Hot Hikes: Essential Summer Gear

With summer here, the trails and tent sites see much more use than any other time of year. Winter mountaineering carries the need for heavier and more technical equipment and thus limits the number of people to those with significantly more ambition, physical and mental fitness and experience. The summer, however, is quite the opposite. Longer days, warmer weather and less requirements in general allows one to gain more experience, go solo, teach others or just enjoy the outdoors. Needless to say, a plethora of equipment exists to facilitate your summer excursions. While you may need some of the same things in nature during the winter, summer gear can greatly differ in form. Making this even more overwhelming can be the number of similar products with different features or overall design.

To help you hit the summer trail with a little more ease and confidence, we have compiled a list of common issues you may confront this season and products specifically designed to address them. While these suggestions are intended to be helpful, as always, remember backpacking is not a science; what works for you may not for another.

Quality Footwear

The reality is you aren’t going anywhere this summer without some type of footwear, but with warmer days, depending on the type of terrain, anything from a full-on boot with ankle support and stiff shank, to the freedom of a sandal with a good sole and snug lashing may be just right. Like cooler months, climbing rocks and steeps is still going to require a boot with good torsion and ankle support, but mellow trails may simply call for a basic shoe or sandal.

What to look for:

No matter what you’re hiking, a good sole is one of the most important parts of footwear. Vibram soles can be found on anything from a work boot to a sandal, crossing all brand names, but like Gore-tex, may hike the price a bit. The price difference, however, is worth it given the sole’s non-marking abilities, high density and considerably longer life than basic rubber soles.

Warmer weather calls for more breathability, so look for a boot endowed with ventilation if possible. The traditionalists gravitate to full leather uppers that, if properly maintained, are waterproof. Though leather can get warm, it provides wonderful support and can last a lifetime. Synthetic/leather uppers are very common yet not waterproof unless Gore-tex or some other waterproof breathable fabric is used. One must consider that while Gore-tex is breathable and is a safe way to address the water factor, it does inhibit ventilation. If you don’t expect too much water, find a boot with a synthetic/leather upper and treat it yourself with a waterproofing wax.

Quality Socks

No point in getting a nice pair of boots if your socks are not cut out for the job. Always avoid cotton, it takes forever to dry, is cold and heavy when wet, and provides minimal cushioning. If the weather in going to be “hot, hot, hot,” go with 100% synthetic for its speedy drying abilities, great cushioning and lesser warmth retention (even less when wet). If the temperature is questionable and you want to mix things up, try a wool synthetic blend or even 100% wool if you expect a chilly night. Wool will keep you warmer, even when wet, and dries fairly well, a septillion times better than cotton.

What to look for:

Coolmax is delicious. A synthetic material and inexpensive, you can’t go wrong for summer wear. Thorlo socks make a great sock and have many variations in the wool synthetic proportions. Alpaca (used by Dahlgren socks) is probably some of the most comfortable wool available, and though more expensive, it’s very durable. If you’re a sweaty one, try a 100% synthetic liner sock under your hiking socks. It will wick the moisture and aid drying time.

Convertible Pants

If going light is a concern, but you can’t decide on wearing pants or shorts, many companies make synthetic pants with zip off legs. Not only does this save you the weight of an extra garment, you also save the money of purchasing two pieces of clothing.

What to look for:

When buying convertible pants, always go with lighter colors. They are more comfortable in hot weather for their basic ability to reflect the light. Other common traits to look for which many companies employ are ultra-violet light protection and additional “packable” characteristics. Brand names include Columbia (less expensive and a ton of styles), Sportif and Mountain Hardwear. Don’t be fooled, though. Many pants are indistinguishable sans label, so go with the most comfortable pair. You go into the woods to look for the good, not to look good.

Synthetic Shirts

While nothing beats the classic cotton T for lounging on the couch, it is best to avoid for your summer pursuits even if you expect warm weather. Contrary to popular belief, hypothermia can occur anytime of year, especially in the mountains. Even further from the commonly held beliefs, hypothermic conditions are perfect around 50-55 degrees (not freezing), a totally realistic temperature occurrence during the summer. The mountains can bring fast temperature fluctuations and sudden thunderstorms, so be weary to protect your torso from getting an extended chill.

