Day hikes are excellent ways to take a break from the stresses of everyday life and work without having to pack tons of gear and camp over several days. Those trips are fun, too, but sometimes you only need a mini-break to unwind with family or friends or even to check out gorgeous nature scenes alone.
Whether it’s the woods near your house or a solo hike on a popular hiking trail, there are some essential things that you’ll need for that hike. This checklist will help you remember all the necessary supplies and detail these items.
Quick Checklist – Items to Pack in Your Bag
- GPS or compass
- First aid kit
- Emergency shelter
- Headlamp or flashlight
Clothing to Wear or Bring with You
- Synthetic short-sleeve and/or long-sleeve shirt
- Hiking boots
- Wool socks or other socks, plus an extra pair
- Lightweight synthetic trekking pants or shorts
- Synthetic boxers or briefs
- Synthetic bra
- Breathable, waterproof shell or jacket
- Lightweight gloves
Additional Cold Weather Gear
- Synthetic or down coat
- Fleece pants
- Fleece or wool hat
- Insulated mittens or gloves
- Toilet paper and trowel
- Personal locator beacon
- Liner socks
- Trekking poles
Essential Hiking Gear – It All Starts with a Durable Backpack or Bag
Every good hike starts with a durable sling pack or backpack. Since you’re only planning a day hike, you won’t need the large pack that you would carry camping, but it needs to be big enough to hold everything you need on this list or extras you want to bring.
You also want a rugged pack that can withstand drops and sharp jabs from trees and brush, and which lasts longer than a few hikes. Your bag should also be comfortable to carry long distances. Many packs even come with a concealed carry pocket if you have a concealed weapon permit and want to bring your gun along for protection against animals or people.
GPS or Compass
A compass is a must even if you feel that you know the trail you’re hiking like you know your backyard. A good compass is small and fits easily in your bag. It’s also lightweight. Pick a compass that’s durable and reliable. You should also carry a typographical paper map of the area for backup. We may be going old-school on the navigation equipment, but electronic gear can fail when you need it or could run out of batteries.
On the technology side, there are some amazing GPS devices and apps for your phone. Use them to supplement the compass and map for efficient navigation. You can also bring a USB power bank to charge your GPS if necessary.
Most people don’t think of sunscreen when they go hiking but, even when it’s cloudy outside, you can still get sunburned. Polarized sunglasses, a brimmed hat, SPF lip balm, and sunscreen should be on every hiker’s must-have list. No matter the weather, snow blindness, severe sunburns, and cracked bleeding lips can be incapacitating.
First Aid Kit
A first aid kit is one of those items often forgotten because you’ve never experienced an accident on the trail, but they sure are missed when you don’t have one and you need first aid supplies.
You’ll at least need the basics such as:
- First aid cards for directions
- Antiseptic wipes
- Safety pins
- Antibacterial ointment
- Assorted bandages
- Butterfly bandages
- Gauze pads in various sizes
- Non-stick pads
- Medical tape
- Antihistamine for allergic reactions
- Blister treatment such as moleskin
- Treatment for insect stings
- Ibuprofen or other medication for pain relief
- Hand sanitizer
Hand sanitizers may not be on your shortlist for hiking equipment, but dirty hands are a common cause of illness out on the trail. Hikers often slack off on proper hygiene practices because they’re in the backcountry. Hygiene habits are critical even when hiking, so bring hand sanitizer to use before eating or making food and after bathroom breaks.
There may be other items that you should consider for your specific needs, such as eye drops, prescription meds, sunscreen, bandages, wraps, splints, and more. Prepare for the worst but don’t bring so many items that they weigh down your bag or make it cumbersome.
You can create your own first aid kit and keep it in a waterproof container or purchase a pre-made kit. Just make sure the pre-made kit has everything you need. You can get large complex kits with everything you need or small ones with the basics.
A firestarter falls under the “prepare for the worst” category. Plan to stay overnight in case you get injured or lost. If the worst happens, you’ll likely need a fire to stay warm, heat food, or boil water in case something happens to your water supplies. Pick a firestarter that you know how to use. Practice with it before you hit the trail because learning how to use it in harsh weather or under stressful conditions will be difficult.
A handy firestarter is durable and watertight to keep your tinder dry and safe. It can hook to a backpack or keychain for convenience. If you’ve never purchased one, do some research online or ask fellow hikers because this tool can mean the difference between life and death. Some even come with land-to-air rescue and SOS instructions.
Water is a necessity. You can go longer without food than water. Your body needs water for all your systems to work correctly. Bring a 24-hour supply or approximately one gallon. It should be easily accessible in a hydration bladder or water bottle.
Water is also the heaviest thing that you’ll carry on the trail. Carrying a lot of extra water is too much. Some type of water purification treatment would be a great addition to your bag so you can treat any water that you need along the way in case you need more water or in the event something happens to your supply. There are a variety of ways to purify water, such as water filters or purification drops or tablets.
