Day Hike Essentials: What to Bring on a Day Hiking Trip

If you’ve ever asked yourself what to bring on a day hike, you’re in the right place. While it might not seem like you need much if you’re going on a short hike, it’s essential to come prepared to be out in the woods longer than expected.

The weather could turn, you could get lost or hurt, or the hike just may take longer than planned. While it’s unlikely these things will happen, you don’t want to find yourself in a situation where you don’t have the right hiking essentials.

This day hiking packing list will make sure you’re prepared for anything.

10 Essential For Your Day Hiking Packing List

Sawyer water filter _ Day Hiking essentials

Hydration

Water should always be at the top of your hiking checklist. It is one of the most important things to bring on a day hike. But how much water do you need? That depends on the climate you are in and the difficulty/length of your hike.

On most of my day hikes, I bring 2L and that is often more than enough. If you are doing a strenuous hike in a hot climate, you’ll need to bring more water to compensate for what you lose sweating. While I’m hiking in Puerto Vallarta, I always bring extra water due to the hot climate.

On any day hike, you should bring something that can purify a water source around you in case you run out, such as a LifeStraw.

This can also be a good way to cut down on weight by not having to carry all the water with you. If you don’t want to invest in a water purifier, you can just buy water purification tablets.

If you are going on a lot of day hikes, I highly recommend investing in a hydration pack. It makes staying hydrated while hiking so much easier.

Food

Snacking may be one of my favorite parts about hiking. Did you know that hiking can burn up to 500 calories an hour?! It’s just one of the many amazing benefits of hiking!

Hiking brings your heart rate up and works your entire body, which kicks your metabolism into high gear. That’s great, but to make sure you have enough energy to keep hiking, you need to refuel your body!

Always pack more food than you think you need for a hike. The amount of food you need to pack for a hike will depend on the hike’s difficulty and your overall fitness level. As a general rule of thumb, you’ll want to pack an extra day’s worth of food in case of an emergency.

Being able to snack so much is one of my favorite parts about hiking, but it’s important that you replace those calories with high-quality food that will help sustain you through the hike.

Some great snacks for hikers are Pro-bars, fairtrade chocolate, dried fruit, jerkey, and trail mix.

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Sun protection

As much as I love hiking in the sunny weather of Mexico, it can easily dehydrate you or leave you with a bad sunburn. It’s not enough to put sunscreen on before you leave for a hike, you need to keep it in your pack so that you can reapply.

For every hike, make sure you have sunscreen, SPF lip balm, a brimmed hat, and Sunglasses with UV protection.

Ball caps are also great as they keep my hair out of my face! Patagonia has some really cute ones.

Clothing can also be an effective way of blocking out sun rays without having to coat yourself with sunscreen. Many synthetic clothing comes with a UPF to indicate how effective they are against the sun.

First Aid

A basic first aid kit is one of those essential hiking supplies that you don’t want to hit the trails without. You might not need it every time, but for those one-off situations, you will be glad that you carried it with you.

The first aid kit should include treatments for blisters and splinters, bandages, gauze pads, antibiotic ointment, nitrile gloves, and over-the-counter pain medication. This isn’t a necessity, but if you are prone to blisters you can take blister balm with you.

Rehydration salts are another item you may want to put in your day hiking gear. If you are in a hot climate and not drinking enough water, you risk becoming dehydrated. This happened to me when hiking Kilimanjaro. I became severely dehydrated, feeling nauseous and weak. Thankfully rehydration salts helped me to recover quickly and I was able to complete the hike.

You should also carry insect repellant with you, because bugs can be relentless in the woods, especially at dusk. It’s also a good idea to bring treatment for bug bites such as Afterbite.

If you don’t have time to assemble your own kit, REI sells some great pre-assembled First Aid kits. These are small, lightweight, and a perfect addition to your day hiking pack.

Kilimanjaro gear list

Light – Headlamp

It may seem unnecessary to bring a headlamp with you on a day hike, but this is actually very important.

While out in the woods, anything could happen. 99.9% of the time you’ll be perfectly fine and will get back to your starting point in daylight, but do you really want to be stuck outside in the woods for that .1% chance without a light?

DO NOT count on your phone as a source of light. Photo batteries die quickly, especially in the woods when they are searching for reception. And once you start using it as a flashlight, it will drain even faster. It’s so important to bring a headlamp and a spare battery! It could save your life.

We hiked the Three Ridges Loop when I was 16 weeks pregnant. For obvious reasons, we ended up taking much longer than expected and had to finish the last 1.6 miles in the dark. I can’t express how happy I was that we had our headlamps with us! It’s for that reason that a good headlamp is one of my hiking must haves.

