Footwear, clothing, and equipment are incredibly important to a hiker. Improper hiking gear can lead to pain and discomfort, and once you are out on your hike it is difficult to escape or fix ill-fitting equipment.
Hiking Gear: Footwear
There are four types of shoes you can wear hiking, all designed differently for hikers of varying levels and experiences.
You should NEVER hike in your new hiking boots without breaking them in first. You can do this by wearing them around your house or up and down your street. Different boots take different amounts of time to break in, the thicker and heartier the boot the longer the break-in period.
Trail runners are meant for easy day hikes.
They are super lightweight, flexible, and breathable. They are great for summer hikes because they will keep your feet cool.
Walking long distances over tough terrain in these shoes will lead to quickly wearing right through a pair of trail runners, and they will not provide the support needed for tougher hikes.
A classic low-top hiking shoe meets a trail runner.
These are still very light and flexible however they are more durable and supportive than a trail runner.
Best used for day hikes up to a moderate level.
More supportive and durable than lightweight or trail runner shoes.
These hiking shoes do not come above the ankle allowing flexibility to the user, with thick grippy soles.
Great for day hikes of any level.
These boots provide the most stability and support.
The higher rise offers the user more support to their ankles, especially when carrying weight or hiking up steep uneven terrain.
They should have thick soles with lots of grip, and they come in waterproof and non-waterproof versions.
Deciding Factors for Hiking Gear
Length and terrain of hikes you plan on doing – If you only plan on doing simple day hikes every now and then, a trail runner or lightweight hiking shoe is perfect. If you are planning to scramble up mountainsides, balance across bridges, hop across slippery rocks and challenge all types of terrain, then you should choose a higher quality, more durable high ankle boot.
What you are bringing – If you do long or multiday hikes while carrying a full, heavy pack you will need the ankle support that a high ankle boot can provide.
Weather and Climate –If you hike in the heat all summer you want to find a breathable shoe, or if you hike year-round in all types of weather you may look for something with a Gortex or waterproof option.
Fitting Your Hiking Shoes
You should try hiking shoes on at the end of the day when your feet are at their largest. Feet swell from walking for long periods of time, something to remember when fitting a hiking shoe.
If you wear insoles, bring them with you while you shop! Insoles are great for extra support while hiking but they can change the fit of a shoe. You should always test the fit of hiking shoes with your insoles already in them.
Bring your own socks. If you have a favorite pair of hiking socks you should bring them to try on with a hiking boot. Everyday socks tend to be thinner than hiking socks, which can lead to you purchasing a shoe that could rub or not fit correctly once you put your hiking socks on.
You should have enough room in the toe box to wiggle your toes, and your heel should not life when you walk. Push your toes towards the front of the shoe and tilt your knee forward. You should be able to fit one finger between the back of your heel and the back of the shoe. This allows room for swelling while hiking.
Hiking Gear: Clothing
You can’t challenge a tough hike in just any clothing. Hiking clothes should wick sweat, breathe, and allow you to move freely – all while being durable and light. Never hike in cotton or denim.
Do not underestimate the importance of proper socks while hiking! Improper socks can lead to blisters and discomfort. Some important things to consider when selecting a pair of socks are,
Height – Hiking socks should protect your skin from abrasion and rubbing. Depending on the height of hiking boots you wear you may opt for a certain cut like ankle, crew, or knee-highs.
Cushion and Material – Thicker socks provide more cushion and warmth. Many hikers love Merino Wool socks because they regulate temperature and the wool is naturally antimicrobial so it won’t smell. Merino wool is also less itchy than traditional wool.
Polyester is a cheaper alternative that also wicks sweat and dries fast. You can often find a mixed blend of wool and polyester in one pair of socks. Nylon is another good material, it dries quickly and is durable.
Polyester or Nylon are great materials for hiking pants
Hiking pants should not hold or absorb water, and often it is worth paying extra for a quality pair of pants because they will be more durable and silent. Cheap materials will rustle while you walk.
Pants should have lots of pockets, and an elastic waistband, and should never rub or pinch. A quality pair of pants will breathe properly and keep your legs cool while protecting your legs from thorns, sticks, poison ivy, and more.
A loose pair of pants makes it difficult for bugs to bite your legs.
If you are just getting into hiking any quick dry gym shirt should work well! A good shirt should wick sweat, especially if it will be worn as the first layer directly against your skin.
Merino wool or polyester will keep you cool and dry all year round, and UPF-rated sun shirts are great for hikes that are not hidden in the shade of a forest.
Layering is the key to dressing properly for a hike. The first layer should wick sweat and breathe, and a good second layer can be as simple as a fleece hoodie. Fleece / synthetic pullovers are great for retaining heat while continuing to breathe so you do not sweat heavily. The final layer, in colder wet seasons, should be a waterproof rain jacket shell or a thicker, waterproof parka for additional warmth.
