7 hiking gear essentials I recommend for the ultimate outdoor adventure

Folks hiking with the sun shining brightly.
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Ladies and gentlemen, the warm weather is nearly upon us and so are lengthier days. This means it's time to get outside and enjoy the many benefits of Mother Nature. Of course, epic outdoor adventures are made all the more fun with good company and the right gear. 

If you're like me, having the freshest tech not only makes hitting the trails more enticing, but it's also a cheeky way to let your friends know you're more Gorp than they are. Plus, you don't necessarily need to break the bank to get fully kitted up — a trail-ready solid first aid kit starts at just $14, and one of my favorite packable rain shells checks in at a manageable $99. 

What follows are seven hiking gear essentials I recommend for the ultimate day in nature, from appropriate outerwear and footwear to the perfect hydration pack. 

1. A decent pair of hiking boots

Scarpa Rush 2 Mid GTX hiking boots

(Image credit: Dan Bracaglia/Future)

Seeing as your feet will likely be put to good use, I first recommend picking up a pair of the best hiking boots or the best trail running shoes. For the former, consider options like the Scarpa Rush 2 Mid GTX or Salewa Pedroc Pro PowerTex Mid PTX. Both other ample ankle support, traction and water resistance in Chic Italian-designed packages. 

Want something a bit more wallet-friendly? I'm still in the process of testing Amazon's favorite $50 boots but so far, so good. 

If trail running shoes are more your scene, consider the Hoka Speed Goat 5 or Nike Pegasus Trail 4, both of which are great all-arounders for hitting the trail and the pavement. The latter is fully waterproof thanks to its Gore-Tex mid. 

Scarpa Rush 2 Mid GTX hiking boots: $218 @ Backcountry

Scarpa Rush 2 Mid GTX hiking boots: $218 @ Backcountry
The Scarpa Rush 2 Mid GTXs are a high-performing Italian-designed, trail-ready footwear option that checks all the boxes, including looking great. Comfortable, responsive and waterproof, the Scarpas offer excellent traction, even on slick rocks, and solid ankle support thanks to a built-in stabilizing frame. 

2. Appropriate base layers 

Ridge Merino Wool T-Shirt

(Image credit: Ridge Merino)

A lightweight and breathable garment that doesn't retain moisture is the ideal base layer for outdoor summer fun. While synthetic fibers have long reined supreme in this realm, ultralight Merino wool is gaining popularity amongst many outdoorsy types. And for good reason, it's everything I mentioned above, plus, Merino wool garments are often lighter than their synthetic counterparts.

Smartwool makes a ton of great summer-appropriate Merino wool base layers. However, my favorite Merino Wool T-shirts come from Ridge Merino, a smaller family-owned brand based out of Mammoth Lakes, California.

Ridge Merino Wool T-Shirt: $59 @ Ridge Merino

Ridge Merino Wool T-Shirt: $59 @ Ridge Merino
Ridge Merino wool T-shirts come in a wide range of stylish colors and offer excellent sweat-wicking, odor-crushing properties in a lightweight and breathable package. In short, this is the perfect tee for an active day out in the wild. 

3. A packable waterproof shell

REI Rainier Rain Jacket Shower Test.

(Image credit: Dan Bracaglia/Future)

For everyday hikes, it's always a good idea to bring along some sort of wet weather protection should the skies turn on you; the lighter and more packable the better. And the REI Rainier Rain Jacket, one of my favorite affordably-priced shells, fits the bill nicely.

This $99 jacket boasts impressive water resistance with fully taped seams, an adjustable hood and a heavy coating of Durable Water Repellent (DWR) — it even survived two minutes of straight drenching in my shower. 

For something even lighter, consider the six-ounce Outdoor Research Helium Jacket — it too survived our shower test. And if you need some help waterproofing your existing shell, here's how to do it like the pros and never get soaked again

REI Rainier Rain Jacket: $99 @ REI

REI Rainier Rain Jacket: $99 @ REI
This $99 rain jacket punches well above its price when it comes to waterproof technology, boasting a ripstop nylon outer, fully-taped seams and a generous coating of Durable Water Repellent (DWR). You also get an adjustable hood, an elastic hem/cuffs, and zippered armpit vents to stay cool. 

4. A GPS-enabled watch with maps

Garmin Forerunner on the wrist.

