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You are getting ready for a day hike with beautiful views and great company? As you set out your backpack, do you know what to fill it with? This guide covers the most important details of what to bring hiking. These items will help you stay safe, comfortable, and energized out on the trail. Over time, your list of what to bring hiking will be narrowed down to your tried and true favorite items. I will share some of mine with you to help get you started.
H20 & Fuel for your Body
Staying well hydrated on a hike is essential. Reusable water bottles are a sustainable choice that, in some cases, will help keep the water cool. My favorite option on the trail is Hydroflask.
Water reservoirs or pouches can be carried inside your backpack, hold a large volume of water, and allow hikers to drink from a straw. I love this option for its simplicity.
No matter how much water you carry, it is a good idea to have a water filter with you. This will allow you to treat water to safe drinking standards if you run out or emergency strikes and a day hike becomes longer than planned. There are several types of water filters (which filter out bacteria and protozoa) and purifiers (which also filter out viruses). These different types include: squeeze, pump, and gravity-based purifiers and filters; Ultraviolet (UV) purifiers; straws; and chemical treatments. Of these, I use a Sawyer Squeeze, which is a small portable filter that packs up nicely and easily allows you to scoop up water into a pouch and then squeeze it through the filter into your water bottle, water reservoir, or mouth (if you’re really thirsty).
Hikers take their snacks seriously! When you are working hard on the trail, there are few greater ways to enjoy a summit view than with a well packed lunch or snack. Out on the trail, you will be burning calories at a greater rate than you would on a normal walk. The intensity of your hike, the weight of your pack, your speed, and your overall fitness will all play a role in your calorie burn rate. That said, it is important to give your body the fuel it needs through food. Some tried and true trail snacks that are those that are high in protein or good fats. These include:
- Nuts and seeds
- Nut butters
- Fruits or dried fruits
- Snack bars
Some of my go to are:
- Clif Bar Nut Butter Bars – The nut butter help keep me fuller longer.
- Clif Bar Cool Mint Chocolate – To help ensure I have caffeine on the mornings I don’t have coffee. I don’t want any Caffeine-withdrawal headaches!
- Lara Bars – Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough is my all time favorite!
- Frozen grapes – take them out of the freezer before your hike and they will make for the perfect refreshing trail snack.
No matter what your snack choice, be sure to pack out your trash. That brings me to our next topic…
Extra Storage Bags
It is always helpful pack a few extra bags when planning what to bring hiking. Typically, you will always need at least one for food trash. I typically have a few gallon bags and a plastic grocery bag or empty stuff sack. It always helps to have an extra towel or cloth handy as well to wipe your hands after dealing with trash or for whatever need may arise.
Before you begin your hiking, you will want to apply your chosen method of bug protection. It is a good idea to carry it with you in case you need to reapply as it wears off. Insect repellants come in sprays and lotions. The primary types are DEET, Picaridin, and natural varieties. Both DEET and Picaridin are known for their effectiveness against bugs. DEET can break down certain kinds of fabrics and for this reason, has caused some concern among potential users. Do your own research to determine which option is best for you.
I started using Sawyer’s Picaridin Insect Repellent several years ago and love it. It is a lotion that is odorless and is not greasy. It is very effective at deterring all manner of pesky insects and it works quickly. Even on days I’ve forgotten to apply it, as soon as I do put it on, I notice a difference.
Sunscreen is also going to be your best friend. Even if it is cloudy when you get underway, you should still take the time to apply sunscreen as the sun could still be getting through the clouds or may come out later.
A hat comes in handy again for keeping the sun off your face and out of your eyes. If you are sensitive to headaches or migraines from the sun, this is an essential item. Wide-brimmed sun hats work especially well in places with little shade. Don’t forget your sunglasses too!
Nowadays you can find clothing items with sun protection built in to block specific types of Ultraviolet rays. I have a few of these UV-protection shirts from Columbia. They were a staple of my trip across the Southwest in 2019.
If you take up hiking as a hobby, you will eventually be caught out in the rain. When that happens, the more prepared you are, the better the outcome will be. To help make it through the rain, here are a few items you should have:
- Rain jacket or poncho – An additional waterproof layer to help the rain bounce off of you.
- Fleece or Sweatshirt – Depending on the climate, additional layers may be needed to help you stay warm.
