Top 5 Essential Hiking Items to Have on You (At All Times!)
~Contributing writer, Jamie Stone, Outdoorish
Making a checklist for hiking is always fun, but more often than not, hikers tend to bring an awful lot of unnecessary items. Fuzz drinks can be tasty, but they offer little hydration; a machete may be more useful than a hatchet unless you plan to stop by and make camp. Hiking groups rarely need more than a single first aid kit within their party inventory.
The question arises, what items are essential for hiking, and what items are only weighing you down? Today we’ll discuss the top 5 essential hiking items to have on you at all times, so without any further ado, let’s dive straight in:
1. A comfortable, breathable pair of shoes
Hiking is basically synonymous with long walks on trails/footpaths, which means that your feet will take the bulk of the stress. While mountaineers and survival enthusiasts typically need sturdy, weatherproof boots, hikers usually don’t need the extra burden weighing them down.
Comfort is conditioned by a proper fit and minimal weight, as well as subjective preference. Some people like weightier boots, other hikers prefer lightweight shoes. Keep in mind that you will most likely have to step over tall grass, rocks, twigs, and similar natural obstacles, so a pair of flimsy training sneakers may not be suitable for the event ahead.
Breathability is equally important as comfort. Constricted feet will get stressed faster, resulting in tingling sensations, pain, and potential mobility issues.
Cotton may be superior to other shoe materials in terms of breathability, but it’s also the flimsiest. Polypropylene is fairly balanced between these two aspects, but it’s almost useless in summer due to its high susceptibility to UV degradation.
2. A water bottle
While we can go on without food for a few days, humans can’t really survive too long without water. This is even more pronounced during summertime when dehydration is a constant risk that needs to be prevented rather than fixed.
A single bottle of water should be enough to get beginner hikers through a relatively short trail. However, it won’t suffice for the longer hiking trails. Keeping another bottle in your backpack is generally a good idea, as it won’t weigh you down too much, but it will occupy quite a bit of your storage space.
Food and beverages should be kept inside the pack at all times during summertime, as strong sun rays can quickly ruin your meals and make the water less refreshing.
Additionally, some of your hiking mates may have forgotten to bring any water with them, asking you to share. Even without the pandemic risks of sharing food and beverages, having less than a liter of water per person may lead to dehydration on most hiking events.
That’s where a portable water filter could come in handy. Essentially, these devices remove impurities from most water sources (be it lakes or puddles in the middle of the road), allowing you to refill your water supply on the fly.
Given that the market is full of all kinds of portable water filters, consider models that don’t require any setup and that are as easy to use as possible. In terms of capacity, even the cheapest low-end filters can be used to purify at least 100 gallons of water throughout their lifespan.
3. Pocket Knife
Without any doubt, pocket knives are the most versatile tools a camper, hiker, or trekker can have on themself. A pocket knife can be used to open food cans, prepare meals, cauterizing wounds with a heated blade, and defend yourself and your party from potential threats. Fortunately, the vast majority of hiking trails are safe from wildlife, but always keep your eyes open for any signs that point out otherwise.
In essence, a lightweight pocket knife can substitute for a dozen of heavy tools that you may have considered bringing along. Furthermore, one of the reasons why it’s so useful is due to the fact that you can reach it within seconds (as opposed to axes, hatchets, and most bladed tools). It’s also substantially easier to handle and requires little to no practice.
The ability to create fire in mere seconds is invaluable to campers and can be remarkably useful to hikers who don’t intend to sleep in the wilderness. Aside from lighting a fire to prepare meals, it can provide a decently reliable source of light at nighttime, and it can be used to heat the blade of your pocket knife to dress wounds.
While butane-fueled lighters are generally cheaper, it’s advisable to use Zippo lighters instead. Butane lighters aren’t particularly useful if the wind picks up, and they are generally not as dependable as Zippo ones.
Always exercise caution when using lighters outdoors, as ignition sparks can set dry leaves aflame in certain situations.
If you intend to set out on a hiking trail for the first time, it’s easy to get lost, especially in wood thickets and footbeds of massive mountains. While it’s true that you can simply backtrack to the trail if you notice you’ve drifted away in time, some hikers realize they’re lost a bit late.
With little else but rocks and trees as reference points, navigating your way through unknown paths can be tricky, very tiring, and remarkably time-consuming. A compass can help you stick to one direction at the very least.
A good alternative to a compass is a GPS system, although there’s a completely different set of drawbacks tied to its use. While GPS navigation systems can pinpoint your exact location and show you the closest way to the nearest settlements, there’s a chance that you’ve gone so far off the grid that the satellite simply can’t compute an optimal path, rendering a GPS as useful as a plain map in a digital format.
Using GPS and maps is usually best with a compass in hand. Compasses are designed to be accurate at all times while digital devices can malfunction. Maps aren’t that useful if you can’t pinpoint your exact location, although they can provide an overview of your surroundings.
We hope that this brief guide was useful to you and that you have learned something new today on essential hiking items worthy of your attention. Make sure you are staying safe in these times we are all going through and have a good one, guys!