The best hiking season of the year is upon us (for that record, that would be late summer and fall). If you’ve been itching to upgrade your gear closet — especially after the year-long pandemic — now’s the time to hit up your favorite outdoor store. We’re only halfway through the year, but we can safely say these are some of the best hiking gear items and accessories of 2021.
It’s nearly impossible to find just one backpack that works for day hikes and longer treks. Gregory’s Stout 35 is the closest thing we’ve found to perfect. The 35-liter capacity is plenty for a full day in the bush or a light-packing overnighter. The VersaFit suspension and 3D foam back panel ensure that it’s breathable and stays put even on the longest hikes. Plus, a custom-fitted rain cover is included for when the weather goes south.
Read more: Best Hiking Backpacks
No matter how lightweight you pack, you still need adequate water on the trail. For hardcore ounce-counters, Nathan’s Pinnacle 12L is a pared-down hydration pack with a 1.6-liter insulated bladder — plenty of room for your average day hike. A total of 13 pockets provide ample storage space for keeping your essentials organized and at the ready.
Icebreaker’s Merino 175 Everyday Thermal Top is perfect for whatever outdoor adventures you’re into. It’s a classic, multi-purpose base layer that works for hiking, kayaking, climbing, travel, and more. The lightweight construction is great as a standalone layer in the summer heat or as a primary base layer in colder climes.
Merrell pulls no punches with its Moab 2 Mid Ventilator Hiking Boots. As some of the brand’s most popular footwear, the so-called “Mother of All Boots” is near-perfect for hikes of just about any length. Performance suede leather provides a durable, supportive exoskeleton, while the mesh upper and lining ensure breathability when the going gets tough.
Even if you’re not planning a night hike, it pays to be prepared with a headlamp. BioLite’s HeadLamp 750 is lightweight and plenty comfortable, even on extended hikes. The best part? The strong 750-lumen output is among the best and brightest on the market.
Hike far enough and high enough, and the weather is guaranteed to take a turn for the worse eventually. Arc’teryx’s new Atom SL Insulated Anorak Hiking Jacket is perfect for those mild conditions that require a bit more insulation. The outer shell features a DWR finish to repel moisture, while the whole affair packs down incredibly small into an extra pocket in your daypack.
We never leave home without a multi-tool, especially ahead of a day on the trail. Gerber’s Truss is a near-perfect multi-tool designed to tackle most everyday tasks. It hits the sweet spot between size, usability, versatility, and price.
Chemical insect repellents are pretty awful for the environment, and their long-term health effects are dubious to boot. From our own field testing, Repel’s plant-based Lemon Eucalyptus Insect Repellent is an all-natural alternative that works almost as well as common DEET-based solutions. Plus, the intense citrus and eucalyptus scent pulls double-duty by masking any trail “funk” that you develop after a long day in the bush.
For hardcore adventurers who appreciate tracking every route, breath, step, heartbeat, and drop of water along the way, there’s Garmin’s Fenix 6. This next-level smartwatch packs nearly every conceivable feature of Garmin’s best smartwatches into a single wrist unit. Plus, the latest Pro Solar Edition stays topped up on sunlight alone, so it’s ready to monitor your performance for weeks on end.
Hiking pants are all a matter of personal preference. But Outdoor Research’s Ferrosi Men’s Hiking Pants are ideal for just about any height, body shape, or style of hiker. The breezy fabric is exceptionally breathable and comfortable, while the use of extra Spandex in the design provides additional mobility for more active adventures.
Every hiker, even if only going out for a two-hour out-and-back, should carry an emergency fire starter. Because, frankly, you just never know. As the name implies, SOL’s Fire Lite Fuel-Free Lighter sidesteps potential fuel spills by running on battery power instead. It’s reliable, weatherproof, and works at any altitude. Plus, the taser-like spark is hot enough to light just about anything.
Extreme outdoorsmen might snub their noses at the idea of wearing headphones while hiking. But, for those who enjoy listening to podcasts or meditative tunes in the backcountry, there’s Master & Dynamic’s new MW08 Sport Active Noise-Cancelling Wireless Earphones. They’re purpose-built for the outdoors with shatter-resistant sapphire glass and a Kevlar wireless charging case. Dual ambient listening modes allow for crystal clear playback while staying tuned in to your surroundings.
