Day Hiking Essentials: Bring these things on every hike!

There are important day hiking essentials that you should bring with you on every day hike. These essentials will help you enjoy the best hiking experience possible.

But not all hiking gear is created equal. Some gear should be reserved for longer hikes that span multiple days. Sometimes the amount of gear you bring with you on day hikes isn’t always enough.

When you don’t bring day hiking essentials with you, and it comes down to needing some essentials, you risk having a bad hiking experience. A bad hiking experience might make you want to end your journey.

So, the following hiking essentials are great to take with you on every day hiking trip you decide to go on.

Day Hiking Pack – The Greatest of Your Day Hiking Essentials

The first thing to check off your daily hiking essentials list is a good day hiking pack. This is where a lot of new hikers go wrong. You might think a simple school backpack is good enough. But those backpacks aren’t made to be worn for long periods in rougher conditions. School backpacks are a terrible idea for hiking.

What you want is a backpack made for day hiking. The capacity of hiking backpacks is measured in liters. A 15 to 35-liter backpack is often best for day hiking.

When looking at the many different day hiking backpacks out there, there are a few features you might want to consider. Look for packs with adequate storage pockets. It is a plus if the pack has a pocket and opening to add a water bladder. This will help you pack more hydration, which is important.

It helps to adjust the backpack from above your shoulders, around your hip, and on your chest or sternum area. I always get backpacking with hip-belt pockets to add my camera batteries and trail snacks for easy access.

There are a lot of different brands of day hiking backpacks available. I personally enjoy Osprey as the brand I typically choose. I’ve heard good things about Gregory packs, too. If you have a local hiking store or a local REI, try to visit so you can try a few packs on and find the perfect fit.

Day Hiking Essentials

Wear the Right Hiking Layers for the Right Hike

Your hiking outfits, layers, and footwear also play a role in having the perfect day hiking essentials with you on every hike. You want to make sure you’re comfortable while out on the trail. Comfort means you’re dry and not soaking wet from sweat. You want to be warm when it’s cold and cool when it’s hot. Choosing the right clothing, layers, and footwear will help you accomplish your needs.

Depending on the temperature, I’ll either wear a cool summer hiking outfit when it’s warm or layers when it’s cold. You can mix and match between temperatures.

In the summer, I typically wear shorts and a t-shirt. I sweat profusely and wear less to help cool me down. I usually wear shorts made of moisture-wicking materials and fabrics against the skin, like compression shorts. On hotter days, I wear them under hiking shorts or alone (thicker bike shorts-styled). I wear looser shirts that are made from moisture-wicking materials, too.

I usually wear layers in the winter based on how cold it is outside. If it’s cold and wet, I use a three-layered system. I start with base layers, usually running tights (insulted or non-insulted per the outside temperature), a colder weather compression shirt, and wool socks (thicker alpaca wool for colder weather). Then I wear my hiking pants, a shirt, and a hoodie. I rarely wear a coat. If it’s wet, I’ll wear a rain jacket.

I typically wear hiking boots all year round unless the trail isn’t as rugged. Then I will wear trail running shoes.


Sun and Bug Protection

Protecting yourself from the sun’s harmful rays when hiking is important. Most hiking is in the woods, and many hikers wouldn’t consider there to be that much exposure to the sun. But you’d be surprised how often you are exposed to the sun. The best thing to do is protect yourself from the start.

I bring sunscreen lotion in a small travel-sized bottle that I get for a few dollars at the Dollar General Store. As long as it is rated for UPF-30, you should be okay to use it. Typically, I go for the kind that doesn’t run off your body as you sweat but remember that you might need to reapply occasionally, especially if you’re sweating a lot.

Other means of sun protection to consider are sun protection clothing accessories like hats and arm sleeves, and sunglasses. Sunglasses are especially important when it has recently snowed as the reflection of the sun off the snow can sometimes be very blinding.

You should also make sure you lather yourself with bug spray and bring extra spray with you. The best types of bug spray are the ones with DEET in them. The DEET will help repel mosquitoes and ticks, which can spread harmful diseases to you after biting your skin. There are non-chemical solutions, but note that they are usually not as effective as sprays with DEET.

Using permethrin on your clothing, backpack, and footwear a few days before use is also a good idea. Permethrin will stop most ticks from getting on you.


Navigation Tools are Day Hiking Essentials

Maps and navigation tools are definitely day hiking essentials to carry in your backpack. If you get lost, you need to be able to find your way out. Don’t ever rely on one type of navigation tool, though. It’s best to have multiple forms of navigation, just in case.

