Gear - What to take with you
In progress: I will adding to this section and expanding it with images links etc. All suggestions welcome.
Before you get started you need to make sure you have the essentials. Luckily there are plenty of mountains that require no special clothing or gear to have a great time. I have decided to give you my perspective on the types of gear I use. There are plenty of great youtube videos and websites with plenty of details on the best gear. It can be depressing looking through the wide range of expensive and professional gear that is available. When you start out however you need to think about what is important and buy cheaper gear which will be ok for the time being and replace and upgrade stuff as you go.
- Gloves: Useful for rocky climbing, grabbing and holding on to trees and to stay warm in the winter months. I use a pair of rubber grip outdoor gloves for the warmer months and thicker trekking gloves for the winter clothes. It is a good idea to choose a product that won't tear easily and has some grip to them on the fingers and palms.
- Hat: In the summer a sun hat is essential. Although most mountain areas on Kyushu are forested there are still plenty that are not. Even on the most forested hikes there are sections which will expose you to the sun for long periods of time. Choose a fabric that dries easily and is nice and light. In the winter a good thermo hat is worth taking especially for the mountain peaks where the wind chill can really bring the temperature down. A neck warmer may also be useful to take during the winter.
- Backpack/rucksack: I suppose this is obvious but the variety of backpacks available at any sports store can be staggering. Important things to consider are the capacity for a simple day hike a 20 litre to 30 litre backpack are more than big enough. If you are planning to camp out you will need more space for clothes, cooking gear etc. Other good features are a chest strap and/or a waist strap for added support. I prefer bags made of Polyamide which is water resistant and light. If you are planning on hiking in wet weather getting a pack cover is advised as they are cheap and will help protect your bag from downpours. Water getting in your pack can be one of the worst things when hiking.
- Water: In the winter I found I drank very little water but in the summer I go through it very quickly. Many mountains have water sources or even vending machines at certain levels. The spring water is generally safe to drink on the mountain but you should never drink from rivers at the base as it will likely have runoff from agriculture usually from rice cultivation and may contain pesticides and fertilizers.
There are many companies making these. The sports store Himalaya have very affordable own brand version (Vision Peaks). Some of the best brands are Salomon, Keen, La Sportiva an and Merrell. I use Salomon for my hiking boots and trail runners they have a tight fit and have always been comfortable.
- Comfort is key. For many hikes a good pair of sports shoes will be sufficient. For the longer and more adventurous hikes a good pair of hiking boots or shoes can be a real help. So what to look for?
- Grip: Even if you are intending to use your regular sports shoes or sneakers the first thing you should do is check the soles. If the tread has become worn is slips easily you should consider replacing them or getting some more specialised footwear. HIking boots or trail running shoes have have good grip and the more premium products have their own technologies and microfibres to improve the grip. Adidas even have a pair of shoes where they have partnered with the tyre manufacturer Continental to mimic their popular mountain bike tyres.
- Water Resistance: Hiking or trail footwear usually have more water resistance than regular sports shoes. The more expensive models are often made of Gore-Tex which I have found to be great. The alternative to that is to use a waterproof spray to help add more water resistance to your shoes. If you are planning on hiking in very wet weather your feet could get wet no matter what shoes you have so buying a pair of trail gaiters is a good plan. They are inexpensive and help greatly increase the water resistance of your footwear.
- Socks: It is important not to only think about the shoes. Getting a good pair of hiking socks will add alot of comfort and support to your feet. Many have elastic and look a little like flight socks in places.
This is the longest list because so much of what to take is optional and dependant on the length, terrain and style of your hike.
- Head lamp: If you are likely to be out at night consider packing a LED head lamp. They don't cost much (Even the 100Yen shop Daiso and Seria here in Japan sell them!). They are much more useful than a torch as they will keep your hands free.
- Binoculars: I carry a cheap pair of Kenko binoculars. They are on my list to upgrade in the future but work fine for now. They can be fun for looking at wildlife or from the view in the mountains.
- Picnic mat/cushion: A very handy thing to have in your pack this will give you more comfort and a dry surface to rest on. I get mine supercheap from the 100Yen shop.
