What’s worth the investment?
As a self-proclaimed minimalist, I’m someone who only brings the gear I think I will need on a hike and rolls her eyes at fellow hikers spending hundreds on gear. Looking back over the many day-hikes I have completed here in Central Washington on the cheap, I reminisce and laugh as I am also someone who has learned her lesson by not being properly prepared. I’ve endured cold toes, harsh climates and halted adventures in order to create a list of day-trip gear that is worth investing in so you can jump straight to the fun part.
Gear Worth Investing In
Unlike our Washington weather, a few day-hike essentials stay consistent — essentials that a hiker should not hit the trail without. An original essentials list was assembled in the 1930s by The Mountaineers, a locally-based organization for outdoor adventurers including staples such as a first aid kit, fire-starter kit and forms of personal protection.
In 2020, we can use some of the same concepts from The Mountaineers to inspire a contemporary list of hiking necessities that are worth spending your cash on. And by that, I mean investing into quality items, not just something you think can “make do.”
High Quality Footwear
If you are someone who believes that running shoes or Converse will get the job done just as well as hiking boots on the trail, new footwear could be a game-changer. Hiking on diverse terrain here in Washington State can wear on our bodies, and the right shoe is arguably a long-term investment in our physical health. Investing in a durable pair of boots is a proactive measure that not only helps with traction, comfort and stamina on the trail, but also helps with alignment and preventing long-term issues.
When encountering snow or high stream crossings, nothing is worse than cold, wet socks and feet. Ankle-high, waterproof boots can help you avoid that. If you are doing a longer day-hike or backpacking trip where you will be camping or crossing water, you might also consider purchasing lightweight, waterproof sandals that you can strap to your pack, like Chacos or Tevas.
In the lovely northwest, hikers are sure to run into a bit of snow even during the summer months. To top off your footwear game, pick up some YakTrax or similar traction cleats — a less expensive alternative to trekking poles considering your preference and the elevation gain.
Knowing where we are going is arguably the most important element of a hike, so consider wayfinding by purchasing an updated map, a lightweight GPS or a mobile charger if you are using an app like AllTrails. Modern tools we use to get around these days can be almost indistinguishable from the era of paper maps, but it is still important to get a good grasp of the area before voyaging outside because many apps and sites don’t have accurate coordinates and information. If you are exploring a long, lesser-traveled wild trail, the GPS might be worth purchasing, especially if you are trekking alone. One of the more responsible things you can do before exploring the Washington wilderness is to educate yourself on what issues you might face and what to do in case of an emergency. The Washington Trails Association website offers a wealth of information and free resources.
Visitor Centers are a go-to location for obtaining driving and hiking directions, weather forecasts and information on area services including lodging, dining, and other attractions. By stopping by your local Visitor Center, you will also have a “base camp” of physical necessities including updated maps and backcountry permits. Not to mention, conversing with people with first-hand experience and knowledge can give you the best tips on how to make the most of your experience. In Washington, state parks, national forests and national parks offer Visitor Centers.
Considering our area’s sometimes rainy weather, any Washingtonian knows that shedding layers while you hike is just part of the process. This area’s weather can be unpredictable, so I usually wear 2-3 light layers and a beanie and remove them one at a time as my heart rate increases and breathing becomes heavy.
A huge trait that makes a layer a good one is what I like to call being “stuffable.” The concept is that the clothes should protect you from the elements, but not take up too much volume in your pack. This means light rain jackets or puffy jackets that can be squished into a small ball usually work best.
A Hands-Free Water Bottle
Another thing that has helped elevate my experience on the trail is a lightweight Camelbak water pack, which can hold 70-100 ounces of water and includes a small hose that sits on your shoulder for sipping on the move. These packs come in a variety of sizes and colors and can work as a small backpack to carry your other gear. You can also pull out the bladder and use it in a larger pack for backpacking trips. My hands-free water bottle has eliminated annoying stops to dig around in my bag and in turn, freed up more time and headspace to take in the scenery before me.
Our trails are here for us to step out of the hustle and bustle of everyday life and breathe in the fresh air of our raw, gorgeous state. Grab your loved ones, invest in these essentials and absorb all that this awe-inspiring state has to offer.