Essentials for Trekking and Mountaineering. Basic Equipment

What essential equipment is needed to ensure your comfort and safety when hiking and trekking? In this article, we talk about clothing, footwear, backpack, poles, camping gear and other essential items.

Photo: Javier Camacho

Trekking and Mountaineering

It is sometimes difficult to define mountain activities. Hiking, trekking, scrambling, mountaineering, alpine climbing, climbing... they can all overlap.

In this article, the terms trekking and mountaineering are used to refer to activities that go beyond a simple hike on easy terrain, but are easier than technical mountaineering and climbing activities.

The activities we refer to range from day hikes and mountain ascents to multi-day treks with summits, where you need to be self-sufficient and prepared to encounter the unexpected.

Basic Equipment for Hiking, Trekking and Non-technical Mountaineering

1. Footwear

Specific footwear is clearly essential for mountain walking, in order to provide protection on bad terrain, yet it is not uncommon to see walkers wearing unsuitable types of footwear and suffering from discomfort or lack of protection and performance, especially on the more popular routes.

  • Protection

    Trekking footwear needs to protect your feet and ankles.

  • Stability and Cushioning

    Hiking and trekking footwear is also designed to provide stability. Imbalance can lead to injury or to the risk of a serious fall.

  • Grip

    Sports footwear, in general, has to have a sole that allows you to practice the sport it is designed for. But this is much more important for outdoor activities, because the sole does not not only need to enhance performance, it also needs to enhance your safety. The sole is the only point of contact with the terrain and allows you to move forward in complex places.

  • Breathability/Waterproofing Capacity

    If the terrain is wet or if the weather is bad, you should consider footwear with a waterproof and breathable membrane.

  • Safety

    This is the consequence of all the above. Footwear that grips on all types of terrain, that protects against impact, chafing, abrasion, bad weather and allows you to carry a heavy backpack. This is required to ensure maximum safety when walking in complex environments, such as the mountains and nature.

  • Comfort

    Comfort is important not just to ensure your enjoyment, but also because if your footwear causes pain, chafing or blisters, you will walk less safely, increasing the chances of an accident.

Photo: Barrabes
Photo: Barrabes

These are the basic requirements for trekking and mountaineering footwear.

2. Outdoor Clothing

Outdoor clothing must be suitable for the activity. In addition, you should always carry warm clothing and rain protection in your backpack.

However nice the weather may seem at the beginning of a trek, in the mountains it can change suddenly for the worse. A hot and sweaty ascent can suddenly change to a freezing wind upon reaching a col or summit.

Any mountaineer or outdoor enthusiast in unfavourable conditions needs protection against the elements (low temperatures, wind, rain, snow, sun, heat). The following points should be considered when choosing outdoor clothing:

  • Protection against the elements..
  • Sweat evacuation
  • Protection against chafing, tearing and abrasion or impact.
  • Very important: it must be active and agile to allow optimum freedom of movement.

You can start by reading this article where we explain the fundamental basics of mountain clothing: How the layering system works.

The base layer is essential, whether it is worn under another layer or on its own in hot weather. In our article on How to choose your base layer we explain why it's so important and look at the different types available.

There are several types of mid layers. It’s main purpose is to provide warmth and it can be in the form of a classic fleece, a lightweight synthetic jacket or a more technical garment for demanding activities. How to choose your mid layer for mountain activities

The shell or outer layer is basic. It protects against the wind, rain and snow to ensure you stay dry. These garments usually have a waterproof and breathable membrane. Our article on Membranes; waterproof and breathable garments we explain how these garments work, while in this other article on How to choose an outer layer for outdoor activities, we look at the huge variety available.

Photo: Ignacio Ferrando
Photo: Ignacio Ferrando

Trousers are essential for trekking and three-season mountaineering.

