Whether you’re a relative newcomer, a city-based dabbler, or an old hand on the trails, spending time in the outdoors has been shown to boost both mental and physical health—and has become increasingly popular throughout the last few years. But having the right equipment for a day outside, including comfortable footwear, great sunglasses, and ways to hydrate, is key to enjoying yourself. After all, you don’t want to get caught out on the trail (and far from the car) underprepared and dehydrated.
While investing in top-of-the-line gear isn’t necessary for most casual outdoor adventures, there are a few go-to hiking essentials that folks who spend a ton of time in nature swear by—and we’ve tapped a few of them for their picks. Whether they’re leading efforts to promote access to nature for Black outdoorspeople or setting speed records completing the Pacific Coast Trail, adventurers and athletes like Outdoor Afro founder Rue Mapp and National Geographic Adventurer Heather Anderson shared what keeps them comfortable during a day of hiking. Read on for more of their hiking essentials below.
This article has been updated with new information since its original publish date.
HydraPak Stow 1L
New heights don’t scare Ashima Shiraishi. The Japanese-American climber, author, and inclusivity advocate has been known as the “face of professional rock climbing” since becoming the first self-identifying female to conquer a V15-grade route, the second-hardest grade in climbing, days before turning 15. When she's outdoors, her go-to water bottle is Hydrapack’s one-liter Stow. Its collapsible bladder is perfect for those who like the convenience of a space-saving bottle without having it be part of their daypack. The bottle’s design means it can be rolled up and stashed in a pocket as it empties (a leak-proof valve means no drips), and it’s compatible with most 28-millimeter threaded water filters, too. Besides the range of cheerful colors available, Shiraishi says, she loves that “it’s super-light, and the soft exterior allows me to put it in my bag and not have to worry about it jabbing my back.”
LifeStraw personal water filter
“The Lifestraw gives me access to drinking water anywhere that I can find a water source,” says Syren Nagakyrie, the founder and director of Disabled Hikers, an organization focused on building “disability community and justice in the outdoors.” The Lifestraw is a great tool for anyone heading outdoors, but especially for those who are unable to haul all the water they need for a long span on the trail with them. “My disabilities require me to drink far more water than typically required on a hike, but it also prevents me from carrying that much weight,” Nagakyrie says. (They also often carry the Lifestraw Go water bottle with them, too.) “Lifestraw helps me feel safer on the trail, and confident that I'll have water in an emergency."
Salomon Sense Pro 5 hydration vest
Siki Henry, a professional triathlete, Ironman world championship competitor, and two-time marathon champion, at first was skeptical of hydration vets. “I called them ‘fanny pack vests,’ Henry says. Then she was introduced to them on a photoshoot for Backcountry magazine—and she came around to the vests for good after training for and competing in the JFK50 ultramarathon, which she described on Instagram as “one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.” “The vest was a lifesaver,” she says. “It’s just a great and convenient way to stay hydrated, especially in the summer months.”
Gregory Maya 16 backpack
“I really like my Maya 16 backpack because it fits really comfortably around my body and doesn't dig into my shoulders or waist like some backpacks do,” says Salt Lake City–based Nailah Blades Wylie. She founded Color Outside to help women of color “step into their power” through building connections with the outdoors and finding joy in those adventures. She leads retreats, workshops, and coaching geared towards women of color—particularly entrepreneurs—who are struggling with burnout and are “ready to invite more self-care into their lives.”
When Wylie heads out on the trail, this is the backpack she takes with her. In particular, the bag “has enough space to carry everything I need when going out on a day hike and evenly distributes the weight,” she says. “There's space for a water bladder and it has easily accessible pockets so that I can quickly grab the things I use most often.” Plus, it stays comfortable for a day out hiking, thanks to a BioSync suspension design that stretches along with your body’s movements.
CamelBak Cloud Walker 18 hydration pack
“The most important [piece of] hiking gear I have is my water bladder pack,” says JC Rienton, a Colorado–based member of LGBT Outdoors who spends his weekends hiking and camping in the Rockies. While there are plenty of options out there for on-the-go hydration, the one he says he uses the most is the Camelbak Cloud Walker 18. “I never leave the house without it,” he says.
Adequate hydration—or a means to acquire it—is incredibly important on the trail. “I recommend water bladders specifically because of the added convenience of being able to integrate it in your hiking pack and taking a sip on the go without having to stop what you're doing,” Rienton says. “This Camelbak [option] has enough storage to fit other gear I like to bring on day hikes.”
