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With warmer weather here, you may be eager to jump right back into the outdoor adventures you have been longing for. To make the most of the hiking trails before the temperature drops back down, you need to have your gear set up to conquer the conditions. It never hurts to be prepared, so let's get back on our feet and put together a packing list of essentials for a three-season hike.
The term "three-season" is used to identify hiking and camping gear that is suitable for most settings other than extreme winter weather. Typically, the lowest temperature to be used by the three-season equipment is about 20 degrees or any temperature that may fall below freezing without being too cold.
It could be quite a challenge to find equipment that can perform efficiently in the rainy mornings of spring, in the hot days of summer and the cool nights of autumn. Nevertheless, by knowing which items are needed, you will be in charge of the paths and trails from the last snow-flake to the first.
Learn to Layer
When you're looking for clothes that can perform in just about any condition, layering is the best way to fight the elements. For base layers, look for breathable clothing pieces. Avoid cotton at any costs, because while it may be comfortable, it can quickly become a nuisance on the trail. Once the cotton is wet, it stays that way, which could lead to possible blister, chafing, and even potentially hypothermia. Remember, cotton is rotten.
Deciding which clothes to wear and which to pack, a good rule of thumb is dressing for forecasting and packing for change. Pay attention to weather forecasts for your day's hike and dress in light, breathable clothing with good moisture and thermal ability.
Pack extra underwear, along with a change of hiking socks, and other outerwear like a rain jacket and rain pants. Rainy conditions can happen no matter what season you are in, so having that security in your pack is a good idea.
Do not forget to consider your shoes, too. To tackle the mud, sweat, and three-season hiking terrain, look for waterproof, comfortable hiking boots or shoes. Some early spring hikes may even include some snow as the weather continues to change, so opt for rough-cut boots built to do well on a variety of surfaces. We generally recommend boots over shoes unless you're moving at a very quick pace. The extra ankle support is very helpful over long treks. You could also look for waterproof gaiters to help protect your shins from the conditions and help keep your shoes even more protected from the weather.
Essentials: Tools, Navigation, and Emergency Gear
No matter the length of the hike, make sure you are equipped for any possible emergency. The weather may change, the trails may turn confusing, and injuries may occur. Make sure you pack your gear with the essentials to help you stay safe.
When you're walking or exploring, it's always helpful to carry a map and a compass. Even if you're planning to take a GPS unit, a map and a compass might help guide you in case the batteries die, and you're left to more useful navigation. Check to make sure your maps are up-to-date and that you brush up on how to use the compass properly before venturing. Remember, a tool can only be useful if you understand how to use it.
Speaking of tools, you should also have a pocket knife or a multi-tool in your pack. These can be useful for many activities, such as cutting branches, cooking, fixing gear, and more. You should also consider bringing a fire starter of some kind (waterproof matches, fire sticks, etc.), a headlamp, and carabiners or an additional survival rope.
Trekking poles could be another great asset. These pieces can help take some strain out of your body through hikes and make for a more relaxed adventure. Consider bringing trekking poles if your intended trail has a lot of descents and climbs, too, as they are designed to help absorb some of the impacts while walking.
You should never walk without a well-stocked first aid kit. Be sure you've got a lot of sterile pads and adhesive bandages. It is also wise to carry lip balm, poison ivy treatment, insect repellent, or anti-itch cream, sunscreen, water purifying agents in your first-aid backup kit.
During the warmer months, sun exposure may vary, and you may come across different insects and plants, so it's best to cover all your bases and stay prepared. Make sure that you are well-equipped with the right gear to be as comfortable on the trails as a leaf bug.
PRO TIP: Throw a safety whistle in your first aid kit in case you get injured and alert others to help. Whistles are small and easy to pack, but they could be your most important lifeline if trouble arises.
Stay Fueled with Snacks and Drinks
When you are out on the trails, no matter the season, be sure to include a backup bottle of water in your backpack just in case. Pack as much water as you reasonably can, unless you are very familiar with your location's water sources and how to purify. Having a lot of water is always better than having too little water. You can also use the hydration pack setup if your pack has one. We love hydration packs.
It's also a good idea to keep a few snacks within reach, so you can recharge quickly. If you need a bite, you do not want to dig for a granola bar through your whole pack.
Spring Additional Gear
While the above gear can definitely get you through most of the hiking and backpacking trips mid-spring and fall, there are some additional items that you might want to consider, especially for the spring months. Mid-weight layers and extra cold-weather gear like hats and gloves could help keep you warm on your hike as the landscape begins to thaw.
You might also need to wear waterproof pants. Because spring conditions could be wetter than most with overcast rain, you don't want to end up soaking in your skin or backpack and risk chilling. This is the time to bring along your GoreTex.
Spring hikes may also include some snow travel, depending on the region. If you know you're going to get into areas that might still be covered with snow, consider packing a snow shovel or ice ax to clear the trails or make the paths.
PRO TIP: As insects and plants begin to thrive in the spring, so do invasive species. Non-native plants such as English Ivy and Purple Loosestrife can hit a ride on your gear and boots in newfound areas that could cause problems in your new environment. To limit the spread of non-native insects and plants, be sure to stay on designated trails during the trek and wipe your gear down before and after your hike.
Summer Additional Gear
Dog days in the summer are a great time to hit the hills and venture into the wilderness. With heat being the main factor in the summer, it is crucial that you keep yourself hydrated. Be sure you pack a lot of water and take the necessary breaks along the way.
During your summer hikes, you can typically ditch the cold weather gear and swap it with a shady hat and sunglasses. Lightweight layers made of breathable, moisture-wicking materials make a great summer hiking outfit. Zip-away pants are also high for summer treks, as they help keep you protected from things like poison ivy, and insect bites but give you the option of shorts if the temperature starts to rise.
Additional Gear for Fall
Your walking gear for the fall is going to be very similar to your spring equipment. Temperatures will begin to drop again, which means that you should return your mid-weight layers to your hiking bag. Brisk winds could also become more prevalent in autumn, so it might be wise to pack a high-quality windbreaker or a windproof raincoat to protect your backpack.
You should keep packing a water bottle for fall hiking, but don't be afraid to add some variety to your drinks. Pack a thermos and enjoy a warm drink on the trails as well. This hot treat could be perfect for those afternoons later in the autumn.
Depending on the region and where you plan to go hiking, you should also wear hiking clothes that are bright and highly visible. Fall means the beginning of a new hunting season, and you could possibly share the woods with hunters during your hike. Brisk winds could also become more common in autumn, so it might be wise to pack a high-quality windbreaker or a light windproof raincoat.
With these hiking tips, you can make the most of your outdoor time. While no hike is identical, and some situations may warrant more or less gear, these hiking essentials will give you a solid base to proceed with your thaw to freeze. Keep these hiking tips in mind to stay on the trail and engage yourself in as many experiences as you could before Old Man Winter comes knocking once more.
Thank you for reading, safe travels. And remember, leave no trace.