5 Pieces of Gear to Help You Sneak a Hike Into Your Non-Hiking Trip

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5 Pieces of Gear to Help You Sneak a Hike Into Your Non-Hiking Trip

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Maybe you’re at a family reunion; maybe your work sends you on the road; maybe your besties just prefer beach vacations to grubbing around in the woods. Whatever the reason, not every trip can be a hiking trip.

Or can it? With a little determination—and occasionally a predawn start—sneaking a hike into your non-hiking vacation is surprisingly easy, and doesn’t require you to check another bag. After doing it on trips from the midwest to the southwest, I’ve learned that bringing a few carefully chosen pieces of gear can make all the difference. These lightweight, packable pieces are easy to slip into your overstuffed work suitcase—and best of all, they really work when it comes time to hit the trail.

Saucony Switchback 2
(Photo: Courtesy)

There are a lot of minimalist trail shoes on the market, but few of them have the chops to handle long days or rugged conditions like the Switchback does. Its predecessor, the Switchback ISO, was my go-to trail shoe for travel, and the newest iteration improves on it across the board, slashing its weight by a full ounce and moving the Boa closure to one side of the shoe for a snugger fit. The full-rubber outsole and braided nylon rock plate in the forefoot soak up roots and stones without leaving soles tender, while the sock-like upper hugs feet securely, cutting out slippage even on uneven or steep trails. Bonus: Thanks to the low-profile tread pattern and a black-on-black colorway, it doesn’t scream “technical” when you wear it in town.

Outdoor Vitals Ventus Active Hoodie Jacket
(Photo: Courtesy Outdoor Vitals)

From trips to the Southwest to rambles through Midwestern forest, this ultralight synthetic insulation piece hasn’t left my pack this year. It weighs just 7 ounces and packs down to the size of a grapefruit, making it barely noticeable in a carry-on. But it punches far above its light weight: I’ve used it over a baselayer on nighttime cross-country ski sessions in Lincoln, Nebraska and carried it as an insurance layer through the jungles Panama’s Parque Internacional de la Amistad. Features are basic, as you’d expect from a jacket of this weight: an internal mesh pocket big enough to hold a phone, and reflective stripes on the arms for nighttime runs.

Orange Backpack

If you can’t stash a daypack in your luggage or use it as a carry-on, the Ultra-Sil is an ultralight alternative that can fit into just about any nook. The gossamer backpack compresses to the size of a kiwi—small enough to carry on a keychain—but can hold a whopping 20 liters of gear. (Be judicious with how much weight you carry, though: it lacks a sternum strap and hipbelt, and unpadded shoulder straps can dig in when overloaded.) The gossamer siliconized Cordura nylon fabric is tougher than it looks: After more than eight years of use everywhere from Colombia to Portland, Oregon, mine hasn’t sustained any significant damage.

Katadyn BeFree Water Filter
(Photo: Courtesy)

Carrying a water filter on dayhikes with abundant sources is one quick way to reduce your pack weight, and the Katadyn BeFree is one of my favorite packable personal filters. Unlike other lightweight filters like the Sawyer Squeeze Micro, the BeFree comes with a durable soft flask that can double as a 1L bottle. (Heads up: Excessive dirt clogs the BeFree, and it doesn’t clean as easily as some other models. Prefilter with a bandana if you’re using silty water.)

Spot Lite Headlamp

A headlamp is essential hiking gear, especially, if you plan on sneaking in a few miles before the sun rises or after it sets. Despite its low, 2.8 ounce weight, the Spot Lite acts like a full-featured headlamp, with dimming, a red light mode, and IPX8 waterproofing (good enough for full submersion below one meter). With a housing about the size of a domino and a thin strap, it’s small enough to slip into a pants pocket just in case, and comfortable enough to press into service on early-morning trail runs.

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