10 Hiking Gear Essentials

for Shawnee National Forest

Hiking Trips

Hiking gear essentials are important for ensuring that your hiking trips can be positive and comfortable. The Shawnee National Forest is just like any other forest-rugged and full of nature that can be harsh to ill-equipped humans that use it. So, this article covers 10 hiking gear essentials that you could consider carrying with you on your hike so that you can have a positive experience in the Shawnee National Forest or really any other hiking area you plan to visit. After reading about the 10 hiking gear essentials below, be sure to comment with any other hiking gear essentials that you feel others should consider as well.


Hiking Gear Essentials #1 – A comfortable backpack

When I first started hiking in the Shawnee National Forest, I bought the cheapest backpack I could find. I also made sure it held a lot of stuff. Then I packed it full. I soon found myself in a lot of pain. My shoulders hurt. My back hurt. Hiking was becoming a painful experience. Luckily, I did some research before choosing to give up hiking. On a different note – could you imagine if I gave up hiking?! That’s crazy, LOL! Anyways, my research showed that a proper fitting comfortable hiking-specific backpack was required and that I needed to pay attention to how much the pack can hold based on liter-amounts. So, I bought my first daypack and it was amazing. The pain in my shoulders and back went away relatively quick after starting to use the new pack.

It is important to try on different backpacks and shop somewhere where the store attendant can fit the pack on you. You’re not going to get that kind of service at a big box retail chain, either. Shop local, go to an outdoor specialized store like REI or something like that. The brand is up to you but with backpacks, you often get what you pay for. If you pay very little, don’t expect a lot. I’m not sponsored or trying to sell you a certain brand, but my last 3 backpacks have all been from Osprey because I love their products and the experience with them. However, Osprey packs tend to be heavier than other brands. Backpacks are really those try on before you buy type of hiking gear essentials.

You can get a decent backpack for about $100 and up.


Hiking Gear Essentials #2 – Reliable Hiking Footwear

If there are any hiking gear essentials that should take priority over all other types of gear, it is going to be your footwear. Your feet are your most essential tools when hiking. You can go a couple of day without water and food. You can sleep in the rain. You can deal with poison ivy. But if you lose your ability to walk – you’re in a lot of trouble. Taking care of your feet is so essential when it comes to hiking. I also had to learn the hard way with this as well. I bought cheap shoes from that store that’s in every town and got a blister every time I hiked. And when I got them wet, I quickly realized I needed new ones. Then I realized that I can’t go hiking without getting my feet wet, ha-ha-ha. So, I needed some good footwear.

You get what you pay for with this gear item as well. Don’t want to pay a lot? Then don’t complain if those cheap hiking shoes don’t protect your feet. This is another item you should try on before you buy because you want the fit to be good. And if you buy them, don’t break them in on a long hike. Start out on a shorter hike from the start and gradually hike longer each time. Break them in before setting out to backpacking for a few days or hike 20 miles. Your feet will think you in the end. The brand is up to you. Again, nothing is sponsored here but I’ve used Oboz, Merrell, Columbia, Keen and Timberline. So far for waterproof boots-my Oboz is my go-to boot. For regular hiking shoes, I love Columbia the most.

A great pair of hiking shoes or boots should cost about $60 and up.


Hiking Gear Essentials #3 – Hydration and Fuel

The Shawnee National Forest is made up of rolling hills, thick hardwood and pine forests, roughly damaged and muddy horse trails and long routes to see the best stuff. It is no lie that hydration and fueling is extremely important when hiking in the National Forest. Don’t play around with lack of hydration because it can serious harm you and even kill you. The more you keep yourself hydrated and fueled before, during and after your hike – the more hiking will be a positive experience for you.

It is different strokes for different folks when it comes to what you use to hydrate! I drink Gatorade or Powerade when I hike and sometimes water. I sweat a lot and lose a lot of naturally occurring salt in the process. The whatever-ade drink I am consuming that day will include electrolytes and will give me back the salt that my body is losing from sweating. I also like to mix it up with water as well so that I am also focusing on pure hydration. Fuel is pretty much hiking snacks which is really your choice. I usually pack some beef jerky and cheese, power-bars and a snack pack of chips with a lot od carbohydrates to fuel me up. If it is a longer hike, I’ll pack a sandwich or something like that. Stay away from alcohol, soda and junk food as your source of hydration and fuel.

