Hiking is a safe, enjoyable, and affordable activity when you understand what gear you need. Things like first aid supplies, sun protection, and navigation tools are the bare minimum. But on this hiking packing list, you’ll also find desirable “extras,” like a camera, trekking poles, and other items that may enhance your experience.
I’m a Colorado local who’s hiked hundreds of miles through deserts, forests, canyons, and mountain summits. With the ability to choose your own adventure, it’s a sport that anyone can take part in.
Whether you’re readying for an extreme trek or a walk through your local park, this day hiking essentials list is full of top gear recommendations.
Table of Contents
- Hiking Essentials Checklist
- Clothing to Pack for Hiking
- Tips for Packing Hiking Essentials
- Hiking Packing List FAQs
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Hiking Essentials Checklist
Your hiking backpack is one of the most important pieces of essential hiking gear. It must be comfortable, durable, functional, and a suitable size for your needs.
The Osprey Daylite is a recurring recommendation on Travel Lemming, as it’s one of the best travel backpacks on the market. The internal water reservoir sleeve, hip and sternum belts, and breathable mesh back panel make this a great choice for hiking.
Rain Pack Cover
Even before short day hikes, you should always check weather conditions for your safety and enjoyment. But as we all know, predictions aren’t always accurate. Lightweight and compact, it never hurts to bring along the Joy Walker backpack rain cover just in case.
This handy hiking backpack cover is made with waterproof fabric, an elastic rim, and anti-slip straps. It’s low cost and effective in protecting sensitive hiking gear like electronics and paper goods. If pairing this with the Osprey Daylite, you’ll want to select the small size, but note this company sells covers for up to 90L packs.
For ultimate water protection, use these Frelaxy dry sacks in tandem with your backpack rain cover. Each waterproof bag is lightweight and easy to compress, and they also help keep all your essential hiking gear organized. They’re sort of like neat, little packing cubes, an item I recommend in my Colorado packing list guide.
To use, simply load up your dry bag, fold the roll-top closure 3-5 times, then buckle the strap. I love using these as a lunch sack, to store my GoPro gear, and to keep my hiking first aid kit safe.
👉 Pro Tip: To maximize space and distribute weight, try clipping a dry bag or two to the outside of your backpack!
First Aid Kit
If collecting backpacking gear for a long-distance hike, you might opt for adventure medical kits. These extensive kits often contain fast-clotting gauze, tourniquets, and more trauma supplies for the worst-case scenario. Though safety should always come first, most would agree that a basic first aid kit should suffice on day hikes.
I’ve hiked all throughout the West, namely trails in Colorado, and this first aid kit by General Medi is my personal favorite. When on steep hikes like Colorado 14ers, the included moleskin has been so helpful in treating blisters.
Various sized bandages and tweezers are also beneficial to have when hiking, as is the included emergency blanket. It can double as a shelter, which is one of the Ten Essentials you should always have when out in the wilderness.
If you purchase the first aid kit recommended above, then you’ll have moleskin to help treat blisters. In my opinion, moleskin works great, but it doesn’t offer as long-lasting protection as hydrocolloid bandages. These types of bandages act similar to a scab, protecting a wound and allowing the body to heal faster.
These waterproof blister Band-Aids allow you to keep trekking even if your boots are biting. They’re comfortable, waterproof, and reliably adhesive. I’ve never had one slip, even when putting on and taking off tight rock climbing shoes. I highly recommend you pack them on your hiking trip, just in case!
Hand warmers are another “bonus” I’d recommend adding to your first aid kit, especially if you’re one to take long-distance hikes in the winter. Or you may always want to carry these if you live in a place where daily temperatures vary, like mountainous Colorado or the dry desert of Las Vegas.
HotHands hand warmers are my go-to, as they truly last up to ten hours. Simply shake to activate them, then adhere — but be sure not to apply them directly to your skin. Rather, layer them between gloves, or in the case of their toe warmers, between your sock and hiking shoes.
If you buy our suggested first aid kit, then you’re already covered in the area of emergency shelter. But if you don’t already have one, please consider purchasing this 4-pack of space blankets by Everlit. They’re incredibly affordable, lightweight, and could literally save your life.
