Day Hiking Essentials: The Gear You Need to Hit the Trail

The practical guide on what to pack for a day hike based on the gear we really take on the trail. From the right hiking layers, to a comfortable pack, to healthy snacks and more, here are our favorite day hiking essentials.

You’re ready for an epic day hike. Not only have you picked out the trail but you’ve done your research and know all the important details like distance, conditions, elevation, and logistics of the hike. After checking the weather and getting the stoke level high, it’s time to gear up. The only problem is that you aren’t exactly sure what day hiking essentials you should pack to keep you safe on the trail?

If you’ve ever thought this to yourself then you are certainly not alone. There are dozens of day hiking gear lists on the internet to answer this exact question, but what we’ve found is that many of these Day Hiking Essentials Gear Lists have a bunch of items that most hikers never take with them on the trail. So how is our day hiking essentials list different? This is the practical stuff we at Bearfoot Theory actually use on our day hikes.  Nothing more and nothing less.

Whether you are an experienced hiker or are just starting out, here are the day hiking essentials you should pack for every hike.


1) Backpack

First thing you’ll need for your day hike is a decent backpack. You can get away with using an old JanSport from your closet if you are packing light, but if you are serious about hiking, you’ll want something a little more robust.

For size, a typical day hiking pack will range from 20-35 liters. This is enough to hold your extra layers and all of the other day hiking essentials that we talk about below. Other features you’ll be looking for when you choose a day pack are:

  • Interior pocket for a water bladder (which makes drinking easier)
  • A hip belt that will place the load on your hips rather than your shoulders
  • A sternum strap which prevents the pack from shifting when you are hiking

Your best bet is to try a pack on in the store to make sure it’s a good fit for your torso and body type. Here are a few of my favorite day-packs that I’ve used over the years:

  • Osprey Mira 22 Hydration Pack – This pack is a great all-around day pack and I took a similar Osprey Hydration Pack with me to Everest Basecamp and to Canada last summer. It’s got a 2.5-liter hydration reservoir, lots of pockets, and a comfortable hip belt.
  • Mindshift Gear Rotation 180 Horizon 34 Backack – This is the best camera backpack I’ve come across for hiking and other outdoor actvities. If you are a photographer who is sick of taking off your pack every time you want to snap a photo, this pack is for you. The part of the bag that holds your camera and lens rotates around to the front of your body, while the pack stays in place. It makes it very easy to access and takes a lot of pressure off of your neck if you are used to hiking with your camera swinging across your body. I used the Mindshift Gear Rotation Pack all ski season this winter and can’t wait to hike with it more this summer.
  • Osprey Raven 14 – This is a much smaller pack that I use for biking and dayhikes when I don’t need to bring a ton of extra gear. It’s a frameless bag with an awesome mesh back panel for ventilation. My favorite thing about this pack is the separate compartment for the included 3-liter hydration reservoir that makes it very easy to refill your water. It also has a few different pockets for snacks, a small camera, and extra layers.

Read Next: The Best Hiking Daypacks for Women

2) The Right Hiking Layers

Some of the most important gear is the kind that you wear! No matter what season you’re hiking in, wearing layers out on the trail is important for both comfort and safety reasons. Start with a sweat-wicking base layer, like wool, that’s breathable and regulates body temperature. Avoid cotton layers. In the cold, wet cotton doesn’t provide insulation, and in the heat it traps warmth, so try to steer clear of this material if you can. Layer a t-shirt on top in the summer and heavier long-sleeve shirts for the summer.

Always pack a lightweight raincoat that you can stuff in your pack and a hat and gloves if you think it might get chilly. Some hikers swear by bandanas or a buff, which are multi-purpose items that work well for wiping off sweat, protecting you from the sun, or keeping your neck warm if it gets cold.

On your feet, choose a pair of sturdy hiking boots and wool socks that can handle whatever kind of terrain you’re hiking. Go for lightweight trail shoes if it’s an easy or moderate trail and protect your ankles on tougher, more challenging surfaces with high-rise, thick-soled boots.

