Hiking Essentials: What should you pack for a day hike?

   In this article, find out what we carry on our day hike. Whether you’re a new hiker, shopping for friends or family, or just curious about what hiking gear you should bring on a day hike, we’ve got a lot of great information to share with you.

   We’ve hiked thousands of miles across six continents, with hikes ranging from a few miles to 25 miles during the day. We’ve hiked to Everest base camp, hiked the Walker Advanced Route in the French and Swiss Alps, hiked the Grand Canyon in one day, and hiked the Strait of Zion from top to bottom, among other things.

   Over the years, we’ve tried and tested a lot of hiking gear. In this article, take a look at what we’re carrying in our backpacks and what we’re wearing on the road. If you have any questions, we’d be more than happy to answer them in the comments section at the bottom of this post.

   Day bags come in a variety of sizes and brands. Most of our daily packs have a capacity of about 20 to 24 litres, which is medium size. The boxes are large enough to hold some food, extra clothes and up to four litres of water.

   Having a dedicated reservoir is a must (more on this later). Day wear with a belt is also necessary, as it will take some weight off your shoulders. I prefer a day backpack with a ventilated back panel to keep cool when hiking on hot days. And I think there has to be an open outer pocket that you can stuff into when you’re on the move, but you don’t want to take your bag up and down.

   We currently use two different brands of day packs, Camelbak and Osprey.

   Taylor and Carla both use Osprey day backpacks, which are great. On the shorter hike, Kara carries Storm 9 and Tyler carries Talon 22. Both packs are ultra-light and have proven to be extremely durable.

   Osprey storm day package | hiking equipment guidelines

   Tim and I both use humpback day bags. I have Sequoia 24, Tim has 14, 24. We love these backpacks, however, they are five years old and have undergone a redesign since our purchase. Honestly, I don’t like the new design of the humpback backpack.

   Hump sequoia 24 | hiking equipment guidelines

   More recently, Taylor has also started using the Osprey Manta Ray Day Pack, which comes in 34 and 24 litres. Taylor carries 34 litre backpack on Walker’s premium route to help carry some of the extra clothes and gear we need. He loved the bag and now it replaces his Talon 22. However, the Manta is much larger, and at 34 litres it’s a bit more volume than most people need.

   34 | hiking equipment guide osprey manta rays

   Hike to Half Dome in Yosemite National Park.

   If you’re planning a short hike on a hot day and don’t need to carry much extra gear, consider carrying a hydration vest. These are very small day packs. They have a small reservoir with just enough room for a few snacks, your phone and your car keys.

   Tim and I use these for long-distance training at home, but they also work well on the trail. We all use Nathan hydration vests. I used Nathan QuickStart 4L and Tim used Nathan Vaporswift 4L. Four litres refers to the total capacity of the vest, but these can only hold 1.5 litres of water. Nathan also makes hydration vests specifically for trail running, which have more water and extra gear.

   Carla wore a hydrating vest while hiking the Dolomites in Italy.

   A hydration reservoir is a large bladder filled with water. The bladder can fit in your backpack or hydration vest, and the straw can be attached to your shoulder strap. Whenever you get thirsty, you just drink straight from the straw. It’s easier than always reaching for the water bottle.

   We use both hump and Osprey hydration systems as these two hydration systems are our daily package. Both are good and we really don’t have a preference for one over the other. It is possible to swap hydration systems with different brands of day packs. Always check the instructions before buying.

   Hump reservoir | hiking equipment guidelines

   Osprey reservoir | hiking equipment guidelines

   As for what size bladder to buy, I recommend at least 3 liters. Three liters should get you through most hikes. Long hikes or hot weather sometimes require four liters of water, but four liters of water is also heavy to carry.

   What if you run out of water while hiking? In most places, you can’t drink the water safely. You need to purify it first.

   We always take iodine tablets. This little bottle adds minimal weight to your backpack and is a great way to purify water in an emergency.

   Iodine pills | mountaineering equipment guidelines

   Another lightweight option is the Katadyn BeFree foldable filter water bottle. We take it on hikes, like to the Strait of Zion. It takes less than 30 seconds to fill a water bottle with this filter.

