Packing for a Day Hike: 21 Top Essentials to Bring
Day hikes are one of the best ways to get out and see nature without having to commit to the full backpacking experience.
But, it’s still critical to ensure that you’re prepared, in the event that something goes wrong.
On the other hand, you don’t want to pack so much that your back is aching by the end of the day.
In this post, you’ll find everything that you should be packing for a day hike, plus some things that really just aren’t worth taking up the space.
The 10 Essentials to Pack for a Day Hike
Among the hiking community, there are 10 main essentials that should always make your day hike packing list.
If you’re going for a short day hike, you may not need to pack items such as fire starters or shelter, but it’s best to make a habit of having each item with you.
You may not end up using any of them, but as they say, ‘better safe than sorry.’
Note: Create your own day hike packing list based on the hike that you’ll be doing and decide if you need all of these items or not.
Of everything on this list, these first two may be the most important.
Water is a day hike essential. Hydration is one of the most important things for your body when you’re exerting energy.
Always ensure that you pack more water than you think you’ll need. It’s recommended to have at least 0.5 liters of water for every hour of hiking.
To make drinking water easier, I recommend using a water bladder, like this one. The straw will be right by you at all times, making it easy to drink!
This one holds up to 3 liters of water, so it’s great for longer or shorter hikes.
Just like water, food is extremely important when packing for a day hike, and you should pack a good amount of it.
Pack snacks and meals that are nutritionally dense and will keep you energized.
I like snacks such as trail mix, granola bars, jerky, pretzels, and crackers. (And Fruit Roll-Ups- just keeping it real!)
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My favorite energy bars are the chocolate brownie Clif Bars.
If you’re going to be embarking on a longer hike, bring extra food. Consider packing a freeze-dried meal like these ones.
Note: Be sure to pack foods that you actually enjoy. There’s nothing worse than being hungry on the trail and only having foods that you don’t love.
While phones are great and can provide awesome navigation during a hike, you can’t always rely on them.
It’s important to pack a paper map when heading out on a hike.
If you’re hiking in a popular location, you can sometimes find maps of them online that are available to print.
National parks typically have maps at the visitor center and entrance gates.
GPS devices are also nice to have, but aren’t necessary.
If you have a cell phone, download an app such as AllTrails to download trail maps for offline use.
4. First Aid
Carrying a small first aid kit can be a lifesaver if you find yourself injured while out on the trail.
I like to keep small things such as bandages, pain relief medication, moleskin, latex gloves, and antibiotic cream in my day hike bag.
You can either make your own, or you can purchase one such as this one, that is already packed for you.
5. Extra Clothes
When you’re out in the wilderness, it’s no secret that the weather can change quickly.
That’s why it’s important to always have extra clothes with you that will help you be properly dressed for the weather.
No matter what the forecast says, plan for cold and rain.
I pack either a packable jacket like this one or a fleece hoodie in my bag in case of cold weather.
I also pack a lightweight rain jacket, because I do not want to end up soaking wet on a hike.
I also always carry a pair of gloves, extra socks, and a headband or hat, just in case I end up needing them.
6. Sun Protection
Whether you’re hiking in the dead of summer or the middle of winter, it’s always important to remember sun protection when packing for a day hike.
Pack sunscreen, lip balm with SPF, sunglasses, and a hat.
Don’t underestimate the clouds! Always use sun protection, no matter the day.
If your day hike suddenly turns into a night hike, you’ll want a light to be able to find your way back to the car.
Of course, you’ll most likely have your cell phone with you, which can serve as a light. But, you can’t rely on that battery staying charged.
Pack a flashlight or a headlamp like this one to make sure that you make it off of the trail safely in case the dark comes quickly.
Headlamps tend to be the better option, as they allow you to be hands-free.
It’s also a smart idea to pack extra batteries for whatever form of light you decide on.
It’s recommended to remember a small emergency shelter when you’re packing for a day hike.
While you may not plan on spending the night outside, unexpected things happen, and it’s best to be prepared.
If your hike is going to be fairly short, maybe only a few miles, you may not need this day hiking essential.
But, if your day hike will take up most of the day, plan to have an emergency bivy like this one or an emergency blanket.
Knives are great for many things. They can serve as a self-defense tool, aid in food preparation, cut sticks for starting a fire, and more.
It’s best to carry a small knife with you that can be used for many different things.
A multi-tool is great because it may have other tools such as a screwdriver or a can opener attached to it.
10. Fire Starters
Lastly out of the 10 hiking essentials, you’ll want to carry some sort of fire starter, so you can make a fire if you need one.
