A day hike is one of the best recreational activities one can do for one's health. It gets you outside, lets you experience a bit of nature, and gives you a workout all at the same time.
But hiking and backpacking aren’t things one can just jump into without preparation. Many things can go wrong while wandering the outdoors; nature is unpredictable, after all.
That’s why any potential backpacker needs to have a good understanding of the necessary hiking equipment. Packing for a hike doesn’t have to be intimidating, though. All you need is a good understanding of the ten essentials.
Ten Essentials for Hiking
Every hiker, whether experienced or new to the trails, should be familiar with the “Ten Essentials”. It’s common for amateur hikers to believe all you need for a day hike is a water bottle and some snacks.
This is normally enough to last on the trails for a few hours, but it’s not nearly sufficient to deal with the unexpected. The Ten Essentials is a list of 10 crucial items to help hikers deal with accidents and emergencies that may force hikers to spend more time in the wilderness than they initially planned.
The original Ten Essentials was created in the 1930s by The Mountaineers, a Seattle-based organisation for outdoor adventurers. The list consisted of a compass, extra clothing, a fire starter, a knife, a map, sunglasses and sunscreen, first-aid supplies, matches, a flashlight, and extra food.
Through the input of hundreds of professional hikers and outdoorsmen, the original list has evolved from a simple checklist of hiking essentials to a “systems” approach. Here is our version of the day hiking essentials list:
- Maps, GPS, and extra batteries for navigation
- Sunglasses and sunscreen for sun protection
- Extra clothing for layering
- Headlight and spare batteries
- First-aid supplies
- Matches and lighters
- A knife or a multi-tool
- Extra food
- Extra water
- Emergency shelter.
Never enter the wilderness, even a well-known trail, without having some means to navigate the region. Always be prepared with a detailed topographic map of the region and a compass.
Most hiking trails and government-run parks have an accompanying map. A GPS receiver with an extra battery can make for a good substitute or supplemental navigation tool if you’re planning on doing more than simply day hiking, like climbing or going off-trail.
Don’t leave your neck and head exposed. Credit: @richardwhite_sa
The sun should never be underestimated, even if you’re planning to hike on a cloudy day. Always pack sunglasses and sunscreen to protect your eyes, lips, and skin. A brimmed hat works, too, if sunglasses aren’t your thing.
A bandana is also a great addition to a sun-safe day hike. You can use them to soak up sweat, cover your head or neck for extra sun protection, or even as a makeshift first-aid bandage.
CabinZero tip: Seek shade during the hottest part of the day, typically between 11 am and 3 pm in the UK or between 10 am and 4 pm in the US. Or better yet, plan your day hike for early morning or late afternoon.
Layering is important, especially when it gets chilly. Credit: @kanaho_show
When hikers say to pack insulation, they’re not referring to a specific piece of hiking equipment but extra clothes that can be used to survive the hours of inactivity caused by an unplanned bivouac.
The basic garments utilised in the active portion of a day hike are boots, socks, underwear, shirt, sweater, pants, jacket, gloves, hat, and rain gear. You don’t have to pack an entire wardrobe to be prepared; just take what will help you survive overnight in your hiking region.
What to wear while hiking really depends on the environment of the terrain. In hotter climes, you may want to sport a light jacket that you can take off if the temperature gets too hot, while it is better to dress in layers in a colder environment. Make sure you research where you plan to hike before you go in order to properly understand what clothing you’ll need.
Most people plan to finish their day hikes before dark, but you never know what might happen when you’re on the trail. Always pack a flashlight or headlight along with some spare batteries to make sure you can find your way even in the darkness.
It is essential that you have some first-aid knowledge and the affiliated supplies before hitting the trails.
There are many compact first-aid kits that are designed to fit into your day pack without taking up much space. Make sure whichever kit you prepare has various sizes of gauze, small adhesive bandages, battle dressing, butterfly bandages, scissors, disinfectant, latex gloves, and paper or pencil at the minimum.
One of the most important hiking essentials is having the means to start an emergency fire. A fire can truly save your life when hiking doesn’t go as planned by providing much-needed warmth, keeping animals at bay, or even acting as a beacon.
Carry a couple of butane lighters or matches in a watertight container along with fire starters for igniting wet wood. Whichever device you pack, just make sure that it absolutely works.
Repair Kit And Tools
Whether you’re administering first-aid or dealing with a broken day pack, having good tools is a must. The most basic tool is a good knife or multipurpose tool that typically includes a knife, screwdriver, scissors, and awl at the minimum. Some other useful tools to include in your repair kit are shoelaces, fishing lines, needle and thread, duct tape, cordage, or nylon fabric repair tape.
An extra one-day supply of food is typically all that is needed to pack for a day hike in case your return is delayed for some reason. The food should be dried or preserved; something that doesn’t require to be cooked. Trail mix, jerky and dried fruit are typically the best options. A camping stove can fit into a small hiking backpack and allow you to prepare dried cocoa, tea, or soup as well.
Extra water is crucial for surviving a camping emergency. Carry a collapsible water sack or an extra water bottle in your day pack. A minimum of 1L of extra water is typically efficient for the majority of day hikes.
