Our recent hikes in Kyrgyzstan and the north of Albania taught us a lot about hiking gear and backpacking essentials! Prior to this, we had NO idea about the 'do's and don'ts' and the 'must-haves' of a hike. And if you feel overwhelmed by all the technical terms and endless options of gear available in the market, (just like we were in the past!), here's a list of all our gear that we purchased, tested, and HIGHLY recommend! 😁
It took us weeks of research and trials, but after hiking some of the most challenging terrains, we must say we've been extremely pleased with our purchases. Some of them might seem a little expensive at first, but these are definitely long-term investments , and they've completely elevated our hiking experience. :)
So let's just dive straight into the list!
1. Hiking Boots
Overlooking Lake Kol Kogur, Kyrgyzstan in our 'Columbia Peakfreak OutDry Hiking Boots'
It is so important to invest in the right kind of hiking footwear as it can make or break your hiking experience! There is a massive array of choices available - trail runners, hiking shoes, and hiking boots. After weeks of research and hiking through some of the toughest terrains, we think that a pair of HIKING BOOTS protects you the most. Apart from being sturdier and more versatile, boots protect you from ankle twists and injuries by locking them in place, and give you that extra support and traction on uneven ground.
We both wear Columbia's Peakfreak™ X2 Mid OutDry™ boots (links below). Columbia's OutDry™ is basically a waterproof, breathable technology. Many shoes claim that they are waterproof, but it is important to ensure that they are breathable as well, because the waterproof construction can be heavy, and your feet need circulation for the moisture and sweat to evaporate. Columbia's Outdry™ shoes are super easy to break into, and did not give Senora a single shoe bite (which is amazing, considering she always manages to get them in almost any new footwear she wears!).
NOTE: We crossed rivers, and even walked in mild snow about 3 inches thick, in these boots combined with something called 'gaiters' (see point 3 below in this article) and they're still in perfect condition! But if you're going to hike in heavy snow, then you would have to look for winter hiking boots which are specially insulated and come with non-slip soles for walking on ice.
Arjun's Hiking Boots: Men's Peakfreak™ X2 Mid OutDry™ Boot
Senora's Hiking Boots: Women's Peakfreak™ X2 Mid OutDry™ Boot
Another amazing feature of this shoe, is that it has NO LEATHER (not even in the soles), which makes it an animal-friendly choice! :)
PRO TIP: It is recommended to purchase a hiking boot of a size bigger than your actual feet size. This is to give room to the thick hiking socks. And do note that on hikes, your feet often tend to swell, so you definitely want to make some room for that. :)
2. Hiking Socks
Oh, how I underestimated the importance of these! These socks have been a saviour, especially on downhill journeys when your feet chafe against the front of your shoes (and that can be quite painful!) A good pair of hiking socks provides a cushion/padding at the pressure points of your feet. They might seem a little pricey initially, but it's the best thing you can do for your feet. We wear the Quechua ones (link below), which are double-layered socks but are super breathable and soft! These are also made of spandex, and NOT merino wool unlike most other hiking socks, so this makes it a very animal-friendly choice! :)
Arjun's and Senora's : Decathlon - Quechua MH500
Pike Trail Leg Gaiters - These are a MUST in rains/snow, no matter how waterproof your footwear is.
We initially had no idea what these were! Gaiters are simply a protective covering of a waterproof cloth for the lower leg and ankle, to prevent any rain or snow from getting into your boots. And no matter how waterproof your shoe is, there is always a possibility of water entering from the hole where you insert your leg into the shoe, and gaiters are A MUST to fully cover this opening!
Gaiters that we recommend: Pike Trail Leg Gaiters
We have borrowed backpacks from our friends in the past, so we have literally tested a range of brands and types. In a nutshell, a good backpack is one that helps to redistribute all of the bag's weight from your shoulders to your hip - which is why backpacks come with a waist strap (also known as a hip belt) to help you do exactly that.
There are backpacks of different sizes, usually measured in liters. For example, the simple day packs like the one in the picture below measures 20 liters (20L). For longer or overnight hikes, you would need at least a 40L backpack. But if like us, you need to carry filming gear such as a camera, tripod, drone etc. then a 50L backpack would be the minimum requirement. Also, please ensure that your backpack comes with an attached rain-cover, although this built-in feature is mostly available only in the larger backpacks (30L and above). In case your existing backpack does not come with an attached rain-cover, you can still purchase separate rain covers for different backpack sizes.
We usually fold in the 20L daypack inside our 55L backpack, and take out the daypacks as and when needed.
