The Best Outdoor Gear You Can Buy, According to Lifelong Hikers
There are endless ways to travel — by train or by plane, tuk-tuk or taxi. By bus or by rideshare. But the original mode of transportation required no gas, passport, or boarding pass: walking.
Though making your way from point A to point B on foot takes much longer, many adventurers choose to see the beauty of the planet by hiking. There's the Inca Trail in Peru and the Camino De Santiago spanning three European countries, Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, and the ambitious Appalachian and Pacific Crest Trails in the U.S. — every mountain offers a new view, a different challenge, and, hopefully, a renewed respect for Mother Nature.
But distance hiking is no cake walk. That’s why dedicated, lifelong trekkers have become experts at packing the right items. Comfortable hiking shoes, hydration packs, eye drops, power banks, and more game-changing gear can all make the journey far more enjoyable.
Take a page from the trail books of these frequent hikers and bring along these outdoor essentials for the next time the mountains call your name.
Teton Sports Oasis 1100 Two-liter Hydration Backpack
There’s hiking on your own — and then there's taking the family along for the journey, which 40-year-old travel journalist Theresa Hewston knows about firsthand. She's been hiking for more than 20 years, and has explored parts of the world on her own, with her husband, and now with her five children. She’s hiked difficult parts of the American west, including the Grand Canyon to Havasupai Falls in Arizona — a 23-mile stint. While on the trail, she always carries this hydration backpack, since multiple kiddos means more to carry. “Snacks, water, diapers, wipes, a first-aid kit, sunscreen, bear spray, and a snake bite kit are necessities that can all easily fit into this backpack for someone to carry,” she said. And hey, since she’s mom, she usually makes one of the older children haul it most of the way.
To buy: amazon.com, from $35
Leki Micro Vario Black Carbon
As a lifelong thrill-seeker, Mark Tatham has no fear of long distances. His lengthiest hike was split between two countries — Spain and France — when he trekked 1,000 miles of the Camino de Santiago. The South Africa native and current San Diego resident spends as much time as he can outside, whether hiking, paragliding, or biking — all at the age of 55. He swears by Leki's trekking poles, which, as he explained, help him to maintain balance with a heavy backpack. He also added that they decrease pressure on his knees, giving him more strength to climb his way to the highest peak. As a bonus feature, these Leki poles are super-compact and lightweight, making them ideal for multi-mile hikes and flights.
To buy: amazon.com, $190
Vapur Water Bottle
Entrepreneur Katina Mountanos has been heading to the hills since she was a child, and that appetite for exploring nature’s most remarkable places has never faded. Her last name is seemingly appropriate for this 26-year-old trekker, who climbed Mount Kilimanjaro over eight days. While she has a laundry list of accessories and gear that she swears by, one of the most important parts of her hiking routine is staying hydrated. She packs this roll-up water bottle to allow her flexibility and save on space and weight. Since it can easily fit in a backpack, or even a pocket, once she’s finished, she doesn’t have to save room for a bulky jug.
To buy: amazon.com, $12
Cocoon Camping Pillow
Some backpackers may use their pack as a pillow for overnight journeys, but 23-year-old Emily Kent prefers to upgrade — just a bit, anyway. While it might not be necessary, as a lifelong hiker who spent her childhood and early adulthood experiencing some of the most legendary trails like Mount Kilimanjaro and the Salkantay Trail to Machu Picchu, she likes to ensure she is well-rested and ready for the next day ahead. This packable pillow provides quality rest without much hassle. “It packs into a small sack and adds almost no weight to your pack. Definitely worth bringing in order to maximize rest time after long days on the trail,” she said.
To buy: amazon.com, $29
Black Diamond Spot Headlamp
For the past 15 years, photographer and blogger Tim Davis has been feeding his hiking addiction. The 37-year-old traveler continuously sets out for new adventures and has covered impressive stretches of land, including the picturesque Alta Via 1 in the Italian Dolomites, during which he covered 90 miles in a week. As a safety precaution, he never hikes without a headlamp, since many times the wilderness can be unpredictable. “You just never know when a day hike may get extended and you find yourself hiking at night, or worse, an emergency occurs,” he explained. Only weighing a few ounces, this pick delivers a 300-lumen beam that can light up a trail or signal for help.
To buy: amazon.com, from $28
Levi’s Red Bandana
Contrary to popular belief, 41-year-old James Kaiser says a red bandana isn’t just for show or Instagram photos, but serves a purpose on the trail. He should know, considering he’s completed a 10-day hike through Yosemite National Park. He explained that while hiking in hot environments, like a desert, a bandana soaked in cold water and wrapped around your neck is a lifesaver. Or, if your wanderlust sends you to colder regions: “Wrap the bandana around your face (bandit-style) to provide warmth and protection from wind,” he said. If you’re caught in an emergency situation without a first-aid kit, he added that a bandana can serve as a tourniquet to stop bleeding.
