Gear is just an enabler…its true benefit lies in the way it allows you to experience your hike… 

For those with a passion for hiking, gear plays a big part in your overall enjoyment of the outdoors. With the exception of a physical injury, nothing can ruin a hike faster than gear failure. Quality and dependable gear allows you to experience all nature has to offer, safely and comfortably. But at the end of the day, it’s just an enabler — the true benefit lies in the way it allows you to experience your hike.

Selecting the proper gear can be overwhelming at times. You must understand your likes, dis-likes, preferences and limitations. While this may sound obvious, it is not always easy. The time spent on research, reading reviews and watching YouTube videos is an important part of the process. But ultimately, successful gear selection is based on experience. It is a process of trial and error, an evolution of sorts, to find what works best for you. Many times you don’t know where to start. And that’s OK. Even the most seasoned thru hiker started out as a beginner.  

The outdoor gear industry has seen a rapid evolution over the last decade. There are more choices available today that ever before. Ultralight has become the new normal and counting grams is common, even for weekend warriors. Entrepreneurial outdoor enthusiasts have recognized a void in the market and started making their own gear to fill it. They have come to be know as ‘Cottage manufacturers’ and they are quickly changing the landscape of gear options. Their gear is generally ultralight and hand-made in the USA from the best materials available. In my experience, the quality and workmanship are second to none. You would be doing yourself a huge disservice if you did not include the Cottage industry in your research.

I offer the prompts below as food for thought with one simple goal: to help you choose a setup that is a bit more dialed in than if you just started buying with no direction at all. After going through the gear selection process many times myself, I firmly believe that buying the best quality gear you can afford the first time will save you money in the long run. When it comes to outdoor gear, you really do get what you pay for. It will be tempting to go for the low-cost options initially, but try to resist that urge unless you are still deciding if hiking and backpacking is the right activity for you. Take your time, enjoy the process and remember that your gear is just the enabler to get the maximum experience from your adventures.

1. Know yourself

Begin by spending some time exploring why you want to hike. There may not be a single reason for your desire to get on the Trail. That is normal. Humans are a product of our environment and past experiences and your reasons to hike may be a combination of many desires, some of which you may have yet to discover. But taking the time to understand your motivation is beneficial to the process. It will narrow the field of choices and help ensure you are buying the gear that is right for you.

Here are a few prompts to get you started:

  • What is it about the Trail and hiking that speaks to you?
  • Is hiking a new activity that you want to try?
  • Was there a specific event, movie or book that sparked your desire to hike?
  • Were you introduced to hiking as a child and wish to reconnect to those memories?
  • Does hiking and being in nature become like a spiritual experience for you?
  • Do you view hiking just as a form of exercise to stay healthy?
  • Are you interested in the social aspects of hiking and connecting with others?
  • Does the solitude of solo hiking appeal to you?
  • Is hiking just a way to unplug and get away from your daily routine?
  • How would you feel if hiking and nature were NOT part of your life?

2. Know your preferences

Once you have a better idea of why you want to hike, it’s time to explore your preferences.  Things you like, dislike and can’t leave behind when you are on the trail.  Having a firm understanding of yourself and your preferences goes a long way to knowing what type of gear is best for you.  Again, take some time and think about the prompts below.  Maybe even write them down, especially if you are just beginning this journey into hiking.  It is always fun to come back and look at your responses after you have some experience to see where you began.

Consider the following prompts:

  • Do you prefer hiking alone or in a group?
  • Do you prefer day hikes, car camping, backpacking, etc. ?
  • How important is having the lightest pack weight possible?
  • Is money a barrier? If so, what is your limit?
  • Do you like the privacy of an enclosed shelter or prefer sleeping off the ground? This will affect the decision of your shelter.
  • Do you toss and turn at night or tend to stay relatively in the same position when you sleep? This will impact the decision of your sleep system.
  • Are you cold or natured? This will impact the decision of your sleep system and clothes.
  • Do you dislike cold weather activities? This will impact the decision of many types of gear.
  • Do you have issues with feet/knees/hips? This may impact the decision of footwear.
  • Do you prefer drinking from bottles or a camel-bak style bladder? This may impact your pack selection.
  • Do you want to hike in warm weather? Cold weather? Both?

3. Know your goals

If you are still reading this, you probably already have some hiking goals in mind.  Regardless if it is for fitness, hiking a particular trail, or challenging yourself to learn something new, setting goals is a way to stay motivated. Remember that lots of small goals add up to big goals. Keep them manageable and before you know it, your adventures will be a source of great happiness and satisfaction.

Here are a few final prompts to consider:

  • Are you only interested in hiking on weekends with friends and family?
  • Do you have ambitions for long distance hiking, such as the Appalachian Trail or Pacific Crest Trail?
  • Are you interested in summiting all of the 14,000′ peaks in Colorado?
  • Do you want to hike a section of the Appalachian Trail every year?
  • Does setting a Fastest Known TIme (FKT) on a particular trail appeal to you?
  • Do you want to document your adventures with pictures, a blog, or a vlog?
  • Do you want to see how many miles you are able to hike in a single day?
  • Do you want to hike all trails in a particular State or National Park?
  • Do you want to hike to raise money for a particular charity or cause?

It’s an investment in YOU

Once you have a clear understanding of your motivations, preferences and goals, you should have a better idea of the types of gear that best fits your needs. Take your answers with you to your favorite gear shop or online retailer and let the fun begin!

If hiking is your passion, gear is much more that just stuff. It is an investment in yourself. Quality gear allows you to pursue your passion with confidence. It lets you focus more on creating the experiences and memories that enrich your life. Having dependable gear you trust allows you to go places, experience conditions and become part of environments that most people will never see. In those situations, your awareness is enhanced and you become more mindful by living fully in the present moment. Being more present helps build better relationships with those around you. But most importantly, it builds a better relationship with yourself.

Take the time needed to research your gear well and make the best choice for your individual needs. Trust your decisions. It’s now time to reap the rewards of your time and investment. Get out there and enjoy the trail!

Happy Hiking and Namaste!