Preparing for a day hike is an exciting venture. The chance to hit the trails and spend a day outdoors is an appealing idea for anyone who enjoys nature and wants to get into hiking. However, while you’re getting prepared for a day hike, you might be wondering what you need to take with you. 

You certainly don’t have to carry any bulky or heavy equipment like a tent for a day, but there are definitely a number of essential items that you should pack. Crucial hiking items ensure that your day hike is more comfortable, enjoyable and safe. 

In addition, there are also optional items you might want to carry with you, depending on which hike you choose to do, when you decide to go and your own personal preference.

This packing list will help you take all the essentials that you need for your next day hike, as well as decide what additional items you might want to carry with you. 

Things you need to know before packing for a day hike

Man Reading A Map

Before you start piling items into your daypack, there are some initial considerations you should think about. It’s important to know what kind of hike you’re planning to do, where it is and what kinds of conditions you might face. This will help in deciding what essential and extra items you need to pack. 

Core questions you should be asking yourself include:

  • How remote will I be on the trail? Will there be mobile phone reception and is the trail marked? This will help you decide what kind of navigation and safety items you might need.
  • How long is the hike and how far am I capable of hiking? This will help you decide how much food and water you need to pack.
  • What should I eat on a day hike? To keep yourself energized and hydrated you should consider what kind of food to take with you. High energy snack foods and a substantial meal will help keep you moving for the whole day. 

What is the weather forecast and what kind of conditions will I face? The weather is an important factor to think about for a day hike, as this will help you decide what kind of clothing and wet weather gear you need.

14 essential items for any day hike

Daypack Packing List

Essential items are things that you should pack for a day hike no matter what season or how far it is. This is an essential day hike packing list for any type of hike. 

1. Daypack

A daypack is a small backpack that is used to carry all the essentials that you need for a day outdoors. They are usually between 20 and 50 liters in capacity. The right size daypack really depends on what you need to carry with you. 

There are also different features on daypacks like straps and gender-specific fits which are also important factors to consider. If you’re unsure which daypack you think is right for you, you can read more about what a daypack is and how to choose the correct one

2. Waterproof cover

You never know when it might rain on a hike. Taking a waterproof cover for your daypack as well as a rain jacket or poncho for yourself, is never a bad idea. Weather can change quite quickly, especially in mountainous areas, and so being prepared for wet weather is important for keeping yourself dry.

3. First aid kit

One of the most important hiking essentials is a first aid kit. You should always be prepared for potentially getting hurt or injured, whether it be a blister or something more serious like a sprained ankle or animal bite. These things often happen at unexpected times so it’s important that a first aid kit be at the top of your day hike checklist.

You can purchase a fully stocked first aid kit, or you can put together your own. Essential items for first aid include, plasters or adhesive bandages, sterile gauze pads, fabric bandages, antiseptic cream or wipes, anti-inflammatory or pain relief pills, medical tape and insect sting or anti-itch treatment.

4. Water bottle 

Dehydration is a real risk while you’re exercising and so you should always pack full water bottles before you start your hike. Most daypacks have external bottle pockets on either side, while some people prefer to take a hydration system. Hydration bladders are a sack that you can fill and slide into your daypack with a reachable drinking tube. This means that you don’t have to stop to get your water bottle while you’re hiking. 

A good rule is to take at least two liters of water with you, but this can change depending on the intensity and weather conditions. 

5. Water filter

If you think that you’re going to need to refill your water from streams and natural sources, then you will want to carry a filter with you in order to ensure the water is pure. A safe and efficient water filter like a LifeStraw is a good option. This is a carbon filter that you can use to drink straight from the source. Another option is water purifying tablets such as iodine which you can drop into your own bottle. 

6. Sunscreen and sun protection

Sun protection is an important consideration while hiking. Even on cloudy days, the strong UV rays can still be burning your skin. Sunscreen of at least SPF 15 along with a hat and polarized sunglasses should be on your hiking gear list to protect yourself from sunburn.

7. Lip balm

Wind and UV rays can make your lips cracked and sore. An SPF-rated lip balm with some moisturizer will be able to protect them from the elements and takes up little room in your daypack. 

8. Map, compass and GPS

Navigation tools are one of the most important things to bring when hiking. What kind of navigation device you decide to pack for your day hike depends on your personal preference and experience, as well as how remote the hike is.

A map and compass are useful for remote hikes where there may not be marked trails. However, they do require a certain level of understanding and skill to use. 

A GPS system or phone app can be a good option and backup navigation system. Although they work extremely well in most cases, they can run out of battery or may not be updated frequently. If you’re relying on a GPS device or phone app, you should take a power bank along with you too. 

9. Clothing

You should make sure that you’re dressed appropriately for the weather and conditions expected on your hike. A popular philosophy for hiking is to dress in layers and plan your outfit in a layering system.

This means having base layers for comfort against your skin, mid-layers for insulation and outer layers for warmth and weather protection. As you start to move and generate body heat, you can peel the layers off to cool down. If you stop for a snack, you can then replace some of the layers to keep yourself warm.

10. Food and nutrition

It’s important to bring enough energy along with you to sustain yourself for a full day of hiking. It’s always best to carry slightly more than you think you’ll need, in case your hike is longer or more difficult than planned. 

