Living in an RV and visiting so many nature-focused destinations has awakened a new love in me – hiking! Maybe this seed was planted when I was young. I grew up with woods and a creek as my backyard, and I spent a lot of my childhood chasing salamanders, crayfish, and building forts with sticks amongst the trees. So in some ways, hiking feels like home. Nothing but you and nature – I love it, and plan to continue on with longer and longer hikes. Currently my longest hike was 8.5 miles but I plan on going for 10 miles soon.
With this new hobby of mine, I’ve had to purchase and adjust some of my gear so that I’m prepared for the trail. Here are some of my “must haves” if you are getting into hiking.
When I first started hiking, I used a pair of Brooks Cascadia (trail running shoes). They’re great shoes, but they’re not really made for hiking. They’re basically a running shoe with a rigid bottom. For hiking, you want something with a stabilizing/grippy sole, ankle support, and quality construction. When you’re scrambling up and down rocks, you don’t want to be cursing your boots.
Depending on where you’re doing your hiking, you may also want to look for a waterproof shoe.
Ideally, you’d go get fitted for your hiking boots by a professional. I ended up ordering ones with high ratings on Amazon (they had free returns, which always helps make the purchase a little easier) and I really like them. Being in the middle of nowhere a lot of the time doesn’t usually lend itself to luxuries like an in-person shoe fitting!
I ended up with these Keens, which have been awesome so far. I hope they hold up for a LONG time!
These are a must. It pains me to shell out ~$15 for one pair of socks, but they are worth every penny! Cheap socks just don’t cut it when you are on your feet for hours with heavy hiking boots on. Friction + sweat + cotton socks do NOT work. I even bought a pack of hiking socks from Amazon (I won’t link to them because I don’t want you to buy them!) that had great reviews but they were cotton. I didn’t realize this mistake until I did some hiking in them and then had blisters ALL over my feet. You need a sock with some synthetic material in it to wick away the moisture from your foot.
I’ve since purchased these Balega blister-resist socks, which feel like putting my foot in a cloud when I put them on, and I haven’t gotten a blister since. Good socks are well worth the investment. Don’t forget to buy the “quarter” version of the sock so they go high enough and your boots don’t rub your leg.
When you’re on the trail for hours, you need a high quality, comfortable backpack to hold your water, snacks, and other essentials. Since Tim and I hike alone 95% of the time, we have been using the same backpack, but that is changing. I used some of my birthday money to buy myself a new pack! It’s sitting at the post office just waiting for me to pick it up.
The pack I was using is the Osprey Stratos 36, which Tim picked out. I really like it, but it’s a little large for me. I just don’t need that much storage for day hikes.
So I chose a smaller Osprey, the Talon 22.
I wanted a space for a hydration bladder in my new pack (the current one has this and it became a “must have” for me) and I also wanted the hip belt (it stops the backpack from moving around as you climb up rocks) with pockets. I love having my cell phone at my fingertips.
Staying hydrated on the trail is so important. These are signs at every trailhead reminding you to drink water as you go, not only when you’re thirsty. I’m always thirsty anyway (just ask my family) so I don’t think I’ll be dying of thirst anytime soon. It’s not something I forget to do. But I did want a way to drink water without having to stop and take out a water bottle. Once my pack is on, I like to leave it on – and I also don’t usually like to stop hiking. Thank goodness for hydration bladders!
These reservoirs fill with water (mine is 3 liters) and fit in a sleeve that most hiking backpacks have. The tubing connects to a mouthpiece, which gets threaded through the bag and then clips onto the straps of the backpack. Viola – water at your fingertips, without having to stop or remove the pack.
Safety on the trail is paramount, especially because I am almost always alone. I think I need to do a better job with safety, but so far, here’s what tools I have in my arsenal:
- Emergency Whistle
- Pepper Spray
- Location sharing turned on via Google so Tim can tell where I am
- Stash of snacks in case I’m out longer than I expected to be
Trail Map (and AllTrails)
It’s kind of important to know where you’re going. Going off trail can quickly lead to run-ins with cacti and wildlife (I may know this from personal experience) and you can end up spending way more time than you wanted to ‘hiking’. I start to get frustrated and worried when I get off-trail (aka – LOST). I do my best to avoid that feeling by both bringing a trail map and using the AllTrails app. I paid for the “pro” upgrade to AllTrails because you can download the maps – an important feature since I don’t have cell service for a lot of my hikes.
A lot of the parks we’ve been to have poorly marked trails and don’t provide trail maps. It is a relief when a park actually has their trails well marked and will give you a good map. It makes the hike a whole lot less thought intensive, which I like, because I can zone out!
Water Bottle Sling
Ok, I have to throw this one in here. For short hikes, I take a water bottle sling. Sometimes I just don’t feel like dealing with the prep of filling the hydration bladder, hooking it all up, and then putting a backpack on. Sometimes I just want an hour on a trail and for that, I don’t need all of my hiking gear, I just need some water. For this scenario, we found the perfect product at one of the national park gift shops (their merchandising is really good – seriously!). It expands to fit water bottles of almost any size. We have a 44oz Nalgene that we put in it and it fits just fine. It also has a pocket for your cell phone.
Trekking poles are really useful for hikes that involve a lot of rocks. They really help to stabilize you. They’re also good as a warning to snakes to stay away (ok maybe this is something I’d just like to believe, but I’d like to think they help?) because the trekking pole lands a step ahead of you. I’m still getting comfortable with using trekking poles. They require a rhythm that I don’t think I’ve quite gotten down yet. But if you’re going to be hiking on trails that aren’t exactly easy, you need a pair. They fold up to be about a foot long and can easily attach to your backpack if you want them out of the way.
It wasn’t until we got to Arizona until I realized that I need some serious sun protection. The sun here is hot, hot, hot! Everyone in Arizona wears sun hats, and it wasn’t long until Tim and I were buying our own. It makes such a difference when you keep the sun off of your neck and face.
Along the same lines, you need to be wearing sunglasses if you’re hiking when it’s sunny. For a long time, I used to just wear a pair of fashion sunglasses, but with the sweat, they kept slipping down my nose. I finally bought a pair of (far less stylish, but far more functional) sporty sunglasses and I love them. They never fall down and they are very lightweight. I forget they’re even there.
There you have it – my hiking must-haves! I’m sure this list will evolve as I get more seriously into hiking longer distances. As a beginner/intermediate, this is everything you need to get started. Now who wants to hike with me?!