23 Pieces of Essential Gear for the Serious Hiker


Any experienced hiker knows that a good (or bad) piece of gear can have a huge impact on a trip. The off-brand tent that seemed like an awesome deal when you bought it becomes considerably less awesome once it starts to leak, and lugging around a heavy backpack all day is enough to make you wish you’d left the coffee maker at home.

Outdoors writer Lisa Maloney warns against gear that advertises style over substance. According to her, the most important quality to look for in a piece of gear is that it does what's promised. "They need to serve their function well,” said Maloney in a conversation with mental_floss. "They also need to be sturdy enough to survive a lot of abuse, because no matter how carefully you treat them your hiking gear is still going to get stepped on and banged up.”

The Alaska-based writer is the former hiking and backpacking expert for and author of 50 Hikes Around Anchorage. She’s currently working on a second guidebook and has recently launched her new site Whether she’s venturing on an extended journey into the wilderness, or just a leisurely day hike, these are the pieces of gear she relies on to keep her safe and comfortable.


Proper footwear is essential for any level of hiker, but Maloney emphasizes that bigger and bulkier isn’t necessarily better. “A lot of people think that you have to wear heavy hiking boots, but I actually like to go hiking in lightweight shoes or sandals,” she said.


One pound on your feet equals five pounds on your back is a hiker’s rule of thumb that originated during the 1953 ascent of Mount Everest. Other studies that have been conducted since show this theory holds some truth. Maloney’s favorite brand for lightweight outdoors shoes is Merrell. For hikers in search of footwear with a wider fit, this is the brand of shoes she recommends. (From $89.95, buy at Amazon)


For shoes that run in a more narrow size, she suggests checking out Scarpa. The Scarpa Kailash is a tougher, sturdier boot for hikers who still prefer that style over something more lightweight. (From $149.95, buy at Amazon)


A collection of top-notch camping gear is worthless without a quality backpack to fit it all in. Especially for longer trips, a comfortable, well-fitting pack makes for a much more pleasant experience.


For both day hiking and backpacking, Maloney’s brand of choice is Deuter. She prefers the fit of their packs and she says their hip belts are the best she’s seen. “A hip belt is actually what supports the weight of what you’re carrying,” she said. “If you don’t have that then the weight will just end up hanging off your shoulders, and you’ll be miserable very quickly.”

Her favorite model is the Deuter ACT Lite. It’s a comfortable fit and she says it fits up to four days worth of supplies (she owns it in the 45L size). “It’s been with me for several years now and it just keeps on going.” (From $225, buy at Amazon)


Maloney says hikers also can’t go wrong with Gregory brand packs. They place a heavy importance on sizing, and their larger capacity lines come with interchangeable harnesses and waist belt components for hikers to customize. ($244, buy at Amazon)


If you’re only willing to invest in one piece of brand-name hiking gear, Maloney suggests a quality tent. You may not see much of an advantage in a big name on a sunny day, but once you find yourself caught in bad weather a good tent becomes a matter of safety.


Big Agnes is a popular brand among long-distance hikers because it balances light weight with durability. Maloney’s go-to backpacking tent is the Big Agnes Copper Spur Ultra Light 1. Hers has endured hail and the moderately high winds of Alaska (which she says would be considered high by normal standards) and it survived unscathed. ($296, buy at Amazon)


If you know you’re heading into treacherous weather, Maloney recommends bringing along a tent made by Hilleberg. On a past mountain expedition, she was stunned by the tent’s performance during a nasty storm. “The winds were so strong that you could hear them booming as they came down the ridge,” she recalled. “Half the tents in that party actually collapsed to some degree but the Hilleberg tent was solid as a rock."

While these tents can be pricey, Maloney says the investment is worth it for avid backpackers because they'll last for decades. “You probably won’t need that much strength, but when you do it can save your life.” ($625, buy at Amazon)


Some extreme backpackers opt for tarps over tents, but these aren’t the typical blue tarps you might find at the hardware store. Most options are made from silicone impregnated nylon which means they're waterproof, durable, and incredibly lightweight.


