It may seem like a relatively easy thing when thinking about what to pack for a day hike in the mountains. You may be thinking, chuck in some water and a snack and you’re good to go. Unfortunately, it isn’t always this simple to remember the day hike essentials and we have been caught out a couple of times. That’s why we wanted to put together a day hike packing list to make sure you (and us!) are always prepared for what to bring on a day hike.
Whether you are going deep into the backcountry or just a quick hike close to home, you’ll need to decide what your day hike essentials are. Deciding what to bring on a short hike will be slightly different, depending on how far and how long you plan to go for, but our day hike checklist will help you to pack everything you need.
First, we’ll cover the 10 things you definitely need to pack for every day hike – the must-have hiking gear! And after that, we’ll look at some items you may or may not want to bring depending on the length of hike you are going on and the terrain you are going to encounter. You can download a free printable PDF packing list for hiking by clicking the button below.
Download your FREE day hike packing list here!
Day Hike Packing List
To many of you this may seem like a silly one to start with for things to bring on a hike, but having the best bag for a day hike really makes a big difference. I’ve hiked with all sorts of bags, from flimsy packable bags to high-quality hiking packs that are custom-built for the job, and it really does matter.
A bag that is around 20-30 litres is ideal when considering what size of backpack for a day hike. Choose one with lots of support for your back and shoulders and that has easy access pockets for things like water. Getting the right size backpack for a day hike will ensure you don’t overpack your bags while still ensuring you have everything you need.
There are loads of blogs out there dedicated to the best backpack for day hikes which are worth looking into. But our favourite is the Osprey Daylite Plus Day Pack as it ticks all the boxes for us.
2. Appropriate Clothing
The second thing to consider while checking your day hike packing list is what to wear on a day hike. While you’ll ideally want good hiking boots, hiking socks and some other activewear for hiking, what you really need to look at is the weather and this will dictate the hiking clothing essentials for your day hiking gear list.
As we spend most of our time hiking in the backcountry in British Columbia, we always carry a packable down jacket. When you get up into the alpine, the temperature drops quickly and you want to make sure you have a warm jacket that is light and easy to carry. The temperature is an essential part of deciding what to wear for a day hike.
My absolute favourite jacket for warmth is the Patagonia Down Sweater Hoody. It’s not the cheapest option, but offers incredible warmth while being crazy light and it packs down into its own pocket. Find out more about this jacket by following the links below or read our full review here.
For a cheaper alternative you can check out this jacket from Amazon.
Another one to consider if you are expecting precipitation is a packable rain jacket. Again, we are big fans of Patagonia for their quality and their efforts to reduce carbon emissions and use recycled materials wherever possible. I carry the Patagonia Torrentshell 3L Jacket which packs down into its own pocket. Find out more about this jacket by clicking the links below.
Regardless of the type of hike you are doing, you are going to need to carry water with you to stay hydrated. How much water to bring on a day hike will vary depending on the length, the difficulty of the trail, and the weather. We have found for most moderate day hikes that a litre per person is enough. But a good rule of thumb is roughly 1 litre for every 2 hours of hiking and when in doubt, we always suggesting bringing more rather than less.
Avoid using single-use plastic bottles and get yourself a decent water bottle. They are relatively cheap and will save you from using hundreds if not thousands of single-use plastic bottles over their lifetime. There are a bunch of different water bottle options out there, but we find it hard to go wrong with the classic 1 litre Nalgene bottles as they are so light and perfect for hiking.
Make sure you don’t go hungry on the trail by taking some snacks or full meals with you. Our best advice for packing the best food to bring on a day hike is always to take more than you need. In fact, many people suggest taking a full days’ worth of extra food for a day hike just in case. This may be a little extreme for most hikes but the sentiment is right. What food to bring on a hike really depends on the length of the trail you are taking and how long you plan to be out for.
The best foods to bring on a hike are high calorie, filling foods that you keep your energy up and your belly full. Clif bars are a favourite of hikers around the world as they pack so much into a small dense bar and are our top pick for best snacks to bring on a hike. Other good options include trail mix, beef jerky, energy balls, protein bars, or dehydrated meals (you’ll need some way to boil water for most dehydrated meals though – check out our guide on the best mess kits for camping here).
