In this article, we discuss what to pack for a day hike. You will find the most important items to have in your day hike packing list as well as our preferences for critical pieces of clothing and gear. This way, you could purchase all the day hike essentials before you go hiking.
For hiking beginners, day hikes are the safest and easiest way to start. Moreover, they are easier to plan (at least they don’t require meticulous planning) and prepare than multi-day hikes and as a result, you’ll spend much less time during the planning stage. Furthermore, your mistakes when packing for a day hike will rarely prove costly unless you repeat them again and again. Once you learn from them, they can actually be helpful to avoid problematic situations in your future hiking trips.
Packing for a day hike is easy – just pick up a comfortable backpack which fits, follow our guide, and start packing. A huge advantage is that you don’t need some fancy travel backpack for a simple walk in the woods because an ordinary day pack will do the job as well.
Depending on the surface, weather conditions, the distance of the trail, and your own preferences, you will need appropriate footwear. The most widely used options include comfortable hiking boots, shoes or trail-running shoes. The last two are your best options for three-season hiking. High-quality trail runners are extremely comfortable out of the box and we recommend them for hiking on most types of terrain. Lightweight, flexible, quick-drying, and fairly breathable shoes with grippy soles such as La Sportiva Ultra Raptor and Salomon X Ultra 3 are awesome for day hiking as they can handle rough, rocky or wet terrain equally well.
Hiking sandals and trail runners are perfect for summer hiking trips. Especially efficient in wet and hot weather, they’re (relatively) lightweight, breathable, and fast to dry. If thinking about a pair of hiking sandals, you may wish to check out the Chaco Mega Z Cloud. They are comfy and sturdy sandals with a grippy sole that will keep your foot stable even when hiking on rocky terrain or when walking through rivers and streams. In addition, the wide straps are soft and comfortable making the Chacos perfect for everyday wear.
Stiff soled boots such as the La Sportiva Makalu are built for climbing but are also highly recommended for winter hiking, especially for areas covered with snow. The reason is that they provide more stability and ankle support than other types of footwear. If you decide to put on hiking boots, make sure they are broken in. Keep in mind that some models and designs don’t need a lot of time to be broken in (you can wear some straight out of the box), while others might require a week or even a month.
To break in your hiking boots, start by wearing them inside the house. Then you can gradually increase the distance by walking to the local shop or around town followed by short and easy off-road trips. After this whole process (your boots should feel good at the end of it), you can think of wearing them on longer hiking trips. The duration of the break-in process varies and depends on factors such as the boots’ model, weight, and materials. Keep in mind that the choice of hiking footwear can make or break the entire experience.
To learn more about hiking boots, shoes, and other types of footwear, see our guide to hiking footwear where you will find a ton of information, including detailed features, advantages, and disadvantages as well as proper shoe care.
Hiking clothing and layering
Wear layers of clothes to match the forecast and season. Layering is essential, especially when hiking in the mountains, in changing weather as well as in cold conditions. It is best to rely on a clothing system composed of specialized items that can be easily adjusted and mixed and matched with changes in environmental conditions and your level of exertion.
Consider synthetic-fabric clothing as well as merino wool. For day hiking in low temperatures, we recommend base layers such as the Helly Hansen’s LIFA Merino because they will keep you dry and cool/warm. For warmer conditions, Helly Hansen LIFA Stripe Crew or another synthetic-fabric base layer is a better choice as it is fairly breathable, dries fast, and will keep you cooler. Avoid cotton (as they say “cotton kills”) at any cost in cool-to-cold and changing weather as it absorbs a lot of moisture and is slow to dry. Nevertheless, cotton is good for hot summer as well as desert hiking exactly because of the aforementioned properties.
Wind and waterproof jacket
Get a windproof jacket if it’s cold or you expect it to become cold. In wet environments, you may wish to get a waterproof breathable garment as well. Most quality rain jackets are windproof so you won’t need two separate garments – one for windy conditions and another for rain. Outdoor Research Interstellar is a top-notch waterproof breathable jacket that can be used as an external layer for added protection from rain and snow. 3-in-1 jackets such as The North Face Clement Triclimate are perfect for very cold conditions and environments as well as for milder climates. If you’re looking for a more budget-friendly option, we recommend you to check out the Marmot PreCip. It offers excellent weather protection at a fraction of the cost of expensive rain jackets.
