Knowing what to bring on a day hike can be a little overwhelming, especially if you’re not a seasoned hiker. Even now I sometimes bring too much or too little, so it’s important to think about the the type of hike you’re doing, the hiking conditions and length of said hike. This day hike packing list has all the essentials you’ll need to plan and prepare you for hiking!
The first time I ever did a real “hike” here in Canada I didn’t take anything with me. I thought that a 6 hour round trip in the middle of summer would be a breeze and I’d just need one bottle of water. I gave my husband weird looks when he put a compass in the backpack – like really? We’re only going a couple hours north? Yes, north where there is no cell service, and nothing in either direction for 2 hours! My husband has saved my newbie ass on several occasions now.
Over time my day pack has gained more and more things and although I’m lucky enough not to have used many things in there, I still wouldn’t leave the house without them! After learning what could happen on a hike if you are unprepared, a checklist is the best way to ensure you always have the essential day hike gear.
We now have a “hiking” storage box where I will keep my hiking backpack with the basic essentials in! Ready to grab and load up at any given time. These are the essentials for a day hike…
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Footwear – Hiking shoes or Trail Runners
The very first technical hike I ever did was in a pair of vans. Before we get started on what type of footwear you should wear, it’s important to know what not to wear. Definitely not anything like vans! You can get away with wearing Nikes for example but make sure they have enough tread. Good quality hiking boots should be at the top of your day hike kit list.
It took me a while to purchase a pair of hiking shoes. I’m stubborn and hated the way they looked for starters (yes newbie alert right there!) and on the other hand hiking boots were always so expensive – what if I took up hiking and the discovered I didn’t even like it?
Eventually I purchased a cheap £20 pair of hiking shoes and it was the best decision I’d ever made. A cheap pair to start with will see you through basic day hikes. If you decide hiking is for you, can you invest in better shoes later on. Good hiking shoes or boots are a game changer. I’ve since invested in a pair of Salamon X Ultra 3 Gore Tex boots and they are amazing! They have never rubbed, have great grip and I can walk for miles without my feet hurting.
The type of hiking shoe or boot will depend on what type of hiking you do. Many people prefer trail runners while others prefer sturdy boots with ankle support. It’s important to try on the shoes before you buy, and if you can, try to break them in before the hiking season starts.
A Good Quality Day Pack Is An Integral Item On Your Day Hiking Gear List
While the hiking shoes will make a huge difference to your hiking experience, the day pack is just as important. I currently use the Osprey Tempest 20 litre and it’s my favourite backpack ever. I use this pack when hiking, snowshoeing and traveling!
Osprey is continually rated as one of the best brands for backpacks, especially by hikers. I love the fit of the Tempest, it fits snuggly against my back and waist and even with a heavy pack and DSLR shoved into it, it feels lightweight. This pack has two external pockets for water bottles, or there is a gap between the pack and straps where you can fit a reservoir.
Day packs are another item you may want to try on before you buy. My day pack was bought for me and is a standard size but is made specifically for women.
What To Wear Hiking?
Sports Bra – A good sports bra is always a must, especially for women with larger chests (ahem..) A sports bra can make a lot of difference to your comfort while hiking. While I love the bras that have all these wild straps and look pretty from behind, sometimes they aren’t overly comfortable when wearing a heavy pack. I discovered this last year that some sports bras dig into your collar bones where the straps lay. I’d recommend trying your fully packed day hike backpack on with your intended sports bra in advance to see if the pack sits over the bra straps – trust me this will make a difference if going on long hikes!
Yoga Pants/Leggings – Yoga pants are what most women wear hiking and I find them to be super comfy and easier to move in. Depending on the hike you may want to wear something else. Yoga pants are great for most basic hikes but may rip if you’re going into more rugged terrain.
Socks – Looking after your feet while hiking is super important and they will thank you later! Basic socks aren’t good enough for hiking, you need to wear a pair that will cushion the foot and keep them warm or cool depending on the season.
Tops – If I am starting a day hike in the early hours of the morning, it can get pretty chilly. A good long sleeve moisture wicking top will keep you warm and cool you down when things start warming up. It’s important to note that cotton is not a good material for hiking since it retains moisture.
Merino Wool Underwear – This is optional for a day hike, but you might want to invest in merino wool underwear for multi-day hikes. Merino wool is more comfortable than cotton underwear and more hygienic. This year I invested in a pair of briefs for summer hiking from Smartwool and they held up really well!
Wet Weather Hiking Clothes
Rain Jacket – A lightweight rain jacket that can be easily folded is a great addition to your one day hike packing list. I love my Columbia Rain Jacket as it’s thin with a hood making it great for hiking and packs down super small.
