Last updated: November 8, 2023
Thinking about going for a hike any time soon? Wondering what to bring on a short day hike? Make sure you have everything you need with this day hike gear list for beginning and experienced hikers alike.
It’s important to be prepared and pack the right essentials even when day hiking, for safety and to have the most fun possible. And I’ve got you covered! I’ve been hiking for as long as I can remember. It’s more than a hobby for me, it’s a way of life.
Day Hike Gear List
Here are the 21 hiking essentials for beginners, regardless of how long your hike is or where you’re going.
1. Day hiking backpack
Choose a comfortable, properly fitting backpack to carry all your gear. Finding a backpack that fits you well is crucial for comfort and proper weight distribution. The upside is there are so many to choose from. The downside, is that there are so many to choose from.
Your best bet for finding the right backpack is to visit an outdoor store that offers a variety of backpack options, like REI. These stores usually have knowledgeable staff who can assist you in finding the right fit.
Try on several backpack models within your size range. Put on the backpack, adjust the straps, and fasten the hip belt.
Make sure the backpack rests comfortably on your shoulders and hugs your back without excessive gaps or pressure points. The hip belt should sit on your hips, transferring most of the weight to your lower body.
While wearing the backpack, walk around the store or simulate movements that you would typically make during a hike. This will help you assess the comfort and stability of the backpack while in motion. Pay attention to any discomfort or restricted movement that may indicate an ill-fitting backpack.
Consider the features of the backpack, such as the number and size of compartments, pockets, straps, and the overall weight.
Are the hip belt pockets big enough to actually hold anything useful? It depends on what you’re wanting to put in there and most phones are too big. I use them for tissue and my car key fob most of the time.
Additionally, check if the backpack offers adjustable suspension systems, shoulder straps, and hip belts, which can help customize the fit to your body shape and preferences.
Finding the right backpack is a personal process, and what works for one person may not work for another. Take the time to try on different options, assess the fit, and consider your specific needs to ensure you find a backpack that fits you comfortably and suits your outdoor activities.
What I use for day hikes
My Osprey Mira 32 comes in handy for fairly short hikes, when I don’t need a lot of extras. I appreciate this one because it’s versatile and holds a lot of gear. It’s also relatively inexpensive.
I also have a backpack that’s meant for overnight use. I love the way the Deuter 45 fits so much however, that I often use it for day hiking as well. It compresses down nicely or expands to carry up to 50L. It’s transitioning into the only backpack I actually need.
2. Navigation system
One of the most important tools of your hiking kit is your navigation system. A topographic map lets you plan your route, understand the surrounding landscape, and make informed decisions during the hike.
A compass lets you determine your direction and navigate accurately, especially in areas with limited visibility or when the trail is not well-marked. A compass can also be used in conjunction with the map to plot a course and follow a specific bearing.
It’s essential to learn how to read a compass and understand basic navigation techniques before setting out.
A GPS device or smartphone with a reliable offline map application can serve as a valuable backup tool. GPS technology provides real-time positioning, tracks the progress of the hike, and can help you retrace your steps if you get lost. My favorite is the Garmin inReach Mini 2.
Pro Tip: When hiking anywhere, periodically turn around and really look at the trail behind you. You could even take a photo. This will help you find your way should you happen to get lost.
Lastly, a reliable watch is beneficial for estimating distance and tracking time spent on the trail. This information can assist hikers in planning breaks, estimating arrival times, and maintaining a safe pace.
Overall, carrying a combination of a topographic map, compass, GPS device, and watch ensures that you have multiple reliable navigation tools at your disposal to navigate effectively in various hiking situations.
Stay hydrated by carrying enough water. Consider a hydration bladder or water bottles.
Water is crucial for maintaining proper hydration. Dehydration can result in fatigue, dizziness, decreased cognitive function, and even more severe complications in extreme cases.
It’s recommended to estimate the water needs based on the hike’s duration, intensity, weather conditions, and individual factors.
As a general rule, carrying at least one liter of water per hour of hiking is advisable, although this may vary depending on the circumstances and your personal needs.
Pros and Cons of Using a Water Bladder
Advantages of a Water Reservoir
- It sits well on your back. Particularly when you sip out the air from the bladder.
- Perfect center of gravity.
Disadvantages of a Water Reservoir
- You can drink too much or not enough water, because you don’t really know how much you are consuming unless you check the water level frequently.
- The line freezes in cold weather. Freezing means no water supply. While this is okay on a very short hike, it’s unacceptable when you’re on a long hike. There is little you can do about this, even if you spend a few on a line insulator. It only delays the problem a little bit.
