Hiking and backpacking is now more popular than ever before, and it is the perfect activity for people to not only get some essential exercise and physical activity but to also get away from the hustle and bustle of day to day living.
It gives time to escape to the wilderness where they can take a step back, get back to nature, and help get some quality time away from stressful city living.
Hiking is not to be taken lightly, however, and safe and comfortable hiking experience means taking along the core list of essential kit.
So here are some of the more essential items of hiking gear that you can’t do without:
The number one item is a high-quality pair of hiking boots. The longer you plan to hike, the more you need to think about your footwear.
While the cross-trainers or tennis shoes are a usable choice for the occasional short hike, they are not a practical solution on a long or difficult hike. Even trail running shoes do not provide enough support if you have any load or tackle tougher terrain.
If you are even semi-serious, a purpose-made pair of hiking boots will be so much more comfortable, give better traction, more support, and improved stability.
You can see our current choices for the best hiking boots here >>
You are obviously going to need somewhere to put all this stuff and by far the best solution is a backpack, although, for a very light hike, you could get away with a waist-pack.
As a general rule I would always get a backpack as it gives you that much more flexibility for very little difference in weight. Since most backpacks come with various widgets to strap everything down, your pack will not be flapping around either
Modern hiking backpacks come with a variety of features to make the all-round experience more enjoyable, including:
- Internal or external frame for extra support and comfort
- Hip belts to make it possible to use the pelvis the support the backpack weight
- Protective water-resilient zippers or lids to protect the contents from rainfall
- Straps to compress the load to make it easier to carry
- One or more pockets with quick-access openings
These are our picks of the best backpacks on the market
The proper hiking clothes will give the right protection and comfort while out on the trails. Here are several key points to consider:
- Avoid wearing cotton-based clothing- look for more advanced wicking materials
- A rain jacket or similar water-repellent clothing
- Use extra layers when hiking in regions that can experience the colder weather.
We talk more about good hiking clothing here >>
Hiking without a proper water supply is a bad idea. Hiking with the combination of exertion and heat or cold can soon lead to heat stroke, heat exhaustion, or other symptoms of dehydration.
A simple solution to ensure enough water is taken on hiking is to use a hydration pack or water bottle, or water filtration system, depending on how far you are going.
If you want to maximize your space, water pouches are a great option when really limited on storage space. They are sealed pouches of purified water, which means you know exactly how much you have consumed. They are also very easy to stash and are lighter than a bottle or hydration pack.
The preferred option for the day-hike or longer is the hydration packs. This is a plastic pouch or bladder that can fit inside a backpack or similar and allows the hiker to drink the water via a long drinking hose. Most of the modern hiking backpacks make it easy to pack the water bladder inside.
Alternatively, there are the streamlined packs just intended to carry water and have minimal spare space for extra stowing extra camping gear. A decent size hydration reservoir gives the option to hold 2-liters or more which is enough for a day-hike.
First Aid Kit
You never know what might happen when hiking, and when it does, you can be a long way from help.
While you cannot cover yourself for every medical emergency you can make sure the most common are covered with a good quality first aid kit.
There are several good ones you can buy and replenish as you use the supplies, or you can build your own.
We talk more about first aid kits in this article >>
Map of the Hiking Trails and Area
Buy a map, we mean a proper map, I.E a paper map, not Google maps or the GPS feature on your smartphone.
Whilst these features are indeed fantastic, all it takes is a flat battery, a lack of signal, harsh weather, or even a dropped phone and all of a sudden your expensive smartphone is now pretty much worthless.
Experienced hikers always head outdoors with an up to date paper map of the areas they plan on hiking in.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re hiking on trails, cross country, alpine hiking, or anything else; always have an updated and detailed paper map in your possession.
Along with the map, you are going to need a compass
Don’t rely on the compass on your smartphone as your primary compass, for all of the reasons that we mentioned previously.
Instead, pick up a good quality compass from your local outdoor hiking/camping store and learn to use it.
Look for features such as:
- 0 – 360 degrees going up in 2-degree increments
- liquid filled to protect the magnetic needle inside, plus
- a fold-out mirror designed for sightings.
Flashlight and Headlight
Taking along a multi-tool or Swiss Army knife is a must. It allows you to do all the outdoorsman type stuff you would expect, but it also makes things like cutting knotted cords and laces much easier too.
Those Swiss Army knives have been staples of soldiers for years for a very good reason!
We talk about them in more depth here >>
Flashlight and Headlight
Even if you’re only planning on hiking for one day, during daylight hours, you should always carry a flashlight or headlight with you at all times, as you never know when you may need them.
Obviously, if you plan on hiking in the dark, then that goes without saying, but make sure you bring a headlight and a flashlight as well.
Find lights that are water-resistant as the last thing you want is your light dying on you at night time during an intense downpour.
Also, look for lights that carry spare bulbs inside their housing as that way if the bulb does blow, you can simply replace it with the spare.
These are some of our picks for the best flashlights >>
Never underestimate the importance of batteries as they can help you in a number of different ways.
To begin with, your flashlights may need batteries, not to mention any other electrical gadgets you may have, so always carry plenty to be sure.
Plus, although highly unlikely, you may even need to make fire without matches/a lighter, and a battery plus some metal gauze can come in very useful indeed.
Hiking gadgets don’t have to be high-tech and sophisticated, in fact, for most hikers, the more primitive yet functional, the better, as they almost serve as a metaphor for the art of hiking itself.
Just make sure your kit is right for the job and test it before you go out for the first time. There is nothing worse than discovering your new boots are uncomfortable or you don’t know how your water filter works!
Matt Green, is an avid hiker and lover of the great outdoors. He is always planning his next big trip or hitting the trails for a solo hike.
He’s traveled extensively to many remote regions and has plenty of experience exploring various terrains, and stories to tell.