Hiking Gear to go ‘Wild’ For

By Amanda Festa 

Cheryl Strayed documented her 1,100 mile solo hike in her memoir, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail.  When she completed her epic trek, she was not a long distance hiker, but she did her research at the outdoor store REI, compiling a list of supplies a page long that she recounts for readers as she fills her pack in a hotel room prior to the beginning of her trip.  She is in awe of the REI employees who “could talk about gear, with interest and nuance, for a length of time that was so dumbfounding that [she] was ultimately bedazzled by it.” Strayed, an amateur by comparison, quickly learned that, while some gear was vital to her survival, other items were unnecessary baggage.   When she meets an experienced hiker on the trail, she is advised to lighten her load, limiting her gear to only the most essential of equipment.  She quickly ditches an impractical saw, a heavy camera lens and a presumptuous roll of condoms, proving that every ounce of unnecessary weight is best eliminated.  Ultimately, she would have found use for one of those discarded items on the trail, but I won’t spoil the surprise for those who have yet to read Strayed’s inspired memoir.

Hiking has long been a popular pastime, and now, with the popularity of Strayed’s memoir, even the most lackadaisical readers are considering donning a backpack and hitting the trail. Before you start drafting your own packing list, check out some of the newest gadgets, which combine usability with space saving ingenuity, adding fun and functional tools without the extra weight.

The Steady by Gerber is equal parts Swiss army knife and tripod.  The inventiveness of this tool is reminiscent of something that might pop unexpectedly from Inspector Gadget’s hat, had he been a fan of outdoorsy adventure.  The tripod is compatible with digital cameras under 340 grams and most smart phones, and also includes the Swiss army knife staples, such as blades, screwdrivers, a bottle opener, pliers and a wire cutter.  While a tripod would surely add unneeded weight to your pack, with this multifunctional apparatus, there is no excuse not to have a steady hand when photographing the breathtaking scenery of the trail.

In Wild, Strayed carries with her a sentimental necklace made from one of her mother’s earrings and dons it when she wants to dress up her rugged apparel.  Wenger has now made it easier to accessorize on the trail, with Swiss army knife jewelry, cleverly dubbed ‘toolry.’  Appearing as a simple necklace with a decorative pendant, the pendant actually opens to reveal useful hiking implements, such as a screwdriver, wrench, tweezers or whistle.  What this jewelry lacks in sentimentality, it makes up for in practicality and, although it may seem like unnecessary adornment, it provides a hands free method to carry items that could prove useful on the trail.

When Strayed hiked the PCT in 1995, she did it without the assistance of a smart phone or any other electronic device.  The only app she had access to was a worn copy of The Pacific Crest Trail, Volume I: California, complete with a do-it-yourself GPS in the form of trail maps.  Today, hikers have more technologically advanced options, yet these options come with new issues to be tackled, such as what to do when batteries die and render your devices useless.  The Powermonkey is a solar powered charging device that works on a multitude of devices including cell phones and iPods.  For a more detailed assessment, check out the Hiking Lady’s review, which provides a personal account of the product’s effectiveness.

Once you’ve secured a solar powered charging station, the sky is the limit on the electronic tools available to the 2012 hiker.  While there is something to be said for going off the grid as part of your hiking experience, for those who, like me, couldn’t hike their way out of a paper bag, a GPS may not be a bad investment.  The Oregon Garmin 550T is waterproof and includes a hi-def camera –yet another way to multi-task on the trail.

So, if you are a fervent nature lover, or simply inspired by Strayed’s solo hike, put a 2012 spin on the experience by stocking up on some fun new gadgets.  Whether you are planning a long distance hike or a weekend excursion, do a little research, pack smart and enjoy. Happy Trails!


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