Day Hiking Packing List: Everything You Need to Stay Safe

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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 to bring with you for 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 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

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.

Waterproof Shell

This stays in my backpack. It doesn’t take up much room and is lightweight. It will save you in rain, hail or even snow storm. I’ve encountered several snow storms in the middle of summer!

Thermal Leggings

I like to either wear these or bring them with me in winter hikes, spring, fall and sometimes even in summer for those cooler days.

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.

Hiking Shorts

If you are hiking in warmer weather then shorts are the perfect option. These offer some great pockets so you can keep your necesseties close by. These are especially great for wide trails.

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.

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.

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 you’re feet are already swollen.  I’m a big fan of La Sportiva and Salomon.

Trail Runner

If you are not one for hiking boots then trail runners are a great option. If you are looking for light shoes that are versatile and still have traction then these would be great for a day hike.

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.

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.

Hiking Hat

If you prefer wide brimmed hats to caps then this is the perfect one to pack for a day hike. I particularly like this one because it caters to women with long hair.

Merino Beanie

When hiking in colder areas, a good Merino wool beanie is perfect. This one offers moisture wicking which makes wearing it a little more comfortable as you are bound to sweat even if it is cold.

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.

20L Backpack

If you are looking for something slightly smaller, then a 20L is perfect. You can add in a hydration bag if you need to. This is perfect for a shorter day hike.

Base Layer

This Merino wool base layer is the perfect addition for any hiking trip. I don’t usually pack it unless I am planning to do a more strenuous day hike. Merino wool is incredibly comfortable and gives you a little extra warmth especially in cooler weather.

Sports Bra

Obviously, this one is for women only. Ladies take care of your girls while staying comfortable – enough said!

Hydration & Food for Day Hiking

Water Bottle

On a longer day hike it is always a good idea to take an extra bottle. I usually take oe that can purify water so that I can I can collect water on the trail if possible. The Life Straw purifies water so you don’t have to worry abut bacteria and other impurities from water sources along the way.

2-4L 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 everyday 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.

Energy Bars

Energy bars are another great food source on the trail, especially if you are trying out a new one or a more difficult one. They are usually a good source of protein.

Dried Fruit

Fruit leather is the perfect snack to have on a hike. Sweet, fruity and easy to eat, I love adding these as a treat.

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

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. They come in packs of multiple blankets.

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.

Cooling Towel

A cooling towel is a good asset to have when you are hiking in warmer weather. I don’t always carry mine with me but I like to pack it when doing longer hikes in higher heats.

Wipes

Carrying cleansing wipes can be useful if you want to freshen up (especially on a hot day) or need to make a bathroom stop on the trail. I love that these are biodegradable too.

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.

Anti-Blister Stick

Bring instant comfort to those spots that feel like they are going to blister, especially on a hike.

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.

Travel Insurance

This is one item I hope you don’t end up using. But if you do require 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.

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

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.

Paracord Bracelet

You never know when you may need rope and this is the easiest and most compact way to keep it on you always. These even have a compass.

Bear Spray

If you are hiking in bear country then you should probably keep this with.

Bug Spray

This is a small and compact item to carry. You will appreciate it most if you are planning a day hike in any place where you might find pesky insects that can really put a damper in your experience.

Sunscreen

Sun protection is really important. Keep safe on the trail with a good sunscreen.

Sunglasses

Sunglasses are a must on the trail. I never leave on a hike without them.

Optional Gear for Day Hiking

iPhone

This is for taking photos. I rarely hike with my DSLR because it’s so bulky and heavy. The new smartphones take really great photos. I also use the GPS function. You can also use it to download hiking apps.

Waterproof Phone Case

Having a waterproof case for your phone on a hike can be a great asset. Especially if it rains or you have to walk near or through water.

Garmin

My husband bought one of these when we did the Tour du Mont Blanc. Unfortunately, we learned afterward, 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.

Fitness Tracker

Buy on Amazon

Fitness Tracker

If you want something more compact and easy to use to help track your trail then consider taking a fitness tracker with you.

Foot Roller

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!

Hiking Poles

I don’t recommend buying hiking poles if you are just starting out. But for avid hikers, poles can come in handy on a trail.

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.

Make sure to check my list of gifts for hikers for more ideas on what gear to stock up on for yourself and the special hiker in your life.

Happy Hiking!

Note: The links above contain affiliate links, meaning if you purchase an item, I receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.

day hiking packing list

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5 thoughts on “Day Hiking Packing List: Everything You Need to Stay Safe”

  1. You wouldn’t bring a good camera with you on a hiking trip? I never like the way pictures turn out on my phone and a camera is a must have for me. Other than that, great list!

    Reply
    • @Luminita – It’s such a personal decision. I’m a big fan of packing light and for the most part am happy with the pictures on my phone. If I’m hiking in a place where there’s a good chance of seeing wildlife, then I will bring my DSLR with a good zoom lense.

      Reply
  2. Thanks for this article, very useful! I am curious to hear what your opinion would be on using a small lightweight sling type backpack for small day hikes though? I really just need a few essentials as we won’t be venturing very far from campsite. I thought a sling bag might be a bit more comfortable than a large hiking backpack. Thoughts?

    Reply
    • @Pauline – I haven’t personally used a sling-type backpack so don’t have an opinion one way or the other but would be concerned that the weight would be unevenly distributed.

      Reply

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