You’ve decided to go out and enjoy a nice day of hiking, but now you have to choose what to bring. Here is an example of a common day pack I put together for my own hiking. You may find you want a little more or maybe a little less than what I advertise and I encourage you to make your own choices. This is merely a starting point to guide you in your decision making. Enjoy!
What is a Day Hike?
This term can be defined by many people in many different ways. Personally, I define a day hike as a hike into the woods on a planned trail that will take you approximately 2 hours or more away from your car, but will last less than 12 hours total. You can even think of it this way, a day hike is a hike that takes up a significant portion of your waking hours.
Pack – Something around 20L should be sufficient unless you need more equipment for winter hiking or overnight gear.
Knife – I like to bring a small pocket knife with me whenever I’m outdoors. Knives are just incredibly handy in all sorts of ways but most importantly they can help you cut open stubborn food packages. Here is a guide to help you choose a knife.
Phone – Carry a fully charged phone with you and only use it when you need to. I’d even suggest that you turn off the power but we all know how hard disconnecting ourselves can be sometimes. The phone can act as a GPS, a compass, a flashlight, and, obviously, a phone among other things.
Food – Keeping your food intake up is important on the trail, especially if you are out for hours. Pack food intelligently based on the weather and location of your hike. Sometimes a snack is great, but many times a lunch should be packed as well. If bringing a lunch, have something pre-prepared that requires no extra utensils. This way you can save on pack weight by bringing fewer items. Lastly, remember that everything you bring into the woods needs to come out. Don’t leave your trash.
Hydration – Water is a good thing. I like to bring a platypus hydration bladder filled to about 2L depending on the circumstances. Some people like Nalgene bottles or other options but I prefer the weight, convenience, and pack balancing power of a water bladder.
Wallet – Having your ID, some cash, and maybe a card is advisable to help get out of a jam. I’ve gotten lost in the woods before (even with a map and compass) and sometimes you just pop out on some unknown road. It’s a good idea to have some resources on hand.
Car Key – Make sure you remember your car key. That doesn’t mean you need to bring all of your keys, that 10lb keychain with your stop and shop card, souvenir, fob, and bottle opener can be left in the vehicle.
Jacket or an extra layer – As with many of the items on this list, be smart when choosing what to bring. Sometimes all you need is an extra base layer, but many occasions call for a rain jacket, insulated jacket, or both. Just remember that even in summer rain you can get really cold when you’re soaked and hours from your car.
How to Dress
Proper dress is entirely up to the hiker. I prefer comfortable, quick drying, athletic clothes. My layers (or lack there of) depend on the season and weather. For 3-season hiking I like to wear trail runners with a comfortable pair of Darn Tough socks.
Some of the Items in my Pack
Kathmandu Dash 20L Backpack
Price: NZ $99
Review: Click Here
Why bring a pack? A lot of people think that a few hours in the woods only requires a good pair of legs and an adventurous spirit. Many of those people turn back early or have a miserable time outdoors. With a small pack like the dash 20, you can carry extra essentials like food, water, snacks, and maybe a jacket just incase the weather turns south. The enjoyment of being comfortable and nourished far outweighs the inconvenience of a small pack.
Victorinox Swiss Army Classic SD Pocket Knife – Silver Alox
Review: Coming Soon!
Why bring this? The Swiss Classic SD is an incredibly small and handy knife. The Classic SD sports a pair of small scissors which have been incredibly handy for me whether opening food packages or cutting away a broken nail. I always advise taking a knife when going on an extended hike, this thing is so small you’ll barely notice it. Want more knife? Check out my post on which knife is for you.
The North Face Venture Rain Jacket
Review: Coming Soon!
Why bring a jacket? A jacket is an entirely situational item. Sometimes you may want to bring a rain jacket, sometimes an insulated, or sometimes both. Be smart and always err on the side of caution. You don’t want to go out on a nice summer day only to be hours away from your exit point when the rain starts beating down. Even in warm weather a soaked body can get cold really fast.
Granite Gear Wallet
Weight with 5 bills, ID, and credit card: 0.7oz
Review: Click Here
Why not bring my regular wallet? Because your normal wallet is probably unnecessarily cumbersome and overflowing with Starbucks gift cards boasting a 73 cent balance. The granite gear wallet is the perfect size to carry your car key, ID, a few bills, and a credit/debit card. If you don’t want to splurge on a dedicated wallet, put your things in a small ziplock snack bag.
