Hiking is one of the best outdoor activities to do in the summer, especially if you live near trails and rolling hills. While you don't need to be an athlete or mountaineer to hike, there is a certain level of preparedness to make your adventure stress-free and more enjoyable.
Whether you are a long-time backpacker or trail runner, having the right outdoor essentials is important to get you through the woods. Shop TODAY talked to some expert hikers to prep you with a checklist of necessities to help you gain elevation with confidence. From choosing the perfect pair of hiking shoes to packing the right gear pre-expedition, here are several useful tips to help you conquer that summit without having a hiking degree.
What to bring for hiking
There are several essentials you need when it comes to trekking and traveling uphill. Aside from having the right clothing and shoes, you also need to anticipate the weather conditions and environment for the day.
Mountain performance coach Jason Antin abides by 10 categories for packing before stepping into the wild — the right clothing, water, shelter system, nutrition, first aid kit, sun protection, external battery, multitool (such as a knife), illumination and navigation.
“You definitely want to stay hydrated and bring the right amount of water with you and, in some instances, a way to purify water," says Antin. "For me, I look at how long the day might take and if there are opportunities to get water such as streams and waterfalls.”
Additionally, Antin suggests keeping at least a two-person blanket in your travel backpack as an extra tool for insulation. If you're hiking for hours, Hikerkind co-founders Chelsea Rizzo and Allison Levy recommend bringing a bathroom kit (particularly toothbrush, toothpaste, wipes and hand sanitizer), bug spray and a fire starter such as a lighter.
Hiking gear and accessories to shop
Refresh during the hike with these bathing wipes. The pack comes with eight thick, premoistened towels enriched with aloe vera for ultimate comfort.
"I just completed a 12-day trek to Everest Base Camp where we had no shower facilities. I used 1-2 body wipes each morning to refresh and wipe down my entire body before getting dressed. I never felt dirty," shared one reviewer.
While the national parks have a saying that goes "leave it how you found it," the same can be said of your skin while hiking. Protecting it with sunscreen and bug spray should be the bare minimum, if not something you reapply every couple of hours.
These bug bands eliminate the need to apply bug spray, and can be easily slipped on your wrists and ankles. They last over 200 hours, according to a reviewer who claims that these bands genuinely work.
For a chafe-free hiking experience, opt for this skin protectant from Body Glide. The formula can be applied on your thighs, neck, feet and anywhere your skin experiences chafing. The great thing is that this anti-chafe formula is water- and sweat-resistant for those extra humid stretches.
With no sugar and nine grams of protein, you'll be well fueled on your trek with these beef and turkey sticks. Choose for a six- or eight-pack that includes flavors like jalapeño, salt and pepper venison, pepperoni and Italian style.
If you happen to forget your lunch, these bars will keep you energized throughout your hike. These easy bites are packed with nutrients and enough calories to keep you full for longer treks.
Keep your skin protected against UVA and UVB rays with this zinc-based sunscreen. The formula contains SPF 50 and leaves a hydrating feel without a chalky residue. Also, you can be sure to wear it at the beach thanks to its gentle formulation that's said to keep the coral reefs harm-free, according to the brand.
Your coffee will remain nice and warm for those early morning hikes in this Yeti mug that comes with a handle and a lid so your coffee won't spill. Plus, the handle makes it easy to fasten onto your hiking backpack with a carabiner when you're done.
Shop TODAY senior social media editor Kate McCarthy loves these poles not only because they're lightweight and inexpensive, but because they're versatile and "perfect for people who are just getting started who don't want to invest too much," she said.
Included in this pack is eight different attachments, which work wonders when going skiing and these are sitting in your backseat.
If you need a nap during your hike, take a rest in the wilderness with this sleeping pad. The inflatable mat is made of waterproof material and features thermal insulation for temperatures as low as 32 degrees Fahrenheit.
One Amazon reviewer rated this pad five stars for its durable feature. "I was overly impressed with the size, thickness, ease to blow up/deflate and small size to fit on a bike, backpack or motorcycle. I blew it up in Colorado, slept on it for 3 nights with no loss of air at any time."
Whether you need a little pick-me-up in the middle of a 14'er or you're aching for a caffeine break once you reach the top of the peak, reach for this portable coffee maker. Enjoying your coffee couldn't be easier, as this set also includes a mug with a lid, so you can truly take it on-the-go.
Reviewers love this because it "packs down nicely" and "cleans easily."
If your hike leads you to an amazing destination that also happens to include two trees, take a minute to set up camp and enjoy the view with this hammock. Available in both single or double, depending on if you want space to share with a friend, this one comes with everything you need, including straps, a carrying case and two carabiners.
Stay hydrated with this water bottle when going the extra mile. The Hydro Flask features a straw lid that is easy to sip without having to tilt your head back. It comes in nine different colors and sizes that are convenient to carry for easy sipping.
Pack all your hiking essentials in this ultra-lightweight and collapsible backpack from Away. This carry-all baggage combines recyclable materials and a water-resistant fabric you can bring to all your adventures. The backpack also features lightly padded shoulder straps to easily carry on while climbing a hill.
Never run out of water with this water filter featuring a three-pound reservoir. The collapsible bag is easy to pack and store for easy filtering.
For unexpected cold weather, snuggle into this recycled blanket. The puffy piece is made with synthetic fabric and a quilting pattern that will keep you warm. Also, it's easy to pack and store in your small backpack.
"It is much more comfortable and allows me to move freely without feeling trapped/zipped in. I’ve used it in as low as 40-degrees weather comfortably," said one customer.
