10 Helpful Items to Take on a Spring Hike

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Last Sunday, I reveled in the first day of spring by going for a hike at a nearby park. It was sunny and 60 degrees—perfect hiking weather! I'm always a little nervous when I hit the trail by myself because you never know what could happen. That's why it's best to come prepared.

Whether you're heading out for a few hours or a few days, there are a few essentials that I never leave home without. These items make the trail so much happier. 

1. Hiking Boots

When you're hiking on a trail, a good pair of hiking boots is essential. Not only will they keep your feet dry and warm, but they are designed for maximum support and traction. You'll encounter a lot of different surfaces on a trail: grass, mud, water, rocks, gravel, puddles, downed trees and more. And unlike a paved sidewalk or road, the uneven terrain can make your footwork a little shakey. To help protect your ankles and feet in these conditions, good hiking boots rise higher on the leg than a standard shoe does, helping reduce injury risk and make your trek more comfortable. Hiking boots can be expensive, but you'll be so glad you made the investment. My boots got me to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and back up, and still have plenty of hikes left in them.

2. Good Socks

For hiking, a good pair of socks should be breathable, yet insulating and water-repelling. I've said it before and I'll say it 100 more times, but wool socks are my go-to for all kinds of workouts because of these properties. Get a taller pair of socks than your shoes, hopefully ones with a little extra cushioning for your foot. My favorites are SmartWool hiking socks, which start out at about $14 per pair. Less costly socks with similar properties are made out of synthetic materials (instead of wool), and are still better than cotton, which can hold in moisture and result in blisters.

3. A Hat

I'm not one for exercising in hats, but I do love a good sun hat when I'm going to be hiking for a while. A wider brim will keep sun off your face, and also be good in a pinch if it starts to rain. 

4. Water Bottle and Snack

If I know my route and know that I shouldn't be gone for longer than an hour, I usually bring a reusable Sigg bottle that I fill up at home before I go. Some trails have water pumps that provide safe and clean drinking water, but you can never be too careful; sometimes these pumps don't work or aren't available. Most mainstream water bottles with water filters are made for tap water, not untreated spring water. If you do want to drink water on a trail, you'll need something different entirely: a fancy water purifier and/or water purifying tablets.

If you're going to be out for a few hours, bring a snack like a small energy bar, apple, homemade trail mix or some nuts. I'm a big fan of the CLIF Mojo bars since they're not as sweet as many other energy bars. If you're hiking for exercise or trying to manage your weight, however, consider whether you'll really need a snack. Yes, hiking is a little more intense than casual walking, but most people don’t stop to refuel in the middle of a typical workout. Take snacks only if you'll be gone for several hours, or bring a snack as a backup plan in case you end up being gone longer than you planned.

5. Navigation

I have no sense of direction, so I make it a point to look for maps of any trail I'm going to take and bring them with me, if possible. If you're headed to a new trail, bring some form of navigation (your smartphone, a navigation app, a compass and/or a paper map) and know how to use it. Many public trails are well marked, but it's easy to get turned around in the woods. Safety first!

6. Convertible (Zip Away) Pants

Even in warmer weather, long pants are a good idea for hikes to help protect your legs from twigs, brush and other things you might run into as you go. But if you're taking a well-maintained trail, shorts can work just as well. My preference is a pair of convertible pants in a lightweight and breathable material. You can wear them long, roll them up (many have buttons to hold them up in that case) or zip off the pant legs to convert them to shorts.

7. Cell Phone

This is simply a safety measure, but you should always have a backup plan. Depending on where you hike, you may or may not always have cell phone service. But when you do, it can be especially useful if you get lost, stay away longer than anticipated, get injured or run into trouble. Don't leave it in your car; bring it with you!

8. Trekking Poles

Trekking poles are not a must-have, but if you plan to do a lot of hiking, they sure are nice! I used trekking poles on my Grand Canyon hike last spring, and they were a lifesaver—more like a leg saver! Not only are these good for balance and traction—great on rocky or dusty trails with inclines and declines or for anyone whose balance is a little off—but they also relieve your legs. By shifting some of your body weight into the poles, you take a lot of pressure off of your lower body joints. If you go for long hikes, or hike multiple days in a row, these can make all the difference in your ability to stick it out and stay comfortable.

No fancy poles? You could also try a simple walking stick (or two) to get many of the same benefits. However, poles are much more ergonomic and easier to hold.