- They have many parts that need cleaning, can break or get lost.
- They’re a pain in the a#$ to clean.
- They’re expensive.
- They tend to leak a lot. There are few things worse than running out of water and having everything in your pack be soaking wet. They’re not supposed to leak and I imagine if you connect and maintain them in exactly the way you’re recommended to, this will never happen. However, it has happened to friends of mine at least every third hike. Also, the seals do get old and it leaks as a result.
- They tend to smell badly over time.
- They’re not fun to refill on the trail.
You may notice there are a lot more disadvantages to using a water bladder over a water bottle. I’ve used both and while I do appreciate the convenience of the reservoir while hiking, I will opt for the simple efficiency of a water bottle every time.
I prefer a Nalgene, because you can add boiling water to them and they won’t collapse. I also prefer the wide-mouth ones, because it’s easier to pour water into.
Pack nutritious snacks and meals to sustain your energy throughout the hike.
Hiking can be a demanding activity that requires significant exertion and burns calories. Adequate nutrition supports muscle function, mental clarity, and overall well-being, enhancing your overall hiking experience. Plus food tastes really good when you’re hungry.
Choosing the right types of food is also important. Pack lightweight, non-perishable, and nutrient-dense options. Trail mix, energy bars, dried fruits, nuts, jerky, and sandwiches are popular choices among hikers for a reason.
5. First aid kit
Have a compact first aid kit containing essential supplies like bandages, adhesive tape, antiseptic wipes, pain relievers, and any personal medications. Include this in what to pack for a short hike or long hike, but every single hike.
A first aid kit lets you properly address injuries, provide initial care for more significant medical incidents, and manage common ailments that may arise during a hike.
This is the one I appreciate the most. The only additions I include are rock tape and duct tape.
6. Sun protection
Protect your skin and eyes by wearing sunscreen, sunglasses, and a hat.
You should protect yourself from the sun wherever you go, but if you’re hiking at higher altitudes, the intensity of UV rays increases due to thinner atmosphere.
Snow, water, and other reflective surfaces can also intensify UV exposure. Sunscreen can help counteract these factors by providing an added layer of protection.
In addition to sunscreen, wearing protective clothing, a wide-brimmed hat, and sunglasses can further enhance your sun protection during a hike.
7. Extra clothing layers
Whether packing for a hiking vacation or just hiking around home, you want to be prepared for changing weather conditions by packing extra clothing layers such as a lightweight jacket, a warm hat, and gloves.
Having extra clothing layers allows you to adapt to changing temperatures and stay comfortable. I nearly always wear a merino wool t-shirt, either short-sleeved or long-sleeved depending on the conditions.
It also helps with moisture management. When hiking, you may sweat due to exertion, even in cooler temperatures. Extra clothing layers can help manage moisture by wicking sweat away from your body and keeping you dry.
Wet clothing can lead to discomfort, chills, and even hypothermia, especially in colder conditions.
Lastly, extra layers helps you be prepared for any emergencies that might arise. When choosing clothing layers for a day hike, consider the following.
- Start with a moisture-wicking base layer that helps keep your skin dry by moving sweat away from your body. Choose materials such as synthetic fabrics or merino wool that offer good moisture management.
- A mid-layer provides insulation to retain heat. Fleece jackets or synthetic insulated jackets are lightweight and offer warmth without bulk. They can be easily added or removed as needed.
- An outer layer, such as a waterproof and breathable shell jacket, protects you from wind, rain, or snow. Look for jackets with adjustable hoods, sealed seams, and ventilation options to adapt to changing conditions.
- Don’t forget to bring accessories like a hat, gloves, and extra socks. These items can provide additional insulation and protect extremities from cold temperatures.
8. Hiking shoes
Invest in a good pair of sturdy, comfortable hiking boots with ankle support to prevent blisters and provide traction.
You’ll want shoes that support your feet and ankle stability, ones with good traction and grip. Water-resistant or waterproof shoes are important if you plan to ever walk in the rain or cross even small streams.
Choose hiking shoes that are appropriate for the type of terrain and weather conditions you’ll encounter during your hike. Make sure to break in your shoes before embarking on a long hike to avoid pain and potential blisters.
If you’re at all unsure of where to start your shoe journey, start with Hokas. These are onesI love and recommend with every step I take.
9. Extra socks
Bring extra pairs of moisture-wicking socks to keep your feet dry and prevent blisters. Here are some things to think about when buying socks for your next hike.
- Choose socks made of moisture-wicking and quick-drying materials, such as synthetic blends or merino wool. These materials help manage moisture, keep your feet dry, and provide insulation even when damp.
