If you’re wondering what to pack for a day hike, then you’re not alone. It’s not always as simple as grabbing a daypack, some water and a snack and off you go. Depending on what hiking trail you’re planning to do, you may have to think about other things like safety and navigation. In this case, a day hike packing list can be very helpful. You can refer to it whenever you’re preparing for your hike and decide what items are necessary and most appropriate.
When it comes to a hiking packing list, there are the so-called 10 essentials, which were established so that hikers were prepared for emergencies on the trail. However, there are also a whole bunch of other items that you might need to pack depending on the hike.
So, if you’re wondering what to pack for a day hike, this comprehensive list and summary of all the hiking essentials will make sure that you’re fully prepared. It’s based on all the trial and error I’ve done on my own hikes, where I’ve often forgotten or just simply neglected some of the key essentials. I hope this breakdown helps you pack a little smarter for your next day hike!
10 essentials for hiking
The 10 essentials for hiking were developed by The Mountaineers, a group of US-based climbers, in the 1930s. It was established to ensure that everyone was adequately prepared for emergencies out on the trail. It has since been adapted and become a worldwide standard for packing for backcountry adventures.
Here’s a look at the 10 essentials and what they mean for your day hike.
Navigation tools can come in a variety of forms, such as paper maps, a compass, guidebook, GPS device or a GPS app on your phone. You should always have at least one, but preferably two or more, navigation tools with you on any day hike. Although GPS apps like AllTrails or Maps.Me have become the primary navigation tool for most people, you should never rely completely on your phone. Phones can die and, even if you have a power bank, you should always have a backup source of navigation.
Obviously, there’s no use in taking a compass and paper map if you don’t know how to use them. If you’re going to be heading completely off-track and into remote country, this is a skill you might want to think about learning.
A headlamp or headtorch is an essential item for hiking in the dark. You may not necessarily be planning on hiking in darkness for your day hike. However, from a safety point of view, carrying a headtorch means that you can be adequately prepared if your hike takes longer than expected. One that is weatherproof is ideal for hiking, as it means you can use it in any situation that you find yourself in. Black Diamond make some of the best and most reliable headtorches.
Sun protection is usually a no-brainer for any outdoor activity. Even if you’re planning on hiking in the middle of winter, you should always have sun protection, including the following:
- SPF-rated lip balm
- Sun protection clothing UPF rated
- A hat
Anything can go wrong on a hiking adventure and a first aid kit is the primary source of treatment you’ll get on a trail. From blisters to more serious injuries, a first aid kit should cover all your bases for the most common risks on a hike. You can buy pre-packed first aid kits from outdoor outlets, or you can build your own.
First aid essentials include:
- Band aids or plasters
- Gauze pads
- Adhesive tape
- Pain or anti-inflammatory medication
Knife or multitool
A multitool can be a useful piece of gear to carry on any outdoor activity. They usually include a foldable knife as well as other useful things like a screwdriver, scissors and a can opener. These can be used for a range of things like gear repair, food preparation, first aid and other emergency situations.
In emergency situations, having a way to start a fire can be life saving. Waterproof matches are a light and easy thing to add to your daypack and can become an essential item if you get stuck out overnight.
Another essential item is an emergency blanket or shelter. These are usually lightweight and pack down to slide into your daypack easily. If you’re stranded or injured on a trail, these blankets or shelters can protect you from the cold and other elements.
It’s always important to carry some snacks with you on a hike. However, for extra safety precautions, it’s recommended to carry more than you think you might need. If you do get lost, injured or stranded, it can be vital that you have enough energy to sustain yourself overnight.
Try to carry non-perishable items and anything that has a long shelf life. Snacks like jerky, nuts or trail mix, muesli bars and energy bars are good high energy options.
Similarly, carrying extra water with you is also a good idea. You shouldn’t always rely on being able to pick up water along the trail and being stuck without water is not a situation you want to find yourself in. Dehydration is a serious condition on a hike, so carrying extra water than what you expect to drink is a smart move.
Some people prefer water bladders and hydration systems, while others like to stick with a drink bottle. Whichever way suits you and allows you to carry enough water is fine. I prefer standard drink bottles for day hikes and tend to opt for a hydration reservoir for multiday hikes.
Often in backcountry or mountainous places, weather conditions can change abruptly and without warning. Weather forecasts can also be inaccurate in certain landscapes and above certain altitudes. This is why you should pack adequate clothing for all conditions. Carrying a warm jacket or insulating clothing is an important safety essential, in case you do need to spend the night out or get caught in unexpected cold weather.
Other necessities for hiking
As well as the 10 essentials for hiking, there are also a number of other hiking necessities that you’ll want to take with you for your day hike.
Obviously, a day pack is an essential item on a day hike packing list. You will need a way to carry everything that you plan on taking with you and a well-fitted, comfortable pack is ideal. There are plenty of options out there, with most people going for a small backpack between 15-30L in volume which is perfect for a day hike.
Exactly what day pack you use will really come down to the type of hike you’re doing, what items you’re going to carry and your own personal preference.
For me, Osprey will always be the superior hiking backpack brand. You can never go wrong investing in an Osprey pack, but there are other brands out there that are good too.
Shoes are another obvious item, but this is something that some people don’t think enough about sometimes. If you’re new to hiking it doesn’t mean that you have to go and purchase the most expensive pair of hiking shoes, but you should definitely think about the type of shoes you’re planning on wearing.
Shoes can make or break a hike. Make sure that you know what kind of trail you’ll be facing and what weather to expect. If it’s going to be wet and rainy, then you’ll want to consider Gore-Tex or weatherproof shoes. If it’s going to be tough terrain or a rocky trail, then you’ll want shoes with a good solid sole.
