Are you feeling a little overwhelmed with all the different philosophies about what to pack for a day hike? First one article says carry next to nothing when you backpack, minimization is the way to go. Then the next article has a hundred items on the list and tells you that you will die if you don’t pack everything.
Sadly, there is no right answer. Both trains of thought are sort of right. Light packs mean you can move faster and easier. A full pack means you are prepared for everything.
So what’s a hiker to do?
The truth is that the best day hiking packing list is different for each person, for each type of hike, and for different weather conditions. So below we’ve listed pretty much every item that the pros suggest you carry in your daypack. And we added comments for each as to when you would need that item. Some, like water, are non-negotiable. Others, like rain pants, you just might want to skip on a day hike in the desert in July.
You should know that if we are headed out for a full day of hiking, you’ll find almost every item on this list in my pack. If you go for the mini version of items, the most compact hiking gear, you’ll be surprised how little space and weight it all takes. So you’ll also find tips throughout this list on how to minimize your essential hiking gear’s weight and size.
As you explore this backpacking gear list keep in mind that your day hiking packing goal is:
➥ to keep your load light as possible
➥ to cover your basic comforts
➥ and maximize your safety on the trail
One more note, throughout this article I’ve linked to some of our more in depth articles about how to select lightweight and compact gear for hiking. If you are thinking about adding gear to your inventory those articles explain what you should be looking for to get the best gear for hiking. In other cases, you’ll find direct affiliate links to make it easier for you to find products I have mentioned. If you click through you don’t pay any extra and in some cases I could earn a small commission.
Day Hike Essentials Start With The Best Daypack
Before you even start packing, take a look at your backpack. If you are heading out for more than a couple hours, a good quality and well fitted day pack is the difference between a relaxing evening and your back all tied up in knots. Believe me, I’ve been there. I hiked with an old school backpack for a couple years and was shocked at the difference when I finally changed to a quality daypack. You can read all about how to select the perfect daypack here.
Then Load It With Essential Hiking Gear
When I say “load it” I don’t mean to add a lot of weight! Look for ultralight hiking gear options as much as possible. Your body will thank you. Rather than spending a lot of money, take the attitude that when it’s time to add or replace something in your pack to invest a little time looking for lightweight gear for hiking.
According to the American Hiking Society, there are 10 essential every hiker must pack. However that doesn’t really translate to 10 items. We are going to take a deep dive into the items that should be on your day hike packing list so you know exactly why you need that item and how to pick the best gear to pack. And for your hiking enjoyment, there are a few other things you really need to pack that they don’t include on the essential list. But really… can you imagine hiking without a camera? Essential in my book! Here’s their list. Read on below for our longer detailed list of things you won’t want to be without!
- Appropriate Footwear
- Map and Compass
- Rain Gear and Dri Fast Layers
- Safety Items
- First Aid Kit
- Knife or Multi-tool
- Sun Protection
Hydration and Nutrition are Critical in Your Day Hike Packing List
✔️ Water – How much water should you carry? It’s very dependent upon factors like the weather, access to fresh water on the trail, strenuous level of your trail and your personal comfort level. The general advice is ½ liter per hour hiking. So figure that’s for an average person on an average trail on an average day. Are you average? Probably not, so adjust for your plans.
The good thing about water is that as you use it your pack gets lighter. The important thing about water is that you don’t want to run out. So a good rule is to always add another bottle into your pack just in case you mis-read the day. It’s not like you’ll have to carry that weight all day.
Should you carry water bottles or use a water bladder? It doesn’t matter. We do both, usually a last minute decision based on convenience in the moment. We recommend for most day hikes you start with a 3 liter water bladder. Then throw in a few extra water bottles if you know you are going to be out for a full day or it’s super hot.
✔️ Food and Energy Snacks – Our greatest joy is to have lunch with a view when hiking. Usually a high protein sandwich and some fruit hit the spot. And don’t forget to add to your day hiking packing list a variety of high protein and high energy snacks like dried fruit, nuts, and snack bars. We also like to carry protein snacks like FireCreek Snack Sticks, peanut butter and cheeses.
✔️ Garbage Bag – Pack out all your garbage. Even apple cores need to be packed out so they don’t attract animals to the trail. Those cute little critters are safest when they forage for their own food. And of course, the golden rule of don’t be a litter bug always applies on the trail.
