Day Hiking Essentials: What to Bring on a Hike

You’re ready for an epic day hike. Not only have you picked out the trail, but you’ve also done your research and know all the important details like distance, conditions, elevation, and logistics. After checking the weather and getting the stoke level high, 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 on the trail?

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 we’ve found at Bearfoot Theory 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 our day hiking essentials list different? This is the practical stuff we at Bearfoot Theory actually bring on an average day hike. Nothing more and nothing less.

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


1) A Backpack

The first thing you’ll need for your day hike is a good hiking backpack. 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 we talk about below. Other features you’ll be looking for when you choose a day pack are:

  • And interior pocket or sleeve for a hydration pack (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 which prevents the pack from shifting when you are hiking

Your best bet is to try a daypack 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 daypacks that I’ve used over the years:

  • Osprey Mira 22L Hydration Pack – This pack is a great all-around day pack and I took a similar Osprey backpack with me to Everest Basecamp and to Canada a few summers ago. It’s got lots of pockets, a comfortable hip belt, and it comes with a 2.5-liter hydration reservoir.
Osprey Mira // 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.
  • Deuter Speed Lite 22 SL – This is a comfortable (and more affordable) day pack that’s just the right size. It’s lightweight with a padded hipbelt and an interior sleeve pocket where you can slip a hydration pack in for easy sipping on the trail.
  • Gregory Maya 22 – This daypack has a dedicated zippered hydration compartment making it super easy to insert and remove a hydration reservoir. It also has large hip pockets, a number of other organizational features, and a low profile, making it comfy for all-day wear.

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, wearing layers out on the trail is important for both comfort and safety reasons. Check out our guide to what to wear hiking for more.

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 weat-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.

>> If you’re hiking in the winter, be sure to read our post on Winter Hiking Clothes & Cold Weather Layering Basics.

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!

>> Check out our favorite women’s insulated jackets for hiking

Outer layers

Always pack a lightweight raincoat that you can stuff in your pack and 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, or keeping your neck warm if it gets cold.

Footwear

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 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.

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 sturdy sunglasses to protect your eyes and face.

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 a lot 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 smartphone’s advanced GPS to navigate on a trail, it’s also 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 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. So unless it’s a trail you’re super familiar with and have hiked before, 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 (my go-to), which is sturdy enough to take with you and also serves as a backcountry communication device. But either way, remember to bring a paper map so you don’t have to rely solely on battery-operated gear.

Discover the Do's and Don'ts of how to be respectful while you are out on the trail. Here is a complete guide to hiking trail etiquette that every hiker should know.

5) LOTS 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. 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.

6) Energizing Snacks

It’s important to bring enough food for the day to stay full and keep your energy up. Nutritional snacks that are packed with nutrients are best, so grab some granola bars, nuts, trail mix, or dehydrated meals if you’re going on a long hike and really want to pack light. Sturdy fruits and veggies like apples 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. You’ll also be burning more calories than you might be used to, so don’t skimp on snacks and nutrition.

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.

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 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 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 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 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.

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 the 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 and how to choose the right pair for yourself.

11) A Mask

For the time-being, we also recommend bringing a double layer mask with you on your hikes. I like to keep mine in my pocket and throw it on temporarily if I encounter people on the trail and there is no where to step to the side.

Tell us what your day hiking essentials are! Do you carry everything we shared above on your day hikes? 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.

16 comments on “Day Hiking Essentials: What to Bring on a Hike

  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.

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