We’ve been discussing our upcoming hiking vacation – post COVID, of course – and our hiking boots and hiking shoes. So in this final article we want to discuss other hiking equipment that doesn’t get nearly as much attention as footwear, but is quite critical. Getting out in the wilderness and realizing you’ve forgotten something critical is a ghastly thought, so add these essentials to your hiking equipment checklist.
Hiking Sticks: Disdain To Admiration For Hiking Sticks
Hiking sticks are quite controversial, which seems odd for such a simple tool. There are those who swear by them, and there are those who disdain them. For every person using them as balance aids on steep descents, there will one who finds them akin to using training wheels on mountain bikes.
What are they? Hiking sticks. Simple poles on which many people rely to see them safely up and down the more challenging stretches of their hikes.
Hiking sticks come in many forms; they may be smooth slender branches of a suitable height, which the user simply found at trailside; they may be similar to ski poles and constructed of adjustable height lightweight metal. Their price can range from free, as in the trailside variety, to expensive, as in those of adjustable metal.
Do they really help?
Well, some people find that, like crutches or canes, hiking sticks offer additional stability, and alleviate some of the weight on their legs and feet by transferring it to their arms. To people who would otherwise have to forego strenuous hiking because of joint pain aggravated by having to carry heavy loads, they can be significant help. For those hikers, hiking sticks can mean the difference between still being able to stand at the end of the day and having to be helped into a car and carted home.
Here are some factors to consider in deciding if a hiking stick is right for you:
How good are your knees?
Most of us, most of the time, move on flat surfaces. So when our flat-surface-trained knees are asked to support both your body weight and your backpack over challenging backcountry terrain, they may not be up to the task. The stress may show up as knee pain.
Having a hiking stick will mean you can shift the weight from your knees to your arms as required, and reduce the chance of developing knee pain.
Do you have trouble getting up hills?
If you are equipped with a pair of hiking sticks you can have both arms and both legs at work propelling you up hills. You will move faster and spread your weight more evenly between your upper and lower body.
Hiking sticks can also let you go farther, assist you in getting over soft or muddy terrain, and act to balance you when you have to cross running water or rocky ground.
We’ve covered the reasons why you might want to use hiking sticks. So what are the reasons not to?
They may cost you some money, and they will cost you some energy. If you are hiking with hiking sticks, not only your legs, but your arms will be working. So you will be using your energy reserves at an accelerated rate.
In addition, if your hands are holding your hiking sticks, they can’t be doing anything else. And finally, you’ll have to take the time to learn proper hiking stick technique. It may be trickier than you think!
Hiking Clothes: Stay Warm, Dry & Protected With High-Quality Hiking Clothes
There are three basic reasons why we wear hiking clothes and they’re just like ‘ordinary’ clothing: to stay warm, to stay dry, and to stay protected from things that might bite or scratch us. In those respects, hiking clothes are no different from street apparel, but they are designed to perform their functions under conditions more extreme than we normally encounter in our everyday lives.
And, when one of the precepts of hiking is to pack light and make everything you carry do as much work as possible, the idea of hiking garments suitable for a variety of conditions makes tremendous sense. The fewer clothes you carry, the more room you will have for other items. Or you can just treat yourself to a lighter backpack.
How exactly will good hiking clothes function?
One of the most important features of properly designed hiking clothes is their ability to help you maintain your thermal equilibrium. Thermal equilibrium means that your body is able to maintain its core temperature no matter what the surrounding temperature is.
This does not necessarily mean your hiking clothes should be designed to keep you warm. They should be designed to keep you warm when you need it, but also to let your body cool itself when it is in danger of overheating.
Having to either manufacture extra heat in cold weather, or extra perspiration in hot weather, can be a tremendous drain on your body’s reserves. And wearing the proper thermal-equilibrium-balancing hiking clothes can make all the difference as to whether you have the energy to finish your hike.
The first way in which hiking clothes can keep your body core temperature balanced is by keeping you dry. So they need to prevent outside moisture from getting in, and they need to wick perspiration away from your skin.
Well-made hiking clothes, therefore, should be both waterproof and breathable. Finding both features in the same piece of hiking apparel can take some time, and will cost more, but hiking clothes that have them are worth every extra penny you pay.
The second thing you should look for in your hiking clothes is the amount of padding they provide between you and the outside environment. Hiking will inevitably bring you into contact with sharp branches and rocks, or the rough, unforgiving ground. You can expect your skin, if not properly protected, to get cut, bruised, scraped, or otherwise mauled.
Padded or reinforced hiking clothes will remove a lot of the possibility for skin damage that can come with hikes through the wilderness. And they will also eliminate chafing, which has brought many a budding hiking career to a quick and painful halt.
Clothes, it has been said, make the man. Well-made hiking clothes definitely make the hike!
Hiking Shorts: Less Protective, But More Enjoyable Hiking Shorts Are A Big Favorite
The virtues of hiking shorts are hotly debated among serious hikers. “Dress to impress” is not, and never has been, the sartorial motto of the hiking crowd. But it doesn’t really matter, because the only things out there in the wilderness which will be witnessing your garb are the tree branches and insects trying to claw their way inside it. That’s why you deck yourself out in protective gear from your heavy hiking boots to your head-covering bandana in the first place.
But hiking apparel, as you know, is about more than what you put on your feet and head. While your hiking boots may be the most important part of your gear, the clothes you choose will have a very big effect on how much you enjoy your outdoor travels.
We will save the discussion of hiking pants and shirts for another time, and in this article focus on hiking shorts and why most hikers prefer them for warm weather hiking.
On cold or rainy days, hiking shorts would be inappropriate. You’d choose, if not actual hiking pants, perhaps jeans. Jeans are tough enough to protect you from trailside intrusions, and as long as you stay dry, will keep you warm. They are great for early spring or autumn days, when wind or cooler temperatures might not be ideal for hiking shorts. But for those long hot summertime hikes, hiking shorts are a must.
You’ll find that jeans simply become too hot after a while of the trail in sunny weather. Not only that, they do not wick the moisture from your skin very well, and can cause severe chafing. And if they are a dark color hey will absorb the sun’s light and heat instead of reflecting it.
But hiking shorts will both keep you cool, and allow you freedom of movement along the trail. Their one disadvantage is that they do not offer your lower legs protection from the insect bites or scratches which can result from passing through deep underbrush.
You can, if you wish, buy a pair of long hiking pants which are equipped with zippers to make their lower legs removable. That way, you’ll have shorts when you get too hot, and long pants when you need their protection. Or you could just start out wearing jeans and carry hiking shorts in your backpack, but the prospect of holding everyone else up while you find a place to change is not a pleasant one.
The weather, especially if your hike will be taking your through different elevations, can change several times in a single day. What begins as a warm calm morning ideal for hiking shorts can, in a matter of hours, find you halfway up a mountain trail watching the thunderheads build up ahead of you. Your hiking shorts might not feel so good in a cold downpour.
But long hiking pants with the removable lower legs would be the perfect answer. You’d just re-attach the legs in a couple of minutes, and be ready to move on!