How to Pack for a Day Hike: Packing List & Tips (2023)

Camotrek is reader-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission. See the disclosure page for more information.


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.

Two adventure backpackers girls

Footwear

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.

Hikers wearing hiking shoes and trail runners

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 layer

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 one of its main competitors HH LIFA ACTIVE 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. 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.

Mid layer

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.

Hiking pants

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.

Socks

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. Speaking about hot conditions, we recommend choosing shorter socks – ankle/quarter or the like especially if planning on avoiding hiking off-trail.

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.

Headwear

When it comes to choosing headwear for your hikes, it primarily depends on the weather conditions and your personal preferences (to some extent). In hot temperatures and strong sunlight, it’s crucial to wear a sun hat to protect your head from harmful UV rays. Sun hats not only shield you from the sun but also help keep rain, snow, and sweat out of your eyes. Wide-brimmed hats like cowboy hats, sombreros, and Tilley hats are excellent options for this purpose.

On the other hand, when facing rainy conditions, hats specifically designed for rain protection are a smart choice. The Outdoor Research Seattle Rain Hat, for example, is made with high-quality waterproof and breathable materials to offer excellent defense against the elements. Some rain hats can also double as sun-protection hats, providing versatility for different weather conditions.

Remember that it’s always better to bring more clothes than you think you’ll need. You can always take off layers if you get too hot, but you can’t add clothes you didn’t bring. Make sure the clothes you choose are easy to take off and put on, so you can adjust as needed throughout your hike. If you want to learn more about essential hiking clothes, materials, features, and layering, check out our post on hiking clothing for all the details.

How to pack a hiking day pack: hiking clothing

How to pack for a day hike?

When it comes to day hiking, it’s not just about knowing what to pack, but also how to pack. You don’t want to end up with a heavy backpack that’s weighing you down on your adventure. So, how do you pack for a day hike? It all depends on the type of hiking you plan to do, the environmental and weather conditions, and the type of backpack you have. Additionally, it’s important to pack items that you’re likely to need during the day within easy reach. 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, cameras, and 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.

How to pack a hiking backpack for a day hike: packing essentials

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 the 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:

Download: Packing for a Day Hike: Cheat Sheet

Packing for a day hike cheat sheet

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.

PRODUCTDESCRIPTION
Osprey Talon 22 Backpack

Osprey Talon 22


-> Versatile multi-sport backpack
-> Comfortable, provides great ventilation

Check on Amazon

Osprey rain cover

Osprey Backpack Rain Cover


-> Ultralight rain cover made of high-visibility material
-> Compact and foldable; with a built-in pouch

Check on Amazon

CLIF bar chocolate chip

CLIF Bar


-> Easy to carry performance energy bar
-> Use as a quick snack or as a meal replacement

Check on Amazon

Nalgene Tritan narrow mouth bottle

Nalgene Tritan Narrow Mouth


-> Leakproof, tough, useful, and convenient
-> Easy to use one-handed closing technology

Check on Amazon

USGI rain poncho in camo

USGI Waterproof Poncho


-> Durable military style rain gear can be used as
poncho, tarp or shelter tent
-> Made of 100% ripstop polyester

Check on Amazon

EVERLIT emergency first aid kit

EVERLIT Emergency Trauma Kit


-> Portable survival emergency kit
-> Well-packaged, contains and helpful inclusions

Check on Amazon

Leatherman Skeletool multitool

Leatherman Skeletool Multitool


-> Compact, lightweight, and functional design
-> Only essential tools and features - ideal for day hiking

Check on Amazon

SUUNTO MC-2 compass

SUUNTO MC-2


-> High-quality and robust mirror compass
-> Compact, functional, and accurate; glows in the dark

Check on Amazon

Wise owl outfitters quick dry towel

Wise Owl Outfitters Towel


-> High-quality travel towel
-> Soft, compact and quick-drying

Check on Amazon

Oakley Sutro sunglasses

Oakley Sutro


-> Lightweight frame; comfortable to wear
-> Provide better protection against impact and UV

Check on Amazon

Petzl Swift RL headlamp

Petzl Swift RL Headlamp


-> Excellent stability for dynamic and intense activities
-> Automatically adjusts the brightness

Check on Amazon

Sabre Frontiersman bear spray

SABRE Frontiersman Bear Spray


-> For maximum range and protection in bear country
-> Effective against other animals too

Check on Amazon

 

#1 Daypack (we recommend the Osprey Talon 22)

Osprey Talon 22 Daypack

Check Price on Amazon

 

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. Made with a bluesign-approved nylon material. Don’t be misled 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 get a better understanding of the features, materials, and use of different types of backpacks for hiking and backpacking, check out our article.

#2 Backpack rain cover and/or dry bag

Osprey rain cover

Check Price on Amazon

 

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 or sacks are versatile and can be used for storing food, electronics, extra clothing, etc.

#3 Food (lunch plus snacks)

CLIF Energy Bar

Check Price on Amazon

 

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.

#4 Hydration

Nalgene narrow mouth plastic water bottle

Check Price on Amazon

 

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.

#5 Poncho/raincoat/umbrella

USGI waterproof poncho

Check Price on Amazon

 

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.

#6 First aid kit

Everlit Emergency Trauma First Aid Kit

Check Price on Amazon

 

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)

Leatherman Skeletool Multitool

Check Price on Amazon

 

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.

 

Suunto MC-2 Compass

Check Price on Amazon

 

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. If you decide to carry your phone in a phone holster, you may not need a dedicated shockproof case, as solid models often come with dedicated padding inside to prevent damage to the screen. While phone holsters are an excellent choice, ensure that you select one with a smart and effective design, such as the OneTigris ARMOR.

#10 Toiletries (for good personal hygiene)

Here’s a list with some of the most important items to have in your toiletries packing list:

#11 Sun protection (is extremely important in the mountains)

Oakley Sutro Sunglasses

Check Price on Amazon

 

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)

Flashlight and headlamp

Check Price on Amazon Check Price on Amazon

 

You will need it in case it becomes dark outside and you’re still on the trail.

#13 Bear spray

Bear spray

Check Price on Amazon

 

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

Day Hike Essentials

Source: www.azutopia.com

Conclusion

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 piece of advice from the U.S. National Park Service:

“Get the weather forecast. Don’t overestimate your capabilities. Hike intelligently.”

 

Related Articles

Packing for a Multi-Day Hike

Ultimate Guide to Planning Hiking Trips

Ultimate Guide to Hiking Apparel

Wool vs Polyester for Outdoor Clothing

Polyester vs Cotton for Outdoor Clothing

Hiking Backpacks Basics

 

Like this post? PIN ME!!

Packing for a day hike Pinterest PIN

Leave a Comment