Trailspotting Hiking Gear




Last updated: September 2021

One of the joys to hiking is that anyone can start at any time, with what they already own. However, purpose-made gear will reward you in comfort, reliability and safety, so let's get started with a list of my favourite hiking equipment.
For me, the best gear is something that works well for at least a number of years and if I could buy it for life, I probably would. My resulting list of equipment and clothing is somewhat understated, but it’s tested and works well. Links in this article go straight to the manufacturers' websites, and there are no affiliate links involved.

Clothing



Head - I love the UPF 50+ Outdoor Research Radar Pocket Cap mainly because the folding peak makes it very pocketable for casual wear and I prefer the look over a baseball cap. The peak is plastic and holds it's shape even when going through the washing machine

Shirts - Off-brand wicking polo shirts from Amazon. Golf shirts, because that usually means they're slightly longer in the torso. I prefer a nice shade of "please don't shoot the hiker" orange.

Pants - Keeping it light is the way to go - easier to wear, more ventilation, quicker drying. Avoid some of the cheaper brands of hiking pants as they're noisy enough to wake a hibernating bear. Daily wear for both Jenna and me are the Prana Brion and Prana Stretch Zion. I'm also still rocking some even lighter-weight North Face paramount pants that don't want to die, but that company can't ever settle on a design so this version is no longer available.

Footwear - Trail running shoes usually work out the best for me, and mostly New Balance because they’re one of the few brands with a large toe box that have its largest shoes in half sizes. I’d love to find a good pair of waterproof boots, but no luck yet – they’re all either a bad fit (again, no half sizes for the largest shoes) or they’re too narrow in the toe box

Oh, and Darn Tough socks all the way, every day. No exceptions. And if they ever wear out, send them back for a free replacement.

Hydration



The Nalgene 10oz flasks are my go-to container, mostly because they're contoured to fit well in a back pocket or in the side pocket of a bag without bulging out. It might look like vodka, but I definitely only fill them up with water, honestly. On shorter hikes I'll just pocket one or two of these. For longer hikes I supplement with a backpack containing one or more 32 oz Nalgene bottles also. These containers already aren't pricey, but I picked a whole bunch of them up on REI recently for around $3 each. Follow me on twitter and I'll send out a message the next time I see them on sale (because I'll be getting more myself).

Some folk like the backpack bladder water reservoirs, but I'm not one of them - partly because they're difficult to keep clean, and partly because it's hard to manage water usage when I can't visualize how much I'm drinking. Also, I'm testing out a runner's hydration belt and will update this page if I end up using it routinely.

Photography



A recent model iPhone Pro with three lenses. My photography style is more quick snapshots as I move along on the trail. I've tried a DSLR with interchangeable lenses, but they're bulky for a hiker, and I often got frustrated that I had the wrong lens when I wanted to shoot. Also I argue that point and shoots are mostly superseded by smartphone advances at this point. I do use a DJI Mini 2 drone to get a different perspective sometimes (when the minefield of rules allow) but I have mixed feelings about them at best.

On the software side, I use older versions of Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop that are good enough to get the job done. Open source equivalents such as GIMP and Darktable are what I'd probably use if I was starting today, since I'm not a fan of Adobe's modern subscription approach.

Mapping



The AllTrails app with Pro subscription. Back in 2007 when I created Trailspotting.com there were no hiking trail aggregator websites and no smartphone app stores. Maybe it's hubris, but I see echoes of my website in what was to follow - particularly EveryTrail, which was eventually acquired by AllTrails. Some of my content from an EveryTrail partnership still lives on in AllTrails, but I digress.

AllTrails might not be perfect but their smartphone app is extremely reliable for me, and the Pro subscription is worth it for off-line maps and routes. It's also now my primary hike planning tool. I'd recommend downloading the USGS topo layer as a backup since although good, their default map layer has inaccuracies from time to time. In addition to submitting any new hikes I find to AllTrails, I also try and report these inaccuracies and I encourage others to do the same.

Some folk may chastise me for not recommending bringing a physical map, but I don't think the challenges of day hiking warrant it. Definitely you'll want to have a battery backup for the phone, however.

When editing my maps and cleaning them up to make them available on Trailspotting, I often use GPX Editor. It can take a little while to become familiar with it, but it's more powerful than it looks - allowing you to chop up a trail into multiple segments, trim those unintentional detours, and converts your edited trails into other formats.

Other Considerations



First aid kit - Every good hiker carries a first aid kit, if not for you, then to assist some other unfortunate person on the trail. There's plenty of advice on the internet about what you'll need to include in a kit. I recently added antihistamines to my kit, since it looks like black flies have a Michelin Man effect on me.

Battery - If like me you're going to be relying on a smartphone for wayfinding, then a battery backup is essential, along with the appropriate cables.

Headlamp - If you're starting early, or essential if there's a chance that you may be out on the trail as dusk draws in.

New Hampshire Hike Safe Card - New Hampshire is one of the few states that can - and does - charge hikers for rescue when they consider the person to have, by their definition, "acted negligently". At $25 per person or $35 per family this card would exempt you from such charges whether you're hiking, canoeing, kayaking, cross country skiing, rock climbing, orienteering or trail running. Note that all cards expire on December 31st, so if you buy a card on December 30th you'd pay full price and it would expire after just one day! I have mixed feelings about the card, but all funds do go straight into the Search and Rescue Fund.

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