Hiking is a great past time with friends or family. It is important not to head out on the trail without adequate gear. There are 10 gear essentials that every single person hiking or camping needs to have with them to stay safe and to be prepared for the adventure ahead. This list was original developed by the Mountaineers in the 1930s and has gone through a few iterations in that time. The current list is not comprehensive, but should be an excellent guide for anyone unsure of what else to bring on their next trek.
You may feel you do not need these if you are going on a route you are quite comfortable with, but it is always wise to go out more prepared than you think you need to be. Or, as our parents would say, “better safe than sorry.”
Navigation tools, like a compass or a map, are essential on every trip, even routine ones. They are helpful before because they help you plan out your trip, ensuring you are comfortable with the distance, and have a rough idea of how the trail should look once you are out there. Also, they can help reorient yourself to your surroundings in case you get lost, or if things get darker more quickly than expected. Unplanned overnight stays in the wilderness can be scary, but bringing the proper navigation can help make sure everyone leaves the adventure as safely as they arrived.
While it is fun to soak up the rays while on the trail, proper sun protection is very important for your health. UV rays can be very harmful, causing sunburn, and eventually skin cancer. On every trip, make sure to bring some type of skin protection, even if it is overcast! My dad always says, “Just because it is overcast, does not mean you cannot get a sunburn”. My dad is a very fair skinned man and is famous for his cloud burns. His susceptibility to the sun has instilled in me the reminder to always have a small bottle of sunscreen, hat, and sunglasses in every pack I take on a hike.
Weather can be quite unpredictable, it is important to be prepared for any drastic changes. Temperature swings especially can prove to be quite dangerous for hikers. Pack a change of clothes that reflects any extreme type of weather you may encounter, like hats, gloves, or rain jackets.
Lighting is critical in the outdoors. Especially where no conventional street lights or sources can be found. Flashlights, lanterns, and headlamps all are gear that can be very helpful if caught in a situation where it is darker than expected. Conveniently, many of these items are typically also quite small and can fit anywhere from your pocket to your pack.
Life is full of surprises, when it comes to health and wounds, you never want to be caught off guard. There are many variations of pre-made first-aid kits. It is smart to buy one of those, and then make additions as you see fit and for any specific circumstances you may be in. At a minimum, a first-aid kit should include gauze pads in various sizes, roller gauze, small adhesive bandages, butterfly bandages, triangular bandages, battle dressing (or Carlisle bandage), adhesive tape, scissors, cleansers or soap, latex gloves, and paper and pencil. It may be a good idea to have a small emergency handbook to guide you through any unusual or unfamiliar medical emergencies.
Fire is a way to stay warm, can help with cooking, and can even be used for an emergency signal. Waterproof matches and fire starters are indispensable pieces of equipment for any serious hiker. If you are a day hiker – it is likely your matches will never be used. However, fire is one thing that you will really wish you had in situations where you are lost. Make sure to understand any regulations and rules of building fires in the park or state you are in.
Repair Kit or Tools
A basic repair kit to help you repair equipment will be very helpful. Duct tape especially is famous for its quick fixing. In a pinch, it can repair shoes, bags, clothing, and just about anything else. A good multi-tool, with (at least) a knife, screwdriver, and scissors will help you fix anything duct tape cannot. It is also important to ensure you have any tools that may be specific to your activity (snow shoes, carabiners, etc.)
You always want to be prepared for any unexpected changes in your trip. Packing at least an extra days supply of food is a good practice. Things that do not require cooking or prep are preferable. Trail mix, protein bars, and nuts are good things to keep on hand because they are easily digestible.
Staying hydrated is critical in every physical activity. One thing that many people forget, if you are doing physical activity outside, especially on hot days, you need to drink water before you feel thirsty. Sometimes, people will not drink because they don’t have that thirsty feeling. It is so important to drink water before you feel thirsty to not allow yourself to become dehydrated.
Shelter will protect you from the elements if you get into any type of situation where you will need to stay out in the wilderness overnight. If that was a part of the plan, you most likely are bringing a tent or bivy. If you were only intending on going on a day hike, you may be left out to the elements if you get lost. Make sure to never head out on the trail without some type of a tarp or space blanket that can be made into a make-shift shelter and protect you from rain or snow.
Optional, But Suggested Gear
This list is by no means comprehensive. There are a lot of things that would be nice to have and even highly suggested to improve your hiking experience. Here are a few specific examples of things that will make your experience more enjoyable and safe.
A Good Pack
It may go without saying, but you will need a good pack to put all of this gear in. A good hiking backpack can make or break a trip. It is important to make sure it has adequate storage, is comfortable for longer hauls, and has a lot of organizational options. Make sure to do your research on the right pack for you!
Trekking poles are a great addition to any hiker as they help provide stability and extra traction when out on the trail. The extra points of contact will help you keep your balance. If you are hiking for the health benefits as well, trekking poles can offer an upper body workout that you would not normally achieve without them.
Where ever you fall on the hiking boots vs. trail runners debate, it is important to bring the right footwear on your outdoor adventures. Nothing can beat a trusty pair of shoes that offer reliable traction and ankle support. These two attributes can be game changers on long hauls giving your feet the right relief and support they need to keep you going.
There are a lot of good reasons to bring a camera. When hiking, you typically run across some very beautiful scenery. While a camera may never be able to quite capture the beauty, it still can be a nice memory of the trip. Many of my friends bring their big fancy DSLR cameras, but with today’s technology, usually your smartphone will be enough. If you are going on a longer trip, a solar powered phone charger may not be a bad idea either!
A good pair of binoculars cannot be beat. This is something that I feel a lot of people overlook, but one that I always find useful. Being able to take in incredible vistas is one thing, but being able to get a better look with binoculars can add so much detail and excitement to every view. Not only that, but they can be a useful safety tool when scouting ahead on the trail.
A trusty companion is critical for me to enjoy any type of outdoor adventure. Experiencing the outdoors with another person is an excellent team bonding and relationship building experience. Hiking is a great activity to do with your family, friends, or significant other. This is not only for enjoyment, but also for safety. Having a buddy is two sets of eyes to look out for danger, or two pairs of legs to go get help!