What you include on your day hike packing list will depend to some extent on your hike. How long is the hike? Where is the hike? What’s the weather forecast? Read about things to consider when choosing a hike – these will also affect what you take. The longer or more extreme the hike, the worse the weather or the less fit you are, the more you may need to take with you.
I am by no means a hard-core hiker. Nor am I super fit. However, I love hiking and have done many hikes, from short one-mile strolls on flat ground, to full-day difficult hikes with elevation change and some technical elements, and even some multi-day treks. So here is what I think are important to take with you on a day hike.
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Day Hike Packing List
I have broken this day hike checklist into day hiking essentials, extras that are either a good idea or essential depending on specifics of the hike, as well as extras for cold weather, plus a list of things NOT to take on a day hike.
The Day Hiking Essentials
Ten essentials for day hiking are:
1. Day hiking pack
A good hike all starts with a good pack. What kind of pack you need depends on the type of hike you are doing and how much gear you have.
For short hikes, I just use the day pack that I use when traveling around cities. I have the Safepac because of the safety features that are important when visiting a city (check safety features and prices here). The safety features aren’t important for hiking, of course, but for short hikes, it’s also comfortable.
However, for hikes of any real length, it is worth investing in a hiking day pack. Day pack essentials include:
- The right size. It needs to be big enough for your gear, but not bigger than you need. You want to try and minimize the weight you carry. A good size is 24-25 liters.
- Comfortable shoulder straps. They should be padded and adjustable.
- Hip straps. These allow you to bear a lot of the weight on your hips rather than all the weight being on your shoulders. This makes a BIG difference. Some packs come with thin straps. I prefer the larger padded hip straps, as they are more comfortable.
The 24-liter is the smallest size, and this is all you need for a day hike.
They also have a 34, 36 and 50-liter sizes.
For women, check out the Osprey Sirrus 24 for women here.
There are also 36 and 50-liter sizes.
For overnight hikes and multi-day treks, you need a bigger pack again – the 34-liter, 36-liter and 50-liter sizes in the men’s Stratos series and women’s Sirrus series with Osprey are more suited for those longer hikes.
2. Weather-appropriate clothing
What you should wear depends on the weather you will be hiking in, but as a general principle, the best day hiking gear includes wearing layers and moisture-wicking fabrics. i.e. synthetic fabrics that absorb moisture and take it away from your skin, so you feel drier and more comfortable. Weather can change quickly and unexpectedly so layers are essential.
Always take more than you think you may need – you just need never know when the weather can take a turn for the worse (or when it will heat up). I have been hiking in the desert under completely clear sunny skies and within half an hour a storm blew in and I was drenched.
Recommended clothing includes:
- Moisture-wicking synthetic short-sleeve t-shirt or long-sleeved moisture-wicking sun shirt
I prefer wearing quick dry long-sleeved shirts even in hot weather because the long sleeves protect my skin from sun and bugs.
I like the Columbia one because it is loose fitting and cool.
- Mid-weight synthetic or fleece long-sleeve top
The unpredictability of weather in remote environments make this a good idea even in places you don’t think you’ll need one. Check styles and prices on Amazon
- Rain jacket
Get one that rolls up small and fits into the bottom of your pack. You can use it n the rain, against the wind or just an extra layer it gets unexpectedly cold. I also use it as a “blanket” to sit on when I rest or stop for lunch.
- Quick-drying lightweight synthetic trekking pants
I like to have long legged pants to protect against the sun, bugs and scratchy plants that are next to the trail.
You can also buy convertible hiking pants that have a lower-leg section that unzips and converts long pants into shorts. They are a good option for on the trail if it heats up, though I prefer not to wear them around town (though people do).
- Moisture-wicking underwear
3. Hiking boots, shoes or sandals
One of your absolute day hike necessities. This is perhaps the singular most important thing you will ‘take’ with you. You will be on your feet the entire time, walking on uneven ground. If your feet hurt even just a little when you first put them on, they will be killing you by the end of the hike. So, they should be super comfortable and give you support you need.
