On any significant hikes, we recommend you bring a packed day pack. As to what you pack in your bag varies based on your trip there are some key items that you should not leave at home like food, water, and a first aid kit.
Pretty much everything below asides from hiking poles is a necessity on any trip into the woods or mountains you should be prepared as an absolute worst-case scenario to spend the night outside. Let’s break down what you should pack for a day hike!
What to Pack for a Day Hike Checklist
- Hiking Poles
- Water Bottle
- Water Bladder
- First Aid Kit
- High-Calorie Snack
- Emergency Blanket
- Extra Layer
- Hiking Backpack
- Bear Spray*
- Specialty Items
What to Pack for a Day Hike
If you have plans to take part in a long day or multi-day hikes a pair of hiking poles are a great way to save your knees and prevent injuries. If you’re on a full day of hiking in the mountains you’ll gain and descend a lot of elevation. So, it’s easy for your legs to get tired so a pair of hiking poles will pay off.
The use of hiking poles reduces the impact on your knees and prevents injuries as they provide an extra level of support. When selecting your hiking poles you should look at a number of key features and specs. We like to have a pair of hiking poles that have secure clamps and not the twist locking mechanisms as they are more secure and will hold up long term.
Look for hiking poles that are lightweight and made from a material like carbon fiber or aluminum. Then make sure they have a good weather-resistant grip, I love natural materials like cork, but the right rubber or foam will do a great job.
Black Diamond is a company dedicated to mountain sports and has worked hard to craft wonderful products. I personally use the Black Diamond FLZ Hiking Poles, but there are some other great poles out there produced by companies like REI and MSR. “Z” poles are fantastic as they’re lightweight and can be stashed inside a backpack should you not need them.
On any trip where we’ll spend time outside, almost every trip, a headlamp is on our packing list. If you have a long day on the trails this could be a lifesaver and it’s nice to have around camp at night. We even use ours in cities and towns when we walk along the side of a road to increase visibility.
We have several, but one of our new favorite is the Black Diamond Spot. It took several recommendations online before settling on this one because of its affordable price and durability. It delivers 325 lumens, costs $40, and will likely last a decade or longer sweet deal if you like to spend time outdoors.
Grayl Ultralight Water Bottle
The Grayl water bottle system purifies water vs. filters which removes viruses and virtually removes all threat of waterborne illnesses.
You should consume at least two liters a water a day while hiking in the mountains, often this means you either carry two bottles of water. The better option for carrying that much water on your treks is to carry a water bladder. A water bladder additionally allows for you to carry extra water if needed.
Most hiking backpacks and even daypacks designed for hiking have a sleeve for carrying your extra water. As a plus with the Grayl water bottle above you can filter the water and pour into your bladder ensuring you stay hydrated and healthy. There are also water filters such as the Sawyer Mini that is well loved and can be placed on the end of a water bladder line, so it filters as you go.
First Aid Kit
You should always carry a small first aid on any hiking trip. There is always the option to buy a kit, but I find it’s lighter and cheaper to just make your own and throw a few essentials in a container or ziplock bag.
Here is what we recommend you pack in a basic first aid kit for day or multiday hiking trips.
- Ibuprofen — NSAID. Treats pain, fever, swelling.
- Tylenol — Pain reliever that does not thin blood in case of a concussion or open wound.
- Benedryl — Bites, stings, allergies, and a sleep aid.
- Pepto Bismol — Antimicrobial that helps treat stomach issues.
- Imodium — This is is used to prevent dehydration in the event of diarrhea, but should be avoided as it does cause constipation. Not necessary on a day trip.
- Antifungal Cream — Not necessary on a day trip, but it’s good for your hiking first aid kit to prevent rashes. Of course, this is best minimized with proper clothing and moisture management.
- Bandaids/Gauze — Great for cuts, blisters, or scrapes.
- Medical Tape — This is great for compression to reduce swelling, building a splint, or stabilizing a rolled ankle.
- Antibiotic Ointment — Use the disposable packets as it helps save weight with only one or two in your bag.
Skin cancer is for real! Not having sun protection can lead to sunburn and in the long term skin cancer/skin aging. You will spend a lot of time outside and therefore under the sun. We highly recommend getting an eco friendly sun cream that does not contain harmful chemicals.
They’re mineral based and usually only cost a few dollars more to help protect our natural bodies of water. If you’re not going to swim just go with a reliable name brand — granted runoff often still ends in our oceans and lakes.
High Calorie Snack
Pack some high calorie snacks for your hike on the trail. Popular options are energy gels, bars, or balls, jerky, nuts, or even a Snickers. Hiking at elevation can burn a lot of calories so it’s important to maintain your glucose levels.
It’s advised to eat as much as 200-300 calories per hour of exercise. If it’s a long day on the mountain you can always bring a packed lunch with a sandwich and high calorie like dried fruits. (I’m pretty much a kid and still love a peanut butter and jelly sandwich).
We can’t hike into the mountains with a box of tools, but a Leatherman makes for a good substitute. Ever since I developed the habit of carrying one in the film industry it has stuck. I’ve tried out a few brands, but always come back the Leatherman brand name. Just remember to always to take it out of your hiking backpack when flying as it won’t make it past security.
