Suggestions About Hiking Equipment and Clothing

WNC has unique hiking conditions that can make packing for your hike challenging. We offer the following thoughts on equipment and clothing to take on your hike based on our experience hiking in this region in all seasons. Please note that we are not paid to endorse any particular product.

General Equipment

Hiking, or trekking poles are highly recommended. While some hikers do not like them for steep ascents, poles make the descents safer and easier on the legs and joints in our opinion. Poles are also quite useful for stream crossings which may require rock hopping or walking a narrow log bridge. They can also be used to test areas where there might be a snake.

Gaiters are very useful although not many hikers use them. They keep your boots and socks dry in damp conditions and offer protection against barking a shin on a log or rock, briars and barbed wire, thick bushes and snake bites. There are several types available and we regularly hike wearing Snake Guardz gaiters.

Traction aids are a must when hiking in the winter in order to avoid slips and falls on ice, mud and snow. We have tried several different types including Yak Traks, Stabilicers, Kahtoola Micro Spikes, and MSR Mountaineering snow shoes. While nothing beats MSR snow shoes in deeper snow, in our opinion Stabilicers provide the best overall traction performance on almost any surface. They fit over your normal hiking boots, go on easily, don’t slip off, are light weight and snow or leaves do not build up under your foot.

Overshoes – ok, we’re whimps.  We really don’t like wet boots and socks and we never wade through streams barefoot.  But we also hate not getting to that great waterfall either.  One solution that seems to fit our needs are Neos Trekker Overshoes.  They are reportedly highly rated and durable.  They are very light-weight, fit over your hiking boots and are small enough to pack easily in a small daypack along with our other stuff.  We don’t have much field experience with them yet but we will update our recommendation when we do.

Clothing

Several factors make dressing for a hike challenging in WNC – steep ascents heat you up quickly, high elevations and sharp ridge lines can create rapid temperature and precipitation changes, and long descents can cool you down.  At Craggy Gardens, we personally experienced a 65 degree day degrade to 35 degrees with strong wind and blowing mist when a cloud layer moved in! In our opinion, the best strategy is to pack multiple light weight layers and be ready for near freezing temperatures even in summer if hiking above 5000 feet.  Here’s what we carry on our hikes – but remember we are dayhikers and do not intentionally overnight although we are prepared for it:

  • Wear synthetics – they are lighter and dry quicker, leave the cotton at home
  • Long pants – shorts seem like a good idea until you push through a blackberry patch or mountain laurel thicket!
  • Mid height, waterproof boots – these trails are real ankle twisters and you will get wet
  • Base Layer – summer: tee shirt and/or light long sleeved shirt – we use UV blocking fishing shirts
  • Base Layer – winter: thermal underwear
  • Mid Layer – unlined (or very lightly lined), light weight pullover – fleece tends to be too hot even in 20 degree days
  • Outer Layer, option 1 – light weight, unlined hard shell (ie. rain jacket) – get lightest weight you can find (try Marmot)
  • Outer Layer, option 2 – mid weight, unlined, wind proof soft shell – adds just a little more warmth and comfort than a rain jacket (again Marmot)
  • Outer Layer, option 3 – light weight, synthetic filled parka that can be rolled or stuffed into a small sack (try ArcTeryx).  Your rain jacket can be worn over it for a windbreaker.
  • Hat – if your outer layers do not have a hood, then a hat with ear protection is a must
  • Gloves or Mittens

We carry most of these items in every season unless we are hiking in lower elevations in the summer on trails that are not isolated.  Believe it or not, these items will not take up a lot of room.  Including water, food, basic first aid items, map, compass and a multi-tool, all these items can fit into a 30 liter summer pack or a 35 liter winter pack.

Photography

Photography can be awkward if you are using a full sized DSLR with a zoom lens.  You may find the following suggestions useful:

  • Consider using a Cotton Carrier camera vest.  It’s light weight and securely carries your camera against your upper chest in a way that does not interfere with hiking – you can bend over, reach up, use both hands and the camera does not move or swing.  You can wear your pack over the carrier.
  • A lightweight carbon fiber tripod is very useful.  The Gitzo traveler series can support a full size DSLR and fits into a small bag that can be attached to the side straps on your pack.