- Hat – This may vary per person but for me as a glasses wearer, a hat in addition to the hooded jacket is key so that I can keep my glasses as dry as possible.
- Backpack Cover – This is included with some backpacks. If not, they can be purchased separately. They fit over your backpack snuggly, like a fitted sheet, to keep its contents protected.
- Spare Pair of Socks – Wet feet are a big risk for blisters. If your feet get wet and you still have a good distance left to hike, taking the time to dry off your feet and change into dry socks could help you to avoid painful blisters.
What to Bring Hiking To Make Your Life Easier
One item that I highly recommend bringing on most hikes is a pair of trekking poles. These are walking sticks that are usually adjustable in height. Their many benefits include providing stability when walking on uneven or slippery terrain, elevating pressure on joints when ascending/descending stairs or steep inclines, and helping establish a good rhythm to their hike. When not in use, you can store the poles on the outside of most hiking backpacks. When I started hiking more regularly, I invested in Women’s Black Diamond Trekking Poles with a cork handle. They have turned out to be incredibly durable and comfortable to hold with the cork grip.
If you are hiking in bear country, bear spray is a must have item. First, it is important to research if there are bears present where you will be hiking and if so, what species. Black Bears and Grizzly Bears both reside in North America. Both species will usually want to avoid human interaction, if given the chance, so it is important to make noise while on the trail. This will give the bear a chance to hear you and go its separate way. Hikers should keep bear spray easily accessible for immediate use. Hiking in a group is also recommended because groups are naturally noisy. Read instructions on the bear spray thoroughly to learn how and when to use it. Check the website of the agency where you will be hiking for information on what species reside there and their guidance on how to be prepared.
Emergency Communication Devices
There are several options for emergency communication devices, the most popular of which are satellite-based text devices. These devices utilize a satellite network to allow hikers to send an SOS message if they are in need of emergency assistance. They also provide a means to send preset and custom text messages to friends and family from remote areas when there is no cell service. I have a Garmin In Reach and it has given me great peace of mind to know that I have a way to signal for help if I ever become lost or injured. It proved its usefulness in my first trip with it to an area with no cell service when it allowed me to keep my family updated.
The 10 Essentials
There are ten items you should have with you on every hike to ensure your safety. Hikers consider these items to be the holy grail of safety preparedness. The thought process is that carrying these items with you on every hike will increase your chances for survival in the event that you become lost, injured, or unable to return as expected. They may also help you provide aid to someone else. Oftentimes people may not want to bring all these items if they are “just going on a short day hike,” but you never know when disaster may strike and preparedness is key to survival.
We have already covered a few of these items in our earlier discussions:
- Extra Food
- Extra Water
- Additional Clothes
- Sun Protection
The rest of the items in the 10 Essentials are:
- Navigation such as a GPS device, map, or compass. Note: Some Garmin In Reach models have GPS functions but this is not their primary intended use.
- First Aid Kit
- Headlamp & extra batteries
- Knife or Multi-purpose Tool
- Means to start a fire – i.e. waterproof matches, flint and tinder, a lighter
- Emergency shelter – can be compact
What to Bring Hiking Highlights
- Consider checking out lightly used gear, such as at the REI Garage Sale. This is a good save money while also giving gently used products another use.
- Even items that are biodegradable such as banana and orange peels are still litter. They are not native to that area and should not be left behind for the local wildlife to potentially feed on. Be sure to pack out this trash. This relates to two principles of Leave No Trace Ethics – protect wildlife and dispose of waste properly.
- REI’s guidance on water filters and purifiers: https://www.rei.com/learn/expert-advice/water-treatment-backcountry.html
- Check out my guide for the 12 Best Gifts for Beginner hikers here: https://www.expeditionswithevelyn.com/12-best-gifts-for-beginner-hikers
Expeditions with Evelyn Exclusive (EEE)
One item to always keep on your person in case of emergency is a whistle. Some backpacks come with a whistle built into the top buckle. Having the whistle physically on you or your pack can help you should you fall or become injured and need a method to signal for help.
Your Thoughts on What to Bring Hiking
Let me know your must-have items for a day on the trail. Do you have questions about anything I mentioned? Tell me your thoughts in the comments below.