Summer is a great time to get outdoors and experience the wonders of nature — on foot. If you’ve thought about hiking, you should know that it’s a little bit more complicated than just “taking a walk” (no offense to “walks”). Here are ten pieces of gear that will make your summer hike safe, comfortable and fun.
The most vital piece of hiking gear is the right pair of shoes. If you’re just going for a short, nearby jaunt, you can probably get away with sneakers; for longer hikes or trickier terrain, sturdy boots or trail shoes are a must. And here’s the thing: break them in before you go.
It may seem counterintuitive (“…doesn’t cotton ‘breathe’?”), but cotton clothes are not the best choice for a summer hike. Choose an outfit made from “wicking” materials like merino wool or “coolmax” polyester blends. And don’t forget this same rule with your socks: wicking keeps your feet dry to help prevent blisters.
Sunglasses and sunscreen are critical on summer hikes, plus a hat will not only keep the sun off your head and face, but help protect against insects. And no matter how sunny it appears now, summer weather can change in a flash, so pack a plastic rain poncho in case of a downpour.
Safe hiking requires certain items, more than can be stuffed in a few pockets. So a backpack is the way to bring them along. There are many different types and sizes; it’s smart to consult an expert at the sporting goods store to get the right fit. Your torso size will partly determine it, as well as how much you’ll be carrying. Like shoes, the right backpack “fit” will make your hike much more comfortable.
If you want to kick it up a notch or five, or plan to hike for a few days, consider a solar backpack to keep your devices charged. The Baltoro 75 GZ has a solar panel on top that charges up your phone, etc. as you trek.
There are some non-negotiables that should go in every hiker’s pack:
-First-aid kit (familiarize yourself with it ahead of time)
-Waterproof matches and lighter
-Extra food and water
-A whistle, in case you get lost
-Repair items, like duct tape
-Utility knife. The Leatherman Signal goes waaaay beyond the typical knife, and features 19 different tools, including a saw, hammer, emergency whistle and even a fire starter.
Depending on where you’re headed, many experts recommend planning for an emergency overnighter. In that case, include an emergency blanket, extra clothing layers and some kind of portable shelter. The cool new MSR Carbon Reflex 2 is one option: it weighs a little over a pound, is super-compact, fits two people and provides better shelter than a tarp.
Never rely solely on your smartphone or GPS device for guidance when you’re in the great outdoors, because technology will always crap out just when you need it most. Smart hikers bring a paper map and compass with them – and know how to read both. They also let someone back home know where they’re headed and when they’re expected to return.
You can hardly enjoy the scenery if you’re constantly swatting bugs away from your face, or slapping yourself silly as they move in for a juicy bite of your calf. A good, heavy-duty insect repellent (one with DEET to keep tiny ticks at bay, too) will help you relax and enjoy the hike.
Water is critical on the trail, especially during summer. Drinking one liter per hour is a baseline, but factors like terrain and the length of your hike will impact that. There are a few ways to tote your H2O, such as in a canteen or trusty water bottle. Some hikers prefer a “hydration bladder,” which attaches to your backpack and features a drinking tube to keep your hands free.
If you’ll be near a source of running water, like a stream, tuck some water filtration tablets into your pack, just in case of emergency.
These provide better stability and takes some of the stress off your knees. Many fold up to fit right in your backpack.
There’s nothing worse than wet feet – which can quickly lead to blisters (even more misery-inducing). Throw some extra socks in your pack, just in case you have an accidental encounter with a stream or puddle.
Sure, you’ve packed a flashlight. But experienced hikers will tell you that a hands-free headlamp comes in extremely handy in many situations on the trail.
OK, this one is optional. If you plan to be on the trail for more than just a day-hike, you may be over the whole trail mix-and-jerky thing, and crave something more satisfying. Fortunately, there’s a range of ultra-compact cookware sets ideal for fitting into a backpack. The Trail Lite Duo Cook Set is one that includes a pot, dishes and mugs for two, all designed to fit together like nesting dolls.
There are some things in life that you miss with a windshield or electronic screen in front of your eyes; hiking can get you back to the fantastic natural world that’s all around. So get out there and see what’s waiting to surprise you!