Day Hike Packing List | 13 Essentials for Hiking (& how to avoid extra bulk)
Whether you’re heading out for a casual waterfall hike or a full-day adventure (maybe to some natural hot springs), having the proper gear is essential for the best experience.
I’ve put together a day hike packing list to help you explore the trails safely, efficiently and more ‘enjoyable-y‘ so that you don’t forget anything essential.
As the national parks are more and more popular these days, hiking trails are ever changing. Between erosion, overcrowding and changing weather, sometimes you never know what you’ll encounter.
Being prepared and equipped is the best way to ensure an enjoyable experience. I check this gear list every time I’m planning a hike to make sure I have everything I need.
Beyond a rain jacket and rain pants, you’ll notice a big difference in having the right items on your hiking adventures.
If you’re a beginner hiker, follow this hiking gear checklist to make sure you have everything you need, and avoid packing things you don’t.
COMPLETE DAY HIKE PACKING LIST
1. TREKKING POLES
Don’t cheap out on quality hiking poles. I’ve seen many cheap poles (usually from Costco) that break at the worst time.
You want to spend money on these – because if you get into a sketchy situation where you need to put most of your weight on them, you want to know you can trust them.
They also help with crossing creeks and rivers, testing snow or mud depth. I also use mine to test how stable a rock is (much safer testing with my pole instead of my foot).
Hiking poles can save you a lot of energy on a long hike, and are a huge help when going downhill by relieving lots of impact on your joints.
They are worth every penny. If you’re worried about encountering scrambles, find a pair that collapse easily.
Recommended: these carbon fiber poles are lightweight, strong and fold up easily.
Cheaper hiking poles can work just fine, but they’re going to be much heavier and won’t last as long.
2. WATER FILTRATION
As far as hiking necessities go, water is your number one item. But water is heavy, especially if you need a lot on a long hike.
There are a few options for water filtration on your day hike. The most convenient is the Katadyne BeFree.
It’s basically a water bottle with a built in filter membrane. It’s lightweight and collapses almost flat so it’s compact and great for traveling or canoe trips.
I like the wide-opening – it’s easy and fast to fill water from a creek or stream. Since it packs so well, you could even keep it in your first aid/emergency kit and always have it on hand.
It’s a good idea to carry back up water filtration tablets in case your filter fails or just to have a lightweight & no bulk water back up.
Some hikers use the SteriPEN. It’s lightweight, but really only usable for cleaner water from a glacier or mountain. You don’t want to use one of these on stagnant pond water.
The same goes for the LifeStraw. Some people use it as a backup if you’re packing in your own water. You don’t want to use it as your main source of accessing drinking water.
To use it you need to get down within inches of the water and you need a lot of sucking power to get it going.
3. FIRST AID KIT
No matter how experienced of a hiker you are, accidents can happen. One slip on an unstable rock at the wrong time when you’re not paying attention could happen to anyone, no matter your skill level.
Find a kit (or make your own) that has bandages, pain killers, alcohol wipes or Polysporin, a small flashlight or headlamp, emergency whistle, extra socks, compass and emergency blanket if you can fit it.
Your first aid kit is also a great place to keep extra water filtration tablets.
Recommended: this first aid kit on Amazon has everything you should need.
Headlamps are even more essential for day hikes these days. Hiking is more popular than ever now that many people are choosing to travel and adventure closer to home.
This means that you might have to hit the trails earlier than you normally would if you want to get a parking spot at the trail head. Or if you’re planning to reach the summit for sunrise.
They’re also handy as an added safety feature in case you get lost or go off trail and you’re coming down in the dark.
Recommended: this is the best rated headlamp on Amazon (and it’s cheap).
5. SATELLITE COMMUNICATION FOR SAFETY
The most important safety device for a day hike is something to communicate in case of emergency when you have no cell service. This is especially important if you’re planning to do solo hikes or multi-day backcountry hiking.
The best device out there right now is the Garmin inReach, which offers 2-way communication so you can send texts out and receive.
Even if you’re not in an emergency but are running late coming back from your hike, you can still let your crew know.
Make sure you always tell somewhere where you’re headed and what your plan is.
