Since I’m Not Thru-Hiking This Year, Here’s My Day Hiking Gear
My 2020 thru-hike is not happening, and yours probably isn’t either. If you’re anything like me, it might have taken you a while to put your gear away. Last week I finally dragged my pack, Sierra supplies, and spare gear upstairs to the closet from whence they came. I’m not going to say I was in a good mood as I pushed my sleeping bag back into its storage sack, sorted my small items into hastily labeled cardboard boxes, and tossed my empty pack in before shutting the door with a muted, unsatisfying click. But I guess it feels good to have it done. Now I’m looking ahead at ways to stay occupied and in shape this season, which looks like day hikes and shorter outings around Southwest Montana. There are definitely worse places to be, and I’m excited to get out more once travel restrictions are loosened and CDC recommendations deem it appropriate.
Here’s the gear I take on single-day outings, from easy morning jaunts to full-day peakbagging excursions. We’re working on roundups of day hikes (like this one) in our bloggers’ home areas, so be on the lookout for those as well.
The Day-Hiking Gear I Always Carry
I’m not a big packer. Unless the hike is expedition-worthy, I’m not carrying a SPOT, a million extra layers, and enough food to feed a small army. That said, if the hike is long enough to bring a pack, and not just my dumb quarantine daily stroll to the duck pond, there are a few things I always keep with me.
Pack – Small Capacity: Osprey Dyna 6 Hydration Vest
Rarely am I going out on a long trail run that doesn’t involve hiking / trying to tag a peak. I waffled between getting a straight-up running vest and this 6-liter pack, and eventually went with this one. Choosing this pack actually took way more research than I typically put into my normal trial-and-error strategies. The pack can fit a wind layer like a Houdini, a few snacks, and a headlamp. It has a 1.5L reservoir, and seven exterior pockets. The shoulder pockets securely fit a phone and snacks, and I love how organized I can be. The stretchy exterior mesh pocket has adjustable straps, and it’s comfortable for the long haul, with minimal bounce for a pack this size. The only annoying part are the buckles under the arms. I guess they allow you to tighten the lateral straps (?) but I’ve never found any use for them and they can cause chafing. If you’re more of a trail runner, I’d opt for a vest like the Nathan model I linked above. If you’re combining running with hiking and want more capacity, this Osprey is a good bet.
Pack – Larger Capacity: Patagonia Nine Trails 26L Pack
This pack is a weird size, not going to lie. It’s large enough that I’ve used it as an overnight bag during a failed bikepacking trip, and I also used it as a carry-on back in the days of air travel. It’s large enough to fit snacks on snacks and more layers than you could possibly wear, and you won’t run out of space when packing for a day hike. It also opens to full width so you can find your gear easily. Ideally I’d prefer something more midsize, like the Gregory Maya 16 that my roommate swears by. It’s on my list for testing and use this season, and I’ll circle back here once I’ve had a chance to try it.
Water Bottle: Gatorade Bottles or Platypus Reservoir
Not anything fancy. I use Smartwater bottles for long backpacking trips because they thread onto my filter, but I like the wider mouth of the Gatorade bottles for some reason. If I’m running / hiking, I have a Platypus reservoir in my running pack.
Water Purifier: AquaMira
If I’m going out for a long-ass day, I don’t want to carry a metric ton of water. I leave my Sawyer filter at home unless I’m backpacking, but I am careful about treating water in the backcountry, so I bring AquaMira as a backup if I run out of water. Also note: you should only purposely not carry enough to last the day if you’re sure there are on-trail water sources where you’re going. Don’t be dumb.
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Shoes: Altra Timp 2
Like I wrote here, I’m reviewing the Timps this season, and so far so good. I’ll put 500 or so miles on them (which seems to be the going distance for the life of my Altras) and then switch over to one of the four pairs of Lone Peaks I bought for the PCT. The Timps have more of a cushioned midsole, and a slimmer fit overall. They still feature zero-drop heel-to-toe, as well as a wide toe box. I’ve been wearing them on in-town runs, shorter hikes, and when I walk to the duck pond in my neighborhood while sighing heavily and looking at the snow-covered peaks on the edge of town.
