Hiking Basics: Gear

By now, you (and by "you", I mean my regular reader) know that hiking is my thing. In fact, I am not only a seasoned hiker but a mountain hiker as well - not to be confused with mountain climber, climbing and hiking are two separate things.

This wasn't always the case, though. I grew up with a single, hiker father that, more likely than not, drug his begrudging daughter along. While I enjoyed the easier hikes, for the most part, I detested hiking. I was lazy, out-of-shape, and had absolutely no desire to go hiking.

When I got older and had kids of my own, I can remember having a moment where I wondered how I could get more active and, in turn, get my kids more active while, at the same time, adhering to a shoestring budget. I remembered those times hiking with my dad and thought about them fondly. Thus, my love of hiking was born.

Since then, I've graduated from novice, unexperienced hiker that would only go a few miles on easier trails to a seasoned hiker that tackles mountains. It hasn't always been an easy experience, but I've grown to love hiking with a passion and have learned a lot along the way. While I know a lot about hiking, I'm not what I would classify as an expert. I am, though, a well-seasoned hiker who knows quite a bit. If I were new to the sport and wanted some basic information, I would appreciate some pointers.

This post, then, is the first of a series that I will do about hiking basics. It is meant for those who are interested in hiking and would like some tips on how to get started. This first post is about hiking gear, so read on:

1. First things first: Footwear

The single most important item you will need for hiking is footwear, and not just any footwear either. You're going to need the correct kind of shoes for hiking. When I first started taking my kids out hiking, I used tennis shoes. While you can wear tennis shoes, I wouldn't recommend it unless you plan on rarely ever hiking. For people who rarely hike, it doesn't make much sense to drop a bunch of cash on hiking shoes if they're not going to use them regularly. If you're unsure if you're going to enjoy hiking enough to commit to it, go on a handful of hikes first. You'll know quickly if hiking will be for you or not.

If you do know for sure that you will be hiking regularly, then I highly recommend getting hiking shoes or boots. Why? Well, terrain that you hike on is unstable, not flat, and often rocky. Tennis shoes have flimsy soles against that and they don't give you the kind of support your foot will need on uneven, unstable, rocky ground.

So, which kind of hiking footwear? Well, that's up to you. Again, I would recommend an all-purpose, all-around hiking boot that's waterproof. As for myself, I have a pair of breathable hiking shoes, a pair of hiking sandals (that I don't use much), and a pair of waterproof hiking boots.

2. A small backpack

If you know for sure you'll be hiking regularly, a hiking backpack is a must. Now, I'm not talking about some big, awkward school backpack. I'm talking about a more compact backpack that you can secure to the front of you and carry basic supplies. School backpacks are terrible for hiking and you'll wish quickly you weren't lugging that around. A smaller backpack, made for hiking, with securing straps for the front of your body is ideal.

I've been hiking long enough now, and seriously enough, that I'm going to upgrade to a small pack with a water reservoir in it. It will be so much handier than having to take my pack off each time I need a drink of water.

3. Basic emergency supplies

You should always carry a small first aid kit (you can either make your own or buy one from somewhere). It doesn't need to be filled with lots of stuff, but a few things that would come in handy: gauze, bandaids, triple antibiotic, a few wet wipes, and pain relief will cover most issues. I also recommend a rain poncho (you can buy the kind that is folded into a space of a thin couple of inches, a whistle (to blow if you get trapped and need to alert someone of your presence), a decent pocketknife, and a small flashlight.

4. Water bottle

Get yourself a decent water bottle. When you hike, fill it up and put it in your pack.

5. Bug spray and sunscreen

I have small versions of both of these that easily fit in my pack.

6. Trail food/snacks

I buy bags of nuts, granola bars, dried fruit, and jerky (for the meat-eaters) from the dollar store, take them out of their packaging, put them in a big plastic storage bag, and keep it in my pack.

7. Hiking clothes

I've learned, through trial and error, what kinds of clothes to wear when I go hiking. The things that you should consider are:

  • Comfort: Can I wear this for a long time and be comfortable?
  • Fit: Is it snug enough to not chafe me or snag on anything while still allowing for comfort?
  • Practicality: Is this a practical item to wear hiking?
  • Weather: Is this weather appropriate? Should I dress in layers?
How you dress, then, is up to you but choose wisely. 

8. Hiking Stick/Poles

I would consider hiking sticks and poles to be a useful item, but only if you feel that you need them. When I first started trying to be a real hiker, I found some inexpensive hiking poles at Walmart and they came in handy. Now, I never use poles because I feel that they're more of a hindrance than a help. I only need them in the most treacherous of terrain and they're not easy to carry with you when you don't need them. Having said that, though, they can be really great when you're not steady on your feet all the time, when you're coming down or going up a steep incline, or any other time you just need more support. I don't consider them a necessity item, but they are great for some hikers. I'll leave the choice of these up to you!

If you're a burgeoning hiker, I hope you found this post useful. I'll do a few more posts in this series, so stay tuned for those.

My latest review/interview with the band Fluids is up on Slime&Grime, and you can check that out here: https://www.slimeandgrimeomaha.com/post/fluids-an-icky-sticky-extra-saucy-friday-the-13th-interview-album-review

My online discussion series with Politipeeps and Dr. Mathias Nordvig is up on YouTube, you can check those out herehere, and here.

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