The practical guide on what to pack for a day hike based on the gear we really take on the trail. From the right hiking layers, to a comfortable pack, to healthy snacks and more, here are our favorite day hiking essentials.

Read Next: What to Wear Hiking

3) Sun Protection

To shield your skin from the sun while you’re hiking, bring along a bottle of sunscreen that is at least UPF 30 and won’t come off when you sweat. Also pack a breathable brimmed hat and sunglasses that aren’t fragile enough to break for eye and face protection, too. While these might be obvious for hot and sunny hikes, it’s not as commonly known that going for a hike in the snow on a sunny day can also cause sunburn from “snow blindness”. During winter hikes the sun reflects off the snow and sends some pretty strong rays back at you. Sun protection is a day hiking essential that will help you to prevent injury. Here are some of our favorite essentials for sun protection:

4) Map / Navigational Tools

There are alot of great websites and apps for finding trails. We highly encourage you to have a few of these downloaded on your phone.  For navigation, Gaia is one of our favorite GPS apps that allows you to see your location in real time on your phone.

While many people rely solely on their smart phone’s advanced GPS to navigate on a trail, it’s important to have a good backup. In the outdoors, there are plenty of places where there is no WiFi connection or cell reception and unlike a map or a compass, the battery can die. If you happen to get lost and find yourself with a dead smartphone then that could be a real safety concern. So, always pack the appropriate waterproof and tear-proof map, plus, a compass to help you find your way.

If you want to opt for a navigational tool like a handheld GPS, then go for it! There are a lot of great options out there, like the Garmin InReach, which is sturdy enough to take with you and also serves as a backcountry communication device….But either way remember to bring your map, so you don’t have to rely solely on battery-operated gear.

The practical guide on what to pack for a day hike based on the gear we really take on the trail. From the right hiking layers, to a comfortable pack, to healthy snacks and more, here are our favorite day hiking essentials.

5) LOTS of Water

Your body needs water to function at its very best. Bringing extra water, and even a water purifier 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. An alternative to a hydration reservoir is storing one or two lightweight water bottles in the side pockets of your backpack for easy access.

6) Energizing Snacks

Bring enough food for the day to stay full and keep your energy up, plus extra to be safe. Nutritional snacks that are packed with protein and fiber are best, so grab some granola bars, jerky, sturdy fruits and veggies like apples or carrots that won’t get squished in your bag are great. Or even bring 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. You’ll also be burning more calories than you might be used to. So, don’t skip this step and load up on the food.

The practical guide on what to pack for a day hike based on the gear we really take on the trail. From the right hiking layers, to a comfortable pack, to healthy snacks and more, here are our favorite 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. The Adventure Medical Kit Ultralight/Watertight .7 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.

We also recommend throwing a lighter or 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 that 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 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, repair patches or strips of the ever-handy duck tape. A good tip is to place strips of duck tape on your water bottle or trekking poles to rip off in case you need to repair something in a pinch.

10) 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 pressure off your knees, give you more power on the ups, and help maintain a rhythm while you’re hiking. Check out this list of our favorite trekking poles and a more detailed explanation of their benefits.

The practical guide on what to pack for a day hike based on the gear we really take on the trail. From the right hiking layers, to a comfortable pack, to healthy snacks and more, here are our favorite day hiking essentials.

Tell us what are your day hiking essentials? Share your tips and tricks with us in the comments below!

Written by Kristen Bor

Hey there! My name is Kristen, and this is my outdoor blog. I discovered the power of the outdoors in my 20s, at the time I needed it most. Now 15 years later, prioritizing that critical connection with nature continues to improve my life. My goal at Bearfoot Theory is to empower you with the tools and advice you need to responsibly get outside.

15 comments on “Day Hiking Essentials: The Gear You Need to Hit the Trail

  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.

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