These are 10 essential pieces of day-hiking gear, whether you’re out for an hour-long jaunt or a full day in the mountains.
Day hikes are excellent cross-training for running and can double as beta-gathering sessions for future trail runs. For a mellow few miles around a recreation area or an all-day peak-bagging adventure, we’ve listed a variety of gear to get you safely from trailhead to trailhead. Our recommendations of the best hiking gear includes apparel, footwear, packs, and smaller items that you might not think of immediately but you won’t be sorry to carry.
How We Evaluated This Hiking Gear
In curating these recommendations, I chose gear that I have tested and loved for many miles of hiking over the years. Some of these time-tested models are in their second decade of iterations, and others are newer models. Not only are these my go-to items, but most are also proven popular among other avid hikers. All this hiking gear is reasonably priced and should last season after season.
Altra Lone Peak 6
Plush underfoot comfort
Zero-drop design might take some getting used to
At first glance, this wide, flat-looking shoe might look goofy, but trust me when I say it’s one of the most comfortable long-distance shoes you’ll ever wear. Altra’s FootShape toe box, which is wider than standard trail shoes, allows your toes to splay out and provides more grip on inclines and descents. The zero-drop shoe encourages a more natural stride, helps strengthen muscles in the feet, and can reduce calf fatigue for some people. The Lone Peak has out-of-the-box comfort, comes with either standard or waterproof uppers, has excellent wet and dry traction, and will last a solid 500 miles.
Nathan Pinnacle 12
Keeps essential gear within easy reach
Available in five sizes for men and women
For fair-weather day hikes that don’t require a lot of extra clothing or gear, this pack does it all. Technically a hydration vest for runners, the 12-liter capacity that has eight pockets is ideal for trails where you want to carry an extra layer, snacks, and water, and still be able to run sections of the trail. It’s compatible with a hydration reservoir or soft flasks (not included) and comes in five sizes for both men and women. The moisture-wicking material doesn’t feel sticky against your back, and the vest-style straps sit comfortably around your shoulders and over your chest for maximum freedom of movement.
Gregory Juno 30 H20
Excellent ventilation on the back panel
Carries heavier loads easily
Men’s Zulu doesn’t include hydration reservoir
For full days on the trail, bagging peaks, or for parents packing extra gear for kiddos, the women’s Juno or men’s Zulu is the answer. The 30-liter capacity might seem excessive, but the sleek design allows the pack to sit flush and feel less bulky than other 30-liter packs I’ve tested. The side pockets are accessible on the go, the back pocket is handy and stretchy for fast-grab food or layers, and it comes with its own reservoir (not included in the men’s model). The back is suspended mesh for excellent airflow, and it has a sternum strap and hip belt for even weight distribution.
Lightweight Waterproof Rain Jacket
Ultralight wind and rain protection
Wide range of sizes
INNOVATIVE WEATHERPROOF TECHNOLOGY
This 3-layer versatile solution offers comfort, protection against elements and added durability without too much bulk.'
The 3-layer tech fabric has a unique woven lining that protects the waterproof membrane, so the membrane can hold up to outdoor harsh uses. The densely packed micro pores are big enough to allow body heat to pass through – reducing the buildup of condensation – while blocking rain from the outside. That inner lining also wicks moisture to reduce the “clammy” feel that you normally get from other lower-priced waterproof rain jackets.
Jack Wolfskin Women's Atmosphere
Reasonably priced down jacket
Packable and very warm
Only a handful of colors to choose from
The down jacket category is a crowded market these days, with plenty of comparable options as far as fill, weight, and price goes. This hooded jacket sits nicely in the middle of all of these, weighing in at 11.5 ounces for the women’s small and sporting a reasonable price. This jacket packs down to the size of a large grapefruit and is filled with ultra-warm 700-fill power duck down. I appreciated that the zipper doesn’t catch the water-resistant shell fabric. Sleek baffles make this jacket perfectly suitable to wear out in town after your hike, too.
TELALEO Workout Tank Tops for Women
Comfortable, quick-drying, and durable
Some people might prefer wool to this nylon-spandex blend
When it comes to hiking tops, you don’t need to buy the most expensive brand-names at specialty stores. Any loose-fitting, sweat-wicking shirt will work just fine. The airy nylon-spandex blend in the Power Flex (also used in the men’s Short Sleeve V-Neck T-Shirt) stayed remarkably odor-resistant, dried quickly, and didn’t cling or stick to my body under a pack. The longer hemline on both the racerback and the short-sleeve also stays put under a pack’s hip-belt, so you won’t be adjusting bunching fabrics. These are affordable, super stretchy, fit true to size, and hold up well for during full seasons of heavy use.
Smartwool Hike Light Cushion Mid Crew
On the pricey side (but worth the investment)
Smartwool consistently puts out some of the best hiking socks on the market, and this recently updated sock is no exception. The Hike Light Cushion blends wicking, temperature-regulating Merino wool with sturdy nylon, and the result is a sock that won’t stretch out, shift, or soak through so your feet stays dry and blister-free. Articulated arches lend support, and reinforced toes and heels ensure long-lasting durability.
Outdoor Research Trail Mix Snap Pullover
Excellent at wicking sweat and moisture
We wished there were more pockets
This is one of the best sweat-wicking mid layers I’ve worn and works well providing insulation while not getting soggy during ascents. Credit to the microgrid construction that saves weight without losing warmth and the ActiveTemp fabric, Outdoor Research’s thermoregulating fabric treatment. I’d love to see a zipper chest pocket or side pocket on this, but the kangaroo pocket does fine for keeping my hands warm or stashing items I want to keep accessible. It features a high neck for added draft protection, and the moderate cut easily fits over a base layer as well as underneath an insulating or outer layer.
Nitecore NU20 360 Headlamp
Design could be sleeker
Some people might want more lumens
Unless you’re hitting the trail before sunrise, a headlamp is more of a safety backup than anything else, but we still highly recommend it. There are plenty of fancier headlamps than the Nitecore NU20, but few—if any—compare to the impressive combination of battery life, brightness, and low weight of this industrial-looking model. The rechargeable Nitecore NU20 has a maximum brightness of 360 lumens, but you can easily hike with its 220-lumen Bright setting for up to five hours. It weighs less than 2 ounces and is less than half the price of similar headlamps on the market.
Sawyer Products Squeeze Water Filtration
Requires regular backwashing to keep the filter in good working order
Trusted by day hikers as well as long-distance backpackers, this water filter weighs just 3 ounces, threads onto standard water bottles, and has a fast flow rate as you squeeze untreated water through the hollow-fiber membrane. This reliable filter removes 99.99999% of all bacteria and protozoa (but not viruses), meaning even the sketchiest water source can provide safe water on the trail. Even if you think you’ll have enough water for the day, bring this filter along as a backup for peace of mind.
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