You never know if injury or poor weather could leave you stranded overnight. These effective thermal blankets retain 90% of body heat and can shield you from wind and moisture. In an emergency situation, you can also use them to collect water or as a signal tool. Don’t skip adding these to your hiking packing list!
Whether you’re hiking the beaches of St. John, USVI or mountaintop trails near Seattle, sun protection is an absolute must. To avoid ultraviolet rays, it’s suggested that you should apply sunscreen even underneath standard clothing. For example, a cotton t-shirt is easily penetrable by the sun’s rays and only has a UPF of 5.
Liberally use Sun Bum’s SPF 50 sunscreen when on hiking trails, even in colder weather. After all, the sun’s rays reflect off of snow. Remember to reapply every two hours or if perspiring on a strenuous trail, even more frequently.
👉 Pro Tip: To save weight and room in your pack, squeeze sunscreen into these travel-size bottles before your hike.
SPF Lip Balm
Be fully sun protected with this complementary kit of three SPF Lip Balms by Sun Bum. Each of the three tropical flavors is infused with aloe and vitamin E. These moisturizing ingredients promote healing while SPF 30 protects from the sun’s rays.
If hiking in an area that harbors insects, such as muggy forests or areas near water, you’ll be thankful you added bug spray to your day hike packing list. Off! Deep Woods® insect repellent offers long-lasting protection from mosquitoes, ticks, and flies. Its efficacy and non-greasy formula make it a top-rated pick for outdoor recreation.
Depending on where you’ll be day hiking, bear spray may not be necessary. For example, though Colorado is home to black bears, I seldom take this with me when on day hikes near Denver. But when I went hiking in Glacier National Park (one of the best things to do in the US!), it was absolutely part of my day hiking essentials.
If you do plan on hiking in bear country, pack this bear spray by Guard Alaska. You hope to never have to use it, but it’s an important safety tool to have on hand.
👉 Pro Tip: A bear bell is another great tool to use when in bear country, alerting the animal of your approach. Clip it to the outside of your pack and hopefully, neither of you will be surprised on the trail!
Similar to bear bells, a whistle can be used to protect yourself from wildlife. In Wild by Cheryl Strayed, one of my favorite hiking books, I recall a passage where she used a whistle to scare off a longhorn bull. Here in Colorado, I’ve been told by several hikers that loud whistles can frighten black bears away.
The Osprey Daylite backpack has a built-in whistle on the sternum strap. But if you choose to day hike with a different pack, consider wearing one of these LuxoGear emergency whistles. Aside from protection from animals, they also work well to alert others if you get injured, lost, or separated from your hiking party.
Navigation is another of the Ten Essentials, and a compass is a reliable tool you should highly consider including in your day hiking gear. It may not be necessary on well-marked paths but is beneficial in the backcountry and on longer hikes.
Weighing a tenth of a pound, this baseplate compass by TurnOnSport doesn’t require batteries or cellular service. With precise direction, orienting lines, and a built-in magnifying glass, you’ll be far less likely to get lost. But of course, it’s important to know how to use a compass — and don’t forget a topographical map of your hiking region, too.
Great for remote hiking, this device allows you to view weather forecasts, track your location, and send satellite messages.
Though compasses are tried-and-true, many in the digital age may prefer a GPS device like the Garmin GPSMap® 66i. Beginner hikers on well-traveled trails will likely find this investment unnecessary. But if long hikes through remote areas or sports like canyoneering are your hobbies, then you’ll love this all-in-one device.
You can view weather forecasts, follow downloaded maps, and track and share your location. Inreach® technology allows you to communicate with others via satellite, and if needed, send an SOS signal to a 24/7 response team. Even if just day hiking, it provides greater peace of mind, and personally, is one of my favorite pieces of hiking gear.
New hikers stick out like sore thumbs when using their cell phone flashlights on trails. But really, hiking in the dark isn’t all that hard when your hands are free!
This Petzl headlamp is always part of my day hiking checklist. You never know when uneven terrain or getting turned around may cause your day hike to take longer than planned. Nor should you feel rushed to get back to your vehicle before sundown! When you’re properly prepared, you can be a little more spontaneous when exploring.
A lighter or matches are generally reliable methods of starting a fire, another of the Ten Essentials for day hiking. However, strong winds and moisture can cause difficulties.