Sojourner Rave hydration pack
Tampa, Florida–based Lauren Gay is the blogger and podcaster behind OutdoorsyDiva and Instagrammer behind @BlackWomenOutdoors, both of which have become popular platforms to empower and advocate for Black women in the adventure travel and outdoor recreation spaces. Safe to say, she’s logged a lot of miles hiking and exploring the outdoors, and this iridescent, multicolor hydration daypack is her go-to for a day out. “It's super important to stay hydrated on a hike and carry your essential items, but I love this pack because it has plenty of compartments—and it's so cute and stylish and not in the boring colors you normally see,” she says. It comes in a range of shades that stand out the trail, from a silver-based colorway to green and purple ones. And once you tear that packaging, you’re ready to go: The pack comes ready with a two-liter, leak-proof hydration bladder and BPA-free tasteless straw.
Clothing and accessories
Patagonia Houdini Air jacket
Olivia Hsu, an elite-level rock climber and Ashtanga yoga teacher based in Boulder, Colorado, never heads into the woods without a lightweight jacket to keep her dry in a rainshower—and this Patagonia jacket fits the bill and then some. Besides being breathable and rain-repellent, the recycled nylon jacket holds up well in other kinds of inclement weather as well, Hsu says. “It is also a windbreaker, so if it gets cold and windy, it can actually provide a lot of warmth and still is breathable while you hike.”
Outdoor Afro Hike Zero crew socks
Socks that keep your feet comfortable and don’t bunch in boots are critical if you’re headed onto the trail, which is why Outdoor Afro Founder and CEO Rue Mapp, who’s based in Vallejo, California, turns to SmartWool’s much-loved hiking socks for her treks. “They keep my feet dry and are lightweight,” she says. “I also love the designs that are available.” In 2018, Mapp and Outdoor Afro participants became the first all-Black American expedition team to scale Mount Kilimanjaro. That experience led to Smartwool and Outdoor Afro collaborating on the Hike Zero Cushion Print Crew Socks, designed by Outdoor Afro volunteer leader Leandra Taylor.
Even beyond that excursion, Mapp has spent enough time on the trail to appreciate the perks of a good pair of socks: She started Outdoor Afro in 2009 as a space to chronicle her own outdoor adventures, and, she says, to “reconnect Black folks to nature.” It’s since grown into a widely recognized national not-for-profit organization that continues to facilitate Black connections with the outdoors, with a 60,000-strong participation network and 100-plus volunteer leaders who have found a community online and offline.
All Trails app
Debbie Njal first started hiking in August 2019, and after just a few weeks of venturing out on the trails, she founded the St. Louis–based organization Black People Who Hike to encourage people of color to get outside and join her. She uses the All Trails mobile app to find cool new paths and routes, and it’s led her, quite literally, to some exciting discoveries: "Nine months ago I had no idea all these trails existed,” she says. “I’ve found trails in my backyard of St. Louis, Missouri, with waterfalls, mountains, and breathtaking views.” Njal now uses the app to find new trails and get confident both exploring new areas and leading group hikes. “As someone relatively new to the outdoors and hiking, All Trails gives me the confidence to explore new areas without fear of getting lost or not knowing what to expect,” she says.
By checking out trails ahead of time, hikers can scope out distance, find wheelchair-friendly paths, check out photos of the trail, read reviews of the route (including tick warnings), and see when foot traffic tends to be highest on the trail. The app itself is free, but a premium subscription is available for $2.50 per month, giving users access to more features, like downloading offline maps and getting alerts for wrong turns.
RoadiD Wrist ID Elite Silicone Clasp
“I never leave home without my Road ID bracelet,” says Deborah McGlawn, the founder of Ch8sing Waterfalls, a non-profit empowering Black and brown women to “embrace healing, forge diversity, and change the narrative in a space where we have historically been underrepresented.”
For McGlawn, this bracelet “is the best gear to have whenever I'm away from home.” Unlike your driver’s license, she says, a Road ID wearable will identify you, your allergies, important medical information, and even allow someone to notify your emergency contacts should you get injured. “Road ID will literally speak for you when you can't speak for yourself,” she says.
“We are increasing brown faces in green spaces, one adventure at a time. We understand the importance of being prepared, and having the appropriate gear,” McGlawn adds. “Road ID is that one outdoor staple for many of our Ch8sers. Your loved ones will appreciate it, if it’s ever needed, and so will you.”
Available in a variety of lumens, this headlamp is great for hikers, campers, and outdoor adventurers whose days start early—or end late. Outdoor photographer Cliford Mervil counts this and dog Leia as two essentials for the trail: “I do a lot of early morning hiking and sometimes stay out after the sunsets, so those headlamps come in handy finding my way back to camp,” Mervil says.
