Day Hiking Gear

4 Essentials for a Successful Day Hike

When it comes to day hiking gear, we tend to think that we don’t need to pack that much day hiking gear because we’re not going to be out in the forest that long. However, we tend to forget the underlining issues that could change our plans and keep us in the outdoors even longer. It is important that we pack to right day hiking gear in order to ensure that we can have a successful day hiking experience. In this article, I want to cover the important 4 essentials of packing the right day hiking gear. It is important to save of weight so that you can help prevent wear and tear of your body but it is even more important to have the right day hiking gear that will ensure you have a good day hiking experience.

4 Essential Categories of Day Hiking Gear for a Successful Experience

In this article, we will cover 4 types of day hiking gear that should be included in your backpack. Your backpack itself is not part of this gear – globally that is a piece of gear that everyone should already have so that you can easily carry the essential day hiking gear that you will need to take with you. The first category of day hiking gear is NAVIGATION because it is important that you can find your way around the trails and back to the start. The second day hiking gear category is SAFETY because these items may be required to save your own life or the life of someone else. The third category pertaining to day hiking gear is SHELTER because if something happens, you need to be prepared to take shelter or shelter in place until help can arrive. And finally, EXTRAS in the last category of day hiking gear that everyone should always take with them.

Day Hiking Gear Essential 1


When doing a day hike, it is important that you can thoroughly navigate your way through the area you plan to hike in. It is also very important that you can find your way back to where you started from. Navigation essentials are required for these important needs. One particular piece of navigation day hiking gear is a headlamp or a flashlight – this is required for you to be able to see when it’s dark. If something were to occur and require you to remain in the forest during night time hours, not being able to see will likely create major navigational problems. Even if you plan to be done well before nightfall, consider the possibilities that you might not make it out before night and always pack an efficient source of light for those times when you may need it the most.
Other essential forms of navigation include paper maps, a compass and a GPS (global positioning system) device of some kind. A paper map will often show you a trail as well as aforementioned areas of interest that are said to be along the trail. A compass can help you determine what direction you are going and allow you to read maps more effectively. It is wise to point your compass from the start of your hike so that you know what direction to hike towards if you were to become lost. A GPS device might help you find your way around the trail and back to the start very effectively and many free available GPS-apps are out there for smartphones. Before bringing maps, a compass and a GPS device or app with you – ensure that you fully understand how to use these tools otherwise they will not be very useful for you when you need them the most!
It is important that you can be located if something were to happen and you were not able to return from a day hike. One piece of day hiking gear that you might not know about is called a Personal Locator Beacon or PLB. The way a PLB works is that it will send an agency (usually a third party agency) an alert when activated that you need help. It shares the GPS location of where you are with the agency so that help can dispatch to your location. This would be extremely essential if you were to be disabled in way where you could no longer hike. These units often have a higher price tag attached to them. In the case, if you cannot afford it, use some good old fashion communication. Tell a friend, significant other and/or family member where you are planning to hike and try to provide as much location details as possible so that if such information is needed to locate you, such information will become available.

Day Hiking Gear Essential 2


Day hiking is a wonder way to enjoy the outdoors. It allows you to be steward of nature and it is really healthy for your exercise and fitness routines. However, hiking can be dangerous especially in areas that are in higher elevation or are vast in the amount of mileage or acreage that you plan to explore. When deciding on what kind of day hiking gear to take with you, it is extremely important to take the essentials of safety gear on your journey. First and foremost is the First Aid Kit! When you purchase a first aid kit, aim for a kid that is directly rated for outdoors and hiking as the items will usually be more specific to outdoor and hiking related injuries. Ensure that the carrying case is waterproof so that items are protected. Ensure that you understand how to use each item and toss out the items you don’t know how to use to save of space. Finally, make sure no item is expired or no longer effective and replace first aid kit items as needed.
Taking essential sprays with you is important for your personal safety. These sprays often include sun-block, tick repellent and bug repellent. Even though you might be planning to hike in a forested canopy, you are not always protected against the dangerous rays of the sun. Proper sun-block will allow you to protect exposed skin to ensure that you can have a meaningful hike without being in pain thereafter. Tick spray is often applied to hiking clothing and gear before you hike. Tick spray is usually very strong and effective. Ticks can cause some very frightening types of illnesses including alpha-gal which can make you deathly allergic to red meat, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, lime disease and others. Bug repellent is essential to repel annoying pest insects away from you such as mosquitoes and flies. Many of these annoying pest bugs also often carry diseases in which you should try to avoid contracting. With the right safety sprays, you can enjoy a day hike without any issues.
Another form of safety-related day hiking gear is defensive gear. It is important to have the tools you need to defend yourself from wildlife and even other humans that might wish to cause harm to you. Your main line of defense is your senses. Use you hearing, vision and smell to find danger before it involves you. Always watch where you are going and expect the unexpected to happen. As far as physical defensive tools, I always recommend a knife. In some areas, you might wish to carry specific-animal repellent spray whereas appropriate. You might bring a sound emission device to act as a non-lethal form of defense or even a wildlife alerting bell. Some areas allow you to openly and/or conceal carry a firearm – please make sure that you fully understand and abide by federal, state and local laws and ordinances of your specific area before taking a firearm with you on your day hiking experience. If you know a day hiking area is dangerous before you go, don’t risk it, go somewhere else and prevent yourself from being harmed in the first place.

