XOMU: My summer hiking must-haves
The layers, shoes, and pack I take for day hikes in the Utah mountains
My hiking gear guide is BACK! While there will be snow in my mountains through at least July this year (for real), temps in the valley are hitting 80 degrees, and I’ve been active on our lower elevation trails. So today, I’m updating my head-to-toe favorite gear for summer trails—what’s on my body and my back.
I’ve invested in some of my hiking gear because I’m in the mountains a lot, but you don’t need to break the bank to explore your local trails in summer and fall. Scour the online sales; buy used from Poshmark, eBay, or Play It Again Sports; wear your normal gym clothes; and add to your collection gradually, as your budget allows.See
I always have a trucker hat or baseball cap strapped to the outside of my pack. It’s mostly for sun protection, but it’s also nice to secure the mane in high wind.
I also tie a bandana around my pack strap. You can use it for sun or bug protection, as a clean-up rag, as a mini-towel after an impromptu lake swim, or as an emergency bandage. It’s versatile and takes up no space at all. I bought a 12-pack so I could stay coordinated—these are 100% cotton.
I don’t splurge here. I wear my normal sports bra with a tank or t-shirt over it. Pick something that isn’t 100% cotton, as that can absorb sweat and chafe. I have a bunch of tank tops from lululemon that work well.
If you sweat a lot and want something more wicking, try a light wool blend t-shirt. I really like Smartwool (size XS - XL) or this version (size 1X - 4 X). The warmth or weight of merino wool is measured in grams; don’t go heavier than 150 - 165g in summer as a base layer.
While it’s hot enough here in Salt Lake to hike in just a sports bra all summer,
For higher elevation or northern hikes, even in summer, throw in a wool, silk, and/or polyester layer that wicks sweat and keeps you insulated in case it gets chilly. (Again, nothing 100% cotton.) In warm climates like Salt Lake City, I only need a 150g long-sleeve, like this Smartwool (size XS - XL). If you’re hiking at high elevation, in volatile temps, or further north, you may want something heavier. This Meriwool 250g long-sleeve (size XS - XL) is about half the cost of the Smartwool 250g (size XS - XL) or this Smartwool 250g (size 1X - 4X). These can be expensive, but I can usually score them in last year’s colors on clearance at REI.
Hard shells are thin, waterproof (but still breathable) jackets, and while I don’t need them often in Salt Lake City, I pack them often in other environments. (We’re always checking the weather before we start off on a hike, right?) In the Colorado Rockies and other climates, midday rain and thunderstorms are an everyday occurrence. A shell can also save your butt if the temps drop suddenly or the wind picks up. Note, you specifically want a “hard shell” here. A “soft shell” is a water resistant jacket, usually with a soft fleece lining, and not well-suited for summer. My shell is the Arc’teryx Beta Lightweight (sizes from XXS to XXL); it’s a splurge but I’ve also worn it for many years. I also had a clearance North Face that was a quarter of the cost and worked just as well, but didn’t fit as nicely.
You may want to head to REI or your local sporting goods store to try on various brands to see which fit you best before investing. For example, Arc’teryx tends to fit long/tall people well, while I find Patagonia too boxy for my build. Try various brands, fits, and styles, make note of model names, then head home to see if you can score the same item used or on clearance somewhere.
Windbreakers are different than shells—they’re only water and wind resistant (not proof), and much lighter. I don’t always need a shell, but I always pack a windbreaker. They squish down to the size of a tennis ball, are light as air, and come in clutch when it’s windy, buggy, in light rain, or when you’ve had enough sun. You’ve seen me hiking in Cotopaxi Teca jackets throughout the years—they’re well-constructed and really comfortable. Sizing only runs from XXS to XL, but I’ve worn the men’s version of the Teca too (which goes up to 3LX)—sometimes they have better colors.
Again, I’m not splurging here, and wear my normal yoga tights or running shorts. These are the lululemon Hotty Hot shorts dupe that I’ve been wearing for years, at a third of the cost—they go up to size 3XL. Various brands do make special hiking pants and shorts from light materials with special pockets, but honestly, wear whatever makes you comfortable. (Still nothing 100% cotton. Because chafing.)
You might be more comfortable in pants than shorts, even if it’s hot. Chafing, thigh-gobbling, sunburn, and bugs can make hiking in shorts less than ideal. Choose a light-colored pant, or convertible pants that can zip off into shorts. (Yes, these are cool again!) Columbia Saturday Trail Pants are incredibly well-reviewed, and go from a size 2 to an 18 with short, regular, and tall lengths.
