Whether you’re new to hiking and trying to figure out what to pack for a day hike or an experienced hiker looking to upgrade some gear, this guide shares all the day hiking essentials you’ll need.
Hiking is my favorite outdoor activity and hobby because it keeps me physically and mentally healthy!
You can usually find me hiking in my hometown of Phoenix, Arizona, and throughout the National Parks of the southwest! Ever since I started hiking solo, I’ve learned a lot more about hiking gear and how I can stay safe and enjoy more time on the trails.
While I will never say you *need* something to spend time outside, there are some items that are essential for a day hike and gear you might want to consider to make your hike more enjoyable.
There is much more to hiking than outfits and gear, so I recommend checking out my post on how to start hiking alone as a woman for tips on safety, essential gear, and more! But if you’re looking for the best hiking gear, keep scrolling!
Hey! I wanted to let you know that this post contains affiliate links! By purchasing through these links, I earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. Thanks for your support!
Table of Contents
Why Do I Need Special Gear For Hiking?
If you’re new to hiking, you likely own everything you need to go on your first easy hike! I hiked in my tennis shoes and used an old backpack all through college.
However, if you plan on taking up hiking as a hobby or are looking for some gear to upgrade your adventures, it’s a good idea to invest in some pieces that can help you be safer and more comfortable while spending time in nature.
Hiking requires special gear for a few reasons:
- Safety: Special hiking gear is designed to protect you from the elements and ensure that you have a safe hike. For example, hiking boots with good traction can help prevent slips and falls on uneven terrain, and a waterproof jacket can protect you from rain and wind.
- Comfort: Special hiking gear is designed to be comfortable and to help regulate body temperature. Wicking and quick-drying clothing, for example, can help keep you cool and dry, preventing chafing and overheating.
- Functionality: Special hiking gear is designed to be functional and to help you carry the essentials you need for your hike. A backpack, for example, is designed to hold a water bottle, snacks, a map, and other items you’ll need to carry with you.
- Durability: Hiking gear should be durable enough to withstand the rigors of the trail and to last for multiple hikes. Quality hiking boots and backpacks are built to be sturdy and to last a long time.
- Safety: Certain tools and equipment, like a map, compass, GPS, emergency whistle, flashlight, etc, will help you navigate and stay safe in case of any emergency.
I highly recommend investing in quality hiking gear, so you can ensure that you have a comfortable and safe hike, and that your gear will last for multiple hikes, if not years. You’ll see a lot of REI links in this article because I’m a big fan of the durability of their gear and amazing return policy.
10 Essentials For Hiking
Here are some of the hiking essentials that everyone should consider bringing on a hike:
- Navigation tools (map, compass, GPS device)
- Sun protection (sunscreen, sunglasses, hat)
- Insulation (extra clothing)
- Illumination (headlamp/flashlight)
- First-aid supplies
- Fire starter (matches, lighter, fire starter)
- Repair kit and tools (knife, multi-tool, duct tape)
- Nutrition (extra food)
- Hydration (water bottle, water treatment supplies)
- Emergency shelter (tent, emergency blanket, bivy sack)
It’s important to note that the 10 hiking essentials listed above are not intended to be an exhaustive list of everything you might need on a hike. They are a basic set of items that should be carried at all times to help you respond to unexpected situations and emergencies.
Day Hike Packing List
A good day pack is at the top of your day hike packing list for a reason! No matter how long you’re on the trail for, you’ll need something to carry your essential gear.
If you’re a beginner hiker and not ready to invest in a hiking day pack yet, an old backpack from school will work if you’re not going to far! If you are serious about hiking and looking to buy a day pack, you’ll want to consider capacity, comfort, durability, and weather resistance.
For size, a good day pack should range from 18 – 40 liters. This will hold extra layers, and all of the other day hiking essentials that we cover below.
You’ll want to look for an interior sleeve for a hydration pack, a hip belt, and a sternum strap when shopping for a day pack. I did a deep-dive post on day packs with all of these features and more in my recent post on the best day packs for women.