For tarp-type shelters, Maloney recommends this model from Mountainsmith. The tarp is impressively strong and very light, weighing just two pounds. When using this type of set up, Maloney mentions the importance of avoiding places that may be especially bug-infested, such as bodies of standing water. ($110, buy at Amazon)


The cushiony comfort of a sleeping mat may seem like a luxury when you’re backpacking, but Maloney says they're worth investing in for another reason. “What it also does is keep you from losing heat to the ground,” she said. “The very first thing you should do when you’re cold at night and you’re sleeping outside is put something additional underneath you.”


One of her favorites is the Therm-A-Rest Z Lite. Its closed-cell design is preferable to spongier open-cell pads because those tend to soak up any moisture in the air, making them cold and damp. The Z Lite has a special coating that reflects your body heat, and its thin structure folds up like an accordion making it easy to carry on backpacking trips. ($38, buy at Amazon)


For a more comfortable night’s rest, the Big Agnes Double ZZ mattress inflates to four inches thick while remaining relatively stable. Because it’s inflatable, it's lightweight and can be packed away easily. ($83, buy at Amazon)


This mat is built using a honeycomb structure, so if you press down on one side the other won’t spring up. Maloney says the pad strikes a good balance between small size and optimal cushiness. For hikers camping in cold weather, she recommends their Ultralight Insulated Mat. ($150, buy at Amazon)


During a cold season hike, a warm sleeping bag means the difference between a good rest and a miserable night.


For more of an unconventional sleeping bag choice, Maloney highly recommends the Mobile Mummy bag from Sierra Designs. It contours snugly to your body, leaving very little space that your body needs to heat up. The Mobile Mummy also has holes for your arms and an opening for your feet, so you can get up and move around while wearing it. ($300, buy at Amazon)

Another option from Sierra Designs is called the Backcountry Bed. Instead of a zipper, there’s a gap in the front that’s sealed in by a quilt. This homey touch makes it Maloney’s favorite recommendation for a comfier bag. ($320, buy at Amazon)


For something on the extreme end of the spectrum, Maloney enjoys using the Elephant Foot from Brooks Range. It only comes up to the sleeper’s chest and is designed to be used in tandem with a puffy down or synthetic jacket. This way backpackers looking to travel light are able to make the most of what they already have with them without compromising warmth. “It sounds really hardcore, but I think if more people tried it they’d actually like it,” said Maloney. ($450, buy from Brooks Range)


Headlamps are one of those items you never fully appreciate until you find yourself stuck without one.


The EX550 from Olympia is the best of its kind that Maloney has seen so far. It has multiple settings, and the high beams are incredibly bright, but hard on batteries, so she recommends always keeping extras on hand. ($51, buy at Amazon)


Because high-powered headlamps drain battery power quickly, Maloney suggests keeping a backup in your emergency kit. The Black Diamond Ion Headlamp is light enough to keep in your pack or even in your pocket without weighing you down. ($25, buy at Amazon)


Insist on making room in your pack for a stove? Maloney suggests one of these options.


Maloney says this is a popular and reliable option. Like the name suggests, these stoves heat up fast. They’re also small and light, which makes them ideal for long trips. ($89, buy at Amazon)


Maloney personally prefers a camp stove that doesn’t come with the pot attached, so she can mix and match according to her group’s needs. She carries a Snow Peak Giga Power, and though she says it's not quite as fast as Jetboil, it's sturdy enough to handle abuse while still being lightweight. ($50, buy at Amazon)


Unlike water bottles, hydration bladders are light and compact and allow hikers to drink on the go. Maloney says you can’t go wrong with anything made by Platypus or Camelbak.


