Knowing exactly what to bring on a hike isn’t easy. You need to prepare for all kinds of eventualities like thirst, hunger, bumps, and scrapes. It’s important to be well prepared with the hiking guides and gear you need to get the most out of your hiking experience.
Even if you’re a seasoned hiker, the list of things to bring on a hike can go on and on. You don’t want to pack so much that you’re weighed down and struggle with the hike, but at the same time, you need to bring enough supplies to make your hike a comfortable and enjoyable experience.
My husband and I have a great love for hiking and being outdoors. We’ve both hiked since we were kids and take any opportunity to hit the trails. Hiking is a family activity because we believe getting outside encourages our kids to exercise and appreciate nature. Exploring the great outdoors is something we will enjoy for years!
Due to our hiking experience, we’re pretty confident we know what to take on a hike (and what not to take on a hike). It hasn’t been all smooth sailing learning what to pack for a day hike… it’s taken a lot of trial and error to get it just right.
If you need a day hike packing list or have been struggling to know what to bring on a day hike, keep reading to see what’s on our Day Hike Checklist – and download a free copy today!
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What Gear and Tools Should You Bring on a Hike
Knowing what to bring on a hike starts with having the right gear and necessary tools.
One of the very first things you need to consider for your day hike is what backpack you’re going to use. A good hiking backpack shouldn’t rub or cause chaffing. It should be comfortable to wear for an extended period of time when filled with your hiking supplies.
The size of the backpack will depend on how long you intend to hike for and therefore how many supplies you need to bring with you.
→ SHOP REI: Backpacks for hiking
→ SHOP AMAZON: Backpacks for hiking
Pocket Knife and Trekking Poles
Depending on how adventurous your day hike is going to be, carrying a small pocket knife or multi-tool may come in handy.
Trekking poles are optional but do come in handy for longer hikes.
→ SHOP REI: Trekking poles
→ SHOP AMAZON: Trekking poles
Clothing and Footwear to Take on a Hike
When wondering what to take on a hike, you shouldn’t overlook your footwear and clothing. What you wear for the hike is just as important as what you pack in your backpack. Most of the clothing you pack for your day hike will be worn.
Hiking Shoes and Boots
If you haven’t already, I would definitely recommend investing in some good quality hiking boots or shoes. Your feet will thank you later!
When it comes to socks, don’t go for cotton ones as these are the most likely to rub and cause blisters – A hikers nightmare! You want to invest in top-quality socks made specifically for hiking.
→ Darn Tough Socks are the ONLY type we buy. They are amazing and last forever!
If you know you’re hiking trail will take you to a body of water, you could pack some lightweight sandals for wading in the water and cooling off your feet mid-hike.
Wicking Clothing for Hiking
You’ll want to choose your hiking clothing according to the time of year. More often than not, you’ll want to wear quick-drying, lightweight clothing on a day hike. If your trail is home to many bugs and insects, it’s probably wise to opt for long sleeve shirts and pants to protect from bites and stings.
Long sleeve shirts and pants also provide sun protection!
→ REI Sahara long sleeve T-shirts are our favorite!
Fleece Jackets for Layering
Fleece jackets are a good layering essential for cooler morning hikes, or on a cold weather day.
→ Columbia fleece jackets are the only brand we buy – they are comfortable and durable.
What Food and Water to Pack for a Day Hike
Whenever we begin planning what to pack for a day hike, food and water are always at the top of our list. It doesn’t matter how long you plan to hike for, food and water are essential to a successful hike.
Water is a hiker’s best friend. Don’t underestimate how much water you’ll want to drink along the hike. Expect that a fair portion of your backpack will be filled with bottled water and therefore most of the weight you’ll have to carry will be water… so by the end of the hike, your pack will be that much lighter!
We invested in hydration packs instead of carrying bottles of water. If you’re new to hiking and don’t want to make that investment just yet, a good quality water bottle that’s leak-proof should serve you just fine. Nothing will ruin your hike more than a leaking water bottle and a wet backpacks.
→ Check out these hydration packs
The next most important thing to pack for a day hike is snacks. You need to keep your energy levels up and stay motivated to reach the end of the trail. Packing an entire picnic is one option if you’re going to make one long stop instead of lots of little stops. Alternatively, you can pack some homemade trail mix, granola bars, dried fruit or even sweets to keep you fueled along your hike.
Navigation Tools to Bring on a Day Hike
Also on our day hike packing list are navigation tools. We’re not expecting you to be a pro with a compass, but it’s a good skill to learn if you’re going to be doing a lot of hiking.
Hiking Compass and Maps
If you’re hiking an unfamiliar trail, it’s always a good idea to have some kind of navigation tool with you, just in case. A simple map and compass are all you need.
Providing you have cell service, your smartphone will more than likely be able to help you find your location if you get lost, but it’s better to be safe than sorry when hiking through the wilderness!
