Waterfall Hiking: An Essential Gear Guide
Since there isn’t much to do this summer besides be outside, I know many are heading outdoors. Last weekend we went to Red River Gorge, and I have never seen that many people there! What’s the first thing you think of when you hear ‘waterfall hike’? Is it the views? The refreshing water on a hot summer day? Is it the wet feet? Waterfall hikes are without a dought one of my absolute favorite kinds of hikes. It makes me feel the hike itself was worth it in the heat! But, while waterfall hikes are my favorite, I’ve learned that being prepared to hike to and enjoy the waterfall is worth my time pre-hike!
There’s no doubt having wrong shoes can make you turn around mid-hike because your knees and feet hurt. But what else do you need to enjoy a good waterfall hike? Here is our guide to essential gear for waterfall hiking.
The best waterfall hiking days are the hot ones where you need physical activity. Drinking water seems like a no brainer for hiking in general, but it’s wise to remember that on humid or hot days (especially in dryer climates), you need more water. As part of essential hiking gear, we always include a reusable water bottle. Some thoughts from REI (The OG Outdoor Guru’s 😉 ):
A good general recommendation is about a half liter of water per hour of moderate activity in moderate temperatures. You may need to increase how much you drink as the temperature and intensity of the activity rise. For example, strenuous hiking in high heat may require that you drink 1 liter of water or more per hour. – Rei ‘Hydration Basics’
I don’t know about you, but I don’t know what 1 liter looks like? When I went looking for a trail water bottle: I just wanted something close to 1 liter so that I could figure out how much water I should be drinking. This water bottle is 32 ounces ( a little under 1 liter). It’s also collapsible and stows easily for longer backpacking trips! (We try only to buy double-duty gear that works for a variety of adventures!)
Two Peas Organics has a perfect sunscreen to include in your essential gear for waterfall hikes. This sunscreen has less of an environmental impact and is better for your skin! Two Peas Organics also has a 30 SPF and a sunscreen stick if that application is easier for kiddos or your face. I’ve also found this one rubs in really well. Sometimes mineral sunscreen can leave a white sheen over your skin, but this one works better!
If you’re wondering why ‘reef-safe’ is essential: there are a ton of articles about the impacts of sunscreen on the coral reefs. National Geographic estimates, ‘14,000 tons of sunscreen are thought to wash into the oceans each year’. The harmful chemicals in non-natural sunscreen are oxybenzone and oxtinoxate. They kill off corals reefs when absorbed and have hormone disruption impacts in humans. Overall, products like that don’t feel safe around my family and friends!
If you’re looking for a comfortable waterproof backpack: this one is only $16 and has over 6k good reviews on Amazon. The best thing about this bag is that while yes, it’s a great lightweight day bag (perfect for waterfall hikes), it’s also great for backpacking. Many times when we were backpacking through Italy, we didn’t need our full backpacks. (A 40 L backpack is better off left in an Airbnb for the day!) So while we left our bags – the day bags were terrific to be able to throw down in the sand or a bus floor on our adventures. If you look at the image to the left of the backpack – you’ll also notice that it also folds up to become pretty compact!
With it being waterproof as well – we were ready for just about anything the day could throw our way! When doing a waterfall hike – one of the advantages is getting in and cooling off in the summer. Kentucky is what we joke and call the Jungle of the South. It’s hot, humid and there’s water everywhere. While enjoying your reward for hiking the Jungle of the South, your camera and belongings are safe. (It also eliminates the need for a heftier dry bag!)
You need a quick-drying microfiber towel for the same reason you need a waterproof day bag. (So you can enjoy the waterfalls you worked hard to get to!) Every waterfall hike we’ve ever done has required us to trudge through and get a little wet here and there. While this may not sound like the right hiking conditions – to get the views from the bottom or top is worth it! Not to mention that when hiking to a waterfall – you’re more than likely going to be in a pretty wet area because the best time to see waterfalls is after it rains.
The other great thing about including a quick-drying microfiber towel in your pack – these are mold and mildew resistant. As many times as I’ve forgotten mine in my car after a long day of hiking – they don’t get smelly! These towels also have the benefit of being able to be shoved back in your bag because they dry so fast—you on hiking to the next waterfall or trekking back to the car comfortably.
Water shoes are a cheap, easy, and much-needed addition to your gear. They don’t weigh you down (mine weigh maybe 10 ounces total), and I never regret packing them! Have you ever heard of ‘river-walking’? So many times, we’ve walked the creek or stream that feeds the waterfall, and found some pretty epic views!
The reason we wear these shoes while we do it is so that whatever may be underfoot, (glass from people who don’t respect the trails), doesn’t bother you while you’re there to enjoy. It also protects you from slipping as much on the rocks surrounding the waterfall. Every time we’ve hiked to a waterfall in Kentucky- there are slippery rocks that we just want to climb all over. These water shoes specifically have a more rough bottom that other water shoes which provide your feet with more grip!
I own this solar charger, and I’ve brought it many times while hiking! As with all of my gear, I like it to serve double duty to conserve as much space and weight as possible. Combining a charger, compass, and flashlight into one item makes it an easy, lightweight addition to my pack for any hiking days!
Even though I do try to remember to keep my phone charged – after hiking for hours, my phone gets pretty low. Especially if we’re doing a waterfall hike up to such an incredible spot, sometimes that means hiking deep into a ravine or gorge! I don’t know about you, but a 7-mile round trip hike means that I want to stay on the trail, which I follow carefully on the Alltrails app! I won’t be lost in the middle of the night out in the woods because I **thought** I knew where I was going. These apps, although super helpful, will drain your battery pretty fast from continually being checked and having to update.
Packing snacks is the biggest part of my job for every adventure we go on. If you have low blood sugar, you get hangry, or thirsty – your adventures will be much less enjoyable. For all-day hikes, my favorite lunch to pack is the Veggie Mandoline Sandwich. We jokingly named it that after making it a few times and absolutely loving it! Click here for a quick recipe! My other favorite trail snacks are fruit, granola, jerky, and gummies for a little sweet treat!
Whenever I pack any snacks that require a ‘baggie’, I only use re-usable zip lock bags. This set from Amazon has worked amazingly and is easily washed by hand. Eco friendly ‘leave no trace’ principles are so important on the trails! Keeping them clean and not leaving your trash behind makes them better for everyone!
Warm weather means more extended periods for mosquitos, ticks, etc. to thrive and BITE! Here in Kentucky, the diseases you can get from being bitten by a mosquito are malaria, yellow fever, dengue, Zika, and West Nile, to name a few. Even if you’re like me and don’t get bitten often – mosquitos thrive around wet areas, and your chances are higher of being bitten around waterfall hike locations.
To avoid coming home at night to legs and arms covered in bug bites- spray thyself. As always, when I’m choosing a bug spray – I want to know that I’m not putting something on my skin that’s going to cause environmental impacts or impact my health. Brands like Sky Organics, and Repel offer plant-based insect repellents that are pretty effective! (While there is no concrete evidence that DEET, a significant component of non-natural insect repellents, is harmful – I prefer not to use something unnatural if possible!)
Make Your Trips Comfortable!
As always, remember my favorite phrase: ‘Know thyself’!
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