Here are a few of my favorite hiking daypacks:
If I’m headed out on a longer hike (5+ miles), I’m bringing my Gregory Juno 30 because it can fit my lunch, extra layers, and camera gear! I’m a big fan of the ventilated back panel because it keeps my pack feeling light and gives great airflow, so I don’t have to wear a sweaty backpack.
If you’re looking for a small day pack for hiking, the Gregory Nano 18 H20 Hydration Pack is the best choice! This handy bag is the one I grab the most for short hikes and bike rides. It features an easy-pull top drawcord, plenty of pockets to stash your must-haves, and a 3 Liter hydration reservoir that helps you stay hydrated on the move.
Water Bottle or Bladder
Water is the most important thing to bring on a hike and in the past I’ve learned a very important lesson: Always bring more water than you think you’ll need.
A general rule of thumb is to drink at least two liters of water per day and more in hot conditions. I love using a 3-Liter hydration pack for drinking on the go, but any stainless steele or BPA-free plastic bottle should work for short hikes!
Some of the most important hiking gear is the outfit you wear. No matter the season you’re hiking in, wearing layers on the trail is essential for comfort and safety reasons. Read my guide on cute and practical hiking outfits for more information.
When choosing a hiking shirt, I recommend going for moisture-wicking and quick-drying fabrics like merino wool or polyester. These materials will keep you dry and comfortable on the trail!
The REI Co-op Sahara T-Shirt is one of my favorite budget-friendly hiking shirts and my go-to when I want to wear short sleeves. I also love Patagonia Capilene Cool Daily Graphic T-Shirts for women because they are lightweight, soft, and wash well!
For cold weather hikes, my favorite long sleeve hiking top is the REI Co-op Merino 185 Long-Sleeve Base Layer Top.
Warm mid layer
Middle layers are all about adding warmth! No matter the weather, you’ll likely want to bring a middle layer. Again, I suggest avoiding cotton and going for something synthetic or wool so it is breathable and moisture-wicking.
For colder-weather hikes, I’ll bring a thick hoodie with fleece lining (or two if I know it’s going to be extra cold!). On warm-weather camping trips, I like to bring a thinner, breathable sweater like this quarter-zip from REI.
If the weather is going to be cold or you’ll be hiking at higher elevations, you’ll want to bring an insulated jacket as an outer layer. Insulation traps heat inside the jacket, keeping you warm even in freezing temperatures. Additionally, insulated jackets protect you from the wind.
Insulated jackets come in different types of insulation: Down and synthetic. Synthetic insulation is generally better for damp or humid, where down insulation is more lightweight and compressible.
Since I live and hike in Arizona, my favorite jacket to bring hiking is the REI Co-op Magma 850 Down Hoodie 2.0 because it’s durable, lightweight and super packable! If rain is in the forecast, I’ll opt for the REI Co-op XeroDry GTX Jacket to stay dry.
When looking for a rain jacket for hiking, keep waterproofness and breathability in mind! Look for a jacket that is made from waterproof and breathable fabric such as Gore-Tex, eVent or other similar membranes. These fabrics will keep you dry in wet conditions while also allowing sweat to escape, so you don’t overheat.
You’ll also want a rain jacket with a hood, lots of pockets, and room for layering clothes underneath! The REI Co-op Rainier Rain Jacket checks all those boxes and more.
There are a couple of things to consider when shopping for hiking footwear. In addition to being comfortable right out of the box, a good pair of hiking boots should have arch support, good traction, be waterproof, be breathable, and be lightweight.
Remember to try on different shoes and take a walk around the store to make sure they fit well and are comfortable. It’s also a good idea to ask for recommendations and read online reviews.
Thanks to my job as an outdoorsy content creator, I’ve been able to try a lot of different hiking boots. The best hiking boots I’ve tried are the Moab 3 Mid Waterproof Hiking Boots from Merrell. If I want something more casual, I’ll opt for the HOKA Mafate Speed 4 Trail-Running Shoes or the Altra Timp 4 Trail-Running Shoes.
The socks you wear can make or break your hike! To avoid blisters and pain, opt for moisture-wicking, quick-drying materials like wool.
