Hitting the Trail This Weekend? Bring These 12 Hiking Essentials.
Be prepared for anything and everything with these best-in-class items
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The gear you pack for your next hiking trip is contingent upon a number of factors. From the day’s weather to the number of days you’re on the trail, your equipment is (or should be) a direct reflection of what’s to come. But every adventure requires a set of hiking essentials whether you’re out there for a few hours or a few days.
We’ve chosen these items based on our own experience — specifically our own mistakes. In truth, you may only use a few of them on any given trip. But it’s when something goes awry that you’ll value carrying these pieces of equipment that could mean the difference between comfort and discomfort. We’ve considered every possibility, narrowing down your needs to 12 requisite pieces of gear.
Order ahead, and you’ll be ready for whatever comes next.
The 12 Hiking Essentials
Footwear: Salomon X Ultra 3 Mid GTX Boots
Even after years on the trail and hundreds of miles over tough terrain, I always come back to Salomon’s X Ultra 3 Mid boot. It delivers unmatched comfort thanks to a plush footbed and ample padding that allows me to hike for miles without a single ache or pain. The mid-cut profile adds support and protection (it saved me from rolling an ankle on several occasions), and it locks out unwanted dirt and debris. Waterproofing is a gimmick on most boots, but the Gore-Tex liner in these will outlast every ounce of moisture. It’s also crowned a top pick by OutdoorGearLab — one of the only third-party gear review sites I trust.
Clothing: Patagonia Capilene Cool Trail Shirt
If you’ve ever walked a few miles in the heat only to find your shirt soaked in sweat, you understand the importance of comfortable, breathable clothing. As the name implies, Patagonia’s Capilene Cool shirt wicks moisture to deliver cool, cotton-like comfort no matter how hot it gets out there. Patagonia outfits this trail shirt with polyester fabric, set-in sleeves and a tagless neck to eliminate chafe and enhance relief, even under a heavy pack. Built-in odor control keeps unwanted funk at bay for days (trust me), ensuring you won’t smell even if this is the only tee you bring on your overnight trip.
Transport: Osprey Talon 22 Pack
I always gravitate towards daypacks that can do it all, from casual walks to backcountry rambles. Though it weighs more than some its feathery counterparts, the Talon strikes an ideal balance of comfort and features for everyday hiking. Light cushioning along the hip belt pairs with a mesh backpanel to promote airflow, and straps over the hips and chest dial in the fit. Attachment points secure trekking poles, a helmet and an ice axe, while a hydration sleeve eliminates the need for cumbersome water bottles. Consider trying on the Talon in-person before committing online, especially because it comes in two sizes.
Hydration: Katadyn BeFree Collapsible Water Filter Bottle
Though many consider a water bottle to be a hiking essential, in reality it’s the water itself that’s key. Beyond that, you also need a source of clean water that’s suitable for drinking should your personal supply run dry. To that end, I recommend investing in Katadyn’s BeFree Collapsible Bottle that features a hollow-fiber filter in the cap. After testing multiple filters, this option stands out due to its efficiency, durability and collapsible design. The cap allows you to drink straight from the bottle or filter water into a bladder, and the filter rate is significantly faster than many competitors.
Navigation: Garmin Forerunner 245
Once upon a time I would have suggested bringing a map and compass, but today’s tech is powerful enough to replace these classic forms of navigation. Wearables like the Forerunner 245 feature live tracking and incident detection alerts, ensuring others know your status even when you’re off the grid. It also syncs with routes on your phone to provide turn-by-turn directions, thus reducing the odds of getting totally lost. Though other Garmin devices like the Instinct and inReach Mini are designed specifically for the outdoors, the Forerunner transitions between a casual wearable and a backcountry tool. And it doesn’t break the bank.
Lighting: Petzl Actik Core Headlamp
We’ve all pushed the limits of daylight only to find ourselves navigating the trail by a phone’s flashlight. Save your phone’s battery for real emergencies and invest in the Petzl Actik Core Headlamp that offers 450 lumens of power to light the way. What I love about the Actik Core is the rechargeable battery that I can juice up with a battery pack, as well as the washable headband that could use a cleaning after extended use. Different light patterns tailor the beam to the environment and a red light preserves night vision.
Tools: Leatherman Wave Plus
I already crowned the Leatherman Wave Plus my favorite multi-tool in our roundup of the best multi-tools for every job. But I also pack it on hikes to repair gear, provide first aid or even mend small issues with my car. The Wave Plus features only the necessary tools without the added bulk of a full-size multi-tool, and Leatherman’s commitment to quality adds a note of confidence too. If you’ve already got a multi-tool within reach, bring it on your next hike or pick up a secondary one that stays in your pack. Though most of us are content with a multi-tool’s folding knife, consider reviewing our favorite pocket knives to beef up your arsenal of sharp things.
Food: Clif Bar Energy Bars
Chances are you’ll pack snacks for your hike, but consider keeping a few emergency energy bars tucked away for good measure. From unexpected detours to unforeseen emergencies, fuel can make all the difference when help is hours away. While there’s no definitive ranking of the best Clif Bar flavors, three reign supreme: Chocolate Brownie, Ice Cool Mint Chocolate and White Chocolate Macadamia. Even though the wrapper has a ‘best by’ date, Clif Bars are generally safe to eat up to two years beyond the official expiration, which means you can pack ’em and forget they exist until you really need the calories.
First Aid Kit: Adventure Medical Kits Ultralight Kit
You and I both know a first aid kit sounds excessive, but trust me when I say it could save your life. It’s one of the most important hiking essentials to have whether you’re treating a minor injury or creating a makeshift shelter. This one from Adventure Medical Kits contains wound care essentials, bandages, medications and other equipment such as a roll of duct tape. Contents are watertight sealed and the lightweight profile takes up little space in your pack.
Rain Gear: Outdoor Research Helium Jacket
Even if the forecast calls for blue skies, a lightweight rain jacket defends against the unexpected shower (and breathes better than a trash bag). The Helium made our list of the best rain jackets for 2021, snagging the coveted title of “best lightweight jacket,”so it only makes sense to include it here, too. Packing into its own pocket and weighing just over six ounces, you won’t even know it’s there until you need it. And the 2.5-layer nylon fabric won’t let you down even in the midst of a torrential downpour. Store it alongside your medkit and energy bars.
Sun Protection: Sun Bum Mineral Sunscreen
You may be hiking under a sheet of clouds, but you should still throw on a layer of Sun Bum Mineral Sunscreen to protect your skin from harmful rays. The SPF 50 formula isn’t greasy, nor does it contain the toxic ingredient oxybenzone that’s bad for the environment. It’s also hypoallergenic and vegan to limit potential irritation. If you’re prone to frequent lakeside dips, the sunscreen’s broad-spectrum formula is water-resistant for up to 80 minutes.
Fire: UST BlastMatch Fire Starter
For years I packed a disposable lighter assuming I would never use it. Then when I really needed it on the trail, I left it at home. That mistake was enough for me to pick up the UST BlastMatch Fire Starter. It lives forever in my pack on the off chance I need to start a fire, and it’s easier to use than a ferro rod. The one-handed design allows me to align the spark as my other hand positions the tinder, and it generates three times the heat of a traditional match. Unlike a cheap lighter, it lasts for up to 4,000 strikes.
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