(Image credit: Dan Bracaglia/Future)

There are plenty of GPS-enabled smartwatches that can help you track, map and assess your physical output during and after a hike. The Apple Watch Ultra 2, for example, features tons of hiker-friendly apps and tools including detailed topographical maps and easy ways to find your way back to a trailhead.

However, I find Garmin wearables to be the bee's knees when it comes to GPS location tracking in the great outdoors. Plus, you can pick up a Garmin GPS-equipped smartwatch, like the Forerunner 55, for under $200. 

The newer Garmin Forerunner 165 is another solid option for keeping tabs on outdoor adventures, including basics like heart rate, elevation and pace, as well as tracking your route. It also provides a bevy of recovery info for those extra-long treks. 

Garmin Forerunner 165: $249 @ Amazon

Garmin Forerunner 165: $249 @ Amazon
The Garmin Forerunner 165 is one of the brand's latest GPS-equipped smartwatches and a great choice for tracking day hikes and outdoor adventures. Users can check their pace, route traveled, health rate, total vertical ascent and more at a glance via the watch's bright AMOLED touchscreen. 

5. A water bottle or hydration pack 


(Image credit: HydroFlask)

The best water bottles come in a wide range of varieties including trendy all-metal vacuum insulated options, like the ever-popular Stanley thermos and the Hydro Flask, my go-to. You also have lighter, plastic options like Nalgenes as well as super packable water bottles like the Hydrapak Soft Flask.

The best hydration packs tend to look a little more uniform than water bottles. Our top pick is the Salomon Active Skin 8 but for something a little more affordable, check out the $79 Gregory Nano 18

Hydro Flask with Flex Straw Lid: $31 @ Amazon

Hydro Flask with Flex Straw Lid: $31 @ Amazon
The Hydro Flask with Flex Straw Lid is not only the official TG Best water bottle for road trips but also my favorite for hikes and backpacking. Its slender design makes it easy to slip in and out of a backpack and the insulated walls keep bevs nice and cold for hours on end. 

6. A solid first aid kit 

Mountain Series Backpacker Medical Kit.

(Image credit: Adventure Medical Kits)

Accidents happen and while you can't predict the future you can snag a packable and well-equipped first aid kit. I'm a big fan of the Mountain Series Backpacker Medical Kit from Adventure Medical Kits. It costs about $50 and has all the basics for minor injuries. Plus, it can also easily be attached to a bag or pack and weighs less than a pound. 

For something even more affordable and compact, this $14 Day Hike First-Aid Kit from Hart Outdoor is pretty hard to argue with. It's also a good backup option to leave in your car or a bike bag. 

Mountain Series Backpacker Medical Kit: $47 @ REI

Mountain Series Backpacker Medical Kit: $47 @ REI
For less than $50, this kit comes with a ton of crucial supplies to treat minor emergencies on the mountain or trails, from minor cuts and scrapes to upset stomachs, allergies and more. It also weighs little and takes up little space in a backpack. 

7. Binoculars 

Nocs Standard Issue Binoculars.

(Image credit: Dan Bracaglia/Future)

Do you need a pair of waterproof binoculars to thoroughly enjoy your next outdoor adventure? No. But if you're hiking somewhere with a big payoff at the end (i.e. a view), a decent set of binoculars can make that experience all the more rewarding.

I'm seriously in love with the Nocs Standard Issue 8x25 Waterproof Binoculars. Priced at $95 and frequently on sale for less, these are a great entry point into bird watching, animal spotting, and generally enjoying all the views nature has to offer. They also come in a wide range of aesthetically pleasing colors and weigh little. 

Nocs 8x25 Waterproof Binoculars: $95 @ REI

Nocs 8x25 Waterproof Binoculars: $95 @ REI
While a decent pair of binoculars isn't technically a must-have for outdoor adventures, it does make them a lot more fun. For instance, I recently spotted a rare San Juan Island red fox with them, which not only made the hike but my entire weekend. 

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Dan Bracaglia
Senior Writer, Fitness & Wearables

Dan Bracaglia covers fitness and consumer technology with an emphasis on wearables for Tom's Guide. Based in the US Pacific Northwest, Dan is an avid outdoor adventurer who dabbles in everything from kayaking to snowboarding, but he most enjoys exploring the cities and mountains with his small pup, Belvedere. Dan is currently training to climb some of Washington State's tallest peaks. He's also a big photography nerd.