Wool socks are the best choice for hiking because they are super durable, moisture-wicking, extra padded, and odor resistant! There are different types of wool but merino wool is the most popular choice for outdoor gear due to its softness, warmth, and moisture-wicking properties.
The best wool hiking socks are the Micro Crew Socks from Darn Tough! Not only do these socks come in a bunch of cute patterns, but they are also made in the USA and have a lifetime warranty!
As someone who lives and hikes in Phoenix, Arizona, I am passionate about protecting my skin from the sun. No matter the weather, I always wear at least UPF 30, a wide-brimmed hiking hat, and sunglasses.
Sun protection is even important in the winter! If you’re hiking in the snow on a sunny day, you can also get a sunburn from “snow blindness”.
Sun protection is essential for day hikes because it helps prevent injury! Here are some of my favorite pieces of gear for sun protection:
First Aid Kit
Hiking can result in blisters, scrapes and other unexpected injuries so it’s a good idea to in a small first aid kit that permanently lives in your day pack. While it’s unlikely that you’ll need everything that comes in the kit, it’s better to have on you in case an emergency happens.
I bring a simple, small first-aid kit on every hike and it’s come in handy multiple times! Some first-aid essentials are band-aids, moleskine for blisters, adhesive tape, gauze, antiseptic wipes, and pain relievers. I added a lighter, emergency whistle, and allergy medicine to my kit.
Map / Navigation Tools
Reliable navigation is essential for every hike. In addition to researching the trail before you go, it’s a good idea to have a paper map or download the trail map to your phone.
I typically use trail maps on AllTrails. You need the “Pro” version of the app to download the trail maps for offline use. It’s a good idea to download the map before you leave your house because there’s a chance you won’t have cell service in the wilderness!
If you are going on more advanced hikes in the backcountry, you might want to consider investing in an emergency communication device like a Garmin InReach. This GPS device will help you navigate and communicate when you are in the wilderness.
Snacks are an important part of hiking! While everyone has different snack preferences, you’ll want to pack something that is packed with nutrients for a quick source of energy and help keep your blood sugar levels stable.
Some of my favorite hiking snacks are trail mix, energy bars, fresh fruit, cheese and crackers, candy, and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich!
It’s important to make sure you have enough food for your day hike and I recommend bringing a bit extra in case of an emergency. You’ll also be burning more calories than you’re used to so don’t be afraid to throw and extra granola bar or two in your pack.
Headlamp or Flashlight
It might seem excessive to bring a headlamp on short hikes but if there is a slight chance that your hike takes longer than expected, you want to be able to make it back to your car in the dark.
What if you hurt yourself and have to wait for help as the sun sets? What if you spend a little extra time at the mountain summit to watch an amazing sunset? What if a storm hits and you get stuck taking shelter? You’ll need a headlamp.
Of course, a flashlight also works but headlamps are more convenient, safer, and cost and weigh as much as a nice flashlight.
I usually carry my $20 headlamp from Petzl. It’s compact, and convenient, and goes on every hike with me.
Toilet Paper or Pee Cloth
It’s important to be prepared to use the bathroom if you need to! If you have to go #2, you’ll want to bring a trowel to dig a hole and bury it. For toilet paper, I recommend burying it deep or packing it out in a Ziploc bag.
If you just have to go #1 and don’t want to carry used toilet paper out with you, I recommend investing in a Kula Cloth! It’s a reusable pee cloth that has a ton of innovative features – read all about it here!
A Knife or Multi-Tool
If your gear breaks or you need to cut rope, creat splints, or simply open a snack, a knife will come in handy! It could also help you start a fire or make shelter in emergency situations.
And in rare cases, a knife can be used for self-defense against animals or humans.
It’s important to note that bringing a knife on a hike also requires responsibility and proper usage, as a knife can be a dangerous tool if not handled correctly. Always be aware of your surroundings and follow local laws and regulations regarding the carrying of knives.
Beyond The Essentials
While these aren’t considered a day hiking essential, trekking poles come in handy if you’re tackling a steep, challenging hike! Trekking poles are designed to take pressure off your knees, give you more momentum on the ups, and help maintain balance while hiking.
When I first started hiking, I used an inexpensive pair of trekking poles from Costco for years. As the years have gone by and I’ve used them more and more, I invested in the
Leki Lhasa Trekking Poles.