I bought this abomination for the PCT because I love animal-patterned stuff and this was garish enough for my poor taste. It will live on this season on the local trails. Believe it or not, this is some sort of technical fabric (mind you, a very low-end polyester) but it’s NOT cotton. So… there’s that.
Shorts: Janji 3″ AFO Middle Short
I was introduced to Janji last year, and I ended up really loving these shorts. They’re light as a feather, the four-way stretch material allows for a full range of motion, and I have them in a fun plaid color. The waistband is breathable, with an unusual perforated mesh construction. I ordered a medium and felt like they ran a LITTLE small, but that might be quarantine talking, and my propensity to eat a one-pound bag of Cadbury Mini Eggs in one day. If the hike is going to be colder, I’ll wear a basic pair of capri-length yoga pants, like this pair from Oiselle. Technical hiking pants have never felt super comfortable, so I stick with the Suburban Mom Spandex Look.
Wind Jacket: Arc’teryx Cita SL Jacket
I have a Patagonia Houdini as well, but this version from Arc’Teryx fits me better. It’s windproof, has some breathability detailing in the fabric placement, and weighs just over two ounces. I wear this biking, throw it in my day pack, and it’s a fantastic running layer as well.
Sunglasses: Julbo Spark
Another item I snagged for the PCT that will live on this season. This pair stays put during bouncy runs and descents, looks fly as hell, and has wide coverage. The lenses are polycarbonate, which makes them more durable (I am VERY bad at not breaking sunglasses) and the arms are flexible enough that they don’t give me a headache during all-day wear.
Forecast-Dependent Day-Hiking Gear
The weather in Montana is finicky at best, downright soul-crushing at worst. We’ve had snowstorms on the first day of summer (RIP my 2019 garden), and I’ve been hit with sleet storms multiple times in July and August above treeline. If I’m doing something longer (full-day, 15-20 miles) I always pack an insulation and waterproof layer, sometimes warmer accessories.
Base Layer: Patagonia Capilene Midweight Crew Shirt
I’ll start out wearing this over a tank top, then shed it later in the day. I also throw it on for chilly descents when my heart rate isn’t keeping me warm at higher elevations. I got this on major sale (I think it’s still on sale) last month and it fits well, is breathable, and a good layer to wear on its own for running as well.
Mid-Layer: Mammut Aconcagua Hooded Jacket
I typically won’t wear a base layer and pack a mid-layer unless it’s cold AF. It’s usually one or the other, and it depends on the weather. If it’s going to be colder, I’ll wear this zip-up over a tank top and bring a puffy, leaving the base layer at home. The sleeves can feel a little tight, but the hoodie is a slim fit and really easy to move in. It has micro-patterned fleece on the inside and a tight weave on the outside for extra wind protection. It was also my go-to mid-layer for skiing this year, and easily translated to chilly shoulder-season hikes.
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Rain Jacket: Enlightened Equipment Visp
I always carry a lightweight rain jacket if I’m going out all day. Even if it doesn’t rain, having a windproof buffer helps trap heat if it gets cold and blustery. This weighs 4.56 ounces, has long pit zips, and packs so small I’ve thought I left it behind more than once, when it really just vanished into my pack.
Another heckin’ winner from Enlightened Equipment. Sometimes when brands pivot from one line to another (sleeping bags to apparel, for instance), the results are mediocre at best. That’s not the case with EE—this synthetic puffy and the Visp are my go-to insulation and rain layer. This jacket fits true to size, weighs less than 8 ounces, and because it’s synthetic fill, I feel OK having it as my outer layer in damp or misty conditions. I don’t always carry it on day hikes, but if the summit conditions are sketchy / cold, this goes in my bag.
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