What to Pack for a Day Hike : A Beginners Guide

It’s not about looking good on the trail, it’s about being comfortable

What to pack for a day hike isn’t something to take lightly. If you hadn’t planned and packed accordingly, in extreme cases, it can be the deciding factor between life and death. Making sure you are prepared is the first step before you set foot on  the trail.What to pack for a day hike.

pack for a day hike
Hiking around Iceland in search for reindeer


What to pack for a day hike really depends on the person, one person may like bringing 2 pairs of extra socks, while someone else prefers bringing none.  It’s really up to you. The idea is to bring what you need, while trying to maintain a light backpack. The equation I use is:

Ten Essentials + Bring What You Need to be Comfortable = An Enjoyable Journey

There are occasions where you do have a heavy pack or things go sideways and you didn’t bring certain items. For the most part this system has worked out.

What to pack for a day hike
Location: Smith Rock Oregon

Don’t think you’ll get it perfect, right off that bat. Curating your own day pack is not something that happens overnight, nor can be read in just one blog post. It is something that is learnt over time through trial and error. Believe me, there will be errors.

It took me two years of trial and error to get my day pack down to a science. I now have a mental list of what to bring, and when. Once the day hike is chosen, I can have my bags packed and be out the door with everything  I know I’ll need in 20 minutes.


The Ten Must Items to Pack for a Day Hike

These items are non-negotiable. Whether it be six hours or three days these items never leave my backpack. I recommend you do the same.                       

In no particular order of importance, as they are all equal

1. Map and Compass or GPS

Staying found is the phrase used among adventurists. A map and compass are the tools used to stay found. For many of my earlier adventures I  just used the sun as my compass. It worked, but it was foolish. What if the sun set or it clouded over??

Since my first adventures took place in the desert, I was lucky the sun was always out. Being so new to adventuring, I took it for granted I would always have the sun. I didn’t know about the 10 essentials, nor did I know how to use a map and compass.

As I started adventuring more, I realized the importance of a compass and map. Especially in winter.

REI has created a great video on how use a compass and map. You can find it here.

2. Fire Starter

Pack for a day hike, a beginners guide

Some sort of fire starting device is a must. This could be matches (make sure the are WATERPROOF), a lighter, candle, or flint and steel.  You never know when your adventure becomes an add-venture.

3. Emergency Shelter

Let me run a scenario for you, one that I was close to experiencing.

It’s 1am, you have no idea how you got where you are, but alas here you are, lost. The chill is real and it’s beginning to rain. You didn’t bring a rain jacket or waterproof matches.

You didn’t think this would happen, you were suppose to be by the car hours ago and now you were stuck in who knows where! Cold, wet, with no rain jacket, and no fire starter. But wait… you have your trusty emergency shelter!!! You are saved!

Trust me, you don’t ever want to be stuck in that scenario. Okay you probably will live, but it sucks.

Pack for a day hiike Beginners Guide
Top: Carried with my always , a standard emergency Blanket. Bottom: A Bivy Bag. Gernerally carried while hiking in winter conditions.

Your emergency shelter can be anything, from a bivy bag, a camping tarp, emergency blanket or even a large plastic bag (which can double as a pack liner).

As long as you have something that will provide some sort of barrier from the elements if anything were to happen.

4. First Aid Kit

For those in Canada and in USA, REI and MEC sell great pre-packed first aid kits (can’t say for anywhere else). There are various sizes depending on what you are looking for. Personally I own the .5 size. It has everything to deal with minor injuries.

Pack for a day hike, a beginners guide


Below are items I have added items to my first aid kit to make me feel more comfortable:

  • Chapstick
  • Instant Hand Warmers
  • Moleskin (Highly recommend)
  • Painkillers (Highly recommend)
  • Hand Sanitizer
  • Hair Elastics
  • Feminine Hygiene Products (Ladies, you never know. Gents, it makes for a great blood absorber)

5. Utility Knife

Pack for a Day Hike
My little Gerber I got as a crew gift from a movie I worked on. Simple, yet handy

A knife is one of the handiest things to have, even when you’re not hiking. Better to have it and not need it and, need it and not have it.  You’ll be surprised the multifunctions a utility knife has.