For cold weather, bring a synthetic/merino mid layer for extra warmth and insulation. We recommend simple polyester fleece designs such as Helly Hansen Daybreaker 1/2 zip. Lightweight, soft, warm, and comfy, this pullover probably gives the best bang for the buck.
Having a pair of rugged comfortable pants is essential. We prefer the Outdoor Research Ferrosi Pants because they’re versatile, durable, comfortable, and well-made trousers ideal for day and multi-day endeavors in various conditions. Lightweight pants that are flexible and comfortable are best (in most cases) for warm weather day hiking trips. Check out classic trousers like prAna Stretch Zion or Columbia Silver Ridge.
Rain or snow pants are what you need for wet weather hikes in milder or colder climates respectively. Outdoor Research Helium are nice, breathable, and lightweight waterproof pants offering great wind and rain protection. Additionally, because of their compactness and excellent packability (you can stuff them into their own pocket), they won’t take too much space in your backpack. Rugged snow pants (check out the Outdoor Research’s Cirque Pants) are what you need for winter hiking. They will keep you warm and dry during your outdoor activities in the snow. A combination with thermal pants underneath is great for extreme cold.
You will need merino, synthetic or merino blend socks as we highlighted in our article about choosing the right socks for your travels. We strongly recommend socks made by Darn Tough especially the Hiker Micro Crew. There are several reasons for this: these socks are durable, breathable, comfortable, and fit well. Also, thanks to the antimicrobial properties of merino wool, they don’t stink (unlike synthetic-fiber socks) after a couple of hours on the trail.
Gloves and mittens
It is important on cold days to conserve body heat, otherwise, you lose heat through exposed skin such as head, hands, etc. Bear in mind that you lose more body heat than normal in a cold environment. Moreover, factors such as wind speed and relative humidity can exacerbate the situation further. Gloves and/or mittens are necessary when being outside in cold environments. Winter gloves are thicker because of the extra insulation needed for hiking in cold weather. They will keep your hands toasty but are no good for tasks that require fine motor skills. Liner gloves are thinner but allow for increased dexterity and flexibility.
Wearing headwear just like gloves depends mainly on the weather and the preferences (to some extent). High temperatures and strong sun mean that you need a sun hat to protect your head from the sun and solar rays. Moreover, they’ll keep rain, snow, and sweat out of your eyes. Wide-brimmed hats (cowboy hats, sombreros, and Tilley hats) are perfect for this. Rain hats such as the Outdoor Research Seattle Sombrero are made with quality waterproof breathable materials that provide excellent protection from the elements. Some models can also be used as sun-protection hats.
Don’t forget that if you have more clothes, you can always take off some of them in case it becomes too hot. However, you can’t put on layers that you didn’t bring along. It’s also important to have the ability to remove or add items easily. For more detailed info about hiking apparel essentials, materials, features, and layering, see our post on hiking clothing.
How to pack for a day hike?
Knowing what to pack for day hiking is essential but knowing how to pack for your trip is no less important. Carrying a heavy backpack should be the last thing you’d like to do when spending your precious spare time out in nature. OK, how to pack a for a day hike? In general, how you pack gear depends on the sort of hiking you’re doing (the environmental and weather conditions are especially important), which items you’re likely to need during the day as well as the type of hiking backpack you have. Here are some basic rules to follow when packing for a day hiking trip:
- As a rule, low-bulk items should be packed high and near to your back to keep the load close to your center of gravity and enable you to maintain an upright stance. It’s important that the load is balanced so the pack doesn’t pull to one side.
- The items you’ll need the most during the day (such as snacks, water bottles, camera, maps) should be accessible without taking off your pack. For this purpose, you can keep them in the side pockets.
- Keep spare clothes near the top of your hiking pack for easy access without taking off your pack. It ain’t fun when having to access a particular item that’s at the bottom of your backpack.
- It helps to know where everything is, so try to create and employ a system that allows you to remember where exactly you pack your stuff.
Tips for picking gear and packing efficiently
Here are some recommendations so that you pack as efficiently as you can:
- Find a balance between what you really need and what you don’t need.
- Avoid excess weight to travel as light as possible.
- Buy good and appropriate footwear that fits you well. Don’t forget properly sized synthetic or wool socks.
- Get a good day pack or a multi-day hiking backpack. Choose the option that is best for you not for someone else.
