How To Pack For Your Next Day Hike

Fill your day pack with the essentials.

By: Meghan McLean + Save to a List

I love a good day hike. From a leisurely meandering trail walk to an intense full-day trek up Mt. Tam, hiking clears the mind, relieves stress, and gets the blood pumping. I love day hikes because they allow you to connect to nature, get a jolt of fresh air, and allow you to be home in time for dinner. Here is my list of 12 essential items to pack for your day hike.

1. A small emergency kit

Nothin’ fancy or too heavy, just something basic to cover blisters, scrapes, and the occasional need for hand sanitizer.

2. Water

Now this is an important one. Make sure you’re realistic about how much you may need. It’s a good idea to check beforehand to see if there will be water fountains to refill anywhere along your route.

3. A lightweight layer

Be it a flannel shirt or a raincoat, be prepared for a slight chill as you walk in the shade, or to even cover up to avoid the sun.

4. Sunscreen

Wear it, your mom will be happy that you did.

5. Snacks

I love a good snack. And a good snack provides fuel and motivation for a long hike in addition to being tasty. One particularly good snack is to take a chocolatey energy bar and smother it with almond butter (which you can buy in individual packets). Try it (unless you have a nut allergy. Then, don’t).

Hike South Kaibab Trail to Cedar Ridge | Photo: Edward Day

6. Map

This one is especially important if you’re trying out a new hiking locale. Plus, maps provided by local ranger stations often have other interesting information on them.

7. Hat and/or sunglasses

Having the sun in your eyes sucks. Plus it can be dangerous if you’re on a narrower cliff-adjacent trail. Don’t worry about looking dorky, because it’s better to look dorky than to end up as a human meat pile at the bottom of a mountain.

8. Tyvek

Ok, ok, this one may not be an “essential” for everyone, but it is an essential for my day hiking kit. Tyvek is super light and super strong, and is great to use as a picnic blanket.

9. Emergency blanket

Yes, I’m serious. You don’t want to end up like these poor folks and be caught unprepared.

Day Hike to Hemphill Bald | Photo: Steve Yocom

10. Camera

Or, more likely, a phone. Capture the sunrise, pretty flowers, or amazing views. Pictures are great to connect you to the outdoors when you’re stuck behind your desk. But remember to experience the outdoors when, well, when you’re outdoors. Don’t spend the entire hike behind a screen.

11. Wet wipes

Remember way back during number one when I mentioned hand sanitizer? Sometimes, no matter how hard you try and how many times you visit the loo before a hike, you’ll still have to pop a squat. While sanitizer keeps your hands un-germy (especially before eating your almond-butter-covered bar), wet wipes keep your down there fresh. Just remember to pack it out.

12. Doggy poo bags

Once again, these may not be on everyone’s list. But for those of us with dogs, they’re a must have. Don’t be a jerk—pick up after your pooch.

Prepping for a day hike may seem like overkill the first few times. You think “but I’m just going out for a few miles!” But it’s amazing how tired, hungry, burnt, and thirsty you can get even on a short hike. And then there are times where you intend to hike for four miles, but end up following advice from some more mature hikers (surely those older folks can’t hike for too long!) and you accidentally hike for twelve.

Cover photo: Kevin Kaminski

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