Many women love to wear hiking leggings! Hiking leggings are designed specifically for hikers. Some come with built-in knee patches and they are very durable against rips and tears.
While some people choose to hike in snow pants for an extremely snowy winter hike, you can also purchase wool-lined leggings for cold weather hiking.
Convertible pants have a zipper built into the lower leg, so you can unzip your pants to change them into shorts.
Even if you are only doing a day hike, bringing a pack is necessary to carry snacks, water, clothes, a first aid kit, and other hiking necessities.
Packs come in lots of different sizes depending on how much you plan to carry with you.
Some things to keep in mind as you select a pack are the amount and size of pockets, if it has a sleeping bag compartment,
Weekend Pack ~ 30-50 liters / 1-3 nights.
Multi-Day Pack ~ 0-80 liters / 3-5 nights.
Extended Trip ~ 70+ liters / 5+ nights
hydration reservoir, any additional padding, how waterproof it is, and if it has any attachment points to carry a helmet, tools, crampons, poles, and other equipment.
Backpacks are not a one size fits all item! A badly fitted pack can lead to soreness and rubbing early into a hike. You should have about 10lbs in your pack while you are fitting it to be sure nothing will change once you add all your gear.
Before you shop for a pack you must know your torso length. To find your torso length measure the length from the most prominent vertebra at the base of your neck/shoulders, down to the invisible line you’ll imagine stretching across between your hipbones. You should also measure your waist size to find a hip belt that fits perfectly.
Shoulder straps should not carry significant weight, and the anchor points for the shoulder straps should be 1-2 inches below the top of the shoulders. If it does not the hip belt may be fitted wrong or you may need to find a bag that fits your torso length better.
The hip belt should hug the top of the hip bones. Loosen or tighten the shoulder straps to raise or lower the hip belt. There should be at least one inch of clearance on either side of the center buckle, and the belt padding should extend slightly beyond the front point of the hipbone.
Pull the top stabilizer straps until you feel a slight hint of weight on your shoulders. The sternum strap should sit 1 inch below the collarbones and should never be tight enough to constrict your chest or breathing.
Internal Frame – Hiking packs with an internal frame are designed to hug your body with the structure of the bag hidden inside the back panel. They are designed to keep you balanced and stable on uneven terrain and help shift the weight to the wearer’s hips.
External Frame – If you can see the aluminum structure that supports the load on the outside of the pack, it’s an external frame pack. External frames are great if you are carrying a heavy load because the frame extends beyond the backpack. They offer great ventilation and lots of different ways to organize your gear.
Frameless – Frameless backpacks are for the hiker who loves to hike light and fast. Under heavy loads, a frameless pack is uncomfortable and not recommended.
Some packs include tension mesh suspension, a suspended mesh back panel that is designed to hold the pack a few inches away from the back of the wearer to combat sweaty back syndrome. Other packs have ventilation channels, or chimneys, in the back panel
Hiking poles help to reduce pressure on a hiker’s knees and improve stability. They are helpful in snow and ice but many people use them throughout summer hiking as well.
There are lots of different variations to hiking poles, some are ultralight, some have springs built into them to provide shock absorption, and some even have a built-in camera mount to transform into a monopod for that perfect photo.
It is a great idea to purchase adjustable hiking poles, so you can shorten them while climbing uphill and lengthen them when descending. Foldable poles are always handy too as they are easy to pack away when needed.
Fitting poles is a very simple process. Your arm should make a 90-degree angle at your elbow when held normally. If you are taller than 6 feet, you need to find poles that are at least 51 inches.
Crampons are a great piece of hiking gear that ensures you do not slip your way through a winter or fall hike. If there is any snow or ice on the ground crampons can be worn.
Crampons come in strap-on and step-in models. Strap-on systems fit almost any footwear, while step-in types require more exact fitting.
Always bring your hiking shoes with you when you go shopping for crampons so you can find a pair that fits perfectly.
Aluminum crampons are good for approaches and ski mountaineering. They are light for alpine hiking, but aluminum crampons will wear out much faster than steel crampons on rocky terrain. Most hikers choose to hike in steel crampons.
The more aggressive crampons are semi-rigid, and can have more than 14 different points of contact! The more points of contact the more grip. For casual walking 8 – 10 points work well, and for general or technical mountaineering 12-14 points are ideal.
The list of hiking gear does not stop here. Other items that a hiker may carry include snowshoes, a helmet, a toque, a water treatment device, and much much more. However, what we have listed above should be enough to conquer any hike, as long as it all fits correctly.