- Consider the weather conditions and terrain of your hike when selecting sock thickness. Thicker socks may provide additional cushioning and warmth in colder temperatures or rugged terrain, while thinner socks may be suitable for warmer climates or less demanding trails.
- It’s generally recommended to bring at least one extra pair of socks on a day hike. However, the number of extra pairs may vary based on personal preference, hike duration, and the likelihood of encountering wet or challenging conditions.
My favorite socks depend on the condition of my feet. These Wrightsocks are my favorites for most of the year. These merino wool socks are my absolute favorite pair for cooler temperatures. I love them for their warmth and cushion mostly.
And I use these amazing socks when my feet need a little extra love, extra cushion.
10. Rain gear
Carry a waterproof jacket or poncho to shield yourself from unexpected rain showers. Hiking in wet clothes is not fun and can easily lead to chafing and blisters.
Rain gear also provides an extra layer of warmth, as it tends to keep heat in. I’ve tried many and some work better than others. The Black Diamond Highline Shell is my top choice. I prefer to order a men’s shell, because they tend to be longer in the sleeves and the torso.
Be prepared for low-light conditions or emergencies by carrying a reliable headlamp or flashlight with extra batteries.
Day hikes can sometimes take longer than anticipated due to various factors such as challenging terrain, route changes, or unexpected incidents.
If you find yourself hiking after sunset or in fading light, a headlamp or flashlight becomes essential for safely finding your way back to the trailhead or campsite.
There are tons of headlamps out there. Here are a few things to think about when purchasing one for you.
- Look for a headlamp or flashlight with sufficient brightness and beam distance to illuminate your path adequately.
- Check the battery life of the headlamp or flashlight and make sure it can last for the duration of your hike. Consider carrying spare batteries or a backup light source if necessary.
- Select a headlamp or flashlight that is durable and built to withstand outdoor conditions. Ensure it is water-resistant or waterproof to handle rain or accidental splashes.
- Choose a headlamp that fits comfortably on your head and is adjustable to fit different head sizes. I have a few different ones and some of them are only comfortable when wearing a hat underneath them.
Here is my favorite one so far. It’s an upgrade over their older version, a very reliable lamp that’s easy to wear.
12. Multi-tool or knife
A versatile multi-tool or a pocket knife can be handy for various tasks like cutting, opening packages, or fixing equipment. It’s great for gear repair, maintenance, food prep, and first aid situations.
When choosing a multi-tool or knife for a day hike, look for something small and lightweight.
Consider your specific needs and preferences to determine which additional features are useful for your hiking activities. Some multi-tools offer additional features like screwdrivers, pliers, scissors, or can openers.
Carrying a multi-tool or knife on a day hike let’s you address a range of needs, from emergencies to everyday tasks. It’s a compact and practical addition to your hiking gear that can come in handy when you least expect it.
Carry a whistle to alert others in case of an emergency, if you get lost or should you come across a hungry predator. Look for one that is lightweight and preferably, one that you can attach to your day pack.
By carrying a whistle on a day hike, you have a simple yet effective tool for emergency communication, increasing your safety and the likelihood of being found in case of an unforeseen situation. It’s a small precaution that can make a significant difference in outdoor safety.
This is the one I have, both a whistle and compass for the perfect little lightweight combo.
Bring waterproof matches, a lighter, or other fire-starting tools for emergencies or to enjoy a campfire.
While day hikes are typically short and close to civilization, unexpected events can occur, such as getting lost, encountering severe weather, or sustaining an injury. In such situations, having a fire can provide warmth, help signal for help, and provide a sense of security until rescue arrives.
15. Insect repellent
Protect yourself from mosquitoes and other insects by carrying an effective insect repellent.
Choose one that is appropriate for the types of insects you may encounter in your hiking location. Follow the instructions on the product label for proper application and reapplication.
Pro Tip: Do not put it on your skin over sunscreen. Do not use Picardin on your skin if you can help it.
I highly recommend a bug net for your head that while rather silly looking, is much better for your body and the environment. More effective for horse flies too!
16. Personal hygiene items
Include essentials like toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and a small trowel for burying waste.
17. Emergency shelter
Bringing an emergency shelter, even on a day hike, is a precautionary measure that can provide essential protection and increase your safety in unexpected situations.
While day hikes are generally short and close to civilization, unforeseen circumstances can arise. These may include sudden changes in weather conditions, getting lost or injured, encountering wildlife, or experiencing equipment failure.
Having an emergency shelter can help you stay protected and comfortable until help arrives or the situation resolves.
