Knowing what to bring hiking is one of the most important parts. It’s easy to get distracted when you’re preparing to leave. Before you know it, you’re out on the trail needing some food for energy or wishing you wore something else. Pne of the best ways to determine what you need and what not to bring on a hike is to ask yourself: how far am I going, and what do I want to accomplish?
For a day hike close to home, you can get away with a pretty minimal kit. Anything past that and the list starts to grow pretty quickly.
Here’s a checklist to get you started:
- Backpack or storage of some kind
- Appropriate clothing (Synthetic materials with layers if necessary)
- An appropriate hat for hiking
- Water and food
- Phone (Even if it’s turned off – a method of communication is essential)
- Essential tools
- First aid kit
Read on to find out why you don’t want to be on a hike without these hiking essentials!
Backpack or other means of storage
This one is pretty self-explanatory for this list since you need a place to store everything where you can access it. For shorter day hikes, you can even get by with a fanny pack type setup. Those usually can accommodate food and water pretty nicely. A smaller backpack will get the job done for everything you need to bring hiking on a day trip. If you’re going further, that means you’ll need a bigger one to hold more food/water.
Appropriate clothing for hiking
The first condition you will always have to account for is the Sun. Even when it’s cloudy outside, you need to protect yourself from the ultraviolet rays. Synthetic clothes with long sleeves are usually the go-to choice for this. Now, if it’s cold, you’ll need to wear an additional layer underneath like an undershirt, and a jacket on top. The advantage of layering is you can always take off what you don’t need. I even wrote a whole article for what to wear hiking here.
If there’s even a chance of rain, it doesn’t hurt to pack a light rain jacket as well.
Water and food for hiking
While this is possibly the most obvious thing you’ll need for a hike, it’s one of the hiking essentials for beginners that gets overlooked! Water isn’t always readily available, depending on the facilities where you’re hiking. I always recommend bringing your own because water quality can be all over the place. A good water bottle or two will do the trick or even a hydration pack for longer hikes.
A good general rule of thumb is that a person needs about two liters of water for a full day of hiking. When it comes to food, you’ll want to pack the most calorie-dense foods you can get. The following make for excellent hiking food:
- Dried fruit (Prevents the spoilage of regular fruit)
- Nuts / Trail mix
- Energy bars/protein bars
The list of food possibilities is surprisingly long, and as you hike more, you’ll figure out what you enjoy the most. Keep in mind that food and water needs can vary a lot depending on age, hiking distance, and weather conditions. Also, An understated strategy as well if you’re going on a day hike is to eat a large breakfast. It will reduce your need for snacks during the day, and that means less to carry!
Also, don’t forget to hydrate the night before. One thing I’ve learned from my fitness endeavors is that for big days, what you eat and drink the day before can make a huge difference.
Phone (or any method of communication)
A phone is one of my least favorite things to take in the outdoors, but one of the most necessary. You may not have reception where you’re going, however, if you even have one bar that means you can call for help or use GPS to find your way. Regardless of your hike’s length (day or otherwise), you should always tell someone where you’re going and how long you expect to be gone.
A phone shouldn’t be a single point of failure in the case your battery runs out, or you don’t have any reception. As a result, always have a backup plan for communication and navigation. I also wrote an article on the best compasses for hiking here.
Essential tools you don’t want to forget
A map is an excellent way to learn about a place that you’ve never been to before, and you can plan your route before you’re on it. Not to mention, it can be a lifesaver out on the trail. Also, this ties into the above as a backup plan to find your way. A lot of parks often have this online, so it’s easy to get before you even leave the house.
A compass is still essential in this day and age of reliance on our phones. Not only will it save your battery life, but it’s also a great tool to have in your back pocket in case you get disoriented. If you’re going to be hiking in the evening or night, I strongly recommend having a headlamp or at the very least, a flashlight. I prefer headlamps because they keep your hands free to carry more equipment.
There’s nothing worse than trying to make it back to camp with no light…Trust me.
Things happen when you’re out on a hike. Whether that’s an unexpected fall or a brush against some thorns – having a basic first aid kit for hiking will give you some relief and keep things from getting worse.
Some essential items for your first-aid kit would be:
- Bandages – Smaller ones for blisters, small cuts, as well as larger ones.
- Antibiotic ointment
- Cotton swabs
- Scissors or a multi-tool to cut with
- Safety pins – For getting splinters out and other tasks.
- Pain relievers – Always good to have on hand for various reasons.
- Antihistamine – For dealing with unexpected allergies
This list will vary depending on how long you’re hiking – these are useful for a hike of any duration.
For longer hikes/trips, consider bringing the following:
- Wound dressings
- A malleable splint – light and usually covered in foam.
- Aloe vera – For treating burns.
- Hydrocortisone cream (also known as afterbite) – for bug bites and allergic reactions.
- Immodium – For relieving diarrhea from stomach infections.
- Rehydration salts – For treating heat sickness / fluid loss.
- Space blanket – For dealing with hypothermic conditions.
Hopefully, you won’t ever need to use your first-aid kit for anything serious when you’re out hiking. The reality is that things do happen that you can’t always account for. A little preparation makes for a considerable comfort boost and can keep a situation from getting out of hand.
I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve been hiking with a group and see these things save the day.
Preparation is a critical element
A lot of times, you’ll pack more than you need. It’s just a part of learning what to bring hiking. However, I’m a big believer in better to have it and not need it, than to need it and not have it. It’s almost exponentially more essential to pack more when you’re hiking with a group, but that could probably be a post all of its own.
You’ll never regret preparing for a variety of situations, and I hope this guide has been helpful, giving you some ideas for what to bring on a hiking trip!