Bad Hiking Advice, Because People Forget What It’s Like to Put Yourself in Other People’s Shoes

Holy shit this is bad advice, let’s fix that right quick.

Over on WIRED, Matt Jancer has an article titled: “The Best Hiking Gear (2021): Backpacks, Boxer Briefs, and More”. This article is not good. There’s so much advice for buying gear in here without any consideration given to what would actually be helpful for people who are looking at this type of guide.

I love hiking and being outdoors and I think everyone benefits from doing it. I also love gear and telling you what is the best, but I also think we need to caveat that. We need to focus on who the target audience is.

Don’t take my word for it, here’s how Jancer starts his article:

If you’ve never done it before, figuring out what to bring might seem like a daunting task, but it’s easier than you might think to stay dry, warm, hydrated, and safe. We have everything you need here.

His target: people who have ‘never done it before’. Ok then: the basics. Not a list for advanced people (which is good, because it’s shit for them too). This is everything you need, and just before that he talked about how it’s not expensive to get going with hiking, good stuff!

His list comes out to $1,024 — so cheap and easy to get started with!

And no, I didn’t just add up all the options, I did the recommendations, skipped the extras and ignored the two midlayer options. But anyway you slice it, this is the kind of shit that people get in trouble for writing: “it so cheap and easy to go do this thing, just get this gear which will cost you $1,000 and then and only then can you safely do this thing with all the other decently wealthy people Instagramming their way through easy trails.”

But this is utterly shit advice. And this list is a pile of shit too.

What the actual fuck are you going to do with your compass and mirror

This is my biggest problem with lists like this: get a knife (which he missed, good for him), a compass, and a signaling mirror and you are all set! Except if you have never hiked before and already don’t own those items — what good are they going to do you? Literally: they will likely do nothing for you. A compass shows you north, so if you don’t have a map (which he does recommend getting and reading a book on using your compass too), or are not charting your route, capturing a bearing of your start — how’s a compass going to help? It feels like one of those things people toss on lists just so they can say “we had a compass and we still got lost!” Completely ignoring the fact that a compass only points to North, not to your car. So while adding a compass and mentioning a map and maybe reading a book is useful, navigating with a compass is a skill you learn, not something you add because it will save you. It most certainly will give you a false sense of security that you can go off trail.

Don’t go off trail.

Same with the mirror and knife. Do you know how to use a signaling mirror? Most don’t and it’s not as simple as wave the fucking thing around. It’s yet another skill.

Stop recommending shit to people who don’t know how to use this shit. This list is for beginners, and that group doesn’t need these items, know how to use them, and likely won’t bother trying — which means these items will lull them into a false sense of security making the activity instantly more dangerous for them.

Even the clothing choices are WTF. Yes, yes “cotton kills” I got it and I agree, but if we are talking about someone who never hiked, this is far down the list of gear they need. Because if a first time hiker is wanting to go out in adverse weather conditions, they are already fucked. Hike in nice weather people (to my Washington friends: sorry what I mean here is that there are other parts of the country that have sunshine and warm weather, you do you up there).

My Advice For Those New to Hiking

Start easy and short. If you consider yourself fit, have your first hike be something in the 2.5 miles (total, meaning out and back to your car) range. If you feel less confident on your fitness, look for something closer to a mile. Most people won’t need much for hikes of those lengths, but it will be enough on trail experience for you to know what you might want for a longer hike — or if you’re even interested in something longer after your first go.

Also, make sure you are going to some payoff for the hike. Things like waterfalls, lakes, and views — look for those hikes with easy to moderate ratings. There’s loads of apps to tell you the difficulty of trials. Don’t go after a large storm (mud sucks) — only go on your first outing when the weather conditions are ideal.

Even if you think you can go longer, plan that one for a Sunday and a short one on your first hike for a Saturday morning. You can then go to REI in between and grab what you need for the longer one, knowing you won’t be wasting money on shit you don’t need like WIRED seems to think you should. Because you have one hike under your belt and you now know what would have made it better for you.