To create a fire during any weather and at any altitude, check out the innovative fire starter by Light My Fire. To use, create a pile of kindling, then scrape the striker against the rod until the spark ignites.
Unless stranded overnight, you shouldn’t need to start a fire when on a day hike. But sometimes when you spot an established fire ring, it’s fun to take a break mid-hike. Just be familiar with fire restrictions in the area before doing so!
A knife is another of the Ten Essentials, and this Leatherman multi-tool addresses that and so much more. You’ll find 18 tools tucked into this compact device, including wire cutters, pliers, scissors, and screwdrivers. It’s great for repairing all sorts of gear and even comes with a bottle opener, so you can crack open your beer, too!
Another top gear pick on Travel Lemming, this reusable bottle can purify water from viruses, bacteria, and even sediment.
Whether you’re packing for a weekend trip or going for a day hike, the Grayl Geopress Purifier is a go-to Travel Lemming recommendation. We extensively overview its features and benefits in our Grayl Geopress review.
But long story short, it’s one of the best water bottles on the market. In seconds, you can remove harmful viruses, bacteria, heavy metals, chemicals, and even sediment from any water source.
👉 Pro Tip: A Leatherman multi-tool can fix most things, but when it can’t, turn to duct tape. I always have tape wrapped around my water bottle for easy access. Trust me, it comes in handy all of the time!
Water is an obvious need on your day hiking checklist, and it’s better to have too much than not enough. This lightweight CamelBak water reservoir is a great alternative or addition to a water bottle.
Its ergonomic design makes it fit comfortably into the sleeve of many backpacks, including the Osprey Daylite. The wide mouth allows you to fill the reservoir with ice and makes cleaning much easier compared to similar products. Plus, CamelBak offers a lifetime guarantee!
The GoPro HERO8 is one of the brand’s top-rated models, praised for its variety of features. It’s waterproof with an impact-resistant lens and can shoot stabilized, professional videos as well as live stream.
Trekking poles may not be necessary on smooth trails, but this piece of outdoor gear is great for rocky and slick terrain. If you’re not sure of what conditions to expect, these trekking poles by TrailBuddy may be worth carrying. Besides, they collapse and only weigh 9 ounces!
Adjust the poles to your preferred height and enjoy the comfortable grip. Crafted with aluminum, they’re also durable enough to withstand the elements.
Other Hiking Essentials to Pack
- Water purification tablets
- Electrolyte drink tablets
- Salty snacks like trail mix
- Two-way radio
- Solar power bank
- Outdoor journal
- Trash bag
- Toilet paper
- Trowel and/or waste bags
- Hand sanitizer
- Hair ties
- Identification card
- Cash and/or credit card
- Printed hiking permit (if applicable)
Clothing to Pack for Hiking
What clothing to pack for hiking will largely depend on the weather. However, certain types of clothing like SPF shirts, waterproof trousers, and rain gear are always a good idea.
Here’s a general clothing checklist for hiking:
- Hiking boots or hiking shoes
- Wool socks
- Moisture-wicking UPF shirt
- Water-resistant UPF hiking pants
- Quick-dry undergarments
- Rain jacket
- Protective hat
If you’re hiking in warmer weather, you may also benefit from a cooling towel, and namely a hat with a wide brim. If the weather is cooler, items like a warm beanie, insulated jacket, gloves, and microspikes should be added to your hiking equipment list.
Consider these suggested picks, each top-rated for their quality and performance:
The Merrell Moab 2 is the brand’s most popular style and a personal favorite of my husband’s. He’s worn these tried and true hiking boots for hundreds of miles, finding them to be comfortable and functional.
The Vibram rubber sole grips rocky terrain, while the leather arch provides ankle support. Breathable mesh makes them appropriate even in warm weather, and the women’s model boasts all the same great features.
Enjoy durability and comfort with these blended merino wool socks that come with a lifetime warranty (though you probably won’t need it!)
Many hikers prefer socks made from a blend of merino wool and synthetic materials. These types of socks are often durable, comfortable, and do well regulating temperature. They’re also odor resistant and dry quickly.
USA-made, Darn Tough has been my preferred brand since I started hiking. Their men’s merino wool socks don’t slip or bunch, an important feature to prevent blisters. The same applies to their women’s version, and both come with a lifetime warranty. Though, I’ve never torn a hole into any of my pairs!
