Planning a hike can be intimidating. And choosing from an ever-growing list of gear options can become overwhelming. What you bring often depends on weather conditions, hiking terrain, trail length, and, of course, your personal preferences. At a minimum, it’s best to keep the 10 hiking essentials in your pack. So what’s needed for a safe and successful outing? That’s what this post is all about.
First, let me confess: I haven’t always known what to bring on a day hike. And there have been times when I didn’t carry day hiking essentials, even though should’ve known better. I’ve run out of water on scorching hot days, becoming seriously dehydrated. One time, I didn’t apply sunscreen (I hate the feel of it…) and ended up with painful second-degree burn blisters (felt even worse!). Another time, I got caught in a downpour without rain gear, and I’ve been disoriented without proper navigation tools. Luckily, through all of these mistakes and mishaps, I’ve never needed an emergency rescue (knock on wood!).
Today, I believe in being prepared by bringing day hiking essentials. When it comes to gear, I’ve learned what works for me and what doesn’t. And I keep trying new products and adapting the contents of my pack when needed. You’re not sure where to start? Keep reading to learn more about the 10 hiking essentials system.
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Are you new to the world of hiking? That’s great! I’m glad you’re taking the time to deepen your knowledge and sharpen your skills. Here you’ll find hiking gear essentials and nice-to-haves for your next day trip (including some of my personal gear choices).
If you’ve brand new to hiking, start with a trail that matches your physical fitness and ability. Don’t choose something long and technical. Start on a short and popular path between two to four kilometres. Get used to your hiking boots or trail runners, get used to your pack, and test out your gear. During your hike, is there anything you wish you brought? Add that to your pack. After you’ve tested the waters, plan a longer or more technical trail. You may be surprised where your legs can take you!
Similar to choosing the right hiking location, bringing good gear will help you avoid unpleasant circumstances and—in extreme scenarios—potentially life-threatening situations. Pack what you need. Then pack a little bit more. Be prepared for whatever comes your way.
Tip: If you plan to hike often, leave your daypack ready to go. Constantly unpacking makes hiking preparation harder than it needs to be. Of course, replenish water, snacks, and other items as needed. I find it much easier to stay motivated to hike when my gear is already packed!
Before heading out, choose hiking footwear that works for you. Take your time to find comfortable and supportive hiking boots or trail runners. If you don’t find the right fit, your heel will lift and nasty blisters can result. Or the front of your foot will rub against your boot on the descent, which can also lead to blisters. Break in new footwear before a long trek. When we rely on our feet to take us 5, 10, or 20 kilometres or more, we have to treat them well!
While hiking in the Rockies, I came across a guy wearing regular sneakers with little tread, inching his way down a steep, gravel trail on all fours. Long story short, he borrowed my trekking poles and continued to slowly descend. Meanwhile, the thick tread on my Scarpa Kailash boots allowed a safe and not-too-difficult descent. Always wear the right footwear for the terrain.
Tip: Break in new hikers before planning a longer trek. Start by wearing your shoes or boots inside to make sure there’s no obvious discomfort. After you’re confident in the fit, plan a few shorter hikes to help break them in. Then you’ll be ready for your next big adventure!
Daypack—Carry Day Hiking Essentials
I used to hike with an old backpack that wasn’t particularly comfortable. Don’t get me wrong, that blue MEC bag served me well for many years. But after upgrading to a more technical daypack, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t happier on the trail.
One of the best daypacks in the market is the Osprey Hikelite 18. I’ve been using this pack for a few years—hiking, biking, paddling, and everyday use—and I can’t say enough good things about it. The Osprey Hikelite is supportive and comfortable, with a metal frame, air ventilation for the back, water bladder pouch, two large pockets, and much more. It’s hard to believe how many bells and whistles such a small daypack can have. Oh, I should also mention that the Hikelite includes rain cover to keep everything dry.
10 Day Hiking Essentials List
The first “Ten Essentials” list was developed in the 1930s by The Mountaineers, a Seattle-based nonprofit for outdoor adventurers. Since then, the 10 essentials have become a foundational part of outdoor education and recreation.