If you are going somewhere that ‘recommends trekking poles’ you’ve already picked the wrong trail. So to recap:

  • Nice weather, with no rain.
  • Not too hot, not too cold.
  • Don’t go after a storm.
  • Cap at 2.5 miles if reality TV viewers would describe you as fit, sub 1.5 miles if they wouldn’t describe you that way.

Off you go now… Well, unless…

The Gear

Ok you found the trail, and planned the date with good weather, your gear list should be overly simple and as cheap as possible — you have no idea if you’ll ever use this stuff again. What do you get? I got you, this will cost you $20, maybe…

  • Water: go to the store, get water in 1L bottles. Hikers love Smart Water bottles because they are easy to carry and durable. You need not even go to the store to buy a bottle of water, but I bet you have one anyways kicking around your house. I recommend minimum of 1L per mile when you start, max at 3L total (it gets heavy past that). So if you are hiking 1-2 miles take 2 liters, anything in the 2+ miles then take 3 liters. It’s easy math that way. But you don’t need 6 liters for 6 miles. Anyways, hydration is important and it starts well before you leave. If you are well hydrated before you leave, then you’ll need less water when you are out. Unless you are somewhere miserably dry like Arizona, then just consider hiring a water truck to follow you so that you can carry a bunch of lotion. Anyways, if you don’t have a water bottle and you need to buy water, that’s like $3 right here?
  • Poncho: if you are somewhere prone to rolling storms (what’s up Houston), a poncho is a cheap and effective way to stay dry. A basic plastic one from Amazon or REI is like $15 for a six pack, or you can get something nicer and reusable for $20ish. Since you’re not planning on hiking your first time in the rain (right!), you don’t need much — I bet you own a rain jacket already and I assure you that will be perfect for your first few goes at it. I find it hard to believe people don’t own a rain jacket or have a plastic poncho kicking around somewhere in their house. We can call this $20, but I side-eye the thought you need to spend it.
  • Gaia GPS: look you don’t want to get lost right? Getting lost is your biggest risk. Here’s what a you do, get Gaia GPS on your phone. Download the hiking region you are going to to the device, therefore it works offline. Then start tracing your route when you leave your car. If you do this, you can’t get lost — I mean I guess you can, but like practically it will be hard. All you need to do is retrace your little marks in the app, and GPS still works without network reception as long as you have a map to show it on — which you downloaded already, right? Winning. Free!
  • Power Bank and Charging Cable: just to extra make sure you don’t get lost toss whatever power bank and charging cable you already have into your kit. We all have them, grab the big one and have that peace of mind. Simple. Free!
  • A bag: I don’t think there are many people reading this blog which won’t have some sort of backpack or messenger bag already. Either type will do, as you just need to carry a few things. Let’s not be dramatic here, most office commuters will walk a couple miles carrying their bags in any given day — even that bag will do. You need to hold water and a power bank — you have this already. FREE.
  • Sneakers or Boots: you don’t need anything super fancy to go on short hikes, any sneakers or boots of any kind really should be fine. If they are comfortable enough to wear all day long, they are good to go. Maybe just make sure they have a rubber sole would be a suggestion. FREE.
  • Duct Tape & Band Aid: take a little bit of duct tape and wrap it around your water bottle. Grab a couple band aids. Congrats, you should be good to go. If you need more gear because you have more medical training, you already own and know what you need. Also congrats. Free.

Yeah, so that’s it. So that’s like $23 if you need a poncho and you don’t have a water bottle already. Most likely this is all stuff you already have in some form, which makes it free.

Being outdoors and hiking is amazing. And no matter what some person looking to make a quick dollar tells you, you probably already have the ‘gear’ you need. So give it a go before you go out and spend any money.

And my best advice: take a friend who regularly hikes. They have extras of all this shit and are always looking to offload some to people.

Don’t get lost, and don’t spend $1,000, just to go one a single hike. That’s absurd. Wait until at least your third hike, then go hog wild, just still don’t take WIRED’s advice here.

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