Day Hiking Checklist: What to Bring on a Single-day Hike

black hiking backpack near white Fujifilm instax mini camera near black leather boots, red half-zip jacket, gray pocket watch on white map
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If you’re new to hiking or haven’t hit the trails in a while, you may be wondering what you should pack for a single-day hike. This day hiking checklist covers all the essential items you should bring on a day hike and includes various optional items to make the trip more fun and enjoyable. Spending the day hiking is a fantastic way to experience the outdoors. Whether you’re on vacation and want to explore the surroundings on foot or you just want to get out and enjoy nature in your own backyard, day hiking is a fun and accessible activity for both new and experienced hikers.

The exact items you should bring on a day hike will depend on the length and location of your hike and the weather forecast. For example, you’ll want to bring plenty of emergency supplies, matches or a lighter, and extra clothes on a full-day hike in a remote wilderness area. However, you may not need all of these items when hiking a short, heavily trafficked trail in a state park where help is close by.

Day Hiking Checklist: What to Pack for your Day Hike

Using a day hiking checklist simplifies packing and preparation ahead of a trip and helps ensure you have all the essentials on the trail. Below is a comprehensive list of items you may want to bring when going on a single-day hike, with more details about each item available in the following section. You can adjust the list depending on the weather, the location and duration of your hike, and your personal preferences.

These items are sufficient for hikes in most areas. However, if you’re hiking in an extreme environment, such as a desert or a high peak, you may need to take extra precautions and pack additional items to stay safe and comfortable on your hike. Check out our articles about Winter Hiking, Mountain Hiking, and Desert Hiking for more detailed tips about preparing for a hike in these uniquely challenging environments. If you are planning a multi-day hike, please refer to our Backpacking Checklist.

Here is our day hiking checklist:

  • Clothing and Footwear: moisture-wicking base layers, hiking shorts or pants, insulating layers, rain shell, rain pants, bandana or buff, hat, hiking boots or trail running shoes, hiking socks
  • Gear: daypack (10-30+ liters), trekking poles, traction devices or crampons, gaiters
  • Navigation: map, compass, GPS device or watch, guidebook, route description
  • Extra Food and Water: plenty of snacks, water, water bottle or hydration reservoir, electrolyte drinks or powders, water purification system
  • Tools and Emergency Supplies: headlamp or flashlight, extra batteries, first-aid kit, basic gear repair kit, knife or multi-tool, satellite messenger or personal locator beacon, emergency shelter, lighter or matches, fire starters, hand warmers, whistle
  • Toiletries and Hygiene: sun protection, insect repellent, toilet paper, pee cloth, hand sanitizer, baby wipes, biodegradable soap, trash bags, trowel or wag bag, personal medications, menstrual products
  • Technology, Entertainment, and Other Items: Cell phone, camera, charging bank, charging cable, binoculars, field guide, journal, two-way radio, ID, credit cards, cash

To help you decide which pieces of equipment you need for your hike and which are okay to leave at home, here are more details about each item on the list.

Clothing and Footwear

Wearing appropriate clothing and footwear is one of the most important things you can do to make your hike more comfortable. When selecting your hiking clothing, dress in layers and choose breathable, quick-drying items made from wool or synthetic materials like polyester and nylon. If you know you’ll be hiking in sunny or high-elevation areas, look for sun protective clothing with a UPF rating of at least 30.

Below you’ll find more information about the types of clothing and footwear you should plan to bring for day hiking.

trail running shoes

Moisture-Wicking Base Layers

The layers touching your skin should wick moisture away from the body and dry quickly. Look for fast-drying and breathable underwear, sports bras, t-shirts or long-sleeved shirts, and long underwear to wear on your hikes. Even if it’s warm in the area you’ll be hiking in, consider wearing a long-sleeved shirt for sun protection. In cooler regions, choose medium to heavyweight base layers to stay nice and warm.

Insulating Layers

Many wilderness areas are subject to sudden weather changes and large temperature swings at different elevations. Bring a seasonally appropriate insulating layer or two to make sure you stay warm enough at all points on your hike. Fleece and goose down are excellent insulators with a good warmth-to-weight ratio.

Depending on the conditions, you’ll want an insulating layer for your top and bottom. You can skip these layers altogether if you’re hiking in a very warm area, such as the tropics.

Rain Shell

If you’re hiking in a warm area during the summer and there’s no rain in the forecast, a lightweight shell is likely sufficient. If you’re hiking in higher elevations, in a season with large temperature swings, or when wind and rain are likely, bring a more substantial windproof and waterproof jacket and rain pants. These items will help protect you from the elements and make your hike much more pleasant.

Hiking Pants or Shorts

Hiking pants and shorts should be durable, comfortable, and breathable. Shorts are appropriate in warm climates, but it’s better to wear pants in areas with sudden weather changes, ticks, mosquitoes, or potential rain. Convertible hiking pants have pant legs that zip off, turning the pants into shorts. These are a great space-saving choice for those hiking in varied conditions.

Bandana or Buff

From wiping away sweat to protecting you from the sun, there are many uses for a bandana or buff on the trail. This versatile item is optional for day hikers, but it’s often worth having in your backpack.

