What to Bring on a Hike

Hiking is a great way to get some exercise, relieve stress, and take in some sights. Wearing the right clothing and packing the proper gear is crucial for making sure that you spend your time enjoying the hike rather than being uncomfortable or worrying about your gear.

Below is a go-to guide for what to wear and pack for your hike. 

What to Wear on a Hike

High Quality Footwear

It’s so obvious that it often gets overlooked, but hiking puts more stress and strain on your feet than any other part of your body. Look after your feet and they’ll look after you. When it comes to hiking shoes, you want to make sure they fit perfectly to prevent blisters while also providing excellent traction and response to prevent slipping or falls. Something like the Xero Xcursion is great for the waterproof outer and lightweight build.

For socks, it depends on what kind of weather you are hiking in, with cold weather favoring thicker, warmer socks and warm weather favoring breathability and moisture-wicking. In either instance make sure your hiking socks fit well—if they are too loose then rubbing will likely cause blisters on longer hikes.

Dress for the Weather (and Worse)

Experienced hikers know it’s best to dress for the both the current conditions and to be prepared for unexpected weather. As the old Scandinavian saying goes “there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing”.

Over the years this knowledge has developed into a system of layering your clothes, with each layer performing a different function.

  • Base Layer – The base layer should control your moisture levels by wicking/moving the moisture (read sweat) from your body to the outer layers. Base layers are often synthetic or wool materials with excellent wicking properties.
  • Mid Layer – This is the layer that helps keep your body heat in, and you warm and toasty. Depending on the situation/weather this can range from a light wool jumper in cool weather to a lightweight down jacket if it’s a little chillier.
  • Shell Layer – The shell layer is there to protect you from the elements – primarily wind and rain. A good shell layer should prevent external moisture from seeping into your clothing while also providing some degree of breathability. Depending on the conditions this can range from a lightweight rain jacket with DWR (durable water repellent) coating or a heavy hard-shell jacket made with Gore-Tex.

The general principle is that you should always carry the three layers. The beauty of the system is that you can regulate your body heat (i.e. shed layers when it is too hot), yet protect yourself if the weather conditions deteriorate (i.e. put on extra layers). If it’s extra cold, then you can consider wearing two mid-layers, and turning it into a four-layer system.

Don’t forget extras like gloves and hats in the winter or sunglasses (and hats) for UV protection from the sun’s harmful rays.

What to Pack for Your Hike

Navigation

Outside of an injury that prevents you from walking, getting lost is one of the worst and most frequent problems hikers can face. Make sure you bring a map of the area and familiarize yourself with it ahead of time, charting the course you want to take.

In addition to the map, always take a compass (and know how to use it). GPS devices and mobile phones are great, wonderful tools to help you find their way. However, there are myriad ways for them to fail (batteries die, dropped in a stream, dropped on a rock).

Should such a fate befall them, your trusty compass will lead you back home.

Food and Water

Between these two, water is by far the more critical, and a good rule of thumb to use is to take one cup of water per person for every hour of hiking. Depending on the length of your hike, you may be able to take such a volume in a flask, bottle or hydration bladder. Though, for longer trips where you need to source water from nature, make sure and take some methods of purifying the water.

Though you can go longer without food than water, you still do not want to get caught with low blood sugar while out on the trails. Trail mix lives up to its name as it is easy to carry and offers a range of different micronutrients to keep your energy up without slowing you down. Other options include sandwiches, freeze-dried meals, and other calorie-dense foodstuffs.

First Aid

Assuming you are off on a short day hike, there is no need to bring a big, heavy first aid kit. That said, there are several common issues you may encounter on the trails which can quickly and easily be dealt with a couple of items. Assorted bandages and antibacterial ointment are the most obvious items along with an over the counter pain reliever. Bug spray helps solve another common problem, but be sure to bring antihistamine in case you get bitten or stung.

Safety

Depending on how long you plan to hike, there are a couple of items that can make your sojourn safer and a couple you should take with you anyway. For the standard fare, something to signal visually, like a reflective mirror, as well as audibly, like a whistle, are musts.

It is important that you pack a light source such as a bright LED flashlight or a headlamp. You may plan to be well home before dark, but we’ve heard countless stories of hikers taking a wrong turn, miscalculating the length of the trip and having to walk the trail in the dark.

Tools

Though you are likely not planning to work on any serious projects on the trail, things can always go wrong. This is where having a couple of tools handy can make a broken strap or torn seam turn from an exhausting pain to a minor inconvenience.

A capable swiss army knife or some other multi-tool that has a blade attached to it is the easiest solution to many different problems. For fastening, you want to bring duct tape or some other type of tape that is waterproof with a strong adhesive to form a water-tight seal on any torn clothing should the weather turn on you.

Backpacks

Most people tend to choose a backpack first before gathering the rest of their gear, and indeed you are probably wondering why we are tackling this essential piece of kit last.

Well, let me explain…

Bear in mind that you’ll be carrying everything yourself. We find it best to look out all of your equipment and food/water first, and then find the smallest pack that will just accommodate it all. Choosing a pack first. Then packing, generally leads to taking additional (unnecessary) weight on the trail as extra items make their way into your bag because there is space.

With the right clothing and the right gear, your next hike should pose no more difficulties than the challenge you are looking for.

Of course, it always pays to be prepared, so make sure that you wear the right clothing for the weather. And do not forget to bring a solid pack with all of the necessary implements to account for the unexpected on the trails.

—Karen Connelly, My Open Country

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