9. Backpack

Now that you have all of these items to bring, how do you carry them? The answer: your backpack! If you're just bringing a few lightweight items, take any pack that is comfortable for you. Only if you're carting a lot of weight (more than a dozen pounds) would you need a specially designed backpack for hiking. These packs better distribute the weight you're carrying over your hips to relieve your shoulders, plus they're also completely adjustable for the most comfortable fit for you.

10. A Friend

Why? The buddy system, of course! There's safety in numbers, but hiking with a friend can also be more fun. In a pinch, if I don't have a friend to bring, I bring my four-legged buddy with me. Ginger loves to hike, and she makes me feel a little safer than if I were out on my own. The exercises and outdoor time is good for both of us!

For more tips to start hiking, from finding a hiking trail to staying safe, check out this article: Hike Yourself Fit.

How many of these items do you bring when you hike? What other items would you add to the list?

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Great idea about the treking poles. Report
Great article. I have hiked a few times with my husband, the wildland firefighter. The only time that I wasn't looking at his back-end was when I was sliding down the side of the mountain on my behind. This list would be great for me... I especially like the idea of the trekking poles since I obviously do not have any sense of balance. Report
Good article for someone who hasn't done much hiking. I am going to start as soon as the leaves start turning. I live about 30 miles from Baxter State Park here in Maine and they have many nice maintained hiking trails. Report
I love this! My mom and I go hiking and I always bring her a mojo bar (they're great). Our last hike was an unexpected 7 miles!! I'm glad I packed my backpack, the water bottles & the snacks-- otherwise we'd never had made it. Next time-- we need to remember hats & sunblock-- a bit too much sun on our faces :) Report
A headlamp or flashlight. Most of my hiking is with a group & for 2-4 hrs. Usually only take water. A walking stick can come in handy--the collapsible type makes it easier to csrry when you're not using it. Smart Wool socks are amazing. I wear them for running, biking, hiking. Report
I second the sun screen...I've alreay been slightly burned this spring WITH 50 proof sunscreen. :) Report
Add a flashlight, lip balm, sunscreen and binoculors. Report
Fantastic ideas. I've used a backpack for travel since about 1997 when I broke my foot. Wouldn't dream of vacation without it. I add a pashmina or shawl. It's good for shade, shelter or warmth. Report
I hike a in the mountains every Saturday and bringing supplies is a must!
Tweezers will be a great addition to my hiking staples. Report
Depending on where you're hiking, you may need something like tweezers in case you get some sort of a thorn or thistle in your skin. While hiking in Sedona a few years ago, someone in our group had a thorn go right through his shoe. Fortunately, an experienced Sedona resident with us had tweezers. We wouldn't have been able to finish the hike without this forethought. Report
thanks for the article and everyone else for the added tips Report
Fun article and wonderful advice from you and everyone else. Amazing what one can learn by reading.
Thanks! Report
Thanks for the blog and everyone who commented with other items to take. One, I didn't see (might have missed in reading) was a first aid kit for your 4-legged friend and water for them. If you don't want to drink the water from a creek, etc. maybe your dog shouldn't either.

I walk with my puppy and this summer I would like to take her on a hike. Report
A frist aid kit! Report
Where's the whistle? If you fall or get lost, a whistle will be heard long after your voice gives out. Rescue crews will have an easier time finding you if you can send a periodic signal. Report
A small First Aid Kit might be handy, too. Report
Trekking poles are awesome -- being heavier right now, they really help my knees, and let me hike longer. Report
very good article. I would also bring my camera, and for sure, sunscreen, bug repellent, my journal. I love to camp, but still too cold here. Report
Great blog Nicole...good stuff. I'm a bit old fashioned when it comes to advising a cell phone as one of the top ten items to bring, but I understand why it's added. Nothing beats a good "Flight Plan" however - a simple set of instructions left behind explaining who, what, where, when, how many, and for how long.

