Hiking and Gear - Keeping It Simple

Hiking is a wonderfully simple activity; hiking gear, however, can appear complex to anyone just starting out in the sport. So let's break it down to the basics.

What hiking gear do you really need?

It depends on what kind of "hiking" you are going to do. That is, how long your trip is. Obviously if your trip covers more than one day, you'll need to take more gear (and a larger pack to hold it!). All the extra overnight gear falls into two categories: sleeping and eating.

So, first of all...

Day Hiking and Gear

No matter how long you'll be out, you should always take what outdoorspeople have traditionally called "The 10 Essentials" -- a "be prepared" gear list. The 10 Essentials are basically your entire day hiking gear checklist -- you don't really need much else. Except for maybe toilet paper (maybe that should be the eleventh item!).

Ten Essentials
1. Extra food
2. Extra water
3. Extra clothing (like a sweater, warm hat and rain jacket)
4. Map of the area
5. Compass
6. Flashlight, extra batteries extra bulb
7. Pocketknife or all-in-one-tool
8. Fire-making items (lighter, or matches in waterproof container, candle)
9. First aid kit
10. Sun protection (sunglasses, sunscreen, lip balm, hat)

Notice how the first three items are "extra". Meaning you are already carrying (or wearing, in the case of clothes) what you know you'll need. These extra items are in reserve for emergencies or to prevent an emergency situation! The wilderness, whether mountain or desert, is beautiful but can be completely unforgiving.

Always use common sense. The hiking gear (including "extra") items depend on the climate and season of the area you are in. Fall season, or example, might require you to take more warm clothing in backup. In the desert, you'd probably take a lot more water than you think you will actually use. And so forth.

Just a quick word on clothing materials. Wear synthetic (non-cotton) clothing whenever possible, for shirts, pants, socks, underwear, hats, jackets, etc. This is especially important in mountain climates. Cotton clothing soaks up water and takes forever to dry, which it can get you dangerously chilled.

Finally, make sure you are wearing appropriate footwear. Caring for your feet is a necessity! You need a decent pair of hiking boots or hiking shoes. And don't forget your camera and film.

Multi-day Hiking and Gear (a.k.a, "backpacking"!)

What's interesting is that the amount of gear you need for an overnighter isn't much different than for longer trips. The main difference is the amount of food you need. (You don't need to change your clothes every day.)

First of all, start with the basics. You guessed it -- the Ten Essentials. Pack everything you would for a day hike, including the "extra" stuff. Then you need sleeping gear: tent or shelter of some kind, sleeping bag and pad, ground sheet, and perhaps additional clothing for the cooler nights.

Now for your food. You can get great backpacking food at your local grocery store, quick cooking and lightweight items like minute rice, ramen, granola bars, string cheese, etc. Take a small backpacking stove instead of using campfires that scar the backcountry.

That's the basics, but this is where things can get confusing. There's a lot to consider: hundreds of brands and types of backpacking and hiking gear, and a complete discussion is beyond the scope of this introductory article ... but that's what this entire website is for :-) So click around.

Keep in mind that if you are just starting out, you can keep your hiking gear really simple. Don't think you have to have every little thing now. True, there ARE some main items that can be expensive like tents, sleeping bags, and backpacks. And you always need to be prepared. But it isn't any more complex than that.

How To Get Great Hiking Gear

Your major hiking gear items (rain/wind parka, set of non-cotton clothes, tent, backpack, sleeping bag, stove) are worth the money investment and extra selection time. For these items, there is no economy in buying cheap, and they can last through many years of adventure if you buy high quality. Going to general department stores like Wal-Mart for your main hiking gear items is not a good idea. Footwear is also a critical, except that shoes or boots wear out quicker so you'll be "investing" in them more often:-) Extra time testing the fit of hiking gear like footwear and packs is time well spent since a bad fit can ruin a trip.

To get hiking gear that you'll be happy with, first obtain advice from trustworthy, experienced sources. In addition to this website, there are gear reviews on the internet, where you can find dozens of reviews by people who have used the exact models you're considering.

Specialized backpacking gear shops like REI (both online and traditional stores) and Backcountry.com have knowledgeable and experienced staff members who are active outdoorspeople. You can even get live online help from both REI (click on the "live help" link at bottom of page) and Backcountry.com (click on "Help Center" or "Ask a Question" then click the "Live Help" graphic).
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