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Hiking essentials: what you need to take on the trails, for short walks or multiday treks

Hiking essentials
(Image credit: Getty)

The hiking essentials you take with you can, in extreme cases, mean the difference between life and death. Whether you are heading out for an afternoon stroll through the woods or tackling a gnarly mountain ridge, having the right gear will certainly go a long way to keeping you safe and comfortable. It will also hopefully enhance the quality of your outdoor experience. Here are Advnture’s top hiking essentials that will ensure you have the best possible time on the trail.

Clothing

A layering system is super important for helping you to manage your body temperature and keep you protected; the clothing you choose to wear is key. Many hikers start with a wicking baselayer against their skin, which helps with moisture management. Merino wool is a popular fabric of choice.

Next, adding an insulation layer or two will help with temperature management. This could take the form of a fleece, or synthetic/down jacket. Finally, a waterproof layer for both your upper and lower body will help to keep you secure from biting winds and dry from rain or snow.

Don’t forget about your extremities either. Adding a pair of gloves or two into your pack, plus a woolly beanie/sun hat will help to keep you feeling good and moving.

It’s always worth carrying an extra light long-sleeve top (a spare baselayer), just in case you get wet.

Footwear

The boots you choose to wear will depend on the landscape you will be moving through and the type of activity you are doing on the trail. Many folk enjoy wearing trail running shoes when walking with a light pack on fast tracks, as they allow the user to move quickly and swiftly. However, they often provide little support and minimal cushioning, which can be essential for foot protection over longer distances or when working with a heavier load.

Boots do this job well. When purchasing boots always try before you buy and do consider going at least half a size larger than your usual fit. Our feet naturally swell when we are exercising, so the extra space will help to reduce friction points and hot spots. Also analyse the type of support and flexibility of the boot in the ankle, the design of the sole, which should be grippy and hard wearing, and the type of fabric. Leather is generally more resilient and lasts for longer, but synthetic boots are often more breathable and lighter to wear.

Backpack

Carrying everything on your back is an immensely rewarding feeling, but choosing a backpack can be a little overwhelming. Generally daypacks are around 30 litres, though in truth, if a pack fits well and holds all of your kit, then you’re in business.  If you want to go higher-spec, consider what features you might like: hip pockets, space for a water bladder, a ‘floaty frame’ to avoid a sweaty back and so on. Try not to let any technical jargon bamboozle you and always try before you buy.

(Image credit: Getty)

Navigating on the trail has traditionally been done using a map and compass, and I am a big advocate of these. Having a basic navigational competency – knowing how to use a compass or how to read a map – will significantly enhance the quality of your time on the trail, and will likely keep you safe. You can easily pick up some skills by taking a National Navigation Award Scheme or Mountain Training course.

Many folk choose to bring GPS units along with them, or use mobile apps such as Viewranger or OS Maps. These are fantastic tools to help keep you on track, but do always consider the length of battery life and signal access. Having a paper map with you might just cover you in the event of a technological emergency.

Emergency kit

Why take a first aid kit? It is easy to overlook their importance. They can be bulky and heavy and often remain untouched, but I always carry a decent first aid kit with me because I like to be prepared – both in the event of injuring myself, or coming across someone who needs help.

Even if you choose to take a very simple homemade first aid kit, containing some basic medication, sun protection and plasters – it’s better than nothing.  A space blanket is a very good and extremely light addition (invaluable if you need to keep someone warm while you seek help), and disposable gloves are essential for keeping you safe from infection when treating someone else. Always make sure you know how to use everything in your kit.

Even if you don’t plan to be out after dark, a torch or headlamp is another essential emergency piece of kit, just in case things don’t go to plan. They can also be used for signalling for help and attracting attention if things go seriously wrong.

Sometimes bringing an emergency shelter can also be appropriate, especially in remote and challenging terrain, or if you intend on spending all day in the mountains.

Trekking poles

Not everyone would consider a trekking pole an essential item for hiking, but they can really help with stability when you’re walking with a pack, and they help spread the stress and weight-bearing duties away from your knees and ankles. All this helps you to hike more efficiently, so you can walk further and feel better.