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I love a good walking/hiking trip, and if you’ve read my posts ‘What to Expect on the GR20‘ or ‘Mont Blanc to the Matterhorn‘ you’ll know that I especially love a multi-day hike. Spending a few days in the fresh air, surrounded by stunning scenery and great people (my dad) is ultimate relaxation to me.
I’ve been lucky enough to go on a few of these trips now, and what I’ve learnt is that they are much more enjoyable if a) you’re fit enough (it’s no fun if you’re struggling up hills and longing for the end of the day so that you can rest your legs) and b) you have the right kit. The right kit will literally mean the difference between a multi-day hike being a challenge or a holiday.
Here I’m going to share my guide to hiking essentials, from the absolute necessities (like boots!) to the small comforts that lead to a good night’s sleep and an enjoyable following day.
Let’s start with the most important item on the kit list, footwear. When your feet hurt it’s almost impossible to enjoy walking – your mind is on putting one painful foot in front of the other instead of admiring jagged mountain faces and being soothed by the sound of waterfalls and wildlife (the constant noise of cow bells in the Alps was just fabulous).
I have two pairs of boots on the go at the moment. I’ve had my trusty Brasher boots for 11 years and they are the most comfortable thing in the world. However, because they are so old my dad won’t let me take them away as my only pair of boots because he reckons they’ll break at any moment. So I’ve also got a pair of Scarpa Mistral GTX boots (which you can buy here) – I’ve had a few of these and they are always great, and suit a wider foot like mine!
Here are my tips for finding the right boots:
- Consider the ground you’ll be walking on and go for the lightest/most flexible boots you can for that ground. When I walked Hadrian’s Wall the first day was pretty much all concrete pavement, and my heavier boots didn’t absorb enough of the impact, which resulted in the soles of my feet hurting for the rest of the trip!
- When you try them on make sure they are slightly too big for you. Your feet will swell as you walk, and if your boots are too small your feet will feel hot and crushed. Find a slope when you are trying on your boots to make sure that your toes aren’t slamming against the front of the boot when stood on a decline.
- Consider the ankle support. I’ve struggled to get this right in the past – I’m clumsy and trip up a lot so I need enough support to stop me going on my ankles every half an hour, but too much support gives me shin splints as it restricts my ankle flex.
- Go for a reputable brand. It really does make a difference and you don’t have to spend a fortune – I need new boots this summer as they need to be suitable for cramp ons.
Regardless of the length of your trip, it goes without saying that you need to carry things with you. If you’re doing a multi-day hike you might need to carry everything you need for the duration of the trip, or you might choose to use a service that carries your luggage from one point to the next, in which case you’ll just need a day sack. In the UK, I’ve used Sherpa Van and they’ve always been mega efficient and even recommend accommodation along your route to help plan your trip!
Of all the rucksacks I’ve had, my current Osprey Aura Anti-Gravity is by far my favourite. Not only is it pretty (and matches my Scarpa boots), it’s also unbelievably comfortable and even when it’s packed full and a little heavier than it should be, I hardly notice it on my back.
My first piece of advice when buying a rucksack is definitely to get one that’s adjustable so that you can ensure you’re carrying the weight on your hips rather than on your back or shoulders.
Secondly, buy the smallest rucksack that you can get away with. If you’re anything like me, you’ll use any leftover space as an excuse to pack things that you really don’t need and as a result make your hike that little bit harder.
It took a lot of persuasion for me to invest in walking poles, I thought they were for ‘walking nerds’ and old people. But honestly they make life so much easier and I would hugely recommend buying some!
When walking on flat ground they can help to align your body (particularly useful if you have over-pronated feet or ever struggle with hip or knee pain), and on uneven terrain they will steady you and allow you to walk at a much faster pace! They also come in handy for testing the depth of puddles, holding back aggressive tree branches and steadying yourself as you squat down for an outdoor wee (sorry if that’s TMI but sometimes it’s hard when your legs are aching from walking all day).
You want to make sure that you choose a lightweight pole, and ideally something that collapses easily so that you can shove them in your rucksack when you need your hands for scrambling! My current poles are Leki Trail Antishock and they absolutely hit this brief.
Never underestimate the importance of waterproof clothing! As well as ensuring your boots are waterproof (you can buy a spray such as Granger’s to make this really easy), it goes without saying that you’ll need a good waterproof jacket and trousers.
When it comes to your jacket, it needs to be breathable. There have been many times in the past when I’ve moaned about my jacket not being waterproof, only to realise that the inside is in fact wet with sweat, not rain! You also want it to be windproof, as wind can be just as cold and horrible as rain.
Don’t worry too much about your coat being thick and warm… focus on it being breathable and then layer up with cosy fleeces underneath. I got a new jacket last year which I love: it’s this Jack Wolfskin Oban Sky Jacket, but as long as you get something gortex you should be fine. Waterproof trousers are also a must, just make sure you get some with zip up sides so that you don’t have to take your boots off to get them on or off!
As much as I love the idea of ‘roughing it’, when it actually comes down to it I freak out about not having a big comfortable bed and luxurious bedding at the end of a long day. Sleep is hugely important to me, and I’ll be in a foul mood if I’ve slept badly.
As a result, I have a few essentials that I always take on a multi-day hiking trip:
- Sleeping bag and liner. Regardless of whether I’m camping, staying in a mountain lodge or booking into a hotel, I’ll have these items in my rucksack. It means that I don’t have to worry about unclean (or just scratchy) sheets, and if it’s too hot for a sleeping bag I’ll just use the sleeping bag liner.
- A thick fleece to double as a pillow. It’s unlikely that I’ll need my fleece to sleep in if I have my sleeping bag (soooo cosy!), so I’ll use it as a pillow. Even when pillows are provided, it’s likely that I’ll need some extra cushioning as I’m at least a two pillow sleeper at home.
- Ear plugs. I’m pretty much always hiking with my dad and sharing a twin room or even a tent, and he REALLY snores. Sometimes we’re staying in a mountain hut or refuge in a room full of people snoring… my worst nightmare. Ear plugs are an absolute must have, and to minimise the risk of them falling out I usually sleep with a headband over my ears, or if it’s cold a hat!
- A luxury item. I like to take one or two (small and light!) luxury items with me to create the feeling of a bedtime routine. I’ll be writing another post these items, but this could be my kindle, my favourite moisturiser or a refreshing gel eye mask.
So there you have it, my hiking essentials! Look out for another post soon on my favourite smaller items, but in the mean time I’d love to hear about your packing list.
And of course if you have any questions about buying kit please get in touch and I’ll help as best I can.