Hit the hiking trails this year with the best and newest in hiking technology
The majority of trails in the Great Smoky Mountains do not require massive amounts of hiking equipment. In fact, the day hike gear ranges from as little as an old pair of tennis shoes for some to as much as a pair of hiking boots and light back-pack containing some basics such as first-aid kit, flash-light, lunch and a drink. (See our hiking equipment checklist on the following page.)
The range of backpacks is vast. Most day hikers have room enough in their packs to not worry about space and weight, which becomes a consideration for anything overnight. The happy in-between of packs that are roomy for a day and can handle a night have resulted in some great new back packs.
The Voodoo Soul by Quest is the pack for the fashion hungry. Its unique design will let the kids use it for school, but it has the toughness for a trail experience. The Mountainsmith Boundary has over 2500 cubic inches of space. It’s one of the best for transferring the weight off your shoulders and onto the lumbar region. It also provides ample pockets for those quick-need smaller items. It can easily be used as an overnight bag for more experienced trail hounds.
The Eureka Eiger tops out with 3,200 cubic inches available. It has plenty of little extras that show the manufacturer’s attention to detail. A key clip is one prime example, but it also features a Velcro tab on top that helps keep water and dirt out of the main bag, and bottom straps if you want to tie on a sleeping bag. The reflective nature is a bonus that could come in handy for those who ignore warnings not to stray off the trails.
The key essential is making sure the pack is right for you and that the basics of putting heavier items in the center of the pack and closer to you back balances the load. Its also a good idea to put frequently used items like sunglasses, sunscreen and bug repellant in an outer pocket, so you don’t have to dig for them.
The other essential is for the feet. The majority of trails in the park do not require the heavy, forty-day expedition boots. The progress in materials over the last decade have allowed manufacturers to offer lighter weight hiking shoes that provide support without metal supports. The market is broken down into boots trail shoes, trail hikers, and mountaineers.
Some of the favorites among those lighter day hike shoes are the Catalyst, Velocity, The Ventilator and the Rio Grande. The Vasque Catalyst and Vasque Velocity are both good options for light wilderness trail travel. They’ll support you with a light pack and come in several models around the $100 price range.
The warm weather favorite from main brand Merrell is the Ventilator. The side mesh panels help the shoe “breathe.” It keeps the socks from getting sweaty on a hot day and any missteps into the water have fast relief. The shoe itself dries quickly and the vents allow socks to dry quicker.
The young at heart who can’t walk during the summer without open toes will enjoy Birkenstock’s Rio Grande. This three strap sandal is hand stitched leather and very solid. The buckles are designed not to dig into the foot. The Rio Grande is one of the most comfortable sandals to try on a easy trail if covering up your foot is a summer fashion sin.
What your hiking shoes come down to in the end is simply the shoe that fits and the one that meets your needs. If you’re going to spring for a new pair make sure they really do fit your foot (try them on with the socks you would use hiking) and that you buy a shoe that will hold up where you plan to use it.