If you’re new to day hiking, it can be difficult to know what to throw in the backpack – and what to leave at home.
I’ll never forget the time I saw an ill advised tourist hiking in the Canadian Rockies – wearing gumboots! You can’t make this stuff up! Someone had told him it was going to rain, so he thought gumboots were the solution. Unsurprisingly, his feet were covered in blisters. I gave him some Compeed for the worst ones – ouch!
I’ve also ran into hikers who begged for water on numerous occasions. In each case they had attempted a long hike with not enough water. That’s when things start getting scary. If you get lost and end up spending the night in the mountains, you can die from hypothermia. It’s not uncommon for temperatures to drop below freezing in the mountains overnight – even in summer! Don’t worry, that’s not going to happen to you. Once you know what to pack for a day hike, it’s easy to stay safe!
Gear that you should bring with you when day hiking:
Thermal shirt. I wear this in winter, spring, fall and sometimes even in summer on a cool day. I highly recommend wool. Don’t worry you can get wool that’s actually soft and not scratchy. It keeps you warm, and best of all, it doesn’t stink afterwards!
Quick-dry moisture-wicking shirt. This comes in numerous different styles, but I like the kind with roll-up sleeves. That way it’s easy to adjust according to the weather.
Lightweight fleece with hood. This is your mid-layer. I bring one on every single hike – even if it’s hot outside. You never know when the weather will change. The new versions are light, hardly take up any room and are warm.
Thermal leggings. I either wear these or bring them with me in winter, spring, fall and sometimes even in summer if it’s a cooler day.
Convertible hiking pants. These are my favourite item of hiking gear. They are full length pants that zip off at either just below the knee and/or also zip off above the knee, turning them into shorts, depending on the style. I almost never hike in regular shorts. These are much more practical should the weather change.
Waterproof pants. I don’t usually bring mine for day hikes of 4 hours or less, but will bring them on longer day hikes, or if I’m hiking in a place that gets a lot of rain.
Moisture wicking hiking socks. Socks are one item you don’t want to cheap out on. A good pair of socks will help prevent blisters by wicking the moisture away. They’ll also help regulate your foot temperature. All it takes it getting a bad blister once for you to be convinced of the value of a good pair of socks. Trust me, don’t learn the hard way.
Neck warmer. As silly as it sounds, a neck warmer is in my backpack on every hike – even in summer. It can also be used against the wind.
Warm hat. Or a toque, as us Canadians would call it. I have a lightweight one for summer, and a warmer one for winter.
Light gloves. Yes even in summer, since the weather can change quickly. They’re also useful if you’re scrambling – using your hands to go over rough rock.
Anti-shock & retractable hiking poles. These will save your knees, especially when descending. They reduce the overall stress on your body. They’re worth having even if you don’t have knee issues. Just be sure that they’re retractable. That way, you can strap them on your backpack when you’re not using them.
Hiking boots. You’ll want to invest in a good pair of hiking boots. Your feet will thank you for it. I always buy a 1/2 to 1 size bigger, since your feet swell after a day of hiking. There’s nothing worse than ill fitting hiking boots. I really recommend trying them on near the end of a day, when youre feet are already swollen. I’m a big fan of La Sportiva and Salomon.
30L Backpack. This size will cover you for day trips. Look for one that has a built-in rain cover. It will fit better than if you buy one separately. Also, buy one that has space between the pack and your back to prevent back sweat. It can be uncomfortable and can have a huge impact on your body temperature. I’m a big fan of Deuter backpacks.
Gaiters. These are always in my backpack. They’re great in snow and mud for keeping your legs warm and dry. They’re also good in summer on scrambles. They keep tiny rocks from getting in your boots. Besides, even in summer, you may encounter mud, or even snow higher up! They also add another layer, so can be used if you’re cold.
Emergency Thermal Blanket. This is tiny, hardly takes up any space, but may save your life if you get stranded on the mountain. I never hike without one.
Sports bra. Obviously this one is for women only. Ladies take care of your girls – enough said!
Baseball/sun cap. You definitely don’t want to get sunstroke while hiking so bring some kind of hat that will protect you from the sun.
Hydration/Food When Day Hiking
2 -4 liters of water Always bring more water than you think you’ll need. Yes it’s heavy, but it’s free. You may go through more than you think you will. I bring a minimum of 2 litres on every day hike, and sometimes up to 4 for longer hikes, or if it’s hot. You may be able to find a stream or lake to drink water from, but don’t count on it. And remember, if you do, you’ll need either purification tablets or a filter.
Electrolyte tablets. These stay in my First-Aid kit. If you feel light headed, dizzy, or have low blood pressure like I do, these can make you feel better in a flash.
Snacks. What to eat when you’re hiking could be a whole post in itself, but bring more food than you think you’re going to need. Nuts, seeds, trail mix are all good choices.
Miscellaneous Hiking Gear
Mini first aid kit. For day hikes you probably don’t need a full-size First Aid Kit. I use a mini one like this one and it has the basics.
Compeed blister cushions. A few people recommended Compeed to me on Twitter and I think they’re the best blister treatment on the market! I always carry a few in my backpack.
Toilet paper. If you’ve ever been without toilet paper while hiking, you’ll understand why you should always bring a roll with you.
Plastic bags. Yes, you’ve got to carry that toilet paper out. You can’t leave it. Yes it’s stinky and gross, but do it anyway. Hence the plastic bags.
Map. Always bring a paper copy of a map and description of your hiking route. It’s fine to use hiking apps/electronic versions, but bring a paper one as a backup in case the electronic version fails.
Headlamp with extra batteries. I always carry a headlamp in my backpack. Two years ago, my husband and I did a short 3 hour hike, which turned into a 7 hour hike because we got lost. Thankfully we found our way with our headlamps. I actually end up using mine a few times each year.
Travel insurance. This is one item I hope you don’t end up using. But if you do require a a mountain rescue, in many countries you’ll have to pay thousands to get rescued. Don’t risk it, always have insurance that covers mountain rescues. In most cases this is on top of your regular health insurance.
Optional Gear for Day Hiking
iPhone 6. This is for taking photos. I rarely hike with my DSLR because it’s so bulky and heavy. The new smart phones take really great photos. I also use the GPS function. You can also use it to download hiking apps.
Garmin. My husband bought one of these when we did the Tour du Mont Blanc. Unfortunately we learned afterwards, that the maps are expensive. I do see the value in having one if you’re doing unmarked trails though. Check first though to see how much the associated maps that you need cost.
Foot roller massager. I don’t actually bring this with me for day hikes, although I do for multi-day hikes, but I have it at home for after the hike. It feels soooo good!
Now that you know what to pack, it’s time to get to the fun stuff – the actual hiking!
If you have any questions about additional gear, please leave them in the comments below and I’ll be happy to answer them.
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