The handy and necessary things you'll need for a day on the trails
Packing for a day hike is considerably easier than packing for an extended backpacking trip, but that doesn't mean you should just throw a few things in a pack and head out. The key to preparing for any hike is to hope for the best but plan for the worst. That means stocking your daypack with a handful of essentials, along with emergency items in case you run into some unexpected trail conditions.
The clothes on your back
Packing for a hike starts with the clothes you're wearing. In general, stick with clothing that is made from wool or synthetic materials, and avoid cotton. Cotton absorbs moisture and holds onto it, which steals away your body heat in wet, cold conditions, potentially leading to hypothermia. Assuming you're hiking in relatively warm, dry weather, your basic outfit should look something like this:
- Synthetic short-sleeve T-shirt
- Lightweight synthetic trekking pants or shorts
- Synthetic undergarments (briefs or boxers, and bra)
- Wool hiking socks
- Comfortable, lightweight hiking shoes
Gaiters are an optional addition that will keep your feet dry in the rain, and it's a good idea to have sunglasses and a sun hat handy. In case of cold or wet weather, pack a few extra clothing items, including a mid-weight synthetic or fleece long-sleeve top, light waterproof jacket, wool or fleece hat and an extra pair of socks.
Your daypack itself might be the most important piece of gear you carry. Choose a pack that is small enough to be suitable for a short hike – heavy expedition-style hiking packs are overkill – but has enough space for all your gear. Try a few daypacks on before you buy one, and choose one that is comfortable and fits you well. Include the following items in your daypack:
- detailed trail map
- sunscreen and insect repellent
Food and drink
To stay nourished and hydrated on a day hike, pack high-energy snacks and plenty of water. Plan on drinking a minimum of 2 liters of water on a day hike (potentially much more if you're hiking over difficult terrain). The average hiker also needs about 2 pounds of food per day. For a day hike, include items such as granola bars, trail mix, dried fruit, nuts and jerky. A piece of fresh fruit or two is a good addition, but avoid packing too many items that are heavy and/or perishable.
Most of the items you should bring on a day hike are things you'll never need, but in an emergency situation, you'll be glad you brought them. Difficult terrain, an unexpected injury, changing weather or being caught out in the dark can change your plans in a heartbeat, so make sure you have the following:
- a day's worth of extra food
- a method for purifying water (e.g., filtration system or chlorine tablets)
- knife or multitool
- first-aid kit
- fire starter kit
- emergency shelter (tent, tarp or reflective blanket)