What to Pack, Wear, and Carry When Hiking to Waterfalls

Written by
Jason Barnette
Posted on
July 26, 2019
Ready to hike out to a beautiful waterfall? Here are few things you might want to take with you for the best trip.
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I love chasing waterfalls. It’s my favorite kind of outdoor activity. Sometimes a waterfall will have a paved path like Anna Ruby Falls in Georgia or Dry Falls in North Carolina. But other times it requires a hefty hike like Grotto Falls in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Hiking to a waterfall is a little bit different than your average hike. You’ll need some different shoes for getting in the water at the falls. And if you’re anything like me you’re gonna want to hang out for awhile once you get there.

Here are the items I recommend you pack, wear, and carry when hiking to waterfalls.

Hiking Shoes I just cannot tell you how much I have loved my Merrell Moab 2 Ventilator Low Hiking Shoes (men’s and women’s). These shoes have been amazingly comfortable with a super grip since the day I bought them. The low profile prevents rubbing around the ankles while hiking uneven terrain around waterfalls.

Water Shoes I have always enjoyed getting in the water around waterfalls, long before I became a travel photographer. Today I enjoy finding unique angles for great photos and that usually requires getting my feet wet. I could just take my socks and shoes off but human feet aren’t exactly made for walking across smooth, slippery river stones. That’s why I use the Crocs Swiftwater Mesh Sandals. These shoes have a pretty solid rubber sole with great grip with a mesh top that dries quickly. Some people swear by these as good hiking shoes as well; they do have a great sole and grip. However, I always carry these in my pack and change if necessary instead.

Rain Jacket There are three things I look for in a rain jacket: the fact it is actually waterproof, breathable, and packable. I found all that with the Columbia Watertight II Rain Jacket (ladies go with the Columbia Arcadia II Rain Jacket). This jacket is lightweight, breathable, and kept me completely dry in rainy conditions. Why should you pack a rain jacket while hiking to a waterfall? Murphy’s Law.

Read More: 7 Waterfalls Near Highlands, NC

Shirt There is always one term I look for when picking out shirts for hiking: quick drying. I’m a sweater and I’m sure after you’ve hiked three or four miles you might be, too. There is nothing more miserable than finishing a hike to a waterfall in a drenched shirt. The North Face Hyperlayer FD (men’s and women’s) has been my favorite hiking shirt for years now. The lightweight shirt is very breathable and even completely drenched its usually dry in about 5-10 minutes.

Pants Spring is usually the best time to visit a waterfall and it tends to still be a little chilly in the mountains. My legs are usually the last part of my body to get cold but still starting out the day in pants with zip-off legs can come in handy sometimes. The Columbia Silver Ridge Convertible Pants have worked great for me. Durable, breathable, and flexible these pants are great for long hikes. I asked several of my of hiker friends who recommended the Columbia Saturday Trail Convertible Pants.

Shorts I keep trying to ditch the cargo shorts but everyone just keeps adding additional pockets! Still, the Columbia Permit II Shorts are pretty good. The pockets are slim, the entire shorts very lightweight and breathable, and it’s durable. For the ladies I’d go with the Columbia Coral Point Shorts.

Read More: The Hidden Anna Ruby Falls in Helen, GA

Daypack It all begins with the daypack to carry everything in. I’ve been a fan of Osprey bags ever since I bought my first one for a trip to Cuba (that unfortunately never happened). For hikes to waterfalls I suggest the Osprey Daylite Plus Daypack. The main compartment can hold everything I list below along with a water bladder, two water bottles, and an additional zippered pocket for snacks.

Dry Sack Sometimes it’s easy to hang wet clothes, socks, and towels on your pack and just hike. Other times you may want to stow the clothing. Whenever I have to put wet items inside my pack I put them inside the Osprey Ultralight 6 Dry Sack. Kinda the opposite of what they’re designed to do (keep stuff dry) but hey it works!

GPS Device I’m all for dedicated GPS devices for the car but when I’m on a trail I like to keep it light and simple. Did you know even if you don’t have cellular service there is still a good chance your cellphone can pick up the GPS signal? That is exactly why I use the AllTrails app. I can preload maps and trails to my iPhone or Apple Watch, track my progress along the trail, and be prepared for the twenty-degree ascent.

First Aid Kit A first aid kit is one of those things you never think about until you need it. Cuts and scrapes are one thing that can be left until you get back to the car. But what about a deep gouge or horrible blister? I have been carrying the Adventure Medical Kit .5 in my daypack for years. The watertight first aid kit has everything I need for day hikes to waterfalls.

Hammock One thing I have learned over the years is to take it slow and enjoy the moment. I used to hike miles to a waterfall, spend thirty minutes capturing photos, and then promptly leave. No more! Now I take my ENO SingleNest Hammock and hang out for awhile. I could nap beside a waterfall all day.

Air Pillow It might just be silly but I cannot use my hammock without a pillow. The Sea to Summit Aeros Ultralight Pillow is inflatable so it’s super lightweight and doesn’t take up much room in the daypack. Trust me when you string up that hammock and wanna take a nap you’ll love having this pillow!

Trekking Poles Did you know even a simple, cheap pair of trekking poles can take a huge load off your knees while hiking? Trekking poles help maintain balance, especially when trekking across uneven terrains often found around waterfalls. To be honest I started out with trekking poles from Walmart and they worked, but it wasn’t until I bought my first set of Cascade Mountain Carbon Fiber Trekking Poles that I realized how much more comfortable it could have been. Whichever pair of trekking poles you buy get one with a cork grip. Just recently I updated to the Black Diamond Trail Ergo Cork Trekking Poles; they’re a little bit heavier but the grip is more comfortable.

Towel You’re hiking to a waterfall. You’re probably gonna get wet. I have had a Sea to Summit Drylite Towel in my pack for years now. They have several different sizes so pick the one that works best for you. I went full-on with the x-large because I’ll also use this towel for outdoor showers and campground showers.

Water Bottle I absolutely love my CamelBak Chute .75L Mag Water Bottle! I have never been a fan of sucking water through a straw or unscrewing a large mouth bottle. The chute opens easily, a magnetic catch holds the lid out of the way, and down goes the water. I have found the 750ml bottle fits perfect in the mesh webbing pockets of every bag I own.

Snacks If there is one lesson I have learned over and over again it is to take snacks even on short hikes! There is no worse feeling then finishing a 4-5 mile hike and realizing your knees are shaking because you just bottomed out. My favorite go-to snack item on the trail is a Clif Bar. One of these dense, nutritious, delicious bars makes me feel like I’ve eaten an entire meal. I’m partial to the Crunchy Peanut Butter but you could also try this variety pack to find your own favorite. Lately I’ve kinda gotten hooked on Nature Valley Sweet & Salty Cashew Granola Bars. I use this as a reward for a good hike!  

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