- A reliable backpack for day hiking should be durable, light, water-repellent, with multiple compartments, has a padded back with air mesh for better ventilation and more comfort. A backpack designed to distribute weight to your hips, maybe hydration compatible too.
- Keep items you’ll use often during the day where you can grab them without taking off your pack, like in hipbelt pockets or side pockets.
- Keep spare clothes where you can have easy access to them (near the top of your pack) so that you won’t have to unpack other gear.
- Make up a small first aid kit to be better prepared to respond to emergencies (in case something goes wrong).
- Don’t forget common life stuff you use.
- Buying gear just because it’s popular or pricey isn’t very smart – high prices and famous brands do not make products more valuable – your purchasing decision should depend on whether you need something or not.
- Don’t forget to let someone know where you are going and your route.
Now that you know the basics, here’s our day hike checklist:
Complete list of the essential and extra stuff to have for a day hiking trip (in PDF format)
Day hike essentials
Certainly, day hiking trips in different environments and conditions require to bring different items. Hence, some of the extra items (in our list) in certain conditions can become essentials and vice versa. The following day hiking packing list is aimed at giving you some insight about what to purchase before heading out for your next hiking adventure.
Osprey Talon 22
-> Versatile multi-sport backpack
-> Comfortable, provides great ventilation
Osprey Backpack Rain Cover
-> Ultralight rain cover made of high-visibility material
-> Compact and foldable; with a built-in pouch
-> Easy to carry performance energy bar
-> Use as a quick snack or as a meal replacement
Nalgene Tritan Narrow Mouth
-> Leakproof, tough, useful, and convenient
-> Easy to use one-handed closing technology
M-Tac Waterproof Poncho
-> Multifunctional rain gear can be used as
poncho, tarp or shelter tent
-> Made of 100% ripstop nylon
-> Portable survival emergency kit
-> Well-packaged, contains and helpful inclusions
Leatherman Skeletool CX Multitool
-> Compact, lightweight, and functional design
-> Only essential tools and features - ideal for day hiking
-> High-quality and robust mirror compass
-> Compact, functional, and accurate; glows in the dark
Sea to Summit Dry Lite Towel
-> High-quality travel towel
-> Soft, compact and quick-drying
Oakley Flak 2.0 XL
-> Lightweight frame; comfortable to wear
-> Provide better protection against impact and UV
Black Diamond Storm Headlamp
-> Variety of lighting modes + memory mode
-> Robust, waterproof, and dustproof
SABRE Frontiersman Bear Spray
-> For maximum range and protection in bear country
-> Effective against other animals too
#1 Daypack (we recommend the Osprey Talon 22)
Our choice, Osprey Talon 22 is a tried-and-tested multi-sport backpack that can be used as a daypack for hiking, skiing, biking, etc. It’s a lightweight but durable backpack with a stable carrying system. Don’t be mislead by the 22L volume – the pack offers plenty of space for your stuff. There’s virtually enough room for everything you would need for a long day hike. Helmet attachment, stow-on-the-go trekking pole attachment, side and slash pockets, a zippered hipbelt, and external hydration sleeve provide easy access to the day hike essentials.
Note that pretty much every daypack or small hiking backpack is suitable for day hikes. To learn more about the features, materials, and use of different types of backpacks for hiking and backpacking, see our article.
#2 Backpack rain cover and/or dry bag
You need to keep your gear dry and functioning. Both of these are lightweight and do not take a lot of space, however, they can be very useful if the weather turns wet. Dry bags are versatile and can be used for storing food, electronics, extra clothing, etc.
#3 Food (lunch plus snacks)
Since it is a one day hike, choose whatever lunch you’d like to eat. Additionally, get some snacks high in carbohydrates, fat, and sugar like snickers, energy bars, chocolate, almonds or other types of nuts. You can also buy a trail mix or prepare one yourself. A healthy breakfast and regular eating throughout your hike will defend you against exhaustion. When packing food, make sure it isn’t going to leak or spill.
You need a good amount of water for proper hydration – 2 to 3 liters, in summer even more – preferably in a water bladder because it’s light and can be easily accommodated in a pack with a water bladder sleeve inside. Our suggestion is to choose between Platypus and Osprey. Their lightweight leakproof water reservoirs allow for easy loading, access, and use on the go. Additionally, you might also carry some water in a plastic or stainless steel water bottle. We recommend Nalgene for all those who like to travel lightweight. They make strong and solid plastic bottles that are easy to clean and use.
