11 Must Pack Items for Day Hiking That You Might Never Use

Pack for Day Hiking

In the movie Wild when Reese Witherspoon is trying desperately to lift her giant pack for the first time I cringed as the audience chuckled. That’s would be me! My pack for day hiking usually has much more than I really need so I can’t imagine packing for months.

Update from Ladona: This was one of the first articles to appear on Walking The Parks about 6 years ago. At the time I was making fun of myself for my tendency to overpack for a hike. But to be serious for a moment, there are many items on this short list of things to pack for day hiking that have saved my behind over the past 6 years. As I’ve become braver and more adventurous, the need has come up a few times to pull from this emergency area of my pack. I still carry all of these items on even the shortest and easiest day hikes. I hope you do too!

What do you need to pack for day hiking?

Your day hike checklist, you know that list of things we actually use on every hike is very easy to assemble. But how about the stuff we rarely, if ever, use that I still wouldn’t leave out of a day pack? These are the things that provide assurance that in an emergency we have it covered.

Are you looking for a great daypack? Check out this article: 9 of the Best Daypacks for Women who Love to Hike

Over time I have cut back because a hike is so much easier without that extra weight. However, here are 11 items I still pack for day hiking that I have NEVER used. And I hope I don’t ever need to use them. But I won’t leave without them!

Just so you are aware, this post contains a couple of affiliate links to make it easier for you to find products I have mentioned. You don’t pay any extra and in some cases I could earn a small commission.

What to carry in your backpack when hiking in a National Park

Hiking Things you Need for Safety and First Aid

We often joke “safety first”, but really it is not a joke. Include in your hiking pack contents the minimum things you would need to bandage yourself up so you can return to the trailhead. Here’s a shortlist of first aid and safety things needed for hiking.

  1. Pocket knife. In the spirit of total transparency, I might have used it to cut an apple. Check out this super cool Swiss Army Knife that comes in dozens of colors. A blade for everything and lightweight too!
  2. First Aid Kit. On my first couple hikes, my first aid kit weighed well over a pound. I’ve slowly reduced the size to just a couple of ounces.  My first aid kit is now a small package with a couple of assorted large band-aids, a tube of antibiotic cream and a couple of ibuprofen. Keep it simple and light.
  3. Emergency Water Treatment. This year we are swapping out our filter bottle for a LifeStraw when day hiking. Seriously the good thing about water bottles is they get lighter as you hike so we always plan to carry enough for a day hike. So going to the lighter and smaller LifeStraw will free up some space in our packs.
  4. A pair of dry socks. If you end up wading (or falling in) a creek, you’ll be glad you have dry socks on the long hike back! I usually throw in a pair of low crews like these Merrell hikers to minimize space and weight while still having the peace of mind of that extra pair of socks
  5. Ankle wrap. I have rolled my ankle shopping so why take the risk on the trail where I can’t hail a taxi. Might be the difference between hiking boots and hi-heeled boots but still… why take the chance! With an ankle wrapI should still be able to get back down that mountain trail. Yeah, trying to make a joke here as I really hope I never need this. But I just read in one of my hiking groups about a very experienced hiker who twisted his ankle. You just never know!
  6. Whistle and bear spray. I’m more than OK with the fact we’ve never used our bear spray. I look at it as a $30 insurance policy. I’ve never regretted the purchase or the pack weight! And a simple whistle is an easy decision, just hang it off your daypack zipper. Even if you aren’t worried about bears, it would be so wonderful to have if you got separated from your hiking buddies. I’ve had this whistle with the little light hanging on my pack for years.
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What to bring on your day hike in case you get lost?

Now the critical stuff for when you get lost on the trail and have to spend the night in the wilderness. Of course, this is a marked National Park Trail and not the wilderness and I’m sure you feel like it is highly unlikely you will ever spend the night.

But then again we headed out early one morning only to pass rangers coming down assisting a man who had gotten lost and ended up spending the night on the trail. He was a little rough for wear. I truly believe the ranger warning that you should always be prepared to self-rescue. Park rangers are few and far apart.

  1. Compass. National Park trails for day hikes are well marked and well-traveled so the need for a compass is unimaginable. But it doesn’t feel like I’m a real hiker unless I have a compass!
  2. Mylar Space Blanket You know those shiny emergency blankets that fold up to the size of a deck of cards. According to MCR Medical, these tiny blankets are highly effective in keeping you warm because they trap 90% of your radiant body heat.
  3. Small roll of Duct Tape. I mean really, you can make a dress out of duct tape if you have to. Never leave home without it. I rolled a couple of feet around my trekking poles for easy storage. One less thing in my pack!
  4. Small Rain Poncho. Another deck of card-sized items, lightweight plastic poncho . Add a little duct tape and a couple of sticks you could build a cozy little home! (Not to be confused with the lightweight raincoat that I have used MANY times). Seriously these are not only good for an emergency rain poncho, you can use them to wrap contents in your pack if you get caught in a downpour. Because they come in a nice small pouch they don’t get tangled up in your bag.
  5. Lighter or waterproof matches. Dark cold nights with hungry wild animals everywhere! Need I say more?

We really encourage you to travel light to have the best hiking experience. As you consider what should be on your day hike checklist, consider what is essential for you. What makes you feel confident that you are ready for anything?

Don’t be afraid to include things in your pack that you know you won’t use if they increase your confidence! We are all different so there is no one perfect list.

What is on your list of things to pack for hiking that you’ve never used… that is yet? What’s in your daypack? To save this list, don’t forget to Pin it to your travel board!

Before you go check out these additional Posts for more great information so you can up your hiking game!

What should you pack for a day hike? Most important is the hiking gear we rarely use but should never leave without. Check out the detailed list here. #WalkingTheParks #DayHikePackingList #HikingGear


  • Ladona Stork

    The Authors: Hey, we are Ladona and Brad, avid campers and hikers. We are crazy about getting outdoors at every possible moment and have decades of experience exploring nature. Our current goal is to visit all 63 US National Parks and just completed #42. WooHoo! Our mission is to help you plan your own adventures and create memories beyond your imagination!