5. First Aid Kit
Accidents happen and you don’t want to be stuck deep in the mountains without a basic first aid kit for a day hike. You don’t need much but most basic, lightweight first aid kits will have some antiseptic wipes, band-aids, gauze and bandages so that you can patch yourself up if you or a friend has any minor injuries. This is a key part of your hiking safety gear and one of the most practical essentials for a hiking trip.
This is the type of thing you can easily forget to pack but you will really regret not having it if anything happens. Another great reason to pack a first aid kit is to help relieve blister pain or rubbing from your hiking boots. Do not forget to add this as part of your checklist for a day hike.
6. Navigation Tools
You won’t necessarily need a map and a compass for many of your day hikes but it’s important to have something to help you navigate. That can be as simple as a GPS app (we love Maps.me) on your phone or a smart watch to help guide you along the trails.
If you are going deeper into the backcountry you may want to bring a more serious GPS tracker, paper map and compass to ensure you can find your way no matter what happens. We personally flip between Maps.me and All Trails apps depending on the location and details available online.
7. Sun Protection
Our favourite time to hike is typically in the peak of summer. Trekking through the mountains on a beautiful sunny day is about as good as life gets. But hailing from Ireland, my pasty white skin knows a thing or two about getting sunburnt.
We always carry sunscreen when we hike as part of our essential day hike gear. Even if you apply it before you go, it can rub off as you sweat or if you are out for an all-day hike you will want to reapply. So add sunscreen to your list of day hike essentials.
It’s also useful to bring a hat and some sunglasses to keep the sun off your eyes and face as well, but sunscreen is an absolute necessity for your day hiking checklist on a sunny day.
8. Toilet Paper
Nobody knows when nature is going to call. But you most certainly do not want to hike anywhere without an emergency roll of toilet paper so make sure it’s on your day hike backpack list. You always hope you’ll never need to go while out in nature but someday it will happen and you’ll be so glad you brought toilet paper with you. This is usually one of the first things I suggest to people when telling them the things to bring on a day hike.
If nature does call while you are in the backcountry, then you should try and dig a hole, at least a 100 metres away from any water source, do your business and then cover everything over in the hole. This isn’t ideal but if you have to go, this is the best solution.
Toilet paper can also be handy if you get a runny nose while hiking and can help clean up injuries etc. Just make sure to pack out any toilet paper that you use for things like this.
Getting up early for sunrise or staying for sunset is the best way to enjoy some of the stunning views that you come across while hiking. Hiking up or down in the dark isn’t much fun though and you’ll want to make sure you have a strong headlamp to help guide you in the dark.
This is especially useful if you accidentally end up hiking past dark or getting lost. You’ll need a way to see in the dark, signal for help, and to properly see your navigation tools. Ideally, this is something that won’t happen, but again you’ll want to make sure you have a good headlamp on your day hike gear list just in case.
Ok, so this one isn’t necessarily part of the hiking day pack essentials for all adventurers, but as photographers, it is something we never hike without. A major part of hiking is getting out into nature to enjoy incredible scenery and most of the time you’ll want to snap a few pictures to share with your friends or simply to remember the trip.
You don’t need a big bulky professional camera to take great photos either. Phone cameras are getting so good now that they will do the job for the majority of people, so be sure to at least take your phone with you.
If you are looking to get into hiking photography or wanting to find the perfect camera to capture your adventures, check out our full guide on all of the best cameras for hiking and backpacking.
For us, it is one of the main reasons we love to hike so we do take our mirrorless camera and several lenses with us. We shoot with the Sony a7 III mirrorless camera and the main lens we use is the Tamron 17 – 28mm f2.8 which has a nice wide-angle for landscapes. It is a professional grade camera so it doesn’t come cheap, but mirrorless cameras are smaller and lighter than DSLRs (perfect for hiking) and offer exceptional image quality.
