So you read our post two weeks ago about launching your hiking career, then last weekend, based on our beginner hike recommendations the following week, took not one, but two hikes, you liked it so much. You also liked the fact you didn’t need a lot of fancy gear — to get started, at least. But as your hikes get longer, as the days get cooler, and as the trails become more challenging, you’ll want the right gear. You don’t need a lot, but what you do need you’ll want to make sure is right for you.

MerrellCapraWTPFHiking shoes/boots. Let’s start with shoes/boots, as in hiking shoes or hiking boots? Hiking boots once were de rigueur: you hiked, you wore boots. But hiking shoes have advanced in the past several years and are now the choice among hikers. Their soles have become much sturdier — great for dealing with the rocks and roots common on our trails — and they’re surprisingly comfortable. One big consideration: what works for your hiking buddy may not work for you. No two feet are alike, and that includes your left foot and your right foot. (To appreciate the challenge bootmakers have in fitting you, read what Josh Fairchilds, co-founder and “chief instigator” of Oboz has to say.)   Come into the store, try on a few different pairs, take a few minutes to walk around the store in each, ask questions. One shoe we’re particularly excited about is the Merrell Capra Waterproof hiking shoes, which keeps your foot nice and dry in all but the worst deluge (and you probably wouldn’t be out then, anyway!)
Cost: Expect to spend between $90 and $140 for a good pair of hiking shoes. (If that seems like a lot, consider that footwear is key to your happiness as a hiker. Plus, they’ll last)

smartwool_1.jpgSocks. Next to hiking shoes/boots, socks are your most important piece of equipment. Makes sense: socks serve as something of a moderator between your foot and footwear. You want a sock that’s snug, that sticks to your foot; otherwise, the sock rubs against your foot, it rubs against your boot and you know what that leads to: one unhappy hiker. Be aware there are different hiking socks for different hiking occasions. In warm weather, a lighter sock engineered to wick sweat from your foot (as opposed to keep it warm) will make your feet happy. Conversely, when it’s cold out you’ll want a thicker sock to keep your feet toasty. The material is important as well. Wool and synthetics designed to pull blister-causing moisture from your feet are preferred; cotton, while comfortable, will drench your feet in a pool of sweat.
Cost: Don’t be surprised to pay up $20 (or more) for a pair of good hiking socks. Pay the price, you’ll get your money’s worth. Plus, a large number hiking socks are made in the United States.

TrekkingPolesHiking poles. Hiking poles? you scoff. Aren’t those for old people? No. Rather, they’re for people who want to keep from getting old ahead of their time, especially their knees. Hiking poles take a tremendous amount of pressure off your knees, especially when you’re descending. On the uphills, they let your slackard upper body chip in and do some of the work. For those long flat stretches where hiking poles may seem a bother, make sure to get the collapsible kind that can be broken down and tied to your daypack. (And make sure the mechanism for collapsing the pole is an external latch; the internal twist latches have a way of breaking down before their time. When it comes to cost, much of what you pay for is weight: $25 seems like a bargain for poles until you’re four miles into a hike and feel like you’re gripping a pair of two-by-fours.
Cost: Poles can range from the aforementioned $25 variety, to easily adjusted carbon fiber poles can run $160 or more. There’s a range of good poles in between.

294544_37206_41Daypacks. Most hikers start basic, holding a bottle of store-bought water as they venture into the woods for a two- or three-mile hike, then evolving to a simple draw-string gimmie bag, which can also tote your car keys and maybe a snack. But as you progress past three miles, or longer than an hour on the trail, the improvised bag becomes awkward. That’s when most hikers become seduced by the sexy world of day packs. Day packs with built-in hydration systems. Day packs with built in rain covers. Day packs with iPhone ports. Day packs with specific pockets to hold everything from car keys to epi pens. Day packs for an hour on the trail, for two hours, for a day. It’s easy to see why the typical hiker may have three, five, 10 packs in their arsenal. Above all, you want a pack that fits. You want the weight of your pack to be borne by your hip bones; thus, look for a pack with a substantial hip strap. You want the shoulder straps to not bind your shoulders; check for width and comfort. You don’t want the pack up against your back encouraging perspiration to gather: look for a suspension system that keeps the pack off your back. As for the pockets and extras, that’s a matter of personal choice. Take a few hikes, make note of how a pack could most benefit you on the trail. Take those notes with you when you go shopping.
Personal note: I just started using the Scrambler 30 OutDry pack from Mountain Hardwear. It’s designed for rock climbers (so it’s rugged), but I was taken by its retro, rucksack simplicity. And, it’s waterproof, the perfect pack for a guy who is always five minutes late when deciding whether to throw on the pack cover.
Cost: You can get a good daypack that will make you happy in the $75-$150 range.
As for what to put in your daypack, check out our GetHiking! 10 Daypack Essentials, here.

verve-5Hydration. In the beginning, we drank straight from the stream, and that seemed OK, though we rarely lived to be 20 years old. Then we started using treated water, which necessitated bringing water in a bottle from home. And for a long while, that’s what we did, we drank from a bottle that was in our pack, out of sight and not real easy to get to. Then came hydration packs, and the evolution of drinking water in the wild took a giant evolutionary leap. The big advantage to hydration packs: the hydration tube rests on your chest, a constant reminder to drink. The tube requires little forethought; on long hikes, drinking becomes an almost robotic task. One disadvantage to true hydration packs is they often come in smaller capacity packs. However, most daypacks, regardless of size, now come with accommodations for a hydration bladder, which you can buy separately.
Cost: Chances are you’ve gotten a gimmie water bottle at an event (charity run/walk, summer festival, etc.). If not, you can get a decent water bottle for $5-$10. Hydration reservoirs to add to a daypack start around $30; packs that come with reservoirs start around $90.