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 that 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.
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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 4 GTX 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.
Base layers are an important part of the clothing system for day hiking as well as longer hikes because they help regulate body temperature, wick away moisture, and provide insulation, keeping you comfortable and protected throughout your hike. Consider synthetic-fabric clothing as well as merino wool for your day hike because they both offer excellent moisture-wicking properties, quick-drying capabilities, and the ability to regulate body temperature, ensuring optimal comfort and performance on the trail.
For day hiking in low temperatures, we recommend base layers such as Helly Hansen’s LIFA Merino Midweight because they will keep you dry and cool/warm. For warmer conditions, Patagonia Capilene 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. While cotton is good for hot summer and desert hiking due to its breathable properties, it’s best to avoid wearing cotton clothing in cool-to-cold and changing weather conditions. This is because cotton tends to absorb a lot of moisture and takes a long time to dry, which can lead to discomfort, chills, and even hypothermia. To stay comfortable and safe on your day hike, opt for moisture-wicking and quick-drying fabrics like synthetic-fabric clothing or merino wool.
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. A wind and waterproof jacket is an essential piece of gear for a day hike because it provides protection against unpredictable weather conditions, keeps you dry during rain or snow showers, and shields you from chilly winds. It acts as a reliable outer layer, allowing you to focus on the hike without worrying about getting wet or feeling the discomfort of strong gusts of wind.
When it comes to gear, having a reliable jacket can be crucial for a day hike. The Outdoor Research Foray II is an exceptional waterproof and breathable option that works well as an outer layer to keep you protected from rain and snow. If you’re venturing into very cold conditions or varying climates, consider investing in a versatile 3-in-1 jacket like The North Face Clement Triclimate. It provides the flexibility to adapt to different weather conditions. However, if you’re on a budget, the REI Co-op Traimade is a great choice. It offers excellent weather protection at a more affordable price compared to pricier rain jackets.
When preparing for cold weather on your day hike, it’s important to pack a suitable mid layer for added warmth and insulation. Consider bringing a synthetic or merino mid layer, which can provide excellent insulation properties. A simple and cost-effective option is the Helly Hansen Daybreaker 1/2 Zip, a polyester fleece design. This lightweight and soft pullover offers warmth and comfort without breaking the bank.
To tackle changing weather conditions and engage in high-intensity activities, softshells and softshell jackets are a great option. These versatile garments offer flexibility, weather resistance, and breathability, making them ideal for a range of outdoor pursuits.
When it comes to choosing the right pants for your day hike, prioritizing durability and comfort is essential. The Outdoor Research Ferrosi Pants are a top pick due to their versatility, durability, and overall quality. They’re well-suited for both day hikes and multi-day adventures in various conditions.
For warm-weather day hikes, lightweight and flexible pants are the way to go. Consider options like the KUHL Renegade Cargo Convertible or the Patagonia Quandary, which offer a classic trouser style while providing comfort and freedom of movement. If you’re on a budget, the Free Soldier Outdoor Cargo pants are worth considering. They feature a nice design and are made with DWR-treated 4-way stretch fabric, making them suitable for changing weather conditions.
Zip-off trousers are another great choice, especially for warm conditions and unpredictable weather. They offer the flexibility to convert them into shorts when needed. When it comes to hiking in hot weather, many outdoor enthusiasts, both men and women, prefer the comfort and freedom of hiking shorts. Lightweight, breathable, and fast-drying designs are key to staying cool and comfortable throughout your hike. For ladies, there are various options available that cater to different preferences and styles. When choosing hiking shorts, prioritize features like moisture-wicking fabrics and a comfortable fit to ensure a pleasant experience on the trails.
When it comes to hiking in wet weather, rain or snow pants are a must-have for staying dry and comfortable. Look for breathable and lightweight options like the Outdoor Research Foray pants, which provide excellent wind and rain protection while being compact and packable. These pants won’t take up too much space in your backpack and are perfect for milder or cooler climates. For winter hiking in the snow, rugged snow pants like the Columbia Bugaboo IV Snow Pants are the way to go. These pants will keep you warm and dry during your outdoor activities. If you’re facing extremely cold weather, consider layering with thermal pants underneath for extra warmth and insulation.
Having the appropriate pants for different weather conditions ensures that you stay comfortable, dry, and protected during your outdoor activities.
When it comes to selecting the right socks for your hikes, we highly recommend considering merino, synthetic, or merino blend options as we discussed in our article on choosing the best socks for outdoor adventures. In particular, we strongly endorse the Darn Tough brand, especially their Hiker Micro Crew socks, for several reasons. These socks are not only durable and breathable but also provide a comfortable and secure fit. 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 even in hot conditions.
For winter and cold weather hikes, if you require more substantial socks, we suggest checking out our review of the Smartwool Hike Full Cushion Crew. These socks are designed to keep your feet adequately warm, comfortable, and blister-free, even on the most challenging terrains. They provide the necessary insulation for colder temperatures while maintaining a comfortable fit.
Gloves and mittens
On cold days, it’s crucial to conserve body heat, especially as you lose heat through exposed areas like your head and hands. It’s important to note that you lose more body heat than usual in cold environments, and factors such as wind speed and relative humidity can make the situation even worse. To protect yourself in such conditions, wearing gloves and/or mittens is essential.
When it comes to cold-weather hiking, winter gloves provide extra insulation to keep your hands warm. They are thicker to provide the necessary protection from the cold. However, keep in mind that they may not be suitable for tasks requiring fine motor skills. If you need more dexterity and flexibility, consider using liner gloves. These gloves are thinner but still offer some warmth while allowing for increased finger movement.
For more detailed information and our top recommendations for hiking gloves of all types, we encourage you to check out our post about the best hiking gloves. It covers a range of options suitable for hiking and backpacking, ensuring you find the right gloves for your specific needs.