The Ultimate Day Hiking Checklist – What To Take For A Day Hike

Last Updated on 02/05/2021

The Ultimate Day Hiking Checklist

This Ultimate Day Hiking Checklist is a thorough guide for what to take on a hike in the woods, up a mountain, or along the coast. It includes essential items, outdoor clothing, and lots of additional items to make sure all the bases are covered on your next adventure.

The Ultimate Day Hiking Checklist

Making A List Of What To Take On A Day Hike

When you work hard all week and are looking forward to going hiking at the weekend, the last thing you want to do is leave an important piece of kit or clothing at home. It is a good idea to get into the habit of always making an equipment checklist before you go hiking, and always prepare your backpack in advance in case something needs repair. Whether you are new to hiking or an experienced hiker with forgetful tendencies, this tried and tested Checklist should help you pack all the right gear.

What to Expect?

No two hikes are ever the same and you are likely to experience a multitude of different weather, terrains, and accessibility depending on where you are in the world. It is important to always be prepared for any reasonable situation out in the wild, just in case something unexpected happens. If you are going somewhere new or are not really sure what to expect from the trails ahead, it is even more important to pack sensibly.

Taking what you Need

I understand that the more stuff you take, the more you have to carry – and hikes always feel less like hard work when you don’t have a heavy backpack. That being said, it would be foolish not to take anything at all so plan ahead and only take the things you need and think about the things that will save your life in an emergency. I put together this ultimate day hiking checklist to help make packing for your day hike a little easier and eliminate the risk of being underprepared.

12 Essential Items to Take Day Hiking

These are going to your most commonly used pieces of equipment on a day hike but also the most likely to be used in an emergency situation. On what most might consider to be a successful hike, you might only ever have to use your water and food, leaving everything else relatively unused. If you get yourself into trouble then the 12 essential items on this ultimate day hiking checklist will give you a fantastic chance of making it out no problem.

  1. Appropriate Footwear and Clothing – A good pair of hiking boots or shoes is one of the most important things to think about. Waterproofs and insulation are obvious, but rain ponchos can also serve as a make-shift shelter needs be. See the clothing section below and dress accordingly.
  2. Backpack – A small daypack around 18 – 35 liters is more than enough to carry your supplies, the Lowe Alpine Strike 18  is my favorite at the moment.
  3. Water – A 2-liter bottle should be fine in moderate climates but a hydration pack is also a good shout.
  4. Food – A massive sandwich for lunch, an apple, a couple of cereal bars and some nuts is a good combo that works for me.
  5. Phone – Most smartphones have amazing cameras on them as well as endless apps and GPRS capabilities which can give you access to some amazing things.
  6. Navigation – A map with a maximum of 1:50,000 km should always be taken but at the very least you should always take a compass and get into the habit of using it, the Silva compass is a good reliable brand.
  7. Sun Cream – Factor 30+ for moderate climates and factor 50+ the closer to the equator you are.
  8. Headlamp or Flashlight – With battery life or spare batteries. I recommend the Petzl TIKKA + 160 lumens for a head torch or if you prefer a flashlight, the Foursevens Maelstrom Regen MMR-X3R emits a massive 2,000 lumens!
  9. First-aid Kit – A basic first aid kit, as well as some basic knowledge, will go a long way, see this article by Wilderness Adventure Travel about outdoor first aid kits.
  10. Lighter, Waterproof Matches or Fire Starter – Having the means to light a fire is a biggie and this flint striker with whistle by Light My Fire Swedish Fire Steel is an all time favorite for outdoors people.
  11. Knife or Multi-tool – Your basic Mora bushcraft knife is a great all rounder, and cheap too. The Leatherman Skeletool is a great multi-tool that can handle most outdoor tasks – Read my review of the Skeletool Here.
  12. Water Filter – As many people who read this blog know, I think the Sawyer Mini Water Filter is one of the best pieces of kit you can take anywhere – Read my full review of the Sawyer Mini here to find out why.

The Ultimate Day Hiking Checklist-man-red-clouds

10 Essential Items of Clothing

There are four main scenarios that be planned for when you are deciding what to wear for a day hike. Staying warm in cold conditions, Staying cool in hot conditions, Staying dry in wet conditions, and protecting yourself from biting insects, stinging plants and sharp objects. Depending on where in the world you are, you should probably have a good idea of what kind of weather conditions to expect, and if you don’t then check the local weather reports and dress accordingly. The Best way to keep a good temperature and avoid sweating and shivering is to layer up, this ultimate day hiking checklist is based around layering up.

