February 10, 2023
Hiking gear: what to bring?
There are so many places to find your perfect hiking trail, from mountain trails to coastal paths. Maybe you want to discover new horizons or explore the surroundings around your base camp, take a break after a busy week, push yourself, or get lost in the sights and sounds of nature.
Whatever drives you, your gear shouldn’t be a burden. In this article we’ll discuss everything you need to make your equipment work for whatever adventure you pursue. Essentials only. Keep that pack light!
DEFINE THE TYPE OF HIKE
Knowing what gear to pack means knowing what you are going to be doing. Begin by considering what kind of hike you’re going on (time, distance, climbing, technical difficulty) and the conditions you expect (climate, season, weather).
Awareness of the nature of your hike and the weather conditions will help you make a decision regarding the gear and clothes to pack.
The duration of the hike
Essential equipment doesn’t vary too much between a half-day or full-day hike (except for the amount of food and water you’re packing). Gear choices for a multi-day trek get more complex.
Are you packing a tent, a sleeping bag, or a camping stove? Will you need freeze dried meals? Extra clothing layers? There’s so much equipment to choose from, but only so much space in your pack!
Distance and ascent
The distance and ascent included in your itinerary will dictate a hike’s difficulty more than the time duration. The further the hike or the more climbing it has, the more crucial it is to hike light.
Every pound saved means more energy and less stress on your legs, especially by the end of the trail.
Let’s talk about the differences between hiking and mountaineering. In this article, we only deal with the type of hiking that doesn’t need climbing rope (however a short hiking rope can be sometimes used to make exposed sections safer), crampons or other mountaineering gear eg, ice axes or screws, skis, etc.
Backcountry skiing or glacier walking are disciplines that need special equipment and expert knowledge of the conditions in the mountains in the wintertime.
Prepare your itinerary in advance so you know exactly where you’re going and don’t find yourself venturing into terrain that is too technical. Local recreation areas (national parks and forests, state parks) make topographic maps available, or you can find some easily with an online search.
Climate, season and weather
The conditions that you hike in will influence your clothing choices:
- Climate: climate varies greatly between the coast and the mountains. Focus on protecting yourself from the cold or heat, or from the rain or the sun.
- Season: the climate will help you choose the best season for your hike. Conditions can range widely within the same itinerary (snowy, cold or hot conditions etc)
- Weather: check the forecast for the day of your hike or for the period of your trek. You should take extra layers of clothing if there is the slightest chance of bad weather (a waterproof jacket or windbreaker, rain pants, a change of clothes).
For every type of hike, you should always take the following gear with you (you may need to adapt according to the conditions and terrain)
WHICH EQUIPMENT IS ESSENTIAL FOR HIKING?
Food and hydration
Your hydration system should be able to hold at least 1 liter of water. Go with a backpack with a separate dedicated compartment to hold your water, either inside the pack or on the straps. Take more water if it’s hot, or if there are long stretches without access to water.
An insulated drinks bottle or a thermos of tea is always appreciated during a break when it’s cold.
Bring water purification tablets or a filter for remote treks.
Take enough food, energy bars and dried fruits for the whole hike. Eat regularly to avoid hypoglycemia and other conditions that will slow you down. Save the joy of your freeze-dried meal for autonomous treks as well as breakfast rations. Always have an extra energy gel or bar at the bottom of your bag (or even in your first aid kit).
Always plan your itinerary in advance and do as much research as possible on the internet or by reading guidebooks. Depending on what you are used to using, you could take:
- Your cellphone with a GPS application and remember to download the maps before you leave so you can access them offline
- A GPS watch: opt for a watch with an altimeter and barometer
- A topographic map
- A compass and altimeter (not used as often due to the proliferation of cell phones and watches)