High energy snacks are the best food items to pack for a day hike. Protein or granola bars are popular items, as are a trail mix made of nuts and dried fruits and beef jerky. For a more substantial meal, you can pack a sandwich or biscuits. Hard meats like salami and cheeses can be appropriate high energy foods for a day hike too. 

11. Multitool/knife

A multitool or Swiss Army knife can come in handy in many different situations while hiking. You can use it for a variety of repair needs as well as even simple tasks like opening food packets. 

12. Headlamp

Although a headlamp might not immediately come to mind when thinking about what to take on a day hike, it should definitely be considered as an essential. A headlamp is important in case your hike takes you longer than expected. If you find yourself out on a trail as the sun is setting, it’s much more comforting knowing that you have a way of illuminating the ground as you make your way back. 

13. Firestarter

Having the tools to make an emergency fire is a safety essential. Carrying firestarter cubes and waterproof matches, don’t add much weight to your daypack but they can ensure that you can start a fire if you need. 

14. Emergency shelter/blanket

An emergency shelter or blanket is an essential safety item for your day hike. In the rare occurrence that you might have to unexpectedly spend a night outdoors, an emergency shelter can protect you from the elements.

They are usually lightweight and compact and don’t take up too much room in your daypack, but they can potentially save your life.

Extra winter daypack essential items

Mountain Views

In winter months your essential items list gets a little longer with extra gear for warmth and insulation required.

Footwear

For most hikes, wearing trail runners or hiking shoes are sufficient. However, in colder and tougher conditions like in winter, you may want to consider investing in hiking boots. Hiking boots are generally more sturdy, insulated and waterproof, making them more ideal for winter day hikes. 

However, if you’re going to be hiking in substantial snow or ice, you might want to consider using additional accessories like microspikes or crampons for grip on the slippery trails. 

Hat and gloves

In order to trap your body heat, you should pack a warm hat like a knitted beanie for your head and thermal gloves for your hands. This will help keep your blood circulating as you move. 

Insulated jacket

For winter day hikes, you should consider packing a down jacket or thick fleece. These jackets are best as outer layers and can keep you very warm in freezing conditions. For the best insulation, you should look at natural down rather than synthetic. These are lightweight, keep your heat inside and can pack down small to fit into your daypack.

Pants

To keep your legs warm in winter, you can opt for thicker hiking pants or decide to layer up on the bottom too. You can wear a thermal base layer or underwear underneath your regular hiking pants. Otherwise, you can invest in winter-specific pants that have a fleece lining. 

Mid-layer insulation 

A middle layer item should trap your body heat and keep you warm in winter. It’s best to keep your mid-layer as a fitted and lightweight option so as not to restrict your movements. You can choose between an ultralight fleece or a thin down jacket. An important tip is to make a mid-layer a zip-up item so that you can remove it or allow air circulation if you get hot.

Base-layer insulation 

While in summer your base layer is more likely a t-shirt, however, in winter, your base layer should be a thermal top for greater insulation. One of the best options is a long sleeve merino wool base layer, which will keep you warm and dry with the moisture-wicking fibres. 

Extra items beyond essential hiking needs

Depending on the hike you choose to do, there are extra items that you might consider taking with you to add extra comfort or enjoyment to your day. 

Trekking poles

Trekking or walking poles may not be considered essential by every hiker, but many don’t like hiking without them. The main benefit of using trekking poles is to increase stability and decrease the impact on your joints. They can be especially useful for rocky terrain, fording rivers and when the trail has long ascents and descents. 

Gaiters

Gaiters are protective gear worn over your lower legs and shoes. They can be useful in protecting yourself from scree, mud and water from rain or snow, as well as leeches and potential snake bites. Whether you decide to wear them is a personal preference and also depends on what kind of trail conditions you might face.

Camera

If you’re someone who likes to document their activities or just a keen hobby photographer, then bringing a camera along with you is an extra item you might consider. This might add significant weight to your pack, but it can also bring more enjoyment to your hike.

GPS watch

Many hikers like to wear a GPS watch like a Garmin, which can record your distance, pace and moving time, as well as, calories burned and elevation gained. Although this is not essential, you might find it interesting to know some of your stats from your day hike. 

Insect repellent 

Depending on where you’re hiking, insects and bugs like mosquitos and flies might be a problem. Carrying bug spray with you might be able to keep them from annoying you while you’re hiking. 

Toilet paper

Obviously if your hike is longer than a couple of hours, you might need to go to the toilet somewhere off the trail. Toilet paper is a useful item to have in your daypack for when you need to go. Just don’t leave it on the trail and remember to leave no trace.

Bag for trash

Leave no trace is an important hiking rule. If you produce any trash while you’re hiking, you need to carry it out with you. Bringing along a bag to carry your trash out is a smart item to bring in your daypack.

Duct tape

Packing some sort of tough tape is a good idea as a repair kit. Duct tape can fix a lot of tears or broken gear while you’re out on the trail. You can use it to repair sunglasses, trekking poles or even cover a tear in a water bladder or rain cover. 

Conclusion 

There are so many items that you could possibly pack for a day hike. Knowing what items are essential and what might be considered optional extras, will help you pack more efficiently. By using this essential day hike packing list, you’ll be able to prepare for your next hike with confidence.

Don’t forget to download a Free Printable Checklist

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