|WARNING/DISCLAIMER: Hiking can be dangerous and the information furnished below may contain errors!
Copyright 2008 by Michael_Brochstein
This article contains the personal and obviously anecdotal recommendations of the author and are based on his experiences and research (see Backpacker magazine for a more exhaustive source of information). It is highly recommended and sometimes assumed that you have read the Guide to Day Hiking article on this website prior to reading this page. The author has no financial interest in any of the products, vendors or places mentioned below.
- Hiking Boots
- Base Layers
- Insulation Layers (fleece,...)
- Shell Layers
- Water Bottles
- Sun Screen
- Trekking Poles
- Traction Devices for Ice
- Camera Equipment
Backpacks - As with hiking boots, the most important three criteria to look for in a backpack are fit, fit and fit. Finding a competent salesperson to assist you in pack selection is very important.
Backpackers looking for packs large enough to accommodate multi-day trips should put packs made by Gregory, Osprey, Arc'teryx, Dana, and Mountainsmith onto their "short" list. There are other backpack makers that make fine packs but this short list offers a wide selection from vendors with a long history of top notch pack making. Other reputable pack makers include Kelty, Lowe Alpine, Granite Gear, REI, L.L. Bean, EMS, Jansport, The North Face, and Marmot.
Day hikers also have a wide selection of packs to pick from. In this author's opinion, many packs under 2700 cubic inches lack a good quality hip belt. One exception which is also a good value ($100 at most) is the Kelty Redwing series which comes in three sizes based upon torso length. The author has been very happy with the medium sized Kelty Redwing with a capacity of 2400 cubic inches. A few years ago this model was "upgraded" and now holds 2650 cubic inches (and the author is also happy with it after many hikes).
Hiking Boots - As with backpacks, the most important three criteria to look for in a hiking boot are fit, fit and fit. Finding a competent salesperson to assist you in boot fitting and selection is very important. Also, make sure to wear the same (proper!) socks that you would you normally wear when hiking when trying on your boots and to shop later in the day.
The author highly recommends Gore-tex lined boots because they are both breathable and waterproof. Reputable boot makers include Vasque, Lowa, Montrail, Merrell, Asolo, La Sportiva, Scarpa, The North Face, Salomon, and Garmont. Others to consider include EMS, L.L. Bean and REI. The author has been wearing "Lowa Renegade II GTX MID" boots for day hiking for a few years and has been very happy with them.
Socks - The combination of a thin wicking sock underneath a thick rag wool sock are a proven all-weather classic combo. Lately, the author has found the Wigwam Merino Wool Comfort Hiker sock to be a great and possibly superior substitute for a rag wool sock.
Gaiters - While a multiple of manufacturers make gaiters, Outdoor Research is a safe bet. Their "Flex-Tex Gaiters" have worked very well for me as low cut gaiters and their standard height "Crocodiles" have also served me well.
Base Layers - The author has been using non-cotton base layers for at least 20 years starting with polypropylene and moving onto various much better proprietary fabrics. A safe top pick that has been around for many years is Patagonia Capilene. The author has, over a period of at least ten years, worn many different base layer garments made with Patagonia Capilene and has been happy with every one. Capilene currently comes in five "weights"; active, silkweight, lightweight, midweight and expedition weight. A good starter "collection" should include a lightweight short sleeve T-shirt and a long sleeve midweight Zip-T. These will last many years and separately and/or together will cover most base layering needs year round.
Insulation Layers (fleece,...) - Fleece is the most common insulation layer in use today. There is a generic-ness to alot of it with only certain manufacturers having unique versions. Most of the differences are are in the detailing and quality of construction. Less "technical" fleece garments may not stand up to much abuse, will have lower quality zippers, and lack many features found on better more technical garments. Features to look for include armpit zippers (a.k.a. pit zips - highly recommended!), wind collars, and appropriate pockets with appropriate closures. Some types of fleece block the wind. These typically cost more than ones that don't. Softshells are garments that resemble fleece garments in some ways but have the characteristics of a shell garment in other ways. Softshells can also be used as an insulation layer. For very cold environments garments with down insulation are used as an insulating layer. There are many good manufacturers of these types of garments including Arc'teryx, Mountain Hardwear and many others. Campmor's house brand fleece garments offer very good value. Ones I don't recommend are made by manufacturers who target the casual wear market and not the outdoor market. While their quality and price may be attractive, their detailing is inadequate for regular outdoor (hiking) use.