Other Things to Consider
Some of these items may seem like a good idea in order to add a safety cushion to your day hike. Personally, I don’t like to carry much at all when I’m hiking for just a few hours, so 99% of the time I opt out of a map, compass, first aid kit, beacon, and whatever else. In addition, if I am in an unfamiliar area I will typically use my phone for a compass, GPS, map, flashlight, and a way to alert someone in the event I’m hurt and need medical assistance. The phone is also great for a camera and, in it’s own special way, can be considered a more helpful multitool than even your biggest Leatherman.
Always remember that one of your greatest safety measures is to TELL SOMEONE WHERE YOU WILL BE HIKING!! Let them know a planned route or area you are hiking, when you will be there, and approximately how long you will expect to be out. That way, if something happens to you, your trusted friend can make the decision to alert authorities.
Hiking poles – I never thought I would be one to buy a pair of hiking poles, but they really improve your ability to hike longer distances with less fatigue. I like to use the Black Diamond Distance Z poles which are lightweight and incredibly durable. While I do like hiking with poles, I usually only break them out when I am hiking a difficult track or going for a long distance.
Compass – If you have an iPhone, you have a compass. I’ve used the iPhone compass in both hemispheres of the world and it works great. Having a compass can be very helpful in the outdoors even if you barely know how to use it. If you get lost, simply knowing that the closest road is due east and knowing how to read that direction on your compass offers you the ability to get out of a rough spot.
GPS – Some people like to use GPS units like the Garmin eTrex. Personally, I don’t care for hiking GPS units. If you really want a GPS, search around your smartphone’s app store for an app that can turn you phone into a GPS that runs without using data (wild, but it’s possible).
Headlamp/Torch – A headlamp or flashlight may be something to consider if you might be out past dark. I said earlier that a smartphone can act as a flashlight, but it should really only be used as a last resort. Also, make sure your headlamp has fresh batteries. Many headlamps greatly diminish in range once the batteries have been used a bit.
First Aid/Medications – You may want to bring a small first aid kit or even just a quick clot patch on your hike. If you are allergic to bees or other things make sure you bring your Epi-Pen. If you take medication regularly make sure you bring your correct dose. Just don’t bring an Emergency Room with you.
Lip Balm – Some weather can chap our lips real easily so consider some lip balm like chapstick when going on a hike. For many, just applying as you leave the car can be enough.
Hat/Bandanna/Buff – Okay, now I think I’m getting too far into these items. Wear a hat if you want. I actually do wear a hat most of the time.
Camera – For most people, a camera phone should be just fine for the hike you embark on. For others, we may want to bring a dedicated unit.
Map – A map is one of those things that can usually be carried in a phone, but sometimes carrying a dedicated map can be a huge help even if you only know the basics on reading maps.
Beacon – A product like the SPOT hiking beacon tracks your movements via GPS and can even send messages to family or friends updating them on progress and reassuring them of your safety. In the event that you get into trouble, you can hit the S.O.S. on your beacon and search and rescue will be on their way. This device has saved thousands of lives to date but I don’t find the costs associated with the product worth the service (hopefully that doesn’t jinx me). The SPOT costs an initial $169.95 and requires a service fee of $149.99/year or $14.99/month.
External phone battery – An external phone battery can give your phone an extra charge without having to find an outlet. Bring one of these if you keep your phone on for the whole hike and use it for every task, i.e. map, compass, flashlight, camera, and GPS.
Sunscreen – Now that we know of the effects a harsh sun can have on our skin, it’s important to grease up with some sun block. If you are going for an extended day hike and need to re-apply, just put a little sun block in a plastic bag or small travel bottle.
Sunglasses – Hiking with sunglasses is usually annoying for me. Some people like it. Your choice.
Toilet Paper – Ever had to shit in the woods? Leaves aren’t always fun. Get well off the trail, dig a hole with a stick, take a dump, wipe, and mush it all together to break it down before you bury it. Thank you.
Can this list go further?
Yes, this list can go on and on. Be smart when you are packing. If you are going out for a day, you should really only bring things for a day. I am a big believer in less is more. Less weight means more movement, less energy burned, and more enjoyment in the outdoors.