Hiking 101 - The Essential Hiking Gear List
Hiking doesn’t need to be overwhelming, but I am also a big fan of making sure I am ready for the worst case scenario. Oftentimes, I am doing new day hikes on my own, or maybe it’s a new hike in unfamiliar territory. Either way, I always refer to my packing list to make sure I grabbed what I consider “essentials” for hiking. Some of these things are more important if the hike is new for you or is a longer distance day hike, and may not be necessary if it is a hike you are used to doing often or is shorter in distance. Use your best judgement, but refer to the list each time to get in a good habit of not forgetting something. If you’d like access to the list below in short form, you can download a printable list below.
Note: The list below may contain some affiliate links.
The below list is my own personal recommendations for essential gear for hiking. I can personally vouch for all the items listed, so please feel free to leave me a comment if you have any follow up questions.
essential hiking gear:
There are all kinds of small backpacks out there. Look around the market and see what works best for you. For day hiking, I usually like to make sure the bag is about 20-30 liters, has space for a Camelbak water bladder, has hip straps and chest straps. Recently I've been using a Dakine's Heli Pro 20L bag for day hikes, and Michael has been using the Thule Stir 20L hiking backpack.
Whether I print out a map from online or I buy one on amazon for my specific trail, I always like to have a map of some sorts. Depending on where you are hiking, many trails can have forks and split off in different directions, so it’s good to have something to ground yourself with. My favorite maps are the National Geographic Trail Illustrated Maps or the Tom Harrison Maps, if you can find one that includes your trail. I love this super detailed National Geographic Map of the John Muir Trail! I've used it so many times for different trails in the Sierras, including my recent backpacking trip from Tuolumne Meadows to Devil's Postpile, it had such great detail!
I am a data nerd, and you should be too! I know so many people don’t utilize GPS when they hike, but I consider it an essential piece of gear and there are many great options. My favorite GPS is the Garmin GPS 64st. It has definitely come in handy to help me navigate when I wasn't sure where I was. The first solo hike I did, it helped me navigate through a big tallus field back to the main trail when I got off route. I've even built my own GPX file on google earth and downloaded it to this GPS so my friend and I could follow a less traveled route called Bastards Ridge. Read more below on why I think every hiker should learn to love their GPS:
Don’t have a GPS? You Should.
Look, I believe every hiker and backpacker should be self-sufficient, and that includes knowing how to practice smart navigational skills in the outdoors. This is something I teach in my backpacking program, but I want to give you a couple GPS options to get started. Don’t ever risk getting lost, and don’t rely on other people for your safety. Be empowered, take 100% ownership for yourself my friend. Here’s what I recommend:
1) GAIA GPS Phone App: At a bare minimum, consider getting a premium subscription to GAIA GPS App. This App allows you to download maps in advance and take them offline into the backcountry. You can record your tracks, upload tracks from online to follow (like the one I have above), and so much more with this phone app, and GAIA is offering a special discount to those who subscribe online through my link above, 20% off their normal prices. But even if you don’t use my link... please, at a minimum get a GPS phone app to help you navigate outdoors!
2) Handheld GPS: If you hike often or go backpacking, then I highly recommend you investing in a handheld GPS. I own a Garmin 64st and LOVE this device.
3) Handheld GPS with Satellite Communicator: However, if you have a little bit more money to spend, if I were starting over, I’d get the Garmin inReach Explorer+ which provides not only GPS tracking capabilities, but also an SOS satellite search and rescue communicator. I own the Garmin inReach mini now and I pair it with my Garmin 64st, but you can save weight by getting this all-in-one solution.
I’ll be honest, I have never had to use my compass before in an emergency situation, but I always bring one just in case. I consider this my 3rd line of defense in case I get lost for some reason. My favorite compass is, The Suunto A10 Field Compass. If you have never used a compass before, also consider getting a book on Wilderness Navigation to learn some techniques on navigating with a compass.
