Best Hiking Gear 2020
|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, last updated May 2020. 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.
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.
I’m a firm believer in carrying a satellite communications device which works where cell phones don’t. I use a Garmin InReach which lets me send text messages back and forth to my family to let them know that I’m okay or if my plans change when I’m out in the backcountry. It also has an SOS subscription built in so that you can reach first-responders in an emergency. The devices also offer weather reports, GPS, and navigation functionality. For a few hundred bucks they could save your life, so for me it’s a no brainer to have something like a Garmin InReach.
- A popular choice is is the affordable Garmin InReach Mini (REI – Amazon – my review & how-to guide here).
- If you want a full-featured handheld GPS navigator with InReach, check out the GPSMAP 66i (REI – Amazon – my review & how-to guide here). A more affordable option with navigation is the InReach Explorer (REI – Amazon – my review & how-to guide here).
- If you want a backcountry SOS device without a monthly subscription, check out the ACR ResQLink View (REI – Amazon – my full review & guide here)
In this day and age everyone should have some kind of GPS device, and I actually have a few options with me in case one fails. I usually carry a paper map with me and then use a GPS watch to cross-check my position. Being able to glance at my wrist and see if I’m in the right place is something I do often. And because I’m a fitness geek, my GPS watch is also a sports tracker, sleep tracker, measures my heart rate, blood oxidation, and a host of other metrics.
- I use the Fenix 6 Pro Solar (REI – Amazon – my review & guide here) which is pricey but very powerful.
- If you want something similar without the maps and big price tag, check out the Garmin Instinct which is a great buy (REI – Amazon) and does a lot of the same things.
- Osprey Talon 33 Daypack (women, try the Osprey Sirrus 36). The pack weighs a few ounces more than a much smaller pack and has plenty of room for extras like layers, more water, food, or even overnight camping gear. Just a note the bladder is great, but don’t bite the rubber valve too hard with your beaver teeth or it can rip.
- On shorter hikes I use a Osprey Stratos (men) and Osprey Sirrus (women).
- Osprey 3L Hydration bladder – The trick is to not bite down hard on the rubber nozzle and you’ll be great. Osprey took the best aspects of the other water bladder contenders and put them together into a great package that fits nicely into my Osprey pack.
- I love my La Sportiva Spire hiking boots (for women and men) which seem to be the perfect blend of comfort, light weight, traction, waterproofing, and durability. Ideally I’d just hike in trail runners all the time but I’ve had hit or miss luck with different trail runner models falling apart rather quickly.
- I use Injinji sock liners with Darn Tough hiking socks to help prevent blisters.
- 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.
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:
- KUHL Renegade Convertible Pants (which 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
- KUHL Response Shirt (very lightweight, comfortable, good on/off the trail)
- Columbia PFG Tamiami II Long-Sleeve Shirt
- KUHL Revel 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)
- Smartwool NTS Merino 150 Beanie
- KUHL Akkomplice Base Layer Top (super-comfortable as a base or sweater layer for cool mornings)
- Outdoor Research Flurry Sensor Gloves (allows you to use touch screens)
- Chaco Sandals for water or hot weather hikes.
General Hiking Gear
- REI Flash Trekking Poles
I don’t always use trekking poles anymore, but when I do, I like these. They’re light and collapse to fit on my pack. If you want something ultra-light, go for Black Diamond Z Poles. They’re not as versatile but they feel like they are as light as air.
- Sawyer Squeeze Water Filter System
After years of using a great pump system, I finally switched to the inexpensive Sawyer, which I’ve tested for months, works great, is simple, light, and versatile. Don’t get the Mini, which has some issues, the regular Sawyer Squeeze is the one you want.
- Black Diamond Spot 325
The latest evolution of the Spot headlamp is probably the best I’ve ever used.
- Petzl e+Lite
Illumination is important, so I carry this featherweight headlamp as a backup.
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.
- Picaridin Insect Repellent and the Head Net
If I know that I’m hiking somewhere that potentially has mosquitos or flies, I’ll throw these in my pack just in case. The head net looks silly but works great; no swatting bugs away from your face on climbs, etc.
I treat my clothes with this every few months to make them insect repellent. It’s easy and just takes a few minutes.
- Thinksport Sunscreen SPF 50
It’s sunscreen that I can just apply once and then forget about.
- Waterproof Pack Liner
If you hike where it’s wet, I’ve found that a waterproof pack liner works much better than a rain cover and lets me still access items in the outside pockets.
- Celestron Nature 10 x 25 Monocular
It’s nice to have a set of monocular with you, especially when in the mountains. You can see for miles and they’re much lighter than binoculars. 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.
- UL Backcountry Trowel
I carry this lightweight and effective trowel 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.
