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Gear: Day Hiking Footwear and Apparel

If you’ve never set foot on a dirt trail for a serious length of time, the concept of hiking can seem daunting—especially when you reach the trailhead and see a phalanx of warning signs about slippery rocks, the threat of wildlife, and a map depicting a miles-long, undulating network of trails.
But if you do feel overwhelmed, just remember: hiking is really just walking…outside.

That said, there are a few pieces of essential gear that can make your first—and subsequent—forays into the wonderful wild a bit more comfortable.  Here we start with the most essential items:  the clothing and footwear you need to find comfort and control on the trail.


If you’ve been away from the outdoor scene for a while, prepare to be surprised. The old rule of wearing heavy hiking boots now only applies to those who have weak ankles or are hauling really heavy loads.  For the rest of us, a pair of day hikers (low-top fortified sneaker-like shoes with rugged soles) should suffice.  Or, if you’re braving trails that don’t have a lot of aggressive terrain (think jagged rocks, logs, ruts, and scrambles), you could even consider a pair of trail running shoes or approach shoes, which are shoes meant to be worn by rock climbers as they hike to reach their climb, but have a lot of non-climbing applications. Whichever you choose, be sure the shoes have a protective toe cap—a rand that runs around the front of the shoe—which helps to prevent toe stubbing and adds durability. Nature is understandably unpredictable, so you want a sole with an aggressive rubber tread that can bite into the earth and stick to wet rocks should things get wet or muddy.

Ask any hiker and they’ll tell you that cotton kills.  A touch dramatic? Probably—until you end up wearing your favorite T and skinny jeans on a hike and the weather turns south. Then you’re drenched, cold, and stuck wearing clothes that will be wet long after you’ve reached your destination. Instead, consider investing in either synthetic or merino wool clothing for your upper layers. The former, typically made of polyester or other hybrid fabrics, tends to be less expensive and wicks the sweat and moisture to the outer layer of the garment, so that it quickly evaporates to keep you dry.

The same logic applies to socks as well. Best to go with synthetic or a wool blend, and invest in a pair that boasts a matrix of different padding sections. Your feet are your mode of transportation, after all.

For pants, we suggest going synthetic. But within that designation, there is a healthy variety of options that let you cater your choice to your personal aesthetic and climate.  If you’re taking on more aggressive terrain, consider abrasion-resist fabric and stretchy elements, and if you live in a hot climate, go light—and consider zip-off pant legs that let you turn ‘em into shorts to make the dog days of summer more comfortable.

Finally, get yourself a good raincoat, something that offers waterproof/breathable protection. Pit zips under the arms, which let you vent off body heat as you hike, are also nice to have.  We like jackets with deep pockets that are cut to accommodate your backpack straps.

NEXT UP: Day Hiking Essentials Part II: The Pack and all the Little Stuff

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