Shoes can be a contentious topic in the hiking community. Some people swear by hiking boots, while others just go with trail runners (this debate could be another blog post all together). At the end of the day, whatever works for you is what’s best.
I personally have loved my Scarpa leather hiking boots; for the steep price they have gotten me through every possible terrain and countless kilometres.
Personal Location Beacon
When it comes to emergencies and safety on the trail, having a PLB or satellite phone with you is ideal. Although having the 10 essentials listed above will help you survive a night out in the wilderness, having a way to communicate to emergency services may ultimately be what saves your life.
PLBs are not cheap. They are quite an investment, but the peace of mind is definitely worth the price tag, especially if you frequently go solo hiking or head into remote areas where there isn’t any phone signal.
I have an ACR ResQLink 400 PLB, which is what I carried on the Larapinta Trail.
Bug protection will depend on where you plan on hiking, but for most hikes in Australia, it’s definitely considered essential. Flies, mosquitoes and ticks are all common trail pests. You can opt for insect repellent with DEET or even bug repellent clothing treated with permethrin to avoid getting bitten. It’s also a smart idea to wear long pants or exercise tights and long sleeves to cover your exposed skin.
If you’re heading on a long day hike in remote country, then you might want to consider packing a water filter. You should always carry more than enough water than you think you’ll need but having a water filter with you will provide extra peace of mind. If you run out, you’ll be able to refill without the risk of getting sick. In saying that, you might not always find water on every trail, so you should find out before you head out if water will be available.
Some water filters are extremely light and easy to pack. I’ve been using LifeStraw for years now. You can purchase the simple straw and carry it with you or opt for the complete filter and water bottle package.
You never know when the weather might change, especially when you’re in mountainous regions. If you’re expecting rain then you should obviously pack whatever rain gear you own, whether that be a rain jacket or rain pants or both. However, it’s handy to also have a packable rain jacket that you can keep in your daypack for those times when the weather is unpredictable.
Obviously if you’re going to be hiking for hours, you might need to go to the bathroom along the way. Toilet paper or tissues is something that I automatically have in my daypack for every hike. However, it’s important that you don’t leave it on the trail or in the bush after going to the toilet. You should carry a plastic bag with you and carry toilet paper out. This is an important part of the Leave No Trace principles.
Optional extras for hiking
These items are optional extras and come down to your personal preference at the end of the day.
You might consider trekking poles to be completely unnecessary, unfashionable and only for old school hikers. However, they can be surprisingly useful in the appropriate circumstances and for the right people. Trekking poles are great for people who have bad knees or issues with their balance. However, they can also be extra helpful on strenuous hikes over tough terrain for virtually anyone.
They’re definitely not an essential that all novice hikers should go out and purchase. However, for serious hikers, they are a good investment and are nice to have for certain trails. I find that they’re particularly good for multiday hikes when you’re carrying a heavy pack. I’ve also used them a lot on icy or slippery trails to help keep myself balanced and prevent any falls.
I have Helinox Trekking Poles because they’re extremely lightweight and can fold down. I can easily pack them and only get them out when necessary.
Gaiters are garments worn on the lower legs for protection from various trail conditions and risks. They can help prevent scree, mud, water and snow from getting into your shoes and making your legs and feet damp. They can also protect you from overgrown trails, bugs like ticks, and snake bites.
They’re similar to trekking poles in that they are certainly not essential and it’s up to you whether you think you need them. I generally find that wearing exercise tights with my socks over the top and a good pair of leather hiking boots is just fine for most hikes. However, on snowy trails and places where snakes are common, I would certainly consider wearing them.
Sea To Summit make some of the best gaiters for all conditions.
I personally like having my GPS watch on while I’m hiking. I like to know my time and the distance covered to compare it to track notes or to include it on my trek reports here. However, this is obviously a personal preference and not an essential. Some phone apps do a similar job too.
I have a Garmin Forerunner which I use for running and hiking every week.
If you’re a keen photographer, then this will be an essential. Depending on what kind of setup you have this can add considerable weight to your pack, but if you like your photography then there’s nothing wrong with lugging it up a trail.
I have a mirrorless camera for this reason. They are more lightweight and compact than a full-frame DSLR so it makes carrying it on the move much easier.
If you’re hike is a long one, then carrying a power bank is never a bad idea. Knowing that you can keep your phone charged throughout the day is helpful on so many different levels. It’s not only good for your own safety in terms of communication, but most people use their phone for navigation too, which can drain the battery.
If you use your phone for other things like music or as a camera, then you’ll be draining the battery even more and might need to recharge at some point. I have the Goal Zero Venture 30 because it’s dust and waterproof. It also goes with my Goal Zero solar panel which I take on longer multiday hikes.
Do you pack all of these items for every day hike?
Everything I outlined above are items that you should definitely consider for each day hike. However, whether you pack them or not will come down to what trail you plan on exploring and your personal preferences.
Obviously, a short local trail that you’ve done hundreds of times might not require most of these items. However, if you’re planning a challenging trail or somewhere completely new to you, then you should definitely think about packing many of these items.
What you pack for a day hike is really a case by case, or trail by trail scenario.
How do you know exactly what you need?
You should always research the trail you’re doing, and the weather conditions expected so that you have more of an idea of what you will need. However, at the end of the day, unless you’ve done the hike before you won’t know exactly what you’re going to need.
It’s best to be overprepared than underprepared. You should pack more than you think, without making your daypack too heavy. When it comes to your safety you can never be too prepared. However, keeping your pack weight down is also an important safety tip too, so you have to balance things out.