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 my reviews of Solomon Quest 4d and Hoka One One Tor Ultra Hi boots. Take care when choosing your pair in the store - walk around, try them with a backpack on fill with weights) or on an incline. Break them in before hitting the trails!
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 thin liner and a second pair of a bit thicker merino wool socks. You may also try a pair of five-toe sock if you tend to have blisters on your toes.
I often wear Bridgedale Coolmax liners with thicker merino trekking socks when hiking in boots.
See some excellent examples of hiking boots and socks below:
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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 wear underwear and 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. Wearing technical synthetic shirt is also a great idea.
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. But if it’s cold - there is nothing like a pair of waterproofs. You might want to take a pair with zips running all the length of legs, so you don’t need to take your boots off to put them on.
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. When we hike, wearing layers is the most important thing - it prevents overheating and can be quickly adjusted to the needs.
Accidents happen and you may be forced to stay the night somewhere up in the mountains – be prepared.
Check out below for some high-quality examples of hiking clothes:
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 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 a trek you plan and the 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... ;-)
Learn more about hydration while hiking in this article!
If you are new to the world of hydration systems, take a look below at some of your options:
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.
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.
Under the “fire” I would put all things that can give you protection from the elements. It used to be that fire was the only source of warmth, light or food preparation in the Outdoors, but not anymore. We should light the fire only in a severe life-or-death situation. Other than that, we can pack a headlamp for light, extra layers of isolating clothing for warmth, emergency bivy or even a small sleeping bag for a night sleep, and an ultralight cooking system with a pack of dehydrated meal “just in case” to survive unexpected night in the Wild.
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 and pack an extra power bank!
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 unexpected 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.
If you like to spy on wildlife from a safe distance - grab binoculars with you!
Take a look below at some fantastic (and often must-have) pieces of hiking gear - perfect for your day-long adventure!