Heading for your favorite hiking trails as the weather warms up? If you’re new to the hiking game, this list of hiking essentials will be helpful for making sure you have everything you need (without bringing too much) while enjoying your time in the outdoors.
I used to think that hydration backpacks were overkill until I bought mine, and now I’ll never go on a long hike without one. What is a hydration pack? Simply, it’s a backpack or waistpack that holds a rubber or plastic reservoir inside for water with a long flexible straw that can be attached to the shoulder straps for instant, easy access to water at any time. My favorite brand is Camelbak mainly because that’s what I’ve used for over 8 years and it’s never done me wrong, but there are many different brands and sizes (some are quite inexpensive!) depending on your individual needs. Some packs consist only of the water bag without much extra room for storage, while others are larger and more like typical backpacks for carrying your water along with other hiking essentials. Hydration packs are so much easier than trying to cart along enough bulky water bottles or canteens, and you don’t have to miss a step to fumble in your backpack for water, because it’s always ready to go.
The Right Snacks
If you’re simply popping out for a short and easy nature walk, then any snacks you want to bring are just fine. But if you’re headed out on a long, hard trek, putting a little more thought into the nibbles you put in your pack will make a big difference in your energy levels as you negotiate the trails. Funny enough, my number one tip has nothing to do with nutrition and everything to do with mess: avoid anything chocolate-covered. Seriously, even a milder day can turn chocolate-covered bars into a mushy mess that are a pain to eat. I recommend protein bars with a good balance of protein, fat, and carbs. You don’t want too much added sugar, but carbs will give you a quick energy boost while the slower-digesting protein will keep you full for longer while stopping those annoying blood sugar crashes that can leave you drained, light-headed, and cranky. Also, the right bar can be a perfect meal replacement if you prefer not to pack a lunch. There’s a reason that classic trail mixes with nuts and dried fruit are excellent choices, as they’re easy to munch on, mess free (again, watch the chocolate), and will provide you with the right nutrients to keep you feeling good. Good ol’ beef jerky is another classic trail snack and easy protein source, though most varieties can be heavy on the sodium, so make sure you stay hydrated.
My Favorite Protein Bars (click for nutrition content): Quest Bars – tons of flavors, temperature-friendly, amazing nutrition profile
My Favorite Trail Mixes: You can avoid melty chocolate messes by choosing mixes with M&M type candies as opposed to bare chocolate chips. I like these basic mixes and you can either toss the whole bag in your pack, portion them out, or you can buy pre-portioned packs of trail mix for easier snacking.
What about lunch? If protein bars aren’t really your thing for a meal replacement, you’ll need to pack a lunch for those longer hikes. Peanut butter and banana sandwiches on thick whole-grain bread is a solid choice, and we’ve even sprinkled a little granola inside of our sandwiches for extra crunch and some extra fat and carbs. If you like tuna, the shelf stable pouches are excellent for throwing in your pack with some crackers, or you can find full tuna lunch kits that have everything you need packaged together.
Baby Wipes & Hand Sanitizer
Even if you don’t have kids, baby wipes are awesome. Use them to freshen up your face, wipe off dirt and grit, or clean up any messes that happen if you take an unexpected tumble into the dirt. The hand sanitizer is self-explanatory and is great for peace of mind and just overall feeling clean. Before eating, wipe off any obvious dirt from your hands and then use hand sanitizer to finish up. Oh, and please don’t litter. Pack away any used wipes and dispose of them properly once you get back home.
The Right Shoes
If you’re trotting along a smooth, paved trail, your regular tennis shoes or walking shoes will likely be just fine. But if you’re a prolific hiker and you know you may be dealing with different and difficult terrains, investing in a solid pair of hiking boots is worth every penny, trust me. Go to a trusted outdoor supply store (we love REI) with a good shoe department and speak to someone about the types of hikes you are likely to take. A store with knowledgeable staff will be able to recommend some brands and boot types that’ll be best for you. Some places will even have test areas set up with mock-ups of different types of terrain so you can try on boots and take them for a test drive. Your feet, knees, and hips will thank you!
Getting stuck in the rain is 100% no fun – it has happened to us before – so we’ve learned our lesson and always carry appropriate waterproof gear. On chilly days, I might choose to go ahead and wear a warmer rain jacket that I can tie around my waist if I get too warm, but mostly we stash some emergency ponchos into our backpacks. They’re compact and can really save you from getting drenched when the weather turns sour unexpectedly. They even make child-sized ponchos!
First-Aid Kit, Sunscreen and Multi-Tool
Even if you’re just going for an easy day hike, it’s never a bad idea to have some bandages, alcohol wipes, and antibiotic cream in your pack. If you want a ready-made kit, I love these pocket-sized first-aid kits that have everything you need to treat most minor injuries on the trails but they aren’t bulky or space-hogging. Also, some type of pocket knife or, better yet, a multi-tool like a Swiss Army knife is always a good idea because, well, I can’t think of any reasons not to have one. Same for sunscreen, which is basic common sense. If you’re going to be outside all day, even if you think you’ll be shaded most of the time, it’s never a bad idea to have your skin protected.
This guide is meant for people hiking along clearly marked and maintained trails, but it’s always a good idea to print out some basic maps or trail guides to stick into your backpack. While smartphones have all of the GPS information available via Internet, you’re never guaranteed a clear signal in remote areas, so if you need to check in and make sure you’re picking up the right trails, a little folded piece of paper can offer big peace of mind.
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