It’s critical to plan your trips so you know how much food to bring, as well as what you can carry. Think of the length of the trip, how you’ll drink and eat, and the beverages and food you can carry, as well as the tools you need to prepare and eat your food.
While it may just be a day hike, you still need nutrition—specifically, calorie-dense foods. Some good foods to take out on the trail include:
- Energy bars or protein bars
- Dried fruit
- Deli meat
- Whole-grain tortillas
- Fruit that doesn’t require refrigeration, such as bananas, oranges, apples, etc.
- Ready-to-eat tuna and tuna salad pouches
- Squeezable applesauce pouches
If you want something more substantial, you could bring MREs (meal ready to eat) or bagels. Essentially, anything that can last without refrigeration but which is compact enough to carry. Bring extra food in case something happens and you have to stay in the woods overnight.
Also, don’t forget food safety practices. Keep perishable items cool. Bring biodegradable soap, hand sanitizer, or disposable wipes to keep your hands clean. If necessary, bring trash bags, a can opener, and the utensils you need to eat the food you bring.
Even if you don’t plan on spending the night, you don’t want to be out with no shelter if you’re lost or injured and forced to camp where you are. There’s no need to drag a giant tent along with you—bring a lightweight, durable emergency shelter.
There are a variety of emergency bivys and blankets to maintain your body heat if you get stuck out in wet or cold weather. These emergency shelters are so reliable that the military includes them as part of their modern camping equipment. You can even bring a tarp as shelter, but you still need a bivy or blanket to keep you warm.
Head Lamp or Other Light
Even on a day hike, you may find it’s getting dark as you head out of the woods, so many hikers find it critical to pack a headlamp and a backup flashlight. If you carry your phone hiking, it likely has a built-in flashlight that you can use. Flashlights are one of those items that you can’t have too many of because, inevitably, one will burn out.
Multi-Tool or Knife, Repair Kit
So, duct tape fixes everything, right? Duct tape can fix broken sunglasses, a rip in your rain jacket, or a crack in your water bottle. You can even use it as a temporary fix for tears in your sleeping bag. You may only have room for a small multi-tool such as a Leatherman that includes many tools, such as:
- Wire cutters
- Serrated knife
- Can opener
- Bottle opener
Experts design these tools to handle just about any task you can think of. There’s nothing worse than bringing a can of food camping or on a hike, and then you realize that you don’t have a way to open it. They’re also durable enough to stand up to hardware and excessive use.
Basic Clothing Necessary for a Day Hike
There are items of clothing that you should wear or pack for your hike. Some of these choices depend on the time of year and the climate at the hiking location.
A sturdy pair of hiking boots or shoes are necessary. You may choose boots over shoes, depending on the terrain where you’re hiking. Some people prefer tactical hiking boots for ankle support and protection from water while others like trail running shoes because they’re comfortable and lightweight.
Choose whatever is the most comfortable for you and something that fits and supports your fit. Shoes or boots that don’t fit properly increase your chances of getting blisters, and that’s not fun on long hikes.
Socks are extremely important for hiking. With socks, there are four elements to consider when choosing the right pair for you:
- Sock height
A lot of this is preference. The higher the cuffs on your shoes or boots, the higher your socks need to be. You want your socks to be high enough to prevent your shoes from rubbing your skin. Many hikers wear wool hiking socks and, sometimes, liner socks. You may want to pack an extra pair of socks to change into if yours get wet on your hike.
Many people think that cotton is the best material to wear when hiking, but it’s not. Hikers need to wear clothing that dries fast to reduce heat loss, and cotton wicks away too much moisture. Then it gets too heavy with moisture and can’t retain warmth. Plus, it dries slowly. Wet clothing quickly chills you as soon as you take a rest on the trail. So, pick a synthetic long-sleeve or short-sleeve shirt and a lightweight pair of synthetic trekking shorts or pants. Select a synthetic pair of boxers or briefs and/or a synthetic bra.
Also, bring a breathable or waterproof shell or jacket, especially if the weather where you are tends to be unpredictable. Also, bring or wear a fleece or wool hat and a pair of lightweight gloves. Sunglasses and a sun hat are optional, depending on the weather.
For hiking in cold weather, wear a synthetic or down jacket and fleece pants. Insulated mittens or gloves are also essential.
This detailed list should help you pack the right equipment you need for hitting the trail on a day hike. You may also consider some of the extras such as the personal locator beacon necessary.
Much of this equipment and clothing depends on the weather where you’re hiking and the type of trail you’ll be hiking on. Now, you’ll be well-prepared for your next day hike adventure. So, hit the trail for relaxation and enjoy the beautiful serenity and scenery.