23 July 2014

Keep Cool on Your Next Warm-Weather Hike

“In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.” - John Muir

Temperatures are heating up on the trails this summer and many hikers are asking themselves what to wear for maximum protection and comfort. I did a little research to see what really works best and what's most affordable, especially for infrequent hikers and bargain shoppers like me.

Footwear: Whether you're going on a short hike or a long trek, boots are hands-down the recommended footwear. They give better ankle support for varying or rugged terrain and protect you from ground-level threats like thorns or snake bites. If you're going to be doing any rock climbing, you might consider hiking shoes for improved flexibility and grip. You can find hiking sneakers or boots at Walmart from around $30 and places like Bass Pro for $30 to $100+.

Since larger snakes can realistically bite through most hiking boots and shoes, you may want additional protection from snake bites. You can buy Whitewater snake proof gaiters from places like cabelas.com for around $50 that fit over your boots to provide maximum bite protection or $48 from forestry-suppliers.com for Rattlers snake gaiters.

Pants: Recommendations vary, but most seem to prefer lightweight pants or shorts for summertime hiking. If you're worried about insect protection, you can get Mossy Oak Rynoskin for under $20 at Walmart. They come in pants, gloves, shirts, etc. As for pants, Bass Pro has some Ascend Timberline 90% nylon/10% spandex pants for $36.75 and Walmart has polyester waterproof pants for around $37.00. These are men's pants but they have similar products for women and children, too.

The overwhelming majority of hikers say not to wear jeans or anything cotton since cotton soaks up sweat, doesn't dry out quickly and keeps you wet. This can cause hypothermia since temperatures can drop significantly at night, not to mention it's uncomfortable to wear a wet shirt or pants all day.

Shirts: Believe it or not, many hikers prefer lightweight merino wool shirts for hiking. They're expensive but they provide sun protection and make a great base layer underneath a lightweight shirt or can be worn by themselves. They're breathable, lightweight and odor-resistant. It's renewable, biodegradable and keeps you cool in the heat and warm in cool temps. So, if you don't mind dropping about $80 bucks on a shirt, that's probably your best bet. You can find an affordable merino wool/polyester blend short-sleeved shirt on Amazon.com for under $35 from Outdoor Research. The Icebreaker brand is also popular but a little more expensive.

As for the question of long-sleeved or short, most seem to prefer short sleeves to let your skin breath and prevent overheating, but many do opt for long sleeves for insect and sun protection.

Socks: Again, merino wool seems to be the preferred sock. Many hikers will pair wool socks with silk or thin polyester liners, even in summertime. One of the biggest pros for wool socks is blister prevention, which I'm all for, along with moisture prevention, breathability and odor prevention. You can get merino wool socks on Amazon.com from $8 and up or a Rocky wool-blend sock at Walmart for around $10.

Headgear: A light cap or hat will shield your face and neck from the sun. Boonie hats, nylon sun caps or lightweight bill flap hats range from $20 and up on Amazon.com or from $10 on tacticalgear.com and from $10 at Bass Pro Shops.

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is at our doorstep and offers an abundance of hiking trails in every level from easy to difficult, short to long. Check out their website to get inspired, pick a trail, get geared up and get hiking.

"Only by going alone in silence, without baggage, can one truly get into the heart of the wilderness. All other travel is mere dust and hotels and baggage and chatter." - John Muir's letter to wife Louie, July 1888, Life and Letters of John Muir (1924).

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