Hiking Gear Essentials - Your Bare Necessities
My fiancé & I are 29 years old. We were raised in London, but just over 2 years ago we decided to purchase our first property in Surrey, UK. At first, this was quite the culture shock (mostly for me - as I am such a City girl), but as time went on I realised there was so much to appreciate about the vast scenic nature that was available at our very doorstep.
It's only really after getting our Cockapoo Teddy a year ago that we really started to explore our town, and the lovely green spaces beyond. One thing I realised, is that becoming an outdoorsy person, actually makes you feel quite zen. In fact, you can read more about the many meditative side affects of nature via the following article:
Related reading: Why you should make meditation a daily routine.
Not only have I come to love nature at its best, I've also really been able to connect with it during all of its seasons. At this stage, we have hiked in severe wind, snow and rain - as well as 30 degree heat, and the perfect spring day. But each experience is an adventure in itself, and there is so much beauty in each of the evolving states.
Starting from complete novices, going on hikes in basic trainers and non waterproof jackets, we've since become quite familiar with all things hiking gear related. From the best hiking equipment, to hiking clothes and hiking footwear (even down to what socks to wear!) - and my favourite one of all, what to pack in your back to EAT! One of our favourite parts of the hike is finding somewhere beautiful to sit, and eat our lunch.
So without further ado, we thought we'd put together a hiking checklist and cover off all of the essentials.
What hiking boots do you go for?
This is always an interesting topic for me, because I laugh at the novice version of myself - who went on her first hike in a pair of very unsupportive fabric running trainers, who slipped all over the place and had zero grip going downhill. What I didn't realise back then, was you really need to support your feet with appropriate footwear. The problem for me, is that I'm extremely fussy and I don't actually like the look of a lot of the hiking boots out there. They often have bright laces, just look a little funky and Grandad-like - and I've had a few that have fit me quite poorly and put me off them.
But my partner trialled a pair of really affordable combat boots, they are insulating, durable, sturdy and waterproof. He's worn them through the muddy and snowy winter, and now into the warm spring - and he completely vouched for them. So I decided to buy the same too, and trial them out. I have narrow feet, so I wasn't sure if I'd have the same experience but I can tell you they are really fantastic.
You want your hiking boots to have a couple of main functions, including suitable grip on the bottom, for the rough and rocky terrain, plus the ability to lace them up nice and tight and preferably waterproof.
The great thing about these hiking boots is they meet the above and more. What I really appreciate about them is the functional design with the zip, plus the fact that they cover your ankle for extra support. Once you've got your foot in there nice and snug, and you've tightened the laces up, all you need to do is simply unzip them along the ankle. No faffing around with laces each time, and struggling to get your muddy boots off at the front door.
NB: Although these boots are marked as 'Men's' on Amazon, they are marked as Unisex via other retailers, and they fit both me and my partner very well.
TIP: You want to secure your ankle in well, wiggling your heel to the very back of your boot and therefore making space at the front of the boot for your toes to have a little wiggle room. You do this by tightening the lace that runs across the very beginning of your ankle. This is most helpful for going downhill, as it's very uncomfortable when your foot slides toward the front of your boot and you can risk loosing a nail or two by this constant source of friction.
Sometimes hiking trainers are better (for dry & warm climate, etc.)
Not to contradict myself, as I mentioned my fun with trainers above - but sometimes trainers are more suitable but it depends on the terrain, the length of time you're out for and what type of trainers you wear.
When going on a hilly day hike, with the potential of rocky or uncertain terrain - I will always opt for the hiking boot. But if and when I'm going on a half day hike, or a slow hike on a dry day and on fairly stable ground (i.e an area I'm very familiar with) I will opt for trainers.
The best type of trainers to wear for a simple dry hike, are ones that are supportive, comfortable and with a sturdy sole, to absorb impact and grip the floor. Even if it's a dry day the ground the dusty dry ground can still be unstable so always be careful and approach with caution.
What hiking trousers do you need?
This can really depend on the climate or the type of climate you are experiencing of course, and for living in the UK us we need to be prepared for all eventualities as we can sometimes experience 2-3 different weather fronts in the same day!
Base layer: In the colder months, where it's zero, sub-zero or snowing, it's a very good idea to insulate with a base layer. I always wear a thermal legging to retain the warmth. They are lightweight and actively draw moisture away from the body, so you don't feel hot and clammy.
