Heading out for a day hike is a delightful way to explore nature with friends and family, or even by yourself. Whether you want to go deep into the mountains or stay closer to home, the places to go are numerous; many state and national parks offer broad networks for trails, as does national forest land. To find a hike in your area, head on over to Hiking Project.
To determine what you need to bring on a day hike, think about how far you plan to hike, how remote the location is and what the weather forecast has in store. In general, the longer and/or more remote the hike is and the more inclement the weather, the more clothing, gear, food and water you’re going to want. If you’re just getting into day hiking, be sure to read our Hiking for Beginners article before you head out.
What to Bring Day Hiking
These items should be on your hiking checklist:
- Hiking backpack
- Weather-appropriate clothing (think moisture-wicking and layers)
- Hiking boots or shoes
- Plenty of food
- Plenty of water
- Navigation tools such as a map and compass
- First-aid kit
- Knife or multi-tool
- The rest of the Ten Essentials as appropriate for your hike
How to Use This Day Hiking Checklist
While you’re packing, use this handy day hiking checklist to make sure you don’t forget anything important. Here are some notes on how to best use this list:
- The Ten Essentials: Items that are part of the Ten Essentials are marked by an asterisk (*). The exact items you take can be tailored to your trip based on considerations such as weather, difficulty, duration and distance from help. To learn more, see our article on the Ten Essentials.
- This checklist is deliberately comprehensive and intended for day hikes in the backcountry where being self-sufficient is important to your well-being. It includes many more items than you’re likely to need for short treks in or near developed areas, like city parks, though you can adapt it to your needs for these trips.
- Printer-friendly PDF: Print out the PDF version for easy use at home.
A backpack is the primary piece of gear for day hiking. One that holds 11–20 liters of gear is about right for short, simple hikes, while something bigger is good for treks where more food, water, clothing and gear is required. Learn more about choosing a daypack.
- Trekking poles
Clothing & Footwear
Check the forecast and make sure to dress for the conditions. To be prepared for changing weather or an unplanned night out, pack extra clothes beyond those required for the trip. It’s also important to consider how much protection your clothing provides against the sun’s ultraviolet rays. For footwear, determine what to wear based on the terrain. On gentle hikes on smooth trails, hiking shoes or trail runners are sufficient. For treks on rocky, rugged trails, boots will provide more support. Learn more about choosing hiking clothing and footwear.
- Moisture-wicking underwear
- Moisture-wicking T-shirt
- Quick-drying pants/shorts
- Long-sleeve shirt (for sun, bugs)
- Lightweight fleece or jacket
- Boots or shoes suited to terrain
- Socks (synthetic or wool)
- Extra clothes * (beyond the minimum expectation)
Additional items for rainy and/or cold weather:
- Rainwear (jacket and pants)
- Long underwear
- Warm, insulated jacket or vest
- Fleece pants
- Gloves or mittens
- Warm hat
- Bandana or Buff
- Gaiters (for rainy, snowy or muddy conditions)
Food & Water
Pack snacks like energy bars, jerky and nuts that you can eat easily on the trail. Some people like to bring a sandwich for lunch, too. For water, you can usually start with about two liters per person for the day, but adjust the amount depending on length and intensity of the hike, weather conditions, your age, sweat rate and body type. Learn more about choosing energy food and how much to drink.
- Water bottles and/or reservoir *
- Water filter/purifier or chemical treatment *
- Trail snacks
- Extra day’s supply of food *
Navigation is one of the Ten Essentials. The type of trip you’re taking and your personal preferences will determine exactly which items you’ll bring.
- Map *
- Compass *
- Route description or guidebook
- Altimeter watch *
- GPS *
- Satellite messenger/personal locator beacon *
Emergency & First Aid
- First-aid kit or first-aid supplies *(see First-Aid Checklist)
- Lighter/matches and firestarter *
- Emergency shelter *
- Two itineraries: 1 left with friend + 1 under car seat
Health & Hygiene
- Hand sanitizer
- Menstrual products
- Prescription medications
- Sunscreen *
- Sunglasses * (+ retainer leash)
- Sun hat *
- SPF-rated lip balm *
- Insect repellent *
- Toilet paper
- Urinary products
- Sanitation trowel (if no toilets)
- Baby wipes
- Alcohol or antiseptic wipes
- Blister treatments
Tools & Repair Items
- Knife or multi-tool *
- Small gear-repair kit * (duct tape, zip ties, etc)
Day Hiking Extras
- Headlamp or flashlight * (with extra batteries)
- Interpretive field guide(s)
- Outdoor journal with pen/pencil
- Two-way radios
- Credit card and/or cash
* These items are part of the Ten Essential systems. The exact items you take for each system can be tailored to your trip based on considerations such as weather, difficulty, duration and distance from help. To learn more, see our article on the Ten Essentials.