I don’t always bring this, unless I know there are going to be issues with bugs and mosquitos. In the Sierra Nevada, bugs can really be an issue during some of the Summer months, and this is when I tend to bring bug repellent wipes. It just sort of depends where and when you are hiking. If you have warmer weather, it’s always safe to just bring some of this just in case. I prefer the wipes for hiking and backpacking because it is lighter and easier to pack.
Its sometimes easy to forget that our eyes need sun protection too. Always have a pair of sunglasses on hand. My favorite pair for day hikes are Goodr Sunglasses. I originally bought these glasses last year when I got into trail running. I couldn't find a pair of glasses that were comfortable and would stay on my face when I was running. These finally did the trick, and now I love wearing them hiking too! They come in a bunch of great color options and the best part... they are only $25! If you want something more classic Native Eyewear is also another good choice because they have a great lifetime warranty.
You might be thinking, “Why do I need a headlamp for a day hike”? Well you hopefully won’t need it… but what if you get lost? What if something happens? I always pack my headlamp AND extra set of batteries. I pretty much don’t go anywhere without a headlamp. I have a Petzl headlamp, and it has been going strong for over 3 years now. It's always good to pack an extra set of batteries too whenever you hike or backpack. When you are using your headlamp over and over, you never know when they will need replaced. I keep an extra set of batteries in a ziplock next to my headlamp and grab both whenever I pack for a hike. Most headlamps I've used take Tripple A Batteries.
When I first started mountaineering, I was told to buy a light my fire fire starter, because if our jet boils stopped working, or we needed an emergency fire, this was the best tool out there because you don't have to worry about it getting wet, it can be used for up to 12,000 strikes, and it is super light weight. Its just another one of those small items I always bring with me.
Camelbaks are awesome for hiking! They are the easiest way to stay hydrated, and I always bring one with me (unless it is really cold out because your camelbak water can freeze inside the hose). I recommend getting one that has at least a 3 liter reservoir, and the ones with a mouth piece cover are awesome too because when you set your backpack on the ground you don't have to worry about your mouth piece getting all dirty.
Ok cool, you have a Camelbak, but if your hike is long enough and water is important enough, potentially consider brining a Nalgene for backup as well. I've had friends who had their Camelbaks start leaking part way into a hike (although, it's never happened to me personally), so if my hike is long enough (over 5 miles), or if it is really hot out, I will usually pack an empty Nalgene as backup. Then, if a leak develops in my Camelbak, I can at least transfer water to the Nalgene and still be OK.
I wouldn't say water filters are always necessary to pack for a day hike, but I do sometimes pack a small one if I am doing a really long day hike (12+ miles) or if I was potentially going somewhere really remote and where I haven't hiked before. There are two main water filters I recommend, and I own both. I like the Katadyn Hiker Pro Microfilter and I like the SteriPen. I use the Hiker Pro more often when I backpack, but when I want something small to bring with me on hikes I will throw the SteriPen in my pack. The SteriPen is a good option if you want something lightweight and quick to filter water with. It works nicely too for snow camping or mountaineering when you have to melt snow and there is nothing there to pump filter. We also found the SteriPen handy to carry with us when we traveled to South Africa for our Rock Climbing Trip last year. We weren't sure how the tap water was in the Rocklands, so we ended up using a SteriPen just for backup.
Obvious, but always pack food and snacks. Pack what works for you. Some people like bars, some like sandwhiches, there no real rules. I like to pack cliff bars, complete cookies, and lara bars for quick snacks. Sometimes we will make a little quino and veggie lunch if its going to be a longer hike, or a pb&j sandwhich. It sort of depends on how much time we have to prepare in advance.
Only needed if you packed something that requires one, but I always keep it on my list to remind myself, because I can't tell you how many times I've packed a quinoa or rice lunch and forgotten utensils. I end up eating with my hands! Don't be like me. I like these Light My Fire Sporks because you get a spoon and fork all in one. Your bases are covered.
