While you definitely don’t need any special gear to hike, having comfortable, high-performing clothing can make your hikes at least a little bit better.
And with that above disclaimer, I will say that I am fully immersed in ‘gear culture’. I (hopefully) am not a brat about it and keep my obsessions relatively subdued while my eyes constantly dart from person to person on the trail seeing what type of gear they have. And it truly doesn’t come from a place of judgment, I just really love to see what people use and wear.
Over the years, I’ve become either a shorts or leggings only hiker depending on the terrain or temperature. I’ve just found that if a hiking pant that isn’t sung to my belly/hips/thighs, I’m constantly adjusting or getting twisted up. So, it may come as no surprise to you that I have multiple pairs of hiking bottoms. In my hiking pants arsenal, you’ll find the KUHL Transcendr Legging, a clever combo of durable soft shell fabric on the front and back and knit stretch panels along the sides.
Here’s what I love about them:
DWR (durable water repellent) on the soft shell fabric resists light rain and spills
Envelope-style pocket that easily holds my iPhone 14
Breathable yet durable thanks to the combo of soft shell and stretch fabrics
UPF 50 sun protection
Looks pretty cute for hiking pants! (Totally unnecessary but appreciated!)
What I would improve:
Only comes in one inseam, which is pretty typical for leggings, but as a member of the long legs club, I wish these leggings were just a bit longer
I wish they were just a smidge higher waisted, but I love stuff to be sky high on my waist!
These only go up to XL, so sizing isn’t fully inclusive, especially as they tend to fit a bit small. I would love to see Kuhl carry a fully inclusive size range as none of their sizing goes above XL.
I took them for an inaugural overnight camping/backpacking trip a few weeks ago and they were very comfortable. I didn’t find myself having to constantly pull them up while hiking or moving around camp, which is always a plus for any kind of pants. I also was climbing up and over some rocks on the hike and they moved well and stood up to some light abrasion.
I feel like they are pretty true to their sizing chart on the site. I wear a medium (5’ 7”, 145 lbs, with a butt) which coincided with my waist and hip measurements of 29” and 40” respectively. If anything, I’d size up a bit from your ‘normal’ size because They don’t fit perfectly but, honestly, what pair of pants does, right ladies?! Like I mentioned above, it would be really great to see Kuhl extend their size ranges. Only going up to a size XL (16/18) is a huge bummer from such a large company. It’s really hard to fully support a product (even when they make great things!) when those great things can’t be worn and enjoyed by hikers and active people of all sizes.
Overall, these pants are a great choice for day hiking, backpacking and camping. I love the combo of durable and stretch and always appreciate a good phone pocket. If you’re searching for a solid hiking pant, put the Transcendr Legging on your list if you are in the XS-XL size range.
AKA An Anxious Person’s Guide to Ease into Sleeping in the Backcountry 🙃
Putting everything you need to survive for a few days in the woods can feel pretty daunting, especially if you’ve never done it. It can feel like an all or nothing endeavor.
The inspiration for putting all these words down on this page is for all my anxiety-suffering pals out there. Jumping into something like backpacking can be absolutely debilitating to think about (so many things to plan, think about and could potentially ‘go wrong’), even if hiking and camping are things you enjoy. For me, taking out as many unknowns as possible helps my anxious brain regulate. So, taking things step by step and introducing new things in smaller chunks is so helpful.
So, how do you prepare? How do you start your backpacking journey? While some just go for it, there’s a few things you can do to ease yourself into it and hopefully help in easing the transition from ‘regular’ camping or hiking.
Gather Your Gear
First (and this probably goes without saying), you need to collect your gear. While hiking has a low cost barrier to entry, you obviously need some gear to venture into the backcountry and stay the night. Here’s a general list of what I take backpacking. There’s tons of different types of gear, but the most important thing to keep in mind is getting a backpack that will comfortable carry the weight of your gear. When I first started, I would just collect whatever gear I could that was inexpensive or on sale. I didn’t have a huge budget and I slowly collected all the gear I needed. My gear was much heavier than it is now, but I had a backpack that could comfortable carry the higher weight. Don’t feel like you have to strive for the super ultralight right from the beginning. Even now, my gear is lighter, but I’m not an super ultra-lighter. Also, make sure you know how to pack a backpack so that weight is distributed evenly. (Basically, you want the heaviest stuff near the middle of your back.)
Backpack cover or liner (in case it rains)
Sleeping bag liner (colder months)
Stove + pot
Lightweight Mug (for coffee)
Long handled spork (or any spoon/spork for eating)
Waterproof roll top food bag
With food obviously!
Water bottles or water bladder (I usually carry 2 1L bottles)
Water filter + dirty water bottle/bag (I use Katadyn BeFree + 2L Hydrapack bag)
First Aid Kit
Hand sanitizer or soap
Paracord + carabiner for bear hangs (or bear canister)
Pocket knife or multi tool
Battery bank + charging cord
One change of clothes for sleeping (not necessary for short trips, but it is nice to have “clean” clothes to sleep in!)