Shell Layers - A good shell will shield you from rain and/or wind. It should also breathe well. Gore-tex is the "standard" against all other shell materials are compared to for being windproof, waterproof and being breathable. There are various versions of Gore-tex, each with their own advantages. Like insulating layers, the difference is in the details (a.k.a. the "detailing). There are many good manufacturers of shells including Arc'teryx, Mountain Hardwear, The North Face, Marmot and many others. Also as with insulating layers, I don't recommend those made by manufacturers who target the casual wear market and not the outdoor market. While their quality and price may be attractive, their detailing is inadequate for regular outdoor (hiking) use.
Water Bottles - The standard water bottle that more hikers carry than any other is the 1-liter (32 ounce) wide mouth Nalgene brand bottle. It comes in plastic and Lexan versions. I highly recommend that you splurge the extra two dollars per bottle (as most hikers seem to) for the Lexan version (the cheaper plastic one is also very good). I have used these bottles for well over ten years. They are great and last forever.
Trekking Poles - A very popular and respected brand of trekking poles is Leki. In spring 2004, the author started to use their Ultralite Ti AirErgo PA model and has been very happy with them ever since.
Traction Devices for Ice - The most popular devices in use on trails in the greater NYC area seems to be a product called Stabilicers which are made by a company called 32north. The author has had excellent experience using these on hiking trails in the greater NYC area. Please note that the "cleats" on Stabilicers (which look suspiciously like screws one might buy in a hardware store) occasionally come out and get lost. A package of official 32north replacement cleats (typically 50 for under $5.00) is a worthwhile investment.
Compasses - A good compass does not have to cost more than $15 - $20 (max). Models made by Suunto and Silva are generally safe bets. For years I've used something similar to the Silva Explorer Type 3 and have never had a problem with it.
Altimeters - The Suunto series of wristwatch altimeters are a well established standard. The author has had the Suunto Vector model for years. It is not the most ergonomic but I am otherwise very happy with it. The built-in compass has let me leave my manual one at home whenever I now go hiking.
GPS (Global Positioning System) - The author has owned a variety of Garmin GPS's models since 1999 (the eTrex, Foretrex and the 60CS) and has been very happy with them. One series of models that seems to me to have a fatal flaw is their Geko series as their the power button is too easily activated (especially when inside a pack with other items) which would inevitably lead to inadvertently drained batteries (one online review mentioned this in fact).
Camera Equipment - Weight, size and reliability are all important criteria for selecting camera equipment for hiking in addition to quality. The decision to use a point & shoot or a single lens reflex (SLR) is the first major decision in selecting a camera. Point & shoot cameras are lighter and smaller than SLR's. They also generally cost less.
FILM - While many manufacturers make 35mm point & shoot cameras, Olympus has consistently made very light and high quality ones for reasonable prices. The Olympus Stylus line (the author has a 1993 model) is a safe bet. The author has been using Nikon 35mm SLR cameras since 1973 (starting with a Nikkormat Ftn) and therefore is not personally familiar with most other popular popular brands of SLR's. The Nikon N80 35mm SLR is both light and very versatile. As most 35mm SLR cameras are being discontinued and replaced by digital models, ebay is a good source for discontinued 35mm SLR's.
Weight can be saved by using a manual 35mm SLR and "prime" (non-zoom) lenses. While a handful of manual cameras are still made (i.e. by Nikon), most are only found on E-Bay or in the used equipment sections of major camera stores for relatively modest prices compared with the latest models. The Olympus OM series (i.e. the OM-1) was known for both low weight and good quality. Other manual 35mm SLR's and lenses to look for were made by Nikon, Canon, Minolta, Pentax, and others. BTW, the author's favorite color slide film is Fuji Provia 100.
