If you would have asked my husband and I ten years ago what we thought about hiking, we would have said “Meh”. It really wasn’t interesting to us. We preferred living life more in the fast lane. We weren’t campy, outdoorsy, naturalistic people. Riding our Harley Davidson motorcycles was as outdoorsy as we got.
Occasionally, we’d stop for a National Park and just meander but nothing remotely close to hiking. However, our attitudes and appreciation for natural wonders have sung a different tune since we stepped on the RV gas pedal. We wanted to do something that kept us young, fit and put us closer to nature. We became hikers and trekkers. In doing that, we have come a long way from our Kelty Kids backpack and cheap sneakers to some much more efficient hiking gear.
Now, one of our favorite things to do is search for good day-hikes near new RVing destinations. Most are within the National Parks and State Parks. We’ve joined some social media groups and followed many other like-minded RVers for recommendations on good day hikes. We do not consider ourselves extreme hikers, but we’ve done enough of them that we know our way around a good trail or two.
Our first hike was in the summer of 2015. While we were parked at Fort Robinson State Park in Crawford, Nebraska, we hopped on our Harleys (we had a toy hauler 5th wheel back then) for a little after-dinner ride up to the South Dakota border. We happened upon a tiny little brown road sign pointing the way to Toadstool Geological Park. Since it was a dirt road, we decided not to ride back there, but it certainly was something that intrigued us. So the next morning, we put on some activewear and our sneakers, jammed two bottles of water and a couple of granola bars in a backpack and drove our truck there. Note: we didn’t own any ‘hiking gear’.
We drove what seemed like forever on the dirt-packed washboard road, but once we got there it was utterly amazing. It was SO not the Nebraska cornfields and grassy prairies we’d known. It was as if we landed on the moon. Once we arrived, we put our ‘kiddy pack’ on and started our trek into this geological wonder. After we started hiking, climbing, stretching, and bending, that pack was awkward and a menace. It may have been great carting everyday stuff around, but a big fat no on using it for hiking.
That was our encouragement to search for serious hiking gear. We’ve come up with our list of hiking gear recommendations to help turn you onto hiking.
“If your feet ain’t happy, the rest of you ain’t gonna be happy!”
Your shoes/boots are the absolute most important hiking gear you will buy. We recommend getting properly fitted for good-quality hiking shoes or boots. Consider taking a pair of hiking socks when you get fitted. Another idea worth noting is to get fitted in the late afternoon or evening when your feet are a little bigger. Take into account shoe/boot tread, comfort, fit, ventilation, and wear. Make certain your shoes do not ride or slip on your heels or you’ll be sorry.
(TIP: Click on this great YouTube video from Backcountry Edge on how to properly lace your hiking shoes for better comfort and stability)
Wick-away socks are highly recommended as they pull moisture away from your skin. Stay away from cotton as they hold moisture. I made this mistake when we hiked at Glacier National Park. I wore cool-looking, fashionable socks in which I paid for it dearly only two miles into the hike with raging blisters on my heels.
Like your shoes/boots, getting fitted by outdoor specialists is highly encouraged. Seriously, skip the one-size-fits-all fashionable school backpacks. They simply won’t work. They are not ergonomic and aren’t made for the maneuvering body. Go to a reputable camping and hiking gear store and try on several. During your fitting, stuff it with about 10-20 pounds of stuff and walk around the store for a few minutes. Bend over, squat, stretch, twist with it on. Get a good feel for it. See where the weight distribution differentiates between packs. Take note in where straps will rub, buckle, cinch and ride. Look for lots of pockets and rings to clip small things on (i.e. bear bell, hand sanitizer, etc.). Make sure you test zippers and buckles.
(TIP: Click on this great YouTube video from Backpacker Magazine on how to properly fit and select a backpack)
Brightly colored rain poncho, first aid kit, extra bottles of water, water filter straw, flashlight, signal mirror, compass, sunglasses, sunscreen, granola and trail snacks, ibuprofen, binoculars, sunscreen, bug spray, emergency reflective blanket, external cellphone USB battery chargers, pocket knife, and tissues/toilet paper. Don’t forget your trail snacks! However, watch your weight. No sense packing cold weather gear on 90-degree day hikes.