6. Headlamp/Flashlight

Not bringing some illumination device is a huge rookie mistake. I speak from experience, as well I see it quite frequently. People decide to go hiking at five in the evening, not thinking that the sun will set in a few hours and they end up getting stuck on the trail after nightfall. Not fun. Don’t forget extra batteries!

Pack for a Day HIke. Travel With Tats
My 120 Lumen Petzl Headlamp from MEC

When buy a headlamp buy something that is 80 Lumens or more. I find anything below doesn’t provide enough light.

7. Extra Food and Water

Pack extra. I serious. Packing the right amount of food and water is tricky, and really depends on the person. For example, I know I eat way more on the trail than my boyfriend.  I generally bring double what he brings. It all depends on the person.

How I Measure Water

I bring 2 Litres of water regardless of my trip. More if I’m in the desert or multi day hiking.

How I Measure Food

The amount I regularly eat in that time frame, and then times it by one and a half. Plus an extra cliff bar or bag of nuts.

You will be surprised how fast you can burn through you food and water supply. Don’t skimp out to try to save weight. You can always consume it to make your pack lighter if that’s the case.

8. Extra Clothes – Wheather Dependant

Summer Pack for a Day Hike

  • Thin, long sleeve shirt. In the summer the sun is what will drain you of energy, the best way its to cover your skin to protect you from the sun.  I use Columbias Silver Ridge Long Sleeve Shirt.
  • Extra pair of socks. I find Darn Tough socks are the best, and have a fantastic warranty.

Winter Pack for a Day HIke

  • Insulation jacket (fleece or down)
  • Extra socks, toque
  • Balaclava and Scarf
  • two pairs of gloves.

You won’t always be carrying them. These items are generally taken on and off.

 9. Sun Protection

  • Sunglass
  • Sunscreen
Pack day hike
Wearing sunglasses and sunscreen. Saving my skin and eyeballs, while looking cool. Location: Lake Louise, Canada

 10. Whistle

Not to just scare off bears, but if you get stuck, have no cell reception, or no other way to alert someone. A whistler can save your life.


pack for a day hike
It’s not about looking good on the trail, it’s about being comfortable. Location: Mt Cook, New Zealand

Apart from  the Ten Essentials, this is a list of all the extra things I pack for a day hike. They are not essential, but provide me comfort while on the trail.


Summer Pack for a Day Hike

  • Osprey 30 LITRE Day Pack
  • Plastic Bag
  • Bug Repellant
  • Camera/accessories – Sony a6000 and gorilla pod
  • Phone
  • External Battery Charger with charging cable – For phone and camera
  • Wet Wipes
  • Handkerchief
  • Pen with Duct Tape around it           
  • Notepad
  • 2 Meter Paracord Bracelet
  • Trekking Pole
  • UE ROLL – For hiking alone… because bears. Just pop on a podcast and listen to that while hiking. It  creates noise so animals can hear me coming
Winter Pack for a Day HIkeWinter

The same as the summer list and:

  • Snow Shoes – This is if I know will hit deep snow. I don’t ski, but some people prefer cross-country skiing over snowshoeing
  • Microspikes – If I know I’ll just be walking icy trails
  • Crampons – Only if I start climbing around the alpine level. Don’t go out and buy a pair of crampons. Rent them if you must.

**If you need to use crampons, but never worn them before, you probably shouldn’t be going out. I recommend going with someone who is an experience Alpinist, or take an alpine course.

  • Ice Axe – Again if I know I will be at the alpine level I will bring my ice axe along with my trekking poles
  • Thermos – If I have room I will bring my thermos full of warm soup
  • Helmet
  • Goggles
  • Gaiters
  • Rain Pants
  • Extra hand Warmers


Hiking is an activity that can put you way outside your comfort zone. Knowing what to pack for a day hike can bring a sense ease will create a more enjoyable experience and bring you some confidence during tough times.

Like I said earlier, to find these particular comforts is discovered over time, through a process of trail and error. (Tehe, see what I did there?)

Ten Essentials + What You Need to be Comfortable = An Enjoyable Journey .. for the most part

Pack for a day hike
You never know what may happen. You may fall in a hole (photo above), and your flatmate will take a selfie as you struggle to get out. Thank goodness for trekking poles. Location: Mt Cook National Park, New Zealand

What are your favourite things to pack on a day hike? Give me a shout!










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