So, you’ve picked the date, time, and trail and your hike is getting closer. And now you might be wondering, what exactly do you need to have a successful and safe day hike? Here we will review some day hike essentials, so you know what kind of hiking gear to wear, pack, and bring when you set out on the trail.
Day Hiking 101
Let’s start with the basics. What is a day hike? A day hike is a hike that can be completed in one day. This could mean a large variety of distances and is dependent on the person or group completing the hike. Choosing a trail that is easier than you think you’re capable of is a great way to get started. This allows you to test out your gear without being too far out of your comfort zone.
If you are looking for a trail, there are several ways to find day hikes in your area. You can talk with local park rangers, find books about hiking trails in your area, or use an online application like AllTrails.
When choosing a hiking trail to get started, it is important to consider the difficulty of the trail. Frequently the difficulty rating scale that is used is “easy”, “moderate”, and “hard” but they sometimes add an additional category of “strenuous” or “challenging”.
Ratings are not just about distance for hikes. Instead, difficulty ratings factor in the total mileage of the hike, the elevation where the hike begins and how much elevation is gained during the hike, as well as the type of terrain. A hike can be 1 mile long and rated “hard” because it has significant elevation gain or involves technical skills like scrambling or ropes. A 7-mile hike could be rated “easy” because it is mostly flat and on a paved path.
Lastly, when hiking, it’s important to tell someone who is not hiking with you where you’re going and when you expect to be back. That way rangers and authorities can be alerted if you’re not back at a reasonable time.
Day Hiking Essentials
Now that you know what is considered a day hike and how to find day hikes near you, let’s talk about what to wear, bring, and pack on your adventure.
What to Wear on a Day Hike
Hiking requires a lot of movement so most importantly you want to make sure that you’re comfortable and not restricted by your clothing. When just getting started, search your closet for some non-cotton athletic clothing that you don’t mind getting a little dirty. You want to avoid cotton since it absorbs too much moisture and does not help you regulate your body temperature.
From a footwear perspective, you should wear shoes with good grip to make sure you stay safe on the terrain. Avoid old sneakers that have all the traction rubbed off on the bottom. Wearing wool socks can prevent you from getting blisters and from getting smelly feet.
Additional layers are also an important day hiking essential. Check the weather in advance of your hike, you may also need gloves, hat, and a jacket/raincoat depending on the weather and season.
What to Pack on a Day Hike
Now that you’re outfitted for your day hike, let’s talk about what kind of gear and other items to bring with you. This list is commonly referred to as the “Ten Essentials for Hiking”, but as you can see the list is a little longer than 10 items and has evolved over time.
- Hiking Pack – The items that you bring along with you should fit into your hiking backpack. If you’ll be sticking with easy and moderate hikes of a shorter distance, it is best to keep your day hiking pack on the smaller side, so you are not carrying extra weight. This hiking pack is a great choice for day hiking.
- Water – If there was a ranking list for the most important day hiking essentials, water would probably be at the top. You should factor in about half of a liter of water per hour of hiking or head to the hydration calculator to determine your ideal level of hydration. This would mean for a 2-hour hike you would need 1 liter of water. And it’s always good to bring more than you think you will need. Remember, if you’re are hiking with a furry friend to factor in some water for them as well.There are two ways to pack your water – in either water bottles or a water reservoir. Water reservoirs, also known as hydration bladders, allow you to continuously sip your water without having to stop. But you may prefer the familiarity of a water bottle. If you’ll be hiking for longer than the amount of water that you can carry, carrying a water filter is another essential for your day hike packing list.
- Food – Hiking makes you hungry. Bringing snacks that are easy to eat on the go can be helpful if you don’t intend to stop each time you want a snack. Clif bars, trail mix and fruit are always great options. Always remember to pack more snacks than you think you will need.
- Navigation – Know your route in advance. Look at the map and signs at the trail head, if applicable, to see if there’s anything to look out for while you are on the trail such as detours or closures. If you are using navigation from your phone, download the map in advance and have a backup phone battery in case your phone dies. Having a backup paper map is always a good idea. For more intense day hiking, consider a satellite communication device with GPS.
- Sun protection – Protecting your skin from UV rays is important year-round. Remember to pack (and wear) sunscreen, sunglasses, a hat, and UPF (Ultraviolet Protection Factor) layers of clothing.
- Layers – Layers that are packable and take up a small amount of room in your bag are extra helpful. Think of a rain jacket or lightweight poncho, a packable down jacket, and extra socks.
- Headlamp – Whether you’re out after dark because you caught an awesome sunset or because the trail was a little longer than expected, you’ll be happy to have a headlamp. The headlamp will allow you to keep both of your hands free to navigate instead of using a flashlight. Make sure to pack extra batteries.
- First aid and medications – Bring a small first aid kit, foot care items, insect repellent, and medications that you may need on the trail. Make sure to check your first aid kit and know how to use the items that are included.
- Repair kit and tools – A gear repair kit and knife will be helpful if something unexpected occurs.
- Fire – Matches, lighter, tinder and/or stove. These are especially important for longer hikes in the backcountry, but even on shorter trails make sure to bring a small waterproof container to keep a few matches in. Remember that there are restrictions on where you can have a fire when in the outdoors.
- Shelter – Since you are planning for a day hike, you won’t have a sleeping bag or tent with you. Instead, pack a small emergency bivy (aka bivouac) in your pack that can serve as emergency shelter if something unexpected happens.
- Trekking poles – These are optional, and the use of trekking poles should be based off individual preference. If you have hip or knee problems, trekking poles can off-set some of the impact from your legs to your arms and make for a more enjoyable trail experience. It also may be helpful to use a pack that can carry trekking poles such as the Cloudwalker 18 Hydration Pack.
Day Hiking Checklist
Now that we have covered the details of your day hike essentials, print out this check list and review it before each hike. It may also be helpful to leave items such as your emergency shelter, fire, and first aid permanently in your day hiking pack, so you don’t ever forget them.
We’ve compiled the ultimate day hike packing list to help make sure you’ve got everything you need for a day out on the trail.
- Day hike clothing
- Extra socks
- Hiking shoes
- Hiking pack
- Extra phone battery
- Rain jacket
- Extra batteries for headlamp
- First aid
- Insect repellent
- Repair kit
- Emergency bivy sack
- Trekking poles
Day Hike Essentials
Remember that this day hike essentials checklist is a guide, and your exact packing list should factor in the difficulty, duration, and remoteness of your hike. For example, you will want more of a certain item on your list, like food, if you know your trail is going to take you a while. If you know there is an abundance of water that you can filter on the trail, you could pack less water initially and filter it along the way to reduce weight. You may not need a rain jacket in the desert but may want to bring both a rain jacket and a poncho in the forest.
Now with the perfect day hiking pack and other essentials, you’re ready to hit the trail! Happy hiking.
Download the Day Hike Essentials Packing Checklist