I can tell you that the Pacific Northwest is one of the hardest places to hike in, as far as weather is concerned. It can be sunny one minute and rain for the next 3 days, even though the forecast calls for sun, or, it may snow at 3000ft even though the snow level is supposed to be 6000ft. You never know what to expect on the Olympic Peninsula, so hopefully this will help you be ready for your hike. Because of the unpredictability of the weather and trail conditions, packing a bag, heck, even choosing the right backpack, can make or break a hike. In this post, we will discuss what you need to make sure your day is an enjoyable one no matter what the weather. You may find a pair of shoes that are more comfortable, or a backpack that fits better with your body, but this guide should help you get started on your journey to comfort. This is intended to help you be ready without breaking the bank, so if you are looking for the top end products, this may not help. Also…remember that for the Olympic Peninsula, you need to buy everything water proof and NOT water resistant. Water resistant will NOT keep you dry in our wonderful rain forest!
First and foremost, you need a good pair of shoes. This is tough because, like me, you may have feet that are picky and you might be brand loyal. Typically, I would suggest some sort of Trail Runner, as the majority of hikes that one goes on are going to be able to handle trail running shoes. For this I suggest you go with a waterproof shoe, such as the North Face brand of trail runners. (http://www.endless.com/North-Face-Bettasso-II-Waterproof/dp/B0033PSERU/184-0139883-7125503?ie=UTF8&suppressRedirect=1). These are pretty inexpensive and will give you the support of a running shoe, with the grip and waterproofing of a hiking shoe. I suggest going to a local outdoors store before going to REI or other large stores because they will take the time to figure out what is best for your needs. You could also go with minimalist shoes, but with the amount of moisture on the trails on the Olympic Peninsula, your feet may get very, very cold quickly.
Boots can be tricky, and depending on comfort, you may go with any number of styles. However, 2 things are important when buying boots for the Olympic Peninsula. The first is obviously to get a waterproof pair. This isn’t because you will be walking when it rains, but because many trails double as seasonal streams and you have to walk through a few inches of water. Unless you enjoy wet feet and blisters, don’t skimp on the price. Boots typically come in 2 styles. Low tops and high boots. Many hikers that I associate with like the lower shoes, as the chaffing is less on the shins than with high tops boots, which can ruin your day and maybe your zeal for hiking. It is with great excitement that I am introducing you to a new company who makes fantastic boots. Oboz, located in Bozeman Montana, is the best brand for boots. Not only are they on the cutting edge of hiking boot technology, but they are designed by a seasoned veteran of hiking shoes. http://www.obozfootwear.com/site/index.html
. In fact, I just bought the ones shown next to this paragraph and my feet have never felt more comfortable on trails, scree and snow!
Pants and Shorts:
For those of you who do not know me, I always wear shorts. Even in the snow, you will catch me with shorts and thigh high wool socks, as I tend to dislike the feel of long pants on hikes and climbs. That being said, I do know my pants and therefore recommend Mountain Hardwear (http://www.mountainhardwear.com/mens-pants-shorts/mens-bottoms,default,sc.html
) for their selection of pants and shorts. One handy thing about them is that they have great pocket space and are warm enough, yet lightweight enough to handle changing conditions. While some styles may be expensive, you only need one pair of shorts and/or pants. Hiking is more about comfort and less about style, so don’t feel you need to rotate outfits for hikes and climbs. For winter pants, make sure they have the build in internal snow gaitor, as this will keep the snow out of your shoes. Pants and shorts should be comfortable and tight, as there is no need to be sagging out on the trails.
