Day Hiking Essentials: What to Bring on a Hike

Learn what I bring on every hike with this day hiking essentials checklist to ensure you have a fun and safe time on the trail.

Kristen Bor looking out at mountains and fall colors in Telluride, Colorado while hiking the Wasatch Connector Trail

You’re ready for an epic day hike. Not only have you picked out the trail, but you’ve also done your research and have all the important details like distance, trail conditions, elevation, and logistics.

After checking the weather and getting excited to hit the trail, it’s time to gear up. The only problem is, what day hiking essentials you should bring on your hike to keep you safe and comfortable?

If you’ve ever wondered this, you’re certainly not alone. There are dozens of hiking gear lists on the internet to answer this exact question.

But what I’ve is that many of these gear lists have a bunch of items that most hikers never take with them on the trail. So how is my day hiking essentials list different? This is the practical stuff Iactually bring on an average day hike. Nothing more and nothing less.

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REI Co-op is my favorite outdoor gear retailer and a long-time supporter of my work here at Bearfoot Theory. Their 1-year return policy for Members is hands-down the best industry, and Members also get 10% back on their purchases every year.

1) A Daypack

The first thing you’ll need for your day hike is a good hiking daypack. You can get away with using an old JanSport from your closet if you’re not going too far, but if you are serious about hiking and want to be comfortable on the trail, you’ll want something a little more robust.

For size, a typical day hiking pack ranges from 20-35 liters. This is enough to hold your extra layers and all of the other day hiking essentials that I talk about below.

Other features you’ll be looking for when you choose a day pack are:

  • An interior pocket or sleeve for a hydration reservoir (which makes drinking water while hiking easier)
  • A hip belt that will place the load on your hips rather than your shoulders
  • A sternum strap to prevent the pack from shifting when you are hiking

Here are a few of my favorite daypacks that I’ve used over the years:

Osprey Tempest 20 Pack

This Osprey pack is a great all-around day pack and is what BFT’s Director, Linda, uses. It’s roomy and comfortable with lots of pockets including side stretch pockets, hip belt pockets, and even a spot to hold your sunglasses. The external hydration sleeve (reservoir not included) makes it easy to take it in and out.

Deuter Speed Lite 23 Pack

This Deuter pack is a comfortable, lightweight day pack that’s just the right size. The sternum strap is adjustable and the unique V-shape provides more freedom of movement. It has plenty of pockets including hip belt pockets and it’s hydration compatible (reservoir not included).

REI Co-op Trail 25 Pack

This is a popular budget-friendly REI daypack that’s made from recycled material and comes with a raincover (bonus!). It has a large U-shaped zipper compartment that makes it easy to access your gear, as well as an interior zippered pocket for keys and valuables and stretch side pockets. It’s also hydration compatible (reservoir not included).

2) The Right Hiking Layers

Some of the most important day hiking gear is the kind that you wear! No matter what season you’re hiking in, bringing layers along on the trail is important for both comfort and safety reasons.

Base Layers

Start with a sweat-wicking base layer that’s breathable and regulates body temperature.

Avoid cotton because in cold environments, wet cotton doesn’t provide insulation, is slow to dry, and can make you even colder. In the heat, cotton traps warmth, which isn’t ideal either. So try to steer clear of this material if you can.

I personally wear a lightweight sweat-wicking shirt on warm summer days (long-sleeved for extra sun protection). Then, I will add an additional mid-weight layer on top when it’s cooler.

Bearfoot Theory founder Kristen Bor on a desert hike in red canyon utah

Mid Layers

If there’s any chance of it being chilly out or there’s a possibility you’ll be out longer than you expect, pack a fleece or insulated jacket. It can be surprisingly cold on summits or in the shade when you’re taking a break, and the difference between mid-day temps and morning and evening temps can be significant. It’s no fun being cold, throwing an extra layer in your backpack won’t add much weight, and you’ll be happy you have it if it does get chilly!

