Three Pieces Of Gear That Changed My Hiking Life

  1. Sock liners: I think I first heard of these from a Following Bigfoot video.  I hiked and backpacked over 100 miles wearing sock liners in 2017 and was completely blister free.  I use either Injinji Toe Socks or Fox River Cool Max Liners.  I can’t decide whether I love the toe socks or not.  They both seem to work equally well and it might be good to keep your toes spread out a bit. But either way – no blisters.  A miracle.
  2. Hiking poles: Until 2017, I had always refused to hike with poles. I was certain I would fall and poke my eye out or something.  I preferred to rely on my own sense of balance.  But since I was planning a more than 2,100-mile hike, I decided that putting less stress on my knees and hips might not be a bad idea.  Following Bigfoot has a great video on proper usage, improper usage, and how he uses them.  I am not analytical enough to know exactly how I am using mine but I know they give me a distinct advantage going uphill and my entire body is noticeably less tired and sore after a day of hiking using poles.  I assume that my uphill technique is pretty good and I assume my downhill technique could use some work. I have always preferred going up. I don’t care how steep it is, I know that I will eventually get up there. On my September 2017 shakedown hike in the Wyoming Wind Rivers with my friend Judy, one of her poles malfunctioned so she ended up hiking with only one.  Judy is much lighter weight, in much better shape, and a far more experienced hiker than me but because I was using – really using – my poles on the uphills, I was able to make it up the hills much easier.  And because of the unstable and difficult terrain on the unmaintained trails we were on, Judy ended up falling a couple of times every day.  Knowing that my poles had saved me from falling at least ten times each day convinced me of the absolute benefit of hiking with poles.  Judy’s single pole was not effective in helping her climb or saving her from falling.  I have fallen going downhill on day hikes even with poles but I think those falls resulted from a lapse of attention and/or looking around at scenery instead of paying attention to my footing.  I don’t pay as much attention when I’m hiking with a day pack rather than a full backpack.  Another very experienced hiker friend reminded me that I need to always have at least one pole on the ground with every step.  “Always be a tripod,” she said. Sometimes I get lazy or distracted and swing both poles forward and/or backward at the same time, which means both poles are off the ground at the same time.  That is the exact moment that you’ll step on some loose scree and slip, lose your balance and fall. Bottom line is:  I am now a 100% percent true believer in not only using hiking poles but really using them efficiently.   I have been amazed at how not sore I am at the end of a day of hiking with poles compared to without them.
  3. Hiking tights: Everyone has their own personal preferences with regard to hiking clothes.  I have always worn lightweight hiking pants because I’m trying to avoid sunburn without using sunscreen and I hate walking through itchy grass in bare legs. I recently started wearing running tights while competing with my dogs in agility competitions so I decided to try them hiking.  Would they be too hot?  Not so far but I have invested in a couple of pair of Heat Gear tights from Under Armour that advertise that the fabric will actually cool you off as you sweat. Would they be warm enough in colder weather?  So far, yes, but I only wear them when I’m moving.  Again, Under Armour has some Cold Gear versions but I have also been warm enough as well as cool enough in less technical tights such as FANCY PANTS, ETC tights that are used by cross country ski racers, runners and dog agility competitors. FANCY PANTS, ETC tights come in wild color patterns with an added skirt option that you can custom design.  A third brand of tights that seem to be working well for me are Waterlust.  They are designed primarily as swi wear for ocean sports and a portion of the profit goes towards environmental causes.  They have very cool color patterns and are extra long so they can actually work as a partial sock liner to prevent heel blisters. While testing out these various tights, I discovered compression tights.  Everyone knows that compression socks are the in thing for nurses and for any occupation that requires you to be on your feet all day.  So, why not compression tights for hiking?  Many hikers notice their feet and calves are swollen after a day of hiking – right?  So, it makes sense that compression tights would help keep your blood circulating up to your heart and brain instead of pooling in your legs.  And after hiking over 100 miles in compression tights, I can say that I can absolutely tell the difference. I feel less fatigued and have more energy throughout the day.  My main concern is how well they will work in the heat and humidity on the Appalachian Trail.   It will be a true test of the Under Armour Heat Gear fabric.  The Waterlust tights would be great for a quick dip in a swimming hole and then keep hiking. I think all of the tights would cool you off as they dry.  Another concern is chafing in hot weather.  So far, it hasn’t been a problem but I can tell that some of the tights might be less likely to chafe than others based on the design of the seams and the fabric.  At this point, I am willing to risk a little chafing for the added energy the compression tights provide.  I can tell a substantial difference in how I feel and I’m totally sold on the benefits of compression tights for hiking.  I have ordered several custom pair of FANCY PANTS, ETC tights (they are the most reasonably priced; find them on Facebook) and have started asking them to use whatever fabric has the most compression. Try out different brands.  Try out compression and non-compression and see the difference for yourself.  Happy trails to you.
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