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Hiking: Learn About the Gear

Footwear
Hiking boots are probably the most important part of the day hiker's essential gear list. What type of hiking boot you should wear depends greatly on the type of terrain you plan to hike most. If you plan to hike aggressively and often on demanding trails, a classic type of hiking boot is what you'll need. But if you plan to hike mainly flat trails with occasional gentle inclines, a good pair of trail-walking shoes will do just fine. For more information, visit our Choosing Hiking Boots page.

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Hat/Sunscreen
These are especially important if you plan to hike in open terrain or mountain regions above treeline. In addition to shielding your face from the sun, a hat will help prevent heat loss if the sun slips behind some clouds and the temperature suddenly drops.

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Day Pack
Day Packs range in capacity from about 1,500 cu. in. to 2,000 cu. in. (overnight and expedition packs range from 2,200 to 5,500 cu. in.). Some of today's day packs have many of the same features as their bigger cousins – internal frames, padded backs, straps and waistbelts, plus side pockets and daisy chains for lashing on extra gear. The pack you choose should be based on the type of hiking you plan to do. A book pack with a padded back may suffice for an afternoon excursion along a local nature trail. But a full day of hiking in the mountains will require something more. Bottom line: A day pack should be made of lightweight, water-resistant fabric and have all the features you need for your type of hiking. Outside mesh pockets for handy access to water bottles and trail guides are features appreciated by many hikers. Other easy-access pockets for holding snacks, a camera, compass, etc., are common features of all good day packs.

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Water Bottles
Bring plenty of water along and before you start off, drink some water so you're well hydrated and energized. If you know you will encounter a good source of water on a long hike, bring a water purifier along and filter any water you drink.

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Clothing
Plenty of hikers, including many of us here at L.L.Bean, find hiking in trail shorts and a T-shirt appropriate for light day hiking in areas not too far removed from civilization, like local parks and on short nature trails. But a better and safer choice for longer hikes is a shirt made from a synthetic or a synthetic-blend fabric like our PowerDry®, Airtek and CoolMax® apparel. Shirts made from these fabrics, unlike cotton, will not readily hold moisture and will help transfer perspiration to the outside for quick evaporation (a perspiration-moistened T-shirt, on the other hand, will remain wet and can cause a chill, or worse, if the temperature suddenly changes or the wind picks up). If you are hiking in areas where you're apt to encounter wind or biting insects, a light pair of trail pants is a good thing to be able to pull from your day pack, along with a windshell. Bring an extra pair of (noncotton) hiking socks, too. These will be nice to slip on after lunch, or should your other socks get wet.

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Hiking Poles
Even if you are hiking only a short distance, a hiking pole (or two) will make the trip easier and more enjoyable. They offer added security on wet, slippery trails and more stability when crossing streams. They are especially helpful, and take a lot of the strain off the knees and thighs, when you are descending steep slopes or when you hit sharp downturns in the trail. Unlike hiking sticks of the past, modern hiking poles are lightweight and collapsible so they are easy to pack.

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Food/Energy Snacks
Carry more food than you think you will need on any hike. It's better to bring extra snacks home with you than to go hungry. Carbohydrate-rich energy bars, granola, trail mix and fruit provide an instant pick-me-up on the trail.

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Other items to consider:
  • Rainwear
  • Pocket knife
  • Polarized sunglasses
  • Compass, map, trail guide
  • Small first-aid kit
  • Whistle
  • Insect repellent
  • Money
  • Toilet tissue (in plastic bag)

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Backpacks
The most popular style of pack in use today is the internal frame pack. This basic design incorporates two vertical aluminum stays into the back of the pack, giving it a body-hugging shape that allows for freedom of movement and flexibility.
Proper pack fit is what ensures a good trip. Measure your torso length from the top of your hip bone to the bump at the base of your neck. This will give you your pack size.
A supportive waistbelt is also important, allowing you to hike comfortably for hours while carrying a heavy load. Other features such as a lumbar pad, compression straps and load adjustment straps will make your pack more comfortable.
Load Tip: Plan to carry a total of no more than 1/4 of your body weight.

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Sleeping Bags
Models with a hood and tapered shape, known as mummy bags, are lightweight and thermally efficient, making them the best choice for backpacking. Goose down and synthetic fibers are the two types of insulation used in sleeping bags. Nothing matches goose down in terms of warmth-to-weight ratio and compressibility, making it the insulation of choice for many backpackers. Synthetic fibers such as Polarguard, although not as light or as compressible as down, have one distinct advantage: they maintain some or much of their ability to insulate when wet. Synthetic insulation is therefore a good choice for wet climates or for winter use.

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Tents
Your home away from home, a tent needs to be lightweight, strong, packable and weatherproof. The tent body or canopy should be breathable, with numerous venting options. The fly is the weatherproof barrier, and is made of a coated fabric such as polyester. Flies often have an integrated vestibule: a floorless, covered area where you can cook or stow extra gear.
There are many tent designs and variations, but most fall into the category of dome tent or hoop tent. Dome tents, supported by crossing aluminum poles, are freestanding, roomy and stable in wind. Hoop tents are not freestanding and must be staked out, but have the best space-to-weight ratio of any design.
Tent Tip: Using a ground cloth will protect the floor of your tent from rocks and roots, and greatly extend the life of your investment.

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Other Essentials
  • Lightweight, packable stove with fuel
  • Rainwear
  • Multitool or pocket knife
  • Water filtration/purification system
  • Fire starter
  • First aid kit
  • Compass and map
  • Headlamp or compact flashlight
  • Sunscreen and insect repellent

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Nutritional Tip
Plan on 2 lb. of food per person, per day.

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