This post is all about what to bring day hiking, particularly in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska. As I talked about in my post about hiking for absolute beginners, you don’t need a lot of gear to get started with hiking. I am not suggesting that you should bring the exact same things I do. Different people have different things that they consider essential or not as important, and what you need evolves over time. There are quite a few items that I bring day hiking now that I didn’t for many years, or only recently started bringing with me.
I know that I definitely bring some gear day hiking that other people don’t. It’s important to me to be prepared. I do quite a bit of solo hiking and hiking in remote areas where help is far away. I carry the 10 essentials, which are designed to help you survive a night outside on your own if you have to, as well as to get through the day safely. Luckily, I’ve never had to spend an unexpected night out alone, but I have several times been caught in the dark and needed my headlamp! I’ve also used my first aid kit quite a few times. The things I always bring day hiking live in my backpack so I never have to decide if I’m bringing them or not, they’re just always there. The only things I have to add to get out the door are whatever additional clothes are needed for that outing, my food and the appropriate map (and if I decide to bring any of the sometimes items I discuss below). This helps me get out and hike more often!
I’ve organized this by what I generally bring day hiking in both summer and winter including a description of why I bring that item. During spring and fall I do a bit more packing and unpacking since what I need is slightly less predictable (for example I might bring sunscreen and the warm hat). Generally I’m considering summer to be June through September and winter to be November through March. in April, May and October I bring some combination of the summer and winter things. The links below to Amazon are affiliate links, which means if you click through the link and buy something from Amazon I receive a small commission (at no cost to you). The other links below are not affiliate links.
What I bring day hiking in summer
- Backpack: The backpack I have I bought for $25 at an REI garage sale more than 15 years ago and I love it. You can use any backpack that’s comfortable for you for day hiking. Lots of styles, sizes and brands work great. You can start with whatever you have, and if you don’t have one, try getting fitted at an outdoor store and try on a variety of options.
- Trekking Poles: I find trekking poles to be so helpful especially on steep climbs and descents. They also help keep my hands from swelling which is a bonus. Many people with knee pain find them lifesavers. They are certainly not necessary, and I’ve done many hikes without them, but I am a big fan. I’ve had mine over a decade, they are the same brand and style as these. I recommend the kind that have locking connections when you expand and contract them (instead of the twist kind, since they wear out).
- Sit pad: This is not necessary but once you try it you will LOVE IT. It’s especially great if there’s snow on the ground or it’s wet, but anytime it provides a comfortable and insulating seat. You can also use it as a splint in a pinch or to have an injured person sit on to help them stay warm. Comfy AND you can use it as part of your first aid kit!
- Rainjacket If you’ve been reading my blog for awhile you already know my love of this rain jacket! In the summer, I don’t wear it often, but I keep it in my pack and then it’s there in case of a sudden shower and it is also very effective bug protection if needed! There are plenty of days with showers in the mountains even when it’s sunny and hot in town.
- First Aid Kit: I have a few additions in my first aid kit, which include an emergency blanket (which weighs nearly nothing) and a votive candle which is a very effective fire starter in an emergency, especially if it’s wet. Other than that it’s a standard first aid kit you can get anywhere. It’s not super helpful to have this without knowing how to use it! Keeping first aid and CPR up to date is a good practice for anyone, and it’s useful on the trail as well. If you can commit more time, Mountaineering Oriented First Aid takes it a step farther and prepares you for emergencies when help is far away.
- Sunscreen: Any sunscreen you want to use works great!
- Lip balm: This is important for sun protection and also for winter, it’s just a good thing to have in your pack at all times!
- Small container with over the counter pain killers (Excedrin, Ibruprofen, or whatever works for you)
- Bug Spray: This is the one I use, it’s small and has 30% deet, as a former Alaskan, I don’t mess around!
- Bug headnet: Weighs nothing and can make a buggy lake lunch sooooo much happier!!
- Knife: I use a standard small swiss army knife like this one and it lives in my pack. It’s useful for a variety of little things like repairs or opening packaging or cutting food. It’s really critical for backpacking, but I find it’s helpful on dayhikes too.
- Lighter: this is for lighting fires in case of emergency, and a cheap lighter works great! You could also bring waterproof matches instead. It weighs nothing and lives in my pack.
- Ziploc bag with another ziploc inside it, toilet paper and hand sanitizer: I rarely use this, but in case of needing to poop on the trail it’s important to carry! That way you can either carry it out (in the internal ziploc) or bury it in a hole and pack out the toilet paper (in the internal ziploc). Packing out the toilet paper is super important!!! This is why you need the ziplocs.
- Kula cloth: This is my newest piece of gear and I’M IN LOVE! It’s a pee cloth for women (or anyone who sits to pee). It’s soooo much better than drip drying or having to carry out toilet paper. You just do your thing, then wipe with the anti-microbial side and hold the other waterproof side. Then you attach to the outside of your pack and wash when you get home. If this sounds ridiculous, trust me you’ll LOVE IT. And it’s super affordable.
- Wet wipes: these are so useful for all kinds of things, cleaning hands, a refreshing facewipe at lunch, etc. Indispensible!
- Duct tape: Like the wet wipes, just useful for so many things. Get a small roll so it’s not heavy
- Bandana: I love having this to blow my nose or to wipe sweat off my neck and it’s another one of those super handy things that weighs nothing and is cheap to get
- Map: Yes, I carry a paper map of where I’m going. I really like to follow along on the map where I am on the trail. This is interesting data but it can also help me make good decisions about when to turn around and if I’m going the wrong way. I don’t like counting on my phone only, especially if I’m away from a cell phone signal.