Raincoat or an umbrella or a loose-fitting poncho can be good options too depending on the weather forecast and the hiking location. Ponchos are more convenient than raincoats in most cases because they’re lightweight, compact, allow for airflow, and are much cheaper, in general. In addition, they can be used for various things such as backpack rain cover and to keep other gear protected from driving rain.
An outer container made of durable nylon is optimal and protects contents. Among the essentials in your first aid kit, you should include some analgesics/antibiotics/anaphylaxis (Ibuprofen, Acetaminophen or Aspirin, Sting relief pad etc.), bandages, antiseptic towelettes, blister care pads, 2″x2″ and 3″x3″ gauze sponges, safety whistle, and water-purifying tablets. If you don’t have enough time or desire to pack up your first aid kit, you can always buy a pre-assembled first aid kit with most essentials necessary for a day hike.
#7 Repair kit (with multi-tool)
It’s necessary to have a repair kit, especially if planning a long day hike. You can buy a pre-assembled repair kit or build-up your repair kit. We recommend the second option as it gives you an opportunity to customize the contents of your repair kit according to your preferences. You don’t need too many items in your repair kit for a day hiking trip, just some basic ones such as extra shoelaces, fire starter, duct tape, and a multi-purpose tool. Each one of them can be used for many different tasks and repairs. Keep your repair kit handy for easy access on the trail.
To orient yourself especially when hiking in an unfamiliar area you need a map and a compass.
#9 Mobile phone (in a shock and waterproof case)
Another one of the day hike essentials, mobile phones are especially useful in case of emergency. Your mobile phone should be in a shock and waterproof case so that the phone stays safe and secure even when crossing a river or walking up steep terrain.
#10 Toiletries (for good personal hygiene)
Here’s a list with some of the most important items to have in your toiletries packing list:
- Toilet paper
- Ziplock bag for safe disposal of used toilet paper
- Hand sanitizer
- Quick-drying towel
#11 Sun protection (is extremely important in the mountains)
Sunglasses, sun hat, sunscreen with UPF are very important because you may get scorched if you underestimate the sun. Sunburn is a problem typical for both summer hiking and high altitude hiking. Remember that you can burn even on a cloudy day in the mountains because clouds do not filter UV radiation effectively.
#12 Flashlight or headlamp (with extra batteries)
You will need it in case it becomes dark outside and you’re still on the trail.
#13 Bear spray
This is what you need for self-defense if you encounter a bear or some other wild animal and it charges you (it is of prime importance to have a can of bear spray when hiking in bear country).
In addition to the basic stuff above, you may wish to carry with you some extra items.
Day hike extras
Trekking poles – for those who need added stability on steeper trails and when crossing streams. Use trekking poles to take the stress off your muscles, joints, and ligaments.
Gaiters can be of good use depending on the terrain and weather conditions. They are very useful for desert hiking as well as when walking down scree slopes. A combo of gaiters and rain pants is highly effective against snow and mud.
Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) provides a powerful safety net for wilderness travelers. Having a PLB is very important in areas of poor phone coverage.
Signal mirror is a simple but effective tool to signal your location in case of emergency. Glass signaling mirrors are better than cheaper plastic ones because of their superior reflectivity. You may never have the need for using your signal mirror but it should definitely be on your day hiking packing list just in case.
Insect repellent is essential for areas with too many buzzy insects.
Camera to capture great images of breathtaking views. Best photos are rarely anticipated in advance so keep the camera easily accessible.
Figure: A workable list with day hiking essentials
Be conservative in planning and packing for your hiking expedition, especially if you are new to hiking. Make detailed lists before packing your backpack and note what you use and what you don’t use so that on future trips you can fine-tune the packing. Choose appropriate hiking shoes and clothes; pick up a comfortable backpack or day pack and pack whatever you’ll need for your day hiking trip. Avoid excess weight to travel as light as possible. Eliminate unnecessary things, however, when deciding what to cut, think twice about eliminating insulation and food.
Remember that you enter into a world in which planning and preparation, self-reliance, and good choices are crucial. How you plan and pack for your day hikes will inevitably reflect on preparation for future multi-day trips. And finally, one good advice from the U.S. National Park Service:
“Get the weather forecast. Don’t overestimate your capabilities. Hike intelligently.”
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