Essential Hiking Gear

I get asked a lot about the kind of gear you should have while hiking in Colorado, particularly from folks that are new to the state. Colorado is different from other states in that the terrain can be more rugged, you should always carry the ten essentials, and it is best to be prepared. I own and have used all of the items (various brands) listed below. I am a member of the Amazon Affiliate Program, which means if you purchase anything from Amazon by following any of the links below, I get a small commission. The fees I get from readers like you keep this blog going.You can of course get this kind of gear in lots of places.  I do buy stuff from Amazon.  Just get the gear and be comfortable.

Tags: #gearhead, #survival, #hikingbling, #hiking

The right gear will mean the difference between a walk in the park and a death march.
Toe to Head Gear Guide

1) Hiking Shoes: Good footwear is the most important thing for hiking in Colorado. Keep your feet happy and you will be happy. Blisters, wetness, and twisted ankles await those who venture forth without this essential.

There are two types of hiking shoes. Light hikers, that have no ankle support, but are great in summer when it is hot. They are more suitable for less rocky trails. The second type is heavy hikers that generally have a stiff shank and ankle support. TIP: In general you will want a half size larger than your street shoes to provide extra room for your toes when going down hill. Crunched toes is a great way to ruin a pedicure!
  • Light Hikers: I wear Oboz, which are made in Montana. They have great tread and come in waterproof and non-waterproof models. I have a narrow foot and these work for me. If you have a wider foot, then Merrell or Keen's would be a good option. All of these come in various models for both men and women.
  • Heavy Hikers: These hikers are technically designed for backpacking, but I wear them on any trail that if very rocky and certainly when climbing any mountain. For years I have worn Vasque, which fit my foot well. Lowa is another brand that many of my friends choose.
  • Socks: Are almost as important as shoes. I hike in Kirkland crew length socks in both my light hikers and heavy hikers unless it is really hot and then I wear ankle length. It is not a myth that wearing thin silk or nylon liner socks will prevent blisters. I don't do this but many of my friends do. It does work.

3) Technical Clothing and Layering (base and middle layers)There is a saying in the mountains that cotton kills and it is true. Cotton gets wet and holds in moisture. A sudden rain or snow shower will drop temperatures twenty or thirty degrees. You can get hypothermia on the hottest day of the year if this happens to you. Thus the need for technical fabrics.

So what is layering? Layering in hiking is a system of combing several different pieces of clothing on top of each other to stay comfortable in the outdoors. As temperatures rise and fall and as the body heats up and cools down you can add and subtract layers to stay cozy. Having extra layers is one of the ten essentials. Ya never know when mother nature is going to get pissed and send some apocalyptic weather your way.
  • Conversion Pants: I love conversion pants that allow you to take off your pant legs if it is hot. I own several pairs in different thicknesses. Thicker in cooler temperatures and barely there for when it is hot.
  • Shirts. You will want long sleeve with a high neck for winter or a summer layer and short sleeve when it is hot. There are a lot of these out there. Find one that matches your style. Ladies, don't discount men's shirts. They are longer in the waist which can be good because it gives you extra material around your pack. Button down technical tops can be worn as an outer layer or as a base layer.
  • Warm Layer: If you are going above tree line, you should aways have a fleece layer with you. This can be thick or thin depending upon your metabolism. It may just save your life one day. I own at least 3 of these in various colors. Who doesn't want to look good on the trail? 

4) Technical Clothing (outer layer): The outer most layer you carry will depend on conditions but it is generally a wind proof or rain resistant outer garment, down coat, or soft shell.  I confess, I own 8 of theses (3 rain shells, 3 down coats of various weights, and 2 soft shells.

I love the thin down "sweaters" that companies like Mountain Hardware and Patagonia came out with a few years ago. On top of a mountain they are a must have. It is cold and windy up there. They are also great for a mild winters day slugging through the snow to the nearest coffee shop. I have one with a hood and without. Silly I know, but sometimes you just don't want a hood.

The biggest issue we all seem to have is rain shells. There was a time in Colorado when you did not need to carry one, and there was a time when you only need to carry a light shell that could withstand the occasional down pour. Now you seem to need a full British...but-it-is-only-a-five-week-deluge-my-dear parka. Finding the latter is a bit tricky.

