10 Things You Should Always Bring on a Hike
What do you need for hiking? Whether hiking to a favorite waterfall or trying to reach a challenging summit, you need to bring the right gear. When things go wrong, which happens often, this can make the difference between a minor problem and an awful outcome. Setting up the essential day hiking gear is an integral part of getting ready for a trip in the backcountry, whether you’ve been there before or not. Here’s what you need for hiking.
In the article below, we discuss how we feel about and choose some essential day hiking gear. We also go on many multi-day backpacking trips.
Things You Should Always Bring on a Hike
You should bring a topographic map and a reliable compass with you on any trip into the backcountry. They work well, are easy to carry, last long, and never run out of batteries. They can keep you from getting lost or help you find your way back, but you have to know how to use them for that to happen. So before you go on your next trip, ensure you know how to use a map and compass and keep from getting lost. We also suggest keeping your maps dry and safe by putting them in a clear, waterproof map sack.
Even though they aren’t on the 10 Essentials List, GPS devices and phone apps (like GAIA and TopoMaps) are great additions to a map and compass. If you plan to use GPS often, consider bringing a power bank if your device runs out of power. Even though GPS tools can be beneficial and easy to use on the trail, they should always be used in addition to a map and compass. There are many models of hiking smartwatches that have satellite navigation.
PROTECTION FROM THE SUN
Sun protection is a significant part of any trip into the backcountry, even if it looks cloudy. You should bring sunscreen, lip balm with SPF, sunglasses (preferably polarized), a brimmed hat, and protective clothing on every hiking trip. If you don’t respect the sun’s power, you could have painful sunburns, cracked lips that bleed, and even snow blindness.
ON EXPOSED TRAILS, WE USUALLY WEAR A SUN SHIRT LIKE THE MEN’S OR WOMEN’S OUTDOOR RESEARCH ECHO HOODIE.
The weather can change quickly in the wilderness, so even on trips when it’s warm, you should always bring an extra layer of insulation. A simple clothing system worn in layers and dries quickly will keep you safe and warm when the weather gets cold. For example, we bring a down jacket with a hood and rain gear almost every time we go hiking, no matter the weather forecast.
You shouldn’t wear cotton clothes because they take a long time to dry and remove heat from your body. Instead, wear synthetic layers that dry quickly and control how much you sweat to keep your clothes from getting soaked. When you stop hiking, wet clothes will gently chill you. Check out our post on layering for walking for more information.
We always bring a good headlamp when hiking, even if we don’t plan to be out after dark. Some hikes take longer than expected, and getting lost at night can worsen a bad situation. If you get lost in the backcountry when the sun goes down, you’ll be glad you have a headlamp to help you find your way home. When we hike, we usually take our phones with us, and the flashlights built into them are a good backup light source. Also, check the batteries in your headlamp before you go on your hike.
You should always have a complete first-aid kit when you go into the backcountry. Most backpackers buy a pre-packaged first aid kit, which is easy to carry and suitable for treating minor injuries and illnesses. As you become more experienced on the trail, you can add to or take away from your first aid kit based on your own needs. And make sure to replace everything you use as soon as you return home. Check out these videos we drove to see what’s in our first aid kit and learn some essential skills for use in the wilderness.
In an emergency, it’s important to be able to call for help. You probably already have a cell phone with you, so you can call for help with that (if you have enough battery left.) But on many hikes, like those in valleys or dense forests, there is no cell service. You should also make sure you have a second way to talk to each other.
Read more: What to pack in a hiking backpack and How to pack in a hiking backpack
Making a fire in bad weather can save your life in the backcountry. Check out this video for a quick lesson on starting a fire in bad weather. We always bring two small Bic lighters (one is kept dry as a backup), a few stormproof matches, and a few small firestarter cubes to make starting a fire as easy as possible. We only use the fire starters when needed, but they make it much easier to start a fire, especially when it’s wet outside.
If you want to go more survivalist style, you can carry a small fire flint, but small lighters work just fine for us. Also, some hikers make homemade fire starters, which are cheap and easy. Still, we usually prefer the convenience and ease of store-bought stuff.
REPAIR KIT & TOOLS
We bring a lightweight multitool and essential repair equipment on every backcountry trip. A simple multitool knife like the Swiss Army Classic will come in handy in many situations, and we always use ours on the trail. Both duct tape and Tenacious Tape are great for fixing things in the field, so we always carry a small amount of each in our packs when hiking.
