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Hitting the trail, even for an hour or two, is a beautiful escape: the fresh air, the birdsongs, the sound of crisp leaves crunching underfoot. But if you’re not equipped with the right gear, it’s easy to get worn out after a mile or two. We’re firm believers in packing light, but if there’s a way to balance need-to-haves for minimal distraction on the trail — you’re here to get away from things, after all — and nice-to-haves for maximum comfort, then we’re all about it. From accessories to apparel, there’s a lot of innovation out there.
Whether you’re gifting these or shopping for yourself — and, to be honest, we highly recommend both — consider this list a starting point. We’ve rounded up some of the best essentials to carry with you on the trail, from great gear for your four-legged companion to a lamb wool patch that will save the day when it comes to blisters and hot spots.
Our Top Picks
Coming in shades of vibrant electric blue and classic black, Deuter’s Speed Lite 20 Pack is one of the best-reviewed daypacks out there. The lightweight, 1.1-pound pack is built for adventure races and ski tours, so when it comes to everyday walkabouts, it really shines. It’s built to reduce strain on the body, with an S-shaped shoulder harness lined with 3D mesh for breathability, a height- and width-adjustable chest strap, a removable hip belt, and a padded back panel with a built-in tensioned Delrin U-frame for support. The bag is also designed for maximum storage and organization, with elastic side pockets, an internal pocket for valuables, and a side-access front compartment. Internally, it’s big enough to carry lunch supplies, an additional layer, and tools like a compass and battery pack. Bonus: You can adapt the backpack for additional use as a hydration pack (up to three liters of water) for less to carry in your hands on the trail.
One of the worst things you can wear on a long hike is a pair of cotton socks — making purpose-knitted hiking socks an absolute essential. Though many brands are turning to synthetic materials for their moisture-wicking properties, there’s still something to be said for wool. Darn Tough socks feature seamless construction in order to eliminate chafing that leads to blisters, and they’re exceptionally cushiony. The merino wool fibers also keep feet from overheating, thanks to their own moisture-wicking capabilities. One tip, however: These socks are best to wear in cooler months and climates. Should you happen to wear your pair out or somehow tear it, the socks come with a lifetime warranty, which helps to justify the otherwise steep price tag. If you prefer a higher shaft, the socks also come in a higher height to cover more of your calf when wearing tall boots.
With a variety of color options to choose from — navy, light blue, khaki, light olive, gray, and dark olive – this hiking hat from Columbia holds up to the brand’s legacy of quality outdoor products at reasonable prices. It’s one of the brand’s most popular models of hiking hat, and for good reason: it's made from textured nylon poplin with 100-percent UPF 50 designed right into it. This level of protection blocks out 98 percent of harmful UVA and UVB rays — and the overall result is so good it’s been recommended by the Foundation for Skin Cancer. Hikers can adjust the toggle of the chin strap to fit their head size correctly in case the wind picks up. The Bora Bora Booney II also incorporates Columbia’s Omni-Wick sweatband and mesh vent panel that keeps air moving around sweaty foreheads, preventing sweat from dripping into eyes. Just keep in mind that it doesn't have a neck flap (a desired feature for many hikers).
Montem is known for its hiking poles, with dependability assured at a budget-friendly price tag (and hey, if you only need one, you can share your spare with another hiker). An adjustable telescopic pole helps hikers set the pole to their correct height, and the aluminum shaft ensures strength while keeping the weight of each pole down to just 9.6 ounces (it’s a little heavier than some poles, but we like the feeling of stability these have). Plus, the poles hold steady on a variety of terrains. You can change out the tips of the poles to perform well on ice, dirt, gravel, mud, snow, paved, rocky, and sandy surfaces — so these can tag along no matter where you’re hiking. We also love the bright variety of colors these come in — they’re easily spottable in the snow or underbrush if you drop them along the way. If you notice something isn’t quite right with your set, the poles also come with a 100-percent satisfaction guarantee.