Hat (usually both a brimmed one and a beanie in the cold)
Gloves (cold weather only)
Lightweight fleece (almost always unless it’s dead of summer. Mornings can be chilly)
Puffy coat (I’ll bring if temps will dip to 40-ish degrees or below)
Bandana or small camp towel (like PackTowel)
Camp shoes like crocs or lightweight sandals (not necessary but nice to give your feet a break)
Map (either paper or saved on phone somewhere)
2. Practice at Home
Now that you have your gear, make sure you know how to use it. In your living room or yard, make sure you know how to set up your tent. Put your entire sleep system (sleeping pad, sleeping bag, pillow, etc.) inside. Pack your backpack up, then unpack and ‘set up camp’, then re-pack everything again.
Make sure you know how to use your stove and water filter. Practice filtering water (even if it’s just from your tap!). Go outside and set up your stove. (Not a great idea to ever use a stove inside.) Light it and boil some water.
If you aren’t relatively comfortable with your gear at home, you don’t set yourself up well to use it in the backcountry.
3. Take a ‘Faux’ Backpacking Trip
Once you’re familiar with your gear at home, it’s time to take it outside. Find a walk-in camp site (or drive-up site, but I like the walk in because it feels a little more like backpacking). Savage Gulf State Park has a few great walk-in sites (or sites within a couple tenths of a mile from the parking lot) that are perfect for this type of trip. Being close to your car lets you easily bail if you feel uncomfortable or overwhelmed. Bonus points if you’ve camped at the spot before. Removing as many ‘new’ things as possible always helps me feel a bit less anxious or stressed.
Then, the next day, pack up your stuff and do some day hiking, but with your pack. Because, wouldn’t you know, hiking with 25+lbs on your back feels different than a 5lb daypack. (This is where trekking poles come in extra handy. I never backpack without them!) With more weight, comes more stress on your joints and bones and also my body just moves a little differently when I have a pack on. (Aka I fall a lot more because the weight pulls me down…)
4. Backpack a trail you’ve already hiked
Now’s the time to put it all together and camp in the backcountry. I always suggest doing a trail that you’ve already hiked so you know what to expect: in terrain, difficulty, water sources, etc. Again, removing as much ‘new’ as possible makes it feel a little less daunting.
Also, one thing that helps me feel more at ease is knowing where the water sources are, which you’ll have a better idea of if you’ve already hiked the hike. You can also always call park rangers or park headquarters to ask about trail conditions and water sources. Sometimes, water sources are seasonal, too!
To start off, I’d suggest a 10-12 mile overnight hike, whether that’s an out and back or a loop. Here are some of hikes in Tennessee that would also make great overnight trips. But, really any hike that you’re familiar with is a great choice.
5. Backpack a new trail and/or take a multi-day trip
You did your first trip! How did you feel? Ready to tackle something new?Maybe you’ve decided backpacking isn’t for you (totally ok!!), but if you’ve been bitten by the backing bug, now’s your chance to take another step into the unknown. Backpack a bit more challenging trail, or a new trail or try a longer trip (2 or 3 nights). The possibilities are endless.
I’m not saying this is the only way to get into backpacking or you definitely should do all of these steps. Some may find moving this slowly is ridiculous, while others may have to take it even slower. My best advice is to listen to your body, but also, to push yourself out of your comfort zone. Do something that scares you a little. Even when I feel my anxiety is becoming crippling, once I actually get out on the trail, some of it usually subsides.
Going with a trusted friend or on a group trip — TN State Parks usually host some backpacking trips throughout the year. There’s also many hiking groups that do overnight trips — can also be a great starting point. (And if you don’t have any gear, some programs will rent you gear.)
I can’t really explain fully why I love strapping on backpack with all I need to survive for a few days and trudging through the woods and I think that’s why I love it so much. It both frees my mind and scared me a little bit. And I think all the best things do.
Going fully UL (ultralight) with all of your gear is often very expensive and exclusionary for many people. I wanted to share an inexpensive and easy way to shave some ounces and space in your backpacking setup: a tiny UL Toiletry Kit! (And unintentionally all one boring white color 🙃)
Put it all in the tiniest bag sack you can find! I like to keep all this stuff together not only for convenience, but also so I can easily throw in my bear bag with my food. Remember to always hang or stow in a bear-safe container any products that have any type of scent!
Total weight: 34 g (1.2 oz) Total cuteness: ♾
The UL toothbrush is super tiny and great, but it’s typical lifespan is about 7 days. So don’t expect to have this forever. But at 99 cents (or $2.99 for a 5-pack), I think it’s worth it.
These toothpaste tabs are great! They are virtually weightless compared to a mini toothpaste tube. Just stick one in your mouth and chew a couple times to make a paste, then brush away. It does take a bit to get used to because it doesn’t taste as strong as ‘regular’ toothpaste. But, I’ll never go back! (I actually use them exclusively at home too and I refill them at a local shop, so it’s zero waste for me.)
I love Sunbum sunscreen. It’s a relatively ‘natural;’ sunscreen that’s reef-safe and it works so well. Also, this combos as my face moisturizer too.I’m not going to bring separate skin care while I’m backpacking, but it is nice to have something that gives my skin a little love.
This verrrry mini bottle has deodorizing body in it and it’s my newest addition to this kit. I typically don’t bring a stick of deodorant on trail because you are going to smell and it’s just not worth the weight (and possible meatiness factor). This powder is great because it’s very light and I can pat it on areas that get sweaty or smelly. It helps absorb some moisture and also combats the funk a little bit.