One brand stands alone as the best company to buy your jackets from and that brand is Marmot. (http://marmot.com/catalog/jackets/129–3
) One tip for buying a jacket is to stay as far away from fleece as humanly possible. Many companies will flaunt their fleece as great hiking gear, but when push comes to shove, fleece will do nothing for you in the wind or rain. To me, fleece was designed for car hikers, or people who maybe will hike a mile at a time in good weather. That is why I always look for waterproof jackets and windbreakers instead. For a good day hike top, check out Marmot’s line of “DriClime” gear. This is similar to The North Face and Eddie Bauer’s gear, but at a fraction of the price. Another quick tip is to make sure everything you get has a hood on it. While hats are nice, you need to stop moisture from dripping own your neck.
UPDATE: Outdoor Research is also AMAZING!!!!!
One might assume that this is the least important article of clothing you could wear but I beg to differ. T-shirts are not only a great way to support your favorite hiking guides (http://www.cafepress.com/exotichikesgear), but it is also important to get something that is breathable and sturdy. If you are scrambling over rocks you need something sturdy that will keep you warm but also not gather sweat. This is why I recommend the brand Stoic. They have a crew shirt that is by far the best under layer you can wear. http://www.backcountry.com/stoic-merino-crew-short-sleeve-mens
Socks and Underwear:
Believe it or not, underwear is probably the most important aspect to hiking. Nothing can ruin a day quite like having a wedgie for 6 miles. For men and women, I plead with you to bypass fashion and go with a full length, breathable pair of underwear. Running tights are also a good substitute.Do not wear this for hiking….
Socks can be tricky, depending on what shoes you are wearing and what conditions you are going to be in for your hike. I typically bring 3 pairs of socks with me on hikes. I bring one thigh high pair of wool hiking socks. Important note here is that they should be padded. REI carries a wide variety of good quality, cheap in price socks. I also go with an ankle sock from Eddie Bauer’s First Ascent collection, as these are great at keeping my feet warm and dry, and most importantly, blister free. Finally I bring a thin pair of running socks in case the others get wet and/or the conditions call for less cushion on my feet. This is your preference, but remember to try and get socks that fit perfect, or you will end up with blisters. Blisters on hikes are more likely going to be caused from socks than from your shoes, so be wise.
Some people collect shoes, others collect t-shirts or shot glasses. I collect backpacks. It is with this habit that I can steer you to the best brands of day hiking backpacks and overnight backpacks. For day hikes, I recommend the brand Osprey (http://www.ospreypacks.com/), as they come with not only a great amount of space, but also typically include hydration packs. This is a plus, as you then have space for water without having to pack a bulky water bottle or thermos. The Talon series is the best day pack for your money, and once you have one, you will notice quite a few other hikers will have the same backpack as you. This is one of the times where being trendy is good. The packs have a great pack support and are designed for all body types. I know this may sound weird, but if I could marry a backpack, it would be one of the Osprey backpacks.
For long, multiday hikes, I recommend going with the brand Gregory. While this may not be a well-known brand, they come with a lifetime guarantee and are styled to fit you perfectly. (http://www.gregorypacks.com/products/view/15
) I have linked to my favorite pack right now, and I have had no problems with it. While you may need to buy a waterproof cover for it, this bag is sturdy, dependable and allows you to have easy access to all of its pockets.
With these products, you should have a base of great items to get you out and about. I will do a later post about brand of crampons, snowshoes and helmets, but for now, this should help you get out and get started for your lifelong love of hiking. What is most important about having good items and gear is that a hike should not be ruined from lack of good shoes or getting too wet. A hike should always be an adventure, and to have to be in pain from bad shoes, hike with a wedgie worse than the ones I got in elementary school or be soaked to the bone is inexcusable. The right gear can make a rainy day a cherished memory and the right gear can make a walk in the woods a story that will be passed down for generations. Hiking and climbing is about pushing your limits physically to see or feel the true force of nature, and the last thing you want is to be forced to turn around, mere miles from Shangri-La due to bad shoes. Take it from me, with the right gear, it doesn’t matter what shape you are in, or how short or far you hike, because as long as you are warm and dry, all that matters is your connection to nature.
Hope to see you on the trails soon,