There are a few different options.
Hiking Boots and Hiking Shoes
For reviews of these and other top hiking shoes and boots, read my Guide to the Best Hiking Shoes and Boots. These are suitable for regular weather and terrain.
Many prefer the comfort and coolness of sandals instead of boots or shoes. They have less ankle support, but breather more and many people find them more comfortable.
The best hiking sandals for men are the KEEN Targhee III Open Toe Sandal.
The best hiking sandals for women are the Chaco Women’s Mega Z Cloud Sandal.
Read detailed reviews of the best hiking sandals if you want to see more choices.
If you are going to be doing some easier hikes, then Walking Sandals might be a bester choice. Read a comprehensive Guide to Buying the Best Walking Sandals, with reviews and recommendations.
4. Wool or synthetic socks (thick)
You want to wear comfortable socks that are thick enough to give your feet a little padding and wick moisture away and not rub.
5. Plenty of food
You will burn more energy than you think, so take more food than you think you will eat. Pack a lunch and include lots of trail mix or energy bars in your day hike supplies.
6. Water bottle(s) and plenty of water
Another of your daypack essentials. You should always take more water than you expect to need. I always take two (or sometimes even three) bottles of water with me. It’s heavy at the start, but gets lighter as I start to get tired.
I like that it shrinks to a smaller size when not being used, so it is smaller on the latter part of the trip and is easy to pack.
7. First-aid kit
A first aid kit is one of the absolute hiking day pack essentials. It doesn’t need to be huge, but keep in mind that you will end up possibly miles from any help and you will be walking on uneven ground out in the elements so you need enough to take care of yourself if you start to feel sick, get blisters, fall down, etc.
It should include:
- treatments for blisters
- adhesive bandages of various sizes
- gauze pads and adhesive tape
- disinfecting ointment/ antibiotic cream
- antiseptic wipes or alcohol swabs
- bandage wrap
- basic over-the-counter medications – antihistamine for allergies, pain killers, and antacid for a dodgy stomach
Here is a small first aid kit on Amazon that fits easily in your pack.
It’s worth adding this to your day hiking gear, as it doesn’t take much space and is handy if you get lost (and if there are bears around).
You can get a hiking whistle here.
9. Toilet paper and a Ziplock bag
If you need to go, you want to be prepared. “Leave no trace” involves taking everything with you, which includes packing up your used loo paper. Many trails to do not have facilities along the way, so you will be glad you brought a Ziplock bag with you!
10. Sun protection
Never underestimate the power of the sun! There are three sun protection essentials:
- Sun hat: Check out the Columbia unisex sunhat on Amazon here.
- Sunscreen: Buy sunscreen on Amazon here.
Day Hiking Extras
Depending on the nature of the hike, there are some extras that you should add to your day hike list.
1. Hiking Poles
I didn’t use these for the longest time, but when I was doing the French Valley hike in Torres del Paine, a fellow hiker lent me his for the latter part of the hike and I became a convert. Now I consider them essential day hiking equipment.
There are things you need to consider when choosing hiking poles. The weight, material, price, pole design, grips and straps, tips and shock absorbers durability, are all things to consider.
I like the Foxelli ones – they are lightweight, shock absorbent and collapsible with cork grip handles. Check them out on Amazon here.
For birds, wildlife and distant scenery, a good pair of binoculars is highly recommended.
The best binoculars for the money are the Vortex Optics Diamondback 10×42 Roof Prism Binoculars.
3. Camera or phone
I’m including this on the “non-essential day hiking essentials checklist”, but you are welcome to disagree. There’s probably no cell services, but chances are you want to take photos of the incredible scenery all around you.
A step up from your phone and perfect for hiking because it can get wet is the GoPro. I like the Hero7. Check out all its features here.
4. Bear spray or bell
If you’re in bear country, you will want to discourage them from getting too up close and personal.