Look for light wool or polyester blend socks here, either to the ankle or up towards the knee. (No-show socks tend to get gobbled by hiking shoes.) My favorite are my MU + PrideSocks collaboration, with my Trailblazer “church socks” in a cushioned crew or light compression knee sock. I’ve also got pairs from Smartwool. This will keep your feet feeling fresh all day and prevents blisters. (You only need 1-2 pairs if you’re a casual weekend hiker.)
You’ll see me hiking in light compression knee socks often. First, tall socks keep my legs from getting stung by nettle and thorns. They also protect from bugs and ticks. Plus, the compression helps my legs feel energized. I prefer light compression—anything heavier and it feels like my calves are cramping. My favorites are the light compression Trailblazers from PrideSocks, but I have several pairs of these SB SOX too. (Look for 15-20 mmHg.)
Technically, shoes go on feet, but these deserve their own category. This is where you’re going to want me to tell you exactly what to wear, and I just can’t. Shoes are highly personal—do you feel more comfortable in boots or trail runners? What are you doing on the trail—hiking, running, or both? Where will you be hiking—is it rocky, muddy, wet, or dirt? I’m almost always in trail runners (not stiff boots) because I like the fact that trail runners force those small stability muscles in my knee and ankle to get stronger, and I like my feet feeling lighter on the trail.
You could hike many trails in running shoes or Converse, and I never judge—but it may not be the safest approach. The sole and tread aren’t as grippy, they may be dangerously slippery on rocks or wet trails, and they don’t offer the same kind of lateral support as a trail runner or hiking shoe. You don’t have to spend a ton of money, but if you’re going to invest in something, invest in your shoes.
In the past, I’ve worn On Running CloudVenture, but their new design don’t fit my feet well and aren’t as comfortable. I’ve tried Hoka, but their soles are too soft for my liking. Right now I’m hiking in Solomon Ultra Glide (last year’s model) and love them. They have an easy bungee tie system, a rock plate to protect your soles, and a relatively low 4mm drop.
The best way to test a bunch of shoes is to order a few different pairs from REI, Zappos, or Backcountry.com—any site that has a big selection and makes the return process easy. Or, visit your local REI or running store to get personalized advice. Try a few brands, models, and types of shoe and wear them around the house to see how they feel. Be sure to break them in with a short hike first.
I’ve used the same brand of day pack for five years now—the Ultimate Direction Fastpack, in either the 15L or 20L. For day hikes, this size is plenty big—it holds all my layers, snacks, water, a book, and a small towel for lounging or lake swimming. These bags have convenient wide pockets on the front straps for your phone, sunglasses, and snacks, which is their best selling point. There’s also a dedicated space for a 2L or 3L water reservoir. Note, they don’t have a waist belt, but I’ve never found them uncomfortable to carry, even for long distances.
I also have their trail running vest (size S - XL) for runs or short hikes where I want to carry water but don’t need layers or snacks.
Another favorite if you’re trail running or strolling your local riverwalk is a hiking belt with space for a few snacks and a small water bottle. I love Ultraspire, a local Utah company. Their hydration belts are so comfortable and hold all the necessities, including a 1L water reservoir. (You can also find them cheaper, although these may not be as well-designed for running.)
For longer hikes, you’re definitely going to want to invest in a reservoir (sometimes called a “water bladder”), so you aren’t stopping every five minutes to fumble with a bottle. Reservoirs hold more than bottles water too. These 2L or 3L reservoirs tuck into a little pouch in your pack with a tube that goes straight to your mouth. I’ve been using a Hydrapack Shape Shift 2L or Shape Shift 3L reservoir that turns inside-out to clean—no more mucky, moldy corners where you can’t quite reach with your sponge. Go for the 3L if your pack supports it; too much water is always better than not enough.
I know it seems bananas to bring spikes (like my Kahtoola micro-spikes) on the trail in June, but if you’re heading up to 10K feet or higher, snow can stick around until July! It depends on the trail and how much snowfall we’ve had in winter, but I’ve seen folks risk a nasty fall because they weren’t prepared to encounter deep slush on a steep face. Check trail conditions, but if it’s early summer and you’re going up high, throw them in.
BONUS! Brush up for summer hiking by listening to my guide to summer hiking with Kristen Bor. It’s a great primer on how to start (or deepen) your hiking practice.
The next thing you’ll probably want to know is, “What’s IN your pack?” Stay tuned for a bonus XO, MU that shares the safety tools, comfort items, and snacks I carry on day hikes.
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