Tenacious Tape is excellent for fixing sleeping pad punctures, tent fabric tears, sleeping bag rips, puffy coat holes, etc. Duct tape is a tremendous all-around repair tool that can be used for things like splinting a broken tent pole or fixing broken sunglasses. It can also be used to stop blisters from forming on your feet when you feel a hot spot.
When getting ready for a hike, you should bring enough calories to keep you active for a long day. While hiking, we usually snack on energy bars like Larabar, Clif Bar, ProBar, Luna, and Kind bars and dried fruits, nuts, and jerky. We pack tortillas or bagels and make sandwiches with hard meats (like salami) and cheeses for a more filling lunch (like parmesan).
If you’re going on a long hike, consider bringing extra food with many calories just in case your trip takes longer. Check out our Backpacking Food Guide for more info and suggestions on what we like to eat on the trail.
You must drink enough water on the trail to keep your body’s essential systems running smoothly. Water will cool you down when you’re hot, warm you up when you’re cold, and keep your muscles and joints working well, so you don’t get hurt while hiking.
Ensure you bring enough water for the whole hike, or bring a small water filter and know where you can get water along the way. Each person should have one gallon (or 4 liters) of water for 24 hours. Ensure you can quickly get to your water while hiking by carrying water bottles or a hydration pack.
Also, remember that water is one of the heaviest things you’ll carry on the trail, even though it’s one of the most important things you’ll need. So it would be best if you didn’t carry a lot of extra water.
If you’re backpacking for more than one day, your pack will already have a shelter. But for day hikes, we suggest you bring a small, lightweight emergency shelter if you have to spend the night outside. Emergency blankets and bivy (we like the bivy) are light and cheap options that could save your life if you ever find yourself in a bad situation.
More Than Just the Basics
Daypack: For carrying the gear you’ll need in the backcountry, you need a comfortable daypack that fits well. Choose a pack that is big enough to hold all your essential gear, has easy-to-use storage pockets, and makes it easy to get to your water bottles or hydration bladder. Check out our best hiking backpacks for women and the best hiking backpacks for overweight and big guys.
Footwear: Almost every spring, summer, and fall hike we take, we wear trail running shoes. Trail runners are comfortable, light, dry quickly, keep our feet from getting blisters, and have excellent traction. “But don’t I need hiking boots to keep my feet dry, support my ankles, and last a long time?” Sometimes. Trail running shoes might be the best choice if you’re in good shape, have strong ankles, and don’t have a history of nagging injuries. Learn more about our article what to wear when hiking in summer.
Unless we are hiking in the snow in the winter, trail runners are the shoes we choose for hiking. And we should have made this choice more quickly. We’ve hiked thousands of miles in trail runners over some of the roughest terrains on Earth, and they’re the best shoes for us. Check out our Best Hiking Shoes list to learn more and see some of the shoes we’ve tested on the trail.
We usually hike in trail runners like Saucony Peregrines because they are light and dry quickly.
Toilet paper and a trowel: Dirty toilet paper is the most common backcountry trash on trails worldwide. A) Gross. B) Why? The answer is that too many people camping in the backcountry need more time to be ready to throw away their trash correctly. Before you go, dig a cathole at least 6 to 8 inches deep. You need to bring a trowel (we use this cheap and lightweight snow stake) to dig a hole that deep. That’s all there is to it. You can bury your toilet paper in the hole or take it in a Ziploc bag. Come on, people. You love nature. Because of this, you’re out there. So learn about Leave No Trace and help us keep our wild places beautiful for future generations.
Hand sanitizer: Dirty hands are the most significant contributor to illness in the backcountry. This happens because many hikers only care about their hygiene after hitting the trail. But this is easy to avoid: bring a small bottle of hand sanitizer and use it after going to the bathroom and before making food.
Trekking poles: Trekking poles aren’t necessary, but many hikers use them for different reasons. The main benefit of trekking poles is that they make it easier on your knees and give you more stability. This is especially helpful on long uphill or downhill parts of the trail and when crossing rivers. Also, trekking poles can be used as tent pole supports for many ultralight shelters, which will help cut weight on long-distance trips. Check out our post on the pros and cons of hiking with trekking poles, then go to our list of the best trekking poles to see what we think are the best ones.
Extra things you could need
You could consider taking some compact binoculars for hiking to appreciate wildlife and fauna or solar panels to never run out of battery to charge your electronic devices