   Katadyn able | hiking equipment guidelines

   We have had good results with the MSR Trailshot pocket water filter. It’s a little slow and you have to do a lot of hand pumping to start the filter and fill your reservoir, but it’s small and light.

   MSR Trailshot | hiking equipment guidelines

   The Gregiops Water Purifier bottle has received rave reviews and is one of the most highly rated water purifiers on the market.

   Gray water purifiers | hiking equipment guidelines

   Headlamps are essential for hiking. If you plan on leaving early, or if you have a chance of being on the road after sunset, you’ll need to have a light source.

   We use Petzl headlights. The more you spend, the more features you get (overall brightness, beam patterns, number of bulbs). For most people, the Petzl Tikka will suffice, but if you want the brightest headlights on the market, go for the Petzl Actik Core.

   These LIDS will protect your backpack from the rain. Simply drop it on your backpack to keep your backpack dry. These LIDS compress into a small tote that won’t add much weight to your daily bag.

   Note: Some of the more expensive tanning bags will come with a rain cover, so you may not need to buy it separately.

   This is the one item you hope you never need, but should always carry with you. We always take a first aid kit with us when we go hiking.

   Trekking poles can take up to 30% of the weight off your legs when you go downhill, relieving knee pain and other symptoms. They can also help you keep your balance on rocks, rough paths, and crossing rivers.

   They can also be a lifesaver if you get hurt on the road. I sprained my ankle hiking in Washington state and had five miles to go. If I didn’t have a hiking pole, I don’t know how I would have finished the hike. These poles will take some weight off my injured ankle so I can finish the hike.

   I use black diamond distance Z rod, highly recommend them. They’re easy to fold up and fit into your luggage and hiking backpack, and they’re extremely light. Poles come in several different sizes, so be sure to choose the right length for your height.

   GPS devices are a must-have for hiking for several reasons.

   Best of all, it helps you navigate the hiking trails and prevents you from getting lost. The few times we lost our hiking trail, our GPS unit helped us get back on track. As you hike, your GPS records your exact route. If you stumble on the trail, you can retrace your steps by following the GPS.

   The GPS will give you a lot of data about the hike: distance, total ascent, movement time, rest time, etc. It will output a GPX file that you can share with your friends. You can also upload a GPX file of your planned hike so that you can track the route using your GPS device.

   We use a Garmin 64s, and the GPS is very accurate. In fact, it provides data for all of our hiking posts.

   An updated version of the Garmin 64 series is the Garmin inReach Explorer+, which provides GPS navigation and topographic maps, as well as the ability to communicate with satellites. Iridium coverage makes two-way texting possible anywhere in the world, as well as calling for help if you’re out of range. It’s the latest addition to our hiking gear and we love it. Several times Tim went hiking alone. The GPS unit sends out a signal every few minutes so I can track his progress on the road in real time with my computer or phone. 

   Hiking in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness in Washington State.

   The Garmin Fenix watch is like wearing a small GPS device on your wrist. Most versions of the Fenix watch come with a topographic map, so you can track the hiking trail directly from the watch.

   On a rough backcountry hike, it’s good to be able to see the tracks on your watch to make sure you’re heading in the right direction. Other data it provides, including total distance, altitude, speed and heart rate, are also well worth knowing. GPS is very accurate, although it may briefly lose its GPS signal in a canyon or dense forest. But for a small device that fits easily on your wrist, I think it works well.

   If you’re not just hiking, Garmin Fenix will also be able to track your running, biking, swimming, and many other sports.

   Garmin 6 | Fenix hiking equipment guidelines

   Tim has a Garmin Fenix 5 and I have a Garmin Fenix 6. The Garmin Fenix 6 has a much longer battery life. There is also a solar charging lens that provides an additional 10-15% battery life. The Garmin 6 has several other upgrades, such as a larger screen, a thinner design, and better tracking and pacing (important for runners, less so for hikers).

   If you hike long enough, it will eventually happen… The time will come when you have to take number two on the trail. You have two choices, either bury it or take it with you. If you carry a small shovel, digging will be much easier than using your hands, a stick, or whatever else you can find.

   However, sometimes you can’t punch a hole. Either the ground is too tight, or the terrain is too big and there’s no place to dig. In this case, you have to move your junk out. We always carry a bag with a zip lock, some extra toilet paper and detergent.