I love the black diamond trail pro shock trekking poles. Michael and I both have these. They have a set for women (blue) and men (red). I've owned a pair of cheaper trekking poles in the past and they break fairly easily. These are almost indestructible. I've been using the same pair for almost 5 years now, and still going strong.
Toilet Paper or Biodegradable Wipes
Don't forget to grab a wad of toilet paper or a pack of wipes just in case nature calls while you're on your nature hike! I've been buying the ArcherOG Biodegradable Wipes recently and love them! I still pack out any wipes that I use, but I like to support buying products that are more sustainable in general.
Nobody likes to talk about it, but to be a responsible outdoorsman/woman you need to bury your human waste. The Deuce of Spades Trowel is a fantastic lightweight option. When I went backpacking with my friends in Tuolumne a couple of months ago, all of my friend's trowel handles broke except for mine! Winning!
Printed out Permit
If your trail requires a permit, make sure to print it out or pick it up from the ranger station before your hike!
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Essential Clothing Layers to Consider:
Another important thing to consider when you go hiking is what to wear, or what to bring for emergencies. In short, think Layers.
For a longer day hike (over 7 miles), I typically always bring 2 pairs of wool socks. I will wear one pair and I will pack the second. Why are socks important? Having dry feet is one of the key ways to prevent getting blisters on a hike. So if you are hiking and start noticing your feet are sweaty, take some time to swap your socks, and let the sweaty pair hang off of your pack to dry. I am a big fan of the Darn Tough Wool Socks, but you could also go for Smart Wool Socks. I like them both.
First Upper Layer: Shirt, tank, light weight long sleeve
The first upper layer you wear should be lighter, depending on the weather. You could wear a t-shirt or tank top, but these days I like wearing a light weight long sleeve like Patagonias Lightweight Capilene Shirts. It helps to protect me from the sun and they are super breathable.
Second Upper Layer: a mid-layer of some sort, usually a light jacket
Whats the weather like for your hike? What is the overall low? Sometimes if hiking to a peak or summit, it can be even colder up top. Unless its a super warm place, its usually safe to pack a nice mid-layer light jacket. My go-to mid layer is my old purple Patagonia Nano Puff. I've had mine for about 8 year now, and it has a few rips in it, but it is still going strong!
Third Layer if going to be extra cold/for emergencies: a heavier down jacket
If the weather looks like it could be extra cold, or if you know the summit temps or night time temps might turn really cold, consider packing a heavier down jack. I'm not talking mountaineering down jacket, thats for another post, but I usually pack my thicker Patagonia Down Sweater Jacket. Ya ya, I am a big fan of Patagonia, but you know why? I buy their stuff once and it is great quality and lasts me for a long time!
Rain Layer: light rain coat or poncho in case weather turns
If it looks like the weather might turn foul, it is also smart to pack a light rain coat or poncho for just in case. I usually pack my Patagonia Alpine Houdini Jacket because it is super light weight, wind and rain resistant. I bought one of the men alpine houdini jackets because I liked the colors better and it fits me just fine.
Pants: Light weight hiking Pants + Optional thermal under layer if it will be cold
As nerdy looking as they may seem, a nice light weight, breathable pair of hiking pants are awesome! I particularly love them when I am backpacking, but also sometimes wear them on day hikes. If it is cooler out, consider adding a thermal wool under layer as well.
Lastly, but certainly not least, make sure to have some good hiking boots for your tail. My favorite hiking boots so far have been my Ahnu Montora Hiking Boots. I've never had an issue with blisters and they are waterproof and light weight. These are my go-to hiking boots! Or if you are looking for a good wide toe box shoe, check out this review on wide toe box hiking shoes.
Again, if you’d like to download the above list for reference, you can get access to the download below:
Get into a habit of checking your gear list before you go out and then you'll never leave without the essential things you might need!
I hope this was helpful, please leave me a note in the comments below if you have any questions!
Allison - She Dreams of Alpine
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