Hat

A wide-brimmed hat is an excellent item to wear for sun protection, and it can help keep you dry in the rain as well. If you’re hiking in cold weather, you should plan on bringing a warm hat and gloves or mittens.

hiker with a hat watching the sunset from mountain range

Hiking Boots or Trail Running Shoes

Sturdy footwear with good grip is essential when hiking. Hikers can choose between lightweight, breathable trail running shoes and more heavy-duty hiking boots. For most hikers, trail running shoes are a great choice and offer superior breathability and comfort. Those hiking in especially muddy, rocky, or snowy areas may prefer the extra warmth and stability that hiking boots provide. You can read more about the differences between hiking boots and trail running shoes here. Once you know more about their respective benefits and disadvantages, you’ll be able to decide which is better suited to your personal needs.

Hiking Socks

High-quality hiking socks are an essential piece of gear on the trail. From preventing blisters to keeping your feet cool and dry, the right socks can significantly improve your hiking experience.

Silverlight socks are an excellent choice for your outdoor adventures, thanks to their bacteria-killing, blister-preventing, and moisture-wicking properties. Since the socks are durable, supportive, and form-fitting, they’ll keep you dry and comfortable for many miles on the trail. If you want to learn more about how to choose the perfect hiking socks, check out our detailed post.

Gear

Backpack

A backpack for day hikes, often referred to as a daypack, typically ranges in capacity from about 10 liters to 30 liters or more. Most hikers are happiest with a daypack in the 20 to 30-liter range. A 10 to 20-liter pack is likely sufficient if you’re doing a short hike. It’s also probably enough space if you’re hiking with a group and can divide essential items between all of your packs.

hikers on a day hike

Trekking Poles

Trekking poles help with balance and stability on uneven or slippery terrain and can help protect your knees when going downhill. If you want the extra support and stability, have knee problems, are hiking a steep trail, or are hiking in the winter, trekking poles may be a good fit for you.

Traction Devices or Crampons

If you’re hiking in an area with icy or snowy trails, traction devices or crampons that attach to your shoes are a good idea to bring with you on your day hike.

Gaiters

While not necessary for most day hikes, gaiters are useful in areas that are wet, muddy, sandy, or snowy.

Navigation

Map and Compass or Another Navigation System

A navigation system is one of the most crucial items on this day hiking checklist. Some people use their smartphones to navigate on day hikes, while others prefer a paper map and a compass. The system that works best for you will depend on your navigation skills and the area where you’re hiking. Many people also like to bring a GPS device or a watch with an altimeter.

If you decide to use your smartphone, many hiking apps are available and make it easy to navigate, find trails in your area, record your trip, and identify landmarks along the way. You can see which hiking apps we recommend here.

Guidebook or Route Description

Depending on the area you’re visiting and the trail markings, you may also want to bring a guidebook and a route description. The detailed description will help you identify landmarks and navigate the trail.

Food and Water

Food

Even if you’re just going for a short hike, you should always bring some snacks. Bring foods that are easy to eat along the trail and rich in nutrients like carbs and proteins. Trail mix, energy bars, fresh or dried fruit, sandwiches, and beef jerky are all great choices for hiking snacks. If you’re going for a longer hike, bring plenty of food to stay fueled for your entire outing. Always bring more food than you think you’ll need.

Water and Hydration System

Water is an essential item when recreating outdoors. Even if you only expect to be on the trail for an hour, you should bring water and a hydration system, such as a water bottle or reservoir.

Just like with food, you should always bring more water than you think you’ll need. Hikers engaged in moderate activity should plan to consume a minimum of half a liter of water per hour when hiking in moderate temperatures. If you’re on a more strenuous trail or are hiking in hotter temperatures or higher elevations, you’ll need to consume more water. In those cases, plan on drinking about one liter per hour.

Electrolyte Drinks or Powders

When your body sweats, you lose salts and minerals in addition to fluids. If you’re hiking in the heat or planning a very challenging hike, consider bringing electrolyte powders to replace what your body is losing as you sweat.

Water Purification System

While most day hikers don’t need this item, it’s a good idea to bring a water filter and purification tablets if you’re hiking in a remote area with limited water refill stations.

Tools and Emergency Supplies

Headlamp or Flashlight and Extra Batteries

As one of the Ten Essentials for hiking, a headlamp or flashlight and extra batteries should be in almost every day hiker’s backpack. Even if you are planning to return well before dark, bring a headlamp or flashlight with you. If you get delayed and have to hike back after sundown, the headlamp or flashlight will help you find your way and get back safely.

First-aid Kit

Make sure at least one member of your group has a basic first-aid kit. You can make your own mini first-aid kit or purchase a prepackaged kit from a store. Your kit should contain band-aids, medical tape, antibiotic ointment, moleskin, latex gloves, alcohol wipes, safety pins, antidiarrheal medications, gauze pads, and tweezers.

Gear Repair Kit

Most day hikers don’t need an extensive gear repair kit, but bringing along a knife or multi-tool, some utility cord, and duct tape is always smart. If you break a shoelace or your backpack rips during your hike, you’ll be thrilled to have these items with you.

