You’ve picked out and researched the trail, noted down all the important details like distance, conditions, elevation and logistics, and you’re rearing to go.
But whether you’re casually hiking to a favourite viewpoint nearby, spending a day wondering through a national park or taking on a tricky summit, carrying the proper equipment is absolutely critical.
You want to strike the balance of having all the essential items on hand for safety and comfort purposes, without being completely weighed down.
There’s no need to overcomplicate things though. Just ask yourself – are you dressed and packed for the weather, terrain, and the amount of time you’ll be out?
Below we’ve pulled together the key items you’ll want for a day hike. Nothing more, nothing less.
The clothes you start in will depend on the current weather conditions but any hiker knows that things can change quickly.
You can go from shivering against biting winds to a hot sweat within the hour.
As such, make sure you wear and pack a variety of different layers. Breathable and moisture-wicking tops are you best friend.
Your base layers should be polypropylene or wool, and your mid layer could be a long sleeved-top or polar fleece.
Even if the forecast is ok, pack a lightweight shell if you’ve got room to protect you from rain and wind.
Throw in a pair of gloves for good measure during spring and autumn, and a spare pair of socks are useful in case your feet get damp to avoid blisters.
If you’re certain that there will be phone signal then you can rely on its built-in mapping, but we would recommend always bringing a paper map and compass to fall back on.
A topo map and trusty compass are lightweight and don’t rely on batteries to get you from A to B.
Just make sure you know how to use them or you may as well leave them at home.
Keeping your maps in a clear, waterproof bag will ensure they hold up in a downpour. to keep them dry and protected.
If you’d prefer a digital navigational aid then there are plenty of good handheld GPS options out there.
Some of them double as a backcountry communication device for an extra layer of safety.
But if you plan to use your GPS regularly, consider carrying a USB power bank in case it runs out of juice.
Fully charged mobile phone or satellite phone/messenger
Always let a friend or family member know your plans and estimated return time, but take some form of communication device with you so that you can update them if and when things change.
Not only does this stop them worrying about you, it offers you a lifeline if there was to be an emergency.
For anything more than a countryside jaunt, ample nutrition will be needed to sustain you throughout your hike.
Pack snacks like energy bars, dried fruits, nuts and jerky that are high in calories and can be eaten on the go.
Alongside these, put together a substantial carb-heavy lunch like filled wraps, bagels or hearty sandwiches.
Your body needs water to keep all its critical systems running properly – from muscle and joint movement and repair, to brain, heart and kidney function.
In any weather, staying hydrated helps the body to avoid dehydration or even altitude sickness, as well as improving your mood and performance.
For water, count on drinking at least two litres per person throughout the day.
This rough guide should be increased depending on weather conditions, sweat rate, length and intensity of the hike, your age and body type, and any medical conditions.
Although water is super important, it is one of the heaviest things you’ll carry on the trail.
That way if you get through water faster than expected you can collect some more from a nearby stream or other source.
On that note, research where water sources will be located along your route and mark them on your map.
First aid and emergency supplies
Most hikers will have a a portable and lightweight first aid kit.
It is worth bringing along even on day hikes, as although a full-blown emergency is pretty unlikely, things like blisters, cramps and minor cuts or grazes are regular features on any adventure.
If you don’t have one, get a pre-packaged first aid kit from a local pharmacy, hiking/camping shop or online.
As you get a bit more experience, you’ll know what you can remove and what other emergency supplies to add in.
Alongside standard issue items, some key things to have in there would be:
- Personal medication including antihistamines, asthma inhaler and any diabetic treatment
- Plenty of extra waterproof plasters
- Hand sanitiser
- Insect repellent
- Fire starter and water-resistant matches or lighter (because knowing how to build a fire in nasty weather can be a lifesaving skill.)
Just remember to replace anything you use as soon as you return home from your hike.
Even when the weather looks grim, sun protection is a must.
When those clouds eventually roll away, you’ll thank yourself for packing sunscreen, sunglasses, a sun hat or visor and an SPF-rated lip balm.
Make sure that the sunscreen is a minimum of SPF30+ and waterproof.
In winter, if the sun comes out early on in your walk there is still a huge potential for getting burned and dehydrated over the course of a long day hike.
Hiking in the snow can actually increase your chances of getting burned as the sun’s rays reflect off the snow and hit your from all angles. Polarised glasses are your best defence against snow blindness.
Head torch or reliable phone light
Pack a reliable torch or lamp of some sort, even if you’re not planning on being out past dark.
Despite our best efforts, sometimes a hike takes longer than we expected and getting lost in the dark quickly turns a situation from bad to worse.
Although phone flashlights will do the job in a pinch, a head torch keeps your hands free for map-reading, using hiking poles, etc.
Test your torch before heading out on any excursion and make sure the batteries are charged up too!
This one is pretty self-explanatory but you’ll actually find an endless number of uses for it.
A big black rubbish sack can not only be used for collecting your litter, but you can sit on it during breaks where the ground is wet or rough, and if you get caught in a downpour you can put any non-waterproof items inside it just like a bag liner or dry bag.
If there is any chance you may get stuck out on the trail should the weather close in, you need to take a lightweight emergency shelter and/or thermal blanket.
Emergency blankets (essentially silver foil sheets) and bivys are super light, affordable options that could save your life if it came down to it.
Buy one from your local camping store or order online and just leave it at the bottom of your day-hiking backpack. Better to be safe than sorry!
These items aren’t critical but are certainly a nice-to-have if you’ve got spare room and weight in your pack.
- Walking pole(s) – particularly if you’re a beginner or taking on steeper, more challenging terrain.
- Whistle – for attracting attention should you find yourself in trouble.
- Sanitation trowel and paper – when you know there won’t be any toilets en route.
- Baby wipes
- Knife or multi-tool
- Small gear-repair kit (duct tape, zip ties, needle and thread) – tape in particular is great for fixing tears and punctures or even preventing blisters when you feel a hot spot on your foot. A handy tip is to place strips of duct tape on your water bottle to rip off in case you need to repair something small on the fly.
- Walkie talkies
- A small amount of cash – because you never know when a little National Trust café or cosy pub might appear out of the blue.