Day Hiking Gear Essential 3


We hardly consider the importance of a sheltering system when we go for a day hike. Day hiking specifically accounts to the notion that we only plan to hike an area during the daytime hours. This commonly allows us to forget about unknown conditions and unexpected events that might keep us in an area longer than we anticipated. This is why it is so important to have shelter items within our day hiking gear apparatus. One of the most important of the items is fire. You need to have items with you that are capable of starting a fire. A fire can be used for signaling help, keeping you warm, seeing in the dark, keeping wild animals away and of course, cooking food and boiling unfiltered water. My suggestion is to build a small fire starting kit with small kindling added to help get a fire going, a folding saw for cutting small branches, a waterproof fire starter or lighter and something lightweight to cook with such as a stainless steel camping mug. Put everything is a zip-lock bag and there you go – you have the capability of creating fire when you might need it the most.
The next essential bit of day hiking gear for the sake of sheltering is the shelter itself. The shelter can really be in the form of different items that you are willing to take with you. I have a very lightweight one person tent that I could easily take with me but it would still add quite a bit of weight to my day hiking pack. So I often opt to take a large full body rain poncho with me instead. The poncho can be used for its original purpose or with the combination of small branches and Para-cord that I pack; I can turn it into a make-shift shelter to keep precipitation from falling on me and also protect me from the wind. This piece of gear is what I often recommend people take for shelter because it essentially serves multiple purposed aside from sheltering and is usually well over three quarters less the weight of a tent.
When sheltering in place, it is essential to keep your body warm as the temperatures decrease during the late hours or after a front have moved through the area. Sleeping bags are often very featured and great to have for this but they are also often too heavy to carry for day hiking trips. My recommendation is SPANDEX! You might be laughing but I’m serious – purchase spandex-type base layer clothing meant for layering up to protect yourself from the cold such as insulated tights, insulated or water-proof socks and insulated tops, gloves, face-masks and beanies or sock caps. The spandex material wickers sweat away and keep you dry. If you get too hot, you can shed layers as needed. And best of all, spandex material is extremely light weight so you can bring multiple layering items without the worry of major weight concerns. I’ve found that the cheap insulated spandex clothing at most normal retail outlets work just as good as the more expensive items that are name brand.

Day Hiking Gear Essential 4


When we think extras and backpacking, we cringe. The idea of carrying extras of anything usually means more weight and that isn’t always a good idea. But in some cases, extras are extremely important, especially for day hiking. Something many day hikers fail to bring extra of is batteries. There are many things we use batteries for when day hiking. We use our phones for communication, GPS-based apps and even music – take a charged battery pack or brick with you in case you need to recharge your phone. Another thing that needs batteries is the headlamp or flashlight mentioned earlier in the article. When you are using your light source at night, you’re often using it continuously and that source of light might run out of juice at some point and that could be very bad. You need your light source to work at times when you will need it the most. Carrying some extra batteries doesn’t add a whole lot of weight and these extras might save your life.
Hydration is another item to take extra of when packing day hiking gear. Now, in most cases, hydration is often going to be the bulk of your backpack’s weight. I tend to commonly pack two large Power-Ade/Gatorade bottles in each side bottle pocket of my backpack and a large bottle of water inside one of the storage containers attempting to centralize the bottle to balance the weight. While you need to pack more hydration than you will need, especially for those “just in case” moments, packing too much is going to create a major weight issue that could hurt you. This is when I tell people to research the area before they go hike it, try to determine if creeks and streams are present. If they are, buy a dependable water filter, learn how to use it before you go hiking and then have it as a backup source for water when you are out of the water you have packed in. But nonetheless, make sure you bring extra already made hydration with you because there might not be any water available in the creeks and streams for filtering pending drought, access, flow and so on.
Food is also important when considering what day hiking gear to bring with you. Now like water, take more food with you than you will need but you need to make it is the right kind of food. Bring food that is not only safe to carry without keeping it cool but food that will help fuel you for your trekking journey. My food usually consists of a few bigger beef jerky snacks, some trail mix, a few protein bars and a freeze-dried meal that I can cook if I get into a pickle and need something a little more filling. Important food elements to consider adding include healthy fats and carbohydrates for fuel and salty items to replenish electrolytes that you lose as you sweat. Going for low-carb food that you eat for dieting isn’t a very good idea due to the fitness activity you get when you hike and the need for more fuel that you are constantly burning off but that isn’t to say that you should bring a bunch of junk food, either. My eating habits are like this – diet food when I am inactive and carb-loading salty foods when I am being active in cardio and exercise.

Day Hiking Gear Bonus Essential


Whether it is the camera on your smart phone, a standard point and shoot, a video camera, an action camera or even a digital SLR – bring a camera with you. Hiking is fun and you usually get to see a lot of awesome sights. Bring a camera with you so you can capture your experiences during your hiking adventure and so you can share the experiences with others. Now you don’t need a lot of gear like I usually bring but I video and photo everything for Hiking with Shawn, so most of my day hiking gear weight consists of multiple cameras , stands, lights, tripods, stabilizers and a lot of batteries and charging blocks. Still, I usually carry more than I need.
Well, that pretty much sums up the intent of this article. I hope you have enjoyed reading it. It took me a while to plan and create this article as it is over 2,600 words in length – please support my efforts by sharing this article with others, especially on your favorite social media platforms. It will really help Hiking with Shawn out and spread the word about what good day hiking gear people should take with them. Feel free to leave a comment below and until next time, I’ll see you on the trail!
Shawn J. Gossman

Shawn J. Gossman


Shawn is the founder and host of the YouTube Channel, Hiking with Shawn as well as Hiking with Shawn LLC. Shawn hikes, backpacks and visits various forested areas in the Shawnee National Forest, local state parks and other areas promoting outdoor recreational activities to obtain video to show to locals and non-locals alike. Please support Shawn’s efforts by sharing this post and leaving a comment below.
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