A Hiker's Guide to the Perfect Day Pack

Whether you’re trekking Machu Picchu, the Grand Canyon or the spectacular unknown of your local hiking trails, how you choose to prepare for a hike can make or break the entire experience. While longer, more strenuous hikes often require more advanced gear, there are a few universal items that every hiker should bring along for a safe, comfortable and enjoyable trip.
Before you head out on the trails in search of inner peace, a challenging workout or the stunning sights and sounds of nature, grab a day pack that fits comfortably on your shoulders and toss these eight items inside.

First Aid Kit Whether you opt to buy a kit or construct your own, having a basic first aid kit is highly recommended for any hike. Accidents can happen anywhere, but your odds increase when maneuvering your way across tricky terrain and uneven ground. As mom used to say, it is better to be safe than sorry, so pick up a kit. Most general shops sell both simple and more comprehensive kits, but making your own kit is also a great, cost-effective option. In addition to personal medications and emergency phone numbers, the Red Cross also recommends including adhesive bandages, aspirin, a space blanket, sterile gauze pads and more. A complete list can be found here

Sunscreen This one is a biggie. Even if the sky looks overcast, your skin still needs to be protected from UV rays while hiking outside to avoid sunburn. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends people liberally apply a sunscreen with a minimum of SPF 15 to any exposed skin at least 20 minutes prior to exposing skin to sunlight. If you’re on the trail for more than two hours, grab that sunscreen and slather on some more. Also consider throwing on a hat, which serves as a second form of defense for your face and scalp, and a pair of sunglasses to shield your eyes from harmful rays.

Water You should bring water with you during any strenuous activity, and hiking is no exception. Dehydration can set in earlier in hot weather, so it is important to drink enough water to replace any liquid lost through sweat. You should be drinking enough to never feel extremely thirsty, since thirst is an indicator that dehydration has already set in (often accompanied by dry mouth, headache and dizziness). If you're hiking longer distances over several hours (or days), a high-quality water filter or iodine drops might be a smart investment, allowing you to purify water found along the trail rather than carrying several gallons of water on your back.

Snacks As you push yourself on the trail, be sure to fuel your body accordingly. To avoid exhaustion and get the most out of your hike, be sure to pack a snack that is high in protein, fiber and healthy fats. Homemade trail mix is always a great choice since it is convenient to munch on while walking and can be varied to match each hiker’s preferences. 

Appropriate Clothing/Footwear Be sure to check the weather prior to heading out for a hike in order to determine if it’s a long leggings or tank top kind of day. Opt for breathable clothing that allows for movement, and be sure to pack extra layers and a rain coat or poncho in case of unexpected weather changes. On the trail, your shoes can be your best friend or your worst enemy. Avoid blisters and bruised knees from slipping by investing in a solid pair of waterproof hiking shoes that fit your feet well and can manage a variety of terrains. Your toes and soles will thank you later.

Phone While hiking is a great excuse to unplug, you might want to consider bringing a phone along as a just-in-case precaution. Accidents happen on the trail, and having a phone is a great way to alert park rangers or emergency personnel in a pinch. Your phone can also be a useful tool on the trail. Interested in identifying that squawking bird or need to reference a trail map? There’s an app for that.

Map and Compass Even if you have the most advanced topographical digital map downloaded on your phone, phones die. A paper map and reliable compass will come in handy in case you need to get back to civilization the old-fashioned way. You always hope you won’t need these items, but they could be lifesavers.

Camera Because what if you see a baby weasel riding a woodpecker? Do you really want to be the guy who missed out on photographing a baby weasel riding a woodpecker?

Depending on your region, time of year and planned hike, you might also want to consider tossing in items like bug spray with DEET, a bag for collecting trash, a flashlight, a whistle, duct tape, Swiss Army knife or toilet paper. Remember, the key is to plan for the unexpected and pack accordingly. Happy trails!
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Member Comments

thank you Report
I like the suggestions Report
About the phone, it is very useful to have a couple fully charged back-up batteries or a mini-solar power cell. My favorite has the PV cell attached to the zippered pouch of my backpack. When the phone is not in use I plug the phone to the power cell to recharge. But when I need the phone, GPS, Google Maps, or a Search & Rescue app. I can plug the back-up batteries to it. Then I have power day or night. Report
Good suggestions. Report
Thank you for making sure that we pack well for a day walk/hike. Report
Thanks for the day pack list Report
This list is horrible. If anyone is really interested in hiking, please do so safely and do some research as to what you really need to take on a hike. Yes, this stuff is good, but it is missing essentials you need in an emergency. Report
a ferrous rod and striker is important in case your lighter dies Report
We call it out grab & go bag.... Toilet paper, bags, first aid kid, knife, sun screen, etc as well as a dog leash and dog collar because well, you never know, honestly. Report
Depending on where you're hiking you will need garbage bags and of a shovel and TP, too. Report


About The Author

Alicia Capetillo
Alicia Capetillo
Alicia graduated from Northwestern University with a Bachelor of Science in journalism and a minor in film and media studies. Prior to joining SparkPeople, she worked in marketing and public relations and once left it all behind to backpack through South America. Alicia enjoys making every muscle weep at Orangetheory Fitness, farmers markets, planning trips to practically every country and cheering aggressively for her beloved Cincinnati Reds and New Orleans Saints. She can also make a mean guacamole on toast.