Light, comfortable, fast drying and wicking, synthetic shirts are sometimes preferred even for city wear. Take care to try a few styles as some people are sensitive to certain stitching and material weights.

What to look for:

Some synthetics get quite odiferous so look for X-Static, a polypro utilizing a silver weave (naturally anti-microbial) to reduce stink.

Sun Hat

This is perhaps the most overlooked essential on the trail. Not only will it keep you cool, but your face and head are the easiest and most painful place for a burn.

What to look for:

Make sure to look for a UV protection material.

Nalgene Bottle

A phenomenon in the backpacking community, the Nalgene bottle can be seen on almost anyone’s backpack in a variety of shapes, sizes and colors. The most versatile and sanitary is the Lexan breed, a very durable and boiling water friendly resin facilitating the consumption of water, soups and hot beverages. The rigid walls don’t crinkle inhibiting bacterial growth and thus minimizes maintenance in the field. In addition, the bottle is so frequently used that many water filters attach to the top of the bottle for easy filtration.

What to look for:

Available specifically for the Nalgene is the ingenious “splash guard” (Guyot Designs) allowing a controlled and reduced flow of water so one may hydrate and ambulate concurrently.

Water Treatment

Even if you don’t plan on spending the night in the woods, always plan for the unexpected. Familiar day hikes have proven fatal, so bring some type of water treatment whether it be iodine, chlorine or a water filter. While iodine and chlorine are inexpensive and take up little space, making them perfect for emergency use, they take time to make the water drinkable and are not the best for your body. Those with thyroid conditions should avoid iodine at all costs while chlorine has a peculiar taste. Without a doubt, water filtration technology is a far superior method for the avid outdoors person and has many benefits. There is nothing like drinking fresh water from a running stream coupled with the peace of mind you could filter anywhere from 50-100 gallons before replacing the filter.

What to look for:

Ceramic and fiberglass filters and very popular. While there are benefits to both, look for user friendly pump ergonomics so you are not struggling out in the woods. Try the filter out before you buy it, and don’t be afraid to be inquisitive about maintenance, cleaning and storage. Also, if you are a devout Nalgene bottle user, many filter manufacturers make or have attachments built in.

Note: Filters are designed to remove bacteria, cysts and spores from your water and are limited in terms of viruses which are small enough to pass through the .2-.3 microns necessary for most North American pursuits. However, viruses are incredibly rare in North American water and are more of a concern for international trekkers.

Bug Protection

Bugs can be quite a nuisance when in the backcountry. Some bites don’t show for hours or even up to a day later, so quality screening or tenting is a wise move. Many variations of screening is available but always be sure to go with the No See Um netting, a very fine and more durable weave than run of the mill mesh. Here is where being creative comes into play, so remember, there are no right or wrongs for summer camping.

What to look for:

If you are going solo, and own a tent, but don’t want to carry the weight of it, try a single man, or two person, bug bivy and use your ground sheet, poles and fly (bare bones set-up) for the rain. This saves you the weight of the tent body while not having to buy a claustrophobic bivy sack or one-man tent.

Stove

For some people, eating in the backcountry is a lengthy process which can be quite elaborate while others just want to nourish themselves and split to the ridgeline. If you are one who likes to simmer up a storm of goodness, chances are your style of camping calls for a different type of stove than those who just want to boil the water for their oatmeal. Many different fuels and stoves exist to deal with these vrying styles.

What to look for:

Isobutane, or canister stoves are small and light, yet require a one-time use fuel canister, usually 8 oz. that cannot be refilled and thus trashed after use. Depending on temperature and altitude, each canister will burn 1-2 hours, or good for about 4 days for 2 people if its summer weather and not involved cooking. White gas stoves on the other hand are a little heavier and bulkier, yet run from refillable fuel bottles, the size of which you may choose, and is a more efficient fuel. In addition, white gas stoves are better for larger groups or those who prefer to concoct involved meals, for they are usually more stable, great for larger pots or a crowded site. MSR (Mountain Safety Research) manufactures a variety of wonderful stoves suited for every possibility. To get an idea, check out the

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