She prefers hydration systems with a zip top rather than a clumsy screw cap, and Platypus makes one of her favorites in that category. (From $85, buy at Amazon)

Another product she likes from Platypus is their collapsible water bottle. Once it's empty, you roll it up like a newspaper so that it hardly takes up any space in your bag. ($10, buy at Amazon)


For a less straightforward option, Geigerrig makes a product called the Hydration Engine, which pressurizes the water in the drinking hose so hikers don’t have to feel like a hamster when they suck on it. It’s attached to a bulb similar to what a doctor might use to take your blood pressure; hikers can squeeze it to fill a second compartment in the bladder with air, and then bite down on the mouthpiece to release the water. It makes for a convenient and sanitary way to share water with your friends, your dog, or to wash off your shoes. ($39, buy at Amazon)


Even if you come across the most pristine, crystal clear water on your hike, Maloney stresses that it still needs to be filtered.


She like to use the Platypus GravityWorks filter system because it doesn’t require any pumping. Instead you fill up one reservoir attached with a hose to a second. The hose filters the water as it passes through, making the water in the second bag safe to drink. Maloney says it's great for large groups but also small and light enough to be used by a single hiker. ($120, buy at Amazon)


There’s also the Grayl Water Filter, which she recommends as an excellent choice for day hikers. “I’ve never seen anything like it before,” she said. “I was totally skeptical but then they let me test one and I was a convert.”

It works like a French press—you fill the outer cup with water and the inner cup filters it as you press down. The capacity is very small, but it’s a great gadget to bring on shorter hikes. ($80, buy at Amazon)


For a filter that does require some pumping, Maloney suggests the MSR Miniworks EX. The biggest advantage of this filter is that you don’t need to be within arm’s reach of a water source to use it. Just drop the hose into the water and pump away without getting your hands wet. ($82.50, buy at Amazon)

25 Wild Facts About Alaska

Located 500 miles away from the nearest state, there’s likely a lot you haven’t heard about Alaska. Here are 25 facts about the last frontier.

1. Dog mushing is the official state sport.

2. The state flag was designed by a 13-year-old boy. After calling on students throughout the territory to submit their ideas, Alaska ultimately decided on Benny Benson’s scene of the Big Dipper and the North Star in 1927.


3. Seventeen of the 20 highest peaks in the U.S. are located in Alaska.

4. Some of Alaska’s bizarre moose-specific legislation has included laws against pushing a moose from a plane, viewing a moose from a plane, and giving a moose beer.

5. Haines, Alaska is home to America’s first museum solely dedicated to hammers. Visitors to the Hammer Museum can view their fascinating collections of hammer sculptures, handle-making machinery, and spring-loaded meat tenderizers.

6. Balto is the famous sled dog that’s usually credited with delivering medicine to a remote Alaskan village, but some argue that Togo was the true hero. Before Balto completed the last 55 miles of the journey, Togo pulled the medicine through 200 miles of wind and snow. His stuffed and preserved body is on display at the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Museum in Wasilla, Alaska.

7. Alaska broke their record high when temperatures reached 100° F in 1915.

8. Their low of -80° F recorded in Alaska’s Endicott Mountains still holds the record for the nation's all-time low.

9. Alaska has more coastline than the other 49 states combined.

10. Because of their long summer days, Alaska is capable of producing some unusually oversized produce. Some notable specimens that have been harvested in recent years include a 35-pound broccoli, a 65-pound cantaloupe, and a 138-pound cabbage.

11. About 1700 miles south of the geographic North Pole lies the Fairbanks suburb of North Pole, Alaska. The town’s famous Santa Claus House gift shop is open year-round, and thousands of letters addressed to Santa are sent to the zip code each year. (A real-life Santa Claus was even elected to City Council.)

12. The Bering Strait that separates Alaska from Russia is around 55 miles wide at its narrowest point. Within it sit the Russian island of Big Diomede and the U.S. island of Little Diomede, which are just two and a half miles apart. So in theory, it would be possible for some Alaskans to see Russia from their houses.

13. Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, Japanese forces bombed and invaded the Aleutian Islands of Alaska. The occupation lasted nearly a year.

14. Moose, caribou, and bear killed by cars in Alaska are considered property of the state [PDF]. When road kill is reported, the carcasses are butchered by volunteers and distributed as food to charity organizations.

15. America’s largest national forest is the Tongass. It’s about three times the size of the runner-up, which is also located in Alaska.

16. Each year, brave Alaskans compete to be crowned the king or queen of their throne in the Fur Rondy Festival outhouse races. Teams outfit the bottoms of their custom-built outhouses with skis and race each other down a two-lane track. In addition to the title of first place, prizes are awarded for the most colorful, best-engineered, and cleanest commodes.

Mike Juvrud, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

17. The Thing, John Carpenter’s 1982 horror classic set in Antarctica, was filmed in Alaska.

18. In Barrow, Alaska, the longest night lasts for 67 days. In the summer they make up for it with 82 days of uninterrupted sunlight.

19. If Manhattan had the same population density as Alaska, only 28 people would inhabit the island.

20. There are 107 men for every 100 women in Alaska, the highest male-to-female ratio in the United States.

21. Juneau is America’s only state capital that isn’t accessible by road.

22. In 1867, Russia agreed to sell Alaska to the United States for $7.2 million, which amounted to about two cents an acre.

23. Many hotels in Alaska offer Northern Lights wake-up calls upon request.


24. The Aleuts, Inupiat, Yuit, Athabascans, Tlingit, and Haida make up the major native groups of Alaska. At more than 14 percent, Alaska has a more concentrated indigenous population than any other state.

25. For years, the small town of Talkeetna, Alaska hosted the annual Moose Dropping Festival. Varnished pieces of numbered moose droppings were dumped from a crane into a parking lot and participants whose corresponding droppings landed closest to the center of a target received cash prizes. The event eventually grew too dangerously large for the town of 850 to handle and was retired in 2009.

This story originally ran in 2015.

Simon Bradfield, iStock
Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
10 Shipwrecks You Can Visit
Simon Bradfield, iStock
Simon Bradfield, iStock

UNESCO says that there are no fewer than 3 million shipwrecks lost beneath the waves, their locations just waiting to be discovered. But for tourism purposes, the most interesting shipwrecks are those we already know about—and can visit. These 10 shipwrecks have intriguing stories, and they’re all places where you can step foot, although in some cases a boat (and possibly scuba gear) may be necessary. Remember: Look, don’t touch, since removing artifacts can spoil the chance for valuable archeological research (and is often illegal).


The half-buried shipwreck of the Bessie White on Fire Island, New York
Nick Normal, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The 200-foot schooner Bessie White wrecked off the shore of this barrier island while laden with coal in 1919 or 1922 (historians aren't sure of the exact date). The crew escaped, but the 3-year-old ship ran aground. In October 2012, Superstorm Sandy revealed the battered remnants of the ship's hull, which had been carried to a spot near Skunk Hollow in the Otis Pike Fire Island High Dune Wilderness. The National Park Service sometimes leads hikes to the wreckage, whose location over time provides scientists with clues to how the landscape of Fire Island has changed.


The shipwreck of World Discoverer in the Solomon Islands
Philjones828, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

A cruise ship built in 1974 that once carried passengers to polar regions, MS World Discoverer ran aground in the Solomon Islands in 2000. No lives were lost—all the passengers escaped via ferry after an uncharted rock pierced the ship's hull. Today the wreckage is still a tourist attraction in Roderick Bay in the Nggela Islands, listing heavily against the shore.