Carry a paper map and compass. Try your best to learn the basic features of a map and compass. When technology fails, having traditional means of navigation can save you and bring you home. Take your compass and get a reading of where the trail starts so that you know what direction to go if you get off the beaten path and get lost.

You might also include a GPS unit or a hiking app on your phone. My favorite apps include OnXHunt, Gaia, Avenza, and All Trails. Most of them have nice free features, but to get any of them offline (usually what you need), you’ll have to pay for an upgrade. But it’s definitely worth it.

You might even try out a PLB or Personal Locator Beacon just in case you get so lost that you’ll need outside help to get your back.


More Water and Snacks than You’ll Need

You should always pack more water and snacks than you’ll actually need. If you get lost or injured and cannot return to where you started, staying hydrated and fueled at all costs is important. Carrying extra water and snacks will help ensure you can stay hydrated and fueled just in case you need it.

I always try to carry enough water to ration out for a few days. I typically carry about two liters of water with me. Water is the heaviest weight in my pack. I carry each bottle in side pockets to help balance the pack’s weight. You should also invest in a water filter and learn how to use your filter before you go hiking. A Sawyer Mini is in my day hiking essentials for sure.

Take extra snacks with you for fuel. Your snacks should be loaded with carbs and energy focused. You can buy premade snacks or make your own. I typically bring fruit and nut bars, beef jerky and cheese sticks, energy gels, and energy gummies. I also like to pack a freeze-dried Mountain House meal with a small gas canister and pocket rocket stove, just in case.

If you run out of water and snacks while lost or injured, it will not only drain your energy faster than you could imagine, but it can seriously injure and even kill you.


First Aid Kit

Your first aid kit is made up of day hiking essentials that you’ll hopefully never have to use but are good to have in case you absolutely need them. The idea of the best kit is to stick with supplies that you’ll likely need and leave supplies out that you won’t ever use. If you don’t know how to use it, don’t bring it. But don’t pack a trauma kit, either.

My first aid kit is simple. I pack bandages of all different sizes, alcohol prep pads, shear scissors, anti-diarrhea pills, Tylenol/Ibuprofen pills, antihistamines (I’m allergic to bee stings), medical grade tape, tweezers, and blood clotting powder. There are a few smaller items in there that are common in first aid kits, too.

Throw a lighter and waterproof match kit in your kit for good measure. You might also pack a whistle in your kit if you get stranded and need to use it to get the attention of emergency services or other hikers. Take some small repair items like duct tape and a sewing kit if you need to give your gear some first aid.


Flashlight with Extra Batteries

Bring a flashlight even if you don’t plan to be on the trail after dark. Accidents can happen, and you might be walking around in total darkness. Your whole environment changes in the dark. Nothing looks the same as it did when it was daylight. It’s easy to get off track when it’s dark outside.

Having a light will help you get back before it gets too late. Take a couple of forms of light just to be safe. Take a flashlight with extra batteries. Take a headlamp with extra batteries. Turn the batteries the wrong way in the lights when not using them. This will prevent the light from turning on accidentally in your back and running the batteries down.


TP is a Must!

Have you ever been hiking when nature calls? You rush to do your thing. Then it’s time to wipe, but all you have is leaves. You use them and then continue. The next day you wake up with a terrible rash in places you don’t want to have one on. You can avoid all that by carrying toilet paper with you. I recommend putting it in a Ziploc bag with a spare Ziploc bag in it to keep it dry in case the inside of your pack gets wet.

The spare Ziploc is to put used TP in to pack it out of the woods. It sounds horrible and disgusting, but leaving it behind only means littering and endangering critters in the forest. It’s your responsibility to pack it out. Throw a teabag into the bag to help prevent any smells. You should also dig a cat hole and bury your waste using the “facili-trees.” It’s the right thing to do.


And this concludes your day hiking essentials list. What other essential day hiking gear and items do you bring with you when you go hiking? If you’ve enjoyed this article and want to see more like it, please subscribe to my free mailing list for more content and resources like this article. Thanks for reading, and have a great day.

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Shawn Gossman

Shawn Gossman

Founder, Hiking with Shawn

Howdy folks! My name is Shawn Gossman and I founded Hiking with Shawn. I’m an avid hiker, cyclist and outdoorsman here in the Shawnee National Forest. I was born and raised in Southern Illinois and never want to leave. Click here to learn more about Shawn Gossman

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