Still, a longer hike or an overnight trip may require more, depending on the environment. In addition to extra water, it’s also a good idea to carry tools needed to purify water found in the wilderness, such as iodine tablets or a filtration system.
Most people don’t consider packing any type of shelter for a day hike as most day hikers don’t plan to stay out overnight. But the point of the Ten Essentials is to plan for the worst-case scenario. In a situation where you have to stay on the trail overnight, you will want to have some type of shelter.
A shelter does not have to be a full-on tent; there are plenty of single-person shelters that can fit in a hiking day pack, such as a bivouac bag or space blanket.
What Else to Bring on a Hike
The Ten Essentials are the hiking equipment that are most important to pack for a day hike. But there are many other backpacking tips and tricks that can improve your hiking experience. Some other items that you may consider packing for your excursion are:
- Hiking Poles
- Backpack Cover
- Seat Cushion
- Mosquito Repellant
Cheese not only tastes wonderful but also long-lasting. The fabulous food predates refrigeration and is one of the original trekker foods. It stays fresh and cool for days and contains protein, fat and calcium – nutrients that give you energy when you need it.
And most importantly, cheese pairs well with other dried foods so you can have a little feast when you reach the summit of the trail. It’s such a perfect food to bring on a day hike.
A pair of hiking poles is a wondrous tool for dealing with rough terrain. They give you all the advantages of a four-legged creature. You can use them to ford a river, maintain your footing in slippery or muddy terrain, or simply lean on them for support when needed.
And the hiking poles can be set up at the edge of a camping site to mark its borders. Don’t fret over the fact that they don’t fit into a day pack because many hiking poles are collapsible and can be strapped to a small hiking backpack.
Hiking poles are great for travelling across rough terrain. Photo by Lu Li on Pexels.
When considering what to bring on a hike, an insulated mug is a must-have. A good mug will let you enjoy a warm drink of cocoa or cider for a nourishing break. It can also be used to make soup and other warm dishes when you’re looking to snack on something besides dried food.
A backpack carries your hiking equipment, but a backpack cover keeps your equipment safe. It acts as an extra layer of waterproofing and keeps your bag clean. You don’t have to buy an expensive pack cover either; in most cases, a simple one like the CabinZero Backpack Rain Cover will do.
A portable seat cushion is a great item to pack for even a short hike. It serves several functions. The first is to keep your butt clean and dry when you take a hot cocoa break. It can also function as a pillow or headrest if you camp overnight.
There’s nothing that can ruin a day hike more than having to deal with a swarm of mosquitos. That’s why it is highly recommended that you pack a can of aerosol mosquito repellant, preferably one with a high percentage of DEET.
In the immortal words of one notable hitchhiker, you should always bring a towel. A full-sized towel may take up too much space in a day pack, but a hand towel should fit just fine. A good towel will help you wipe down sweat, mop up spills, and dry you off if you ever find yourself soaked.
Choosing the Best Daypacks for Hiking
Even when you know what to bring on a hike, you need the means to take it with you. Choosing the proper day hiking backpack is just as important as adhering to the 10 essentials. A good hiking backpack has enough space to carry all your equipment securely and enough protection to ensure that your equipment stays in good condition.
A good backpack has room for all the hiking essentials.
They have a volume ranging from 32 L – 42 L, padded waist belt, chest belt, water bottle pockets, and various storage compartments. The main compartment is accessible from the front and the top of the pack making it easy to access your equipment while on the trail. Both bags are also waterproof and will keep your equipment safe in even the heaviest downpour.
What Size Pack Is Good For A Day Hike?
Many hiking professionals would say a 40 L backpack is too big for a day hike and suggest a 25-30L pack instead. They’re compact and have just enough space to hold food and some extra clothes.
The ADV and ADV Pro run a bit larger because they were made to cater towards the 10 essentials. They offer enough space to pack any extra clothes and water you might need, as well as all your equipment. The extra room will definitely come in handy when you’re able to pull out the right tool to deal with your situation.
3-Day Hike Packing List
A larger day hiking backpack has enough room to let you stay on the trail for more than one day. It’s perfect for most short excursion occasions, whether you plan to go on a simple local trail or tour any of the national parks. Below is a list of equipment that can support you on a 3-day wilderness excursion, and everything can fit comfortably inside a 40L backpack:
Big Gear Items
- Backpacking backpack
- Tent or bivouac
- Sleeping bag
- Sleeping pad
- Flashlight or headlamp
- Hiking poles
- First aid kit
- Seat cushion
- Backpack cover
- Water bottles
- Water purifier
- Insulated mug
- Eating utensils
- Camp stove
- Food and snacks
- Toothbrush and toothpaste
- Biodegradable soap
- Ziplock bags
- Toilet paper
Clothing and footwear
- Rain jacket
- Hiking pants or shorts
- Moisture-wicking shirt
- Hiking socks
- Hiking boots
- Brimmed hat or sunglasses
Time to Hit the Trails
Time to get hiking. IG: @sherrylu
Hopefully, you feel somewhat prepared to go outside and take a stroll through the outdoors. Staying safe on a day hike isn’t difficult if you make sure to keep the 10 essentials in mind. Be sure to share your knowledge with any hiking companions you may have, and let us know in the comments what equipment you already take on your hikes.