Outer layer: It's useful to opt for combat or canvas style trousers, or a windproof hiking trouser as the outer layer. You'll want to opt for a pair of trousers that do not absorb water easily. Joggers will not do, and if you're caught out in the rain you're going to really feel it. They do need to be comfortable and durable but not rigid. These particular options are great for the colder climate.
For Spring, I will always wear a pair of leggings, and if it's a little bit breezy I might layer up with two pairs. I have several pairs of these thick sports tights from H&M, and I always wear them with the matching sports bra, which makes the perfect base layer, as it's super thick and supportive. Otherwise, in the summer I'll definitely go for a pair of shorts, and sometimes I might even layer with a pair of cycling shorts underneath for extra support.
What sort of shirt is best?
For this time of year I always layer up with several light layers. As this is the best way to insulate your body, but also you can get quite warm when hiking, so you'll always want to option to remove a thin layer and put it in your backpack for ease, and pop it back on if you get chilly again.
I tend to wear a thermal vest, and a thermal long-sleeve base layer, topped with a thin cashmere jumper, a breathable sports zip-up, topped with a waterproof wind-breaker jacket - which is an absolute essential. You'll be surprised how well you are protected from the elements with the right outer layer. But the base layers are extremely important, as they make your foundation. AND - I will always carry a pack down lightweight puffa coat in my bag.
For this time of year, and for Spring in particular I would still use the thermal top as the base layer, and ensure I have the pack down puffa jacket with me - as it can still be breezy and if it's a long day hike, the temperature does turn when the sun goes down. Summertime is easy, as you'll just need to wear a light breathable layer. A fast drying t-shirt with breathable mesh is perfect to avoid feeling too hot and sticky.
Importance of walking poles
You might think you don't need a walking pole - and that's completely fine, you can absolutely go it alone. But it may help to understand a few of the key benefits of hiking with them, especially if you are someone who feels they might not be able to endure a hike, or simply someone who cares about staying mobile for as long as possible and would like to protect their joints as much as possible.
If you've hiked before, then you'll know that one of the great challenges is getting downhill, or hiking uphill - especially on steep slopes. Walking poles protect our knees when walking up and down these sorts of hills, and they can help significantly with balance on uneven trails and help you to brake when going downhill. You may also find it a challenge to catch your breath after an intense hike uphill, and hiking poles help with this as they improve your posture, allowing you to walk more upright and aid your breathing.
Anything that helps with stability and balance can only be a good thing, especially if you are slightly older, but would still love to reap the benefits of hiking.
As well as the physical benefits of a hiking pole, they can also be really useful to part thick bushes, or hanging branches or cobwebs. You really never know what might await you on a hiking trail!
You’ll need hiking socks
The right pair of hiking socks are an absolute essential to avoid rubbing and blistering, and promote optimal comfort and dryness. The sock height is important too, as you'll want to avoid any abrasion to your skin, so the higher the better - especially if your boots come up above your ankle.
You'll want to avoid thin cotton socks, as they absorb moisture and take a long while to dry which is not what you want when you are hiking. It's best to avoid as much discomfort as possible and plan ahead ensuring your body is as comfortable as it can be.
These Danish socks are brilliant, as they are made from thick merino wool which are super insulating, antibacterial and also ventilating and cushioned for ultimate comfort.
The ideal hiking rucksack
There are a few things you'll need for the ultimate hiking rucksack:
Drawstring elastic on the front: This is great for hot days, when you want to take off a jumper, or a light jacket, but you don't want to carry it in your arms, and it's too big to fit inside your rucksack. All you need to do is drawstring it to the front of your bag. It's the perfect use for this unknown toggle!
Bottle holder: It's so important to stay hydrated when you are hiking, and you really won't feel great if you don't - and you'll likely experience the feeling of dehydration the next day, or even sickness during the walk itself. The best thing to do, is have a bag where it's super easy to grab your water from, and ideally if the bag has two holders that's even better - as you'll be surprised how much water you body loses from walking alone.
Internal pocket: It's super helpful to be able to separate your food, from your other bag essentials, such as mobile phone, sunglasses, pocket wipes, medication, tissues - etc. If these things get all mixed up, you'll find yourself having to stop and rummage around to find what you need. A neatly organised bag is your best friend - and if you're anything like me, I actually take great enjoyment in perfectly packing it!