Consider Personal Comfort on your Backpacking Gear List
✔️ Rain Jacket – When you are hiking in the mountains, it’s pretty much a sure thing that at some point you will experience an unexpected rain. A lightweight rain jacket must be on your hiking essentials list. Not only is it uncomfortable to hike soaking wet, a wet body is much more likely to experience hypothermia. You’ll also appreciate the rain jacket as your top layer if you hit cold winds as you hike up higher.
✔️ Rain Pants – A lot of hikers make the mistake of skipping rain paints, thinking their quick drying pants will take care of them. Sure, that’s true if you get a light rain and then it clears up to a sunny day. But just as often you get stuck in pouring rain and then dropping temps. A lightweight pair of rain pants over your shorts will save the day.
✔️ Fleece or Warm Middle Layer – The number two rule of trail comfort is layer your clothing. (Number one being water.) For most hiking Brad and I both like to pack a Columbia fleece jacket because they also make a nice mid layer under a rain coat. We are OK with the bulk of fleece because it is so lightweight. I’ve also used it for a pillow when resting on the trail. When hiking in Alaska I used a waterproof puffer jacket for my middle layer knowing the days were going to be mostly cold. You’ll love that its so easy to scrunch up in a little bag in your daypack.
✔️ Extra Socks – Stream crossings are pretty common and it really sucks to hike all afternoon in wet socks. Talk about blister city! Unless you are expecting a lot of rain or deep water hiking, just tuck a pair of lightweight socks in your bag and you’ll be covered. If water is in your forecast, then you might as well toss in your best hiking socks since it sounds like you’ll need them.
✔️ Water Sandals – Let’s put these on the optional packing list for day hiking since they do take up significant space. Occasionally you just know in advance that your hike is going to require fording a lot of streams. Sometimes the creek is actually the trail. Then by all means, tuck a good pair of water sandals into your pack. Not flip flops, those are a waste of time as they will be ripped off your feet in the first current, but good hiking water proof sandals that strap on tight.
✔️ Bio Gear – That means toilet paper, a baggie or trowel and hand sanitizer. When they say “pack it out” they mean everything. In some parks it’s acceptable to bury your waste, in most you need to carry it back out with you. Busier trails might have a rustic toilet at the trail head, most often with out any toilet paper. So, carry some TP in a zip lock bag and you’ll be ready for a quick and not too gross clean up if needed. Oh, and one of those mini bottles of hand sanitizer will make you feel a lot better about the whole thing. If you are really brave, you might try a women’s urination device that lets ladies do it standing up.
Best Bras for Hiking: No More Funky Feeling
Don’t Forget Sun Protection on your Day Hiking Packing List
✔️ Hat – At higher elevations or in the Southwest, the sun can get pretty intense. You’re gonna want a hat. I like a hat that I can just wad up in my bag that also serves as a rain hat. Brad prefers a ball cap type. Go with what makes you most comfortable. Just please, add a hat to your day hike packing list and protect yourself.
✔️ Sun Screen – Go for one that is environmentally friendly, you never know when you will hop in a lake to cool off. You don’t want to leave chemicals behind in that pristine lake water, right? I fell in love with Alba Botanicals when we were rafting because it feels clean when you are sweating so now use it for hiking too.
✔️ Sun Glasses – Throw an extra pair in your pack. Imagine leaning over a cliff edge for a better view with you sunglasses sitting atop your head and then watching your sunglasses go tumbling down. Yeah… it’s happened a time or two.
✔️ Chapstick SPF – You’ll be getting quite a workout hiking which means a lot of water loss. It seems the lips are always the first place to dry out.
Be Ready For Great Views On Your Day Hike
✔️ Camera (or Phone) – This is definitely an area defined by your personal passion! If photography is your thing then I know you are going to carry it ALL no matter what we recommend. And you will get those amazing photos that everyone will envy. So worth it!
For the rest of us my rule of thumb is if it is expected to be less than a 2 hour hike I’ll take a real camera. Anything longer I just go with my phone camera. Today’s phones grab awesome photos and are so much lighter. And we all know that lighter is better, right? We’ve researched some pretty amazing lightweight solar charges for phones if you are planning to be out of touch most of the day. That way you won’t miss an amazing shot due to a dead phone battery.