5. Insect repellent/ Bug spray
If you’re somewhere with bugs, this is an absolute must. You can get it with DEET, which is stronger (so good where bugs can carry diseases), but is pretty bad for your skin and the environment), and without DEET.
6. Navigation tool(s)
If there is any chance that you may lose the trail, then you should have some kind of navigation tool.
The most common thing is a trail map.
Some trails are on Google maps and if you download it beforehand you can access the GPS even without cell service. Read how to do this here.
If the trail is complicated and not well marked, it is worth getting a compass to use with your map. I wouldn’t attempt a trail like this if you are new to hiking though. Get a compass on Amazon here.
Other navigation tools for more complex hikes and experienced hikers include:
7. Water filter or purifier
If your hike is long enough for you to run out of water, as long as you will have access to a water source such as a river or lake, then some kind of simple water purifier should be one of your day hike pack essentials. Never assume water is OK to drink. That crystal-clear stream that looks so inviting could have a dead cow lying in it upstream, sending germs down to you.
A simple and easy to carry solution is water purifying pen. Get a Life Straw purifier here.
8. Hand sanitizer
9. Lip balm
Again, not essential, but if you are in the sun or wind, your lips will get dry, so I always take lip balm with me.
10. Solar charger
This isn’t necessary for short hikes, but especially for multi-day hikes or longer day hikes (especially if your phone or camera chews through power quickly), you will need to charge your camera and/phone.
11. Backpack for carrying a baby
Having a baby doesn’t mean that you can’t hit the trails. You can carry a baby or infant in a backpack that is especially designed for them.
Buy the Deuter Kind Comfort Pro baby backpack or read reviews in my guide to the best baby backpack carrier for hiking.
12. Backpack for carrying a dog
Not all national parks allow dogs, but many do, and, of course, there are plenty of other places to hike with your pet. You may want them to get some exercise, but the hikes you plan may be too much for them for the whole hike. You can carry them in a specially-designed backpack.
For More Extreme Hikes
For more extreme hikes, there are some other items you will want to add to your daypack checklist.
- Headlamp plus extra batteries
- Knife/ multi-use tool
- Gear repair kit for tents, down jackets and rain gear
- Fire: storm-proof matches, lighter, tinder and/or stove
- Shelter: Such as an ultralight tarp, a bivy sack, an emergency space blanket or even a large plastic trash bag.
- A strap for your glasses. If you wear glasses, it’s worth getting a strap for them. Kevin’s glasses fell off when we were hiking in Argentina and despite looking for them for about half an hour, we never found them.
What Not to Take On a Day Hike
There are definitely things not you not only don’t NEED to take, but you absolutely should NOT add to your day pack hiking list.
- Cotton clothing. When it gets wet, cotton clothing gets heavy and cold and uncomfortable. This includes jeans. Instead, you should wear synthetic, moisture-wicking hiking gear..
- Jewelry. It’s best to leave jewelry at home. If you lose it, chances are that you will never find it.
- White clothing. For obvious reasons.
- Anything too heavy
This is my hiking gear list for day hikes. Do you have any other suggestions for hiking daypack essentials? I’d love to hear them. Comment below.
For winter hiking, check my Packing List for Winter Hikes
For other travel and hiking resources, check out:
- Travel planning and booking resources
- Product reviews (including best hiking shoes and hiking sandals)
- A Beginner’s Guide on How to Read Hiking Trail Markers
- Hiking etiquette
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James Ian has traveled to 82 countries and all 7 continents. He has visited all of the main national parks in the United States, as well as many national monuments and state parks.
He has rafted through the Grand Canyon; rappelled down slot canyons near Zion and Arches; hiked among the hoodoos in Bryce and the enormous trees in Sequoia; admired the waterfalls in Yosemite and the colored hot springs in Yellowstone; seen moose in Grand Tetons and seals in the Channel Islands, and much more.
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