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A serious hiker’s trail-ready essentials.
GRAYSON HAVER CURRIN has lost track of how many miles he’s hiked. “Many, many thousands,” he estimates. He completed the 2,200-mile Appalachian Trail in 2019 (a five-month journey), and has just embarked on the Pacific Crest Trail (2,650 miles). He’s the current hiking columnist of Outside Magazine. Yet if you ask him about being an expert in the hiking space, he’s quick to say he doesn’t think of himself that way. He actually began as a runner. Which, in his words, “spiraled.” “Running marathons was preparation for climbing mountains, climbing mountains was preparation for hiking the Appalachian Trail, and all these things became a cycle where I got just really enthusiastic about it.” But he notes, “There are people who’ve hiked so much more than me.” Yet whether discussing longtime hikers or newbie hikers, territorial hikers or timid hikers, he ultimately sticks to this definition: “Hiking is walking, right? Hiking is movement.”
Now here’s what you need to get moving:
An expert-fitted shoe: “The best hiking shoe does not exist. We all have wonky feet or bodies in our own way, and we need to account for that. I won’t even tell you to hike in trail runners (often lighter, faster drying, and better molding to your feet). What I will tell you is that you need to have a shoe fitting if you plan on getting into hiking — or running or just walking around your town a lot. And that starts with footwear that an expert who thinks about this stuff all day has helped you pick by looking at your feet and gait.”
As for what Currin himself wears? “The Topo Ultraventure 2 trail running shoes.” Again, everyone’s different, and that’s just what works for him right now. “Don’t get in the trap of saying, this is the kind of shoe I wear,” he reminds us.
A rain jacket: “You need a rain jacket, and you need to like it. You need to be able to wear it while moving without feeling like a sweaty mess beneath it. It needs to keep rain out. It needs to block some wind. There are a lot of totally good and cheap rain jackets out there — go try ’em on. But I may never own a rain jacket that’s not an Arc’teryx. The quality is astounding, the design is thoughtful and uber-functional. I have and will continue to trust my life with this jacket. Arc’teryx gear is not cheap, but it performs every time. The Beta SL is a perfect jacket, and it’s durable — it will cost you a few hundred bucks, but you will have it for years.”
A water-resistant bag: “Rule of thumb: Don’t let your stuff get wet! Ever! If you can help it! It sucks! If you try throwing your nice new gear into that old L.L. Bean bookbag you kept since high school, and then get trapped in a rainstorm, it’s gonna suck. So buy a pack where you don’t have to worry about your stuff getting wet. My money’s on Hyperlite, a tremendous company in Maine that makes their gear out of the stuff they make sailboat sails with. The bags are big, blind sacks, allowing you to put smaller sacks and pods and whatever inside to create your own storage system. I love them. You might also try the ULA Circuit if you like colors besides black and white.”
Something to read: “When I hiked the Appalachian Trail in 2019, I was convinced I’d be reading — a lot. So I mailed myself each successive volume of Karl Ove Knausgård’s “My Struggle.” Huge mistake. When I was able to read, it was great, a truly wonderful companion. But those books are heavy and thick and big, and Knausgård’s struggle is so mundane that it actually didn’t do much to distract me from the physical and mental toil of what I was doing. But I believe you should wander into the woods with something to read, because there’s nothing better than sitting in a beautiful spot, reading and relaxing. My recommendation: Jon Krakauer’s “Eiger Dreams,” a tiny book that weighs very little, filled with big adventures. The pain he endures will make you feel better about your own physical suffering.”
A seat: “Yes, there are very expensive camp chairs with all kinds of fancy legs and design systems. But you don’t need that. You do, though, need something to sit on. No one wants a wet ass if it rains or a hot ass if you’re in the desert. A totally fine option is a tiny piece of Tyvek — a square as big as your rump — that you can probably swipe for free from any construction dumpster. But 600 miles into the Appalachian Trail, my partner Tina found this little gadget on a fence in Virginia. She took it, and I was envious of it all the way to Maine. Essentially, it’s a piece of foam, the same thing that you sleep on, cut into a little square with a little tie so that you can compress it in your bag. Super cheap, super light, super functional.”
An oh-shit-kit: “Bad things are going to happen when you hike; it’s just an inevitability, same as driving a car.” (He claims no “disasters” thus far but did mention a pursuant grizzly bear in Wyoming, a couple of broken fingers and toes between him and his wife, and a knee gash left thankfully uninfected by the medicine they brought). “So you need to be prepared for that, and it doesn’t have to be fancy. You need these things: toilet paper, aspirin, any of the medicines you take every night, a small antibiotic tube, alcohol wipes, stomach medicine (Pepto Bismol, etc.), a Band-Aid or two, maybe a medical wrap if you are very accident-prone, some electrolyte tablets, and an energy gel pack or two, just in case. You should also keep in mind that, if you get lost, you’re gonna want to find clean water. So take a SmartWater bottle with you (not a Nalgene, so heavy!) and some Aquatabs. If you want the really cool accessory, get this UV light, which fits handily in the mouth of your SmartWater bottle!”
Parting thoughts: “You don't have to hike the Appalachian Trail to be a hiker. Just go outside and walk around somewhere. That act in and of itself is hiking. And having any of these things like shoes or jackets, that's about being comfortable — not hurting while you're hiking because that’s the point when you're like, ‘I think hiking is stupid.’ And I'm like, ‘well, you're hiking in stilettos, yeah of course that’s terrible.’ If you were trying to write a book and using a chisel, you probably wouldn't want to write a book. But if you invest in some things that make the experience better, I think you'll have a better experience when you do it more. And it can be truly eye-opening. The world is beautiful and what else are we here to do, besides see that and embrace it?”
Sophie Mancini is an editor at Departures. Born and raised in New York City, she holds a degree in creative writing from Johns Hopkins University and has a background as a writer in brand and editorial.
Andrea Gentl and Martin Hyers are the New York–based photography team Gentl and Hyers. They have been working together for over 25 years and are at their happiest when wandering in a far-off land, cameras in hand, exploring and connecting with people.
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