After using about a half dozen different version of the Leatherman I still love one of their cheapest models. The Wingman has all of the basic necessities and spring loaded pliers that feel great in the hand.
Speaking of a chill it’s a good idea to bring a small mat to sit on during breaks if you’re in the mountains. The stone and ground can often be much colder than the air so it conducts heat and will make you cold. A pad can serve a lot of purposes to like back rest, pillow, cooking surface, or a place to change your clothes.
In case of emergencies, it’s always a good idea to have a fully charged phone and if need be a power bank to ensure you have a functional phone. There are also a ton of nifty apps and features on phones these days from 3D topo maps, calorie counters, step counters, and GPS route markers that can be helpful on a hike.
You should carry some form of navigation. Luckily we live in the world of GPS and there are a plethora of options these days that can help with your route planning that even includes smartwatches. We carry a paper map in addition to the GPS on our phones, but we’re hoping to pick up a GPS watch this summer to better track our movements in the Rockies.
We travel with a bunch of cameras, but the one we universally recommend is the RX 100. This camera is tremendous for a day hike as it fits in your pocket and still packs a punch.
They make a number of models at different price points, but it’s a simple to use point-and-shoot camera that anyone can operate. It also takes superb images with a 20mp resolution and full manual controls.
It’s a good idea to carry with your supplies to start a fire should you need one. We like to carry a disposable butane lighter, but it’s also possible to carry sturdy waterproof matches in a container. It’s also a good idea if you’re in wet conditions to carry some kindling that can be used to start.
Your body heat fluctuates naturally throughout the day and activity this is why layering is key. Beyond that it’s always a good idea to bring an extra layer beyond what you think you will need in case something gets wet or you find yourself with a chill. Maintaining your temperature is key because once you get a chill it’s very tough to shake it. A down jacket is lightweight and perfect for insulating your body.
This is where preparation for spending a night out in the wilderness comes into effect. If you’re on a short loop around town it’s probably not necessary, but any significant hike in a national park or wilderness area presents the risk of spending the night outside. When temperatures drop at night it presents the very dangerous threat of hypothermia or frostbite.
If you’re not on a long hike a large multiple day hiking backpack may not be necessary. Expect to still cary several pounds of gear on your pack so it’s important to have a backpack that sits well on your back with good suspension. However, you don’t need a 50L+ backpack instead opt for a size around 35L that should be enough to carry all of your necessities.
We have a large number of hiking backpacks and they range in sizes. If you have plans for other short treks that may or may not have a porter you can go with a 50L that will lend more versatility without being so large its unnecessarily cumbersome on the trail.
We personally like to use 50L packs for most day hikes in the mountains as it allows for us to carry everything we could need. Major plus side is a large bag means we can bring things like a stove to make coffee or a hot meal for a nice rest. As far as our recommendation on smaller backpacks we love the Traverse from REI and the Exos/Tempest from Osprey.
This is a non-negotiable item if you’re in bear country and in some parks it’s actually required by law. The same goes for bear proof canisters, but you likely won’t need that for a day hike. However, if you plan to spend a night in bear country you need to learn proper bear aware steps and understand crucial deterrent steps.
It’s a good idea to make noise while hiking in bear country whether that is singing, ringing a bell, clapping, or banging your hiking poles. Be wary of blind spots on your hikes such as tight bends and forested sections of the trail.
This all comes down to your intended hike. It could be for example in bear country, through a desert, at nighttime, in a jungle, during the winter, or any other scenario. Or you could be fishing, photographing, bouldering, swimming, or whatever else suits your fancy.
In the winter in any terrain it’s a good to hike with avalanche equipment, but that extend beyond your average hike. Key things that would be nice are things like rubber boots, rain gear, gaiters, or bug spray if hiking in humid jungle environments. It always varies from region to region and with an endless amount of hiking possibilities across the globe it’s pretty tough to nail down one perfect hiking day trip packing list.
Tips On Picking Hiking Clothes
You can read more about what to wear hiking in our more detailed post. We’re always looking to perfect what we wear in the mountains, wilderness, or jungle and no trip is exactly the same.
Everyone processes temperatures differently as metabolisms vary. So no one can recommend what exactly you should wear based on temperature. For example, I run hot and use minimal insulation even in the winter months while Natasha will often wear one to two layers more. It will probably take some experimenting in hikes until you find the right clothes that work for you given the weather.
No denim or cotton.
There are a plethora of “The Mountains Are Calling” tee shirts, but they’re good for hanging around a mountain town not hiking. Cotton absorbs and holds moisture so that you end of feeling damp and sweaty in hot temperatures. While in low temperatures it can turn cold and wet as the moisture pulls heat away from your body. As stated several times in the post look for materials such as nylon, polyester, wool, rayon, or other alternatives.
You should be mindful of your clothes you want to look for something that is durable yet stretches. Trails and scrambling require a lot of movement so you need pants that do not inhibit your stride. On top of this branches, briars, and rocks can be tough on thin clothes so you need a decent material that will hold up.
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