Hiking Essentials List: What To Bring On a Day Hike

hiking essentials

Planning to spend the day in the great outdoors but not sure what to take? This hiking essentials list is for you!

This gear list will cover you for a range of situations and conditions, so whether you’re planning a ramble through the countryside or a hike in the mountains, you can feel confident that you’re prepared. So, let’s walk through the gear that you should take with you, as well as what to wear and some optional extras.

Hiking essentials checklist (for day hikes)

How to use this hiking essentials checklist

This checklist is deliberately comprehensive and covers everything you might need for a day hike in the wilderness where being self-sufficient is vital to your well-being.

If you’ll be hiking in a suburban country park or on a highly-trafficked trail, you probably won’t need everything on this list. Instead, comfortable activewear, a good pair of shoes and a light backpack with a few essentials may be sufficient.

However, if you’ll be hiking in a remote location, such as the mountains, where the weather can turn quickly and it’s easy to get lost, it’s essential to have the right equipment. This is especially true if you’ll be hiking alone. A snapped ankle and no one around to help can become life-threatening very quickly, so it’s important to be prepared.

Remember: you’ll need to carry all of this gear for hours at a time, so be mindful of the weight of your backpack. However, it’s better to have and not need than need and not have, so determine the location, weather, remoteness and difficulty of your hike to decide how prepared you need to be.

hiking essentials

Hiking essentials

Consider taking these essentials on every hike. Most of them don’t weigh much but they’ll keep you safe!

1) Day pack
You’ll need a way to carry all your hiking essentials! A well-fitting and comfortable backpack that holds about 20-30 litres of gear will be about right for day hikes. Choose a backpack with convenient storage compartments and easy access to water bottles so that you don’t spend ages searching for things while on the trail. Something like Osprey’s 26L Hikelite Daypack would be ideal.

2) Plenty of water
Water is an obvious hiking essential. A good rule of thumb is to take about half a litre of water per hour of moderate activity in moderate temperatures. You may need to increase how much you drink as the temperature and intensity of the hike rise. For example, you may need 1 litre of water per hour for strenuous hiking in strong heat.

3) Food & energizing snacks
Make sure to bring along enough calories to sustain your energy throughout the day. I’ll usually bring a packed sandwich on day hikes, as well as plenty of snacks. My go-to hiking snacks include a bag of trail mix, apples and some chocolate-coated peanuts. Energy bars, pastries, fruit and chocolate are all great options.

4) First aid kit
A small first aid kit containing blister plasters, regular plasters, pain relief tablets, antiseptic wipes and bandages is important for dealing with injuries.

5) Headtorch
Bring a reliable headtorch with you on every hike, even if you’re not planning to be out after dark. Sometimes a hike will take longer than expected, and being lost in the dark can make a sticky situation worse.

6) Navigation tools
Many hikers choose to use a GPS app on their phone, but it’s important to remember that phones can break, crash or run out of battery. So while you may choose to primarily use an app for navigation, I strongly suggest you also bring a topographic map and compass on your hike. They’re lightweight, guaranteed to never run out of batteries, and can help you find the way if you get lost. However, a map and compass won’t be of any use if you don’t know how to use them, so be sure to brush up on this important skill.

7) Whistle
A whistle is ideal for drawing attention. You never know when you might need it.

8) Survival shelter
If you’re on a multi-day hiking trip, you’ll already have shelter in your backpack. But it’s important to also bring some kind of shelter on day hikes, just in case you have to spend the night outside. The Vango Storm Shelter is a good option for 1 or 2 people. It could save your life if you become injured, lost or stuck somewhere by keeping you protected from the elements.

Ala Kul Trek

Clothing & footwear

Check the forecast and dress for the conditions, but also be prepared by packing extra layers and waterproofs, in case they’re needed. Even on a day hike, you could go through many temperature and weather changes — particularly in the mountains.

1) Baselayer
“Base layer” is just a fancy word for what you first put over your core. Usually, this is a t-shirt or vest top. Opt for a sweat-wicking base layer that’s breathable, quick-drying and regulates body temperature.

2) Long-sleeve layer
A long-sleeve top is great for protecting your skin from insect bites and the sun.

3) Fleece
Even if the weather seems reasonably warm, I recommend bringing a fleece anyway. The weather can always turn unexpectedly, and if you need to spend the night outside, you’ll be grateful that you have one with you.

4) Rain jacket
Unless you’ll be hiking somewhere where there’s no chance of rainfall, be sure to bring a rain jacket with you. Hiking in the rain without a waterproof can become demoralising very quickly.

5) Quick-drying trousers or shorts
Your trousers should be lightweight, quick-drying and easy to move in. If the weather is warm, you may want to consider shorts, but bear in mind this makes you more susceptible to insect bites, stinging nettles and thorny plants.

6) Hiking socks
Don’t overlook the importance of good quality hiking socks! Socks that slip about, bunch up, or otherwise don’t fit properly can cause blisters and ruin a hike. Try these Bridgedale socks.

7) Hiking shoes/boots
On gentle hikes on smooth trails, hiking shoes or trail runners are sufficient. For hikes on rocky, rugged trails, boots will provide more support. Learn more about choosing hiking footwear here.

Lauren Pears at Ala Kul
A waterproof is essential in the mountains, where the weather can turn quickly

Optional extras

These items are all entirely optional and will depend on the location, remoteness and difficulty of your hike, as well as personal preference.

1) Camera
I personally love outdoor photography and will almost always bring a camera on my hikes. Unless you’re really into photography, I recommend a simple point-and-shoot camera as they’re small and compact. I love my Canon PowerShot SX740.

2) Trekking poles
Some people simply won’t go hiking without trekking poles! You can use them to help take the pressure off your knees, especially on steep descents.

3) Portable battery pack
If you’re heading out into the wilderness to unplug, you might not mind being without a charge. However, having a portable battery pack will ensure you’ll have enough juice to access your GPS app throughout the day and the ability to call for help if needed.

4) Portable water filter
If you think you might run out of water, I’d advise packing something that will enable you to safely drink water from streams. Purifying tablets, a UV pen or a LifeStraw are all good methods of purifying water.

5) Sunscreen
If you’ll be hiking in the sun or at altitude, don’t forget to bring sunscreen on your day hike. It’s easy to burn when you’re out walking all day. I’d actually recommend applying sunscreen before any hike, as it’s still possible to burn on cloudy days.

6) Insect repellent
Insect repellent will help to keep your skin bite-free and protect you against ticks.

7) Personal Locator Beacon (PLB)
You might want to bring a Personal Locator Beacon on your hikes for peace of mind. These GPS tracking devices will let people know where you are, and some even come with an SOS button, so you can call out a rescue team if you really need help. The downside of PLBs is that they tend to be expensive and require a subscription, but they’re a worthy investment if you hike alone in remote locations.

8) Bear spray
Hiking in North America or somewhere else where bears live? Consider bringing bear spray in case you encounter an angry bear during your hike. Bears typically leave people alone unless they feel threatened, but it’s best to be prepared just in case.

Hiking essentials checklist (for day hikes)

Hopefully, this gives you a good overview of what to take on a day hike. What are your go-to hiking essentials? Let me know in the comments below!

Thank you for reading! If you found this post useful, I’d be grateful if you would consider using the affiliate links below when planning your travels. I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you. This will help me to keep this blog running. Thanks for your support – Lauren.

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