Two of my employees approached me last week with a bunch of questions about local hiking trails. Once I gave them some suggestions, we ventured into gear chat since they know it’s a topic I love. Both of them are just getting started with hiking and quite honestly, don’t have a ton of money to throw into a new activity (Who really does, right?!) They had visited a local REI and the sales guy had launched all sorts of purchases at them: compass, GPS, boots, backpack, hydration bladder, hiking pants, etc. In short, he suggested an entire new wardrobe. Now, I completely understand the need for every single tech hiking item out there, and honestly, most of them are useful. However, since most of the world doesn’t have tons of extra cash to throw at every passing hobby, I helped them narrow it down.
Straight out of the gates, I know people will argue with me on this one, but I stand by my claim! Sure, you can use running shoes but they really aren’t ideal for true hiking. First of all, typical running shoes won’t have the tread that hiking boots will have. That tread is clutch when walking up sandy or slippery slopes. Additionally, most hiking shoes have more supportive soles than other shoes which protect your feet while hopping around on pointy rocks or tree stumps. Lastly, hiking shoes/boots have more ankle support to help prevent ankle rolling. Again, this may not be immediately necessary if you’re hiking on a mild, flat trail, but it is a common injury on rougher terrain.
To err on the side of caution, you will always be hiking with extra water, food, and clothing. Obviously, you’ll need something to carry that all in (unless you’re like that character in Labyrinth who carried all of her belongings tied to her back…but I doubt it!) We all have backpacks from our school days, but those typically don’t have any type of waist belt or shoulder padding which are two of the main criteria in technical hiking packs. Waist belts are especially important since they cinch on your hip bones, allowing the weight of your pack to sit on your hips instead of your back or shoulders. If you’re only out for 30 minutes, this may not sound like a lot, but if you’re hiking for an hour or more, you’ll definitely appreciate the strain-free hike!
Most of the suggested hiking clothing is nice (e.g. hiking pants, base layers, etc.) and you’ll definitely want to invest in it at some point. After all, I’m sure you’ve all heard that cotton is a disaster in the backcountry and wick away base layers are great for their wicking properties that help keep you dry. However, all of this stuff is expensive and I’m guessing most people want to acquire it gradually. A waterproof hard shell should not be optional though because it will save your ass in so many situations!
In Colorado, we almost always hike above tree line where storms are the norm. Temperatures drop, rain and hail move in, and the winds pick up like whoa. In fact, I think I have pulled my shell out of my pack on at least 75% of my hikes, including the summer adventures. Even if you’re hiking below tree line, it’s a good idea to always carry a shell for survival purposes. God forbid you get stranded out there, but that shell will protect you from the elements and could work as a quasi-shelter in a pinch.
I get there are tons of other items that are pretty awesome for hiking (I never go without a hat to keep the sun off my face!), but these will be what you need to get started.
What would you add to the list?