Tips for the Trail: Hiking Boots, Camping Gear and More

On the Trail

Drink up. Flexible water bladders that fit into your pack and come equipped with a drinking tube make it easier for you to stay hydrated. In the backcountry, filter, chemically treat or boil water from lakes or streams before drinking. Purchase pump-action filters and iodine- or chlorine-based treatments at outdoor gear stores.

Pamper your feet. Disabling blisters are caused by friction and moisture. When you stop to rest, take off your shoes and dry your socks. On hot days, soak your feet in cool streams. Try wearing a thin pair of silk or synthetic sock liners. Always carry an extra pair of socks. If you feel a blister or hot spot beginning, change into the dry pair. Carry lightweight scissors and moleskin (to cushion blisters and hot spots) in your first-aid kit.

Lean uphill. When hiking uphill, lean into the hill to balance the weight of your pack. For long uphills or higher elevations, try the rest step: Step up with one foot, leaving the back foot down, and pause, then step with the other foot and pause. The steady, slower pace will give your heart, lungs and legs a chance to recover.

Come downhill carefully. Step down firmly, yet lightly, with your front foot before lifting your back foot for the next step. Control speed to reduce the impact on your feet, ankles and knees. Watch for ankle-twisting rocks and roots.

Care for your gear. After a trip, turn your tent inside out to empty twigs or grit that could rip the fabric. Sponge off any dirt. Hang sleeping bags, packs and tents to air dry, and store them in a dry place. Clean the mud off your hiking shoes, dry thoroughly and rub with a water-resistant conditioner.

Gearing Up

The days of heavy leather boots, canvas tents, flannel sleeping bags and metal-frame backpacks are over. Today's multi-day adventure gear is lighter, warmer and easier on your body.

Boots and shoes. Wear hiking socks when trying on boots or trail shoes. The fit should be snug around the heel, yet give plenty of room in the toe. Walk down the store's incline board. Your toes should not jam against the front of the shoe. At home, load your pack and walk around inside the house, up and down the stairs. If your feet hurt, return the shoes; if they feel good, go buy a second pair.

Backpacks. In the store, load the pack with weight and walk around. The belt should rest on your hipbones, and the padded shoulder straps should sit on your shoulders without digging in or straining your neck. Buy a waterproof cover.

Tents. Your tent should be long enough so you can stretch out and high enough so you can sit up straight. Look for vents or "windows" that allow air to circulate and help prevent condensation from forming on the inside. A vestibule adds storage space for your pack and boots.

Sleeping Bags. Down is still the lightest, warmest and most durable fill for sleeping bags. Unfortunately, it loses its insulating power when wet and dries slowly. The newest synthetic fills are getting lighter and retain some warmth even when wet. Line your sleeping bag stuff sack with a plastic bag.

Trekking Poles. Adjustable poles relieve stress on your back, knees and ankles. They also give you extra balance when rock hopping across streams. Shorten the poles when hiking uphill, lengthen for downhill.

Headlamps. After dark, a headlamp frees your hands for cooking dinner, reading before bed or finding your boots. The smallest models don't weigh much more than the batteries used to power them.

Hiking Resources

To connect with a local hiking group, find trails throughout the U.S. or learn about special events, visit the American Hiking Society online at americanhiking.org. Other informative trail sites include the National Park Service at nps.gov and the helpful trail finder at trails.com.


Based in Colchester, Vermont, Mary Lou Recor is a freelance writer and hiker. She has edited three guidebooks for Vermont's Green Mountain Club and plans to hike the Pacific Crest Trail this summer.

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