10 Hiking Essentials You’ll Need to hit the road safely

The “Ten Essentials” are items of gear that every hiker and backpacker should carry with them on their travels. 

   Whether you’re going on a multi-day trip deep into the backcountry or a day hike out of town, the goal of these 10 essentials is to make sure you have what you need should the unexpected happen.

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   While these ten essentials are designed as a generic pre-trip list, you should choose your gear based on the nature of your particular trip. Weather, relative remoteness and the particular difficulty of the terrain should all be taken into account. Not all trips require the same degree of preparation. 

   In this article, we’ll go through each of the 10 must-have pieces of hiking gear, discuss why each is important, and give specific gear suggestions to help you tick the box.

   We customized this article to focus on how to apply these 10 tips when hiking during the day. If you’re interested in going deep into backpacking, you should check out our backpacking checklist guide for the extra gear you’ll need for an overnight hike.

 These ten elements are designed as a “holistic” system. So while this list is numbered, no one item is more important than the other. 

   Navigation and Communication :GPS App, Satellite Messenger, paper map and compass Sun Protection: Wide-brimmed hat, leg warmers, sunscreen, UPF Clothing Clothing: The right Shoes, Rain gear and insulated clothing Water: More water or a water filter than you expected to need Food: More calories than you expected to need Headlamp: fully charged and/or a spare set of batteries First Aid + Repair Kit: Everything you need to repair you and your gear Knife (or multi-tool): Fire: A hardy igniter and dry tinder, Or a lightweight stove emergency shelter: can be as light as a space blanket. Reward: Bags to pick up trash: Picking up trash you find on the road is a great way to proactively make the world a better place. 

 In theory, you should bring ten essentials for every hike. However, the list can be modified based on various factors.

   Obviously, the harder and more remote the hike, the more you’ll want to stick to the checklist. On the other hand, the easier it is to hike and the closer to civilization you are, the more free you are to choose some of these sections (though most are still perfectly applicable).

   For example, if you will be hiking on a heavily trafficked trail, you may not need to bring an emergency shelter on a warm summer day.

 It’s great to figure out where you are and where you’re going, but it’s vital to be able to pass that information on to search and rescue in an emergency. Navigation and communication 

   Every ten essentials listed on the Internet will tell you how to navigate using a paper map and compass. But if, like the vast majority of recreational hikers, you’ve never practiced orienteering, you might as well bring a planchette. 

   Paper maps are only useful if you know how to use them. If you’re interested in learning how to navigate with a map and compass, there are many great resources on the subject. This is a great introductory course, and REI also hosts face-to-face navigation classes if you prefer hands-on learning.

   One of the easiest ways to bring a paper map with you on any hike is to sign up for a Gaia GPS Premium account, which allows you to print a map of any area you want to hike and also lets you download your map in the app for offline use to help with GPS navigation (see below). By printing directly from Gaia, you don’t have to waste time looking online for printable versions (if one is available) or buy a map for each area you want to hike.

   This is the way many backwaters navigate in the 21st century. There are all sorts of devices that can use GPS signals, the most obvious being a smartphone sitting in your pocket. There are many different apps that use the phone’s built-in GPS feature to show your current location on a map, even if you don’t have service. 

   However, GPS signals can be unreliable in certain situations, such as hiking in canyons and valleys surrounded by high mountains. Know what kind of terrain you will be hiking over before making a GPS-guided judgment.

   Our favorite GPS apps for backpacking and hiking: 

   Gaia GPS: This is our favorite navigation and tracking app when we travel to remote areas. It’s a very powerful navigation system with a great app and web interface. With the Premium Edition, you can download your map for offline use (very important on many hikes!).

   AllTrails: We use apps and websites to help navigate and track day hikes. User-uploaded content is a great way to discover new routes.

   Google Maps: Did you know you can download Google Maps for offline use? You can. While Google Maps isn’t great for detailed path navigation, it’s a good backup. 

   When hiking, it’s always assumed that you don’t have a cell phone signal, so you’ll need to download the area you’re hiking in before you leave. Put your phone on airplane mode, double check that your map has been properly downloaded at home, and check that you can still access your map.

   If you rely on your phone as your primary source of navigation, you need to treat it as such. Take every precaution to make sure it doesn’t happen: 

   To be thrown off a cliff (or otherwise damaged)

 Power: Turn on Airplane mode and Low Power mode to save power. Carry auxiliary battery pack and charging cable. We used the Anker 10000mAh battery, which can fully charge the iPhone X three times. 

   Most modern smartphones are waterproof, but if there’s a chance of rain or you have to cross a stream, consider putting it in a zippered bag. 

   Better yet, get a waterproof and shockproof phone case, such as an otter box. This doesn’t have to be your daily carry, just something you put your phone in when you’re out hiking. 

   It’s one thing to pinpoint where you are using your phone’s GPS, but it’s another to be able to communicate that information to the outside world. In an emergency, satellite messengers can alert search and rescue and direct them to your location. 