As a former Arizona search & rescue gound-pounder, that was probably the most important pice of information to help insure a successful rescue rather than a recovery. Cell phone or not, don't make me come and look for you! Report
If you are looking for good quality hiking-socks, look for icebreaker. It's a New Zealand company that uses Merino wool, it's not scrachy and doesn't smell and it absorbs body odour. They also have very strick rules regarding animal wellfare and labour-rights.
I love their clothes, shirts. leggins, underwear and socks, they are comfy, feel great and will last you a long time!
(PS I'm in no way, form or shape involved or related to the company, I simply love their clothes!) Report
I like to hav ea camera and always a poncho and a first aid kit. Report
A whistle (your voice will give out long before your breath will), rain poncho, jacket, ace bandages, ankle braces, small pair of scissors, bandages and tape, pocket knife, flash light, water proof matches, magnesium fire starter (will start a fire literally under water), extra socks, and an emergency food supply. I got in over my head 20+ years ago on a group hike and I've been over-prepared ever since. Report
I took most of the stuff. l don't have hiking boots. I guess I should spring for some but I only hike once every year or two. I went with friends and one had hiking poles and a couple of times they would have been helpful. One thing not on the list--Sunscreen!!! Especially at higher altitudes. Report
Nice list, but ... a whistle and a multi-tool (incl. blade) are essential in any hiking situation! So many other things I would have put before a cellphone, since reception can't be guaranteed. How about an emergency blanket, or even duct tape! Lots of good in the comments, but most importantly I think is to check where you're going and what to expect - e.g. at some times of spring here I wouldn't get caught without bug repellant, but other times of the year it could be ok. Report
We just went hiking today in Michigan. There was still some snow on the trails but it was fun
Here on the prairies, I do much more walking than hiking, and agree that there is certainly a difference between the two activities. When we go on vacation, I love the hiking we get to do, and wish there was more opportunity near us.

Great article. I would also add matches and a snack - just in case you end up lost, or later than you thought. Report
I guess it's too UnPC these days (TOO BAD), when I was young and we went into the bush my Dad took a rifle with us. It was prudent- there are a lot of bears in western Alberta. Lead works better than spray or bells. Report
Thanks for this informative and well written piece on hiking with ten essentials. I add two things to my list which make hiking good for me: 1. a clean, dry pair of lighter moisture wicking socks for after the hike to refresh my feet, and 2. a good compass to get bearings if I am in new territory - this helps me to feel oriented to the new hiking trail. Thanks again Report
Lots of great information here! You should also think about your safety as well. A small first aid kit and a whistle are two items I would include. Report
Matches! Always have some way to light a fire with you in case you are stuck overnight. And always bring a compass.

For hiking in the winter, ('cause you don't HAVE to wait for spring weather) make sure you are wearing warm layers and are sure about the distances you are going. Report
Bring a bear bell! And always let someone know where you are going, and when you expect to return. Report
It's still winter here in Vermont, hiking is a couple of months away. Sounds good though. GPS & cell phones are great but often give a false sense of preparedness. A map & compass will never lose signal or have there batteries die. Rescue teams here and in our neighbor New Hampshire have had to go searching for people lost, they went out with a GPS and no map. Lost individuals get billed for their rescues, which runs into thousands of dollars. Another good outdoor activity using a map & compass is geocaching it challenges your mind as well as your body. http://www.geocaching.com Report
I am so jealous that you had beautiful hiking weather already. There's still snow on the trails in Wisconsin and I'm champing at the bit! Great recommendations for preparedness. I second the addition of rain gear for longer hikes. I love Trader Joe's cinnamon almonds, portioned in a baggie, for delicious energy revival. Report
I LOVE hiking, so it's great to see this post. My husband and I have done overnight hiking trips a couple of times now, and I can't wait to do more. For a shorter hike, your list is pretty comprehensive. You forgot one thing though, which a few people have already mentioned: A FIRST AID KIT!! You should always bring a first aid kit with disinfectant wipes and gel, several sizes of bandage, a one-time ice pack, a pain killer of some kind, a splinter kit, gauze, and medical tape. Sure, most folks don't get hurt, and most folks who fall just get a little scraped up. But if you fall and twist an ankle or get really badly scraped up, you'll need a full set of supplies to deal with it.

