Hiking and backpacking are some of those activities that you can spend as little or as much money on as you want. Products come in a wide range of prices depending on what you are looking for and most of the things you’ll need on the trails won’t need to be bought again for years. All in all, backpacking and hiking have the potential to be very affordable hobbies. Even still, I’ve found that there are some items that are well worth spending a little more on. Here’s my breakdown of the three products to splurge on.
The first time we went backpacking my wife and I each had one of those thin, foam sleeping pads. It was a rough trip. Sure they only cost $35 and weigh hardly anything, but they’re also only a slight upgrade from sleeping on the ground. Once I got back I started looking at other options. In the end I went with the Nemo Tensor 20R. At the time it cost about $120 – more than 3 times as expensive as my foam pad, but now, I sleep great in the woods. The most important thing when choosing a sleeping pad is finding one that’s comfortable for you. So try a bunch out at your local outdoors store and be prepared to make a little investment in your sleep. After all, no one wants to go hiking after only getting three hours of rest.
Shoes are another area where I learned pretty quickly the importance of getting something good. Before moving to South Carolina, my wife and I went hiking once in Texas. It was almost completely flat with pretty well worn trails, and I was fine just wearing whatever running shoes I had at the time. Cut to going on a short day hike in Caesars Head State Park in the South Carolina mountains where I’m wearing foam bottom running shoes on a trail that not only had uneven rocks to climb but also waterfalls to cross. The whole trip was a huge struggle culminating with my wife slipping on the waterfall and nearly falling over the edge. (If you ever put yourself in that situation without the equipment or experience you need, I’d strongly recommend you turn around – don’t be dumb like we were.) Hiking shoes were the first things we bought when we got back.
As far as athletic shoes go, hiking shoes aren’t extra expensive. Most start just under or right around $100 and go up from there, but if you’re working on a budget, there are always sales, online discounts, or that 20% off REI coupon. Like sleeping pads, the most important thing is that you try out your options and find one that’s comfortable for you. Even with the price tag, hiking shoes should last you anywhere from 200 to 500 miles and are well worth it.
There are a lot of high quality clothing items available today that can go a long way to make you more comfortable on the trail and even prevent injury. Hiking socks made with a wool blend may be my favorite piece of hiking clothing. They keep my feet dry and comfy much longer than any cotton pair will and that then helps prevent blisters. Underwear and bras are other areas that have some pretty high tech options out there. Brands like Ex Officio and Patagonia are making some pieces that not only wick moisture but keep the odor way down – something that most moisture-wicking undergarments are known for being terrible at. Shirts and pants are getting some attention too nowadays. I’ve been wearing 100% merino wool shirts for casual clothes for a while now and am going to take it out on the trail for a test run next time. Merino wool can be worn for several days or longer without smelling bad. Now if you wear it in a rainstorm it may smell like wet sheep until it dries out, but it will dry out incredibly fast. It’s also super comfy, keeps you cool when it’s hot, and warm when it’s cold.
Unless you have a massive budget to spend on hiking and backpacking gear, you’ll have to make some sacrifices somewhere along the way. Once Kristin and I started hiking, we realized that these three areas were well worth spending more on.