I’ve been hiking in earnest since 2008, and my gear has naturally evolved over time.
I try to reflect the state of the gear at the time of the hike in each post. Here’s what I’m using now.
All my hiking packs are Camelbak hydration packs with removable bladders.
My default pack, and the pack I use for hikes of 5+ miles, is the CamelBak Aventura. It has a 3-liter bladder, a nice array of pockets and pouches, expands for stuffing clothes into the pack, or strapping down to it, as you de-layer, and it has a wide hip belt to offload the pack weight from your shoulders. That hip belt is a necessity for me.
For short hikes where I don’t need a lot of food and water, I have a 2-liter CamelBak Blowfish. It expands for stuffing, but it doesn’t have external tie-down straps for bulky items like jackets, nor side pockets, and the belt is only slightly better than nothing. The weight I intend to carry is the determining factor in pack choice for me.
For walks when I want to feel footloose and fancy free, and need zero storage, and am confident that I won’t have any medical emergencies, I have a 1.5 liter Hydrobak (not in lime green with cool hexagons, regrettably).
I use a neoprene insulated drinking tube cover year-round. It prevents freezing in the winter and keeps the water that’s waiting in the tube a little cooler in the summer.
On the left vertical strap of my pack, I have a Timbuk2 phone pouch (mine is lime green, neener). It wraps around a vertical strap with velcro, so it’s easy to move from pack to pack. It has a slim pocket for money/cards. It fits an iPhone 6 in a skinny case. Yes, I have an iPhone 6 in 2021. It’s completely adequate, thank you for asking.
I take the pouch regardless of whether I’m wearing a jacket or hoodie with a pocket — I want the phone to be accessible for photography and route-checking even if I get too warm for my outer garment and stuff it in my pack.
When I need to charge the phone during a hike due to poor cell reception and use of the GPS to track my position, a 3-foot right-angle phone charger just barely fits inside the Timbuk2 phone pouch and reaches to a USB power brick stashed in my pack.
I’ve been an AllTrails Pro subscriber since 2019. The subscription lets you download a map with the trail already marked and track your progress on your phone without a cellular connection. This is the best $30/year I spend as (a) all the good mountains are out of cell range and (b) some parks are not into trail markers (California, Patapsco Valley).
Regardless of whether you subscribe, the user base is pretty active about leaving reviews of current trail conditions, parking, and closures, which is awesome.
I use cheap, generic collapsible trekking poles that feel 90% as sturdy as my Black Diamond Ergo Cork trekking poles, but cost much less and fit in my daypack and any size luggage. They even have twist-off ends that reveal a metal spike for slippery trails.
After rejecting at least two different pairs of hiking boots and shoes per year for several years, my feet have settled on Hoka One Ones. I have to wear bandaids to lessen blister creation in a couple of spots, but that’s nothing compared to the pain I endured with other brands.
I wear trail running shoes. I am definitely not a trail runner, but I need the low-top shoes. Anything that endeavors to provide ankle support is an automatic no for my feet.
Dry Hiking Shoes
Wet Hiking Shoes
I wear Injinji Trail Midweight Mini Crew Toesocks year-round. They help with blisters. Could they be cooler in the summer? Yes, but I’m hiking in the sweltering Maryland humidity cesspool, and I haven’t died of overheated feet yet. I do carry flip flips to immediately change into after summer hikes.
For snow and cold mud situations, I wear cheap, generic waterproof nylon gaiters. I looked at the reviews on the $70+ brand-name gaiters, and they were mediocre, so I rolled the dice on some cheap no-name gaiters on Amazon. $20 gaiters are a-okay.
The lace hooks were a feature that stood out to me as very desirable when reviewing the options. They’re completely unnecessary with nylon gaiters: the under-foot straps aren’t going to let the gaiter rotate, and the cloth is stiff, so the bottom of the gaiter isn’t going to move. The lace hooks on mine are pinched so tight that I can’t get them around my laces. Don’t worry about the presence or lack of lace hooks when researching waterproof gaiters. (The soft summer gaiters may behave differently, I have not worn them.)
Kahtoola microspikes are FANTASTIC for the level of snow and ice we get in the mid-Atlantic. They aren’t crampons, and you probably shouldn’t go ice-climbing in them.
They come up comparatively high around your shoe and have textured rubber that makes them extra grippy, and the rubber is thick and strong. I have to use two hands to pull the backs to get them out and over my heels. The band that hugs the top perimeter of your foot is the only rubber portion — the rest is metal.
You feel like a wild animal wearing them. I am not responsible if you find yourself growling at other hikers.
They’re good for any soft traction situation. You don’t want to wear them on pavement, but they’ll be great for mud, slippery gravel, and to some extent fall leaves.
My favorite base layer is a C9 by Champion tee that Champion only sold at Target, and Target appears to have ended their Champion collaboration, which is a loss for us all. This one looks similar.
I prefer a crew neck on my base layer so that the chest strap on my pack can’t rub on my skin. I wear a short-sleeved tee even in the summer so that no part of my pack can chafe my bare skin.
Additional Top Layers
Atop the short-sleeved tee, I layer a long-sleeved tee shirt. Atop the long-sleeved tee, a hoodie of appropriate weight (fleece in the winter, light cotton in the early spring/late fall). If it’s really cold (below freezing), I’ll bring along, but probably not actually wear, a North Face Pitaya 2 fleece-lined windbreaker. It’s surprisingly warm for such a little thing, provides some rain protection, and squishes down into a relatively small bundle.
My favorite cold weather hiking pants are the totally-not-even-slightly-waterproof (that’s what gaiters are for) Hanes Women’s EcoSmart Petite Open Bottom Leg Sweatpants. They’re comfortable at least as far down to a few degrees below freezing.
In the fall, I wear these out-of-print Lole Refresh quick-dry pants.
Ears, Head, Hands
My head gets hot easily, so it’s got to be really cold before I’ll put on a hat, and really really cold for me to wear it while exerting, but my ears want coverage below 50 degrees, so I always have Sprigs Earbags in the winter. If your ears get too warm, they pop into any small pocket, taking up less space than ear muffs or a headband. I have a pair in each of my cold weather jackets.
Below freezing, even I may want the occasional head covering while hiking. I carry a lightweight breathable knit beanie similar to this. No cuff, no tassels, no poms (which is tragic, I know, but I want it to take up no space when not in use). It’s loose enough to wear over my ear bags if it’s extra cold or windy out.
I wear Springs Multi-Mitts convertible fleece mittens so I can poke at my phone, open food, and generally futz with things without taking them off.
I bought an insulated food jar in the hopes of having hot food on the trail in winter. A very leaky insulated food jar. If you want soup, this is not the jar for you. It keeps soup steaming for hours in 40-degree weather, but you have to rubber band a cloth over the top and put in a gallon ziplock bag or you’ll have a soupy pack. I use it to take hot oatmeal in the car on a long drive to a hike and eat the oatmeal shortly before arrival.