3. Backpacks

Did you know that between 75 and 85 percent of the weight of a backpack should fall on the waist, via the waist belt? A backpack is not a sack with shoulder straps; it is a complex piece of equipment that should fit as well or even better than clothing or footwear, if it is to provide safety and comfort.

This article explains why choosing the right backpack is so important: How to choose your backpack for mountaineering, hiking and trekking

<Photo: Lowe Alpine
Photo: Lowe Alpine

Since today's backpacks have to fit like a glove, it's no wonder that large-capacity packs have specific designs for women and men. In the following article, we explain why this is so important: Technical Mountain Gear for Women

4. Poles

Poles are also an essential item for most hikers and trekker for the following reasons:

  • They distribute the load between the upper and lower body. Studies indicate that 15 to 20 percent of force is released from the lower body and distributed to the upper body.
  • They reduce fatigue and the risk of injury.
  • The joints, especially the knees, are relieved of pressure on the descent.
  • Having extra support points enhances safety, not only on the descent, but when walking on unstable terrain or crossing rivers.
  • They can be useful if you need to defend yourself from animals.

Photo: Barrabes
Photo: Barrabes

There are many types, with different locking and folding systems. In this article we look at the different models, to help you choose the most suitable. How to choose your trekking, mountain and trail running poles.

5. Camping and Bivouacs

What if you need to spend the night in the mountains, on your trek?

In addition to paying attention to the local regulations on camping in the mountains, you need to ensure you are equipped with the following basics:

Bivouac on a Pyrenean summit. Photo: Mikel Iraola Gracias
Bivouac on a Pyrenean summit. Photo: Mikel Iraola Gracias

Freeze-dried food and kitchenware have come a long way. Nowadays, it is easy to pack a full, healthy meal and utensils with barely any increase in weight.


Whether it's summer or winter, certain accessories should always be carried in your backpack.

1. Gloves

Gloves are not just for winter. A long rainy day in the mountains during the summer or scrambling on cold rock, is enough to wish you had not left them behind. Lightweight gloves weigh next-to-nothing and take up minimal space, so there’s no excuse for leaving this essential item behind.

In our article on, How to choose gloves for mountaineering, snow and ski activities, you can see the different types available, both for summer and for winter activities.

2. Hats and Caps

A hat is an essential item for both summer and winter outdoor activities. But they need to meet certain requirements, such as being lightweight, having thermal or wicking capacity and UV protection.

3. Sunglasses

Eye protection is essential for mountain activities. Sunlight is very harsh at high levels and even more harmful in the snow, unless you have the right sort of protective eyewear.

In the following article you can find information on eye protection: Sunglasses for outdoor activities: a guide to making the right choice.

Other Safety Elements

In fact, everything we have explained so far has a major impact on your safety. Without the right footwear, the higher the risk of having an accident; without the right clothing, the higher the risk of problems that can lead to an accident. And so on.

Now we are going to talk about essential accessories. You can also read about these items in our article on: How to pack for a day hike.

1. Hydration, Water Purification Systems

Hydration is essential. Always carry enough water and plan your fill-up points. Never pack a minimal amount of water without knowing if and where you can refuel; this can become a serious problem in the mountains, especially in summer.

There are many systems: jerry cans, flasks, bottles, reservoirs and hydration systems..

A good water source in the outdoors is essential. Photo: Katadyn
A good water source in the outdoors is essential. Photo: Katadyn

Finding water can be fairly easy but it is not so easy to find water that is not contaminated by animals. Nowadays there are purifying systems, such as water purification flasks or tablets, that are instantaneous and very effective.

Tablets, filters, flasks....Here we explain all you need to know: “How to Purify Water Outdoors”

2. First-aid Kit

A basic first-aid kit is essential.

3. Map, Compass, GPS

No matter how well marked the route is, you should always carry some sort of orienteering system. And it is essential to know how to use it. Regardless of whether you use a GPS, you should know the basics of orienteering.

Photo: Barrabes
Photo: Barrabes

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