Garmin inReach Explorer+
For Rashad Frazier, a wilderness guide, adventure host, chef, and founder of Camp Yoshi, the Garmin inReach is a “great device for easing fears and worries when there’s no phone signal in the backcountry.”
The device can show preloaded DeLorme topographic maps with on-screen GPS routing and has a ton of other features, like a digital compass, barometric altimeter, and accelerometer; it can also track and share your location if you want others to know where you are on a day hike or longer trek. Frazier loves that it syncs with his phone for SMS texting in super-remote areas, too—”plus, if I ever find myself in trouble, the SOS feature lets me call in the calvary.”
“It's easier to find places to go when you don't have to squat,” says Jenny Bruso, a self-identified “queer, fat, femme writer and hiker” living in Portland, Oregon. She’s the founder of Unlikely Hikers, a “diverse, anti-racist, body-liberating outdoor community and podcast,” and she knows well how cumbersome having to “go” on the trail can be. Instead of having to deal with squatting, this handy plastic funnel allows people to pee standing up instead (people with differing mobility needs have found it helpful as well, according to the website). “And you don't have to remove your pants—[you] just pull down the front,” she says. “Even with leggings!” It’s easy to pack, too: It’s about the length of a spoon and super-lightweight at 0.8 ounces. Bruso’s top two tips for using the pStyle practice in the shower first, and be sure to stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
If you’re someone who squats to pee in the outdoors, this cloth is a great replacement for not-so-eco-friendly TP. It holds up to 10 times its weight in liquid, is easy to rinse and dry, and has a special double-snap so the cloth can hang without touching your pack. Kieren Britton, founder of The Lady Alliance, an adventure company hosting camps, tours, and other outdoors activities for women, recommends it for “any new hikers joining longer hikes”—after all, the best way to leave the outdoors is like you’ve never been there at all.
Culo Clean portable bidet
Let’s face it, your standard roll of toilet paper isn’t exactly nature-friendly—and for hikers, campers, and backpackers who want to feel a little fresher on a trek, Culo Clean (drawing from the Italian word for “butt”) is the portable bidet that’ll, well, keep your culo clean. “It’s a backcountry bidet that fits most plastic bottles,” explains Tayler Lau, a public speaker for Melanin Basecamp and an outdoor educator and enthusiast. For Lau, having the portable bidet in his pack is a mainstay: “It’s lightweight, adaptable, and great for a toiletry kit to help your hygiene on trail.”
And he should know: Lau’s also the first known person of color to hike the calendar year Triple Crown—which involves knocking out the Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, and Continental Continental Divide Trail in less than a year (more people, he says, have been to the moon).
Zoom Tube 8x32 monocular telescope
This bright orange optical tool is extremely portable and and IPX4 water resistant, making it great for landscape-gazing, bird-spotting, and any other time you want to bring the scenery a little closer to you (it has a super-wide field of view). Plus, given its color, you won’t have to dig for it in your pack. Lettie Stratton, a Nordic ski instructor and founder of Wild Wanderer, an outdoor adventure media site for the queer community, calls it “the thing I don’t leave home without.”
“It’s super packable and really fun to have on the trail, whether you’re gone for a day or a week,” she says. "My recent bikepacking excursions have been greatly enhanced by its presence.” Thanks to a twist-up eyecup, it’s great for users with glasses, too.
Julbo Spark sunglasses
Heather “Anish” Anderson is a Bellingham, Washington–based hiker and National Geographic Adventurer who holds one of the fastest known times for completing the Pacific Coast Trail (2,655 miles in 60 days). With all that sun exposure, she gives eyewear maker Julbo’s wide range of performance sunglasses her stamp of approval. The brand, she says, makes great shades for “everything from technical glacier travel” to hitting the trail and heading to the beach.
These Spark shades, for example, have polycarbonate lenses, which are shock-resistant enough to withstand the bumps of outdoor sports, as well as Reactiv photochromic lenses, which adapt to different levels of darkness and light.
Granite Gear Air Zippditty bags
These storage sacks are the perfect way to organize gear in your pack, whether you’re using them to carry tools, toiletries, or anything else you need to reach at a moment’s notice. For Erin Parisi, a mountaineer attempting to become the first known trans person to climb the world’s seven highest summits (she’s knocked out five of them so far), these bags are essential for her pack. “They come in all sizes, are minimalist, and I can pack different ones to be ready for a cold hike in the alpine or a short trail run,” she says.