BFT Founder Kristen smiling in a golden yellow Patagonia Nano Puff and cap while holding her baby on a beach in Washington at Olympic National Park

Outer Layers

Always pack a lightweight rain jacket that you can stuff in your pack along with a hat and gloves if you think it might get chilly.

I usually also wear a buff, which is a lightweight layer that goes around your neck. It works well for wiping off sweat, protecting you from the sun or wind, keeping your hair out of your face, or keeping your neck warm if it gets cold.

Hiking Boots

On your feet, choose a pair of sturdy hiking boots and socks that can handle whatever kind of terrain you’re hiking in.

Go for lightweight trail shoes if it’s an easy or moderate trail and protect your ankles on tougher, more challenging surfaces with mi- or high-rise, thick-soled boots.

Headed out on a hike? Make sure you pack these top day hiking essentials to ensure you have fun and stay safe out on the trail.
Wearing Oboz Sypes hiking boots on a day hike (Color: Slate)

3) Sun Protection

Sun protection while hiking may seem obvious, but it is often overlooked when packing day hiking essentials.

To shield your skin from the sun while you’re hiking, bring:

While these essentials might be obvious for hot and sunny hikes, it’s not as obvious on cloudy days where the weather could clear while you’re out or on snowy hikes where the sun reflects off the snow and sends some pretty strong rays back at you.

Kristen standing at lookout on trail in Colorado with both arms raised above her head
Protecting your skin from the sun is a day hiking essential!

4) Map / Navigational Tools

There are a lot of great websites and apps for finding trails. We highly encourage you to have a few of these downloaded on your phone, and at least one that you’re able to use offline in case you don’t have service on your hike.

In the outdoors, there are plenty of places where there is no cell reception and unlike a map or a compass, the battery on your phone can die. If you happen to get lost and find yourself with a dead smartphone, that could be a real safety concern.

Unless it’s a trail you’re super familiar with and have hiked before, always pack the appropriate map, plus a compass to help you find your way.

If you’re worried about your phone running out of battery, consider packing a portable power bank.

I also recommend packing an emergency satellite communication device, like the Garmin InReach Mini, which allows you to send text messages when you are out of cell service (note that you also need a monthly Garmin Membership to use the inReach).

Kristen smiling for photo while on a hike in high alpine terrain wearing hiking gear and a Garmin communication device attached to backpack strap
I always have my Garmin InReach handy on hikes

Lastly, I also recommend letting someone know of your hiking plans and what time you expect to return, just in case they need to alert rescue if you don’t check back in by your established time.

5) Plenty of Water

Your body needs water to function at its very best. Bringing extra water, and even a water filter for long hikes in case you run out is a really important day hiking essential to have while you’re out there bagging peaks.

In any weather, staying well hydrated can help you avoid dehydration or even altitude sickness, but moreover, it simply helps you feel good and have fun.

Many daypacks have space for a hydration reservoir which can be filled with water and allows you to drink from an attached tube. Since it’s nestled in between you and the pack, it’s easy to carry and is a great option for staying hydrated on the go.

Woman hiker wearing a hiking daypack drinking water from a hydration reservoir with mountains in the background

An alternative to a hydration reservoir is storing one or two lightweight water bottles in the side pockets of your backpack for easy access. You can even bring a water bottle with a filter built in so you can fill it from water sources on your hike.

6) Energizing Snacks

It’s important to bring enough food for the day to stay full and keep your energy up. Snacks that are packed with nutrients are best, so grab some energy bars, nuts, trail mix, and dried fruit. I love these Bobo’s Oat Bars for a quick breakfast on the go and Honeystinger Waffles and Energy Chews for treats.

Sturdy fruits and veggies like apples, oranges, or carrots that won’t get squished in your bag are also great options.

Or you can always pack one of the classic trail snacks: a good ol’ peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

It’s important always to make sure you have enough food, but the point of having extra is really in case of an emergency. It’s better to bring a little extra rather than not have enough. Plus you’ll be burning more calories than you might be used to, so don’t skimp on snacks and nutrition.

