clothes; you should always anticipate what the conditions are. Your health and protection are dependent on what you wear and bring with you. Be ready for conditions to be wetter, cooler, snowier, or hotter than predicted.
Choose clothes that are either polyester, nylon, spandex or merino wool (including undies). These types of materials dry quickly and move the sweat off of your skin. They are ideal for next to the skin layers such as briefs, tees, sports bras or long underwear. Wearing cotton in general should be avoided at all costs. I do have hiking friends that wear cotton (that they keep wet) when they hike in the heat. In AZ during the summer, it gets over 100 degrees.
The best types of bottoms to wear are pants that are comfortable, have stretch and are also made of a blend material. Jeans should be avoided because they are heavy and made with a sturdy cotton.
Weather Any Storm
To keep your head and face protected from the sun, wear sunglasses and a hat. In hot sunny weather, despite what you would think, wearing a lighter colored long sleeve shirt made with either polyester, nylon or spandex will keep you the coolest.
For cold conditions, wear a warm jacket made with Polyester Fleece – or for even colder weather, a puffy jacket that has a polyester fill or water-resistant down inside works well.
The hiking “essentials” list was est. in the 1930s by The Mountaineers, a Seattle-based organization for climbers and outdoor adventurers. This list was designed to help people be prepared for emergency situations in the outdoors. From this time, the list has moved into a systems approach rather than individual items. Here is what is recommended from REI:
- Navigation: map, compass, altimeter, GPS device, personal locator beacon (PLB) or satellite messenger
- Headlamp: plus extra batteries
- Sun protection: sunglasses, sun-protective clothes and sunscreen
- First aid: including foot care and insect repellent (as needed)
- Knife: plus a gear repair kit
- Fire: matches, lighter, tinder and/or stove
- Shelter: carried at all times (can be a light emergency bivy)
- Extra food: Beyond the minimum expectation
- Extra water: Beyond the minimum expectation
- Extra clothes: Beyond the minimum expectation
This is a great list; the only item that I believe is important on not on here is a signaling device. I wrote an article on the essentials that adds the signaling device. I combined the extra clothing with the Emergency shelter to keep it to a list of 10 items.
Starting with these 5 Hiking gear basics will make a huge difference in your hiking experience. Wearing the right boots can keep your feet from hurting and blister free, the correct attire can keep you comfortable and safe, hiking poles can lessen the stress on your knees, the best backpack has plenty of room, pockets for keys/wallet, and will include a water bladder. Finally, the essentials will give you a peace of mind and provide you with items to keep you safe no matter what happens on the Trail.
Have other thoughts on basics you should start with? What is your experience with this hiking gear? Please leave your comments below!
Thank you for taking the time to read- Have an Amazing Day!