What to carry in your rucksack
As briefly mentioned above, you really want to break down what to carry in your rucksack into three key areas:
Personal essentials (Mobile phone, sunglasses, hat, gloves, pocket wipes, medication, tissues ec).
What food should you bring?
One of our favourite parts of hiking is the food, snacking as we go - and the best bit of all, stopping at a beautiful scenic view for lunch. We often try to stop high up on a hill as the view from above is stunning. You can see the winding roads, the farmland, patches of forrest, the glistening sea - and so much more. It's really so beautiful. I now really enjoy shopping for snack food in the supermarket and thinking about where I might find myself enjoying it next!
Pre-hiking snacks: I often have something with me in the car to snack on, as the hiking destinations can sometimes be an hours drive or more - and it's really important to fuel up ahead of walking, or you can make yourself feel ill as your body doesn't have the energy to handle it. Slow-release food are best, so I always have peanut butter on toast and a banana for breakfast, or I have this en-route.
Sandwiches: We always bring a couple of sandwiches and we try to fill them with dense and filling ingredients. Our favourite at the moment is avocado and hummous.
Snacks: The best bit! We always have an array of snacks, to munch along the way or to eat alongside our sandwiches when we reach our lunch destination. We always bring an apple, banana, nuts, dates, protein bar - and if we are being naughty that day, crisps and little chocolate treat, like chocolate rice cakes. Because why not, you're more than likely about to burn hundreds and hundreds of calories.
These can also come in handy
We've covered most of the essentials, and what you should wear and pack - but I thought I'd give you a few extras, as sometimes you really never know what you might need, and you can often fit these little things into your bag quite easily anyway. You can find links to these at the end of the list below:
Hat: A cashmere hat is an absolute lifesaver, you'll be surprised how this can save you and your ears from getting a chill. Due to these natural fibres, you will be well insulated and kept nice and toasty.
Cap: Great for sunny days to shield the eyes, but for me this is even more of a godsend on a rainy and blustery day - if you are brave enough to hike during this weather, popping a cap underneath your hood is a real game changer, adding a much needed extra layer of protection from the elements (and sometimes I even put this on top of my hat if it's super cold out).
Gloves: If you've hiked in the snow then you'll know that these are non-negotiable. A good pair of cashmere or leather (or both if you're me) is what you'll need. Also, on blustery winter days, when you're out hiking on a hilltop and rather exposed to the wind, you'll thank yourself for not having numb hands whilst you're on your way home, or whilst trying to hold onto your sandwich..
Scarf: Not only for the obvious neck protection, but I've been on several hikes when the wind has just slapped me in the face - and sometimes it blows so hard it's a challenge to breathe out (you know that rollercoaster feeling!) So what I do is, wrap his around my neck, and then over my nose/mouth for ultimate protection and warmth, and it's just bliss.
Sunglasses: It's actually recommended to have 30 minutes each day out in the sunlight without sunglasses on, as this helps with your circadian rhythm - but any longer than this and you'll want to protect. Other than this, it can be super bright on a sunny day - and you won't want to be squinting your way through it!
Ankle Gators: These might seem super random, but if you want to protect your trousers or leggings from getting absolutely smothered in mud, on a squelchy day, then these are for you. Plus they also perform as and extra added warmth and waterproof layer which is ideal. They are easily washed and dried which is a bonus.
Anti-bac wipes: I've gone on far too many hikes without anti-bac wipes. They are essential. You don't know what you might have to touch, or pick up, or just how much dirt miraculously attaches itself to you, and tissues simply won't do. You'll want to give them a good wipe down before lunch. You can really tell how dirty your hands were when you wash them after being back at home, and the water does not run clear.
Tissues: As for tissues, again I've got to mention the wind which can sometimes be unexpected, as you are more exposed from time to time when hiking across farmland and hills, and your nose just starts streaming. Don't get caught out mid-chat - have your tissues at the ready!
Lunchbox: To stop your delicious sandwiches and delicate snacks from getting squished! I've linked my favourite eco-friendly bamboo one down below! It's nice and light to carry once it's empty, unlike the glass ones (which I love so much too, but they're a tad heavy for hikes, unless you want to carry more kilos!)
I really hope you found this article helpful. Please do give it a like and share if you do! As always, this article and it's recommendations are based on our personal experiences and learnings - but if you are ever in need of more targeted or specialised help, please do consult your local hiking store, who can offer a plethora of guidance.