Personal Locator Beacon or Satellite Messenger

Since many hiking areas do not have reliable cell service, a satellite messenger or personal locator beacon can help others find you in an emergency. Unless you’re visiting a very remote area, you likely do not need to bring these on your day hike. There are also some hiking apps with location sharing and other safety features, so most hikers won’t need these items.

Emergency Shelter

An emergency shelter or bivouac is an excellent item to bring in case of inclement weather or another issue that requires you to take shelter. If you’re in an area with highly variable weather conditions, consider adding this to your pack.

Lighter or Matches and Fire Starters

A fire starting kit is essential for hikers heading into the backcountry, but day hikers in more heavily trafficked areas may not need this.

Hand Warmers

Hand warmers are a good addition to your packing list if you’re planning to hike in cold weather. You can use them inside gloves to warm your hands or place them in your shoes if your feet get cold.

Whistle

Many hiking backpacks come equipped with a whistle. If yours doesn’t have one, you should buy a separate whistle to call for help in an emergency.

Bear Spray

Make sure to pack bear spray (and know how to use it) if you’re hiking in bear country.

Toiletries and Hygiene

Sun Protection

Protecting yourself from the sun is important no matter what time of year you’re hitting the trails. In addition to the sun protective clothing listed above, you should pack sunscreen, SPF lip balm, and sunglasses.

Insect Repellant

Keep mosquitoes, black flies, and ticks at bay with a good insect repellent.

Toilet Paper

It’s always a good idea to have some toilet paper with you when hiking. Unless there’s a toilet or trash can where you can dispose of it, make sure to pack anything you use out with you. For an eco-friendly alternative when peeing in the woods, consider drip-drying, using a pee cloth, or using natural materials to wipe.

Hand Sanitizer, Wipes, and Biodegradable Soap

Proper hygiene is vital to stay healthy when you’re in the wilderness. Bring along hand sanitizer, wipes, or biodegradable soap so you can clean your hands after using the bathroom and before eating.

Trash Bag

Some hiking areas will have trash receptacles at picnic areas or other places along the trail, but many do not. Bring a trash bag or two to pack out all of your garbage.

Trowel or Wag Bag

If there are no toilets along the trail you’re planning to hike, you’ll need to bring items to dispose of solid human waste properly. In some areas, you can dig a cathole with a trowel and bury your poop in the hole. Just make sure it’s at least 200 feet (61 meters) away from trails, campsites, and water sources.

In other areas, you’ll need to bring a bag, often referred to as a “wag bag,” and take your waste with you. This is the case in fragile ecosystems like alpine areas and deserts, as well as in heavily trafficked wilderness areas. Check local rules and guidelines ahead of time and come prepared.

Personal Medications

If you have any medications you take regularly or that you may need in an emergency, such as an asthma pump or EpiPen, make sure to bring them with you on your hike.

Menstrual Products

If you menstruate, bring a pad, tampon, menstrual cup, or other menstrual products with you in case you need them on your hike.

Technology, Entertainment, and Other Items

Cell Phone

While many people like hiking and heading into nature to unplug, bringing a cell phone is important on day hikes. It’s crucial to bring your phone if you’re using it for navigation, but you may also want to take photos with your phone’s camera or use a hiking app to enrich your hiking experience. Bringing your phone also allows you to call for help in an emergency in areas where there is cell coverage.

hiker using smartphone for navigation

Power bank or solar charger

If you’re using your phone as your main navigation system, it’s wise to bring a charging bank and charging cable in case your phone’s battery dies. This is especially important when hiking in cold weather since cold temperatures can significantly reduce battery life.

Camera

If you have a camera, tripod, or other photography equipment you like to use, bring it along to document your day hike.

Binoculars

Binoculars are optional when hiking but are excellent for viewing wildlife and getting a better view of landmarks in the distance.

Field Guide

If you enjoy identifying plants and wildlife you see along the trail, consider bringing along a field guide. This is also a great item to bring when hiking with kids to make the hike more engaging for them.

Journal

Using a hiking journal is a fantastic way to remember your outdoor adventures and record your thoughts while you take in the natural world. If you like to write, journal, or draw, bring a journal and pen or pencil to jot down and sketch things you think about and see on your hike.

Two-way Radio

If you’re hiking in a group, two-way radios are a great way to keep in touch if you get separated.

ID, Credit Cards, and Cash

Even if you don’t expect to spend any money or stop anywhere, you should always bring your ID and cash or a credit card in case of an emergency.

Conclusion

Day hiking is a fun way to explore your surroundings and is an exciting pastime for both new and experienced hikers. Although day hikes require significantly less gear than overnight and multi-day backpacking trips, it’s still important to come prepared.

The exact items you bring on your day hike will depend on the weather, the location of your hike, how far away you are from help, and how long you expect to be on the trail. Use the day hiking checklist above as a guide and adjust it based on your specific hike.

Since you’ll only be on the trail for a day and don’t need to carry heavy items like a tent, packing light isn’t as important as it is with backpacking. When in doubt, pack more than you think you’ll realistically need for a day hike. It’s better to have a few extra items you don’t end up using than to need something you left behind.

 


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