Whether you’re going on your first trek or you’re an experienced hiker, “what gear do I need for hiking?” is never an easy question to answer. There are so many different factors at play, and so many different products on the market at a range of price points, that it can be hard to know where to start. But if you feel like you’re getting overwhelmed, or that your spending spree might bust your budget, we’re here to help.
This guide will give you helpful advice on how to make sure you get the must-have hiking gear for your needs. In particular, we’ll focus on how your personal preferences and the characteristics of your planned hike can influence your buying decisions.
What gear do you need for hiking?
A good hike or trek can throw a lot of curveballs at you along the way, so being prepared for every eventuality is essential. That means the list of things you’ll need to take is extensive: backpack, footwear, clothing, waterproofs, headgear, medical supplies, provisions and much more. For a more detailed explanation of what to take with you, read our full guide on what to take on a hiking or trekking holiday.
Different kit for different hikes
No two hikes are the same. If you’re walking through the Austrian Alps, for example, then your needs and requirements are going to be very different to a summer trek in Greece. So when you start to formulate your hiking gear shopping list, make sure you do so in the context of the following:
Distance and duration
How long you’re going to be out for, and how far you’re travelling has a big part to play in your gear selection. If you’re going on day hikes and staying in proper accommodation at the same base each evening, then you just need some spares and supplies in a day bag, and some changes of clothes at the hotel. A multi-day hike, however, is more complicated as you may need to factor in a tent, a sleeping bag, food, cooking equipment, and clothing for when the temperature drops at night. In any case, you’ll want to keep weight down as much as you can for longer hikes.
Weather and seasons
This is always a tricky one to judge. You don’t want to be too hot, too cold, too wet or too sweaty. Neither do you want to carry more stuff than you need, but equally you need to be prepared for weather conditions that can change quickly. This is definitely an area where you should seek advice from people who have hiked in your intended destination at the same time of year you have. They should be able to help you perfect the appropriate packing strategy for all realistic eventualities.
Terrain and difficulty
Meandering across fields and meadows is a very different proposition to rocky outcrops and mountain passes, and so there is plenty of divergence in hiking gear that you’ll need. You should make sure that your feet in particular are protected and comfortable (more on that in the next section), and that you have any specialist equipment you need for particular obstacles, such as glaciers or areas that need climbing.
Must-have hiking gear for your personal preferences
One area where many people go wrong when buying hiking gear (or kit for any sport, for that matter) is to assume that something that is more expensive is automatically going to be better. While higher-priced goods are more likely to last longer, they might not be comfortable enough for you specifically, which is why it makes more sense to shop around. Areas where you should priorities your personal preferences include:
The comfort of your boots can make or break an entire hike. They’re the difference between an enjoyable experience where you can focus on the scenery around you, and ending up in constant pain and wishing you were back at home.
Everyone has their own preferences when it comes to footwear, but there are some general guidelines that are worth following for different types of hike. For winter time or rugged terrain, look for stiffer soles, plenty of ankle support, insulation and waterproofing. For shorter, gentler trips without lots of rocky sections, you’ll ideally want lighter more flexible boots – or even hiking shoes – that have more ‘give’ for your feet.
You should also consider how much time you have to ‘break’ shoes in before going on your trip: the more rugged boots will need longer.
Every boot needs a sock inside it, and the consequences of making the wrong choice here can be just as severe as buying the wrong boots.
Firstly, you should make sure that the socks come up to the height of the top of your footwear at the very least, and probably higher to give you some protection against abrasions. You may want to consider knee-high socks if you’re going somewhere especially cold.
The socks should feel fairly snug when you put them on, but without being too tight. At the same time, socks that are too big can get wrinkled up, which can very easily lead to blisters. Sock material comes down to personal choice, and while Merino wool socks have a reputation for itchiness, many modern versions are actually blended with synthetic materials to solve this problem.
Hiking poles come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, in order to cater for all shapes and sizes of hiker. Ideally, the length of your poles should be equal with the height of your shoulders: when at rest, if your poles are facing down vertically with the tips on the floor, your arms should be straight out in front of you at a 90-degree angle.
Adjustability is also an important part of choosing the right poles, especially if the terrain of your hike is going to be particularly varied. Adjustable poles allow you to make them longer when going downhill and shorter when going uphill, so that you still get maximum support from them even when the route ahead of you evolves. If you’re planning a relatively simple hike, however, you may be fine with fixed poles, or possibly not taking poles at all.
This is one of the areas that you can definitely get right before you go. Everyone prefers some materials to others with different types of clothes, so that they feel comfortable even if they begin to sweat, and so that they don’t suffer from any itchiness or chafing.
It can be an especially uncomfortable issue with regards to underwear. If you’re planning on buying special undies for hiking, buy one pair and try them for a few days to see if you get on with them before buying as many pairs as you need for the trip.
Sustainability is playing a greater part in all of our lives. And as someone who wants to explore nature on a hike, you may feel particularly strongly about reducing the environmental impact of your tourism: making sustainable hiking gear choices is a good way of doing that.
There are two ways to embrace sustainability in this area. The first is to research the sustainability credentials of the products you want to buy. Have they been made from recycled materials? Do they carry the Bluesign certification that confirms that the use of harmful substances in the production process have been minimised?
The second is to avoid buying new hiking gear completely. Instead, you can re-use any gear you already have (including making repairs if needed), or buying good-quality second-hand kit so that you can contribute to the circular economy.
Get trekking insurance with SportsCover Direct
If you’re going on a hiking trip, then you’ll naturally be putting in a substantial amount of money, not only for the kit listed above but also for your travel and accommodation while you’re away. It’s therefore vital to take steps to protect that investment, and make sure you don’t end up out of pocket if unforeseen circumstances occur – and that means taking out specialist hiking and trekking insurance.
At SportsCover Direct, we’ve been insuring intrepid adventurers just like you for more than a quarter of a century, and our policies cover all your bases. We can support you financially if your luggage is lost, stolen or damaged; if your travel plans are disrupted; if you suffer an accident or injury and need emergency rescue; and if you require healthcare over and above the limits of your European or Global Health Insurance Card.
Our cover costs just a tiny fraction of the overall price of your trip, but gives you the peace of mind to go adventuring with confidence. Take a moment today and explore our hiking and trekking insurance policies in detail.