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The Gear You Need to Hike the White Mountains

Anyone considering going for a hike knows the basic obvious things one would need, like good shoes and water, but not so obvious are things like what kind of shoes and how much water. What should a prospective hiker look for in a backpack? What should absolutely be in said backpack, and what’s just nice to have? Well, if you’re someone who has recently found themselves asking these questions, you’ve come to the right place.


The type of footwear you will need depends entirely on the type of trail you’re hiking, the weather, and how devoted or active a hiker you are or see yourself becoming. If you plan to hike +4,000 foot mountains every other weekend for the next two years, or you’re hiking the Appalachian Trail, you would be justified in spending $300 or more on a pair of high-quality, sturdy, waterproof boots that are all but ready for combat. While shopping, you should pay attention to the tread (it should have a deep profile and look super crazy), material (leather boot, goretex or similar sole), height (the higher the boot goes up your leg, the more support you have - keep your ankles safe), stiffness (the more hiking you’re doing, the stiffer you want them), and waterproofness (don’t buy anything that isn’t at least water resistant - sad reality is you have to choose between your feet getting wet with mud water or your own sweat).

However, if you’re just a casual dabbler in the hiking world, climbing mostly what would be better described as hills than mountains and only in optimal weather conditions, consider a pair of lightweight hiking shoes as opposed to boots. They’re not as heavy, which is great if you have bad knees, typically offer some waterproofing, and have solid treads. Only downside is if you have bad ankles, they will do nothing to help you.

There are also plenty of options of the day-boot variety, which is a lower cut boot for people who like to hike, but aren’t doing anything too ambitious. It’s a compromise between the full boot and the hiking shoe. Whatever you do, don’t wear tennis shoes or sandals, unless you want to look like you crapped your pants on the way down when your toenails fell off.


Yeah man, socks. They’re a bigger deal than you think. If you don’t want gross, itchy foot fungus, painful blisters, and the like, you gotta get some real socks. For a short, easy day trip in beautiful, dry weather you can probably get away with standard cotton athletic socks. (Just make sure the cuff is higher than the top of your shoe or welcome to blister city!) But for anything more than that, socks made primarily of Merino wool are your best bet (for you vegans out there, try polyester-nylon blends). It’s important that your socks fit exactly to your size (none of this S,M,L bullshit) to prevent tension from being too tight (which can lead to the removal of toenails) or rubbing from being too loose (again, blisters). Good hiking socks have extra cushioning on the key spots where blisters tend to happen, and just on the soles in general to ward off aches and soreness. Wool socks are also nice and warm, but don’t collect sweat the way cotton ones do (which can lead to fungus), and if they get wet, they dry much faster.


Yup, pants. Public service announcement: never go hiking in jeans. Not only will you look foolish, you will open yourself up to chafing and swampass. Just don’t do it. At the very least, wear athletic shorts or leggings of some sort. If you’re really get into hiking, invest in some proper hiking pants, ideally the super dorky dad-pants that have the zippers to convert them into shorts, mid-length or full-length pants. They should be made of some combination of nylon and spandex, and fit well (make sure you have full range of motion, but don’t look like you’re going to a P-Diddy concert).


Never, ever wear a cotton T-shirt while hiking. You could die, not kidding - hypothermia is not a joke. When looking for hiking shirts - or hiking clothes in general - you want synthetic fabrics that continue to insulate even when wet (low absorbancy) and wick away moisture using capilary action. Look for shirts made of nylon, spandex, polyester or some mix of any of these. Wool is also okay if it’s going to be cold out. But never cotton, rayon, viscose, silk, or modal. They all will absorb water and lose their insulating properties, which is not only uncomfortable but can be deadly if the temperature drops.


Possibly the most important piece of equipment you can bring with you, second to your footwear, your jacket can also be a matter of life and death in certain seasons and situations. Even in the height of summer, don’t climb up a mountain without at least a light rain jacket. You can never know for sure when you might need it, and it the air is always cooler at the top of a mountain than it is at the base. Regardless of the season, make sure your jacket is waterproof with some sort of moisture wicking layer on the skin-facing side. Many people prefer softshell jackets for comfort and noise reasons - nobody likes to feel like they’re wearing a glorified trash bag. In general, pockets are your friends, just make sure they have good zippers. This probably goes without saying, but make sure your jacket has a hood to keep your head dry and warm should bad weather strike. Layering is always a good idea. Make sure your jacket is seasonally appropriate.


Keeping your pack as light as possible without skimping on anything you need is the key to having a fun, safe adventure in the White Mountains. The kind of trip you’re doing will determine the kind of pack you need. For a short day-trip, you really only need a simple pack with about 25L volume. For longer trips, however, or trips in cold or rapidly changing weather conditions, you’ll need at least 35L, and more if you’re carrying a tent and sleeping bag. Especially for larger packs, a good hip belt is essential, because it redistributes the weight of the pack from your shoulders to your hips, preventing back injury. When hiking in summer, a pack that curves slightly away from your back allowing air flow is ideal. External pockets for water bottles are best for easy access, or if you’re more of a hydration pouch person then you’ll want the mouthpiece on one of the shoulder straps.


In addition to extra clothes and socks, make sure you always pack the following: at least 2L of water, enough food for your trip, sunscreen (regardless of season), hand sanitizer, a hat, and insect repellent (spring and summer). Good to have on all trips (at least one person in your party) but absolutely on longer trips: water filter, first aid kit, pocket knife, fire starter, emergency whistle, UV blanket, battery pack for cell phones, GPS. In winter, it’s a good idea to have a spare pair of gloves and winter hat, just in case.


Especially if you have bad knees, hiking sticks are never a bad idea. This category is more of an “as you need” section. Worried about rolling your ankles still? Bring an ankle brace. Not into sandwiches? Bring a tupperware of something you do like and a reusable spork. Ibuprofen is also never a bad idea, just in case. And sports tape.

That’s it! Is there anything you would add to this list?

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