GetHiking! Gear: What You Need
Fortunately, you don’t need a lot of gear to hike. Here are the basics.
Hiking shoes/boots. Here’s the one place where you shouldn’t scrimp: a good fit is imperative to your happiness on the trail. And different boots/shoes appeal to different tastes and physiological needs. Some boot manufacturers cater to a narrower foot, some tend to accommodate high arches better than others, some come ready to hike a 20-mile trail, others require a bit of break-in. You can get some insight by talking to veteran hikers, but what works for them may not for you. Visit your local outfitter during off peak hours, try a few different pairs (taking a few minutes to walk around the store in each), ask questions.
Cost: Expect to spend $80 or more.
Learn more: Check out this REI handout, “Hiking Boots: How to Choose”
Socks. Here’s the other one place where you shouldn’t scrimp. Socks need to be snug all around your feet, which requires a little more pricey weave engineering. And there are different hiking socks for different hiking occasions. In warm weather, a lighter sock engineered to wick sweat from your foot (as opposed to keep it warm) will make your feet happy. Conversely, when it’s cold out you’ll want a thicker sock to keep your feet warm. The material is important as well. Wool and synthetics designed to pull blister-causing moisture from your feet are preferred; cotton, while comfortable, will drench your feet in a pool of sweat.
Cost: Don’t be surprised to pay up $20 (or more) for a pair of good hiking socks, though you should be able to score decent socks in the $10-$15 range.
Learn more: Check out this REI handout on “Socks: How to Choose”
Hiking poles. Hiking poles are for “old people,” right? 39-year-old Brian Terwilliger broke the Ultimate Hike record for covering a 28.3-mile stretch of the Foothills Trail in 6 hours and 54 minutes: despite being in phenomenal shape, he wouldn’t have thought of attempting the run without his hiking poles. “I love ‘em,” he says. “I’ll even use ‘em on a five-mile hike.” In fact, hiking poles keep you from getting old. They’re especially great for prolonging the life of your knees, mainly by easing the impact on downhills. They also help distribute a trail workout throughout your body: with poles, your upper body gets a workout, too. Tip: Most poles break down for quick storage on or in your pack when you don’t need them. Experiment with the mechanisms where the pole breaks down; some technologies are not as advanced as they might appear. Internal locking devices are especially suspect.
Cost: A decent stick found on the forest floor is good enough for some. Otherwise, OK manufactured poles start around $25, lightweight, easily adjusted carbon fiber poles can run you $160 or more. There’s a range of good poles in between.
Learn more: Check out this REI handout on “Trekking Poles and Hiking Staffs: How to Choose”
Daypacks. Most hikers start basic, holding a bottle of store-bought water as they venture into the woods for a two- or three-mile hike. Soon, they tire of holding the water so they find whatever is handy at home — often a simple draw-string gimmie bag — to carry the bottled water, car keys, maybe a bar for those longer hikes. As they progress past three miles, or longer than an hour on the trail, the improvised bag becomes awkward. That’s when most hikers become seduced by the sexy world of day packs. Day packs with built-in hydration systems. Day packs with built in rain covers. Day packs with iPhone ports. Day pockets with specific pockets to hold everything from car keys to epi pens. Day packs for an hour on the trail, for two hours, for a day. Check out the offerings at our local outfitter and you’ll understand why it’s not uncommon for a regular hiker to have three, five, 10 packs in their arsenal. The key thing to look for in a pack is fit. You want the weight of your pack to be borne by your hip bones; thus, look for a pack with a substantial hip strap. You want the shoulder straps to not bind your shoulders; check for width and comfort. You don’t want the pack up against your back encouraging perspiration to gather: look for a suspension system that keeps the pack off your back. As for the pockets and extras, that’s a matter of personal choice. Take a few hikes, make note of how a pack could most benefit you on the trail. Take those notes with you when you go shopping.
Cost: You can get a good daypack that will make you happy in the $50-$90 range.
Learn more: Check out REI’s “Daypacks: How to Choose”
Hydration. Not long ago, we took our water in bottles, and we liked it. Then, along came hydration packs and we liked that even more. The big advantage to hydration packs: The hydration tube rests off your shoulder, a constant reminder to drink. The tube is also easy; on long hikes, drinking becomes an almost robotic task. Water bottles, on the other hand, slip into side pockets on your pack, pockets that aren’t always easy to access. This access restriction leads to infrequent drinking, which leads to trouble. One disadvantage to true hydration packs is they often come in smaller packs. However, most daypacks, regardless of size, now come with accommodations for a hydration bladder, which you can buy separately.
Cost: Chances are you’ve gotten a gimmie water bottle at an event (charity run/walk, summer festival, etc.). If not, you can get a decent water bottle for $5-$10. Hydration reservoirs to add to a daypack are surprisingly pricey, starting around $30.
Learn more: Check out REI’s “Hydration Packs: How to Choose”