Plus, we all love using our phones to take photos while hiking, so it’s good to have a backup device in case you end up dropping your phone, losing it, or it runs out of battery.
You can clip the InReach to your pack and you won’t lose it.
Being able to have 2-way communication should be a no-brainer when choosing a satellite communication device.
The inReach Mini is light & compact and you can take it everywhere.
6. BLISTER PREVENTION SUPPLIES
Most of us will encounter blisters on a hike at some point, and especially if you’re still breaking in your hiking boots.
Try these tricks to prevent blisters on a day hike:
Wear socks with double layers, or double up on socks so that the sock layer takes the friction and not your skin.
WrightSocks or these anti-blister socks are what you want.
Many hikers and backpackers swear by Leukotape.
Another thing you can try is to cover the spots on your feet prone to blisters with Vaseline and then cover it with pantyhose. This acts like a second skin and has been used by people in the army for years.
7. A BOTHY BAG/EMERGENCY STORM SHELTER
When you’re not planning an overnight hike, you might not think about bringing shelter. But when the weather turns for the worst (and you know it will), these bothy bags can be a lifesaver.
They’re lightweight but made from tough material and it turns into a little shelter that you can cocoon yourself to stay protected from the rain, wind and snow.
Depending on the size, you can fit a few people inside – the more the better since it holds heat really well.
Even if you’re heading out on a short day hike, it’s great for staying dry while you eat lunch or just need to wait out the rain.
Recommended: check out the 4-person bothy bag here.
8. SNACKS AND ENERGY/CAFFEINE
Bring high protein and high calorie snacks. Try to avoid added and refined sugars. I love the RXBars that have only a few ingredients – most have egg whites, nuts, berries/fruit and dates.
For early morning sunrise hikes, or long hikes when you need a boost of warm energy, the Wacaco Minipresso is perfect. Nothing like a hot caffeine boost on a chilly fall or spring hike.
You can still have your coffee on the trail with less water and less weight.
Even if you only hike once or twice a year, this portable espresso machine is perfect for other travels – a replacement for bad hotel coffee, camping or music festivals.
P.S. – it might seem like a luxury hiking item, but it would make the perfect gift for someone who loves to hike.
9. COMPACT STOVE AND FUEL TABLETS
An ultralight folding pocket stove is the best way to prepare warm food on your day hike without sacrificing bulk & weight.
Pack a few solid fuel tablets, a Bic lighter and you can boil water for your lunch.
10. BEAR SPRAY
If you’re hiking anywhere in bear country, someone in your hiking group should carry bear spray. It should be easily accessible (clipped to or on the outside of your pack) and everyone should know how to use it.
There are mixed opinions about whether bear bells work or not.
Some say they keep the bears away, but others say the jingle attracts other wildlife.
Either way, your best defense is to be loud and make your presence known, especially coming up to blind corners. Ideally, the more people in your hiking group, the better.
11. A KNIFE OR MULTI TOOL
One of the most important day hiking essentials is a knife. It will come in handy for quick fixes, food prep and first aid situations.
Better yet, bring a lightweight multi tool to cover all the bases.
12. SUN AND BUG PROTECTION
Don’t forget your sunglasses. Especially if you’re hiking in the spring or fall – if there’s a chance there will be snow on the ground, it can be a lot brighter out than it may seem.
Scratch-resistant sunglasses are great to bring on a hiking trip, just in case you drop them or have to squeeze passed rocks and tree branches.
In addition to sunscreen, lip balm with SPF is just as important.
Insect repellant is also essential, but when you’re heading out into the woods, it’s a good idea to wear long sleeves and long pants to avoid ticks.
13. A PROPER FITTING DAYPACK
Finally, ensuring your backpack is the right size and proper fit will make such a difference in comfort level on your hike. Look for a 15-20L capacity pack. This is a good size to keep it lightweight but still hold all your hiking essentials.
I recommend heading to your favorite outdoor apparel store and trying on a few to find the right fit.
But, if you want to try one out, Osprey brand backpacks are some of the best quality for value packs around.
This 18L Hikelite pack is the perfect size for a day hike. It’s got loops for your trekking poles, room for either water bottles or a bladder and is lightweight and breathable.