Hiking is a wonderful hobby for all ages due to its low cost of entry for anyone who wants to get outside. However, there are some key items that you need to make every hike enjoyable, safe and successful. Not everything from this page is needed to hike, nor do you need the most expensive gear to enjoy the outdoors. Depending on your terrain, season and ability, you should consider these key pieces of gear as some of your first — and best — investments.
WHAT TO WEAR WHEN HIKING — THE BASICS
No denim jeans! Cotton is inefficient at moisture wicking and drying, so it keeps you hot and sweaty in warm weather and keeps you cold in cool weather. In colder weather, you’re at higher risk for hypothermia with cotton next to your skin. And denim jeans are heavier when wet and don’t move with you well, making them miserable to hike in after a while.
Sturdy shoes: You don’t have to have the most expensive boots, but your footwear should provide great support, protection from rocks and roots, and provide traction on wet and dry surfaces. A good pair of hiking shoes or boots need to align with where and how you hike and are one of the most important purchases you make in hiking gear.
Brimmed hat: This must-have keeps your head protected from rain and keeps that Texas sun out of your eyes.
Pants: Make sure they’re comfortable yet sturdy. Trails have twists, turns, climbs and scrambles, so you need to be able to move freely. Thorny vegetation and boulders can tear thin, stretchy tights or yoga pants.
Underwear: Polyester, nylon or merino wool undergarments move sweat off your skin and dry fast, so they’re ideal for base layers (next-to-skin) such as briefs, tees, sports bras or long underwear, and socks. Because they manage moisture well, these materials work well for all the rest of your clothing as well.
Warm jacket: Polyester fleece works great for this, though a puffy jacket (with a polyester fill or water-resistant down inside), is smart for colder conditions.
Rain jacket: “Waterproof/breathable” is the key phrase, meaning it will block rain and wind, but will also let you sweat without feeling like you’re wearing a plastic bag. In seriously wet weather, wear rain pants, too.
FOOTWEAR & ATTIRE
Before you order any footwear online, we highly recommend that you visit your nearest REI store or other local outfitter to speak to a knowledgeable sales associate about your needs and to physically try on hiking shoes. Hiking shoes range from trail runners to low-cut hiking shoes to mid-cut day hiking boots to high-cut backpacking boots, and all kinds of weather proofing. When shopping for footwear to use primarily on Texas trails, think about lightweight and breathable shoes that will provide the best support and traction. These tend to be mid-cut boots that have good ankle support and integrated breathable mesh that keep your feet cool and quickly dry if you happen to splash through water.
Your attire should focus on coverage, moisture wicking materials, and comfort. There are a lot of options these days for clothing from the stereotypical gym wear, athleisure wear, and technical attire for different situations. For low-mileage day hiking, you can wear anything you’d take a walk in around the park, but we recommend you steer clear of denim jeans. The heavy cotton will be hotter and remain wet longer with water or sweat. If you plan on longer hikes, moisture wicking materials are a must to keep you cool and dry, no matter the season or temperature.
For shorter hikes, backpacks aren’t really needed if all you’re carrying is a water bottle. But for those of us who carry more than a water bottle on short hikes (guilty) and for anyone who is planning on spending a few hours or days on the trail, a backpack is as important as a good a pair of shoes. For a short hike, you don’t need anything too special—just make sure it’s comfortable and something you can carry for short distances.
If spending more time on the trail is your goal, you will want to buy a specialized pack that was made for hiking. When buying a hiking backpack, make sure it has room for water bottles or has an integrated water bladder system (most hiking packs will have this). Daypacks will be comfortable and have plenty of room for snacks, sunscreen, hats, and anything else you’d want to bring along for your hike.
For those looking to trek long miles and camp overnight in the backcountry, we are big fans of Osprey and the REI brand and their larger packs specifically engineered for multi-day backpacking trips. We highly recommend trying backpacks out in person in-store and asking the sales rep to help you add some weight to the bag. You’ll need to feel and test a bag while its loaded with weight to really understand what kind of experience it will provide you.
Whether you’re 25 or 65, hitting the trail can lead to sore legs, feet, and knees — and the stress that causes the soreness can have long term consequences, especially for long-time hikers. How do you mitigate this? Trekking poles! The advantages and benefits of hiking with poles are almost endless, but the main reasons we use them is to combat sore muscles and increase our stability on the trail. Once considered just for older folks, trekking poles are being widely used among weekend warriors, thru hikers, and backpackers of all ages.
Trekking poles should be an important part of your equipment if you’re serious about hiking. They can enable you to travel faster and more safely, and here’s why:
- Trekking poles allow your arms to help propel you forward and upward, and also control downward motion. This is the case on flat ground or up steep hills, helping increase your average speed and stability.
- Poles reduce the impact on your legs, knees, ankles, and feet — especially when going downhill — by reducing the compressive force on your knees.
- Using poles can help establish a consistent rhythm in your step, which in turn can increase your speed. This is especially true on flat terrain.
- With poles, you can deflect overgrown or thorny vegetation and spider webs, which makes your hike more comfortable.
- Poles provide an extra two points of contact, which improves your traction on surfaces like mud, loose rocks, and even snow.
Between aluminum or carbon fiber poles, we recommend the latter. Carbon fiber poles are extremely strong when loaded vertically, and are the lightest type of pole on the market.
LIGHTINGWith lighting, hands-free is key! The benefits of a headlamp go beyond lighting the trail in front of you — set up your tent at night, look for something in a darkened space, and even hang them like a small lantern. Headlamps are very lightweight, comfortable, and use LEDs which are rugged, energy-efficient and long-lasting.
BEAM TYPEFlood (wide beam): useful for general camping, cooking or reading. Flood beams illuminate your immediate vicinity well.
Spot (narrow beam): great for long-distance viewing, as it throws light in a more focused beam that is far-reaching. In most cases, this is a better choice for navigating a trail in the dark. Plenty of mid-range headlamp models will allow you to toggle between flood and spot modes and adjust the brightness of these modes, making them the most versatile.
LIGHT OUTPUT (LUMENS)The brightness of a headlamp is measured in lumens. Typically, a higher lumens count means the headlamp will consume energy faster than a light with a lower lumens number. While lumens tell you how bright a headlamp glows, the beam distance tells you how far the usable light reaches in front of you.
ADDITIONAL FEATURESTilt: allows you to position the headlamp unit up or down to exactly where you want it.
Night Vision: a red light mode that helps preserve your night vision and reduces eye strain. This is useful when stargazing or viewing at a map up close in the dark.
Strobe/Flash: acts as an emergency blinker or beacon.
Pro tip: pack extra batteries (especially in cold weather) in case you need to replace them mid-hike, and even bring along a small flashlight as a backup.