✔️ Binoculars – It’s pretty tempting to leave the binoculars behind to save weight when heading out for a full day. But don’t. I can name a dozen times when we’ve found wildlife on the side of a mountain or in a distant valley that are spectacular when viewed through the binoculars. Consider swapping your old ones out for compact hiking binoculars. You can quickly knock a pound off your pack weight and probably upgrade quality at the same time.
✔️ Mini Tripod – I love this flexible mini tripod. Human arms just aren’t long enough to grab that amazing mountain in the background. Of course, even though it’s only about 6 ounces (figure ½ can of pop), if you pack is getting heavy this could fall on the optional list.
Optional Gear for your Day Hike Checklist
✔️ Trekking Poles – A definite requirement for me. You’ll find lightweight trekking poles really reduce the wear and tear on your knees on uneven terrain. Now Brad only takes them if we are a very strenuous hike. Trekking Poles are fairly inexpensive so don’t be afraid to try them out to see if they increase your trail comfort level.
✔️ Backpack Rain Cover – A high quality rain cover for your backpack will keep all your gear dry when hiking in the rain, planned or unplanned 😊. They pack into a small space and are ready to use if the weather surprises you. You’ll be glad to have a cover along.
✔️ Fishing License – Well, really only optional if you aren’t planning to fish. We’ve been stopped twice by rangers to check for a fishing license in National Parks. (Read one of those close encounters in our article about Rafting Lodore Canyon.) You really don’t want to ruin your trip with a huge fine when it’s so easy to go on line and get a fishing license before you head out.
✔️ Your Glasses if you Wear Contacts – It’s pretty easy to have dust kick up and suddenly you are miserable as the grit rolls around in your eyes. Be prepared to take those contacts out at any time.
What to Pack for a Day Hike Emergency Kit
So you are headed out for a half day hike and think you don’t need any survival gear. Well that’s what everyone who was ever lost on the trail thought too.
Ask yourself what would be the absolute minimum you would need if you were lost on the trail and had to hunker down until daylight.
Sound like overkill for a simple day hike? Well take a look at the real facts. 90% of Search and Rescue incidents are a result of a day hiker who accidentally got off the main path and then couldn’t find their way back. According to a recent study published in National Geographic even experienced hikers get lost in National Parks by making simple errors. Errors like mistaking a well used deer path for a hiking trail or going off trail for “just a minute” to see a view and then not finding the original trail. Their recommendation:
A Well Planned Safety Kit Belongs on Your Hiking Essentials List
One of my favorite park signs was in Zion where rangers had posted “Be prepared to rescue yourself”. So many people head down the trail with out any safety supplies. Here’s a simple list that won’t add much weight to your pack. You can fit most of this into a quart ziplock bag that won’t take up much space in your bag. If it is more than that… you’ll packed too much. You can also find some nice mini first aid kits that will contain small amounts of many of the items you need, it’s a great way to start your personal bag.
In Case You Get Hurt on The Trail
✔️ Basic First Aid Kit – Keep it simple when you collect first aid supplies for your hiking trip packing list. Don’t carry a big box like the one in the picture. Don’t even buy one on line as it’s going to be filled with a lot of stuff you don’t need. For example you don’t need 80 bandaids for one hike! Imagine what’s most likely to happen on the trail. For example, you could easily get cut by a wild tree branch so an alcohol wipe an a couple band aids. You could get a bee sting, so an antihistamine. Your blood sugar could drop so a couple lemon drops. See, you get the idea. Then toss them in your quart bag.
✔️ Blister Care – Although this is a basic in most first aid kits, it deserves a separate call out. Nothing will ruin a hike more than the heal of your shoe rubbing a new blister to life. For most of your first aid kit, you’ll be able to fill it with stuff already in your medicine cabinet. But you’ll find it well worth it to invest in blister protection bandages. And if you get caught without, in a pinch duct tape over a blister works quite well.
✔️ Ankle/Knee Wrap – After blisters, the most common injury on the trail is a twisted ankle or knee. So popping in a simple ace wrap bandage into your bag will ensure that you can hobble back to the trailhead.
In Case you Run Into Critters
✔️ Bear Spray – If you are in Grizzly country Bear Repellent Spray is a must have. Yes, it’s around $30 that you may never use. But if you do ever need it you’ll be glad you have it.
✔️ Insect Repellent – Even if you aren’t sensitive to bug bites, you will want a small bottle of bug spray. Those wilderness mosquitoes are often meaner and bigger than their city cousins.
