The supplies and equipment you take on your hikes will change depending on location, weather, season, trail distance, trail elevation gain. However, there are basic supplies and equipment that should be considered on every hike, such as the 10 essentials, which will aid you with communication, navigation, shelter, warmth and energy needs, if you happen to get lost or have an emergency.
In my opinion, body temperature control is a key to staying comfortable and having a great hiking experience.
- Keep your inside at the optimum temperature by taking in the right amount of water, salt (electrolytes) and food, to allow your body to do its job.
- Keep your outside at the optimum temperature by wearing layers of clothing that you can easily add and remove as conditions change.
Other than the 10 essential, don’t feel like you need to have everything listed below on your first hike. Add pieces as you see the need for them. For example, a friend of mine who just started hiking regularly borrowed a pair of hiking poles for his first hike this summer. He decided they were such a great help that bought his own pair. On subsequent hikes, he saw how convenient hydration packs are, so he added that.
What to Wear – this is a general guide for spring, summer and fall type weather. Starting with the most important (happy feet=happy hiker):
- Boots – Traditional hiking boots lace well above the ankle and are designed to protect your feet and lower legs from boulders and bushes, and also provide great ankle support. The other end of the spectrum is low cut athletic shoes, which provide better maneuverability, but offer less protection and no ankle support. I prefer something in the middle. Most brands produce a mid-height boot (“MID” will be in the model name), which offer a compromise between maneuverability and protection/support. I also look for a good sole, such as Vibrams, that will stick to the terrain even if it’s wet. Add aftermarket insoles such as the Spenco Hiker or Super Feet for added comfort.
- Socks – Merino wool socks (merino is a type, not a brand) are the best. I wear thick merino wool socks, even in hotter conditions – it’s like walking on carpet all day. My feet stay comfortable and the wool wicks away moisture and sweat. I’ve never had a blister wearing them. Stay away from cotton socks – unless you really don’t like your feet. I’ve also been told that wearing nylon socks under your regular socks will also prevent blisters.
- Pants – Convertible pants are great. You can zip off the bottoms when the temperature is hot, and you don’t need lower leg protection. Then you can zip them back on when conditions are colder or you need more protection from rocks and bushes.
- Shirts – Wear a short-sleeve t-shirt as a base. Also take a long-sleeve button up shirt that you can use to help with body temperature control, and environmental protection. You will usually need the long-sleeve shirt to ward off the early morning chill and summit breezes. Also put it on anytime you stop for more than 5 minutes (like you see athletes do during games; it will help keep you from cooling off too quickly and getting the chills).
- Sunglasses with a strap, so you can put them on/take them off quickly as needed. Something to consider with polarized glasses – when I first started wearing them on hikes, I noticed I had problems with depth perception (I would stumble more than normal). In places where footing matters, it might be a good idea to remove them for safety. In time, I got used to them.
- Hat – A hat with a wide brim, a strap and mesh siding is great for sun protection and head temperature control. Other hats can trap heat inside and cause discomfort associated with dehydration. With a strap, you can throw the hat off when you’re walking through shade, and put it back on when you’re in the sun again. A nice side effect to doing this is the sweat on your hat will cool down considerably, so when you put it back on, it has a nice chilling effect. The strap also comes in handy when a strong gust of wind blows the hat off.
- Daypack – I’ve tried many different types of daypacks to find one that fits all needs and have learned it’s nearly impossible (1 wall of my den is covered with packs). Fanny packs work for short family hikes (have everyone carry their own) and larger ones are necessary for the longer solo hikes. Look for a pack that can carry a hydration bag – very convenient. I have learned that if you can transfer the weight of the pack from your shoulders to your hips, you have fewer aches and pains. Look for a pack with a waist belt and sternum strap. My current favorite is the Osprey Stratos 24. Its the perfect size for most day hikes. It is very versatile and best serves my needs for the types of hikes I like to take.
What to put in your pack
- The 10 essentials
- Compass (GPS receivers are a nice addition, don’t forget extra batteries)
- Sunglasses and sunscreen
- Extra food and water
- Extra clothes – dry socks, extra shirt for warmth, etc.
- First aid kit (Ibuprofen is VERY useful after a tough climb)
- Fire starter
- Water – The amount of water you should take is a catch-22. If you don’t take enough and can’t find a reliable water source, you get dehydrated. If you take too much, your pack feels like it weighs a ton (water is heavy!). Temperature and topography play a big role in how much energy you exert, but for me, if I’m hiking uphill and won’t have a place to refill, I’ll take a liter for every 1500 ft of elevation gain – on flat land, that would be 5-6 miles of brisk hiking. The water can be carried in bottles or hydration packs.
- Toilet Paper – It should be one of the 10 essentials! Take 2, in case you accidently leave one on the ground at your last stop.
- Duct Tape – Wrap some around a pencil or your trekking poles if you have them. Duct tape is very versatile. Use it to repair rips in packs or hold shoes together. It will hold gashes in your skin together until you can get down. Cover a blister with it for instant walking relief. The uses are endless.
- Gloves – Light-weight mesh gloves with leather palms are great for early morning chill or summit breezes. They are also useful for reducing blisters if you use trekking poles. And if you’re going to glissade down a snowfield, you will be glad you brought them.
- Raingear – throw rain gear in your pack if there is any chance of rain that day.
- Extra batteries for your electronics (digital camera, GPS, radios)
- Cell phone – if you can get coverage where you’re going.
- Hobby equipment – binoculars, guidebooks, photography equipment, etc.
- Water filter or purification tablets – useful if you know there are water sources on your hike. It allows you to carry less water (weight).
- Large Garbage Bag – They make great emergency raingear. Or cut holes in the bottom for your legs and slip it on for added speed and dryness on a glissade run.
- IPOD – I have mixed feeling about listening to music on the trail. If I’m hiking with someone, I never listen to music. One of the best parts of hiking ( and most therapeutic) is good conversation. Plus I like to hear what’s going on around me. You will never hear wildlife with plugs in your ears – missed photo ops. On the other hand, if I’m hiking alone and WANT wildlife to hear me coming, so I don’t surprise them, I put one plug in and will sing along (singing louder near creeks, because the sound of rushing water might drown me out).
What to carry outside your pack – Items you need quick access to should be carried in a way that you don’t need to remove your pack to reach them. Hang them on your pack straps or load up your pockets. Taking your pack off to get stuff might not seem like much, but it really adds up over the course of a hike.
- GPS – for navigation and progress updates.
- Water – for obvious reasons. Hydration packs have a tube and bite valve coming from the hydration bag in your pack, allowing you to take sips as needed.
- Snacks – for added energy. Remember to eat salty foods to help your body soak up the water you’re drinking.
- Camera – for those fleeting wildlife shots where timing is crucial.
- Trekking Poles – I’ve found I have more endurance (can go further and faster between breaks) if I use trekking poles. They also assist with balance, cadence, stream crossings and moving bushes out of your way.
What to leave home – I can’t think of much to leave home. If you want to carry your prized Barrel Cactus up the hill for a side-by-side shot with good-looking Indian Paintbrush flowers, be my guest. After carrying heavy unused items for a few hikes, you will know where to draw the line.
I’ve heard discussions among hikers on what kind of protection you should have on hikes. Some say you should always have a gun with you when hiking outdoors (please take a safety course) , and others say it’s totally unnecessary. Use your own best judgment.