Smartwool’s socks have long been a perennial favorite of the hikers here at The Manual. The brand’s signature merino wool is like a miracle fabric. It’s breathable, lightweight, comfortable, odor-resistant, and quick-drying. We especially love these Mountain Print Crew Socks, but the long list of available colors and patterns allows you to dress up your feet to fit your personality.
Read more: Best Hiking Socks
Most energy bars are little more than glorified candy bars. Solely Organic Fruit Jerky is a high-powered, trail-friendly alternative made with organic fruit, nuts, and seasonings with no added sugar, coloring, or preservatives. Snag an eight-piece variety pack to sample tasty flavors like Pineapple, Banana with Pecans, and Mango with Chili and Salt.
Most of us love the outdoors because it’s a way to escape from technology, but almost no one these days goes into the woods without at least a smartphone. Protect your investment (and your emergency lifeline) with a Defender Series Phone Case from OtterBox. The multi-layer construction protects against bumps, scrapes, drops, dirt, and dust.
We still never head into the backcountry without a paper map. But, smartphones have made finding, planning, and following hiking routes easier than ever. AllTrails offers descriptions, photos, and reviews for more than 100,000 hiking trails. It’s free for iOS and Android, but we’d recommend splurging on the affordable Pro plan to unlock all the extra features like offline maps, real-time overlays, and off-route notifications.
The best way to avoid getting lost is to pair your paper map with a compass. Suunto has long been the industry leader, and the MC2G Navigator Compass is full-featured, easy-to-use, and durable enough for just about hiking adventure. At roughly $90, it isn’t cheap, but it’s likely the last and only compass you’ll ever need to buy.
Sometimes the best hiking accessories are the simplest. Buff’s soft, stretchy, multifunctional headwear is like the Swiss Army knife of clothing. With at least a dozen uses — it’s a hat, a balaclava, a scarf, a hair tie, and more — it’s one of the most versatile yet deceptively simple pieces of hiking gear you’ll ever own. Plus, it’s only $20.
If you pack just one piece of technology for the trail, why not make it something that could save your life? These days, satellite messengers and personal locator beacons are so compact, affordable, and valuable that it hardly makes sense to hike without one. Garmin’s inReach Mini is our top pick for its pocketable size, long list of features, and reasonable price tag.
Long hikes can be rough on your skin. But you can protect it from the start with Sun Bum’s Mineral SPF 50 Sunscreen Face Stick. Unlike traditional sprays, the stick delivery makes it easy to safely apply to sensitive areas like around your eyes, nose, and lips. Plus, it’s vegan, reef-friendly, and the SPF 50 strength is more than enough protection, even for desert hikes.
A good pair of trekking poles can make or break a hike. Black Diamond’s dead-simple Trail Trekking Poles are lightweight, easy to use, and durable enough to last for years. Plus, cushy foam grips and dual Flicklock adjustability ensure they’re comfortable for even the longest hikes.
Even the lowly water bottle has gotten fancy lately with things like vacuum insulation, self-cleaning UV-light-powered interiors, and screens to track your daily hydration levels. Keep it simple with the Camelbak Eddy+. Made from durable, BPA-free plastic, it’s nearly indestructible, and the Big Bite valve provides fast, smooth water flow on the go.
Hiking trails, especially those in National Parks, are generally safe. But, it doesn’t hurt to go out with a little extra protection on your hip. Counter Assault’s Bear Spray and Training Can combo pack is a last line of defense against bear attacks and even overly aggressive humans, should it ever come down to that. Just be sure to practice, so you know how to use your bear spray before hitting the trail.
A reliable first aid kit is essential in the outdoors. Adventure Medical Kits offers a deep catalog of kits targeted at outdoor adventurers. For most hikers, the 0.5 Medical Kit packs everything solo hikers need to tend to the most common injuries on a one- or two-day hike. The included waterproof bag ensures the contents stay dry and protected until you need them.
A good full-spectrum CBD balm is a godsend after a tough day or three on the trail. Charlotte’s Web Hemp-Infused Balm Stick boasts 525mg of plant-based cannabinoids, plus menthol and turmeric oil for targeted relief of sore muscles and joints.
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