I always recommend packing enough drink and snacks that can be rationed for 72 hours just in case something goes wrong.


Hiking Gear Essentials #4 – First Aid Kit

Everyone should carry a first aid kit in their backpack – everyone! When first aid emergencies occur, and you don’t have the right response essentials, further hazardous issues can evolve from it. For example, a simple Band-Aid over a blister on your foot can make a horrible hiking experience into a very manageable one. I carry antihistamines with me because if I get stung by a bee, I’ll swell up and break out into hives since I’m allergic to the venom. Medical supplies is weight that you might want to really thoroughly consider having otherwise when you need it the most and it’s not there, the weight issue isn’t going to matter, anymore. 

One important note that I tend to preach about first aid kits is first aid knowledge. Only pack first aid items in your kit that you know how to use. If you don’t know how to use it, get rid of it. At one time, I was a certified and licensed first responder. I have CPR and AED training and I have a degree in emergency management and public health. I also used to be an assistant fire chief. If you can get first aid training-do it-even if online or virtually because the more experience and education you have, the better the outcome can be. Who knows, you might even save your buddy’s life with that sort of knowledge.

A simple first aid kit designed for outdoor use is good enough and shouldn’t cost that much.


Hiking Gear Essentials #5 – A Knife and a Folding Saw

Carry a knife in your hiking gear essentials backpack for several reasons. You might need to cut something or use a knife to repair an item. You might need to use the knife for an emergency medical procedure if you’re educated to do so. You might even need that knife to defend yourself from an animal or even a human being. A simple sturdy and sharpened pocketknife should be all that you need to toss into your pack. I suggest keeping the knife close to you in case you need it in a hurry. On the case of weapons, some folks wish to carry a concealed firearm which is legal in the Shawnee National Forest if you have a Conceal Carry License that is up to date. You cannot bring the firearm into a wildlife preserve or a state/federal building. Make sure you research the local, state, tribal and federal laws of an area before carrying a weapon of any kind.

A folding saw is another good tool to carry. If you need to build a fire to get warm, create light, protect yourself from an animal or cook food/boil water – a folding saw will provide a tool for you to cut limbs and sticks. You can get a folding saw from practically any large retail store that sells camping gear and they are relatively cheap as well. You don’t need anything significant – a simple folding saw will come in handy if it ever needs to come in handy.

A good knife and a folding saw will run you about $50 and up.


Hiking Gear Essentials #6 – Extra Clothing and Accessories

There are many reasons why you might need to pack extra clothing. You might fall in water in the freezing cold and require dry clothing to prevent cold weather emergency medical situations. You might get muddy and want to get into cleaner clothing. You might be cold and need to add an extra layer of clothes to become warmer. Whatever the reason may be, it is better to be prepared than to not be prepared. With extra clothing though, comes extra weight. I counter this issue personally by carrying an extra long sleeve shirt with dry-fit technology and a pair of insulated running tights. These items can serve as clothing to wear alone or to layer and they are extremely light weight. An extra pair of socks is also highly recommended!

Accessories means clothing items that you might need for a special occasion. For example, I carry a poncho in case it rains or in case I need to use it for a makeshift shelter in case I must bed down for the night and stay in the forest. I carry a pair of gloves too even when its warm out. You must protect your hands. If you plan to cross creeks, consider carrying some light-weight crocs or sandals so you don’t have to get your main footwear and socks all wet. And finally, carry a light-weight towel especially if you think it might rain or it will be hot, and you need to wipe the sweat off.

Given the current crisis at hand, it is also recommended to carry a mask or face covering with you as well.


Hiking Gear Essentials #7 – Navigation

Navigating the forest is very important to all who hike and backpack through it. If you get lost in the woods, you risk further hazards and injury. Getting lost also means that emergency services are tied up looking for you and that people must violate social distancing in order to attempt to locate you. Getting lost can be scary but its completely avoidable by carrying proper navigational hiking gear essentials with you during your hike. Luckily, there are so many different options that are available these days!

A paper map and a compass are still a very good way of navigating the forest if you know how to use it all. I highly recommend getting an understanding of topography before relying on maps because it’ll save your strength in the end. A dedicated GPS unit is a good idea but please ensure that you know how to use it before relying on it. You can also find GPS-based applications for smart phones that don’t require cell phone data to work. Most of those require you to download maps for offline use while you have data! It is often wise to carry multiple forms of navigation while hiking.

