There’s a certain list of gear you need if you’re hiking in the Colorado mountains, or any mountainous area above 6,000-7,000 feet in elevation. A lot of this gear can be used on any other hike you may do, so by all means its function isn’t limited to these certain hikes. That being said, if you’re hiking n the mountains or at an increased altitude/elevation, these are absolute NEEDS that you should have on you at all times.
How do we know what you need? Well we’ve lived in Breckenridge, Colorado for years, and summer hikes at elevation are our specialty. We’ve done a lot of the best hikes in Colorado, and we’re here to help you learn from our experiences. We’ve had many great hikes, but we’ve also had bad hikes where we learned tough lessons the hard way.
Take our knowledge and expertise and turn it into action, that way you don’t get caught with your pants down (figuratively or literally) while hiking in the mountains. Now let’s take a dive into the must-have gear for summer hiking in Colorado (or any other high elevation hike).
#1 – A Rain Jacket
Prepare for summer’s unpredictable thunderstorms with The North Face Antora Rain Hoodie, an essential, highly-rated piece of gear that’s comfortable, waterproof, and doubles as a windbreaker.
Embrace safety over regret with this excellent value-for-money investment, keeping Murphy’s Law at bay – if you have it, you might not need it, but without it, you’re certain to be caught in the rain.
Note: If this jacket is a little outside your budget, the next best option is the Columbia Men’s Glennaker and Women’s Arcadia rain jackets. They’re a little more affordable while still being a great option for hiking.
#2 – Sun Bum Lip Balm
Lip Balm is your best friend when hiking at elevation – the dry air will cause your lips to crack in just a few minutes and you’ll be suffering your entire hike. Even if you’re just walking around a high-elevation town (like Breckenridge), you should always have a tube of lip balm in your pocket or purse.
Since we’re avid outdoorsman, of course we want a lip balm that’s not only awesome for your lips, but environmentally friendly as well. And since we are at elevation, we want something that includes SPF so your lips aren’t exposed to the harsh UV rays. That’s why we use Sun Bum SPF 30 Sunscreen Lip Balm.
#3 – Sun Bum Sunscreen
Continuing on our SPF journey, our #3 must-have is sunscreen. When hiking at elevation, the you’re a whole 1.5-2 miles closer to the sun (depending on your exact elevation), so there’s a lot less atmosphere to protect you. The sun will not only feel hotter, but it will be quick to burn any exposed skin.
Make sure you apply sunscreen before you hike, and always re-apply according to the product instructions. Just like the lip balm above, we want to use a brand that’s environmentally friendly and effective, so we always use Sun Bum SPF 50. It’s oil-free, water-resistant, and is even Reef Safe so you can wear it in the water and not worry about harming wildlife.
#4 – Patagonia Puffy Jacket
If there’s any possibility you are going to be on trail before 10am or after 5pm, you will need an extra layer to keep you warm. A Colorado summer day experiences winter temperatures overnight, spring in the morning, summer mid-day, and fall by early evening, so you will need some type of lightweight jacket or puffy to keep you warm.
We both have a Patagonia Nano Puff for this exact reason, and it comes with us on pretty much every single hike. They pack down ridiculously small so you don’t have to worry about it taking up a bunch of space in your pack, but then they’re super warm when you need it. Patagonia simply makes the best when it comes to these lightweight puffy jackets, so we couldn’t recommend them more.
#5 – Garmin GPS & SOS Device
We don’t go anywhere without our Garmin InReach Explorer+, which is a handheld GPS and SOS device that uses satellites to connect you to the modern world. Luckily we’ve never had to use the SOS capabilities (which allow you to text with local search and rescue in the event of an emergency), but we have used the GPS tracking to find our way back after getting lost while hiking the trail-less Red Mountain. If you’re a serious hiker, or if you’re getting serious about hiking, this is easily the best piece of gear you could have while on trail.
#6 – Hiking Hat
We wear a hat on pretty much every hike, not only to keep air out of our face, but to keep the sun off as well. Derek loves wearing a regular baseball cap, as does Ashley, but there are also times when you need a real hiking hat – something that’s wide-brimmed, breathable, and extremely durable.
- Favorite Baseball Cap: Sunday Afternoons Artist Series
- Favorite Hiking Hat: Columbia Bora Bora Booney II Hat
#7 – Osprey Daylite Plus Day Hiking Pack
Obviously you’re going to need something to carry all this gear, so you will need a day hiking backpack that’s comfortable and roomy. We both use an Osprey Daylite Plus (read our full review here), and we love our packs! It’s the best value for your money, plus it’s the perfect size for a single day hike. You can pair it with a 2 liter water reservoir, or just carry bottles in the mesh side pockets. Plus, it can also be used as a regular backpack since it has a laptop sleeve and lots of pockets.
Note: if you need more space, consider sizing up to the Osprey Mira.
#8 – Patagonia Capilene Long Sleeve Shirt
If you’ve ever exercised in cotton, you know that icky feeling of wet clothes sticking to you. While hiking, you should always wear lightweight, light-colored clothing with UPF ratings for sun protection. We prefer long-sleeves, that way your skin is protected from the sun’s harsh rays.
For a long-sleeve dry-fit shirt, our go-to is the Patagonia Capilene Cool Daily Long Sleeve. Once you put on a Capilene shirt on, you’ll never want to wear another type of dry-fit every again. It’s sooo soft and comfortable!
#9 – Darn Tough Hiking Socks
Our favorite hiking socks of all time are made by a brand called Darn Tough. They are very comfortable, excel at preventing blisters, and come in all kinds of fun colors and designs. Plus, they’re backed by a lifetime warranty.
I recently had a small hole in a pair of my oldest Darn Tough socks. I filled out a warranty claim, sent them in, and a few days later I got a coupon for a free pair of new socks plus free shipping. They really do stand behind their socks 100%!
#10 – First Aid Kit
As part of any hiker’s day hiking essentials, you need a first aid kit. We know it’s hard to pick one, but we think we ended up with the best option for day hiking – the HART Outdoor Day Hike First Aid Kit. It’s specifically filled with things you could need on a typical day hike, plus it’s only $15 and is lightweight enough that you’ll hardly notice it in your pack.
We also carry Rock Tape Blister Prevention, just in case we get any hot spots that need attention. It’s way better than moleskin or duct tape.
#11 – Kula Cloth
If you’re a female who enjoys hiking, you must have a Kula Cloth. If you’ve never heard of it before, it’s a reusable, antimicrobial pee cloth that attaches to the back of your daypack. It’s an absolute game changer for quick pee stops on the trail, especially since it takes away the need for carrying and burying toilet paper.
#12 – Trekking Poles
Ashley loves using trekking poles, but Derek doesn’t. This really comes down to personal preference, but we would recommend giving them a try for most people, especially if you’re hiking on steep and rocky terrain (like in the Colorado mountains). We’ve bought some really nice hiking poles in the past, but recently we’ve settled on a more affordable pair that we found at a local store. If you’re shopping online, we recommend these very budget-friendly ones on Amazon.
If you’re an avid hiker and are ready to upgrade to something that’s more high quality (and a higher price tag), then we recommend taking a look at these Black Diamond Carbon Fiber poles.