A woman sitting on a rock smiles down at her Stasher Bag with tortilla and tuna packets as a hiking snack inside
Plenty of snacks and a lunch if you’ll be out all day are day hiking essentials

7) First Aid Emergency Kit

It’s a good idea to invest in a portable and lightweight first aid kit that you can always keep in your backpack with your other day hiking essentials. While it’s unlikely that you will have an emergency, things like blisters, cramps, and minor cuts can happen, plus it’s always good to be prepared.

The Adventure Medical Kit Ultralight/Watertight First Aid Kit is a pre-made first aid kit that has the basics for dealing with minor injuries. If you go this route, make sure you are familiar with what’s in it, and adapt the kit to your personal medical needs as necessary.

I also recommend throwing a lighter and waterproof matches into your first aid kit in case you get caught after dark and need to build a fire, as well as a small whistle that you can use to garner attention in an emergency.

8) Flashlight or Headlamp

In case you get caught on the trail after dark, you’ll want a source of light to help you find your way back to the trailhead. Carry a headlamp with you for hands-free light or a small and lightweight flashlight if you don’t have a headlamp. Make sure the batteries are charged, too.

9) A Multi-Tool & Mini Repair Kit

A mini repair kit will help you fix something like a tear in your backpack, a loose trekking pole, a broken strap, or any other unforeseen issues that may come up while you’re out there.

While the contents of repair kits can vary between products, it’s always good to have multi-purpose tools with you like a pocket knife, leatherman, repair patches, safety pins, or strips of the ever-handy duct tape.

A good tip is to wrap some duct tape around a lighter so you have it handy in case you need it in a pinch.

9) Trekking Poles

Trekking poles might not be considered a “day hiking essential,” but if you are a beginner hiker or you are tackling steeper, more challenging terrain, trekking poles can be extremely helpful.

Trekking poles take the pressure off your knees, give you more power on the ups, and help maintain a rhythm while you’re hiking.

Woman hiking on high alpine trail in Colorado using trekking poles and wearing hiking gear
Trekking poles are a hiking essential for tough hikes

10) Toilet Paper or Pee Rag

No matter how short of a hike you’re going on, you should always be prepared in case you need to use the bathroom.

First, brush up on Leave No Trace principles and make sure you know how to properly poop outside – just in case!

I always have my Kula Cloth anti-microbial pee rag attached to my daypack for #1 and travel-sized toilet paper for #2. Be sure to bring a lightweight trowel in case you have to go #2 and need to dig a hole along with a Ziploc bag to carry out your used TP.

Woman standing at edge of high alpine lake with peak dusted with snow. She is wearing day hiking pack and carrying trekking poles
I bring my Kula Cloth on all hikes

What are your day hiking essentials? Do you carry everything we shared above on your day hikes? Share in the comments below.

Get ready to hit the trails with our top ten hiking essentials! This latest blog post has got you covered with must-have gear and essentials for day hiking adventures. From sturdy hiking boots to hydration systems, we've compiled a comprehensive list of everything you'll need to make the most of your time in the great outdoors.

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  1. Maybe if you are relying on your phone, consider a power bank in case your battery drains – especially if it’s cold. When I went to Iceland in the winter my battery drained in about half an hour due to the cold. I need to get myself a first aid kit. I’m lucky if I have plasters at the moment but having just done a fieldwork first aid course, I really do need to get one.

  2. A really great trick I learned is duct tape. Wrap it around (and around and around!) your hiking poles. You can peel off pieces as you need them – good emergency bandages, tent repair, clothing repair…it’s pretty useful.

  3. I always carry an extra pair of socks, and two empty sliced bread bags. Why? It’s an old Boy Scout trick. If your feet and boots get soaked, stop and dry off your feet. Put on your dry socks, and then put each foot in a bread bag before putting on your boots. It will keep your dry socks from absorbing moisture from your boots, and keep your feet dry.

  4. In addition to the items listed in the article, I always take a 3X5 signal mirror w/retro reflective aimer , a pealess whistle, and a handheld amateur radio. All this does not add too much added weight to my pack.