- Anker Portable Charger
It’s good to have if your GPS unit and/or smartphone die. Don’t forget the cable to connect.
- Osprey Poco AG Plus Child Carrier
Great backpack for putting babies and toddlers into. Let them walk for as much as they can, then throw them in the backpack when they start to melt down.
- Garmin VIRB 360 Camera
I use this to shoot some great 360 and HD footage of my hikes. Waterproof and works like a GoPro, only better.
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 6 Pro Solar
I use this to track my hikes and follow GPX files, along with a ton of other features in my everyday life like fitness and sleep tracking.
- 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. HikingGuy users get 20-40% off a premium membership with this link.
- Garmin GPSMAP 66i
Because my phone is relatively fragile, even in an Otterbox, I have a backup GPX device specifically made for the outdoors. The GPSMAP 66i is the top of the line handheld navigation device, and it also has InReach so I can send and receive text messages where cell phones don’t work.
- Paper Map, Guide Book, and/or Printout
I never rely on electronics alone; I always have a backup on paper. I have printable maps on my guides and you can also download free PDF maps from National Geographic.
- 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.
I don’t do really long trips, with my longest being a week. Here’s what works well for me.
- Osprey Exos 58 Pack
Most used pack on AT for 2019! We’re spoiled these days because there a lot of great, lightweight packs, but I’ve found this is the best all-around option. It’s comfortable, well-thought-out, and lightweight. Another great option that’s a little smaller is the Gregory Optic 48 Pack if you don’t need 58L. Another good choice if you don’t use a hydration bladder are the Hyperlite packs.
- 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.
- Sea to Summit Ultralight Sleeping Pad
It’s rare (like never) that I get excited about a new sleeping pad, but his one is SOOOOO much more comfortable than any that I’ve tried before. Worth every ounce.
- Kammok Mantis Ultralight All-in-One Hammock Tent – I’ve been using this over the last few months and really love it. Everything is light and fits together in a single bag. It even has a bug net for this very buggy year. When I know I can camp with trees, this is my goto move.
Winter Hike Gear
- Smartwool Merino 250 Base Layer Crew Top – (another layer with hood for really cold days)
- Smartwool Merino 250 Base Layer Bottoms – (long underwear for really cold hikes)
- Darn Tough Mountaineering Socks
- Black Diamond Mittens
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. When I do a longer hike, I carry emergency gear to get me through the night. On a shorter hike, I bring a subset of emergency gear.
- ACR ResQLink View
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 View 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.
- UCO Titan 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 Squirt Multi-Tool
This new Leatherman is small, light, and gives me pliers and practical tools in addition to a blade. I’ve used it to repair tent poles and other random gear over the season.
- 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.
- Quarter Dome SL Tarp
I use an ultralight tarp as a general lightweight tool with many uses. It can be used as a shelter, a blanket, and a way to carry materials such as leaves. It’s actually build as a shelter so with some stakes and 5 minutes I can have a quick, dry area setup. I’ve camped with it and used it as a refuge in thunderstorms. Good to have in your pack.
- 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.
Post Hike Recovery
- Trigger Point Performance GRID X Foam Roller – It looks hokey but rolling you back and legs on this thing does wonders.
- OluKai Shoes – They’re a really comfortable way to pamper my feet after a long hike.
- Pro-Tec Athletics Spiky Ball Massage Ball – It looks like a dog toy but just spending a minute or two rolling your feet on this little ball makes them feel great.
- NUUN Active Tabs Hydration Tablets – Pop one in a big water bottle to make sure all your electrolytes and minerals are topped up. There’s no sugar or crap, just the stuff you need.
Car Camping / Basecamp Setup
If I’m doing some car camping or setting up a little basecamp, this is what I use. It’s generally too heavy to lug into the backcountry, but is nice and comfortable for a car campsite.
- The North Face Wawona 6 Tent
This tent is huge. My family can all sleep and walk around in it with no problem. It’s easy to setup, takes a beating, and has options to store gear outside in a vestibule.
- Yeti Cooler
Yea they’re expensive but they work better than other coolers and last forever.
- REI Co-op Camp Stowaway Low Chair
This is a simple and very comfortable chair that lets me recline and relax. Has worked well over time.
- REI Co-op Kingdom Cot 3
Don’t laugh at me, but I use a cot in the big tent. Why? It feels like a bed and I sleep better. This one is an evolution of older REI cots and is very comfortable. I even use it for house guests.
- Jetboil Genesis Basecamp System Camp Stove
This system has worked great for me and is big enough to cook for the family. It uses standard (small) propane canisters that you can get anywhere.
- Small Table
If you don’t have a picnic bench, having a small table or two to cook on helps. I just have a cheapo that I got at Walmart. You don’t need to go fancy here.
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.