Fires can serve as a heat source as well as a place to prepare a meal if you need.
It’s best to carry some sort of waterproof matches as well as a fire starter such as lint from your clothes dryer (doesn’t last very long) or a storebought type such as this one.
Again, as a day hike, firestarters are something you hope to never use, but something that helps you be prepared.
7 Other Essentials to Pack for a Day Hike
Besides the 10 essentials that I listed above, there are some other items that always make my list when packing for a day hike.
These aren’t as essential, but I think that they’re pretty darn important!
Consider packing these other items as well when you’re planning for your next hike.
You should always carry some sort of identification with you when you’re adventuring into the wilderness, whether it be for an hour or a few days.
The unexpected can happen in an instant, and you will want to have an ID with you just in case.
I also like to put my name inside of my backpack, so that if I were to lose it, there’s a chance that it may be returned to me.
2. Bug Spray
I don’t know that I need to say more but pack bug spray.
Coming from Minnesota, which is pretty much the Land of the Mosquitos, you’ll be glad that you packed insect repellent when you’re out in the woods.
Those little bugs can get annoying real quick, and you don’t want to end up with itchy bug bites for the remainder of your hike.
3. Trash Bag
When embarking on a hike, you always must pack out everything that you bring with you.
This means that you should not be leaving any trash behind. Everything that hits the trail with you, leaves with you.
Having a small trash bag makes it easier to store this garbage until you get back to the trailhead.
It also gives you the opportunity to clean up after other people who haven’t followed Leave No Trace principles.
4. Toilet Paper
I don’t need to go too far in-depth with this one. When nature calls, you better be prepared.
And then pack out whatever you use!
Maybe it’s just me, but my nose is constantly stuffy, even in the middle of summer!
I always carry a small pack of tissues with me, so that I have them when they’re needed.
Tissues can come in handy for other things as well, similar to toilet paper.
6. Bear Spray
Unless you’re hiking in bear country, bear spray isn’t needed.
But if you do happen to be hiking in bear country, always make sure that you carry bear spray with you.
If you were to have a close encounter with a bear, you’re going to want to have something to defend yourself with.
This is the one that I carry when I’m in bear country. I like that it comes with a holster.
7. Portable Charger
When you’re out in the wilderness, you should always have some sort of communication.
Most people have cell phones as their form of communication, but we can’t always rely on them to be fully charged.
You should carry some sort of portable charger with you at all times.
Those solar-powered ones are tempting, but remember that it may not always be sunny.
I like this one because it’s reliable and lasts for a long time.
4 Fun Things to Pack for a Day Hike
Besides all of the safety and survival items that are extremely important when packing for a day hike, there are also a lot of items to pack that are fun.
I like bringing these items to make my hike even more enjoyable.
I love capturing memories on hikes and taking photos to remember the amazing views that I see on the trail.
I bring my camera with me everywhere, but if you don’t have one, just bring your phone!
Phones these days have great cameras and are perfect for taking photos.
I also always remember a collapsible tripod when packing for a day hike.
There isn’t always someone there to ask for a photo, so when my boyfriend and I want to take a photo, we love using a tripod!
I have one that is lightweight and collapses, so it fits easily in my backpack, though they can take up quite a bit of space.
A Bluetooth clicker is also a must, so you don’t have to use a timer. This is the one that I use.
Binoculars are a fun addition to your day hike checklist, especially if you’re hiking in an area that has opportunities to see wildlife.
Choose a pair that are lightweight and preferably waterproof.
Another fun item for a day hike is a hammock. Sometimes I like to reach the destination and relax for a while.
If there are trees in the area, a hammock is a great thing to pack for a day hike to spend some time outdoors on the trail.
This one is great for a solo person, is lightweight, and can be hooked to the outside of a backpack.
Although this is a fun item to pack, it’s probably not needed if you’re going on a longer hike, as it’ll add extra weight.
Packing for a Day Hike With Dogs
If you’re setting out on a day hike with your furry friend, there are of course a few extra items that you’ll need to add to your day hike packing list.
Here are the most important items that you’ll need for a day hike with a dog.
Of course, you’ll need a water bowl for your dog on a day hike.
This collapsible bowl is the best one for hiking, as it can hook to the outside of your bag and collapses flat.
Also, be sure to pack extra water for your dog. You don’t want to end up short for yourself or your furry friend.
Food and Treats
For shorter day hikes, food may not be as necessary. You’ll know your dog’s feeding schedule, so just follow that.
But, it may be a good option to carry a small bag for emergency purposes.
And of course, treats are always a must for me and my dog.