If you are hiking in grizzly bear country, or want to feel more protected on your solo hike, you’ll want to bring bear spray. In an emergency, you can spray it at the bear to give yourself a chance to escape.
ID and Money
While not technically a hiking essential, it’s a good idea to always carry your ID, credit card and/or cash on a hike. You never know when you could need them and it’s better to be prepared.
Photographing nature is one of my favorite parts about hiking! Whether you’re using your iPhone or fancy camera, you’ll likely want to document your adventure.
Budget Hiking Gear
There is no need to break the bank to enjoy the great outdoors. If you’re looking for some great deals on budget-friendly hiking gear, here are several places to look:
- Online retailers: Online retailers like REI, Walmart, and Amazon offer a wide range of hiking gear at different price points. You can often find good deals and discounts on these sites, and you can compare prices across different brands and models.
- Sporting goods stores: Sporting goods stores like Dick’s Sporting Goods and Sports Authority have a good selection of budget-friendly hiking gear. They can also have clearance sections that have even more discounts.
- Outlet stores: Outlet stores such as REI Outlet, Columbia, and The North Face that sell discounted hiking gear often have discounted prices on older models or seasonal items.
- Second-hand stores: You can also find great deals on hiking gear at second-hand stores like Goodwill or Salvation Army. Shopping second-hand is also a great way to help the environment by reducing consumption of new products.
- Online marketplaces: Online marketplaces like REI Re/Supply, Patagonia Worn Wear, eBay, Facebook marketplace, etc, is a great place to find used gear!
When shopping for budget hiking gear, it’s important to keep in mind that you may have to compromise on some features or durability to get the best deal. Also, make sure to read reviews and check the specifications of the gear you’re interested in to ensure it will meet your needs!
Additionally, some brands and retailers have seasonal sales, or clearance sections on their website, it can be a good idea to check for those as well!
Hiking Tips For Women
Now that you know all about the 10 essentials and the best hiking gear, I have some hiking tips to share! While these are mostly hiking tips for beginners, experienced hikers can always benefit from a refresher!
- Invest in good hiking boots and break them in before your hike.
- Wear comfortable, moisture-wicking clothing and layer appropriately for the weather.
- Carry enough water and snacks to fuel your hike.
- Consider bringing a small first aid kit and a means of communication, such as a cell phone or a personal locator beacon.
- Let someone know your hiking plans and expected return time, including the trailhead name and any significant landmarks along the trail.
- Be aware of your surroundings and use caution when hiking alone.
If possible, hike with a friend or a group.
It’s important to also review the map before you go and if you know how to use them, bring a map and a compass.
Pay attention to trail signs and markers, and stay on designated trails to minimize impact on the environment and to avoid getting lost.
Lastly, always check the weather forecast before heading out and be prepared for any changes in the weather.
Want to get started hiking alone? Click here to read all my tips on how to do it safely.
Frequently Asked Questions About What To Take Hiking
What should you pack for a short hike?
You should pack a hiking backpack, the 10 essentials, extra layers, snacks, water, durable hiking boots, a headlamp, and a fully charged smartphone.
What are the 10 essentials for a day hike?
The 10 essentials for a day hike are navigation, illumination, sun protection, first aid kit, repair kit and multi-tool, emergency shelter, extra food, extra water, fire starter, and extra clothing layers.
What can you not take on a day hike?
I suggest leaving your nice clothes, shoes and jewelry at home! Additionally, don’t wear clothing made of cotton or denim, or open-toed shoes.
What is the #1 etiquette rule while hiking?
The #1 hiking etiquette rule is to Leave No Trace! One of the most important principles for beginner hikers to know is to pack out all trash. This inlcudes all the little pieces of snack wrappers, water bottles, and orange peels. It’s a good idea to pick up any trash you come across on the trail, even if it isn’t yours.
Final Thoughts On What To Bring Hiking
At the end of the day, the best hiking gear is the pieces that help you feel more comfortable and keep you safe while spending time in nature!
Let me know if you have any questions about what to wear or bring hiking – I’m always happy to help!