The proper gear to wear hiking will depend on a lot of different factors: temperature, weather, terrain type and whether you are going for a day or overnight to name a few. So make sure to check the weather report and keep these other factors in mind when you are preparing what to wear on your hike.
You might also consider going out for a hike in jeans and a t-shirt with your sneakers. This may be OK for your activity if your “hike” is more of a light walk down a high traffic path that circles back to your Winnebago, which is a perfectly lovely way to spend an afternoon. However, as you progress and become more serious about hiking you may want to get out farther and explore nature, and that requires the proper gear.
5 Things to Keep in Mind When Preparing for a Hike
1. The Weather – To a beginner checking the weather may sound like a waste of time, easily forgotten in the other preparations for your day out, after all , its sunny and beautiful right now.
The experienced hiker knows that the beautiful sunny day can quickly turn on its head until the rain is blowing sideways and your trail has turned to mud while your fleece pull over isn’t quite cutting it in terms of keeping you warm. A quick look at the Weather App on your phone or PC before you start could save you a lot of misery.
2. How Long You’ll Be Out – The length of time you plan to spend out determines a lot of the rest of your preparations. A short day hike might only require a bottle of water and a happy tune whereas a longer trip may warrant a packed lunch and extra sunscreen.
If you’re going out overnight things change again as you’ll need to plan on bringing your sleeping bag, ground covering, extra food and water and other extras with you and all that will have to be bought and waiting before you can get to trekking.
3. How Much Traffic Your Trail Gets – Using a popular trail can be akin to a highway at rush hour, people everywhere going both directions, passing you, you passing them, some places might even have horses or bikes on the same trail as hikers. While it is always a good idea to tell a friend where you are going when out for a hike and when you’ll be back, different areas will have different levels of safety.
That trail from before, the one with the horses and everything, is a lot different from the kind of trailblazing James Franco was doing in 127 Hours, and if you don’t know how that turned out you might want to read up on the story. Keep communication in mind when you’re out, will your cell phone work, can you bring a radio and who can you contact with it, how far is the nearest person, should you pack flares just in case.
These are all influenced by where you’re going and what you’re doing so if you’re unfamiliar with an area do a bit of research before hand.
4. Your Level of Experience – You might be familiar with the double black diamond symbol on the ski hills. It lets you know that the hill below you is extremely steep and treacherous and is a warning to beginners and intermediates to steer clear and even for pros to be careful.
While hiking trails may not always be rated (there is a Class 1-5 rating system for hiking trails) you need to know your limits. If you’re inexperienced keep it simple. If you’re unfamiliar with an area don’t go trailblazing through the brush, and even if you are experienced hopefully that means that you’ve learned the best ways to make sure that any risks you might take are done in a way that will minimize the risk.
5. What “Extras” to Bring – A small pack with essentials is never a bad idea on any hike, but what essentials should you bring along. Water is always a good idea and maybe some almonds or GORP. If you are in a sunny area, sunscreen might make the list and a small waterproof windbreaker that doesn’t take up much room.
A hat or bandana might be on your list along with sunglasses or a warmer hat if the thermometer might drop. Things like hiking poles can come in handy if you’re on unfamiliar or shifting ground and think you’ll need to test the terrain and a small first aid kit wouldn’t be a bad idea.
The list can get pretty long and deciding on your “extras” before hand can save you from lugging around a ton of things that you might not require for that particular day so take a quick look below at the Hiking Gear Checklist and take a few minutes to plan what you’re going to need.
Hiking Gear Checklist
|The Basics |
(Bring them along wherever you go)
|Staying Overnight||Important Extras|
|Relevant map of the area and surroundings with a Compass||Tent (Waterproof with good zippers and no holes)||Waterproof Watch with Alarm/Timer and Altimiter|
|GPS with extra batteries||Sleeping bag (Know your area and how cold it gets at night)||Cell or satellite phone with extra batteries or a solar/movement based charger|
|Food and Water (Don't skimp bring a little extra water, refillable bottles are best)||Ground Pad||Camera/Tripod|
|Matches and other firestarters with a bit of dry kindling (dryer lint will work)||Change of clothes (Don't forget a dry pair of socks)||Rope (Always handy)|
|Flashlight (Don't get caught alone in the dark)||Water Filter or Treatment System||Binoculars|
|Small first aid kit (Including blister bandages is a good idea)||Stove with fuel with your food||Trekking Poles|
|Signalling Device (Anything from a whistle up to a flare gun)||Cookware and containers with utensils for eating and opening your food (ie can opener)||Clothes (Important enough to mention again, read more below)|
|Knife/Utility Tool||TOILET PAPER and toiletries (Biodegradable and keep it dry)||Duct Tape (Fix anything)|
|Sun/Bug Protection (ie. sun screen and bug spray, sun glasses and a hat)||Trash bags (Pack it in, pack it out)||Waterproof Layer|
|A plan (You should know where you're going and leave a trip plan and details with someone you trust)||Camp Shoes||Gaiters (Happy feet = happy hike)|
This is not a complete list by any means and you should always plan specifics for you hike. Planning is key when it comes to having a good experience.
What You Should Wear on Your Hike
Well let’s get down to what you really want to know, what you’ll want to wear on your hike. Well as long as you know a few particulars about your location and the weather report for your hike day the chart below can get you started. Whether it’s rain or shine, hot, warm, cool or cold you can find the perfect outfit to have a great day on the trails.
A good rule to follow if you’re not sure what to wear is to bring a few layers and leave a bit of extra room in your pack if you need to take them off. As the Boy Scout motto goes, “Be Prepared” and it was never better advice than when heading out for a hike. An example of this is hot weather hiking in desert areas. Although the sun might be beating down when you leave if you’re going out for a few hours the temperature can quickly turn when the sun goes down and leave you shivering if you haven’t packed a warmer outer layer in preparation.
The same goes for the reverse situation. Many a winter hiker has set out bundled up tight against the chill conditions only to find that after starting the sun starts to shine and the exertion of the exercise really gets the blood pumping, turning that once snug jacket into a personal boiler room. Not only is this uncomfortable but it will slow you down and you’ll be happy that you wore a lighter layer or two underneath and left a bit of space to pack up your big coat.
Another top tip on your clothing choices is to make sure you’re covered without much exposed skin. Unless you’re going on a desert hike where the vegetation and buzzing, stinging kind of wildlife is almost nil, it is important to be covered. Poisonous plants, sharp thorns and branches and biting insects are all potential hazards to be aware of.
If you are wearing shorts and a t-shirt you should be more aware of your surroundings and if you plan to head through rougher, unspoiled terrain a breathable long sleeved layer is advisable. Any skin you do expose should be covered as well – in sunscreen. Even if the day is overcast UV rays may still be getting through and leave you with a sunburn to remember you hike with. That might not be the memory you had in mind when you started.
After you’ve found the proper gear in the chart you can jump to the articles below to find even more information on the differences between liner and lightweight socks and more of those tricky little terms.
Hiking Boots and Other Footwear
For all footwear be sure to make sure you have good arch support, solid stitching and a good lace that you will not end up stepping on or breaking.
Sandals – Believe it or not, yes you can go hiking in sandals. Some brands of sandals like Chacos are made specifically for hiking. These will be for hiking in warm weather and they are great for wet conditions and crossing small riverbeds and puddles as they will dry quite quickly afterwards. Sandals are very light which is a plus, but will also not provide much support for your ankle and foot, nor will you be protected from bumps and scrapes, so stick to hikes that will not require much travel up non traditional paths.
Use hiking sandals for hot/warm weather (perfect for a trip to Death Valley National Park), well maintained trails with few boulders and trails with water crossings, avoid the mud. Day hikes and around the camp.
Hiking/Trail Shoes – Hiking shoes differ from running shoes and cross trainers in that they have a thicker sole and are made of better reinforced materials while being lighter. One important factor to consider is waterproofing as when they get wet they will take longer to dry than a sandal though they are still much better than a boot in this regard. Shoes are great for slightly colder conditions and rockier trails. They are also quite light. Also in this category are Vibrams Five Finger style shoes which some people love; it is all about personal preference here.
Use hiking shoes hot/cool weather, light-medium trails with few obstructions like rocks or roots, avoid lots of water unless conditions allow them to dry quickly. Good for 1-2 day hikes and around the camp.
The Mid-Weight Boot – Probably what comes to mind when most of us think hiking and footwear. This high ankled boot is tough and sturdy, a bit stiff for extra foot and ankle support and foot protection. You can spend some time off the beaten path with this type of boot and be alright.
Again, be sure to check the waterproofing is good as well as the inner lining and stitching, you don’t want a boot falling apart in the middle of a hike. Good for most temperature and weather conditions but keep them from getting drenched as they will take in water even through the waterproofing and really become heavy and horrible to walk in. Make sure to break them in for a few days before serious hiking as well.
Use a mid-weight boot in warm-cold conditions, heavier and poorly maintained trails or steep trails and trails where you need extra ankle support. Good for muddy, wet trails and extended rain or snow and longer hikes. Finding the right boot for your trek can be a daunting task, luckily you’ve got the ultimate resource on everything to know about hiking boots right here.
Heavy/Mountaineering Boots – That is what these boots are, heavy. They are the highest weight of any foot protection listed here and they are tough as nails, full of bells and whistles as well as having the biggest price tag. You’ll need this boot mainly if you’re blazing your own trail through the deep bush or through the boulders. They will give you extra traction when walking over rough terrain, superior foot protection and ankle support as well as heavy waterproofing. In general, you do not want to let these boots get wet as you may as well be wearing two cinderblocks on your feet as they will takes ages to dry out.
Use heavy boots only in the most extreme conditions. When blazing your own trail or on boulders. This is the only condition to consider for heavy boots as any weight or other issues will be trumped by the extreme conditions you will be in.
Hiking socks are rated by weight grade as well as by material with both being important considerations. Avoid 100% cotton socks and stick to synthetic blends mixed with wool for light-heavy weight socks or silk/synthetic wicking materials for liners.
Liner Socks – Liners are ultrathin socks that are designed to be worn as a first layer with another type of sock over them. Liners have a skin tight fit to eliminate chafing and abrasion by your outer sock to your skin. They will wick moisture away from you to keep you dry and comfortable. A liner is almost always a great idea and will be very comfortable. They will wear out much faster when worn alone.
Liner socks are a great fit for any situation and improve any other sock.
Lightweight Socks – These socks are thin and light, designed for comfort in warmer conditions and to aid in moisture wicking for comfort. They are quite thin so make sure you take this into account when being fitted for your footwear.
Lightweight socks are good for hot/warm conditions and easier well maintained trails and can be worn with or without liners. Day trips.
Midweight Socks – Designed to provide extra warmth and cushioning for your feet they often have extra padding on the sole, especially where your foot hits the ground like on the heel. They will therefore be slightly thicker than a lighter sock.
Midweight socks are good for warm/cold conditions and will likely go well with a shoe, adding warmth for a temperature that is just slightly chilly, or a boot for when it is cold. Day or Multi-day trips. Use a liner with this sock.
Heavyweight Socks – These socks are only for long, cold conditions on hard terrain. They have extreme padding to keep you going longer and will keep your feet very warm. You should not use a heavyweight sock in a warm or even just cool condition. If you are in this type of weather and worried about comfort and extra padding in your sock, instead have a backup pair of midweight socks. They are very thick and you will need to be sure to buy a boot that fits taking this into consideration.
Heavyweight socks are only for very cold conditions, they will last a long time and are good for the toughest terrain. Multiday trips in cold weather. Use a liner with this sock.
When choosing the proper legwear for your hike you must consider temperature, weather patterns, trail density, bug populations and the possibility of running into dangerous flora like poison ivy. You should be able to move around freely and get your legs up, stay dry and comfortable and not freeze or overheat.
For many hikes your regular underwear may work just fine, but sometimes high humidity or wet conditions, chafing and too loose a fit can cause problems. For the best comfort or if you notice problems, try a compression short. Also, your base layer may sometimes double for this purpose, depending on specific conditions.
Hiking in shorts can be wonderful. When the temperature is hot or warm and the trail is free of insects, including ticks and anything which bites, and too much brush, shorts are a great option. Just be aware of your exposed skin and if necessary use sun screen.
Wear hiking shorts in hot/warm climates where rain is unlikely and you have well maintained trails free of bugs and poisonous plants.
Base Layer Pants – The base layer or long underwear layer is skin tight and provides warmth as well as moisture wicking to keep you comfortable and warm/cool as the case may be. You will want a thin base layer for warmer conditions if you choose to wear one and your choices will get thicker as the temperature goes down.
Wear a base layer in any condition. In hot conditions a very thin base layer will wick away sweat and keep you cool, while in the cold a thicker base layer will add warmth and the wicking properties will leave you warm and comfortable.
Light Hiking Pants – These are your warm weather pants, great if you don’t want to wear shorts, the stinging bugs or ticks are out or if the leg high branches aren’t trimmed and you think you might run through some poison oak. You can get UV protection built in to be protected from the sun as well as all those other dangers, but also stay cool and comfortable. If it is going to rain you may want something waterproof but in the warm weather these will dry very quickly if it is just some scattered showers.
