Day Hiking Gear Checklist – Everything You Will Ever Need

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Day hiker Madison Dragna has read her fair share of “what to bring along when day hiking” lists, but she decided to write instead about mistakes people make when they’re so enthused about going, they leave their brains behind.

Before you pack up, wouldn’t you like to know about the most commonly-made mistakes day hikers make so you can avoid making them? In a nutshell, her top 6 are these:


Mistake #1: Not taking proper care of food and water needs. Your body and brain need sustenance and water, even if your idea of a great meal is half a dozen protein bars washed down by an energy beverage.

Mistake #2: Imitating a Sherpa. Fill your backpack and wear it for a couple of hours. If you’re sore, remove non-essentials. Cans? You’re joking, right? Contain foods and small items in lightweight baggies instead.

Mistake #3: Refusing to let bad weather change your plans to hike. Check-in with several weather resources and make sure they all agree before you find yourself hunkered down in the rain.

Mistake #4: Believing that trekking poles are meant only for older people. You will benefit from bringing a pair more than you know, and you don’t have to tell other people you own them if you don’t want to.

Mistake #5: Wearing nothing but cotton when you go hiking unless you like to stink and retain moisture. There are miracle textiles on today’s market so invest in them and leave your jeans home.

Mistake #6: Forgetting to bring toilet paper. Resorting to a tree and plant leaves have left more than a one-day hiker with a nasty rash in a place we don’t feel the need to discuss right now.

Photo by Ted Bryan Yu on Unsplash

What to pack for your day hike

The 10 essentials

  • One pair of all-terrain hiking boots that have already been broken in
  • Water. Experts recommend drinking half a liter of water per hour in moderate weather
  • Calorie dense foods. Foil-wrapped energy bars are light and nutritious
  • Rain gear. A fold-down, oversized poncho won’t add weight
  • Directional gear. GPS devices are great, but signals may be iffy. Tote a paper map and compass
  • Safety stuff. A whistle, fire-making materials, and signaling device
  • First aid kit filled with items that address basic hiking accidents and mishaps
  • Multi-tool or a camping knife capable of repairing, cutting and fixing things hikers encounter
  • Sun protection products like sunscreen, sunglasses and a hat
  • Sheltering material should you need to hunker down. A space blanket is a great choice.

Wear a proper wardrobe

Textile manufacturers have gone to great lengths to accommodate athletes and day hikers are no exception. Your day hiking wardrobe should give you 12-month coverage if you hike year-round and include:

  • A sturdy backpack capable of holding from 11-to-20 liters of gear
  • Moisture-wicking, quick-drying garments that can be layered when necessary
  • One pair of hiking boots is adequate if they meet all-terrain standards
  • Moisture-wicking underwear, t-shirts and at least one bandana
  • Insulated, cold-weather items like fleece pants, gloves, vests, jackets, thermal underwear, and a warm hat. Climbing trousers are also suitable.
  • Clothing made with cloth that protects hikers against UV rays if your skin is sensitive
  • Always bring an extra pair of synthetic or wool socks. No cotton, please
  • A second full set of clothing, if there’s extra room in your pack, makes good insurance.

Navigation and communication tools

You rely upon your smartphone, GPS, and assortment of electronic devices to get you through your day, but for hikers eager to explore off-the-beaten-track locations, signals could be weak or nonexistent.

Depending upon your acumen, needs, and goals, these items make great additions to your inventory and most weigh very little.

  • Bring a topo map even if you intend to rely upon your GPS system and apps
  • Fully charge your smartphone before you leave
  • Invest in a 2-way radio set to stay in touch with members of your hiking party
  • Treat yourself to an altimeter watch if mountains are your thing
  • Pack a compass; these trusty tools never run out of batteries!
  • Keep all of your devices in a clear, waterproof pouch so they stay dry and protected
  • Carry a USB power bank to recharge devices if they die on you
  • Investing in a personal locator beacon (PLB) could save your life. They’re not cheap, but can you put a price on being rescued on the trail when nothing else works to signal the outside world?
Photo by Alice Donovan Rouse on Unsplash

Focus on food

Unlike longer trips, you probably don’t want to turn into a cook during your day trip so having the right combination of ingredients offers you nutrient-rich meals along the way that will keep your energy levels up.

Foods loaded with sugar won’t do the job. Instead, day hikers who know their way around a stick of beef jerky recommend you put these items on your grocery list, so you enjoy lots of variety without the hassle of cooking:

  • Nutrition bars loaded with vitamins, minerals, protein, and healthy fats
  • Energy chews or gels take up less backpack space than nutrition bars and you can eat them faster
  • Dried fruits and veggies weigh less than fresh ones and they’re filled with natural sugars
  • Trail mix lives up to its name. Nuts and seeds rule in the calorie-per-ounce ratio arena
  • Jerky is not just for beef-eaters these days. Find lots of flavors on the market and none of them take up space
  • Tuna, chicken and salmon packets. These single-serving packets are moist, delicious and protein-packed
  • Not everyone loves pork rinds, but if you do, these protein-rich snacks are so light, you’ll want to bring some.

More ways to stay safe and sound

Our essentials list introduces the topic of items day hikers should pack to address health and safety issues. The following items are recommended for inclusion in your backpack once everything on the aforementioned essentials list is accounted for.

  • Trekking poles can keep you safe, steady and prevent you from having accidents
  • Bring water purification tablets to protect yourself from picking up bugs, parasites and other dangers found in streams, lakes and other bodies of water
  • Hand sanitizer doesn’t weigh much but it can protect your skin from picking up bugs
  • For women, sanitary products make great insurance against menstrual period surprises
  • Pack your prescription medications first so they’re not forgotten
  • Insect repellent is essential, as are SPF-rated lip balm and sterile wipes for quick clean-ups.

Photo by Wojtek Kwiatkowski on Unsplash

These items could make or break your day hike!

Having already packed that essential multi-knife, savvy day hikers often recommend adding the following items to a packing list to handle any number of tasks that can pop up during a trek. As always, consider your pack’s weight before you get carried away.

  • Bring a sanitation trowel to tidy the areas you use for toileting. Keep it in a sealed back in-between uses
  • A small repair kit with duct tape, zip ties, and Tenacious Tape can tackle almost every repair required on the trail
  • A few huge trash bags for clean-up show you care about the environment and leave nothing behind
  • A headlamp or flashlight with extra batteries gives you the light you need to peek into dark places
  • Fire-starters are essential: pocket lighters, storm-proof matches, fire starter cubes or old-fashioned flint all do the job
  • Lightweight binoculars help scour trails ahead, so you don’t run into surprises
  • Carry cash, a credit card, and ID
  • For journal keepers, a pen and notebook take up little room, but if you like to stop and chronicle your adventures as you hike, nothing substitutes!