Overlooking beautiful Ala Archa National Park in Kyrgyzstan, with our Quechua 20L Daypacks
Daypacks (20 liters) - Arjun's and Senora's : Decathlon - Quechua NH100, Hiking 20 L Backpack
Our main backpack that we always travel with - Columbia Trail Elite 55L. The ergonomics, soft padding of the waist strap, and insanely amazing compartmentalization makes it worth every penny!
Main Backpack (55 liters)-
Arjun's : Columbia Trail Elite 55L Backpack Black
Senora's : I am still on the lookout for the perfect bag for my size, and will immediately update this space when I have found the one!
Packing cubes (A MUST) - Amazon Basics 4 Piece Packing Travel Organizer Cubes Set
Even if you don't use backpacks, these packing cubes are such great organizers also for your trolley luggage bags!
This is what we carry in our daypacks during our hikes:
OUR DAYPACK CONTENTS!
Arjun's Daypack (His is more like the 'ELECTRONICS' BAG!)
An organizer/pouch carrying a power bank, chargers, and miscellaneous electronic cables
Senora's Daypack (Hers is more like the 'EMERGENCY BAG'!)
Headlamp + Whistle (for emergencies or camping)
Sunglasses or any protective eyewear
Passports (covered in plastic cling-wrap to save it from any possible water damage!)
Sanitary pads (I feel you, ladies!)
Wet Wipes + Hand Sanitizer + Spray Sanitizer
Snacks (dates, nuts, energy bars, fresh fruit)
First Aid supplies - Voltaren (a gel for relieving muscle cramps or sudden pulls) - BandAids (for cuts) - Medicines (for diarrhea, you never know!) - Lubricating eye drops
The weather, especially when hiking in higher altitudes, can be so unpredictable. It had rained quite a few times during our hikes, but we were able to keep ourselves and our backpacks dry, thanks to our hooded rain ponchos! Our backpacks do come with a rain-cover, but water can still seep in from the space between your back and the bag. A large poncho can fit over you and the backpack, so it gives the extra coverage to keep all the contents in it from getting wet. We had purchased a pair of disposable ponchos on Amazon, but we now realize the importance of having one good, permanent pair!
Rain poncho that we recommend: Anyoo Waterproof Rain Poncho Lightweight Reusable Hooded Rain Coat
6. Winter Gear
This point is especially applicable for those who are completely NEW to winter weather. Arjun and I, both hail from the tropics, and after living in the Middle East, we had to ensure that we had the right gear to get acclimatized to cold winters on our trips. Each person has their own tolerance to temperatures, but the key to feeling warm and comfortable in extreme cold is LAYERING!
The first layer to begin with are the base thermals that you wear just outside your inner garments, before you even wear your outer clothes. We absolutely love Columbia's Heavyweight Stretch Thermals range (link below) :
Arjun's Thermal Shirt: Men's Heavyweight Stretch Long Sleeve Base Layer Shirt
Arjun's Thermal Tights: Men's Heavyweight II Stretch Base Layer Tights
Senora's Thermal Shirt: Women's Heavyweight Stretch Long Sleeve Top
Senora's Thermal Tights: Women's Heavyweight II Base Layer Tights
Senora wearing her Columbia Powder Lite Insulated Jacket - super light, well-insulated, and easy to roll and pack!
After the base thermals, you can wear your regular jumper and trousers, and then comes the main winter jacket/coat. There is a HUGE variety of jacket technologies available in the market which can overwhelming. Our priority was warmth, and that it should be easily foldable, lightweight, and occupy the least space in our backpacks. We also wanted to avoid the 'Down' jackets which basically uses duck feathers. The Powder Lite Insulated jackets by Columbia perfectly fit all our needs, along with being animal-friendly since it uses a synthetic insulation. Synthetic insulations are not only less expensive than down, but they are very water-resistant and continue to insulate even when wet!
Arjun's Jacket: Columbia Men's Powder Lite™ Insulated Jacket
Senora's Jacket: Columbia Women's Powder Lite™ Hooded Jacket
Arjun's Beanie: Columbia Bugaboo™ Beanie
Sometimes, if it isn't too cold you can skip the winter coat/jacket and instead wear a windbreaker, which is a lighter version of the jacket but is designed to resist wind chill and light rain. We haven't yet purchased one but might consider in the future. For now, our Powder Lites work just perfectly fine!
And THAT'S IT, folks! A very simplified guide that we hope helps you with your next big hike. Remember that it is a lot better to invest in high quality gear in the very beginning as it makes a huge difference to the quality of your hiking experience, and will hopefully last a long, long time! :)