Hiking Gear Checklist: 11 Essentials to Bring on a Hike

Hikes are a great way to way to get outside, to experience something new, and to get some exercise. Yet, depending on the length and location of your hike, there may be more to it than lacing up your shoes and driving to the woods. Here is a list of hiking gear that you should consider bringing not only for safety, but also to make the trip more enjoyable.

1. Shoes

A solid pair of trail-running shoes or light-hiking boots can make a huge difference. If you are trekking lighter hikes without much elevation or ones with a dirt trail, a pair of running shoes will work just fine. But if you’re doing a more intense, longer hike, trail shoes are a wise choice. On these types of shoes, there are deeper lugs on the bottom that provide better traction. Losing your footing going down a steep incline is not fun.

Besides the traction, trail shoes have a more rigid outsole. The more rigid the shoe, the less your foot bends and moves as you walk. In turn, this cuts down on foot pain and added stress on your foot. When you pick out these shoes, remember to buy them with ample room in the toe box. If your toes hit the front of the shoe when you try them on at the store, imagine that happening for hours as you go downhill.

2. Water

After shoes, water is the most important hiking gear item on the list, and it would be first but most people who aren’t hobbits won’t make it far enough barefoot to dehydrate themselves. Don’t be that person who is constantly asking other people for a “sip” of their water because you didn’t bring any. Hiking time is different than real time. The hike might only be three miles, but depending on elevation, terrain, and time spent waiting for the person in your group who takes a lot of photos, it could take over two hours.

Stopping at the gas station before the hike is fine as a last resort, but plan ahead and invest in a water bottle. Many companies now makes bottles that are BPA free, inexpensive, and durable (I’ve been using the same one for almost three years). If you hike regularly, investing in a hydration pack (a backpack with a water pouch inside and a long tube to drink from) wouldn’t be a bad idea since they often let you bring more water with you. If you want to really impress your friends, pick up a water filter, which filters out the bad stuff so you can drink directly from the source.

3. Food

Food should be an obvious choice if you’re going on a long or strenuous hike, and the list of suitable choices could go on forever. The important thing isn’t that you bring enough for the hike you’re planning on taking, but more than you need. In nature, things can (and do) go wrong. A peanut butter sandwich, nuts, homemade granola or gorp, and fruit are traditional staples. Packaged bars keep much longer and a few extra in your pack can make you the hero should someone get hurt or something you planned to be a three-hour tour turns into an overnight adventure.

4. Pack

Using a pack will let you store all your gear in one place. Carrying your sunglasses, phone, wallet, camera, and keys in your pockets can be annoying, plus they can fall out. You don’t want to be locked out of your car when you return from your hike, so look for one with a small, securely-zipped compartment (inside the pack is best) for your vital stuff. These days, most packs are designed around a hydration bladder. This not only keeps your water evenly displaced along your back, it also provides comfort, too.

5. Headlamp

I can’t recommend this hiking gear essential enough. Unless you’re in Norway in July, there’s a chance you could end up walking (or stuck somewhere) at night. It’s not the most fashion friendly item on the list (one brand is actually called Dorcy), but a few months back I had a group of friends who stayed out late on a hike and had to use the flashlight on their cellphones to see their way back down the trail. And then their phones ran out of battery. They made it, but it wasn’t the most pleasant experience for them. A small flashlight will work, but headlamps are light and let you have both hands free. Just pick one that’s 70 lumens or above and you’ll be good to go.

6. Map/compass

Remember these? Odds are, you’ll never have to use either of these, but they are inexpensive and can come in handy if you get lost. You can even find a compass that hooks to a zipper, making it almost a no brainer to take along. Sure, your phone can do all of this better, but there’s no guarantee it will work. Many places in nature lack cell service and a poor signal will zap your battery in no time. Going old school is both light and safe.

7. Mirror

This isn’t for checking your makeup or seeing who is the fairest in the land. And, don’t worry, I’m not advising you to stick a glass mirror in your pocket. Many retailers sell a camping or signaling mirror (under $4) that is either stainless steel or plastic. It’s probably good to have one of these anyways to take camping (in case one wants to shave or apply a much needed bandage if you are alone), but taking it on your next day hike isn’t a bad idea either. Remember how annoying it was when someone would use their watch to reflect light into your eyes? Effective right?

8. First Aid Supplies

An entire kit might not be necessary (though, if you’ve got room in your pack you might consider it), but a basic emergency kit: adhesive bandages, antibiotic cream, ibuprofen, and an ACE bandage for a sprained ankle, are good in case something happens whether it’s a small cut or a headache.

9. Sun Protection/Bug Repellent

You can still get a sunburn even if it’s freezing or cloudy, so make sure to put on sunscreen before you head out and reapply ever few hours. If you’re not a fan of the sunscreen, there is plenty of sun protective gear (hats, bandanas, etc.) you can use.

These added layers can also work as a bug repellent of sorts if you forget to put it on. That said, I have been on many hikes where I have to constantly move my arms around to get rid of the bugs. This is good for exercise, not so good for actually enjoying the hike.

10. Layers

Without the right layers, an otherwise enjoyable experience could be just plain miserable. Check the weather before you start out that day to find out the temperature or if it will rain or snow. Also remember, the higher up you go, the windier it’s likely to be, so find a comfortable windbreaker that will block the wind and insulate you more than a cotton shirt.

11. Utility Tool

Something even as simple as a knife will do the job as you never know when it will come in handy for unsticking yourself from branches to cutting an apple to share with your friends.

 

Now that you have the right hiking gear, get out there and enjoy the outdoors. Often times, the hardest part is convincing yourself to get out on the trail. When you finally do, you realize how much you’ve been missing.