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Best Day Pack: Osprey Skarab 18 at Amazon
"Osprey's day pack can haul up to 25 pounds and comes with a water reservoir that's easy to access."
Best Boots: Danner Men's Mountain Pass Boots at Amazon
"The boot's low-profile outsole delivers confident traction and out-of-the-box comfort."
Best Sneakers: Altra Men's Lone Peak 4.5 Trail Sneaker at Amazon
"These trail-running sneakers have an intuitive feel and offer great air circulation."
"Made from a blend of wool, nylon, and elastane fabrics, these socks cut down on chafing."
Best Accessory: Columbia River Chill PFG Neck Gaiter at Columbia
"Uses award-winning technology to provide a noticeable cooling effect when you start to sweat."
Best Hydration Pack: Osprey Men's Duro 15 at Amazon
"This hydration pack has pockets on the shoulder straps, which are great for holding snacks."
Best First-Aid Kit: Adventure Medical Kits Day Tripper Lite at Amazon
"This first aid kit provides you with all the lifelines you might need for a day-long hike."
Best Hiking Poles: Black Diamond Trail Ergo Cork Trekking Poles at Amazon
"With an ergonomic grip for maximum wrist comfort, these hiking poles nail all the required features."
Best GPS: Garmin eTrex 22x at Amazon
"Comes pre-loaded maps, making it a reliable navigation companion for even the most remote day hikes."
"Constructed of UPF 50 fabric to filter out harsh UV rays and wicks away sweat."
In many ways, hiking is the perfect outdoor activity. In terms of skill, if you can walk, you can go hiking—especially if you start your first forays into the sport on beginner-level trails before leveling up to tackle summit hikes or those that might involve rock scrambling, exposure, or river crossings. It’s also one of the easiest ways to become enveloped by the natural world.
Trails exist practically everywhere, from an urban oasis like Washington, DC’s Rock Creek Park to an array of county, regional, and state parks. The only thing you really need is the gear that can make hiking all that more enjoyable—the right footwear, packs, first-aid kits, and other accessories that assure success, even if your pace is more meandering than record-breaking.
Read on for our top picks of the best hiking gear available.
Our Top Picks
Best Day Pack: Osprey Skarab 18
The perfect hiking day pack should provide enough space to carry the essentials—a rain jacket, an extra layer, your first-aid kit, and some food—but not so much space that everything is swimming around in your pack. Osprey’s Skarab 18 hits that mark, with 18 liters of internal storage and the ability to haul up to 25 pounds comfortably. The wide-mouth opening makes it easy to access the insides, with dual mesh side pockets on the outside, and a zippered pocket under the lid. It also comes with a water reservoir that slips into the space between the main pack and the back panel for easy access.
This pack uses a foam suspension system, which provides support and ventilation, and partners with a sternum strap and a removable webbed hip belt to help distribute the load. And if you want haul even more than what you can fit inside, a front panel of daisy-chain attachments can be used to lash things onto the pack.
Best Boots: Danner Men's Mountain Pass Boots
For some, day hiking in a pair of boots will be overkill. But if you have weak ankles, are heading into more hostile terrain, or just want really bomber footwear, go for the Mountain Pass hiking boots from this Oregon-based brand. Styled after their iconic all-leather boots, this lightweight version is ideal for light day hiking, with an updated construction that integrates the shank, midsole, and lasting board into one piece. Full-grain leather uppers block out the elements and will stand up to years abuse, with a Dri-Lex liner for breathable protection. Plus, the low-profile Vibram Kletterlift outsole delivers confident traction and out-of-the-box comfort, something that’s not typical to most all-leather hiking boots.
Best Sneakers: Altra Men's Lone Peak 4.5 Trail Sneaker
The Lone Peak 4.5 from Altra may be marketed as a trail-running sneaker, but there’s a reason it’s one of the most popular footwear choices for thru-hikers on the Appalachian Trail. It only weighs 10.5 ounces, which makes a difference when you take into account that 1 pound on your feet is the equivalent of carrying 5 pounds on your back. But don’t assume that means the sneaker cuts corners. These shoes come with an integrated StoneGuard to fend off sharp rocks and Trailclaw lugs and a Maxtrac tread for grip, traction, and durability.
As with all Altra shoes, there’s no drop between the heel and toe, which affords a more neutral stride, and the toe box is quite wide, which allows your toes to splay out for a more intuitive feel that improves balance and offers more air circulation. They also come with a Velcro “Gaitertrap” that can marry with Altra’s gaiters to help keep rocks and debris from entering. The only potential knock against these kicks are a relatively modest toe cap; if you’re prone to stubbing your toes, you may want to look elsewhere.
