Hiking is one of the most popular outdoor and recreational activities. More than half of all Americans like to hike each year, with many doing so every month.
It’s one of the easiest adventure activities you can start doing on your own. It doesn’t require a ton of expensive hiking gear, nor do you need to travel far from home to find a good hiking trail.
However, after falling in love with hiking, you’ll eventually want to upgrade your gear and take bigger trips. The best hiking gear will make your journeys far more enjoyable, as well as safer and more comfortable.
If you hike regularly, quality gear is a worthwhile investment. Keep reading below to learn how to plan a hike and how to choose the appropriate gear for each trip.
Find the Perfect Footwear
The foundation of your hiking gear is your footwear. The most important thing you can buy is a quality pair of hiking boots or shoes.
It takes time to find the right pair. There’s no one size fits all answer.
Some people prefer boots that cover the ankle, to keep dirt and rocks out of their shoes and provide the most support. Other hikers prefer the swiftness of lightweight hiking shoes or even heavy-duty running shoes.
Some need a stiff sole to navigate rough terrain while others prefer thin and flexible, which allows the foot to stretch and bend.
Before going out of the country on big, bucket list hikes, you need to experiment with different types of shoes to find what suits you best.
Good shoes won’t save your feet if you’re wearing bad socks. Hiking socks are made from technical fabrics or merino wool.
They need to wick moisture away from sweaty feet, to keep them dry and cozy in cold conditions. And they need to dry quickly, as they will likely get wet from rain or streams.
They need to fit snug, but not too snug, as your feet will swell. But don’t let them be loose, as that can lead to blisters during long hikes.
Some hikers will even wear a sock liner under their main hiking socks as a way of protecting against blisters, which can ruin a hike fast.
And always carry at least one spare pair of socks, if not two, during any hike.
One of the most important things to understand when hiking, or doing any other outdoor activity, is that layering your clothing is the key to success and safety.
Layers make it possible to enjoy trails in locations with wild and crazy weather. You might be in the mountains where it’s 75 degrees at the bottom and 30 degrees and raining at the top.
By investing in a layering system, you can confidently hike in any weather condition by adding or removing layers as you go.
When it comes to hiking, you’ll want to have three main layers in place. The base layer goes next to the skin. These are light, thin, and warm. They help to lock in heat and are vital when hiking in temperatures under 40 degrees, especially at altitude.
After that is your mid-layer. This is what you’ll wear most of the time. These are comfortable fleece layers, or other softshell, technical fabrics that can either be worn alone or on top of your base layers.
Fleece keeps you warm, and as a technical fabric, it dries quickly after getting wet. But when it comes to rainy or windy conditions, it’s not enough.
Avoid cotton at all costs when hiking. Cotton is bulky, heavy, and stays wet for a long time. Plus, when it’s wet, it fails to keep you warm, unlike wool or technical fabrics which can continue to insulate even while wet.
Your third layer is the outer layer. This is a hard shell that protects you from the elements. This is a waterproof and windproof jacket.
By clocking out wind and water, your base and mid layers can continue to keep you warm and prevent hypothermia.
The Best Hiking Gear for Your Destination
Buying the right hiking gear also depends on your hiking destination. Different locations, terrain, and climates will require slightly different gear setups.
Climbing Kilimanjaro, for example, will be a very different experience from hiking in the Grand Canyon, or from hiking local trails in the woods by your home.
By performing some basic research about your dream destinations, you can ensure you have gear suited specifically for that location, so you can hike without fear of bailing due to faulty gear.
Trekking poles are a must when it comes to high altitude, multi-day hikes.
A lightweight backpack that can carry everything you need is a worthy investment, though not the cheapest.
A poncho or heavy-duty rain jacket, and rain pants may be required in wetter destinations but could be left behind on warm-weather hikes or hikes in the desert.
By knowing your destination ahead of time, you can bring everything you need and nothing you don’t, so that you aren’t stuck with an overly full backpack weighing you down.
Coordinate Your Gear
This tip isn’t the most vital, but it is important. When buying different pieces of hiking gear and clothing, you should consider the outfit as a whole.
You’ll always be wearing these pieces of gear together, so you should try to do some basic color coordination. This will make it more comfortable to go from trail to town and will make for better photos to look back on.
Try keeping most of your gear neutral. Go for browns, grays, olive greens, or tan. If you want to add a pop of color to your hiking ensemble, do it with your shirt, mid-layer, and/or jacket.
Get Out and Hike
Some people obsess over their hiking gear. But the truth is, the best hiking gear doesn’t make you a better hiker. It just makes the process easier, more enjoyable, and safer.
After all, it’s not about the gear. It’s about you and the great outdoors.
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