Although it is not popularly used, an Emergency Locator Beacon might also be ideal if you are new to the hiking and backpacking scene.


Hiking Gear Essentials #8 – Light

Can you see well in the dark? Can you see the hundreds of unprotected wells throughout the Shawnee National Forest? Can you see the edge of the bluff that drops 200 feet onto boulders? Can you see the faint single-track trail? Being able to see in the dark is extremely important when it comes to hiking. Most of us plan to only hike during the day unless otherwise decided. But situations can happen, and we might find ourselves in the forest after dark. Pack a light source and pack some extra batteries too. Flashlight, headlamp, both… – whatever you decide, make sure you pack it, just in case you really need it.

Another important form of light to pack is the ability to light a fire. If you need to cook, boil water, sterilize a knife, get warm or whatever and a fire is required, you need to make sure you have something to create the fire with. I recommend waterproof and windproof matches AND a lighter as a backup source. You might carry some fire starter with you as well. In the end, remember, ONLY YOU can prevent wildfires so, please ensure that your fire is completely out and cold to touch before leaving it for any reason.

Caving societies often require 3 forms of light when exploring caves. I think the same practice is a good idea for general hiking and backpacking.


Hiking Gear Essentials #9 – Water Purification

Now we’ve already discussed staying hydrated while enjoying the National Forest but what happens if you run out of water? Accidents can happen and water bottles can leak or break. You might find yourself drinking more water and running out. If you get lost, you might not have enough water. You might need to use your water for emergency situations like putting out a fire or cleaning a wound. Having backup water sources is ideal but too much weight can really create a bad experience as well. Therefore, I highly recommend a water purification method. This way, if you really need it, you can purify water whether its flowing in a creek and not moving at all. Learn how to use the water purification method before going hiking, though.

As for what types of water purification you choose to carry, this is up to you. I carry a Sawyer Water Filter that costs about $20 from any outdoors or sporting goods store. It’s easy to use and often widely available. Other brands are often suggested as well. Some people choose Life Straws or even purification tablets. Try to purify water that is moving rather than water sitting still. If still water is our only option, purify it several times being consuming it.

Because of all the agricultural chemicals used today, it is very unwise to drink creek or even natural spring water without doing a purification process. You could poison yourself if you do.


Hiking Gear Essentials #10 – Sprays and Creams

Sprays and creams and I don’t mean beauty, either! First, lets focus on creams and that is sunblock cream. The sun can hurt you if you’re exposed too long in it and some parts of the forest are open. It is a very good idea to carry sunblock cream of at least SPF 50 or higher. A sunburn while hiking can really make for a miserable experience especially if you burn easily.

Sprays are in terms of insect repellent. Hiking in the late spring, summer and early fall months will often include mosquitoes, biting flies and ticks. Learn about how to use a chemical called permethrin in order to protect yourself from potential life-threatening ticks. Use sprays, creams and wipes containing DEET for the most effective methods of repelling mosquitoes and biting flies. I’ve also found success in using lemongrass spay for mitigating biting gnats and that spray has less chemicals and more nature elements. No spray at all will most likely makes for a very miserable experience.

You might also carry an “after bite” cream with you to tend to bug bites after they happen. Sprays and creams are not always 100% effective.


Well, there you have it, 10 hiking gear essentials for hiking the Shawnee National Forest or really, any forest or natural area. I hope you enjoyed reading this article. If you did, please do me a favor and share it with others, especially on social media. Please leave a comment down below and tell me other hiking gear essentials that you tend to carry as well. Search for Hiking with Shawn on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for more exclusive content from me. Want a Hiking with Shawn T-Shirt? Buy one today from my Official Merch Shop! Thanks again for reading this article and until next time, I’ll see you on the trail!

Shawn J. Gossman

Shawn J. Gossman


Shawn is the founder and host of the YouTube Channel, Hiking with Shawn as well as Hiking with Shawn LLC. Shawn hikes, backpacks and visits various forested areas in the Shawnee National Forest, local state parks and other areas promoting outdoor recreational activities to obtain video to show to locals and non-locals alike. Please support Shawn’s efforts by sharing this post and leaving a comment below.

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