Like many, I have been engaging in new socially distant hobbies over the past couple months during the pandemic. This summer, I took to the outdoors and discovered a love of hiking. After doing a few small hikes and one accidental 14-miler (don’t ask me about it), I decided to take a dream trip to Colorado over Labor Day weekend (I should add, I got a COVID-19 test before and after I traveled).
The plan was to do three long hikes and hit up two National Parks (The Great Sand Dunes and the Rocky Mountains, respectively). The only issue was before our planned hike in the Rockies, the temperature unexpectedly was going to drop from 90 degrees to 30 degrees and snowy. This meant I needed to pack smart so I would be able to hike in three different elements: sand, rock, and snow. I also needed to prepare for a higher altitude, which already left me feeling dehydrated as soon as I landed in Colorado.
Below, you’ll find the 10 essentials that I brought with me to every hike. These things made the experience less challenging, ensuring that I would have enough energy to pose for Instagram pictures (because if you didn’t take photos and post them, did you really hike?).
1. A backpack to drink water from
When I first planned this hiking trip, I knew I needed to upgrade one piece of equipment: my backpack. With longer hikes in the plan, I didn’t want to constantly be stopping to take out a water bottle, so I decided it was finally time to invest in a hydration pack. I chose the Gregory Nano H20, as it was on sale at REI for Labor Day and I’m absolutely obsessed with it.
In total, it holds 18 liters, including a 3-liter 3D Hydro reservoir that I found was easy to drink from and held more than enough water for each hike. Plus, there’s so much storage. I was able to fit an extra water bottle in the mesh side pouch, and had plenty of room for snacks, sandwiches, sunscreen, and other essentials. There’s also a top zippered pocket where I held keys and a power bar, and a zippered side stash pocket where I stored my phone and another power bar, for easy access. It’s comfortable on my shoulders and truly made my hiking experience that much better.
2. A water bottle that holds a ton of liquid
After a terrible experience where I ran out of water halfway through a 14-mile hike earlier this summer (like I said, don’t ask me about it), I now have a fear of running out of water wherever I go. So I brought along another huge water bottle, just in case. I love my S’well because at 25-liters, it holds a ton of water and there are so many cute patterns to choose from. It’s also one of the best water bottles we’ve ever tested as its triple-layer insulation kept water cool for hours. Plus, even if I didn’t drink in a particular hike, it ensured I had water to drink driving to and from the trail.
3. No-slip hiking boots for the long trail
For a while I was hiking with an old pair of running shoes that I retired, but I quickly learned their lack of traction was prone to slippage and ended in bruised toenails. This is why I decided it was time to get some real hiking boots. I love these ones from Timberland, as they’re quite stylish for a hiking boot, are made of a sustainable material, and are both waterproof and comfortable. Plus, at just $100, they’re on the lower end of the price range for hiking boots, which is perfectly justifiable for a beginner like me.
4. Comfortable leggings for every weather
Whether it’s 30 degrees or 90 degrees, I will still hike in leggings. Not only do they keep you warm, but they also prevent dreaded chafing. My favorite leggings are from Zella because they’re affordable, comfortable, and pretty high quality for the price. Plus, I’m not alone as 7,000 Nordstrom reviewers have given them a 4.5-star rating, and I often find myself reaching for them over some of my luxury pairs. I wore the Studio Crop Lite Leggings on the hotter days and stayed warm with the Live In High Waist Leggings during the snowy weather on our trip.
5. Warm socks
When the weather got chilly (a.k.a. below 30 degrees) I needed to desperately upgrade my sock game to keep the toes toasty. Smartwool are some of the most popular socks out there for a reason—they’re made of cozy wool that is in it for the long trek. I wore the PhD Outdoor Light Crew Socks as they’re warm, yet breathable and come in some fun striped patterns that make them kind of stylish, too.
6. A cozy pullover for the top of the mountain
It’s no joke that when you reach your highest altitude, the temperature can drop like 30 degrees. You could be comfortable in shorts at the beginning of the hike, only to be freezing from the frigid air at the top of the mountain. That’s why I packed a cozy pullover in my backpack, just in case. I borrowed this super fuzzy one from Natural Reflections from one of my friends, but I also swear by the Patagonia Better Sweater for warmth and style.
7. Headbands to tame pesky flyaways
One of the most irritating things to me while running or hiking is ending up with little baby hairs in your face. It’s distracting from the hike and does not look good for pictures. That’s why I made sure to bring my favorite workout headbands from Lululemon. They come in gorgeous patterns, actually stay on your head, and keep flyaway hairs out of your face during even the toughest of climbs.
8. A balm that prevents chafing
Hot, sweaty hikes means two things for me: shorts and thighs rubbing together. To prevent the dreaded “chub rub” I made sure to lube up on BodyGlide, an anti-chafe gel I’ve been using for years to stop irritation between my legs. It’s provided me with unchafed legs after running half marathons, so I knew it’d be good for hikes of a similar milage. It’s also great for any weird sports bra rubbing, and I always make sure to throw it in my hiking backpack before I leave.
I came to a new realization while hiking in negative 30 degree weather in the Rockies: face masks are the ultimate winter accessory. While I typically didn’t have my mask pulled up unless I encountered other hikers, I found that wearing a face mask in the cold provided an extra layer to keep me warm. It’s like my dream of wearing a ski mask in public during winter to stay warm has finally come true.
While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend wearing a cloth face covering when social distancing isn’t possible and many states and cities mandate them, this winter layer discovery was exciting. After testing the best face masks, we found that the Athleta Non Medical Face Masks were our favorites for their comfort and snug fit. I personally love these masks from Old Navy, which are less than $15 for a 5-pack, offer three layers of protection, have adjustable ear loops, and come in a ton of fashionable fabrics. Because there were so many, I had a fresh, clean mask for every day of my trip.
10. Sunscreen to protect from UV rays
Wearing sunscreen was just as important on my sunny hikes as it was hiking in the freezing cold—especially with the increased altitude as it’s easier to get sunburnt since there’s less of earth’s atmosphere to block sunlight. Having a layer of sunscreen on is always a good idea, but I made sure to lather up before and during each of my hikes. I chose this one from Aveeno that was recommended by our beauty expert because it has an SPF 30 to protect from UVA and UVB rays and moisturizes with antioxidant oatmeal, which was more than necessary as my skin dried up immensely with the higher altitude, as well.
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.