   There has been a lot of innovation in two-way satellite messengers in recent years. We use Garmin inReach Mini, which lets us exchange text messages with any phone or email address while out of range of our phone’s signal. It also has an SOS button that connects us to round-the-clock search and research monitoring stations. 

   inReach does require a subscription, but since we do a lot of backcountry hiking, it’s worth it to us. You can also start and pause subscriptions if you’re just planning to use it for a big trip.

   Michael was wearing sun protection clothing on a night hike.

 Be prepared with hats, sunglasses, sunscreen and sun protection clothing. 

   Not only can the sun cause sunburn, snow blindness and chapped lips on the road, but it can also lead to long-term problems such as premature aging, skin cancer and vision damage. So get into the habit of being careful about sunscreen. 

   When choosing sunglasses, you want to find a pair that blocks 100% UVA/UVB or 100% UV 400. (UVA/UVB and uv400 are two different words for the same thing.) In addition to UV protection, polarized lenses are an absolute must if you’re hiking near water or snow, as they reduce glare.

   Unprotected skin can burn within 30 minutes, which is why it’s important to apply sunscreen before hiking (and reapply it during the hike). You need a broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15 and preferably 30. Most people have exposed faces, arms, and the back of the neck, but remember your ears, the back of your hands, chest, sides of your neck, and, if exposed, your feet.

   Wearing sun protection clothing is a great alternative to (or supplement to) sunscreen that can really reduce the effects of the sun’s ultraviolet rays.

   Consider wearing a wide-brimmed hat or baseball cap to keep out the sun. Lightweight, breathable neck guards are a great way to protect your neck from sunburn without the need to reapply sunscreen frequently. 

   A light, breathable, long-sleeved shirt is a great way to cover your arms while still keeping you cool. Some even come with hoods for more protection. 

   Most regular clothing has an UPF of 5, but many outdoor sports companies produce clothing with an UPF of 50.

   Here are our recommended UPF climbing clothes:

   Patagonia Cool Daily ShirtREI Sahara Shade HoodyMountain Hardware Crater Lake ShirtColumbia Silver Ridge Lite ShirtprAna Halle Trousers (Women’s)REI Savanna Trails Trousers (Women’s)prAna Stretch Zion Trousers (Men’s)

 Having extra clothes in your backpack, including a raincoat, means you can be prepared for the unexpected in the weather.

 This is a somewhat general category, but having the right clothes for a hike can make all the difference. The goal here is to anticipate and prepare for less-than-ideal conditions. 

   If you’re new to hiking and need to pick up some hiking specific clothing, we encourage you to check out REI’s used gear store! 

   They have a large number of gently used devices (individually inspected and supported 30 day return policy). We like that this keeps gears up, still has something to live in in its landfill, and keeps a little extra cash in your pocket as well.

   One of the most common “beginner mistakes” we see is not having the right shoes. At first, a trail may seem flat and gentle, but after a few miles, it can become quite technical. Trying to climb down a rocky slope in flip-flops or flat Vans is how you get hurt.

   So pick out a good pair of hiking shoes and get in the habit of using them. You want shoes with stiff soles, strong grip and comfortable walking on bumpy ground.

   Step in a puddle? Hot sweaty feet? Being able to change a pair of socks can make a big difference. Hiking in wet or dirty socks can quickly lead to blisters, so be proactive and replace your socks with a fresh pair! 

   If you ever get the chance to need to hike on snow (in the early days, at high altitudes), then “proper footwear” will definitely include microspikes. We used Hillsound microspikes on all our winter hikes and couldn’t rave about them. Unless you’ve tried a pair, you don’t know the point of traction. 

   You should always have a lightweight waterproof coat or rain poncho on hand in case it rains. Ideally, you want something you can pack so it doesn’t take up too much space in your backpack.

   If the temperature drops unexpectedly or you find yourself spending more time outside than expected, you’ll want to layer on to keep warm. For many hikers, it’s a puffy jacket. A puffy jacket is made of down or synthetic insulation and can be compressed to a small size.

   The insulated jacket will be one of the more expensive items on this list, so it’s a very nice piece of equipment.

   It’s always a good idea to bring a beanie and a pair of gloves. They don’t take up much space and will go a long way to helping you stay warm if you find yourself having to spend more time outside than expected.

 Of all the potential ways you can hike south, not having enough water is one of the most common. Dehydration can happen to you quickly and will continue to worsen until you can drink more water. 

   A good rule of thumb to keep in mind: The average hiker needs about half a liter of water per hour during moderate activity. If it’s hot outside, or if the hike is extremely strenuous, you may need a liter of water per hour (or more!). .

   For most day hikers, planning ahead means packing all the water you need in a reusable water bottle or a refillable water reservoir. But it also means that if you know there’s a natural water source along the way, you can take a water filter with you. This increases your potential water intake from anything you can carry to almost unlimited.