I have to admit though, the words "spring hiking" don't make much sense where I live... at least not for another month and a half. Here in VT, a "spring" hike is actually a slog through the mud, and our highest mountain peaks and roads aren't even reachable by car until late April/ Early May. When May DOES come around though, I'll be ready! Report
I bring plasters in case I get a blister or fall flat on my face. It has happened!!!!! Report
i recommend if ur in the new england area and u hike ... wear long pants , hiking boots, white shirt and hat ... try to put ur socks over your pant legs so ticks can't go under and make sure u are aware of ticks and use a repellant... ticks spread lyme disease and believe me u don't want it... it's made my life a living hell!!! and i just wouldn't want to see anyone else get it cause they didn't know about ticks..... Report
I'm going to Boston next month. I'm running in Boston Marathon 115th. And it's my 5 Boston on a row-woohoo!! Report
rice cakes, peanutbutter and honey great snack on the trail Report
After taking a seven mile impromptu hike with a couple of my friends, I strongly recommend the bug repellant, a first aid kit that includes benadryl, inhalers for anyone with asthma, and a sense of humor! Report
I have hiking shoes and hiking boots. Boots can get heavy and if you're willing to muscle through some areas, hiking shoes work great.
The biggest thing I've found is a combination of shoes and socks that prevent rubbing on your skin. Once you're ten miles in, it's no fun to walk out ten miles with your shoes rubbing on an open blister. Report
Some of these are already mentioned in the comments but I also always take a first aid kit, sunscreen, lip balm with sun screen, whistle, multitool, knife, backpacking tarp and rope (for emergency shelter), camera, and extra layers in cooler weather. Bare minimum as I just keep these item stored in my pack the whole thing weighs around 15lbs. I take it even on short hikes with the kiddos, not so much out of need but to keep myself used to (conditioned) carrying the pack. I work under the philosophy that I would rather have an item and not need it, than to need it and not have it. Happy Trails!

JR Report
Water bottles are nice if it's just a short hike, but I prefer a water bladder in my backpack for longer day trips. I find it's a hassle to keep reaching into the backpack for a water bottle, and if it's a steep hike I may need my hands to climb, so carrying a bottle by hand is also a hassle. Water bladders are easy to carry on your back, and the drinking tube lets you take a sip whenever you need it. I also find that on a hot day, I tend to gulp too much water from a water bottle and go through the water quickly, whereas the drinking tubes don't let me drink so much at once and help me ration my water better so I don't run out. Report
What a good list. I'd bring a small blanket and of course my bible. If I am out in God's amazing creation why not stop and spend time with him. Report
Sunscreen! And SPF 30 lip balm. Especially out here at high elevations in the Rockies, sunscreen is a must. For warm-weather hiking I also bring a small knife or multi-tool, bandana, whistle, lightweight rain/wind jacket, head lamp, a couple plastic bags, iodine tablets (in case I get stuck and need to purify water), a few ibuprofen tablets, about 30 feet of parachute cord (lightweight and strong!), and about 2 feet of duct tape, (in a pinch it covers hot spots to help prevent blisters and is useful for a million other things). Report
I love camping and walking. i have apent 18 months camping on the east coast from Maine to Florida. Needless to say I have a backpack I call my survival pack. My collaspable water botter, space blanket, matches, snacks, hand cranked flashlight/radio, sample sewing kit, 25' rope, first aid kit, socks, telescoping fishing rod and tackle, magnifying glass, rain poncho, plastic bags, and since I smoke, an ashtray. the plastic bags are for specimen or gargage. In my pocket I carry contour map and compass. Ready for anything, including unexpected over night visit. All this weighs less than 10 pounds including the waterproof backpack that floats. I bought a swiss army surplus pack on line for less than $10. Am I allowed to mention an online site where I get my sports supplies very cheap. For instance Timberline boots for $40, or my steel toed sneakers for $14.??? If so I will let you know. Report
I bring my dog, who carries his own backpack of supplies! Report
I don't have the funds for fancy equiptment or $250. hiking boots. I wish i did. But I don't let that stop me! I live near the Shenandoah & George Washington National Forests where there are a variety of hiking trails .
One thing I always take with me is a bandana, It can be used for many things including shielding your neck from sunburn; wet it with water & tie it (wet) back around your neck,head or laid under your hat to keep you cool; mopping sweat from your eyes & brow: emergency bandage or tourniquet; ...ETC. Report
I did a lot of hiking in Guadalupe Mountains National Park last fall, and would take all of the above (except a friend, not available at the time) including a backpack with a water reservoir. Also camera, rain/windbreaker, toilet tissue and a plastic bag to carry it out. Thank goodness I always managed without the latter items, but at least I was prepared! Report
a friend of mine always carried one of them tiny glass bottles of perfume or scented oil...she said to keep it in a pocket not a bag so its right there within easy reach so if ya ever come upon a bear, throw the bottle up against a tree or something that will break it... the bear will be more interested in the checking out the smell then checking out you =} Report
I will a camera and maybe rain gear. Don't if it going to rain or not! Report
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