Top 10 Essentials for Day Hiking and Backpacking

It’s been said many times that nature and the outdoors heal, invigorate, and boost our moods. And I couldn’t agree more. If you’re new to hiking, it’s important to know the basics and the essentials for day hiking.

For instance, if you haven’t yet been told that this is an expensive hobby, let me be the first to break it to you. Because, yes, it can get quite expensive.

Thankfully, some of the primary things you need when hiking and backpacking can be as basic as a first aid kit, waterproof matches, and proper footwear.

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Start by Getting a Good Backpack for Hiking

The good thing about these essentials for hiking is that they don’t pack too much weight in your backpack. But having a strong backpack that’s comfortable to carry is a total game-changer.

Your backpack is one of the most essential gear for day hiking and the most important feature is the capacity (size) of your backpack.

hiking backpack
Wearing: Deuter 22 L Women’s Fit Hiking Backpack

How to choose between the different sizes will depend on the length of your hiking trip. Additionally, the features and fit are really important and will vary from person to person.

Knowing how to properly choose a hiking backpack is definitely a game changer as your backpack can either make you feel desperate to finish or have an amazing experience.

How to Choose The Capacity Of Your Hiking Backpack

🎒Dayhikes: 12-25 liters
🎒Weekend Hikes: 30-50 liters
🎒Multi-day Hikes up to 5 days: 50-80 liters
🎒Longer Hiking Trips or Thru-hikes: 80 liters and up

What Are The 10 Essentials For Day Hiking?

Now that you have a proper hiking bag, let’s fill it up with some essentials! What should you include in your hiking bag?

Well, whether you’re going on a short hike, day hike, thru-hiking, or backpacking, these ten essentials for day hiking must be part of your gear at all times.

Why? Because accidents happen. Unfortunately, we can’t predict when something might go wrong. Hence, it is our full responsibility to be prepared at all times.

1. Proper Footwear

While it is obvious you can’t go on a hike with your office shoes, many newbies come ill-prepared for footwear.

Your hiking shoes or boots should provide traction, support, and protection for trekking. If you anticipate hiking in boggy areas or snow, they also need to be waterproof and keep your feet warm. 

boots for hiking

It doesn’t matter if you prefer trail running shoes or hiking boots. What matters is that they meet the demands of the trek, are made with breathable material and that they fit you well.

The wrong footwear, along with the wrong choice of socks for hiking, will not only make your hike miserable but will also chaff your feet.

For longer hikes, you can also take an extra pair along as a precaution and wear this blister prevention cream that works on both dry and wet feet.

2. Navigation and Communication

Always, always, always carry a paper map, even when GPS devices and smartphones have made it effortless to navigate and communicate. But…keep in mind they don’t always work in remote locations.

Therefore, carrying a map of the trail along with a compass, is highly recommended.

travel map essentials for day hiking

For added convenience, consider investing in the best compass watch, which combines the functionality of a traditional compass with modern features. Read the instruction booklet and learn how to use your compass.

Don’t forget to carry a portable charging device or extra batteries. You can choose from a variety of lightweight solar charging devices for this very purpose.

Last but not least, always inform a family member where you’ll be heading, and keep sharing updates of your location whenever you can.

3. Drinking water

Carry water beyond minimum expectation. You can use a water bottle with a filtration system, water reservoir, or a water treatment kit to avoid the extra weight of carrying water bottles.

During an arduous hike in pleasant weather, you’ll require at least half a liter of water every hour. Calculate how much water you will need for your hike in advance and plan accordingly.

Whenever possible, replenish your water. Also, carry means to purify the water you get on the trail. 

Hydration Tip: calculate at least 2 cups of water (about 1/2 liter) for every 1 hour of hiking. Then, double that amount to include more than the minimum expectation.

4. Food and snacks

Same as with water, carry food and snacks beyond minimum expectation. Make sure to have enough food for at least 2 days.

While out on the trail, your body burns plenty of energy. Carry calorie-dense food that can be eaten without too much preparation.

food essentials for day hiking

Include a mix of sweet and salty foods. You should at least have sandwiches, chips or pretzels, fruits, protein bars, and trail or mountain mix and easy-to-prepare food items that do not require too much heating.

For heating your food, you can take along one of these mini portable stoves. They are light and can make a hot meal in a jiffy. 

5. Proper Clothes

Your choice of hiking clothes depends on the weather. Carry clothes that are durable and wick away moisture. Also, dress in layers. Layers are lightweight and you can adjust the layers according to the weather and activity level. 

As for clothes, I like to include a rain jacket and warm layers, an extra pair of socks, a warm hat, and a pair of gloves.

Whatever you decide to add to your bag, make sure it’s sufficient to survive the night in case of an emergency.

6. Miscellaneous Items 

Carry means to start a fire—like these waterproof matches, emergency glow sticks, and a whistle. You might not use these items during your hikes, but they are light, cheap, and invaluable during emergencies.

waterproof matches for hiking and camping
Waterproof matches

Also carry sunscreen, sunglasses, and sun-protective clothing. A bad sunburn will ruin your trip. Lastly, mosquito and insect repellents are an essential addition to your essentials for hiking in the wilderness.  

7. First Aid

A first aid kit is a must for hiking. It must contain the necessary materials for treating small cuts and wounds, painkillers, and medicines for chronic illnesses if any. Be sure to also include ice packs and foot care.

essentials for day hiking

8. A Good Knife and Repair Kit

Even with all the new-fangled multitools available, nothing can replace a standalone knife. From opening cans to cutting chords, a good knife is a must for a hiking trip.

A repair kit is an essential item when it comes to repairing your gear temporarily in the wilderness.

9. Shelter

This can be an emergency blanket or a bivvy. In addition, a portable shelter is also a good idea even for short one-day hikes.

It will come in handy during injuries or unexpected turns of weather. In many cases, the inexpensive and light space blanket will be more than sufficient.

For longer trips, carry a tent suited to the conditions you’ll encounter. Tents made nowadays are lightweight and compact and can be a great addition to your packing list of essentials for day hiking.

10. A Trash Bag

As proud supporters of Leave No Trace, we have to include carrying a trash bag on this list. Of course, we would all like to leave the place we enjoyed completely clean so that other hikers can also enjoy the trail just as much.

Please take a trash bag to take back all the items that cannot be recycled by nature and follow the Leave No Trace principles at ALL TIMES!

During the end of your trek, your backpack will be considerably lighter as you would have used up most food. Therefore, there’s no excuse! You’ll have enough room to take back your trash.

Yanitza Ninett
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Yanitza is an avid adventurer with 15+ years of hiking experience and outdoor travel. As a PADI-certified scuba diver, she's also passionate about ocean conservation. When she's not exploring the great outdoors, Yanitza obsesses over The Vampire Diaries and dreams of traveling to Mallorca, Spain.

18 thoughts on “Top 10 Essentials for Day Hiking and Backpacking”

  1. This is an awesome list! I’m an avid hiker, and I end up using these ten essentials all the time, even the ones that I think that I may never need. Having an emergency blanket on hand is so important! Thanks for this article.

  2. I plan on going hiking myself and this list is definitely going to come in handy. I know I for sure need to invest in a first aid kit & headlamp.


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