Posted by: GeekHiker | September 12, 2007

Hiking Head-To-Toe

(A slightly technical post, for those so inclined…) 

I received an e-mail from someone recently asking me what I wear and use, gear wise, when I go out hiking.  The person was a relative newbie to hiking and, having been to the nearest REI store and completely overwhelmed, was searching the web for a little advice.

Well, the newbie hiker will do just fine in a t-shirt and shorts, carrying a water bottle and following someone who knows where the hell they’re going.  There’s not much more to the “sport” (if you want to call it that) than that.

Having been on the trail for a few years, I’ve come to add a few more technical items to my hiking day.  You won’t necessarily find me in all of these items on every hike (sometimes a baseball cap will do), but here are the basics:

Hat – After years of searching for a decent hat, I’m currently I’m wearing a Tilly T4.  It makes me look like an old man, but it’s got a wide brim (4 inches) in the back, and the back of my neck doesn’t get sunburned anymore.  Ever.  So screw fashion, it’s damn practical.

T-Shirt – usually a wicking one from REI, but sometimes cotton (at least here in the desert) is fine.  Anywhere but the desert, use poly.

Outerwear – Depending on the weather, it will vary from a standard cotton sweatshirt to my Mountain Hardwear water-resistant shell.  There are some very, very nice jackets out there with lots of fancy materials and features.  For $200+, though, they can just stay out there until I win the lottery.

Pants/Shorts – Mostly I wear shorts, occasionally convertible pants.  Convertibles are nice when camping, they keep you warm during those early morning “it’s freezing and I’ve got to build the stove to make breakfast” moments, then you just zip off the legs and hit the trail.

Socks – For years I’ve been wearing a two sock system: a thin liner sock and a heavy wool sock.  The liner sticks to your foot, so the liner rubs up against the outer sock instead of your foot rubbing against the sock.  Net result: haven’t had a blister in 10 years.  (Words of doom the next time I hit the trail, I’m sure…)

Boots – Currently a pair of Montrail Torre GTX Classic’s.  After a while, tennis shoes just don’t cut it, and footwear is everything.  If your feet aren’t happy on the trail, you will never be happy on the trail.  Money isn’t always the most critical factor, fit is, so try on every pair of boots in the store if you have to.  Wear whatever socks you’re going to wear while hiking when trying them on.  I like these boots for the stiff shank, aggressive tread, and high ankle support (which has prevented more twisted ankles than I can count).  And they’re waterproof to boot (pun intended).

Pack – CamelBak RimRunner.  For years I used a regular daypack and Nalgene Bottles, which was fine.  But I wish I’d bought the CamelBak much earlier, since now I stay much better hydrated.  This particular pack is nice since it can compress pretty small, or hold a lot of stuff (big jacket or big lunch).  It’s also got just the right amount of pockets and has a 3 liter reservoir.

Poles – Leki Super Makalu Ergometric AS poles (my current model is no longer made, but these are about the same).  I’ll admit, I spent more money on these than I should, but my knees aren’t what they used to be and these are a godsend on downhills.  They surprised the hell out of me on uphills to: it’s the difference between ascending a staircase and ascending a staircase using handrails.  I positively motor up hills now compared to before.

So that’s it, the GeekHiker head to toe.  If you’re just getting into hiking, though, don’t go out and dump all kinds of money on the stuff above.  I bought it slowly over the years as I did more and more.

So, in the end, just thrown on a pair of shoes, grab some water, and hit the trail already!



  1. Zzzzzzz……

    Just kidding.

    Interesting knowing the whys and wherefores to all the stuff.

  2. I’ve always grappled with the idea of poles, so I haven’t really given them a fair shake. I hate carrying things in my hands (on my back is fine), and I like to feel the burn when using just my legs (glutton for punishment). Do they help your balance when in particularly uneven terrain? What about for scrambling or when you’re climbing up a rock slope? Are they helpful, or do they get in the way?

  3. Well GH, I gotta be honest… seeing a picture of that hat sure did extinguish all the previous effects of the sandwich photos. If you are not meeting the ladies out on your hikes it might be because of that hat, that “old man” hat as you describe it. 😉 I am definitely going to try the two-sock system one of these days – great tip!

  4. GH, I’ve been looking for a good hat for a while. Right now I just wear a ball cap (My neck burned last Saturday, sigh). I may have to check out the Tilley. Then again, I’m married and I don’t have to worry about repelling women 😉

    I like a good walking stick. Being the cheap guy that I am I made my own while hiking up to the punch bowls trail. I find it most useful crossing streams and on the downhill as you said. It can be tough when you are rock scrambling but that is what wrist lanyards are for – you let the poles hang from your wrist freeing your hands for climbing.

    Looking through your list, I have to agree with everything you have on your list. The only thing that I do differently is that I alway hike in long pants. Keeps my legs from getting scratched up in those few occasions that I have to bushwack.

  5. P.S. I bet you have a little side pocket on that Camel Bak Pak with room for some Wheat Thins…yum!

  6. just a girl – glad I could help cure your insomnia! 😉

    quirkygirl – I find I still feel the burn in my legs, but it takes the pressure off my knees. The poles work spectacularly well on uneven terrain, like last weekends trail, and have prevented me from falling flat on my ass more times than I can count. I don’t tend to use them when I’m scrambling or rock hopping because they would definitely get in the way.

    charlotte – after you’ve set your country, close the browser and try the link again. This time you should get a good looking male model in the hat, which may help. 🙂

    Homer-Dog – I actually have been told I look pretty good in the hat, but I’m old enough not to care either. Looking pretty is one thing, having a severely burned neck is something else. When I’m rock scrambling I’ll usually just tie the poles onto the pack to get them out of the way.

    charlotte – well, of course!

  7. Oh! Well, do you look that ruggedly handsome when you’re splashin’ around in the pacific ocean wearing your Tilly T4? In that case, fire up the grill and put on that hat… meow! LOL.

  8. And how do you carry the sandwiches?

  9. charlotte – Well, of course I look that ruggedly handsome in my hat! Heh.

    Ruby – Sandwiches are usually reserved for picnics and drives, otherwise it gets all warm and soggy in the pack!

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