Widely regarded as one of the best water purifiers for the trail, Sawyer’s MINI water filtration system is great for rehydration. It comes in a variety of colors, so if you’re hiking in a group or with your family, everyone can have their own hue to distinguish their filter from the rest (you can also order them in two- or four-packs). It weighs just two ounces, and it can fit in the palm of your hand, so it won’t weigh anyone down, and it’s extremely effective: It removes 99.99999 percent of all bacteria, and 99.9999 percent of protozoa. The filter comes with a drinking pouch, but you can also attach it to regular disposable water bottles — or use the included straw to drink right out of the stream. You won’t have to worry about using it up for quite a while, either. Each filter is good for up to 100,000 gallons of water during its lifetime, and your purchase comes with two of them.
It’s the littlest injuries that can cause the most annoyance, and we’re not just talking about papercuts. On the trail, issues like hot spots and blisters can seriously ruin an otherwise perfect afternoon in the woods. Enter eNZees Foot Soother multi-activity pack, which contains patches of 100-percent organic lambswool from New Zealand that you can trim to fit the size of your hotspot (it should last around 15 to 20 uses). Put over a hot spot or blister, they’ll reduce friction between skin and shoe and also help to wick away moisture that would eventually lead to full-on blisters, while the natural lanolin in the wool helps to soothe irritated skin. Cleverly, the fibers manage to weave their way into your socks as you walk, so they don’t get battered and shifted around. They’ve been lauded by Backpacker magazine for their effectiveness at helping hot spots, and they also deserve props for their eco-friendliness; the patches are both biodegradable and compostable.
This handy two-pack of collapsible, 1.5-cup dog bowls is one of the top-rated products on Amazon in its genre. They fold flat to fit in storage, under your car seats or in your daypack and they also have carabiners so you can clip them to a daypack or leash. Though the dishes are fairly small, they’re big enough that larger dogs like labradors can still get their muzzle in to eat and drink. We like that each bowl is a different color, so you can separate both water and food on the trail, and they’re also extremely stable, whether you’re perching it on some rocks or have an overly excited dog running about. It’s made from 100-percent pet-safe, food-grade silicone, and a BPA-free rim, so it’s safe for your fur baby to eat out of. Another perk we love? Once you’re back home from your hike, you can throw it on the top rack of your dishwasher for a thorough clean.
If you’re hiking on a chilly fall evening or crisp winter day, sometimes a pair of knit gloves might not cut it. Hand warmers come in handy when the temperatures dip a little low but not quite low enough to merit bulky ski gloves. These hand warmers come in a set of eight and are reusable, so you have the convenience of disposable-style pocket warmers in a much more eco-friendly medium. They’re easy to “recharge,” too: Once they lose their heat — typically after an hour or so — you just throw them in a pot of boiling water for 10 to 15 minutes, and they’ll be as good as new. Because they’re snap-activated, you can throw a couple in your pack for afternoon hikes to sequence out or share as needed — and they’re not heavy enough that they’d make backpacks uncomfortable.
REI Co-op’s Tarn line of backpacks is ideal for kids to grow up with. The brand’s Tarn 12 is best for younger tikes (up to 8 years old or so) or smaller kids, while the 18 fits ones who are 8 to 12 years old. At less than $50 each, they’re not going to break the bank when kids grow out of them, either. We love that water bottle compartments are easily accessible for little ones on the trail (or you can use a hydration bladder with the bag) and that there’s built-in ventilation in the padded back panel for long hikes under the hot sun. There’s also a padded hip-belt with snack-size pockets that will help reduce the load on little hikers’ shoulders. There’s a chance they might not be big enough for the school year — for summer purposes, they’ll hold a lunchbox, swimsuit, and towel — but for outdoor adventures, they’re great.
Our writers spent 4 hours researching the most popular hiking gear on the market. Before making their final recommendations, they considered 45 different products overall, screened options from 28 different brands and manufacturers, and read over 70 user reviews (both positive and negative). All of this research adds up to recommendations you can trust.