No matter the hike, carry the 10 hiking essentials in your pack. You may also want to add any gear that helps you feel more comfortable and confident on the trail. You might notice that 10 essentials lists can vary slightly, but the goal to be prepared for every situation remains the same.
Every hiking pack should have:
1) Water: Carry enough drinking water and be prepared to find more.
➔ Shop water bottles and water treatment
2) Food: Pack extra snacks. This may become your emergency meal.
➔ Shop for food and meals
3) Navigation: Bring a map and compass and know how to use them. Practice your orienteering skills before heading out. GPS and satellite communication technology can be very useful, but doesn’t replace map and compass on the trail.
➔ Shop for compasses and GPS navigation
4) Headlamp: Bring a headlamp with extra batteries.
➔ Shop for headlamps
5) Knife: Carry a multi-tool or fixed-blade knife—or both.
➔ Shop for knives and multi-tools
6) Fire: Be prepared to make a fire. Bring a lighter, matches, or flint to start your fire. In some cases, consider carrying a camp stove and fuel to cook meals or boil water.
➔ Shop for stoves, fuel, and fire
7) Sun Protection: Wear sunscreen, sunglasses, and sun-protective clothing. Avoid the harmful effects of the sun’s UV rays.
➔ Shop for sun protection
8) First Aid: Pack a first aid kit with medication and safety gear, including bug repellent when needed. Bring a whistle as a signalling device.
➔ Shop for first aid kits and supplies
9) Clothing: Bring extra clothing and several layers to stay warm and dry. Prepare for any possible weather situation.
➔ Shop for hiking clothing
10) Shelter: Bring a lightweight shelter, like a siltarp or bivy sack. Pack lightweight rope to secure your shelter.
➔ Shop for camping tarps and ultralight shelters
Carry enough drinking water to stay hydrated. I typically bring my two-litre Osprey bladder bag on a day hike. On the hottest days, I often pack a full Nalgene bottle. If you’re hiking with your dog, you may need to bring extra water if there are no water sources near the trail.
Be prepared to find more water in lakes, rivers, and streams. There are many water filtration and purification systems to remove harmful bacteria. Choose what works best for you. I have the MSR Miniworks and MSR Trailshot filters, though I mostly use the Trailshot due to its compact size and weight. Gravity filters and purification drops are very efficient for large volumes of water. Boiling water is generally my last resort, but can be quite useful in the winter.
Don’t skimp on snacks and meals, especially on longer day hikes. Fuelling your adventure is crucial. Stopping for a water and nutrition break can drastically improve your day hike. Of course, the promise of a tasty snack can also be motivation for reluctant young hikers.
Bring calorie-dense foods to give your body energy on a long day trip. In an emergency situation, you may need to rely on the food and water in your pack while waiting for rescue. I typically have extra granola bars, protein bars, and nuts (almonds or cashews) in my daypack.
No one plans to get lost. But every hiker should be prepared for the possibility. Bring a map and compass and practice your orienteering skills before you go. While I tend to use my GPS, carrying a paper map and compass is a necessary backup. When using a GPS, bring an extra battery or powerbank to keep devices charged.
What if you get lost or hurt? If you’re unable to self-rescue, you may need to call for an emergency rescue. I recently started carrying a satellite communications device for emergencies (I use this one). With this device, I can message friends and family or call for an emergency rescue through the Iridium network.
Note: Always leave your trip plan with someone you trust. In your plan, include the hike location, approximate return time, and time to call for emergency response.
Don’t get caught in the dark. Plan your hike during daylight hours and always bring a light source with you. Most hikers prefer headlamps to stay hands-free. Bring extra batteries along, too. Relying on a phone light isn’t a good idea.
Knives can be extremely useful in the wilderness for food preparation, first aid, gear repair, and much more. Every adult hiker should carry a knife. I typically bring a small multi-tool and fixed-blade knife in my pack (I use this Mora knife).
Not a bad idea to carry a small gear repair kit, especially on longer day hikes. Add things like duct tape, zip ties, safety pins, rope, and tent pole splints. On the West Coast Trail, I repaired my broken trekking pole using a tent pole splint and medical tape—good as new!
Read next: Nairn Falls Hike Near Whistler, BC
In an emergency situation, fire can make all the difference. Starting a controlled fire for warmth or to signal an emergency can be crucial. Bring several lightweight fire options, including waterproof matches, flint, or a lighter.