Emergency and First Aid Day Hike Packing List
One of the first things you should think about bringing on a day hike are emergency and first aid items.
Hiking First Aid Kit
No matter whether our hike is long or short, we always pack a first aid kit on one of our backpacks. No matter how careful we are, someone always manages to get a bump or scrape along the way. Make sure your first aid kit has the essentials like plasters, bandages, anti-bacterial wipes, etc.
→ SHOP AMAZON: Hiking first aid kits
Hiking Lighter and Whistle
Other items we always pack for a day hike, just to be on the safe side, are a hiking lighter and a whistle. So far, we’ve never had to use them, but they’re small enough and light enough that they’re no problem to take with us.
Depending on how adventurous your hike is going to be, we’ve also heard of people writing out their itineraries, placing one under their car seat in the parking lot before they start the hike, and giving another one to friends or family. We doubt you’ll need to do this for a short day hike, but it’s worth keeping in mind if you ever venture out for a longer hike.
Health and Hygiene Things to Bring on a Hike
Other important things to bring on a hike are items for your health and hygiene.
Health and hygiene should not be overlooked when you go out for a day hike. Perhaps the number one thing you need to pack for a day hike, health-wise, is sun protection. Nothing will ruin your hike and put you off hiking in the future like the discomfort of sunburn… trust me! Use a good SPF sunscreen before hitting the trail.
On the subject of sun protection, you’ll also want to wear a hat, bandana or buff to shade your head from the midday heat. Polarized sunglasses should also be worn on sunny day hikes to protect your eyes.
I also like to bring SPF rated lip balm on day hikes as it not only stops my lips from becoming chapped, it also protects them from the sun.
Sanitizer and Wipes
Travel sized hand sanitizer is another good item to pack for a day hike. You never know what you might touch along the way and it’ll pay to have a small bottle of hand sanitizer with you on your hike. Baby wipes/antibacterial wipes are another day hiking essential, even if you only use them to wipe your face to keep yourself feeling fresh along the trail.
Some hiking trails are particularly prone to insects… and swatting flies will get old really fast when you’re hiking. The last thing you want is to come back from your day hike covered in insect stings and bites. That’s why we always pack insect repellant for our hiking adventure. You never know when you might come across an overgrown section of trail that’s become a haven for every bug under the sun.
Toilet Paper, Disposable Urination Device and Trash Bag
One item that’s always in my hiking bag is my pee buddy, a disposable female urination device that allows me to stand and pee! I pre-assemble one pee buddy and some toilet paper in a sandwich sized ziploc. After using the buddy and toilet paper, they go back in the ziploc for me to pack out and throw away at the end of the hike. Seriously… these simple devices are amazing!
Extras and Personal Items to Bring on a Hike
Of course, there are personal items and extras you might want to take on your day hike expedition.
Binoculars are another great thing to pack for a day hike. When you reach the clearing at the top of the trail you’ll be able to soak up so much more of that incredible view. They can also be used for spotting wildlife such as birds or deer along the trail.
Of course, it never hurt to carry personal items like credit cards, cash, your cell phone, and ID with you wherever you go so be sure to pack your purse or wallet in your day.
Day Hike Checklist
So here it is… our day hike checklist! Everything you need to consider bringing on a day hike is right here!
Hiking backpack or hydration pack
Trekking poles (optional)
A small pocket knife or multitool
Hiking shoes or boots
Hiking socks (not cotton)
Quick-dry, lightweight clothing suitable for the time of year
Long t-shirt and pants
A water bottle or hydration pack
Water (and lots of it!)
Snacks or a picnic
Navigation tools such as a map and compass
A small first aid kit
Sun hat or a bandana
SPF rated lip balm
Baby wipes or antibacterial wipes
Camera & tripod
Interpretive field guides
Outdoor journal with pen or pencil
Credit cards and/or cash
Photo Jeepers Ultimate Day Hike Checklist
In all our years of hiking, we’ve had our share of packing mishaps. Someone forgetting the sunscreen, leaving snacks in the car or mistakenly wearing cotton socks! Knowing what to bring on a hike is definitely a skill that’s learned over time and comes with experience.
What to pack for a day hike is considerably less than what you would need for a full-on weekend hiking expedition, but not everyone is a seasoned hiker and day hikes are certainly the place to start.
After a few times hitting the trails, you’ll know what to take on a hike like the back on your hand. Until then, feel free to make the most of our day hike packing list to get you off to the right start.
This is not a comprehensive list of things to bring on a hike, but it’s pretty darn close. You may need to make a few adjustments based on your preferences, skill level, confidence and the type of trail you’ll be exploring.
Above anything else, we hope our day hike checklist gives you an idea of what to bring on a day hike so you can stretch those legs and make the most of mother nature on your very own day hike.