18. Communication devices
Depending on the area, consider carrying a fully charged mobile phone, a two-way radio, or a personal locator beacon for emergencies. These can be useful for both navigating and emergency situations. Again, my personal favorite is the Garmin inReach Mini 2.
Make sure they’re fully charged before your hike, and consider carrying backup power sources such as portable chargers. Some people consider these essentials, some don’t. Personally, I would not hike without them.
19. Bear spray
Bear spray is a deterrent for bears and other predatory animals, including the two-legged kind. It’s an important item to pack, and to know how to use properly. There are even classes taught on proper use or you can ask at the sporting goods store where you purchase it from.
Pro Tip: You do not spray bear spray on yourself to keep the bears away. It is not like bug spray in any way.
20. Trekking poles
Reduce strain on your joints and improve stability and balance with trekking poles, especially on challenging terrains.
In addition, trekking poles can serve multiple purposes beyond hiking. They can be used to clear spider webs or vegetation blocking your path, test the depth of water or snow, and provide support when setting up a tarp or shelter.
They can also act as an extra tool for self-defense against wildlife or for warding off potential hazards on the trail.
Trekking poles don’t have to be expensive, but the more time you spend hiking the more you will invest in a quality, lightweight set of poles. Here are the ones I love.
21. Down Hoodie
You need a warm layer for hiking in cooler temperatures, in winter, or in case of an emergency on the trail. There are many fantastic puffies to choose from and your best bet depends on your body shape and internal heating capacity.
I tend to get cold easily and have spent a lot of time searching for the best options to keep warm. The Outdoor Research Helium Down Hoodie is an awesome option to consider.
Fun Things to Bring on a Hike
Here are some fun things to consider bringing on a day hike, if you’re up to carrying some additional weight.
Capture memories and the stunning views by bringing a camera or a smartphone with a good camera.
When bringing a camera on a day hike, consider its size, weight, and durability, opting for a compact and lightweight option that suits your needs.
Spotting wildlife, birds, or distant landscapes can be even more exciting with a pair of binoculars. They can bring things closer and help you appreciate the details of your surroundings.
Consider packing small, lightweight outdoor games like a Frisbee, a hacky sack, or a portable cornhole set. These can be fun to play during breaks or at a scenic spot along the trail.
Trail Journal or Sketchbook
Bring a small notebook or sketchbook to record your thoughts, feelings, or draw the landscapes you encounter. It can be a creative and reflective way to document your hike.
Snacks and Treats
Pack some delicious snacks and treats to enjoy during your hike.
Bird or Plant Identification Guide
If you’re interested in nature and want to learn more about the birds, plants, or trees you encounter, bring a field guide or download an app on your smartphone to help you identify and learn about them.
If you plan to have breaks or relax in nature, a lightweight, portable hammock can provide a comfortable spot to rest and enjoy the surroundings.
Day hiking etiquette requires simply that you treat others the way you wish to be treated yourself and minimize your impact on the environment. Use common sense and follow these simple rules to make the most of your time outdoors.
✅ Breathe the fresh air
✅ Smell the trail and the trees
✅ Eat the food
✅ Listen to the birds
✅ Cross the streams
✅ Laugh with friends
✅ Enjoy the view
✅ Stay for the sunset
Day Hiking Checklist
Sign up below for a day hike checklist for your hikes.
Day Hiking Gear FAQs
Water, snacks/food, appropriate footwear/clothing, navigation tools (map, compass, GPS), sunscreen, insect repellent, a first aid kit, a whistle, a headlamp, a multi-tool/knife, a small backpack, a fully charged phone, and any specific items relevant to the terrain/weather conditions.
Avoid bringing unnecessary items that add unnecessary weight or clutter, such as excessive clothing, bulky gear, non-essential electronics, valuables, large amounts of food, and items prohibited in the hiking area. Keep your pack light and prioritize essential items for safety, comfort, and enjoyment.
The duration of a day hike can vary depending on individual preferences, fitness levels, and the specific trail. Generally, a day hike is considered to be a few hours to a full day, typically ranging from 3 to 10 miles or more, but it ultimately depends on personal capabilities and goals.
While not always essential, a backpack is highly recommended for a day hike. It provides a convenient way to carry essential supplies like water, snacks, extra layers, navigation tools, and a first aid kit. A backpack helps distribute weight and keeps your hands free for balance and safety.
Final thoughts on Day Hiking Essentials
One of the advantages of day hiking is that it lets you enjoy the beauty of nature while still being able to sleep in a comfortable bed at night.
Regardless of how long or short your hike is however, it’s essential to be adequately prepared for whatever might happen. The better prepared you are, the more rewarding your hike tends to be.