In the winter, consider carrying a lightweight stove to boil water or melt snow. I often bring my Jetboil camping stove to boil water for tea in cold temperatures.
Don’t underestimate the importance of sun protection. There are plenty of risks that come with prolonged sun exposure, including dehydration, sunburns and blisters, and heat exhaustion that can become heat stroke. Severe dehydration, sunburns, and heat stroke often require medical intervention.
Bring sunglasses, sun-protective clothing, and sunscreen on your hike. Without proper sun protection, you risk sunburns that can cause skin cancer (melanoma) and eye issues like cataracts. Wear a hat to keep the sun off your head. Wear a long-sleeve shirt and pants with an ultraviolet protective factor (UPF). Protect exposed skin by applying sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30. Reapply as often as every two hours. On hot days, drink more water than normal during your hike (add electrolytes, too).
Bring a first aid kit and know how to use it. Adventure Medical Kits are a good place to start, coming in different sizes with waterproof ziplocks to keep everything dry. While pre-packaged first aid kits remove the guesswork, many outdoors people choose to adapt their kit for their own purpose. Regardless of the trail distance or duration, I typically have a first aid kit in my pack (usually this one).
Most first aid kits don’t come with medicine. But over-the-counter drugs like Tylenol, Advil, and Benadryl can be very useful in the backcountry. I also add Polysporin to help prevent infections in small wounds. Rehydration packets are always in my kit. While some prefer Moleskin, Leukotape is invaluable for blister prevention.
Tip: A first aid kit isn’t very useful without first aid skills. Not very comfortable or confident in first aid? Take wilderness first aid training before heading out. You’ll learn how to assess and respond to difficult situations in the wilderness—when medical intervention is far away. First aid saves lives; it’s essential in the backcountry.
Always bring extra clothing on a hike. Hikes often begin in beautiful weather, but we must be prepared for things to change. Ask yourself, Am I ready for the worst-possible weather scenario? Don’t settle for anything less than a resounding “yes!”
Use the layering system—base, mid, and outer layers—to make sure you have enough warmth and protection from the elements. Depending on the weather, I typically hike in a merino wool base layer and sometimes a fleece mid layer for extra warmth. I also carry this Patagonia down sweater in my pack. And I have my Arc’teryx Beta LT shell just in case. Outer layers (or shells) protect from wind and rain and help keep you warm. Regardless of the season, bring gloves (I use these), a warm hat or buff, extra socks (like these), and a warm jacket in case the temperature drops. In the winter months, consider bringing extra insulating layers for your upper and lower body.
If you’re hiking any distance, bring an emergency shelter with you. Weather can change quickly. And a shelter might be necessary for any number of reasons. Consider packing an ultralight tarp, bivy sack, or an emergency blanket.
Additional Hiking Gear Options
Trekking Poles: Hiking poles are for everyone. I bring poles on most treks and wind up using them most of the time. If you want to save your knees, use trekking poles on the trail. I use these Komperdell poles and absolutely love ’em.
Trail crampons: If you’ve never used trail crampons, I’d suggest getting a pair for winter hiking. They’re an essential part of my winter daypack. I use these.
Gaiters: I don’t use gaiters very often. But I like how they keep sand out of my boots when hiking along the beach. Many hikers use gaiters in tall, wet grass or when hiking in deep snow. Check out these options.
Toilet Paper: When nature calls, you’d better answer. Always be prepared to go number one and two in the woods. Some people prefer leaves over TP. You might want to pack a little trowel to dig a cathole.
Power Bank: I always hike with my phone—it’s my camera, notebook, and GPS. But a dead battery quickly turns a handy device into a useless brick. That’s why I bring at least one power bank to keep my device charged. Don’t forget your charging cable.
Camera: I often hike with my Canon DSLR camera. While camera gear adds extra weight, it’s worth it for shots I wouldn’t otherwise be able to take. Sometimes I bring my GoPro along for video and photo, too.
Bear spray: If you’re hiking in bear country, don’t forget the bear spray. I also carry an animal deterrent horn.
Did you find this post helpful for your hike? What do you carry in your day pack? Let me know in the comments below!
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