Essential Hiking Gear You Cannot Go Without

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You do not hike for survival, unless you are in the middle of a zombie apocalypse or a flood of biblical scale. Hiking is nowadays a leisure activity or an extreme cardio exercise more than anything else. In case you plan to engage in such a journey in the near future, it would make perfect sense to prepare some necessities, gears, and accessories so that you remain as comfortable as possible while you’re out there in the wilderness.

Here are 10 essential hiking gear that all hikers, both new and seasoned, should not go without.

1. Daypack

First things first, you need a daypack to carry all the items you will certainly and probably need during the hike. Although all daypacks may look the same at a glance, ones that are specifically designed for hiking most likely have at least two compartments for water bottles.

Capacity is one of the most important things to consider when choosing a daypack. Most daypacks for hiking are designed to contain between 21 and 35 litres load. You may not need that much for a single day trip, but it is always better to be over-prepared anyway.

A daypack with an internal frame and top-loading design is both sturdy and comfortable.

2. Footwear

The most basic essentials for all sorts of outdoor activities are decent footwear and protective clothing. When it comes to footwear, the choice depends largely on the terrain.

Trail shoes are actually quite versatile and suitable for a variety of light to medium hikes. They are more supportive than trail runners but perhaps not ideal for longer trips. Assuming the terrain is challenging enough, pick a pair with stiffer midsoles and more defined heel zone. Make sure your shoes have internal support, either shanks or plate, inserted between midsole and outsole.

Insulation is necessary when the hike is done on glacier or ice. Remember that waterproofed shoes are best when used only on colder days and watery terrain; on warmer days, the lack of breathability makes your feet sweat more.

3. Clothing

The best clothing strategy is layering, which means you need to have three different layers of clothing. Base layer consists of undergarments, mid layer can be puffy or fleece jacket, and the outer layer is made of rain jacket and pants.

Dressing in layers allows you to remove and add clothing at certain point during the hike depending on weather conditions. Base layer should be breathable that it wicks moisture from your body, mid layer needs insulating property, and the outer shell must be waterproofed. You should also carry some extra to maintain hygiene.

Focus on function rather than fashion. There is little point of looking good if you feel miserable, especially when you’re in the middle of nowhere.

4. Food and Water

Bear in mind that sometimes everything just doesn’t want to go as planned. There are many things that can make your trip longer than expected, so packing extra food should keep your body and mind in sharp condition.

While it is fine to bring sandwich for lunch, you may want to pack foods that you can eat easily while hiking such as energy bars, gels, bites, and chews. They are not snacks, but real nutrient-dense foods in more portable forms.

A person can drink about two liters of water per day. However hydration requirement is affected by many factors including age, body type, and sweat rate. Hiking intensity and length are external factors to consider as well. Regardless of the condition, carry hydration reservoirs or water filters.

5. Map and Compass

A compass doesn’t just tell you which way is north. In real-practical usage, a compass tells you which direction to go to reach your destination on a map such as your campsite, exit route, or stream of water.

If you’ve never used a compass or topography maps before, make sure you hike together with someone who has. Get a topography map of the hiking site beforehand, and purchase an advanced compass equipped with azimuth ring, orienting arrows and lines, and navigational markings. More importantly, learn how to use them.

A complex compass also features declination adjustment, clinometers, global needle, and sighting mirror.

6. Hiking GPS

Never purchase a hiking GPS with the intention to ditch paper maps and mechanical compass or worse just because you are too lazy to carry and learn about them.

Modern GPS devices are sophisticated yet small enough to carry inside a pocket, and run on battery power. On the contrary, the old fashioned compass and maps are always with you and they don’t need any electricity to be useful. If you want to use GPS as primary navigational system, have some spare batteries.

When choosing a GPS unit, navigational features should be prioritized including electronic compass, digital topography maps, waypoints, and barometer/altimeter. Additional functions such as cameras and geocaching are secondary, but they’re nice to have nonetheless.

7. First Aid Kit

As the name says, first aid kit is intended as an assortment of equipment to provide “initial” treatments for common health issues or emergencies. It is not meant to contain all medical supplies you could possibly need. Although you can purchase ready-made kit at stores, it is recommended to personalize the items inside. A basic first-aid kit must include at least:

  • Any prescription medications
  • Adhesive bandages
  • CPR mask
  • Sanitizing gel (alcohol-based)
  • Antiseptic ointment
  • A small knife
  • A pair of tweezers or scissors
  • Hydrocortisone cream
  • Latex gloves
  • Single use packs of ibuprofen
  • Liquid bandages

Also carry a First Aid manual. It makes little sense to bring a first aid kit without knowing how to use anything in it (and perhaps dangerous).

8. Safety Items and Multi Tool

These are all small items anyone can easily forget or leave behind at home: lighter, flashlight, and a whistle.

Even if you are skilful enough to make fire using primitive methods, a lighter is much easier and practical. You need fire not only to cook food and water while camping but also to keep your body warm when you’re not moving.

A headlamp or flashlight lets you see the way in the dark, and a whistle makes it easier to call for help. Don’t be cheap on those three; buy quality safety items that you know will always work. For the flashlight, get one with replaceable (not rechargeable) batteries, and carry some spares too.

A knife or multitool comes in handy when you need to prepare foods and repair damaged gears.

9. Sunglasses and Sunscreen

Hiking is not particularly the safest activity in the world. You need to be aware of your surroundings, where your friends are, and if there is something dangerous up ahead.

Above the treeline, there isn’t really anything to provide shade; the sunlight can be both skin-scorching and blinding. Sunglasses and sunscreen will help you stay safe and comfortable.

Choose a sunscreen for your particular skin type, so it can be different for everybody. Hiking sunglasses have polarized lenses to reduce glare and therefore keep your sight clear.

Regular plastic lens are the most affordable options, although such lens is easily scratched. Polyurethane or polycarbonate lenses are better options, but they cost more.

10. Emergency Shelter

Don’t forget to carry some sort of emergency shelter in your daypack too. One thing to understand is that a tent is a shelter only when you have it with you at all times; a tent that you’ve left behind in a camp can no longer provide a shelter in times of emergency.

The options for emergency shelter may include space blanket, ultra-light tarp, and bivy sack. They may not be as protective as a tent, but at least you have something to protect you from rain and wind in the event you get lost, stranded, injured, or separated from the group. 

What’s in your essential hiking gear list? Let us know in the comments!

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