Rain Pants – If you are hiking in rainy conditions, rain pants are a must. They can be worn over thermals or leggings and will protect you from the elements as well as prevent tearing. Columbia has a great range of rains pants.
Gaiters – Gaiters are awesome for hikes that are muddy, gaiters will protect your feet from getting soaked.
Winter Hiking Clothes
Merino Wool Base Layers – Merino wool is awesome for hiking and cold weather conditions. When hiking in the winter and snowy conditions, thermals should be on your winter day hike checklist. Ice Breaker are one of the best brands for merino wool and will keep your dry on wet days and hot days.
Snow Pants/Snow Jacket – Conditions can change rapidly in the mountains so it’s important to wear warm clothing in the winter months. Snow pants usually come with gaiters built in and have a thermal lining. Both snow pants and jackets are water resistant and will help keep you dry.
Microspikes/Crampons – For hiking in icy conditions or packed snow you’ll need to bring along either microspikes or crampons.
Toque – A toque or beanie to keep your head warm
Gloves – good thermal gloves to keep your hands warm
Hand/Foot Warmers – Hand and foot warmers for when conditions drop in temperature
Hydration – Re-Usable Water Bottle or Reservoir
Water is one of the most important things needed for a day hike. How much you need to bring with you will depend on a few factors. Some people can hike for hours and drink very little, others may not.
You may want to think about the type of hike you are doing beforehand. If you’re hiking in the summer you may drink more, or maybe if there’s no shade on the trail you may get dehydrated quicker. Is there any water source on the trail? Too much water is never a bad thing.
Water bottle or water reservoir?
A water reservoir is super convenient when hiking as you can drink water as your hiking without having to stop. If carrying water bottles you’ll have to take your pack off every time you need a drink. I have the Osprey 2L Water Bladder – this is perfect for me as I usually only carry 2 bottles worth of water and refill on the way if I need to, the 2L isn’t too big or heavy and fits in my Osprey Tempest pack.
On the other hand water bottles are great for refilling at creeks and waterfalls and you can easily filter them. There is no right answer to this, it purely comes down to preference. You could even carry both as long as you can carry the weight.
Water Purification Tablets or Water Filter
I always carry both Water Purification Tablets and my handy Life Straw for filtering water on trails. Both are super lightweight and take up little room in my day pack. I love my Life Straw and never leave for a hike without it. While most streams and waterfalls you’ll encounter on hikes will be okay to drink, I still like to be prepared. The crystal blue glacial water of Callaghan Lake has been some of the most refreshing water I’ve ever tasted!
Extra Snacks and Nutrition
It’s always important to bring energy boosting snacks with you on any day hike. I usually bring Cliff bars as these are my favourite but you can bring whatever you like. I also really like trail mixes for the hike as they break up the monotony of energy bars. Always bring more than you need – so should anything happen you are prepared!
Sometimes I’ll bring something a bit nicer to eat at the end of the trail, where I can relax for an hour or so and enjoy the amazing views. This summer when I hiked the Wedgemount trail here in Whistler I brought a fried chicken sandwich as a reward for getting to the top! (I love food and was doing Keto – that sandwich gave me all the motivation I needed!)
You could also keep your favourite drinks and snacks in the car for when you come back as a reward for all your hard work!
Capture Those Amazing Views On Your Day Hike
Most people are more than happy to just bring their phones and snap a few pics on it. I like to bring a DSLR since the chances of me doing a big hike again are rare. If it means I take a bit longer so be it! However, If you have a well-fitted comfortable pack, a big camera won’t feel as heavy as it is. I was surprised this summer to see how comfortable my Osprey Tempest was with a huge DSLR and lens in my pack.
I rarely use my phone on a hike, if I do it’s to take videos of any amazing views we reach on the way. I will occasionally use it for GPS just to see how much further there is to go on the trail.
Although my phone has never ran out of battery on a day hike, I do recommend taking a portable charger just in case it does and you have to call an emergency number (in areas you still get signal). If you’re going on a multi-day hike or a long day hike, consider purchasing a solar-powered phone charger – this way you only have to rely on the power of the sun!
Sun Protection Should be On Your Day Hike Checklist
Cap – I don’t always enjoy wearing sunscreen on my face since it drips into my eyes and bad things happen (hello Grand Canyon hike…) so sometimes I opt to wear a cap instead to protect my face against the sun. I also prefer to take caps that have the adjustable clip on the back so when you need to take it off you can clip it to your hiking pack!
SPF/Sunscreen – Sunscreen is not just important for your face but your whole body. Hiking in the summer (and winter!) can leave you super red afterwards.
Lip Balm – Lip Balm is important all year-round. In the summer I get burned lips and in the winter I get dry lips. I never forget my lip balm as it makes a hike far more comfortable than having to deal with sore burnt lips.