Midweight Hiking Pants – If there is a heavy wind and a bit of a chill in the air you’ll be wanting something a little heavier. These types of pants will do well in cool to cold temperatures or warm temperatures with a heavy wind that might be adding a bit of chill. They also have more padding to protect you from cuts and help lessen injuries if you should trip. These are your all purpose cool and cold weather pant and will do well in most conditions even light snow on a good trail provided they are waterproofed, if not read on about a separate waterproof pant layer.
Wear a midweight pant in cool to cold temperatures or in high winds. Good for rougher trails as they have some padding to protect from falls and thicker brush. A waterproofed pant will protect you from the rain and snow, where a non-waterproofed type will be more breathable and more comfortable in a dryer condition.
Highweight Hiking Pants – These are the hardcore level again. For areas of deep snow and extreme cold go with a highweight pant with heavy water proofing. This type of extreme warmth and waterproofing will only be necessary in the most extreme conditions of cold and rain or snow, but if you are going out in such conditions you will not want to be caught without them. For example, if you’re heading to the top of K2, this is the kind of pants you’ll want to bring.
Waterproof Pants – A light layer with high waterproofing designed to go over light or midweight pants without any waterproofing, or be worn on their own in wet conditions. There can be made of several waterproof materials including GoreTex and Triple Point Ceramic and will keep you dry in heavy precipitation.
Base Layer – The base layer is usually a tight fitting shirt designed for moisture wicking. If you are noticing a theme here you are on to something. No one wants to hike covered in sweat or soaked in water, it is uncomfortable and leaves you hotter in hot conditions and colder in cool conditions. It is the worst case scenario. You may prefer to not wear a base layer in hot or warm weather and opt instead for a regular looser shirt made of moisture wicking fabric, but in cold conditions a base layer is highly recommended.
Short Sleeve Shirts – Short sleeves for the summertime. When the weather is hot or warm the sleeves come off. Cotton is still out as it will absorb moisture quickly and stay wet for a long time. Remember your sun block and enjoy the warm weather. Be sure that you aren’t in insect, tick or poison ivy areas like with shorts.
Long Sleeve Shirts – Long sleeve shirts can be great for any weather. In hot and sunny conditions they will protect you from the sun and the moisture wicking fabric will keep you cool and dry. You’ll also have added protection from bugs and plants. If you are only wearing a shirt, long or short sleeve you should not be going into any dense bush as branches will easily catch on the fabric, possibly damaging it.
Light Coat – A light coat can be a simple windbreaker, a fleece or it can have a small amount of insulation for cooler conditions. Consider the weather here. A windbreaker will do well in warm climates when conditions get windy or you start to encounter a bit of bush you can slip one on. A windbreaker may fit a bit looser than other jackets.
A fleece will provide a bit of warmth and some even have waterproofing for use as a top layer. If warm conditions start to cool down a fleece is a good thing to have along and if it has waterproofing will also help keep you dry in very light scattered showers. Where a fleece is going to shine is as a layer in cold weather conditions between the base layer and the outer layer providing extra warmth and it can easily be removed if you start to overheat. Look for a snug fit, but not too tight.
A warm weather waterproof shell is a lot like a windbreaker except that it will keep you dry in the rain. A hood is a good idea as well as proper venting like with most waterproof layers. If you need warm weather waterproofing and a fleece is too warm or the rain is too heavy get a waterproof shell. Works great over a fleece as well if the rain starts to get cold on your otherwise warm day.
Finally the light jacket, it is perfect for cool conditions as well as protecting you against moderate wind and rainfall with waterproofing. Consider the hood as well, do you need one? If you want the jacket to be of best use in the rain the answer is probably yes, just be sure you can secure it easily when not in use. Finally look at vents somewhere under the arms. These come in very handy for keeping you at the right temperature as well as keeping you dry, waterproof fabrics may be breathable but they’re still designed to prevent moisture from getting through and are pretty good insulators. To stay cool and dry on the inside good venting is important.
Heavy Coat – This level of coat is for the cold weather and snowy hiking. They are ultra warm and thick with great waterproofing. Like with a light jacket it is very important to get the proper venting to regulate your temperature, it may be cold outside but this type of coat can get pretty toasty inside when you are exerting yourself on your hike.