Also, if you’re in bear country, make certain you pack your bear bell and bear spray.
They are not only for support when stepping up or down but to poke into holes, rock crevices, and bushes before stepping. Better for the poles to get bit by critters than your feet or legs. They also can help you with your stride. We recommend telescoping adjustable-length poles made out of titanium as they are super strong, easy to collapse, and store on our packs when we don’t need them. You can use one or two; whatever makes you comfortable.
Be comfortable on your hikes. It’s not a fashion statement on the trails. Sun, wind, and weather protection is job one. Also, always wear a belt. It could prove beneficial in emergency situations. Hiking trousers with a bit of elasticity in them are essential for bending, climbing, etc. Get garments that are fast drying and won’t tear. Having a brightly colored outer garment is recommended.
Lightweight and functional to shield faces and/or necks. There are a plethora of styles of headwear out there. Find one that you like. Again, this isn’t a fashion statement. Dress for the elements. It’s a good idea to wear a bright color if you’re alone or even with other hikers in your party, so you can be visible for tracking.
Good for rock climbing and preventing blisters from using your trekking poles. If you’ll be hiking in cooler weather, keeping your lower extremities warm will enable you to keep your mind on enjoying your hike. Look for a pair with ‘touchscreen’ fingertips, so you don’t have to remove your gloves to operate your phone or GPS.
A handheld Global Positioning System is essential if you’re going on a longer day hike or overnight hike, especially if you are a back-country hiker. There are also phone apps that have GPS functions, but be aware that you may not have a data signal on the trail for your phone.
Small and simple is best. You’ll want to get pictures of the magnificent sights so people believe you when you say, “I hiked Spearfish Canyon, Devil’s Tower, and the Badlands!”. Don’t forget to pack a small selfie stick because, in reality, no one takes better photos than you. You can even purchase small detachable lenses for your phone that will fit into your pocket.
Like us, you can pick trail maps up at the National Park or State Park check-in or online and keep them in a Ziploc bag to protect them from the elements. As well, you can use phone apps. However, again, be aware of your cell service data signal.
We use a Fitbit not only to brag about our steps but also to monitor our pace and distance. There are other brands out there that may be better suited for your needs. Though we pride ourselves when looking at our activity tracker at the end of the day, we don’t make hiking a ‘workout’. For us, it’s not a race or contest. It’s about the hike and not the huff. It’s okay to take your time. Just keep your attention on your watch.
We usually are on the trail by mid-morning after a hearty, high-protein, nutritious breakfast and a good amount of water. We always pack a healthy lunch with fresh-cut veggies, fruits, protein (i.e. cooked chicken, tuna, etc.), with some fun healthy carbs. We also have a granola bar or some trail mix stashed in our pockets for later on the trail.
In the military, we learned “Hydrate or die!’ As rough as that sounds, this ranks in importance as your hiking shoes. Depending on the length of your hike, temperature, and time of day, plan to carry about three to four 16-ounce bottles in each of your packs. We recommend stainless steel water bottles as the water stays cold longer, especially if you add a few ice cubes. We also recommend keeping more in your transport vehicle for replenishment on your journey back to your home on wheels.
(TIP: Put extra bottles of water in the freezer the night before your hike. They will be refreshingly cold water by the time you finish your hike and be great in the cooler to keep your food cold.)
HYOH…”Hike Your Own Hike”
So, there’s a list of hiking gear and essentials to get you started.
As you see, even in our 50’s, we aren’t afraid of challenging slopes, grades, steps, and rocks. We set our own pace and stop when we want to. Important to note, stretch your body before you hit the trails and KNOW YOUR LIMITS! If you’re in a group hike, don’t let others dictate what your distance, pace or ability should be. Hiking is supposed to be enjoyable.
Lastly and Most Importantly…
Leave your loved ones your HIKE PLAN. Provide departure and estimated arrival times, parking location and trail coordinates (and abide by them), and park and hiking info that could prove beneficial. List what you will be wearing, backpack colors, and hiking ability level. A simple phone call or text to your contact person of when you hit the trail should be a must. Take only photos and leave only your footprints.