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A pocket knife

A pocket knife is helpful for so many things while hiking, including first aid (cutting gauze and tape), cooking, fixing gear, making kindling, and emergency situations. While many advocate for Swiss Army knives, we find that the Coast pocket Knife has always been sufficient for us.

Navigation

One of the most important things you need for a hike is navigation. Depending on the length of the trail and where you are going, this may be a map, compass, altimeter, GPS device, or personal locator beacon (PLB). Of course, the most important thing is you know how to work the navigation.

Smartphones have come a long way and apps like Alltrails make it very easy to follow trails. However, not all hikes are listed on the app and they won’t work offline without buying the premium version of the app (which I do recommend). Another problem with phones is that they can die on you.

It’s always a good idea to have a backup plan. Bring a map of the area or invest in a reliable GPS watch. We use the Garmin line and recommend the Fenix 7x model. Although it is pricey, it is consistently ranked one of the best GPS watches for hiking.

At the very least, bring a compass with you.

Mary's Rock, Shenandoah National Park

Safety – Fire & Communication

You’ll want to bring something that can help you make and retain a fire, in case you get stuck outside and need to stay warm.

The easiest thing to bring is a lighter, although waterproof matches can also work. Put them in a waterproof container to be safe. Another option is to bring a Fire Starter Kit.

In an emergency, you may need to call for help. Your phone may work, but there’s a good chance you won’t have a signal. If you are hiking in a really remote area, it’s a good idea to bring a satellite responder with you.

At the very least, bring a safety whistle with you in case you need to signal for help. Your voice will weaken the longer you call for help, but the whistle won’t give out. This is also a great safety item for backpacking, especially as a solo female traveler. This Coghlan’s whistle also has a compass so you can kill two birds with one stone.

Emergency Shelter

You should always pack some type of emergency shelter in your day hike gear to protect you from the wind and rain in case something happens on the trail and you are out there longer than expected. This is nature, and the elements can change quickly.

Examples of emergency shelters are an extra large garbage bag, an ultralight tarp, a lightweight bivy, or an adventure emergency blanket.

Layers

It’s crazy how fast the temperature can change in certain landscapes, especially if you are hiking in the mountains or in a desert. Bringing extra layers is the best way to deal with these changes in temperature.

I can’t tell you how many times I started a day hike in clothing suitable for warm climates and then found myself freezing by the end.

Also, if you get lost or injured, you may need to spend a night out in the woods, so having extra clothes to keep you warm and dry will be essential.

The clothing you bring will depend on the climate you are hiking in, but generally, I always bring a warm sweater with me, along with a rain jacket. It’s also important to wear a comfortable pair of hiking boots. I love Merrells!

If you are hiking in colder climates or in the mountains, merino wool layers are key, as well as a warm, lightweight jacket, like this Patagonio nano puff.

You may also need an insulating hat, glove, and scarves if you are in a colder climate. I really like Buffs; they are multifunctional pieces of headwear that can be used as a scarf or to protect your face. 

It’s also a good idea to bring an extra pair of socks for hiking. You may step in a puddle or stream and get yours wet, and they can also double as mittens in an emergency. I love Smart Wool socks.

Beyond the Essentials

hike gear list _ shoes

The following hiking supplies aren’t part of the 10 essentials but are some other helpful things you may want to bring on a day hike.

Hand Sanitizer – Even before the pandemic, this was a useful item for hiking, as you likely won’t have access to a bathroom with running water.

Toilet paper – Self-explanatory. Don’t leave it in the woods! Put it in a bag and take it back with you. Nature doesn’t need any more garbage.

Bear Spray – If you are hiking in areas with bears, it’s a good idea to carry bear spray with you. Keep it in the side pocket of your bag for easy access.

Reusable bag – One way to give back to the earth on your hike is to pick up trash you see along the way. I bring a reusable bag so I can pick up any garbage I find along the trail, or for my own garbage.

Trekking Poles Trekking Poles can be beneficial while hiking, especially down steep terrain.

Solar Battery Bank – your phone will likely be your primary form of communication, so you don’t want it to die on you. They tend to drain quickly while they searching for signal, so it’s a good idea to put it on airplane mode when you aren’t using it. 

A camera to document all the amazing views! I’m obsessed with photography, so I always bring my Sony A7ii + Mavic Mini. But most smartphones these days take amazing photos, and it’s less weight you have to carry.

A comfortable day pack to carry all these items. A 15-30L bag is a good size that will fit all of these items. I’m a big fan of Osprey packs, as many have built-in hydration packs.

Keep all of your essential hiking gear in the bag so you don’t need to look for them each time you go on a hike. 

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