The shipwreck of the Peter Iredale in Warrenton, Oregon
Robert Bradshaw, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.5

Now a haunting ruin along the Oregon coast, the Peter Iredale was once a four-masted steel barque sailing vessel owned by British shipping firm Iredale & Porter. In September 1906, the ship left Santa Cruz, Mexico, on its way to Portland, Oregon, where it was supposed to pick up wheat bound for the United Kingdom. But a heavy wind and strong current sent her on to the breakers and she ran aground at Clatsop Beach, with three of her masts snapping from the impact, according to the Oregon History Project. The wreckage became an immediate tourist attraction, and despite being buffeted by the wind and waves ever since, it remains so today. It’s now part of Fort Stevens State Park.


Shipwreck of the MV Panagiotis on Navagio Beach, Greece
Maczopikczu, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 3.0

This shipwreck in the Ionian Islands gives its beach its nicknames: Navagio ("shipwreck") Beach and Smugglers Cove. Supposedly, the Panagiotis, which wrecked there in the early 1980s, was smuggling cigarettes and possibly worse. The rusting hulk of the boat is far from the only thing to see, however; the beach also attracts visitors for its clear turquoise waters and pristine pale sand. It’s also one of the most popular spots for BASE jumping in the world. The cove can be accessed only by boat.


Shipwreck of SS Maheno on Fraser Island, Australia
Central Intelligence Agency, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Once an ocean liner that plied the Tasman Sea between New Zealand and Australia, the SS Maheno was also used as a hospital ship for the New Zealand navy during World War I. She was later sold to a Japanese ship-breaking company for scrap, but broke apart in a cyclone on the journey to Japan in 1935. Since washing ashore on Australia's Fraser Island, the ship has become a major tourist attraction, despite not being particularly safe.


Once the fastest liner on the Atlantic, the SS Oregon sunk in 1886 just 18 miles off New York after hitting an unidentified schooner, often thought to be the Charles R. Morse. After an unsuccessful attempt to plug the hole in the hull with canvas, the captain ordered the ship abandoned, even though there were only enough lifeboats for half the ship's 852 passengers. (Fortunately, another ship arrived to save the passengers, and there were no casualties.) Today the wreck is a popular dive site in Long Island Sound. Although the ship's hull and decks have disintegrated over the years, the engine and boilers remain, among other remnants.


Granted, it's in a museum, but the Uluburun wreck, which sank off the coast of Turkey during the late Bronze Age, is one of the oldest ships ever found—it dates back 3,500 years. A local sponge diver found the wreck of the Uluburun off the southwestern coast of Turkey in the early 1980s. Archeologists then spent 11 years studying the ship, collecting 20 tons of artifacts, including the remains of fruits and nuts, pottery, jewelry, tools, and weapons. No one knows who built the ship or where it was headed, but judging by the amount of gold onboard, someone rich was involved. The remains of the ship and its cargo, as well as a life-sized replica, are kept at the Bodrum Museum of Underwater Archaeology.


Shipwreck of the Captayannis in the River Clyde, Scotland
Stephen Thomas, Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

Once a Greek sugar-carrying ship, the MV Captayannis has become a de facto home for birds and other wildlife since sinking in Scotland's River Clyde in 1974 during a terrible storm. (The minor collision with a BP oil tanker also didn't help.) The shallow waters around the wreck make it relatively accessible, and the ship seems likely to stay where it is, since its precise ownership is something of a mystery.


Shipwreck of the La Famille Express in the Turks and Caicos Islands
Matthew Straubmuller, Flickr // CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Built in 1952 in Poland, La Famille Express served a large part of its life in the Soviet Navy (where it was known as Fort Shevchenko), before being sold and re-christened with its new name in 1999. It wrecked under mysterious circumstances around 2004. It now lies in just a few feet of water, an attractive landmark for boaters in the Turks and Caicos.


Shipwreck of the Eduard Bohlen in Namibia
Anagoria, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 3.0

This wreck is unusual for being buried entirely in the sand—it's now stranded about a quarter mile away from shore. A 2272-ton cargo ship that wrecked off Namibia's Skeleton Coast in 1909 in thick fog, the ship has since drifted so far from the water it's now completely land-locked.


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