Day Hiking Essentials: What You Need to Pack & Wear
Hiking is awesome, simple as that.
I encourage everyone – no matter your age or fitness level, to go out and enjoy the nature. Going for a day hike is the perfect way to begin your adventure in the great outdoors.
To make sure all goes smoothly and you come back home happy (although probably a bit tired), check what essential items you need to take with you.
Contrary to packing for a long multiple-nights hike, you can afford to take a few extra items “just in case” and not worry all that much about your pack’s weight.
Preparing those hiking essentials will ensure your trek is safe and pleasant.
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So let’s begin, shall we?
10 Essentials for a day hike
1. Hiking footwear
Shoes. You need good hiking shoes or boots. If the terrain is not very difficult you may want to grab a pair of hiking shoes.
If the hike is in a more alpine area and/or you have ankle issues – take hiking boots with proper ankle support. You can check out the boots I wear and recommend here.
Socks. Forget about your regular cotton socks. You need either lighter coolmax style socks for summer treks in lighter hiking shoes, or double sock system (which I love as a blister prevention) with coolmax think liner and second pair of a bit thicker merino wool socks.
I'm wearing Bridgedale Coolmax liners with thicker merino trekking socks when hiking in boots.
2. Appropriate clothing
This, of course, depends on the season and area you plan on hiking. But no matter the conditions – take only technical hiking attire.
Next to your body have a shirt with the ability to wick moisture away. You might want to read here why I believe merino wool is the best fiber for the base layer when hiking.
Don’t hike in jeans or regular cotton sweat pants – grab a proper pair of hiking pants or athletic shorts. They provide appropriate air circulation and dry fast.
If you plan on hiking in rainy weather, take waterproof pants in addition to a waterproof jacket, especially if it can get windy and cold.
I personally prefer to take the fast-drying hiking pants if it's not too cold, to avoid sweating in waterproofs.
Hiking in the rain can be fun - just come prepared!
Always have extra clothing for unexpected changes in weather. The temperature and weather conditions can differ drastically between valleys and tops, cities and hills.
Always have a warm down sweater or fleece in your backpack. Have a rain jacket in there as well - to protect you not just from rain, but wind, too. It is also good to have a hat, gloves and a buff with you.
Accidents happen and you may be forced to stay the night somewhere up in the mountains – be prepared.
If you would like to get more detailed tips on the right clothes, check out my ultimate packing list for women and my resource page for female hiking & camping clothing and gear.
3. Day backpack
You obviously need something to carry all your things in. Don’t take your regular city pack you use for daily work commute.
Use a hiking backpack with appropriate support and size matching your own body frame. A 20 – 25 l backpack is perfect for a day hike. If you are heading out into alpine area for a long hike (6h+) you might want to take a bit bigger daypack (25 - 30 l)to accommodate the emergency items, like the small sleeping bag and a shelter.
You can check some good examples of day packs for women below:
4. Navigation and orientation
Even if you go for a hike along a well-marked trail, you should have a map with you. The more difficult the trail, the more detailed map you need.
It is good to have a phone with GPS and an app like ViewRanger, but don’t rely only upon it, a good old topographic map is still the best.
Make sure you also have a compass (this Suunto A-30L Compass) on you and learn ahead of time the basics of using it.
How much food and water should you take? That, of course, depends on how long trek you plan and conditions. If it’s supposed to be just a 3-4h trek, simple snacks.
Eat a good, nutritious breakfast at home and stuff into your pack some protein-rich bars, chocolate bars (I love Sneakers), trail mix, string cheese, dry sausage or jerky, oatcakes, crackers... you get the idea :)
If you plan a whole day hike take more food and make sure it’s nutritious. Remember, that you will be more hungry than normally - your body works hard and deserves plenty of fuel!
You might want to take a thermos with ready warm lunch or sandwiches. You also need to take extra food for emergency situations, especially if you go hiking in a more remote area.
Fine, not all my snacks are particularly nutritious or healthy... ;-)
For a whole day of hiking take more water and a small water filtration system (I'm using the tiny mini-Sawyer water filter) if you know there are streams or lakes on your way. If there are no natural water sources – you have to take at least 2l of water, more if it’s hot.
7. Sun and insect protection
Make sure you wear a brimmed hat for sun protection (which doubles as rain protection as well). It is advisable to have sunglasses, especially when hiking on snow or above the tree line.
Take sun lotion and don’t forget to put some also on your ears! (can you tell I'm saying it out of personal experience?) Have a UV-filter lip balm around as well.
Protect yourself from local insects – ticks, mosquitoes or midges can seriously take the fun away from hiking and even endanger your health.
Depending on your needs take a roll-on repellent (no danger of it spilling in your pack) and a long-sleeve shirt. Sometimes taking a head net is necessary.
You might think it’s silly to take a flashlight for a day hike, but believe me – it’s a must. Things can happen and you might end your hike after dark.
And the darkness out in nature is not the same as a night in the city. Take a headlamp with extra batteries.
You never know if you don't have to finish your hike after sunset.
Even if you don’t plan on making a camp, have a box of matches or lighter in your backpack. In a case of sudden changes in weather, accidents or other misfortunes you might be forced to make a fire in order to stay warm. It's a good idea to pack them in a waterproof bag.
10. Safe hiking items
No matter the length of your hike, you should pack a first aid kit with you. It does not have to be a huge bag – just the most important items.
Make sure an emergency blanket (space blanket) is part of the kit – it can save you from hypothermia in an emergency situation.
If you are going out in the mountains for a whole day, it is wise to have an emergency shelter with you as well – a bivy, simple tarp and/or small sleeping bag.
If you are forced to stay the night up in the mountains hypothermia is a very real risk.
Attach a small whistle to your pack for emergency situations.
Pack a knife or a multi-tool with you.
Even if you don’t plan on making a camp, have a box of matches or lighter in your backpack. In a case of sudden changes in weather, accidents or other misfortunes you might be forced to make a fire in order to stay warm.
Phone – I know people survived without it for quite some time, but now that we have them – have it on you. It might be necessary to call help or a taxi. Make sure it is well charged before you leave the house!
Always have some cash on you – not just to buy a coffee at a mountain hotel, but for emergency situations – paying for a taxi or unpredicted night at a shelter.
Always have a warmer layer with you - the moment you stop for a rest, your sweaty body can lose heat very fast!
Other useful things to have during your day hike:
- Toilet paper and a trowel
- Trekking poles – While not essential I highly recommend hiking with trekking poles.
- Writing journal and pen
- Small and light sleeping bag for emergency – esp. If a full day hike
- Bags for garbage to pack with you
- Camera with extra battery plus tripod – for me it’s essential, but I know that not everyone is as crazy about photography as I am!
- Travel medical insurance – check if your regular insurance covers mountain rescue or adventure activities. You might need to buy additional coverage.
- Guidebook for the trail/area – it’s always nice to have a trail description calling our attention to unique places or history we might otherwise miss.
- Thermos for hot drink
- Kindle or a book – for that lovely moment up there, with great view and time to relax and read your favorite book.
Day hike tips:
- Make a packing list and pack the night before, to avoid forgetting an important item
- It’s better to take something you don’t need than miss on something crucial
- Learn more tips on hiking and camping here!
- Do you want to make the next step and go one an overnight hike? Check out my full 3-seasons female packing list for hiking and camping to get ideas of what you need!