Summer hiking season is almost here and with that, it’s time to get on our A-game when it comes to climbing mountains! I have a few day hike essentials that I never hit the trail without. Whether they’re in my pack or I’m wearing them, here’s a list of my go to’s, my tried and trues, my OGs!
Day Hike Essentials
Number one, the foundation for the entire hike! A well-fitting day pack is essential, perhaps the most essential- because this is what’s going to help you get to the summit. For all of my day hikes I toggle between the Ridge Runner by L.L Bean or the Jade 38L by Gregory. The Ridge Runner is great for hikes around 3 miles. It’s shaped to comfortably fit a WOMAN’S anatomy – this is key because backpacks are not one size fits all. It has chest and waist straps ensuring a snug fit, water reservoir pocket, plenty of zippered compartments, hiking pole loops and it’s made of durable fabric. The Jade on the other hand is a larger pack and works well for hikes over 3 miles. Admittedly, I use this pack the most. It is shaped to fit a woman’s body, has chest and (very) comfortable, padded waist straps, external pockets for storage, a water reservoir pouch, rain cover, and top brain compartment for storing essentials.
Water Reservoir + Electrolytes
Hydration is also a must! And will contribute greatly to the success of your hike! I use this water reservoir by Osprey. I really like the way the straw securely attaches to the reservoir and the way the bladder closes (from the top). I’ve never had this leak in my back – on day hikes and 3-night backpacking trips!
In addition to my reservoir, I always have a water bottle with me that carries electrolytes! I have a couple of go to’s when it comes to water bottles! I love this Stanley tumbler. It has a straw (easy for a quick sip), has a handle, comes in so many fun colorways and keeps my drinks icy cold all day long. My second favorite is the Classic Easy Clean Water Bottle. It’s just a classic! Its hinged cap ensures I’ll never lose it (I’ve watched plenty of my water bottle caps roll off summits) and it’s leak proof!
There are many opinions swirling in the hiking community when it comes to hiking poles. However, for me, they are essential. Unless the hike is under three miles. For me, they help with balance and take some pressure off of my knees on the way down. I use the Hikelite’s by L.L. Bean. These hiking poles are lightweight, adjustable and are antishock which helps absorb some of the impact and bumps!
Sun + Bug Protection
Here in Colorado, we don’t have to worry much about bugs but more so the sun. Regardless, growing up and hiking in Maine taught me to ALWAYS have bug protection – no matter what. I like to keep the products I use as close to natural as possible, without sacrificing efficacy. I use Badger’s anti-bug spray – and yes it actually works. For sun protection, I use Badger’s SPF Lip Balm, 30 SPF (yep also Badger), and Biossance Squalane + Zinc Mineral Sunscreen for my face.
Peak Design Camera Clip
If you’re a photographer, or you just like to take pictures, the Peak Design Clip will change your life! I can’t recommend this enough. The clip attaches right to the strap of your backpack making it super easy to access your camera! Before this clip, I would always pack my camera in my backpack, which ultimately made the weight I carried on my back 10 pounds heavier. With it attached to my backpack strap, the weight is evenly distributed and the whole process feels more streamlined!
First Aid Kit
This is not your mother’s first aid kit. For me, this is what works. It might vary depending on the hike, type of terrain, distance, and simply what makes you feel most at ease. In my first aid kit I carry hand sanitizer, bandaids, duct tape (for bandaids because they never stay on and it acts as a cushion for blisters), antiseptic cream, and Tylenol/Advil. I keep it pretty simple and this is within my comfort zone. That said, know your limits and know what you need to feel safe and secure on trail.
Warm outer shell
Here in Colorado, the weather changes in an instant. Not to mention, if you’re hiking a 14er you’ll be hitting the trail around 3am to summit and be below tree line for the 12pm Thunderstorms! SO, warmth is essential. I love the Patagonia Down Jacket or this down jacket by L.L. Bean. Both are lightweight and pack easily.
