Hiking is a great activity — for you or the entire family — and it doesn’t have to be an expensive hobby. In fact, most of us probably have all of the gear we need in our home already. Chances are, you have an available pack lying around the house. Empty it, repack it, and get outside this summer — but before you hit the trail, make sure you bring along these day hike essentials to ensure a safe time. If you are missing anything from this list, each item can be purchased for $50 or less.
Staying hydrated may be the single most important part of any outdoor activity. This is especially true when hiking, as readily available water sources are rarely present. Therefore, you must pack an adequate supply to get you out and back.
Options abound in this category. You can carry multiple water bottles or a single hydration bladder. Two great options for water bottles include Hydroflask (we’re fond of this 32-ounce, wide-mouth version with a straw lid because it will keep items hot or cold for hours) and the collapsible Platypus Water Bottle (available in multiple sizes). If bladders are more your speed, here are the best hydration packs.
For the weekend warrior, technical rain gear may be overkill and not worth the investment. However, a poncho stashed away in your backpack can make all the difference when caught in an unexpected thunderstorm.
Consider packing an extra set of clothes (and/or jacket) in a Ziploc bag. You’ll be glad that you did in the event that you do get drenched or find yourself colder than expected.
You wouldn’t head out to the beach without the proper sun protection. Always wear or carry a hat, sunscreen, and lip balm. Sunglasses can also prove advantageous in bright conditions (and your eyes will never be closed for those scenic selfies). If you are sensitive to the sun, you should consider wearing sun-proof apparel on exposed skin.
Whether you grab a prepackaged product like those made by Adventure Medical Kits or choose to piece together one from items you have in your home, carrying a first aid kit is like packing a little added insurance for your outing. Just make sure you know how to use everything that you bring, just in case.
While you might not plan to be out past dark, accidents do happen and it’s better to err on the side of caution. Always carry a headlamp or flashlight, as well as extra batteries. We prefer a headlamp because it provides hands-free use and it comes in a variety of sizes, light output, and price points to meet any budget.
Maps can be easily downloaded and printed at home or picked up at local outfitters and park visitor centers. It is wise to also let someone know where you are going and what time you plan to return. If you plan to travel in an unfamiliar location, consider packing a compass. However, a compass only works if you truly know how to use the device — here’s a quick introduction to the compass.
If you plan to be out on the trail for more than an hour, it’s a good idea to stash a few snack items in your pack. This can range from a bag of beef jerky, a couple of energy bars, or a peanut butter and jelly sandwich you made before leaving the house. Aside from the need to replenish calories that you are burning while hiking, it’s refreshing to enjoy a trailside picnic once you reach that scenic vista that you set out to find.
It’s never a bad idea to pack a few safety items for the trail in addition to your first-aid kit. Consider taking a small plastic container or bag with a few waterproof matches, a whistle, some safety pins (assorted sizes), and a small roll of duct tape for making minor repairs to malfunctioning gear along the trail. An emergency blanket can also be helpful should you become chilled or have to make an emergency bivvy. Also, consider an emergency shelter as part of your gear.
Knife (or Multi-Tool)
We’re not talking about a knife like Crocodile Dundee carried around the Outback. Instead, consider packing a Swiss Army-style knife or multi-tool. Some of the next-generation multi-tools fold up and include items like scissors, pliers, screwdrivers, and tweezers, just to name a few. The scissor tool is apt to prove more advantageous than a long blade for cutting bandages. We like this model, as it not only has the scissors and a knife blade, but it can also clip directly to your pack for ease of use.
Nothing can ruin an outdoor adventure like swarms of insects. Whether its mosquitos, gnats, or any other annoying bugs, a good repellent may be worth its weight in gold. Choose the repellent that’s right for you. Apply often and liberally. For convenience, we really like the repellant wipes from Ben’s and Natrapel. You never have to worry about them leaking or discharging in your pack.