An Amateur Hiker’s Guide to Packing

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Image by Joel Kramer

Image by Joel Kramer

Mountain hiking can be loads of fun but difficult to pack for if you’re an amateur. Knowing how best to prepare for a hike can really make or break the experience for you. Here’s a list of things every amateur hiker should consider packing for a hiking trip.

1. Water Bottle

Obvious, right? Of course you bring water. Dehydration happens, and if you’re going to be physically exerting yourself, your body is going to need a lot of water.

2. Snack Bags

This may also be obvious to some, but it could’ve been something you didn’t think about. Since hiking can be physically taxing, and can often take longer than you originally planned, snacks are always good to have on hand. Plus, in the off chance you get lost in the woods or hiking with someone who gets cranky when their blood sugar gets low, you might end up saving the day!

3. Two Pairs of Hiking Shoes

You don’t need both pairs of shoes on you during the hike, but keep the extra pair in the car. This is so important for amateur hikers, especially if you’re traveling out of state or planning on taking multiple hikes over the course of a few days. Why? You don’t want to find out the hard way that the only pair of shoes you bought hurt your feet or give you blisters.

Just because you’ve used the same pair of shoes in the past, or have broken them in, does not mean they will perform the same on alternate terrain. Uphill and downhill climbs, rocky trails, sloping or uneven footpaths, and damp or muddy ground can all affect the way your foot is positioned within your shoe. If you’re not accustomed to wearing your shoes in these kinds of environments, you could be in for a long hike.

4. Sweater

The higher you climb/hike, the colder it gets. Depending on the elevation of your hike, you may find yourself in need of a sweater, so check out the specs of your hike before you pack.

5. Raincoat

I prefer to bring a raincoat instead of a sweater because they’re perfect for those oh-so-common-in-the-summer afternoon storms. Raincoats double as windbreakers and heaters when the temperature drops at higher elevations––and mosquitoes can’t bite through them! Raincoats are usually lightweight and fold up really small, which means you won’t have to worry about it taking up space or adding too much weight in your hiking bag. Check out this jacket by The North Face.

6. Hiking-approved Clothing

Cotton is the hiker’s enemy! Cotton absorbs sweat, clings to your body, and traps unnecessary amounts of heat (and stink). I recommend avoiding 100% cotton clothing when hiking. Trust me. You don’t want to end up dehydrated or with a yeast infection.

Think about the fabrics you wear when you’re going to the gym. Most of them whisk away sweat, allow your skin to breath, and keep you cool. Good hiking clothing usually do all that and come in loose fitted, durable and water resistant fabrics. Check out these pants by prAna Halle. They can be either shorts or pants! For socks, I’d recommend these C9 Champion at Target. They’re tall enough that you won’t have to pull them up every five minutes, and they’re black so sweat and dirt won’t warp the color.

7. Bear Spray

If you’re travelling out of state for your hike and renting a car, the rental company may offer you a bottle of bear spray. The rental company may allow you to get your bear spray deposit back if you didn’t use the bottle, so that can make it easier––and more affordable––for you. Buying your own bottle of bear spray can be expensive, and you’re probably not going to want to bring it home with you (or even be allowed to on the plane).

8. Bug Spray

Bug spray is always a good idea––don’t skimp out on this one. Especially if you’re one of those people who always get bit. Having to swat mosquitoes for five hours can ruin an experience.

9. Sunscreen

Protecting yourself from the sun is important. Even if you’re wearing a hat or its cloudy outside, bring sunscreen and apply it every few hours. This goes for both winter and summer hikes.

10. Camera

It will ALWAYS be worth bringing your camera. The question is really whether or not to bring your nice professional camera or stick to your smartphone. Here’s a list of pros and cons to help you decide:

Pro Con
Digital/Film SLR Control over aperture and shutter speed settings that smartphones can’t offer Often SLRs and their lenses are heavy
Multiple lens options can ensure you get the best pictures Lenses can be bulky and hard to change in an open (potentially pollen-filled) environment
Raw/high pixel images that can be blown up for big frames SLRs and lenses often require their own special carrying cases. Important to consider whether your case is waterproof since afternoon storms are common in the summer
Extra batteries and memory cards are lightweight and easily packed
Smartphone Camera Lightweight Limited memory/HD images take up more space
Camera and video options are just as good as most point and shoot digital cameras Limited pixels don’t allow for images to be blown up as large as most digital SLRs
Most smartphone cases are waterproof so you don’t have to worry about rain Screen glare can make it hard to see the shot you’re trying to take
Images can be easily emailed, text, or shared on social media

11. Sense of Adventure

You can only plan so much for a hiking trip. Sometimes mother nature has other plans, or you end up having to use the “bathroom in the woods”, or unexpected crowds of people can all throw off a trip and challenge an amateur hiker in unexpected ways. Just remember that you took this trip to have an adventure, and unexpected changes are just one more challenge any adventurer must rise to meet!