Best Socks: Smartwool PhD Pro Outdoor Light Hiking Socks
It’s easy to see why gear geeks get so excited about modern sock technology. Unlike your pair of go-to cotton socks, products like the PhD Pro Hiking Crew Sock from Smartwool blend all kinds of technology into what is a relatively straightforward piece of apparel. These socks are made from a blend of merino wool, nylon, and elastane fabrics. They feature a Four Degree Elite Fit System that lets the sock hug your feet and flex at the ankle, with a virtually seamless toe to cut down on chafing or hot spots. A touch of cushioning underneath helps absorb impact, while mesh venting zones let your feet breathe.
As with all things merino, the fabric will keep you cool when you’re hot, retains heat when you get cold, and fends off any odors. They’re even machine-washable, though be sure to air dry them so they last for many future hiking trips.
Best Accessory: Columbia River Chill PFG Neck Gaiter
The one item most hikers don’t think to acquire—and never want to leave behind once they do—is a neck gaiter. Columbia's River Chill PFG gaiter is treated with UPF 50 to block out the sun and uses the brand’s award-winning Omni-Freeze Zero technology for a noticeable cooling effect when you start to sweat. Just douse it with water, pull it on, and you’ll instantly start to feel the effects as the fabric cools off the back of your neck. It can also work as a simple face mask, or you can pull it up over your ears to provide additional protection from the sun. It can be used as a sweat rag when needed, too.
Best Hydration Pack: Osprey Men's Duro 15
Ideal for minimalist hikers who like to move fast and stay hydrated, the Osprey Duro 15 provides a modest 15 liters of storage and a 2.5-liter Hydraulics reservoir with a magnet that connects to the sternum strap to keep it on hand—and out of the way—while you’re hiking. Pockets positioned on the shoulder straps are perfect for quick snacks and zippered pockets on the hip strap work well for your smartphone and keys. You also get dual zippered mesh pockets on the lower side panel, a vertical zippered harness slash pocket, two extra-large stretch mesh harness pockets, and a trekking pole attachment. The wider shoulder straps are adjustable to help dial the optimal fit. And a stabilizing hip belt and a sternum strap further aid in weight distribution.
Osprey also makes a femme-specific model, the Dyna, which comes with the same features and a harness construction suitable to a woman’s physique.
Best First-Aid Kit: Adventure Medical Kits Day Tripper Lite
The one item you should always pack (and hope to never have to use) is a first-aid kit, which is essential for any day hiker. And Adventure Medical Kits’ Mountain Day Tripper Lite provides you with all the lifelines you might need for a day-long outing. It includes 13 bandages, three antiseptic wipes, a triple antibiotic ointment, two alcohol swabs, three bite-relief wipes, a pair of forceps to remove ticks or splinters, four sterile gauze dressings, one conforming gauze bandage, and 14 pieces of Moleskin that’s been pre-cut and shaped to help prevent blistering. Better still, it comes with a wilderness first-aid manual to help you handle practically any emergency. All this in a water-resistant package that weighs only 3.4 ounces. Semi-transparent pockets make it easy to find what you need, and a reflective logo helps you locate the kit in the dark.
Best Hiking Poles: Black Diamond Trail Ergo Cork Trekking Poles
Serious hikers know that hiking poles provide a myriad of benefits. They take the weight off punishing descents, help you navigate through mud fields or across rivers, and also help establish a steady rhythm while moving. With an ergonomic grip for maximum wrist comfort, the Ergo Cork Trekking Poles from Black Diamond nails all the required features. The four-season poles are constructed of lightweight aluminum and employ the brand’s FlintLock technology to let you adjust the length easily. Durable carbide tech tips bite into almost any type of terrain, but you can also swap out the included trekking baskets for snow baskets to keep you moving freely in cold weather. The cork handles feel comfortable in your hands while EVA foam grip extensions provide a steady grasp.
Best GPS: Garmin eTrex 22x
Yes, most smartphones come with integrated GPS technology, but—as most intrepid hikers will tell you—service is seldom a given when you’re out in the wild. The hiking-friendly eTrex 22x from Garmin comes pre-loaded with TopoActive maps with routable roads and trails for hiking and cycling, making it a reliable navigation companion for even the most remote day hikes. A 2.2-inch color display has been optimized to be easily seen under the blazing sun. It also has an additional 8 GB of internal memory, so you can download additional maps. Nee more data? Upload a microSD card and slip it into the integrated card reader.
Two AA batteries provide up to 25 hours of support in GPS mode, and a three-axel compass and barometric altimeter works with both GPS and GLONASS satellite systems so it won’t get confused even if you happen to get turned around.
Best Hat: Columbia Men's Trail Essential Hat
The Trail Essential Hat from Columbia demonstrates the many benefits of wearing a hat while day hiking. This piece of apparel is constructed of UPF 50 fabric to filter out harsh UV rays. The cotton fabric wicks away sweat and dries quickly, while also helping to keep sweat out of your eyes when you really start to move on the trail. And, unlike traditional baseball-style hats, it cinches via a snap-button strap, rather than pesky Velcro or a pre-fitted plastic strap, making the Trail Essential Hat just as durable, season-to-season, as it is simple to use.