What to Pack for a Day Hike
The essentials you don’t want to leave home without.
Packing your bag for a day hike can be a task in itself, especially when you have gone on a hike or two before and you end up in a situation where you tell yourself, ” I could’ve really used that!” After saying this a few times myself, I’ve become quite efficient on what to pack even for a short 5- mile hike. You really never know what can happen when out exploring the great outdoors, so below are a few of my favorite items I always carry to make sure I can have a fun and most importantly, safe day hike.
First things first, your pack. There is an overwhelming variety of packs out in the market today, so choosing one that is best for you can be daunting. For a day hike, I recommend a pack size or 18L up to 24L. If you are set on doing smaller half-day hikes, the 18L with a hydration water bladder is the way to go. However, if you plan on hiking one trail all day, or multiple trails, a 24L will store enough essentials to last.
Great! So you have a pack, now let us pack it!
First up, water! Having a pack with a water bladder built in makes it much easier to carry water versus lugging around a big jug or multiple bottles. Most daypacks will have a 3L water bladder, however, that may not be enough depending on how far you go or time of year you hike. If I am hiking under 8 miles in moderate temperatures, then the 3L is fine. But anything longer or hotter and I will pack 2 extra water bottles. I also invested in a water purifier in case I come across a stream, so I can safely refill my water pack and bottles.
Next, you need to be able to navigate where you are going. Many trails have clear defined markers, but some can be old and worn down. Having a map of where you plan to hike you prevent you from getting lost in case you wander off the trail. Not just any map will do, it is best to have a topographic map to show changes in elevation and bodies of water you may encounter. Don’t forget the compass either! Not sure how to read a map or use a compass? There are plenty of online videos and guides to help. I advise against solely relying on the GPS in your phone, not every hike will have great cell service!
A good first aid kit will be the third essential to bring every time. There was a time when I took a spill on some rocks and really wished I brought more than just 3 band-aids. Many first aid kits out there are now geared towards hiking, so they are small, lightweight, and have just the right supplies to cover minor injuries.
To go along with my first aid kit, I pack a Nordic Ant emergency blanket. Yes! Even in the middle of summer, and here is why. The blanket is not just for keeping you warm in case of a passing storm, but should you get caught out on the trails lost and needing to stay overnight, the blanket can serve as a quick shelter. The best part about the emergency blanket is that it folds up very compact and tight, you won’t even notice it once you pack it in.
Just in case you do have to stay overnight, for whatever the reason may be, now would be a good time to grab a fire starter. I would opt for a compact waterproof one. Remember, even if you’re just going on a day hike, the items mentioned are intended to keep you safe should an unexpected situation arise.
Extra clothing is yet another necessity, even for a day hike. I always bring a lightweight rain jacket, a shirt, and a pair of socks. Again, you never know if you will get caught in a passing rainstorm, cross a small stream, or need to use the shirt as a sweat towel or rag to put pressure on an injury that is bleeding. Don’t forget your hat and sunglasses for those beautiful sunny days!
Now for our favorite hiking essential, food! While we don’t pack a 3-course picnic, we do bring hardy trail snacks that have protein and carbs to keep energized. Some go to snacks are granola bars, nuts (especially almonds), and beef jerky. Limit how much beef jerky you consume since it can be high in sodium, so you will end up drinking your water quicker.
When it comes to safety, no matter where you are hiking, you should always carry a whistle. This is one of the best ways to be heard in any type of emergency, this goes back to the fact that you may not always have cell phone service.
Lastly don’t forget those small items like sunscreen, bug spray, and a multi-use tool (which can be handier than just a knife).
Now that we have the absolute must carry essentials, this next item is optional, but it could make your hikes more memorable. A camera. Most people use their phones, and nowadays the phone quality is great. However, some may opt to carry a DSLR camera to try for those more advanced photos or photos at a further distance. There are many great high-quality cameras on the market that won’t break the bank either.
So you have your pack with the basic essential gear needed to have a day full of fun and adventure, all while being prepared and safe. Only thing left to do is find some wilderness, a trail, and get out there and hike!