What to wear for hiking in summer
Summer weather can be humid, sticky and sweltering, but one thing expert hikers agree on is avoiding one type of fabric when hiking: cotton. "We tend to stay away from cotton because it absorbs and holds water. Basically, it holds it in the fiber and if you're going to a higher elevation, it can make you colder," shares Rizzo.
Instead, you'll want moisture-wicking fabrics and weather-proof materials that will keep help you withstand abrupt changes with the forecast. "Also, you want recycled synthetic materials with antimicrobial properties that will extend the functionality and build your endurance and sports activities with these treatments," adds Rizzo.
One of the best materials for hiking is merino wool or merino-blend because they're known to be breathable. As for the outfitting when preparing to go on a hike, Levy recommends donning a base and mid layers and keeping an outer layer in your backpack for when it gets chilly outside. While some people opt for leggings when hiking, Levy and Rizzo prefer trousers and shorts because they're more comfortable and less constricting.
Hiking clothes to shop
Make a statement with these patterned socks peeking out of your hiking boots or tennis shoes while preventing blisters at the same time. Aptly named, these socks are 'darn tough,' meaning they won't wear or tear, no matter how long you wear them. These socks were made out of merino wool to provide a breathable and lightweight option for long hikes.
For a more elevated look, opt for this sleeveless shirt from Jack Wolfskin. The sleeveless shirt is perfect for long, hot summer days and offers moisture-wicking properties to stay dry throughout the day.
Your feet also need protection and these crew socks are made with a wool-blend fabric, which is naturally thermoregulating and soft on your skin.
This merino wool shirt is made from renewable wood pulp and feels light on the skin. The top is super breathable and can be worn off trail for a relaxed hang out with your friends.
Protect your scalp and parts of your face from harsh sun rays thanks to this lightweight hat from North Face (and the built-in UPF 40 protection). With four different colors to choose from, you can opt for a neutral or for a pop of color in your hiking outfit.
"I bought this super cute hat to keep the sun off of my face and shoulders, but I was also able to slip a bug net over top while hiking through some damp wet mountain forest," said one reviewer.
Feel lightweight while protecting your skin with this UPF 50+ fabric that shields against UV rays. The shirt also has antimicrobial treatment, a three-panel hood and thumbholes to hold the shirt in place.
Whoever said hiking clothing wasn't cute hasn't met Outdoor Voices. This functional pair of shorts features a water-resistant TerraStretch fabric with a secret back pocket to keep your keys.
If you prefer a tighter fit, these lightweight pants are water-resistant, durable and form-fitting for a comfortable hike. The pants combine a mix of TUFFLITE, nylon, polyester and spandex with 186 GSM (a thicker fabric) for optimal endurance.
Available in eight different colors, choose to stand out on your hike in pants that are as relaxed as one can get while climbing. Made with nylon, these pants prove to be durable and versatile. Reviewers of all heights dub these as "the best pants ever," as they come in a cropped length, meaning you won't be tripping over excess fabric.
These pants feel more elevated than your traditional trousers. Aside from featuring a classic design, the lightweight pair is designed for warm weather and all your outdoor activities like camping, climbing and hiking.
For a more relaxed fit, wear these high-rise joggers featuring enough pockets and zipper to keep quick snacks at hand. The pair are made with an abrasion-resistant fabric in case you get caught with any twigs.
How to choose hiking shoes
Choosing the right shoes and fit for hiking will determine your performance. According to Antin, a pair of trail runners and sneakers are great for most conditions.
"The only circumstances you're going to need a hiking boot is if you need warmth for your feet, you need them to be waterproof and the last component is that it needs to be compatible with some sort of traction," Antin says.
"One of the things I advise is that the ankles are in good shape because the trails will certainly require to use muscles that you may not be using," he added.
This Runner's World award-winning pair comes in seven different colors and feature the brand's FootShape Fit technology to allow room for your toes. The pair is great for most terrains and trails while featuring a grippy MaxTrac outsole.
Looking for a water-resistant sneaker? This pair has a quick-dry upper, anti-odor lining and MultiGrip outsole to keep your feet protected through unexpected puddles.
Shop TODAY commerce editor Julie Ricevuto swears by these boots because she feels "super supported while hiking all kinds of trails, from desert-type routes to wooded areas."
With a mesh upper and interior lining, your feet won't feel trapped by the material, and instead be given room to breathe. This waterproof pair is available in five colors and two different widths, depending on if you have wide or narrow feet.
Post-hike essentials to shop
Pretty comparable to the real deal, these sandals will give your feet a chance to breathe after being trapped in boots for several hours. Reviewers love these sandals because they're "comfortable," "adjustable" and they "feel secure" while walking around thanks to the ankle strap.
Wind down after dinner with a game of Uno Wilderness that features the same cards we've become used to, but with photos of trails, geysers and the night sky on them.
After his engagement ended, Knighton vowed to do the unimaginable: visit every national park in the span of a year. Nonetheless, he did it and wrote about it so you can relish in the beautiful hikes and lessons learned while you're on a hiking hiatus.
If your legs feel a little like gelatin once you've reached the bottom, treat them to some TLC with this foam roller. It has a variety of ridges and dents, perfect for utilizing different muscle groups and parts of your body. For one without ridges, this inexpensive roller from Target is an option as well.
Meet the experts
- Jason Antin is a Colorado-based trainer and certified coach specializing in mountaineering and the co-founder of Beat Monday.
- Chelsea Rizzo is a co-founder of the women's outdoor apparel brand Hikerkind and expert hiker.
- Allison Levy is a co-founder of Hikerkind and former stylist who worked in the fashion industry for 10 years.