  1. Hiking Boots – Invest in a decent pair that will last for years to come, if you haven’t already. We have plenty of reviews to look through if you need assistance.
  2. Hiking Socks – I always wear 2 pairs of socks, a thin pair of blister prevention socks and a thicker pair with a high percentage of wool, merino socks if possible as they hold anti-rubbing properties.
  3. Hiking Trousers / Shorts – The zip off style pant is a great option that has lot’s of advantages but I also rate the Montane Terra Pants very highly, which have great ventilation and freedom of movement. A cheap pair of swimming shorts with the lining cut out are lightweight and fast drying which make them the perfect pair of hiking shorts.
  4. Moisture Wicking Underwear Merino wool underwear is the only underwear I ever wear for hiking – it is lightweight, anti-chafing, does not hold odor, wicks moisture, no itch, and crazy comfortable in hot and cold weather. Simply the best option available.
  5. Base Layer Top – Again, merino wool base layers are the best but if not then some form of slim-fitting top will do fine in combination with more layers.
  6. T-shirt – Pick your brand, or pick your blend – unless you want to go for
  7. Fleece – Lightweight and great insulation, not much protection from the wind though fast drying. Polartec is a particularly nice fabric that gives you great insulation, breathability, and lightweight comfort.
  8. Jacket / Body Warmer – A microlight jacket like the Montane Prism keep great heat retention even when wet but I personally prefer a down jacket that will compress down into a small ball. Another alternative is a duck feather down body warmer or gilet which is easy to wear over a fleece without restricting arm movement and keeps your body core warm.
  9. Waterproof Jacket or Rain Poncho – Gore-Tex and eVent fabric are both incredibly waterproof and breathable, Montane make some of the best waterproofs out there but I often go for a gore-tex poncho instead. The benefits of a rain poncho are that you can use it as an emergency shelter as well as keep your backpack dry.
  10. Hat – Whether it is a warm wooly hat or a wide brimmed hat to protect from the sun, they protect your noggin from the elements and don’t weigh much when not in use.
  11. Gloves – Warm and waterproof is usually your best bet but having a pair of standard lightweight kevlar gardening gloves in your everyday backpack will come in handy more often that you might think.
  12. Sandals or Water Shoes – For hikes with river crossings or along the coast, check out the KEEN Sandals.

The Ultimate Day Hiking Checklist - what to pack

15 Additional Items you might want to take Hiking

Like I said before, every hike is different when you are going somewhere new or unexplored. Some of the additional items on this ultimate day hiking checklist will be more relevant to you than others but use your own prerogative and try and make wise decisions when deciding what to take for a day hike.

  1. Cash – There are no ATM’s in the woods, or shops for that matter, but cash can get you out of many sticky situations when you need the help of a stranger. Plus, if you are somewhere like England then you are always within walking distance of a pub.
  2. Toilet Paper or Tissues – This can be seen as an essential if you are a girl but not a bad thing to keep in your inside pocket.
  3. Sunglasses – Keeping the glaring sun out of your eyes is often overlooked but UV exposure can permanently damage your eyesight.
  4. Sun Cream – Factor 30+ but don’t be afraid to go higher if you have fair skin.
  5. Power Bank – A small but fully charged power bank is enough to charge a modern smartphone 2 – 3+ times over quite easily and there some amazing power banks out there. Check out the Top 5 Best Rugged Outdoor Power Banks we reviewed here.
  6. GPS Navigational Device – Read my review on the Garmin GPSMAP 64 here.
  7. Insulation Base Layer – For colder climates, a warm underlayer can be enough to keep you warm but try and get something breathable like this set of thermal underwear from icebreaker.
  8. Duct Tape – You can use it to repair almost anything and can now get micro rolls specifically for lightweight hiking and outdoor pursuits.
  9. Reflective Emergency Blanket – Should be included in most first aid kits anyway but if not it can save your life in more than one way and is a great signaling tool. You can pick one up for $1 or $2 and a brand new pre-packed and folded emergency blanket is about the same size as a deck of cards.
  10. Insect Repellent – In some places around the world biting insects can be a massive annoyance if not a threat to your health, insect repellent with DEET often does a good job of keeping away the mosquitos but there is a lot to be said about local home remedies.
  11. Whistle – Often built into other multi-tools like this fire striker or if you like Lowe Alpine backpacks then you often get them built into the chest straps.
  12. Binoculars on Monocular – Great for a bit of wildlife watching but also a handy navigational tool.
  13. Trekking Poles – Not something I personally use but as I get older I can certainly see the benefits when coming downhill, often making myself a make-shift pole from a tree branch or sapling.
  14. Camera – Hiking is a pleasure in itself but capturing rare views through a camera lens can give you purpose and motivation to go places you might never see otherwise. Check out the Nikon and Cannon DSLR cameras for high-quality pictures and great value.
  15. Waterproof Bag Cover or Dry Bag – Keep the contents of your rucksack dry in case it chucks it down with rain, the sea to summit dry bags are super lightweight and do their job just fine.

Thanks for reading our Ultimate Day Hiking Checklist on what to take day hiking and be sure to share it with friends and family who are going for a hike.

Gear Assistant
Gear Assistant

This article has been written and/or edited by Andrew N. 20+ years of hiking, mountaineering, and camping experience, with access to all the latest outdoor gear.

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