While we personally think it is totally worth the extra weight and space in the bag, we understand which camera you want to bring will depend on how into photography you are. Or if photography isn’t your thing, this is an easy one to leave off of your hiking trip checklist.
One of my favourite accessories for hiking and carrying a camera is a backpack camera clip for easy camera access while hiking. This attaches to the strap of your bag and your camera easily clips in and out of the mount while you are on the go. I seriously couldn’t recommend this little accessory enough. I have the KOKOIN camera clip and it does an awesome job of securing the camera to my bag strap and making it easily accessible.
Useful Things to Pack for a Hike
All of the above items are things we take with us on every day hike, regardless of where we are going, and are always on our hiking gear checklist. However, there are a few more things we recommend thinking about when deciding what to bring on a day hike. The items in this part of the list aren’t quite a necessity but are nice to have as part of your day hike packing list.
1. Hiking Boots
This is really a bit of a personal preference and you obviously don’t need hiking boots to hike. I personally stick with simple runners, whereas Roxy is a big believer in hiking boots.
They can be particularly useful on wet days, along muddy trails, if you need ankle support, or for a bit more grip. A good pair of boots is definitely a nice thing to have for hitting the trails. Roxy’s favourites are the Columbia Newton Ridge Plus Waterproof hiking boots which come in both men’s and women’s styles.
2. Hiking Socks
One of the best Christmas gifts I received last year was a really good pair of hiking socks. I know this makes me sound like an old boring person but I would never have bought them for myself but they are awesome. They are moisture-wicking, prevent rubbing, and are designed to smell less.
Hiking socks are a bit of a splurge but honestly, one or two good pairs is all you need. Our favourites are made by Smart Wool.
3. A Multi-Tool
A good multi-tool is often included in the essentials list for day hikes and it nearly made the cut for us, but we just don’t think it is necessary the majority of the time. However, they do often come in handy and it doesn’t hurt to have one just in case.
4. Water Filter/Purifier
For most day hikes you won’t require more water than you can carry. Depending on the hike, 1-2 litres is often enough for us. However, if you are planning a big day hike or it’s a particularly warm day, you may want to have access to additional water. In cases like these, having something to help you purify water is a perfect solution without having to carry all the weight of excess water.
There are lots of different options including tablets, UV purifiers, bottles with filters attached etc. The most popular, and in our opinion the best choice, is the Sawyer Mini Water Filter. It’s small and lightweight, plus it removes 99.99999% of all bacteria and protozoa and also removes 100% of microplastics. Carrying a water filter also means you don’t have to worry so much about how much water for a day hike you will need.
5. Trekking Poles
Depending on the difficulty of your hike and your fitness levels, you may want to bring some trekking poles. Poles help reduce the pressure and strain on your legs on those long and steep hikes, but probably aren’t necessary for many shorter day hikes.
For years we never understood the value of trekking poles until Roxy inherited her own set of poles and now raves about them.
6. A Fitness Watch
What’s the point of hiking if you can’t track every single detail of the hike? A good fitness watch will help you track total time, distance, elevation gain and lots of other useful pieces of information. Roxy recently got herself an Apple Watch and it is cool to easily track all of your hike statistics and be able to check it easily along the trail. Check out Apple Watches here!
7. Bear Spray
Depending on where you are in the world, you may want to consider carrying bear spray. As we spend most of our time exploring the backcountry around British Columbia and Alberta, this ends up in the side pocket of our bags every time (make sure it’s easily accessible just in case). While this is a tool of last resort, you’ll want to be prepared on the off-chance you come up against these fuzzy, but often not-so-friendly, animals. Find out more about bear awareness here.
Well there you have it! Everything we think is essential for a day hike and a few extras you may want to take with you as well. Despite the numerous hikes we have been on, we still find ourselves consulting our hiking checklist PDF just to make sure we are prepared for our next adventure. Make sure you download your free copy of this by clicking the button below.
Is there anything we missed that you think should be part of your day hike essentials? Let us know in the comments!
Download your FREE day hike packing list here!
Planning a hiking or backpacking trip? Check out some of our other gear guides: