Best Hiking Gear 2018
|In This Guide|
Don’t waste your money on gear that’s no good; I’ve already done that for you! Here’s my trail-tested best hiking gear list for 2018, updated regularly. I only recommend hiking gear that I’ve used over hundreds of miles. I don’t post any paid reviews and don’t waste your time with gear that I try but isn’t up to snuff.
For most gear on this site, I link to REI, and when you click on the link and purchase the item, I receive a very small affiliate commission. I use that commission to pay for website hosting and other costs of running HikingGuy. So please use the links on this page to buy your gear. Think of it as an easy way to support free hiking guides for everyone.
And don’t forget, use your gear at home first on a simple walk and get used to it before you take it out on the trail. Unboxing and setting up at the trailhead is usually a recipe for bad times.
Looking for a gift idea? Check out my 2018 gift guide for hikers.
If you ever hike out of cellphone range, you need this. The Garmin InReach Mini allows you to send and receive text messages where cell phones don’t work using satellite technology. You can tell your family you’re okay, that you’re running late, or signal for a full blow emergency to search and rescue. It also has weather reports and navigation tools. It’s worth every cent, and you can read my in-depth review here or go right to REI and read the reviews and specs. There’s also a larger version called the inReach Explorer that comes with topo maps, and my review for that is here.
Garmin InReach Mini Prices & Reviews
I use this Fenix 5x Plus GPS mapping watch every day. The Garmin Fenix 5x Plus is a GPS with topo maps that you wear on your wrist. I use it to track my hikes and also load GPX tracks onto it that I want to follow. I don’t do a lot of on the fly planning using the maps on the watch, but I can if I need to. Outside of hiking, I use the Fenix t to track my heart rate, my sleep, all my other workouts, and it integrates with my smartphone. I have an in-depth review of the last (regular) Fenix 5x if you want to learn more. A full review of the Fenix 5x Plus is coming soon.
Garmin Fenix 5x Plus Prices & Reviews
I don’t like to have a lot of crap in my closet, so I just invest in a few key pieces of hiking clothing. In general I like clothing from REI, Columbia, and Kuhl. They fit well, are built for hikers, and wick/dry quickly.
This is what I use on the trail:
- REI Trail 40 (I’m using the last model which is great, but a new one came out in August 2018. I’m testing that and some others now)
- La Sportiva Spire hiking boots (for women and men)
- Injinji sock liners (to help prevent blisters)
- Darn Tough hiking socks
- KUHL Renegade Convertible Pants (which convert into shorts)
- Columbia Silver Ridge Convertible Pants (which also convert into shorts)
- ExOfficio Give-N-Go Sport Mesh Boxer Briefs (these are great for day to day also)
- REI Co-op Sahara Plaid Shirt
- Columbia PFG Tamiami II Long-Sleeve Shirt
- KUHL Interceptr Quarter-Zip Fleece Pullover (which I use as a layer on top of other shirts)
- REI Co-op Drypoint GTX Jacket (which I can use as a layer over a shirt and fleece, or just a light rain shell)
- REI Co-op Magma 850 Down Jacket (it stuffs down to a small ball in my pack)
- Smartwool NTS Merino 150 Beanie
- A lightweight running visor
- Outdoor Research Flurry Sensor Gloves (allows you to use touch screens)
- Chaco Sandals for water or hot weather hikes.
Any good planner will tell you that backups and redundancy are important, and that holds true for your hiking navigation too. I recommend bringing multiple sources of navigation for your hike in case one fails or is incorrect.
Here’s what I bring:
- Garmin Fenix 5x Plus
I use this to track my hikes and follow GPX files, along with a ton of other features in my everyday life.
- Gaia GPS
I use this app on my phone with offline maps as another option. It’s handy when I need to move around a map quickly to see my surroundings. Make sure you read the advice on their site for using the app, it’s easy to run the battery down if you don’t set things up correctly. I use it with an iPhone X. HikingGuy users get 20-40% off a premium membership with this link.
- eTrex 20x
Because my phone is relatively fragile, even in an Otterbox, I have a backup GPX device specifically made for the outdoors. The eTrex 20x is relatively inexpensive and has everything you need, including the ability to load free maps.
- Garmin InReach Mini
This is a really small GPS device that lets you send a text message with your position using satellite phone technology, so you don’t need a cell phone signal. It also has navigation tools, but I only use them in a pinch.
- Paper Map, Guide Book, and/or Printout
I never rely on electronics alone; I always have a backup on paper.
- Carson 5x MiniBrite LED Lighted Slide-Out Aspheric Magnifier with Protective Sleeve
I have a small lightweight model to read the tiny details on a topographic map. It has a small LED light on it for the night. As a survival bonus, you can use it to start a fire from the sun if you need to.
- Suunto M-3 D Leader Compass
I don’t use my small and light compass much, but I have it in case I loose my electronic navigation options. Take a class to learn how to use it.
General Hiking Gear
- America the Beautiful Pass (aka the National Parks Pass)
It gets you free admission everywhere you need a pass in the USA outside of state and local parks (National Forest Service, National Park Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management and Bureau of Reclamation). Also works instead of an Adventure Pass. Worth its weight in gold. Buy through REI and they’ll donate 10% of sales to the National Park Foundation.
- REI Membership
For $20 you get up to 10% on everything for life. It’s a no-brainer.
- Black Diamond Distance Carbon Z Trekking Poles
I don’t always use trekking poles anymore, but when I do, I like these. They’re light and fold up small in my pack.
- MSR Guardian Purifier
A small, bullet-proof water purifier lets me take water from streams and lakes to refill my supply.
- Black Diamond Storm Headlamp
The LED bulbs barely take any power and the model I have allows me to adjust the level of illumination. Don’t forget the extra batteries.
- Petzl e+Lite
Illumination is important, so I carry a featherweight backup headlamp too.
When choosing foods for a hike, I usually try to cram the most slow-burning calories in the smallest package. ProBars are a great mix of nuts, seeds, and sugar, and are tasty. A bag of almonds does the trick too.
When I hike in a location where bugs are an issue, I’ll treat my clothes with this.
- Thinksport Sunscreen SPF 50
It’s sunscreen that I can just apply once and then forget about.
- Nikon Trailblazer ATB Waterproof 8 x 25 Binoculars
It’s nice to have a set of binoculars with you, especially when in the mountains. They can come in handy during an emergency situation too.
- Counter Assault Bear Deterrent Spray
If I’m in bear country, or otherwise remote, I might bring some bear spray with me. It works on mountain lions and people as well.
- The Deuce of Spades Backcountry Potty Trowel
I carry this and a small roll of single-ply toilet paper in case of an emergency. It’s light and makes life easier when you need it.
- Joby Flexible Tripod
The Joby bends and flexes so you can use it on uneven surfaces or attach it to a tree or branch. It works with your smartphone too. Include a cheap Bluetooth shutter button for your phone camera, and you have a good photo setup.
- Goal Zero Flip 30 Portable Charger
It’s good to have if your GPS unit and/or smartphone die. Don’t forget the cable to connect. I also carry spare batteries for my headlamp and eTrex 20x.
I don’t do really long trips, with my longest being a week. Here’s what works well for me.
- REI Co-op Traverse 70 Pack
I use this pack as my goto backpack for longer hikes. It’s very comfortable and has a bunch of pockets that make it easy to organize. Overall is really well-thought out for actual use, the pockets and zippers are all the right place. It’s big, so I don’t have to worry about having room for a longer or colder hike. It’s a great workhorse.
- REI Quarter Dome Tent
I take the tent components out of the bag and put them in my backpack individually, and it packs down to nothing. No big tent back in my pack. It’s almost half the weight of similar tents, easy to set up, relatively inexpensive, and durable.
- Jetboil Flash Stove
I’ve had mine since 2006, and it’s still going strong. It’s easy and gets water fast quick.
- REI Co-op Igneo 17 Sleeping Bag
This is a great 3 season sleeping bag at an affordable price. It weighs about 2lbs, is water-resistant, and packs down small. I wouldn’t use it below freezing, but for anything else, it’s great.
- REI Co-op Flash Insulated Air Sleeping Pad
I used to tough it out without a sleeping pad. I used to be dumb. They’re great. I love this model which is inflatable and packs down small. I always hated carrying around a bulky sleeping pad strapped to my pack. With this one, you don’t have to.
- ENO SingleNest Hammock
I love sleeping in a hammock when I can (when there are trees that is). The Eno is really light and packs down small. Don’t forget to get the straps to extend and attach it.
Emergency Survival Kit
Here’s what I carry as my emergency hiking essentials. Most of this gear sits at the bottom of my pack, there in case of an emergency.
- Garmin InReach Mini
The Garmin InReach (formerly the DeLorme InReach) is not only my primary rescue beacon, but it also lets me send and receive text messages where cell phones don’t work. It’s great for my family and friends. I’m able to check in and tell them that I’m safe, or let them know I’m running late but everything is okay. It’s very small and light, and worth the investment.
- ACR ResQLink
The ACR ResQLink is worth its weight in gold. It’s a small GPS beacon that works where cell phones don’t. When you activate it, it sends an SOS with your position to international search and rescue satellites. Read my review of the ACR ResQLink to understand how crucial thing is.
- Whistles for LIFE Tri-Power Whistle
If people are searching for you and you’re off the trail, you’re going to want to be making noise, and a small and cheap whistle is an easy way to do it. Some backpack chest straps have whistles built in now too.
- Ultimate Survival Technologies StarFlash Micro Mirror
I’ve never used my lightweight signal mirror, but allegedly if there’s an air rescue, you can flash the mirror toward the aircraft and catch their eye. I’d call this a second choice after smoke signals.
- Zippo Windproof Lighter
I carry this and a few cheap Bic lighters in my pack as backup. Fire is crucial for staying warm and signaling rescuers. Just make sure you keep the fire under control. People trying to signal a rescue have started forest fires before.
- UCO Stormproof Match Kit
These are a backup to start a fire and includes some tinder to help you get the fire going. It’s light and easy to keep in your pack.
- MSR Strike Igniter
Yes, I think fire is important, so I have another way to create it. This igniter is small and light, and worth having.
- Leatherman Skeletool Multi-Tool
I carry a blade with me because it’s a great tool. I like Swiss Army knives, but realistically I don’t need all the functions, and I like a longer blade just in case. The Skeletool is a good mix between a Swiss Army knife and a longer blade, and it’s light.
- Adventure Medical Kits Mountain Series Hiker Medical Kit
This kit is light and has the basics. Get it for yourself and to help others. Consider a NOLS Wilderness First Aid course, which is great.
- Tenacious Tape
I like this better than duct tape; it seems to be stronger and cleaner. Use it to repair ripped gear and clothing when out in the backcountry.
- MSR Reflective Utility Cord Kit
I keep some light gauge (3mm) cordage (rope) to help me build a shelter, hoist food off the ground, whatever. Get a bright color utility cord like this type, which is easy to see.
- MSR Hubba Hubba NX Footprint
I use this tent footprint as a general lightweight tarp with many uses. It can be used as a lean-to shelter, a blanket, a way to carry materials such as leaves, and a way to carry water. A tent footprint is light, does the job well and works with my tent when I need it. Its grommets make it easy to rig up and work with.
- SOL Emergency Bivy
Similar to the tarp, this is a lightweight sleeping sack that can help protect me from the elements and keep me warm. If you want extra warmth, simply stuff it with leaves or pine needles. This inexpensive model works well, is orange and easy to spot, and has reflective material on the inside to keep heat in.
- Clear Contractor Bag
I carry two of these. The bags are helpful to keep gear dry (like fire tinder), you can store water in them, make a rain shelter, or even make a solar still to get water from condensation.
Planning Tools and Software
Here’s what I use when planning hikes.
- Garmin Basecamp with Free OpenStreetMaps
Great for planning routes and sending to my device.
I use the website to plan sometimes, and always keep a backup GPX on my device. There are other options in the app store, but I like the GaiaGPS app because I can save maps offline. HikingGuy fans get 20-40% off a premium membership with this link: https://www.gaiagps.com/discounts/#_r_hikingguy.
A great pro-level mapping site that also lets you overlay weather and wildfire maps. You can print trail maps here, and I often do.
Another map and GPX tool site that has a variety of functions.
- Paper Maps and Guide Books
There’s a variety that I use and they change based on where I’m hiking.