   Safety whistles cost just a few dollars but have a variety of uses. They’re so loud they can be heard a mile away, so you can use them to signal for help, whether you’re hiking, canoeing, paddling, or kayaking. If you see a bear while hiking, you can scare the bear away by blowing a whistle. We tied one to the outside of Tim’s backpack. 

   In our day pack, we also packed sunscreen, sunglasses and bug spray. Usually, we munch on energy bars (Rx bars, Larabars, and Luna bars are our favorites), trail mix, dried fruit, or pretzels during short hikes. We would pack sandwiches, fruit and salty potato chips for the day-long hike.

   Of course, the first thing I take with me on a hike is my camera. For a complete list of our camera gear, check out our travel photography Gear guide.

   Which is better, hiking shoes or boots? What you choose to wear is really just a matter of personal preference. Both have advantages and disadvantages.

   As a family, we all love hiking shoes. To us, they just feel more comfortable.

   However, hiking boots do have some advantages over shoes. They support your ankles, so hiking boots are a better option if your ankles are prone to sprain. Also, since they are higher on your legs, they can help keep your feet warm and dry when hiking through shallow streams and snow.

   It’s worth paying a little extra for waterproof hiking shoes and boots. One day you’ll be hiking through streams, swamps or snow, and it’s worth paying a little extra to keep your feet dry.

   When choosing a hiking shoe/boot size, make it a size larger than your usual size. This gives you extra room for swelling (some people’s feet swell after standing/walking all day). The extra space also helps protect your feet during the big drop, so your toes don’t bump into the front of your shoes.

   Tim and Taylor both wear Merrell Moab hiking shoes. They’ve been wearing these shoes since the first day we started hiking, and it’s their go-to shoe for hiking.

   Solomon GTX hiking shoes | hiking equipment guidelines

   Carla and I switched from Merrell to Salomon GTX hiking shoes, which we both loved. I also wear Keen Targhee III waterproof hiking shoes, which I also think are great. However, the Solomon GTX hiking shoes aren’t too bulky, are comfortable, waterproof, and have a lace-up instead of a shoelace, so you won’t risk getting your shoelace caught on a stick.

   Hike Little Wild Horse Canyon in Utah

   We all like to wear Prana hiking pants. They’re comfortable, durable, and look great. Halle pants for girls and Stretch Zion pants for guys. Men’s pants have a zipper version, so long pants can be exchanged for shorts. Hales roll up at the bottom and become tights.

   I’m also a big fan of Prana tights and Athleta tights when hiking (and resting at home).

   socksdamn Tough and Smartwool are our go-to brands for hiking socks.

   Stay Warm On cold days, we love Patagonian down jackets (called Patagonian down jackets). These jackets are warm but very light, and you can easily tuck them into your day bag once you’ve warmed up.

   On cold days, be sure to bring a hat and gloves. Charcoal warming gloves are great to tuck into on cold mornings.

   There is also a list called Ten Essentials for Hiking. The list, originally put together by mountaineers in the 1930s, includes ten essential items for people to prepare for emergencies outdoors.

   1. Navigation: compass, map, altimeter and/or GPS device

   2. Headlights

   3. Sun protection: sunscreen, sunglasses, hat

   4. First aid kit

   5. A knife, and a kit to repair your equipment

   6. Fire (match)

   7. Shelter, can be as simple as a big plastic bag

   8. Extra food

   9. Extra water

   10. Extra clothes

   We don’t carry everything on our list, especially on short trips. However, if you plan to do a longer hike (more than 10 miles) or will be heading into remote areas, you should bring everything listed here.

   Hiking equipment guide to the end. If we missed anything, or if you have any questions, please let us know in the comments section below. Happy hiking!

   Us National Parks :20 Epic National Parks Day Hiking Days :20 of the world’s Best Day Hiking days Europe :20 Amazing Day Hiking Days in Europe Strait: Zion Strait Hike Complete Guide Strait: Grand Canyon: Edge to Edge: Planning Guide and Listing New Zealand: Tungariro Alpine Ferry, New Zealand’s Best Day Hikes Iceland :Fimmvorduhals Trail: Iceland’s best Day Hikes Norway :14 of Norway’s best hikes for your bucket list