It is so important to always carry waste bags to clean up after your dog.
They’re one of the most important things to remember when packing for a day hike with a dog.
Dog waste can be harmful to other animals and people, and also is no fun to look at while on a hike.
This small waste bag carrier is perfect and can clip right onto a leash.
Leash and Collar
Even in areas that allow dogs to be off-leash, you should carry one with you, just in case you run into a situation where you need it.
Your dog should also always have a collar on when outside, and be sure to have your name and phone number on it, so people can contact you if your dog gets loose.
What NOT to Pack for Hiking
Now that you know what to pack for a day hike, let’s go over a few things that may be tempting, but really aren’t necessary.
Packing unnecessary items when hiking can be annoying and also cause your pack to be too heavy.
For hiking, the last type of clothing you want to wear is cotton.
Cotton is slow-drying and is heavy. It tends to soak up water and sweat, making for an uncomfortable hike.
It’s best to opt for clothing made out of polyester, nylon, and merino wool.
These are moisture-wicking, breathable, and insulating, three of the most important things for hiking.
Leave behind unnecessary valuables when packing for a day hike.
Besides items that you need such as a phone and camera, leave everything else behind!
You may even consider leaving your DSLR camera behind and going with something more lightweight such as a point-and-shoot.
If you do bring your camera, try to pack only one lens and leave other accessories at home.
Excess ‘Just-in-Case’ Items
There are a few ‘just-in-case’ items to pack on a day hike, such as an emergency shelter and a headlamp.
These are for survival, whereas many other items may be unnecessary.
These include things such as extra toiletries, multiples, more than one extra jacket, and entertainment items.
How Do You Pack a Backpack for a Day Hike?
Knowing what to pack for a day hike is important, but it’s also important to understand how to pack your bag.
Packing for a day hike the wrong way can lead to an aching back and a headache.
Use these tips when packing your bag for your day hike.
- Pack lightweight, fluffy items at the bottom of your bag. This includes items such as extra clothing.
- Keep your water bladder or heavier items close to the center of your back, to avoid lower back pain.
- Pack snacks in an easily accessible pocket, such as at the top or in a side pocket.
- Ensure that items such as sun protection and a first aid kit are available to you easily. These can be stored in hip belt pockets or side pockets.
- Bear spray, navigation items, and cameras should also be stored in easy to access places. I clip my bear spray to my chest strap and have a strap on my camera.
Overall, the main things to remember when packing your bag for a day hike are to keep things that you’ll need regularly very accessible.
And also be sure to keep heavier items close to the center of your back.
What to Wear for a Day Hike
There are a few dos and don’ts of getting dressed for a day hike.
Here are some of the best items to wear for warm and cold weather when heading out for a hike.
During the warmer months, you’ll likely wear a tank top or t-shirt. Choose one made of polyester, to ensure that it’s moisture-wicking.
For days when the sun is beating down, having a UPF protectant shirt to protect your skin from the rays is helpful.
As for your pants, shorts are likely going to be your choice in the summer. Choose a fast-drying pair like these.
If you’re going to be scrambling over rocks or walking in high grass, you may choose a longer pair of pants.
Just like your top and bottoms, choose a fast-drying, moisture-wicking pair of socks. Merino wool socks are the best choice, such as these Smartwool options.
Always have sturdy hiking shoes when heading out for a day hike. My favorites are my Oboz. They’re sturdy, waterproof, and have lasted me forever!
Finish your hiking outfit with a hat to keep the hot sun off of your neck.
You can follow a lot of the same guidelines for getting dressed for hiking in cold weather as I mentioned in the section about summer hiking clothes.
Go for a moisture-wicking base layer such as this one to start.
Layer a warmer mid-layer over that, and top it off with a waterproof and windproof jacket.
Layering is essential when hiking in cold weather.
For pants, I love my fleece-lined Columbia pants, because I don’t have to wear a base layer with them. (But I couldn’t find them for sale anywhere! Boo!)
If it’s really cold, you might want to wear a pair of base layer pants with a pair of waterproof pants over them.
Choose merino wool socks and a pair of waterproof, sturdy hiking boots for winter hiking. You may also need microspikes if there is a lot of snow.
Finish your hiking outfit off with a hat and a pair of waterproof gloves.
Conclusion: Packing for a Day Hike
As a beginner hiker, or an experienced one, packing for a day hike can be intimidating.
With all the talk of ‘don’t pack too much!’ But also, ‘don’t pack too little!’ What should you actually bring?
I hope that this post about packing for a day hike has helped you narrow down your list.