Sunglasses – I take a cheap pair of sunglasses hiking just in case they break or I lose them
What To Include In Your Day Hike Essentials First Aid Kit
You should always have a first-aid kit on your hiking essentials list. Many hikes are miles away from cell service or any emergency services and it’s important to be prepared for the unexpected. I’ve tripped over my own laces before, that was for sure unexpected! Here is what you should have on your day hike first-aid kit list.
Bandaids – The standard First Aid Kit essential. Bandaids/plasters are great for any cut or blisters that occur from your hiking boots. Like I said I’ve been so silly as to trip up my own laces not too long ago, and most cuts aren’t anything to worry about but it’s good to have something to stop any bleeding and comfort the wound.
Antibiotic Cream – Anything such as neosporin or polysprorin is a must have item in your first aid kit for any cuts or wounds.
Ibuprofen – Ibuprofen is awesome for pain relief but it’s also an anti inflammatory
Antihistamine – Great for any bug bites!
Bandages/dressings – Really important item to have in your day hike pack list. Bandages can be used for a multitude of purposes and can make a huge difference to any injuries incurred on your hike.
Antiseptic Wipes – Good in general for cleaning wounds or just wiping hands etc
Medical Gloves – Take up little room in first aid kit and can be used for inspecting wounds so you don’t infect anything with dirty hands
Whistle – If you’re ever in an emergency a Whistle can be used to attract attention
Fire Starter/Lighter – I always carry a lighter along with something that is easy to start a fire, such as drier sheets. You may need to start a fire to keep warm if you up staying put for the night.
Hand Sanitizer – Always a good bet on any hike as it gets dirty on the trail. Also good for using pit toilets etc.
Other Things To Pack For A Day Hike
Bear Spray – Some easy hikes won’t require bear spray, however when you’re venturing into known bear territory, it’s a day hiking must have! After all this is a bears territory and home, and we are just visitors. There’s no telling when or where you might bump into a bear and it’s always best to be prepared.
Bug Spray – I don’t know what it is about mosquitos but they seem to love English blood. Mosquitos love me, and I refuse to leave the house in summer without bug spray! Being itchy on a trail is no fun!
Emergency Shelter/Space Blanket – You always want to be prepared for staying the night on a hike and an emergency shelter can be a life saver
Knife – A knife is something you’ll rarely need to use on a hike but it is good for certain situations
Headlamp – Another item I never leave without. If you are starting your hike super early in the morning you’ll need a headlamp. It’s also good for situations where you misjudge the time a hike will take and may end up coming down in the dark. Also good for attracting attention
Hiking Poles – My saving grace for steep hikes. I love my hiking poles and would have reached Wedgemount Glacier without them. They are really good for distributing weight more evenly through the body if you have a heavy pack. These are a must on my day hike equipment list
Toilet Paper – Self explanatory but optional. For day hikes I rarely need to go to the bathroom, I can go hours without having to pee but others may not
Cash/ID – It’s always a good idea to bring ID for when there may be conservation officers around and also if you were to ever get lost. Cash can also come in handy for situations where you may run out of food and need to buy some from fellow hikers
Don’t Forget Navigation On Your Hiking Trip Packing List
Navigation is an essential item to have in your day hiking gear list. Although many trails are worn and easy to follow, it can still be very easy to get lost! That’s where your navigation comes in.
Map – An old school map of the trails is always handy to have! This would have made a world of difference when I hiked the Hollywood sign – it’s no fun getting lost in 45 degree weather!
Compass – I always carry a compass but have not yet had to use it! This item is something you might think you don’t really need until you actually need it! Knowing which direction you came from, and what way to get back can make a huge difference when hiking a trail that’s not so well maintained.
GPS – A GPS system is one of the best items you can have on your day hike backpack list. Most GPS systems will set you back a fair bit of $$$ but if you can afford one do it!
Pack It In – Pack It Out / Leave No Trace
While it’s important to be prepared and know what to pack for a day hike, it’s equally important to be aware of Leave No Trace principles. Please remember that you must pack out everything you pack in. Thats means everything – including toilet paper. Depending on the trail there many be pit toilets which are some-what maintained, in which case you can dispose of the toilet paper there. However most state parks, provincial parks and national parks do not have trash bins as there is no one to empty them, which means it’s our responsibility to do so. This is all part of loving and experiencing the outdoors. We leave no trace not just so that when we return it’s the same beautiful place but because we love nature and the wildlife who call these areas home.
Leave no trace principles also means sticking to the trail since so many wildflowers thrive in the backcountry. It also means not sharing every single location on social media. This is a grey area right now as more and more people are sharing on social media, and as we can’t travel far, people who have little experience in this are exploring their own backyards more. I think the outdoors is for everyone but we also need to take some responsibility for our actions. You can share your experience without giving away everything – google is where the fun happens!
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