Moisture-wicking UPF T-Shirt
Standard t-shirts have a UPF of 5, which is why generally, you’ll want to apply sunscreen beneath your clothing. However, you could very well skip this step with a 50+ UPF tee by BALEAF. An assortment of colors and sizes are available in both women’s and men’s styles.
Along with being sun protective, these long-sleeve shirts are lightweight and moisture-wicking. The relaxed fit also provides a full range of motion, great for outdoor activities.
Water-Resistant UPF Hiking Pants
No matter your location, the weather can be difficult to gauge. In case of rain or varying temperatures, I recommend convertible hiking pants that can be worn full-length or as shorts. Columbia’s Saturday Trail II pants are my go-to pair when hiking, and are available in men’s sizes, too.
The fabric is both UPF 50 and water resistant, and the zip pockets securely store any items for easy access. An elastic waistband and classic fit also promote free and comfortable movement.
When it comes to rain jackets, several Columbia models check all the boxes related to my preferred features. The mens’ Watertight II model is made with a waterproof nylon shell, sealing out moisture and keeping in warmth. An adjustable hood, hem, and cuffs further protect you from the elements.
Their women’s Arcadia II includes the same perks, and both are extremely lightweight. Plus, they fold up tight and take up very little space in your backpack.
Tips for Packing Hiking Essentials
Waterproof Sensitive Items
Remember those dry bags I mentioned before? When going through your hiking checklist and packing your bag, trust me, it’s worth storing your sensitive items safely.
Secure paper goods like cash and toilet paper in these pouches, and even more importantly, expensive electronics. You don’t want to ruin your cell phone or camera on your day hike!
Refill Your First Aid Kit
If you go with the pre-built first aid kit that I previously recommended, you should be well set for a while. But if you haven’t peeked into your kit recently, do so before heading out on your hike. You don’t want to realize on the trail that you’re out of bandages, over-the-counter medications, or whatever else you may need.
Know What You Need
There’s no reason to hike with a pack that’s heavier than necessary — unless your training, I suppose. But the average day hiker doesn’t need to pack everything on this checklist. Some are better suited for longer hikes, and others are solely luxuries!
For example, warm weather negates the need for items like hand warmers and microspikes. A quick 2-mile hike near your home probably doesn’t warrant a two-way radio or GPS device. Use your best judgment, but always pack the Ten Essentials.
Dress In Layers
As we’ve discussed, the weather can be unpredictable. Do your best to prepare for varying temperatures and precipitation by following our clothing tips. Items like convertible pants and compact rain jackets provide effortless flexibility.
👉 Pro Tip: If you need an insulated jacket in colder weather, consider this Triclimate Waterproof Jacket by The North Face. It’s also available in women’s styles, and both allow you to customize warmth.
Function Over Fashion
There are so many outdoor brands that address both function and fashion. But ultimately, the former is more important for your experience and safety. Don’t skip on layers because they make you appear bulky, or choose a shoe that’s too tight simply because you like the look. And don’t even try white soles!
Remember that you’re hiking! Embrace the culture and choose what makes you comfortable, even if that means sacrificing your usual sleek style.
Hiking Packing List FAQs
What are the essential things to bring hiking?
The essentials to bring hiking include navigation, first aid and emergency supplies, and sun protection. You should also carry a headlamp, multitool, and extra clothing and sustenance.
Is hiking a cheap hobby?
Hiking is a cheap hobby when you understand what you truly need. There are plenty of trendy outdoor companies that sell costly gear, but basic hiking essentials can be purchased at a relatively low cost.
What should I pack for a day hike?
You should pack the Ten Essentials for a day hike, as well as any items you feel would benefit your experience. Safety items like bear spray may be needed in certain regions, while “extras” like a camera or binoculars may be desired by certain hobbyists.
What should you not take on a hike?
You should not take on a hike anything that is against trail rules. For example, don’t take your pet into restricted areas, or fly a drone in a region where it’s prohibited. Also, don’t take anything on a hike that you’re afraid to lose or get dirty!
If you’re new to the sport, hopefully, this hiking packing list helped you understand the hiking essentials. And if you’ve already put miles on your boots, perhaps you discovered a new must-have piece of hiking gear. Regardless, enjoy your next adventure and happy trails!
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