My hiking gear guide is BACK! A few months ago, I shared all of my favorite winter hiking gear in an XO, MU newsletter. Today, I’m updating my head-to-toe favorite gear for summer trails—what’s on my body, on my back, and in my pack.
I’ve invested in some of my hiking gear because I’m in the mountains a lot, but you don’t need to break the bank to explore your local trails in summer and fall. Scour the online sales, buy used from Poshmark, wear your normal gym clothes, and add to your collection gradually, as your budget allows.
Head: I always have a trucker hat strapped to the outside of my pack. It’s mostly for sun protection, but it’s also nice to secure the mane in high wind.
Bandana: I tie one around my pack strap every time I head out. You can use it for sun or bug protection, as a clean-up rag, a bandage, etc. It’s versatile and takes up no space at all.
Base layer(s): I don’t splurge here. I wear my normal sports bra with a tank or t-shirt over it. Pick something that isn’t 100% cotton, as that can absorb sweat and get chafe-y. A light wool blend t-shirt (I like Smartwool—don’t go heavier than 150g in summer) or a workout tank is perfect.
Warmer layer: For higher elevation or northern hikes, throw in a wool, silk, and/or polyester layer that wicks sweat and keeps you insulated in case it gets chilly. (Again, no 100% cotton.) I stick to light weight in summer, like a 150g Smartwool. These can be expensive, so search for clearance (last year’s colors), but gently used on Poshmark, or keep any eye out for sales.
Shell: Check the weather, but if you’re at serious altitude, there’s a chance of rain, or thunderstorms are common, you might want a straight-up shell. They’re thin, packable jackets that range from water resistant to waterproof. (Waterproof is great in heavy rain or snow, but also typically less breathable, which means you’ll get sweaty fast if you’re working hard.) My shell is the Arc’teryx Beta LT. (Yes, these are pricey… but I’ve had mine for many years.) I also had a clearance North Face for many years that was a quarter of the cost and worked just as well (but didn’t fit as nicely).
That brings something to mind—you may want to head to REI or your local sporting goods store to try on various brands to see which fit you best before investing. For example, Arc’teryx tends to fit long/tall people well, while I find Patagonia too boxy for my build. Try various brands, fits, and styles, make note of model names, then head home to see if you can score the same item used or on clearance somewhere.
Bottoms: Again, I’m not splurging here. I wear my normal yoga tights or running shorts. Various brands DO make special “hiking” pants and shorts from cool materials with special pockets and stuff, but honestly, wear whatever makes you comfortable. (Still nothing 100% cotton. Because chafing. Right.)
Feet: This is where I splurge a little. First, look for light wool or polyester blend socks here, either to the ankle or up towards the knee. My favorite are my MU + PrideSocks collaboration, with my Trailblazer “church socks” in a cushioned crew or light compression* knee sock. I’ve also got pairs from Smartwool, Ellsworth, and a few others. This will keep your feet feeling fresh all day and prevents blisters. (You only need 1-2 pairs if you’re a casual weekend hiker.)
*You’ll see me hiking in light compression knee socks often. First, tall socks keep my legs from getting stung by nettle and thorns, as our trails in Utah get overgrown in summer. They also protect me from ticks! And the light compression helps my legs feel energized. (I prefer LIGHT compression—anything heavier and it feels like my calves are cramping.) My favorites are the light compression Trailblazers from PrideSocks, but you can find them on Amazon too. (Look for 15-20 mmHg.)
Shoes: This is where you’re going to want me to tell you exactly what to wear, and I just can’t. Shoes are highly personal—do you feel more comfortable in boots or trail runners? What are you doing on the trail—hiking, running, or both? Where will you be hiking—is it rocky, muddy, wet, or dirt? I’m almost always in trail runners (not stiff boots) because I like the fact that trail runners force those small stability muscles in my knee and ankle to get stronger, and I like my feet feeling lighter on the trail. But ultimately, hike in whatever you feel comfortable in.*
*You could hike many trails in running shoes or Converse, and I never judge—but it may not be the safest approach. The sole and tread aren’t as grippy and they don’t offer the same kind of lateral support as a trail runner or boot. You don’t have to spend a ton here, but if you’re going to invest in something, invest in your shoes.
My favorite brand is On Running. You’ve seen me hike in their CloudVenture for the last four years, both the regular and waterproof versions. (I love the waterproof! So many trails are wet right now, and they really do keep my socks dry without overheating my feet.) They’re super light, soft as a cloud, and do well on all but the rockiest, muddiest trails. (For those, I want boots.) Pro tip: These run small, so I go up ½ a size.
The best way to test a bunch of shoes is to order a few different pairs from REI, Zappos, or Backcountry.com—any site that has a big selection and makes the return process easy. Try a few brands, models, or types of shoe and wear them around the house a bit to see how they feel.
Pack: I’ve used the same day pack for four years as well—the Ultimate Direction Fastpack 15L. For day hikes, 15L or 20L is plenty big—that holds all my layers, snacks, water, my book, and a towel for lake swimming. These bags have convenient wide pockets on the front straps for your phone, headphones, and snacks. They don’t have a waist belt, however, so if you’re loading them up, they may not be as comfortable. (I’ve never found them uncomfortable, however.) They also make a 20L just for smaller/narrower bodies, but I haven’t tried that one yet. I also have their trail running vest for faster/shorter hikes.
Another favorite for short hikes (especially if you’re trail running, on a short local trails, or just hitting your local riverwalk) is a hiking belt with space for a few snacks and a small water bottle. I love Ultraspire, a local Utah company. Their hydration belts are so comfortable and hold all the necessities. These are not ideal for peak-bagging, longer hikes, or hiking with kids, but I like having options for shorter solo outings.
Water reservoir: You’re definitely going to want to invest in a reservoir (sometimes called a “water bladder”), so you aren’t stopping every five minutes to fumble with a bottle. These 2L or 3L reservoirs go right in a little pouch in your pack with a tube that goes straight to your mouth. I’ve been using this Hydrapack Shape Shift reservoir that turns inside-out to clean—no more mucky, moldy corners where you can’t quite reach your sponge. Invest in this—the $35 is worth it. (And go for the 3L; too much water is always better than not enough.)
Seasonally, spikes: I know it seems bananas to bring spikes (like my Kahtoola micro-spikes) on the trail in June, but if you’re heading up to 10K feet or higher, snow can stick around until June or July! It depends on the trail and how much snowfall we’ve had in winter, but I’ve seen folks risk a nasty fall because they weren’t prepared to encounter deep slush on a steep face. Check trail conditions, but if it’s early summer and you’re unsure, just throw them in.
SO THERE YOU HAVE IT… your guide to my favorite summer hiking gear. Remember, this is just what Iwear and carry on the trail—use it as a general guideline to find the clothing and products that work for your hikes and budget.
P.S. You can also brush up by listening to my podcast! My guide to summer hiking with special guest Kristen Bor is a great primer on how to start (or deepen) your hiking practice.