Hiking is a great way to stay in shape, get outside, and see some beautiful places in the world. It’s also easy to get started and requires little gear. Unfortunately, like most things, people like to complicate it.
The last thing you need to do is ask what you need on a hiking message board. The response will be overwhelming, and you’ll end up at Bass Pro Shop with a list that will total in the hundreds.
People are wimps these days. My little boy and I were recently on a two-mile trail at Brownwood State Park in Texas—a trail that my kids have hiked since they were barely old enough to walk, and often in flip flops. In other words, it’s not treacherous. We came upon a group of college aged people, all wearing backpacks, enough water to fill a pool, hiking clothes from head to toe, and carrying trekking poles. In fairness, it may have been their first time outside, and I’m sure it must have been frightening for them.
Hiking doesn’t have to be a big deal. After all, it’s nothing more than taking a long walk in a pretty place.
Here are a few things that you do and don’t need for a day hike.
You Don’t Need:
- Expensive hiking boots.
My wife and I have gone on many all-day hikes in Texas, and she has hiked some of the most difficult trails in places like Yosemite National Park in California and Zion National Park in Utah. What do we wear on our feet? Regular socks and our old running shoes.
There’s nothing wrong with hiking boots and socks if you want them and can afford them, but they aren’t necessary unless you are planning to hike a hundred miles along the Appalachian Trail. Tennis shoes usually work just fine.
- Trekking poles.
I’m sure there’s a decent argument for trekking poles, but I can’t make it. Unless it was a cool looking stick I found on the trail, I’ve never carried a pole on a hike. Can you walk without a stick? If not, consider the poles. Or take your cane. But don’t listen to the hiking expert who has more gear than sense; poles are usually not essential.
- Special clothing.
If you are the least bit active, you already have clothes that are suitable for hiking. I’ve worn jeans on shorter winter hikes, but they weren’t comfortable. I prefer cargo pants or shorts (lots of pockets) with a belt, and I like to wear a thin, long-sleeve button down shirt with a collar for sun protection. Sometimes, I just wear a t-shirt. My wife generally wears her running clothes—running shorts or tights and a tank top. If you are hiking in the cold, dress in layers of anything comfortable.
- Survival gear.
I’m discussing day hikes in this post, and not a trek across the Alaskan wilderness. Are you really going to get lost and spend the night on a five-mile trail in a state or national park? Bring what makes you comfortable, but there’s no need to weigh yourself down with enough gear to start a trading post.
You do need:
- Plenty to drink.
Plenty depends upon the length of a hike. Most state park trails we hike as a family take an hour or so. Each one of us usually takes one bottle of water, which is just about right. If it is hot, or we are hiking further, I wear a backpack with more drinks. I’d rather bring too much water than not enough.
This is the most important thing you will take. My wife and I underestimated what we needed during a hike at Caprock Canyons State Park that ended up taking much longer than we expected. Before we finished, I was tempted to drink out of holes the buffalo stomped in. I didn’t but was tempted. That hike was rough.
- Real shoes.
Whether hiking boots or running shoes, you need a shoe that ties, will hold up your entire hike, and is comfortable. I once met a young man and his girlfriend on a trail who were asking hikers for duct tape. She started in sandals, which broke a few miles into the hike. You don’t want to be in that situation. I’ve also hiked several miles in cowboy boots, and I don’t recommend that, either.
- Sun and bug protection.
To me, a hat and sunglasses are essential. I also like to tie a bandana around my neck. Not only does it help protect me from the sun, but it is stylish and can be useful in many ways. Before you hit the trail, it’s a great idea to apply sunblock, insect repellant, and Chapstick.
- Trail map and compass.
If you are going to hike in the parks, take a copy of the park trail map with you. You can get one for free at the headquarters. Also, take a compass. They are inexpensive and fit nicely in the pocket of your cargo pants.
The most important things to take (other than water) are common sense, awareness, and respect for nature and other hikers. No amount of fancy gear will make up for a lack of those. Now, take a hike.
Hikers, what essential things do you think I’ve left off?