In spring 2020, when gyms and yoga studios closed their doors, I began to walk. Well, really, I began to lay awake at night imagining the kind of apocalyptic scenarios that would give Stephen King himself nightmares. But I quickly realized I needed to move my body to deal with my restless mind.
So, I tied up my sneakers, shoved my AirPods into my ears, and stalked around my neighborhood at a pretty impressive pace, intently listening to the “FiveThirtyEight” elections podcast. Those daily walks — when I could wave to my neighbors from a safe 20 to 30 feet away and admire the beautiful trees and flowers in bloom — were an invaluable outlet. As the trailhead parking lots around my city began to overflow, I could see that I wasn’t alone. Many of us turned to walking, running and hiking during those frustrating and tough days during quarantine. Perhaps you did too.
How To Prepare For The Trails: My Top Hiking Gear & Essentials
Those of you who are lifelong runners or hikers know well the mental boost human beings get from moving our bodies, especially when we move outside. When we gift our brains with the colors and sounds of nature, we get a sense of well-being in return. As gyms and fitness studios have reopened their doors, the way I move has evolved, but my dedication to time spent walking outside has only increased. I now hike three to four times per week and have been training to hike my first 14er — any mountain that exceeds an elevation of 14,000 feet — this summer.
One aspect of hiking that I love is how simple it is. Putting one foot in front of another over and over again is as basic as it gets. Moreover, hiking is a great place to begin a fitness journey, regardless of your goal. Whether you’re just getting fit for the first time or starting anew after a long hiatus, hiking is for you.
What’s In My Backpack: Day-Hike Edition
It’s easy to look at the incredible outdoor athletes that grace the pages of REI catalogs and feel intimidated, so I hope this post inspires you to reserve some time for yourself on a trail with a friend, your kids or just alone. Below, I’ve put together a guide to my favorite items that I carry with me every time I hit the trail. In the end, you need very little to get outdoors safely, so I hope to see you out there — just stay hydrated, and don’t forget to reapply your sunscreen!
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1. Petzl Tikka Headlamp
Effective, durable, and I love the color story. I’ve used Petzl headlamps for ages, and now the headlamps offer the option of a rechargeable battery, which is a wonderful way to make our hiking gear just a bit more eco-friendly.
2. Ultralight & Watertight First-Aid Medical Kit
I hope I never have to use my first-aid kit, and I hope you don’t either, but I sure don’t want to be caught in a situation where I needed one and wasn’t carrying it. Backcountry offers a ton of lightweight options that keep the size and load to a minimum for hikers and campers.
3. Duck’s Back Rain Cover
July is a month of rainy afternoons in Colorado, and I don’t need to damage my phone while I’m out on the trail. The easiest and most lightweight solution is a rain cover for your backpack in the event of a rain shower. This one fits the Cotopaxi backpack mentioned below.
4. Cotopaxi Batac del Dia 16L Backpack
I could write volumes about how much I love this Cotopaxi backpack, but I will simply say that I think this is the best small day-hike bag on the market. I picked this up more or less on a whim because of the beautiful, bright colors and neat parachute material. It was really only after I began using it that I realized how awesome the material is. It’s super-lightweight — so much so that I barely notice that I’m wearing the bag unless I need to pack a lot of water. The straps have never chafed, and the bag is made of tough stuff. I really can’t see any signs of wear, even though I’ve consistently used it several times per week for over a year.
5. LANEIGE Lip Balm
There are LANEIGE lip sleeping masks hidden all over my home. In my bedside table, in the top drawer of my desk, on the TV tray downstairs for moisturizing while watching Netflix, and one in my medicine cabinet to complete my evening skincare routine. The only problem with the lip sleeping mask is that it comes in a little tub. I cannot be bothered to carry a tub around, then find something to wipe my waxy fingers on after I apply the balm. Hence, the tube version of the balm I’ve linked here. The formula isn’t exactly the same, but it’s still good and much more travel-friendly.
6. Dr. Dennis Gross Sunscreen
I am always on the hunt for sunscreen I don’t hate. I am truly very, very picky about sunscreens. I was really spoiled when I was living in China because I had access to sunscreen formulas from South Korea and Japan that are not approved for sale in the U.S. Those formulas were lightweight and cosmetically elegant. They layered beautifully as part of a full skincare and makeup routine. This Dr. Dennis Gross sunscreen has stolen my heart this summer. The formula is lightweight and seems to last well through sweaty sessions on the trail.
7. Adidas Superlite Relaxed-Fit Performance Hat
You can carry sunglasses instead if that’s your preference, but I’d rather wear a hat to keep the sun out of my eyes. I don’t love how sunglasses can slip around once there’s a little “glow” on the face. This adidas hat is nice and absorbent and has lasted me through many hikes without any noticeable wear and tear.
8. Swiss Army Knife
I’m still trying to keep that Girl Scout promise to be prepared “to help people at all times.” A Swiss army knife can cut fabric for bandages, tweeze a splinter or open a bottle of wine (hey, we all have different needs!). The weight of carrying a Swiss army knife is negligible, so I keep it in my pack permanently.
9. Dove Hand Sanitizer
The pandemic ruined the skin on my hands. The constant washing and sanitizing of hands was and is necessary, but it was hard enough on my skin that it started to crack. That’s why I like this moisturizing travel-size Dove hand sanitizer. I find this to be as moisturizing as a hand sanitizer can be while still letting me rest easy about the cleanliness of my human paws when I’m chowing down on trail snacks.
10. HydraPak Water Bottle
From the depths of my cupboards and a pile of water bottles, one emerged to rule them all. The HydraPak is a flexible, soft-sided water bottle, making it unlike any others I own (like plastic Nalgene bottles or metal HydroFlask and Yeti bottles). It’s much, much lighter to carry, and it’s easier to put into a full pack because it can fit around other items. When I purchased the HydraPak, I was skeptical because I thought it might leak. Never, not once. Try it, you won’t regret it.
11. Phone with AllTrails Pro Downloaded
Some of the trails I use are extremely well-marked and obvious. Others are not. I use AllTrails for almost every hike. The app helps me find new trails, record the time and distance of my hikes, and prevents me from getting lost when I lose cell service. Don’t forget to download your trail map to your phone before you lose service. (Not that I have ever done that.)
12. Counter Assault Bear Spray
My first bear encounter in Colorado consisted of my brain registering a bear-shaped form in the bushes at dusk one night as I walked home with my dog. My brain said, “Winnie the Pooh!” but about five seconds later, Winnie stood up on his hind legs, adrenaline kicked in, and I saw my life flash before my eyes. In fairness, the bear was certainly just curious about this silly human who was interrupting his snack, but it was sobering. Bears are big, y’all. Carry some spray.
Don’t Forget: Spare Cash, ID And Keys
Just a friendly reminder to carry the basics and don’t, say, lock yourself out of your car or home without them. Again, not that I have ever done that.
Happy trails, friends.