A Hiker's Guide to the Perfect Day Pack

Whether you’re trekking Machu Picchu, the Grand Canyon or the spectacular unknown of your local hiking trails, how you choose to prepare for a hike can make or break the entire experience. While longer, more strenuous hikes often require more advanced gear, there are a few universal items that every hiker should bring along for a safe, comfortable and enjoyable trip.
Before you head out on the trails in search of inner peace, a challenging workout or the stunning sights and sounds of nature, grab a day pack that fits comfortably on your shoulders and toss these eight items inside.

First Aid Kit Whether you opt to buy a kit or construct your own, having a basic first aid kit is highly recommended for any hike. Accidents can happen anywhere, but your odds increase when maneuvering your way across tricky terrain and uneven ground. As mom used to say, it is better to be safe than sorry, so pick up a kit. Most general shops sell both simple and more comprehensive kits, but making your own kit is also a great, cost-effective option. In addition to personal medications and emergency phone numbers, the Red Cross also recommends including adhesive bandages, aspirin, a space blanket, sterile gauze pads and more. A complete list can be found here

Sunscreen This one is a biggie. Even if the sky looks overcast, your skin still needs to be protected from UV rays while hiking outside to avoid sunburn. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends people liberally apply a sunscreen with a minimum of SPF 15 to any exposed skin at least 20 minutes prior to exposing skin to sunlight. If you’re on the trail for more than two hours, grab that sunscreen and slather on some more. Also consider throwing on a hat, which serves as a second form of defense for your face and scalp, and a pair of sunglasses to shield your eyes from harmful rays.

Water You should bring water with you during any strenuous activity, and hiking is no exception. Dehydration can set in earlier in hot weather, so it is important to drink enough water to replace any liquid lost through sweat. You should be drinking enough to never feel extremely thirsty, since thirst is an indicator that dehydration has already set in (often accompanied by dry mouth, headache and dizziness). If you're hiking longer distances over several hours (or days), a high-quality water filter or iodine drops might be a smart investment, allowing you to purify water found along the trail rather than carrying several gallons of water on your back.

Snacks As you push yourself on the trail, be sure to fuel your body accordingly. To avoid exhaustion and get the most out of your hike, be sure to pack a snack that is high in protein, fiber and healthy fats. Homemade trail mix is always a great choice since it is convenient to munch on while walking and can be varied to match each hiker’s preferences. 

Appropriate Clothing/Footwear Be sure to check the weather prior to heading out for a hike in order to determine if it’s a long leggings or tank top kind of day. Opt for breathable clothing that allows for movement, and be sure to pack extra layers and a rain coat or poncho in case of unexpected weather changes. On the trail, your shoes can be your best friend or your worst enemy. Avoid blisters and bruised knees from slipping by investing in a solid pair of waterproof hiking shoes that fit your feet well and can manage a variety of terrains. Your toes and soles will thank you later.

Phone While hiking is a great excuse to unplug, you might want to consider bringing a phone along as a just-in-case precaution. Accidents happen on the trail, and having a phone is a great way to alert park rangers or emergency personnel in a pinch. Your phone can also be a useful tool on the trail. Interested in identifying that squawking bird or need to reference a trail map? There’s an app for that.

Map and Compass Even if you have the most advanced topographical digital map downloaded on your phone, phones die. A paper map and reliable compass will come in handy in case you need to get back to civilization the old-fashioned way. You always hope you won’t need these items, but they could be lifesavers.

Camera Because what if you see a baby weasel riding a woodpecker? Do you really want to be the guy who missed out on photographing a baby weasel riding a woodpecker?

Depending on your region, time of year and planned hike, you might also want to consider tossing in items like bug spray with DEET, a bag for collecting trash, a flashlight, a whistle, duct tape, Swiss Army knife or toilet paper. Remember, the key is to plan for the unexpected and pack accordingly. Happy trails!
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Member Comments

You cell phone should have a camera and a compass on it as well as a flashlight. Maybe doesn't hurt to have backups though.

If you go into an area where there might be dangerous animals, like bear, big cats, wild dogs, Deliverance-style rednecks, or whatever, do not go out unarmed. Report
As a retired Search and Rescue volunteer, I would strongly stress that a whistle is REQUIRED. If something were to happen - and it does! - you can blow a whistle loud and clear for days without using excessive energy. Your voice will give out, use up your energy faster and will never be as loud as a whistle. Here is a link to a story of survival I was involved in. He lived because he had a whistle or we might not have found him in time. https://www.steam
cued-after-9-days/ Report
This list is so basic it is a joke! Of course you need to consider what type of hike, the terrain, etc. I always take hiking poles with me. And an emergency beacon or a mirror because your phone may not work if you need help. MRPEABODY has some very useful suggestions. Make sure you let somebody know where/when you are going. Report
DEET was created for the use of the U.S. military for the sole purpose of chemical warfare during World War II. You should steer clear of it! Find something more natural the repels bugs, seriously. Report
Really helpful stuff, thanks. Report
Great Article! Report
Thank you! Report
I agree with MRPEABODY. I once had to share my water (and I'm old!!) with a young man who was coming from a backpacking trip and was severely dehydrated. His friends had gone on ahead and just left him. I'm assuming they had all run out of water. That water really made his day better. I always carry more water than I need along with an electrolyte drink or V8 for potassium. Report
A little confused here. The title says "A hiker's guide to the perfect day pack", yet the article itself is merely a recitation of what to take with you at a minimum, when you day hike. WTF?! Most of this stuff can be carried in a small fanny pack with a water bottle holder. How is this helping anyone pick a day pack? Picking a pack requires knowing what type of hike you're going on, where you're going, how long you intend to stay out, what the weather is forecast to do, and the terrain you will cover. For some day hikes, you need a 35L pack, while others will only require only a hip pack. Title of this should be "The basic stuff to take on a day hike". Report
Always be prepared! Great start for how to safely hike. Report
Good info Report
great list Report
a phone ahahahaha yea good luck getting a signal Report


About The Author

Alicia Capetillo
Alicia Capetillo
Alicia graduated from Northwestern University with a Bachelor of Science in journalism and a minor in film and media studies. Prior to joining SparkPeople, she worked in marketing and public relations and once left it all behind to backpack through South America. Alicia enjoys making every muscle weep at Orangetheory Fitness, farmers markets, planning trips to practically every country and cheering aggressively for her beloved Cincinnati Reds and New Orleans Saints. She can also make a mean guacamole on toast.