In Case You Have to Spend The Night
Although you might never spend the night on the trail, these day hike essentials are not only great insurance it’s some of the basics you might need for a dozen other trail mishaps.
✔️ Space Blanket – Those little shiny mylar blankets that are in most first aid kits really do work to hold in heat. They don’t add any weight and are smaller than a deck of cards so easy to tuck into your bag.
✔️ Knife – As every scout knows, you must have a good multi function pocket knife. Or even better pack a multitool designed for hiking that has a bit of everything you need. It seems that there’s always a tool you need and it’s right there.
✔️ Lighter/Matches – The biggest challenge is to keep them dry so add the tiny bit of extra weight for waterproof storage.
✔️ Backup Water Purifier – If you are only planning for a day hike, keep your back up water purification system very simple. Tablets or something like a Life Straw water filter are perfect. Brad’s had situations a couple times where’s run out of water on a strenuous hike. It’s not a good place to be. These simple solutions work great for emergency situations. For longer hikes where filtering is your primary source of water, you should look to more serious solutions.
✔️ Duct Tape – What is there to say about the ultimate lightweight repair kit? Wrap a couple loops around your hiking poles and it will always be handy. Great for quick repair of a torn bag, a broken shoe or even blister relief. And I’m pretty sure we could build a cozy overnight shelter with some duct tape, a garbage bag and some hiking poles.
✔️ Whistle – Perfect for getting attention if you are injured. Or if a bear is wandering around. Hook your whistle to one of your zippers for easy access.
Make Sure Your Day Hiking Gear List Includes Navigation Tools
Most day hikes are on well marked trails so it’s easy to think that you don’t need navigation tools. Right? That is until you misread the foot prints in a fork on the trail and end up somewhere else. So toss in a few basic navigation tools, better safe than lost!
✔️ Map – Even for a simple 2 hour day hike, make sure you grab the map. Countless times we’ve come to an unmarked fork and had to review a map to make sure we stayed on the correct course.
✔️ GPS – Non-phone GPS units are often the best if you are doing some serious back country. But for normal day hikes there are plenty of good apps that will work with your phone. In most cases you will need to pre-download maps before you head out so take a minute to learn to use your app and pull down the maps you might need.
✔️ Compass – A compass only does you good if you know how to use it in conjunction with a map. Take time to learn this simple skill. Most of us feel pretty intimidated by this little machine, but it’s really not that hard.
✔️ Flashlight or Headlamp – We are so guilty of lingering on a trail a little too long and getting back as the sun sets. We usually pack an extra between our bags because having a working headlamp or flashlight is so important on the trail. We took a deep look at some of the Best Ultralight Headlamps for Hiking in this article.
✔️ Cash/Card/ID – Seems a little silly, doesn’t it, to carry money into the wild. Worse case scenario, you or a friend needs a rescue and you will be happy to have that with you. Best case scenario, your trail passes through a small town and you are able to take a break and grab an ice cold beverage. I kind of like that best case!
What to Pack for a Day Hike in Cold Weather
✔️ Crampons – If you aren’t familiar with Crampons, they are cleats or chains that have an rubber edge that stretches over your boots. These lightweight tools awesome for walking on icy roads just in your neighborhood and indispensable for winter hiking. Winter hiking is a pretty broad term as you can find snow and ice on the trails in Glacier and Rocky Mountain National Park into mid June many years. The super nice thing about Crampons is that they can be tucked out of the way in your pack and only pulled out when you hit that icy spot. It just takes a few seconds to stretch them over your boots.
✔️ Extra Gloves – Warm hands, feet and head are the key to staying warm when winter hiking. So you’ll want an extra pair of gloves in case yours get wet. Personally I like to carry lightweight glove liners year around. We’ve hit some cold days at high altitudes in mid summer. Then in winter they make a nice liner under heavier mittens.
✔️ Knit Hat and/or Earband – A knit hat is a great way to regulate your body temperature. Getting hot? Pop off that hat and let some heat escape. Too cold? Put it back on and hold in that heat. The head is definitely the body’s chimney. Now earbands, also called headbands, are more about keeping the wind and cold off your ears. Personally I find that unless it is bitter cold, I’m quite comfortable with just my ears covered and letting that heat from my workout escape.
✔️ Neck Warmer or Gaiter – This is a simple wrap around your neck that also can be pulled up over your mouth and nose if the wind kicks up. Since it is one loop, think 10 inch wide headband, around your neck it is less hassle than a scarf with long tails.