To buy: amazon.com, $10
Keen Hiking Shoes
When you set off for the mountains, what do you really need? A backpack, sure. Water, of course. But most importantly: your own two feet. That’s why 37-year-old Bianca Malata-Greenberg says nothing beats a good pair of comfortable hiking boots. “Especially if you are doing great distances, the last thing you need is being uncomfortable or wearing unsuitable shoes for the terrain,” she said. In addition to being waterproof, Malata-Greenberg said the expert cushioning of Keen's shoes mean you are able to walk for longer, free of pain and blisters.
To buy: zappos.com, from $135
CEP Calf Sleeves
It wasn’t until later in life that 57-year-old author Melanie Radzicki McManus got serious about hiking. She made up for lost time though, walking the 1,100-mile Ice Age Trail in Wisconsin not once, but twice. No matter how brief or extended her treks are, though, she makes sure to bring along these multi-purpose compression sleeves. “Whether hiking in warm or cool weather, calf sleeves are a must for me,” she said. “If I'm hiking in shorts, they protect my lower legs from getting scratched and cut on the vegetation. In cool weather, they keep my calves and muscles warm.”
Darn Tough Vermont Socks
If you have ever developed a gnarly blister from sightseeing around a city without the right walking shoes, you know the pain. Now imagine being stuck on the top of a mountain and having to make your way down, one excruciating step at a time. That’s why 54-year-old TJ Frasier who has been hiking for more than half his life, walking up to 20 miles a day, makes sure to choose these durable socks. Since foot comfort can make or break a hike, Frasier hikes with two pairs, just in case one gets wet along the path. Though $20 might seem rather steep for a pair of socks, he said it is far worth the investment. Made of a merino wool blend, they keep you warm while also wicking sweat, and they come with a lifelong warranty. “The added bonus for those putting in a lot of trail miles is wool really cuts down on the stink! Easily the best I’ve ever worn,” he said.
To buy: amazon.com, from $22
For 37-year-old Lucy Holloway, hiking is a serious hobby. Not only has she made her way through the 24-mile Yorkshire Three Peaks in one day, but she has also completed several week-long (or more) adventures, including the Atlas Mountains in Morocco, the Inca Trail in Peru, and others. To ensure she remains healthy and energized, she brings this three-liter hydration pack for all trips. “You’re far less likely to drink enough if you have to keep stopping to get your water out of your bag, then next thing you know you have a dehydration headache,” she explained. Why so big? She said it works for both hot days when you need more H2O, and for cold ones, when you don’t want to have to stop moving to refill.
To buy: amazon.com, $31
REI Flash Pack 18
No matter if he’s hiking or flying, Director of Sales and Partnerships at Dollar Flight Club Kyle Maltz never leaves home without this lightweight pack. While it might not work as well for an extensive hike, he said it is ideal for day hikes or vacations. Not only does it pack up tightly, but it expands to nearly twice its size, giving you room for snacks, sunscreen, a camera, and more. He swears by it so much he often gifts it to friends for the holidays, birthdays, or college graduations.
To buy: rei.com, $40
Garmin inReach Mini
When it comes to relaxation, nothing beats fresh air and verdant views. And for 45-year-old writer Hernan Santiesteban — who has been hiking for more than 25 years — fully relaxing while on the trails requires a solid backbone of safety. He packs this emergency locator to keep his mind at ease and to give himself permission to go off the grid. It features satellite-based distress signal capabilities, including the ability the send texts, download maps, and provide weather forecasts.
To buy: amazon.com, $341
Anker Power Pack
Though his career might be behind a computer, 29-year-old software engineer Alex Vanston’s wanderlust has taken him from the Rockies to the Inca Trail. Among the many items he carries, his power pack is a top choice. In fact, Vanston said that when going on an overnight hike, two things are important: water and power. “Power ensures you have access to a GPS, sometimes even cell service, in case you get lost or need assistance. And almost as importantly, in today's world, power ensures your phone is able to take photos your entire journey, and let's be honest, photos are why you're out here in the first place,” he said.
To buy: amazon.com, from $26
Visine Tears Relief Lubricant Eye Drops
To say 34-year-old Trevor Peschek is a fan of the Great Outdoors is an understatement. As a lifelong hiker, he’s trekked, climbed, and ski-toured more than 100 summits over the past five years, with his longest day hike totaling 24 miles. As a data science lead for Wanderu, he knows many of tech advancements in the travel space, but his go-to hiking pick is classic: eye drops. “Stuff can irritate your eyes on a hike — whether it be some dust that got kicked up, an allergy you were unaware of, or a friend with bad bug spray aim,” he said. “A small bottle of eye drops is hardly any weight and much better than trying to flush out your eyes with your valuable drinking water supply.”
To buy: amazon.com, $10 for a pack of two