DIGITAL - If you are interested in digital photography then the first decision is whether to use a point & shoot camera or a SLR. Digital point & shoot cameras can (not always) be much lighter than their 35mm counterparts. Digital SLR's (DSLR's) have much more versatility, generally have superior picture quality for a given number of megapixels and are also more expensive.
If you intend to invest in a DSLR, a few lenses and possibly some other accessories then Canon and Nikon should be on your short list. Both manufacturers make excellent products which include a wider range of bodies, lenses and accessories than any other manufacturers. As the two market leaders in the DSLR market (the rest are all very far behind) they also have the best support among third party manufacturers of lenses, software, and many other accessories.
LENSES - If you decide to use a SLR type camera then you will need to decide which lenses to use with it. If you can only take one zoom lens then a 24-85mm (35mm equivalent) zoom lens is recommended. As most DSLR's have a 1.5x magnification factor on 35mm lenses then a 17 or 18mm to 55mm or longer zoom lens is recommended for them. For Nikon SLR's the author recommends the following Nikon lenses; 12-24 AF-S DX (for DSLR use only), 17-55 AF-S DX or the 18-70 AF-S DX, and 70-200 VR AF-S (a Nikon 1.4x teleconverter is highly recommended for the 70-200 to extend its range). Unfortunately, the 70-200 is not a light lens and an alternative is to get a cheaper and slower telephoto zoom lens (i.e. the 70-300) which would weigh significantly less. If you decide only on carrying prime lenses then getting a 24mm (35mm equivalent) lens should suffice on the wide end. Other prime lenses to pick can vary by what type of photo's you are interested in taking and the place(s) you are expecting to take them.
FILTERS - A multi-coated Ultraviolet (UV) filter is highly recommended on all good lenses to protect them from dust, fingerprints, and accidents and a multicoated polarizer filter is also highly recommended for landscape photo's. Heliopan and B&W are both excellent manufacturers of filters and readily available in better photography stores. Make sure to get multi-coated versions of any filters you purchase. One other filter I recommend is a graduated neutral density filter of the type made by Singh Ray.
TRIPODS & HEADS - The lightest tripods given similar heights, stiffness, quality and weight bearing abilities are made out of carbon fiber (CF). The Gitzo line of CF tripods are excellent and highly regarded by many. Light and much less expensive non-CF tripods that are recommended include the Velbon MAXi-343e and Ultra MAXi tripods. As ball heads are lighter than pan heads, I recommend getting a separate ball head for the Ultra MAXi model which only comes standard with a pan head. The use of quick release plates allow faster and easier set-up in the field in exchange for a small weight penalty. The Bogen/Manfrotto 484RC2 ball head is one of the lightest ball head the author has found that has a built-in quick release plate and is very sturdy and reliable as well as reasonably priced. Really Right Stuff (RRS) makes top-notch camera and lens brackets that mate with their Arca-Swiss quick release style ballheads (get the ones with the clamp, not the screw closure mechanism). Their BH-25 ballhead is very light. Price wise the Gitzo CF tripod series and the RRS ballheads and brackets are a good match and both are in the "best of breed" category.
WHERE TO BUY GEAR
New York City Area - Click here to see a list of stores in the NYC area and my comments on each.
My NYC Area Short List: If you live in New Jersey then Campmor should be your first stop followed by Ramsey and then EMS for items not stocked by Campmor. If you shop in Manhattan then Paragon has a large selection in a nice setting. Tent and Trails generally has the lowest prices on many top name brand items also found at Paragon (as well as some not stocked by Paragon) but unfortunately needs much more floor space to display them properly. The Patagonia and The North Face stores in Manhattan sell the high quality products made by each of these firms.
Mail Order & Internet - Click here to see a short list of vendors without stores in the NYC area and my comments on each.
New York City Area Hiking Groups - Click here to see a list of hiking groups/clubs in the NYC area and my comments on each.
New York City Day Hiking - Very useful website on the subject of day hiking in the greater New York City area (created by yours truly).
Feedback / Questions
Please feel free to email Michael Brochstein with any comments, suggestions and/or questions.
Last revision: January 1, 2008