- Compass: I rarely use this, but it’s inexpensive and light and it is definitely useful if you get turned around about where you are. Both the compass and the map aren’t that useful if you don’t know how to read them! I highly recommend the mountaineers navigation course that teaches you how. There are other places to take classes as well but that’s one that I’ve personally done and it was excellent.
- Phone: You take your smartphone everywhere else, why not the trail! To preserve the battery (especially where there isn’t a signal anyway), put it in airplane mode. I map my route, even though my phone gps isn’t very accurate, use it as a camera and listen to music.
- Headphones: I listen to music when I hike solo, at least a good portion of the time. Even with others, if it’s a really hard hike, sometimes I’ll put them in for encouragement during tough parts of a climb. Some people think you should leave all technology at home and listen to nature, and while I love listening to nature I also love listening to music in nature. If you like listening to music like I do, by all means bring the headphones!
- Sunglasses: whatever sunglasses you normally use, bring them along, or keep an extra pair in your pack.
- Mesh lime bag from Trader Joes for food: This is totally unnecessary, but I’ve found there’s nothing better for keeping all my food together (no smooshed sandwich forgotten in the bottom of the pack!) than one of these mesh bags that lemons or limes come in at Trader Joe’s (and lots of other grocery stores)
- Camelbak water bladder: I drink a ton of water and it’s so nice to be able to drink it without getting out a water bottle. This is completely unnecessary but it makes a big difference for me. I have a 100 oz one like this one. Mine is more than 10 years old (they last!) but it’s the same size and brand.
- Headlamp: This is important! I have several times been caught out in the dark and used my headlamp to get to the car. This turns a potentially dangerous situation into a fun adventure. It lives in my pack. You can take any flashlight you have, but a headlamp is light and convenient (also for power outages at home).
What I bring day hiking in winter
Here I’m talking about going for a hike in winter, in my post about starting snowshoeing I talk about gear for that (which isn’t all that different, actually!). What I carry with me isn’t that different in the winter, although what I wear is usually different and I make sure to carry more food that I would in the summer. What’s different for what I bring day hiking in winter is:
- I take out the bug head net and bug spray, usually around here these are not necessary between September and March
- I take out the sunscreen-you still need to be careful about the sun even during our rainy winters (especially in spring if you’re on snow), but I generally put it on a home if I need it before leaving and don’t carry it with me
- I bring a very warm layer (coat, fleece or sweater) in addition to what I think I will wear while hiking
- A warm hat that covers my ears lives in the pack all winter
- A pair of gloves lives in the pack all winter
Other things I sometimes bring depending on the circumstances
There are a few other things that I sometimes bring day hiking, but they don’t regularly live in the pack, I add them if it makes sense on that particular day.
- Point and shoot camera: I believe in this camera and if you’ve followed me for awhile you know about it already! It’s small, easy to learn to use and is great for low light and for close ups. It’s also water proof and attaches to a tripod. I bring it if I know I’m going to be focusing on photography during a particular hike.
- Small tripod: really not necessary, but if you’re a photographer looking for a small tripod you can take on the trail, this is a great option. You can bend it around trees and rocks and it’s very light and small
- Sun hat: I love this one, it’s great in rain and protects your face from sun, my go to hiking hat!
- Buff: In the winter I sometimes put this in my pack for something I can put around my neck if it’s cold. I also use it as a bandana for my hair sometimes if I’m not wearing the hat.
- Ice gripper things that you can attach to your shoes (I don’t know what they’re really called!): They’re basically like studded snow tires for your shoes and if it’s icy they are awesome. I use them most often in the fall in high country places that are icy in the mornings as well as in the spring when I might be on hard, crusty and icy snow. I used to have ones like in this link, the ones pictured above I got at Costco and they both worked great. You can get some that are really expensive and metal, but that really isn’t necessary, as long as they have some type of metal spike they make a big difference. You can stretch them over whatever shoes you’re wearing
- Gaiters: the ones I have are handmade by my mother in law, but they are very similar to these. Gaiters are handy if there’s snow involved or if you’re going to be going through a lot of wet brush. They keep water out of your boots and lower legs. They aren’t necessary, but they can make life a lot more pleasant, especially in the winter!
- Water bottle (instead of the Camelbak, or addition to it for something really hard on a hot day). I love these mira ones, because they keep cold drinks cold (you can have ice water!) and hot drinks hot (bring tea!). In winter sometimes the mouth of the camelbak can freeze so I always leave it at home if it’s going to be cold enough for that to happen (20s or colder)
- Bearspray: This one on amazon comes with a trainer can so you can practice without actually pepper spraying anyone which is really cool! I carry this when I’m by myself, in case of bad people and because when you’re by yourself you don’t alert animals as much to your presence. I don’t think most people carry this in Washington, but I do just in case if I’m by myself (I usually don’t when I’m with other people). In Alaska and other places with more bears and especially problem bears, carrying it is imperative. Keep in mind that you can’t take it on airplanes, so you have to buy it where you’re going if a plane is involved.
Do you have your own personal essentials? What have you learned you like to bring with you? What do you leave behind? I’d love to know! Share with me on Facebook or tag me on Instagram and let me know!