Nutrient dense food
I learned the hard way that most meal replacement bars or ‘protein’ bars are loaded with sugar. This is good for a quick blood sugar fix but not for sustaining long term energy. Some of my favorite trail snacks are peanut butter and honey on whole wheat bread, EPIC bars, nuts and seeds, turkey pepperoni, dried mango, and a banana.
Navigation + SOS Device
It’s important to know where you’re going, and how to return to the trailhead safely! I typically use AllTrails to navigate the trail. With the Pro subscription you can save maps offline to easily navigate when you don’t have service. I also love the app Gaia for wayfinding. On that same note, packing a battery charger for your phone is a must because these apps totally drain your battery. I always recommend a paper map if the trail is poorly marked, but in my experience day hiking most trails are well marked!
The Garmin inReach Mini is my go to satellite communication device. Its palm sized, but don’t let that fool you, when you don’t have cell service this communicator is your lifeline. You’ll need a subscription to their satellite service (plans start at $30/month) in order to use the device but you can cancel whenever you’re not using it. You can send preloaded messages to preloaded contacts as well as send out a distress signal. The preloaded messages are a game changer when you need to communicate with family!
Toilet paper, wag bag + trash bag
I think this is all pretty self-explanatory. But this is how to dispose of waste properly in the backcountry. It will differ based on your location so be sure to look for signs at the trailhead or research ahead of time! And if you’re not familiar with wag bags, they are like the bags you use to pick up your dogs poop… except they’re for you! There’s also a powder that helps turn liquids and soft solids into hard solids. It also helps to control odor and contains natural enzymes that break down the waste.
Optional Day Hike Essentials
This may or may not be necessary where you’ll be hiking, so be sure to read up beforehand and know exactly what to do if you encounter a bear and how to use bear spray! Here is a great resource from the National Park Service that will help you familiarize yourself with potential bear encounters.
Like I said previously, the weather can change in an instant! I always pack a lightweight rain jacket like this Trail Model Rain Jacket from L.L. Bean. It’s super lightweight so it won’t add much weight to your pack and its slightly fitted so it doesn’t make you look boxy!
If I’m hiking for sunrise or sunset, a headlamp is always with me because I know I typically get carried away with timing and get to summit for sunrise way too early and stay on the summit for sunset until its dark out! I love this one by Petzl because the battery is rechargeable, the head strap is adjustable, and you can easily change the beam range.
Items I always leave in the car
Chronically overprepared for hiking, I also keep day hike essentials in my car at the trailhead for when I return.
Extra Food + Water
As you begin to hike more, you’ll get to know exactly what your body needs! For me: I always pack just enough food and water on the hike (with a lil extra just in case) but without fail, I return to the car and am both hungry and thirsty. Thus extra food and water! I always keep the Stanley Iceflow Flip Straw 64oz jug filled with water in my car. Regardless of hikes, road trips, daily errands – whatever it might be. I was without extra water one day on a drive to Denver, I can assure you that will never happen again! And after a long day on trail, I love to come back to my car to real food so I’ll pack a sandwich, some fresh cut veggies and hummus, and a block of cheese in my Stanley Easy Carry Cooler.
I really dislike the feeling of dirt on my face, surprising for someone who * loves * being outside so much. But I just can’t get with it, I even bring these face wipes when I backpack! Skincare is my one ritual I will not sacrifice!
Change of clothes and shoes
And the final piece of the puzzle: a fresh change of clothes! I pack a change for every clothing item: socks, underwear, bra, shirt and pants/shorts. I also always leave my Birkenstocks or these L.L. Bean sandals for the drive home. When my feet want out of my hiking boots, they want out!
Final thoughts on day hike essentials
There you have it. All of my go to’s for a successful day hike! Everything listed in this blog post is something I’ve used and fully support. That said, what works for me might be a little different for you. Over time, and with more miles under your feet, you’ll learn what works best for you! What’s one thing you can’t live without on trail? As always, please remember to follow Leave No Trace Principles. More hiking inspiration? Head to the hiking + camping section of the blog!