When tempted to explore nature in the absurd form of walking up the tallest thing you can find, only to have to walk back down again (also known as “hiking”), a trusty hiking checklist should always be followed. Hiking is great. It’s one of the most rewarding feelings in the world – to climb up a mountain. Think about it, a mountain is Mother Earth’s tallest creation – so tall and massive, that mankind has yet to be able to build anything that even comes close to rivaling the height and size of a mountain. Mankind is pretty good at building stuff and trumping nature to a certain extent, but when it comes to mountains, we are miles behind. That is why getting out in the fresh air, and climbing the largest objects that mother nature has been able to create, feels so damn good. Standing on top of a mountain – gasping for air, feeling the fresh breeze on your sweaty face, gazing down at the endless blanket of trees, rivers, lakes, and more mountains, is great.
That all being said, hiking cannot, and should not be taken lightly, as there can be extreme consequences for failure to respect mother nature. And that is why we created this hiking checklist – so that you can properly prepare and truly experience the beauty and power of nature while staying safe, warm, and happy. If you are looking at getting into some beginner to intermediate hiking this summer (no overnight hikes…yet), use this hiking checklist as a guide to ensure you are fully prepared to take on the mountain, and take in all it has to offer.
Hiking Shoes or Trail Runners
First up on the hiking checklist, is footwear. Your footwear will make or break your hike. Seriously, get some good shoes, they are worth the investment. Try going for a 4-hour hike in Nike Free’s, and then try hiking up a mountain in some real hiking shoes; it will be a night and day difference, I guarantee you. I personally prefer trail runners as an alternative to traditional hiking shoes or boots as they are a little more versatile than a big thick pair of hikers, but either are a great option for hiking. For specific shoes, the majority of people I know (myself included) absolutely love Salomon hiking shoes. Salomon shoes in general, have a nice narrow heel that really helps suck your heel into the shoe and hold it down when you are walking up an incline. I really like my Salomon XA Pro 3D GTX trail runners: they have good thick soles, lots of arch support, a quick lace system, and a Gor-tex exterior so hiking through mud and muck keeps your feet warm and dry. For a more rugged boot, check out the Comet 3D GTX – similar to the XA Pro 3D GTX, but with a more aggressive tread, slightly thicker sole, and a boot style fit that gives your ankles some additional support.
Next item to discuss on the hiking checklist, is appropriate socks. Do not wear cotton socks! You will get blisters! Cotton and moisture do not go well together. Cotton and rubbing do not go well together. So what do you think happens when you mix cotton, moisture, and rubbing? You guessed it – pain and suffering! Cotton absorbs moisture and becomes abrasive and unforgiving when wet, meaning as soon as you get sweaty feet, and a little bit of rubbing in your shoes, blisters will begin to develop. Wool on the other hand, does not absorb moisture and transfers it to the shoe instead where it can dissipate out of the shoe. Wool socks are often designed for hiking, with thicker padding in the heel and ball of the foot, and they often provide some additional padding on the heel of the sock to prevent the edge of your shoe rubbing on your Achilles tendon. My personal favorite are SmartWool PhD socks – they are low rise socks, but come high enough to protect your Achilles from any rubbing from a regular pair of shoes.
While base layers are important for some hiking, they may not be necessary depending on the time of year, and thus are not a necessity on your hiking checklist. Layers in general, are a must have while hiking, but the tight wool base layers are more optional depending on the conditions. For layers, you should at least have an athletic shirt (not cotton, preferably), a sweater, and a windbreaker. And for those cool mountain climbs or rainy summer days, wool base layers would definitely be beneficial. Wool maintains its insulating properties even when wet, making it ideal for sweaty, or rainy conditions. Having a layer next to your skin will definitely help keep heat from escaping your body, but may become a hindrance if the temperature rises and you need to cool off. Regardless, they are always useful to keep in your athletic apparel arsenal for use in any adverse weather conditions, however, they may be the article you forgo on this hiking checklist.
Breathable Rain Jacket/Wind Breaker
A breathable shell is a must for any extended hikes – key word here, BREATHABLE! This is a non-optional item on the hiking checklist, a breathable, lightweight rain jacket or windbreaker is a must have. A low-quality rain jacket will do just fine for keeping the rain off you, but the inside of the jacket will end up just as wet or wetter than the exterior of the jacket as your sweat accumulates, and your body heat has nowhere to go, making you sweat even more and become even more dehydrated. A lightweight, BREATHABLE rain jacket is worth the investment especially if you plan on frequently hiking for extended periods of time. My current jacket is a Mountain Hardwear Stretch Ozonic jacket – it is fully waterproof, yet breathable, and is crafted using a stretch fabric that allows you to move freely without any restriction. You never know what the weather is going to do when you’re out in the wilderness, and seeing as you may be on top of a mountain, you usually want to plan for the worst.
LifeStraw Water Bottle
Water is the most important necessity for your hike. Without it, you will die (literally, if you hiked for long enough). The hard part though, is bringing enough water to last you the trip. Along some hikes there are no streams or rivers, meaning you need to lug a liter or two (sorry eh, Canadian here) right off the bat. For the hikes that do have water, it may not be drinkable if there are any contaminants upstream. Carrying a LifeStraw with you lets you drink from any water source, filtering out bacteria, silt, and whatever else may be in your water. The Lifestraw filters down to 0.2 microns, meaning it filters out 99.9999% of bacteria (seriously, check the website), and I have no clue what tap water is filtered down to, but 0.2 microns is good enough for me. You can either get the actual LifeStraw, allowing you to fill up a water bottle, and just insert the straw when you want to have a drink, or you can get the LifeStraw Go – a water bottle LifeStraw combination, which allows you to drink from a water bottle as you normally would.
A backpack with a bladder, especially on hikes with no streams or fresh water sources, is a must have. Most standard backpacks can fit a 2.0L bladder no problem, which should be plenty of water for one person on a good hike. If that’s not enough, you should still have lots of room for additional water bottles, not to mention your jacket, sunscreen, bug spray, and lunch. My personal favorite is the Osprey Manta 28 – it has the 2.0L bladder, a mesh screen on the back (so the backpack isn’t resting directly on your back, allowing for air circulation and preventing you from getting too sweaty), a waterproof shell that can be pulled out if it starts raining, tons of pockets, and best of all, A LIFETIME WARRANTY. That’s right, all Osprey bags come with a lifetime warranty, on all aspects of the bag (not just seams, or zippers), for any reason. If you are doing a shorter hike, or more of a hike/run, a smaller Camelback should do the trick, with a couple of pockets for granola bars, and anywhere from a 1-2 L bladder, but a lot less bulk and weight to keep you light and moving. Regardless, a water bladder backpack, and some form of storage device for food, or jackets, or bear spray, or a first aid kit, is almost mandatory on the hiking checklist. Unless you share a backpack, then just make your boyfriend carry everything. That’s what you brought him along for anyways, isn’t it?