  5. Like your list, but because I hike alone frequently I include some items that would help if I had to be out overnight (injury etc.)
    I include a good puffy, a lightweight tarp and a bothy bag or space blanket.

  6. I always carry a LifeStraw filter, a single wall stainless steel water bottle, an empty Platypus bag, 10 feet of good paracord, an emergency bivy sack, a large trash bag, a first aid kit, a headlamp, a lighter, waterproof matches with two fuel tabs, lip balm, sunscreen & bug spray in summer, snacks, a wide saw, a map, a compass and a warm layer in a waterproof bag.

    On my person, I wear layered appropriate clothing with boots & gaiters, either a warm or Sun hat, a belt, a belt knife, bear spray and sometimes my gun. I also wear an emergency whistle, and carry my cell phone and a firesteel.

    I leave a note in my truck saying where and when I left and any other pertinent details. I also carry vehicle emergency stuff, a change of clothes, a sleeping bag, and food and water for three days.

    I also carry a measure tape in my pack and have plaster and stuff for casting in my truck 🙂

  7. Great list! I would add a couple of safety or emergency items, such as a whistle, signaling mirror just in case you get hurt or lost on the trail.

  8. Nice blog. It will surely help beginners update their knowledge. The efforts you have put in to create the posts are quite interesting. Looking forward to seeing you soon in a new post.

    We have a hiking packing list of essential items written down below that you will need to keep them with you for going on a hike. You never know which one is going to come handy for emergency purposes.

  9. Nothing to make fire with in the event you are lost ? How do you keep from getting hypothermia, especially in rain or snow?

    1. That’s a great suggestion, Wesley. We tend to focus more on having the right navigational tools like a map and a GPS/communication device in case of emergencies, but a lighter or some matches are always useful to carry just in case.

  10. I bring a couple items that are less remembered including lip chap, as having chapped lips at a higher elevation is really painful. I also bring Kleenex/tissue/toilet paper. My nose tends to run like a facet the higher I go in elevation and most of the washroom facilities are out out toilet paper.

  11. I think essentials vary quite a bit from location to location and depend on time of day. We generally hike in Texas with water and snacks being the most important to carry. Of course, we use sunscreen most of the year when shade in not abundant. Most of the year layers and backpacks are too bothersome. I’ve been using an adventure vest to hold water bottles and other items. When full it weighs only a few pounds and is hardly noticeable because it’s designed for runners. However, I have been wanting to try one of the osprey packs which pushes away from the lower back allowing constant airflow.

    We move at a very brisk pace because we hike with our dog and I’ve never tried to use poles or sticks. I can’t see how those would do anything but slow us down.

    I do carry a headlamp now because we have been caught on the trails at sunset before. I also carry my binoculars because I’ve been at multiple scenic viewpoints without them only to wonder why I did not have them with me. Surprisingly, we almost never encounter snakes out here, but boots are the best way to go in case we do step near one. That and most trails are full of tripping hazards like rocks or tree roots.

  12. Even on short hikes, I carry pretty much everything you mentioned, but have also started including a few snack size zippered bags, some toilet paper, and vinyl gloves & hand sanitizer ‘just in case.’ Longer hikes and/or cooler weather sees a space blanket and fire starter (like fatwood) tossed in the pack too.

  13. Agree with the others, whistle, mirror signalling, space blanket or bivvy, firelighting headlamp and water purification system.

    Also let someone know where you’ve gone, your route and when you’ll be back, so they can help direct rescue if needed.

    1. Hi Ian, these are all great items to bring on a hike – thanks for the suggestions! We added in a note about checking in with someone to let them know of your plans/expected return. Happy hiking!

  14. I often hike in the desert and will usually bring a smaller water bottle with electrolyte drinks (scratch labs has some great options) in addition to my main water bladder. Also, I bought a Gamin hand-held GPS because I have seen too many times where my phone was not able to connect to GPS when I needed it. Lastly I always leave my music and drones at home so I do not impact other people trying to enjoy themselves.

    1. Hi Matt, great tips! I also like carrying a soft 1L bottle for electrolytes on long and/or hot hikes. Thanks for sharing these tips.