✔️ Leg Gaiter – Leg Gaiters are perfect for keeping your pant legs dry and snow out of your shoes.
✔️ Disposable Hand Warmers – You probably dislike the idea of anything disposable on the trail that could later add to landfills. And if you are properly dressed you will probably never need these. But…BIG BUT… if something happens on the trail in the bitter cold your first goal is to avoid hypothermia. So my personal belief is it is worth carrying a few of these in your pack for a true emergency. Disposable hand warmers are only activated when exposed to air so a set of these could live in your backpack for a really long time, ready for that emergency.
From personal experience, disposable hand warmers don’t go through TRS very well so if you are taking your pack on a flight pull out any handwarmers and set out in the tray for TRS review.
Hot Weather Backpacking Gear You Will Need
✔️ Cooling Towel – You can find cooling towels in so many fun colors that you might want to get one for yourself. But actually any towel, or for that matter scarf will work. It’s all about the science of evaporation. When you wrap a wet cloth around your neck or head, evaporation causes you to cool faster. When it’s going to be really hot, a cooling towel is the perfect tool to bring down your body temperature.
✔️ Electrolyte Drink Mix – When it’s really hot your body might loose water faster than you can replenish. At that time adding a packet of electrolyte drink mix to your water will help reduce the symptoms of dehydration. Just put one or two of those single serving packets in that emergency kit zip lock bag.
Your Packing List for a Day Hike with Special Hikers
What to Pack for Hiking with Dogs
Wondering what to pack for a day hike for your dog? Because your 4 legged best friend can’t tell you when they are exhausted or overheated proper packing for their needs is critical.
✔️ Leash and Collar – Even on trails that allow dogs off leash, you should carry one. You never know when you will encounter a frightened child or skittish fellow trail dog. We recommend that you pick up one that lights up in the dark just in case you are late getting back. Or heaven forbid, your best friend bolts off after a rabbit and you are trying to find him in the dark. We dug into the best LED reflective gear for hiking dogs – check out our finds.
✔️ Water Bowl – And of course extra water. Consider a collapsible dog water bowl to save space in your bag.
✔️ Food and Treats – Your baby is going to be burning a lot of energy on the trail. Make sure you have food so he can replenish.
✔️ Poop Bags – Just like everywhere else, you need to be prepared to pack it out.
✔️ Doggie Backpack – Seriously consider letting your dog carry some of their own gear. Cesar Millan suggests a dog can carry 10-12% of their weight if you start light and work your way up. He also recommends checking with your vet first before starting with a doggie backpack. Keep in mind that just like with you, carrying weight will make the hike more of a workout for your dog so plan appropriate rest.
Must Have Hiking Gear for Kids
Kids on the trail are so much fun. The wonder of discovering the worlds largest slug, or trying to figure out what critter made those prints is inspirational. At the same time teaching your child a bit of responsibility on the trail is also important. They should carry a light pack with their sweatshirt and water and maybe a few snacks. Here’s a couple special things you might want to take along.
✔️ Water Shoes and Extra Socks – Water is like a magnet to children. So just assume it will happen and plan for wet feet. Something like these Crocs River Sandals are perfect. I know it adds some bulk to your pack but nothing is worse on the trail than a child who is unhappy. And wet socks in wet hikers is definitely the key to painful blisters. In fact an extra outfit is usually a good idea.
✔️ Binocular of their own – Kids love binoculars. So rather than having them changing your settings, which can be very annoying, just give them compact binoculars of their own.
✔️ Flashlight – Go for a super lightweight flashlight. Check out our guide on how to select the perfect flashlight for kids.
✔️ Clip on Stuffed animals or toys – Kids often love a photo with their favorite toy in special places, or if exhaustion kicks in a toy can be comforting.
✔️ Whistle – This might be the most important item to have on your day hiking gear list when traveling with kids. Teach your child how to use the emergency whistle if they suddenly find themselves separated from you.
Whew… that’s a long hiking essentials list. Right? I can’t emphasize enough how important it is in planning what to pack for day hike that you personalize this list for your style and the type of hike. Hopefully you have found enough information in this detailed hiking packing list to help you make a really informed decision. Of course, don’t forget to download the printable packing list for day hikes.
This article was originally published on October 22, 2019. It was updated on June 20, 2021 so you would have the most recent information.