 It’s always a good idea to bring more food than you think you’ll need. For a day hike, this might mean storing some extra energy bars in the bottom of your backpack. Maybe a taste you don’t particularly like, so you won’t be tempted to eat them unless you really have to!

   Here are a few ways we carry “extra food” while hiking: 

   Honey thorn chews, cliff shot blocks, or even just gummy bears are quick hits of glucose that your body can quickly use for energy. If you ever feel like you’re “hitting a wall” or “losing energy,” munching on these items can really be restorative.

   GreenBelly’s Meal2Go sticks are a completely 600-calorie no-cook stick. Even in “non-emergency” situations, these items are great to put in your daily bag. For example, maybe your hike took longer than expected and dinnertime is coming up soon. 

   For more, check out these posts, which highlight our favorite hiking snacks and the best backpack foods.

 Even if you don’t plan on being outside after dark, bring a headlamp. If you are delayed, injured, or lost, being unable to navigate in the dark can make an already bad situation worse. Also, having a headlamp will greatly improve your chances of being spotted in the dark. 

   Make sure your headlamp battery is fully charged before you leave. If it has a lock feature, enable it, or remove/reverse the battery so you don’t accidentally turn the headlamp into your backpack. If it’s a rechargeable headlamp, be sure to pack a battery pack and a compatible charging cable. 

   You can use your phone’s flashlight as a backup when absolutely necessary. But if your headlight is broken, this should only be used as a last resort, as your phone may be your primary navigation device.

   Your first aid kit should be suitable for your hike. This is an example of a minimalist kit we take with us when hiking near our home.

 You should take a first aid kit with you wherever you go. But when hiking, we like to supplement our first aid kit with a few extra gear repair items. 

   There are many brands that sell nice little first aid kits for hiking and backpacking. They usually come in waterproof bags with lots of things you’ll need. 

   We recommend buying one of these all-in-one kits and using it as a starting point. Pour everything out, go through each item, determine what you might need, and add as needed. 

   First aid kits and gear repair kits are only good if you know how to use them. So it’s definitely worth taking the time to anticipate potential problems, familiarize yourself with the content, and learn some wilderness first aid.

   Some highlights from our first aid kit include: 

   Band-aids of various sizes Blister Band-Aids medical tape antibacterial ointment Ibuprofen (headache, swelling, fever, etc.) Imodium (stop diarrhea) Hydrocortisone (topical steroid) Diphenhydramine (antihistamine) Tweezers wild flute

 A few highlights from our gear repair Kit include: 

   A roll of tape, needle and thread, patch tool, an O-ring for our gas range, mini Bic emergency lighter

 Here are some great resources to get you started on wilderness first aid: 

   Field First Aid Basics How to prevent and treat blisters How to Treat Cuts and bruises in the field How to treat a sprained ankle

 During a backpacking trip, Michael used his knife to modify a pair of boots that inflamed Megan’s Achilles tendon

 You never know when a good knife or tools will come in handy. 

   We carry an Opinel knife with us on most day hikes. If we are going on a multi-day hike, we might consider bringing a multi-tool to help repair any gear.

 In an emergency, the ability to start and maintain a fire is critical. Building a fire not only provides warmth, but also serves as a signal to help guide search and rescue efforts.

   To a lot of people (ourselves included), this looks like a Bic lighter. These methods work well in most cases. But in changeable weather, waterproof life-saving matches are a better choice. It’s easier to light when it’s wet and won’t be blown out by the wind, and easier to light when your hands are cold. 

   You also need to carry some combustibles. This could be an old can of mints with cotton balls saturated with vaseline, tea candles, or resin-soaked igniters.

   If you are going above the tree line, where you are unlikely to find combustible wood, it is recommended that you bring a backpack stove for emergency heating.

 On a multi-day backpacking trip, you may have brought a tent, thus checking the shelter box. But a day hike? Do you really need to bring a tent? 

   Thankfully, no. There’s a difference between a shelter and an emergency shelter. For a day hike, a space blanket or aluminum foil emergency poncho definitely counts as an emergency shelter. They are very light, small, and relatively cheap. These can allow you to survive if you find yourself in a situation where you have to spend the night outside. 
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 The no-trace rule of “pack, pack” should be followed by anyone who sets foot on a trail. This applies to remote wilderness as well as a park near you. However, it is disturbing how many people decide to leave their rubbish by the roadside. 

   Every time we see food packaging or plastic water bottles on the road, we feel frustrated and sad. One way we’ve found to turn this depressing reality into a positive one is to pick it up. While we should not be held responsible for the bad behavior of others, at least we can try to make things better. 

   Zip-lock bags are lightweight, compact (if not needed), and sealable. So if you do need to take something, at least it’s isolated from the rest of your bag. 

   Most trail trash is relatively harmless, like food wrappers. But if you’re suspicious of anything suspicious from a hygiene standpoint, consider picking it up with a pair of chopsticks or plastic tweezers. They are lightweight and compact enough to safely pick up almost anything.

   We highly recommend that you keep a comfortable pair of shoes in your car to change into after your hike.