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hiking essentials

What to Pack for Hiking: 38 Essentials

SmarterTravel

Don’t hit the trails without packing these hiking essentials that could save your life, or just your summit attempt.

Hiking Essentials: Gear

Hiking essentials: backpack
Hyperlite Mountain Gear

Backpack: A good backpack is key to a comfortable hiking trip. Pick one that’s lightweight and big enough to hold all your hiking essentials, but not so big that you’re tempted to over pack. The Hyperlite Mountain Gear Daybreak Ultralight Daypack is one of the lightest daypacks out there, weighing in at just 1.26 pounds. The light weight doesn’t mean that important features are skimped on—it still has comfortable padded straps, a hip belt that can be stashed away, a water-resistant exterior, and a padded back panel. Keep your backpack organized with Hyperlite Mountain Gear’s Stuff Sacks  which are equally lightweight. Bonus: All Hyperlite gear is hand-made in Maine.

Water Bottle: If you don’t want to carry a ton of water on a long hike, or just want to be prepared in case of an emergency, the Lifestraw Flex is a good choice for a water bottle. The included filter removes bacteria, parasites, and chemicals, so that you can safely and quickly drink from any water source you find. The soft bottle is lightweight, easy to pack, and simple to drink from.

Portable Battery: Don’t be stuck with a dead phone in an emergency. The Sherpa 15 Power Bank won’t take up too much room in your pack, and gives your phone a full charge without needing to pack extra cables. If you get lost, having a charged cell phone is essential.

Trekking Poles: A good set of hiking poles can help save your knees from strain on the descent, and prevent slips and falls on tough terrain or muddy trails. I like the Leki Micro Vario Carbon Trekking Poles, which fold down small to fit in your daypack, and fast thanks to a simple push-button release system. These poles can adjust to fit almost any hiker, and weigh a mere 8.25 ounces.

Hiking Essentials: Footwear

Hiking Shoes: Low-top hiking shoes are designed for shorter day hikes. The Keen Terradora Waterproof shoes are designed specifically for women hikers, offering a more narrow fit that’s completely waterproof but still breathable. For men, the Keen Targhee II is a similar choice, with the same breathable waterproofing and lightweight design.

Hiking Boots: Opt for hiking boots over shoes when you’re facing a longer, tougher hike, or for those times when you’ll be carrying a heavier pack—like on an overnight trip. Hiking boots offer more ankle support, as well as additional protection from bites, scrapes, and water. I love the Scarpa Hydrogen Hike GTX, available for both women and men. These boots are waterproof and breathable, and have a Vibram sole that gives traction that’s lightweight. I especially appreciate the understated and stylish design of these hiking boots.

Hiking Essentials: Clothing

Hiking Tights: Tights are a tempting choice for hikes. You probably already own something similar to these super-flexible leggings in your wardrobe for running or yoga, but a hiking version are designed to withstand the rigors of an intense hiking trail. Fjallraven’s Abisko Trekking Tights are tough enough for hiking thanks to a super durable four-way stretch fabric that has extra reinforcement over the rear and knees to protect your skin when you’re scrambling over rocks or sitting on the ground. Plus, unlike most leggings, these trekking tights come with plenty of pockets and are available in a men’s version as well.

Socks: Good socks are the key to comfortable hiking. They keep your feet dry, prevent blisters, and provide cushioning and warmth. Smartwool’s Hiking Socks are available for both women and men, and use merino wool to wick away moisture, prevent chafing, and help regulate your temperature.

Hiking Pants: For serious backcountry hikes you’ll want some heavy-duty hiking pants, like Arcteryx’s Sabria Pant. These pants are lightweight, durable, and boast 50-plus SPF. The Sabria’s are specially designed for women with a lower adjustable waist and a slim silhouette feminine.

Base Layer: For cold weather hikes, add a layer underneath your hiking pants with lululemon’s Fast & Free 7/8 Tight II, which are made from patented Nulux fabric that’s quick-drying and sweat-wicking, yet designed to feel like you’re not wearing anything at all. For trail running or less-intense hikes that don’t involve scrambling these can be worn alone.

Sunglasses: Enjoying the view at the summit means protecting your eyes with sunglasses like Maui Jim Secrets, which use a super thin lens that’s 20 percent thinner and lighter than standard glass. These lenses are also scratch-resistant, so you can still be tough on them.

Hiking Underwear: Your favorite delicates might be comfortable, but they aren’t immune from the wear of lengthy hiking trips. Look for underwear that’s moisture-wicking and odor-resistant, like these pairs from ExOfficio for both women and men. For women, Patagonia’s Switchback Sports Bra is a soft and supportive option that’s also quick-drying and won’t cause chafing.

Hiking Shirts: If you’re planning on carrying a backpack, opt for a t-shirt over a tank top to prevent any irritation from your backpack straps. Smartwool’s Merino 150 Base Layer Micro Stripe Short Sleeve tops for both women and men can be worn alone or layered for cooler days, and merino wool fabric means it won’t smell, even on a longer backpacking trip. For warmer days, Patagonia Capilene Lightweight T-Shirts for women and men are an ultra-light option that’s moisture-wicking, breathable and features patented Polygiene for odor control.

Jacket: Even if it looks like it’s going to be a warm day, packing a jacket is always a good idea on hikes, especially ones with a summit above the tree line (where it can be significantly colder/windier than it is  at the base). The weather can change quickly: Prepare by bringing along a lightweight jacket like the Patagonia Nano Puff Hoody, available for both women and men, which delivers an impressive amount of warmth and wind-resistance for the weight.

Hat: You’ll want a hat to keep the sun off of your face, but a regular ball caps can get very sweaty after a while. Get a hat that’s made for activities and wicks away moisture, like Outdoor Research’s Swift Cap.

Gloves: On chilly fall hikes or cool summer mornings, a pair of lightweight, waterproof gloves are essential. These picks for both men and women will keep you warm and dry, even in a sudden downpour.

Gaiters: Although not very fashionable, gaiters, waterproof covers that slip on over your boots to protect your ankles and calves from rain and mud, are very practical. I like this pair from Outdoor Research which easily slip on and off.

Hiking Essentials: Miscellaneous

Snacks: Ritual Energy Bites which contain real coffee, and no artificial sweeteners, for a healthy burst of energy. Peanut butter sandwiches, bananas, and trail mix are also good options for packable sustenance.

More from SmarterTravel:

Caroline Morse Teel loves to hike, especially in New England. Follow Caroline on Instagram @TravelWithCaroline for photos from the summit.

Some review products are sent to us free of charge and with no incentive to offer a favorable review. We offer our unbiased opinions, positive and negative, and will never accept compensation to review a product.

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