5) Accessories: Who doesn't like bling! In the outdoors, our bling is funky hats, gloves, water bottles and packs. They are thermometers, cameras, and butt pads. Toss in essential first aid kits and energy gels plus a GPS and you will be styling. Below are some of my favorites.
  • Hats: I prefer a floppy hat that I can fold up and put into my back and that covers my ears and neck. I also carry a thin warm hat even in summer. It is an essential survival tool above tree line.
  • Gloves: Some sort of thin glove is a must for me. My hands get cold before all else. There are a lot of models out there from think cotton to neoprene to wool. Go with what works best for you. I would love to find a pair of water proof thin gloves. 
  • Water bottles: You can get these at a thrift store or find them forgotten on trails, but buying them new allows you to choose your favorite color. I have ten or more of these in various sizes. A liter size is a good thing to have and the markings help you gauge how much you have consumed. How much water you should carry on a hike is up to you. My rule is 1 liter for every 4 miles. More if it really hot. 3 liters of water is a lot of weight. Any more than that and you may want to bring along a llama. The last few years have seen an explosion of UV water sterilization devices. You put it in the water bottle and turn it on an a burst of UV radiation (light) zaps all the microbes that want to infest your innards. I have not tried one of these yet, but plan to because on a long hike near water, it is a way to carry less. I know folks that have taken them to South America and they've worked great. 
  • First Aid Kits: You should have one of these in your car and in your pack. For years I made my fit into a gallon-sized ziplock bag. Now that I am older and want to shed the weight, so I have gone for a typical hiking kit augmented with moleskin and tincture of benzoin, which helps moleskins stick. Blisters have been by far the most common injury I have treated. 
  • Energy Gels: Nutrition on the trail is critical and everyone I know does it differently. I prefer peanut butter and honey sandwiches augmented by some raw veggies. I also always have GU packs (I buy Amazon's multi-pack) and Honey Stinger Gels. There are lots of energy gels out there. Try one on a hard hike and see what sort of boost it will give you. 
  • Pack: How to choose a pack that fits you is not easy. Stay tuned for a whole post on this subject. 
  • Poles: Treking poles are a curse and a blessing. They can save your knees on a steep downhill, give you a physical advantage going up hill, and provide stability when crossing on wobbly logs. They can also get in the way on tallus (the points get stuck in the rocks), become a crutch so you don't develop your legs muscles, and have to be carried when not in use. Because I carry a camera in one hand, I rarely bring them along unless I am climbing a 14er, in which case having that stability on the decent is useful. Get a pair that are adjustable and that contain shock absorbers. A decent pair should be less than $200. 
  • Sunglasses: This may seen counter intuitive given the amount of sunshine we get in Colorado, but I have run into visitors from cloudier climes who don't own a pair. If you are above tree line, these are a must. The UV radiation at altitude is frying your brain, your skin, and your eyeballs. Some post hike eye drops will help as well. 
  • Bandana: A cotton bandana is probably the cheapest piece of gear you may buy, but on a hot day, it can be like a spa treatment. Find a stream, soak it in the cold water and then wrap it around your neck. Not only will you be praised for your style, but you will feel so much cooler, you'll hike an extra mile or two. Don't be afraid to dunk your whole head or floppy hat in the water too. Radiative cooling of the scalp is one of the best ways to cool down. A frozen daiquiri machine works too, but weighs a bit more unfortunately. 

6) Navigation: One of the 10 essentials is a way to figure you where you are. Don't just bring a GPS though, carry a map too. They are far easier to read.
  • Maps: National Geographic has a series of terrain maps that cover most of the state. I never go hiking without one. Not only can it tell me where I am, but it can provide insight into what is around me, the names of peaks, other trails to try etc. Often rather than plow through hiking guides, I pull out a map and just see what trails are in the area. It is always fun to try something new. 
  • Compass: Everyone should have a compass in their pack even if you are not sure how to use it. Just knowing which way is north could be a life saver. 
  • GPS: A GPS device is an expensive, but one I use every time I go out. Because I blog trails, I need to know how far the trip is and what the cumulative elevation gain is. I can tell you from experience that you may think you have gone 2 or 3 miles when in reality you have only gone a half a mile! Distances are deceiving in the mountains, particularly above tree line when you can see forever. That spot in the distance you want to get to may only be a mile away. The one displayed below is the one I use. There are other models. Be advised that the maps are sold separately. One downside to these devices is the maps used by Garmin, the leading seller, is NOT the same maps that National Geographic uses so you can't do a one to one comparison between the two. 

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