- Stainless steel cup: You can get good ones from any sports store or outdoor shop. I use a captain stag cup that hangs from the hiking pack.
- Gas Stove: Taking a stove can be a lot of fun even on a day hike. You can cook cup ramen, make a hot cup of coffee or get more ambitious (I even use a Coleman sandwich toaster to have toasted sandwiches!). You should never start a fire when hiking and instead of a Gas stove there are a variety to choose from. Choose something that is simple to use and light weight. I find packing a kettle and a windguard is also very useful in the colder higher mountains.
- Power brick/charger: This is very useful for longer day hikes or overnight hikes. Look out for water/dust resistance. Some even have a Solar panel so you can charge the power brick on the go.
- Hiking/trekking poles: These can be useful on steeper and longer hikes. You can end up spending a lot but I would start more cheaply. I have found a shock resistant two way stick the most useful. But a double set is also a good idea as it will help take the burden off your knees if you have a heavy pack on the descents. By a cheap pole first and see how much you end up using it.
- Pocket Knife/Multi tool: This may be useful. I bought one a long time ago and take on longer hikes but honestly I have never used it.
- Compass: This is useful to take on longer hikes where you are going further away from towns and civilisation. I luckily haven't need to use mine yet as the most valuable navigation tool is a good smartphone with GPS and Google maps. But there are places with little or no coverage and Google does not allow you to download offline maps in Japan.
- Bear bells: These are sold in outdoor shops. They are completely not needed in Kyushu as no bears live on the Island. In the rest of Japan they may be useful on some trails although bear populations remain low even on Honshu and Hokkaido) You can also use them for Wild boar, I have found shouting often scares them off if I notice they are near.
- Wet Weather gear: As mentioned in the sections above if it is likely to rain don't just abandon your plans as the mountains are wonderful even in the rain. Take a pack cover and gaiters. Also take an extra towel and a raincoat, poncho or rain suit. These can be super cheap (Daiso again!) Or cost a lot for Gore-Tex North faces gear. I have an sports depo own brand (Southfield) rain suit that is made of Gore-Tex like fabric that breathes.
The small essentials
- Wet Tissues: Take a small packet of alcohol wet tissues. They are useful for when you heat and for medical purposes
- Bad aids/Plasters: Useful for when you get cuts and scrapes.
- Insect repellant: Not needed in the winter months. In the summer it can mean the difference between getting eaten alive or having a great day out. There are many brands available so check at a drugstore. Check that it contains DEET as it is the best way to protect against the blood sucking insects.
- Sun block: A waterproof variety is good idea which can be more effective when you sweat. Apply generously in the summer!
- Pocket tissues: Keep in a water tight bag!
- Boiled sweets/candy: Very nice to have for that extra sugar boost!
- Extra rubber caps: If you use a hiking pole extra spare rubber caps are useful to pack.
- Onsen gear: Take travel body wash and shampoo, extra towels, and spare clothes if you plan on visiting an onsen or public bath at the end of the hike. (Highly recommended!)
- Spare Batteries: For torches, chargers and lamps.
- Tent/Bivy: The key here is getting something easy to set up and very light weight. I carry a small bivy tent with just enough room for may pack and me. You can save even more just using a bug net with no fly sheet.
- Camping mallet/Hammer: Very useful for getting those tent pegs in hard stubborn ground.
- Ground sheet: Not essential but it will give you more options if the ground is damp. You can also use it as a Tarp and hang it over your camp area if you get a larger size sheet.
- Sleeping bag: In summer you could get away with a blanket only. In winter you may also need a thermal blanket. Again here get something small and light weight. Spend a little more for a smaller size. Check the recommended season: Usually it is displayed as 3 Season or 4 Season. Adding winter will increase the price, size and weight.
- Airbed: There are plenty of very durable and lightweight air mattresses available. Get one made for camping which can be inflated using your own breath and that is also lightweight and compact.
- Camping pillow: This is optional. But for me very useful. I use a Coleman pillow which is a hybrid between fabric filling and air. It is a little larger but also very comfortable.
- Lighting: Your headlamp may be enough. I also like to take a small and compact LED lantern which can hold away. This adds to the comfort and it easier to use in the middle of the night.