I personally love day hikes as it’s a delightful way to explore nature.  Grab a friend, Fido or even by yourself and then bring certain essential things for an enjoyable day hike.

Whether you’re a beginner or seasoned hiker, and whether you want an easy scenic trail or something a little more strenuous, there are numerous state and national parks calling your name.

Walking trail at Zion National Park in Utah
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The Hiking Project will help you find the perfect hike. To determine what you’ll need on a day hike, think about how far you plan to hike, the location and the weather forecast. Bringing the right equipment is critical to whether you’ll spend the day in enjoyment, even if something does go wrong, or whether you’ll leave the trail miserable.

Whether you plan on doing longer hikes or a short hike, make sure you pack these top ten essentials and get familiar with your gear list before heading out.

“Somewhere between the bottom of the climb and the summit is the answer to the mystery why we climb.”

Greg Child

Navigation: No one wants to rack up bonus miles

A topographic map and compass are reliable and lightweight. I usually bring a paper map as most trails aren’t internet friendly meaning your cell phone won’t work. A trail map from the national park you intend to hike is usually sufficient for beginners and a light trail.

However, some places don’t offer hiking maps and if you get lost, a topo map is your best bet to finding your way out. It’s also a good idea to mark or know important landmarks on the map, such as an emergency shelter or if you encounter a good place where you get cell phone coverage.

I prefer the topo maps from NatGeo, although they only carry certain national parks. Because they are paper maps, be sure to keep them protected in a waterproof container like a ziplock bag.

TRAVELER’S TIP: A topographic map is designed to show the physical features and terrain of an area, which is what makes them ideal for hikers. They’re different from other maps because they show the three-dimensional landscape: its contours, elevations, topographic features, bodies of water, and vegetation. You can learn all about reading a topo map.  And how to use a compass

Topo Maps+ is an app that has a bank of hiking maps that can be used offline. This app offers a free and paid version, and if you decide to use this app, be sure to bring a power bank to keep your map fully charged.

Pick up your gear here:

Headlamp and Flashlight: No one wants to stumble in the dark

Even if you don’t plan on hiking at night or entering any caves, hikes may take longer than your planned and the sun can go down very quickly, leaving only you, the dark and the wild. In fact, catching sunset on the mountains is a beautiful event. But what do you do after the sun goes down? 

Hiking in the dark is one of the easiest ways to get lost, even if you just planned on a short day hike. Depending on the time of year, day hikers can find themselves in the dark pretty quick. Bring extra batteries for headlamps and flashlights!

Layers of Clothing: No one wants to be uncomfortable

Weather conditions can change quickly, especially when reaching different elevations and different levels of effort throughout the hike. Expect a wide range of temperatures. Warm weather can easily turn into colder weather at higher elevations.

Because of this, I suggest to always dress in layers, even in summer months. A base layer, long sleeves and weather appropriate outer layer. Be sure all layers are quick drying and sweat resistant to ensure comfortable dry clothing. Avoid cotton as it traps heat in warmth and when wet (from sweat, rain or snow) isn’t well insulated.

A fleece jacket may be enough for hiking in cold weather depending on your level of activity. If you do hike in low temperature weather, be sure to wear a hat and gloves as your extremities, ears and fingers, get cold quicker which can lead to damage before you know it.

Be prepared for rain, even when the forecast says otherwise. A light rain jacket will keep you dry. Depending on the length of your hike, you may want to bring extra clothing if it doesn’t add much weight.

Pick up some of my favorite hiking essentials here:

Hiking Pole: No one wants to work extra hard on a hike

Hiking poles are beneficial for reducing impact on knees and increased stability, especially during uphill climbs, difficult terrain, or as in The Narrows at Zion National Park, keeping balance when fording rivers. The poles are lightweight and usually fold pretty compact when not in use.

Trekking poles can be useful on a long hike as well. If you’re carrying a day pack or all this hiking gear, the poles can be an important item to help stabilize you on the trail.

Speaking of Zion, if you’re ready to put your essentials list into action, check out 8 hikes in Zion National Park that you’re sure to love.

Boots or hiking shoes: No one wants blister ridden feet

Good footwear should be water resistant, comfortable with a cushion layer and arch support, decent ankle support and lightweight. However, on lighter trails, I usually just use a comfortable pair of sneakers.

A good pair of socks that keep your feet dry, prevent blisters and are comfortable are just as important as wearing a good set of footwear. You might want to pack extra socks in case your feet do get wet.

Grab some of my favorite comfortable hiking boots here: 

A beautiful place to beak in your new hiking boots during the fall is to follow this fall foliage road trip.

Water: No one wants to pass out from dehydration

I don’t have to harp on the importance of taking and getting enough water. Between the physical activity and outdoors: HYDRATE HYDRATE HYDRATE! Start hydrating before you start the hike and about every two hours during your hike because you lose so much water that you may not realize it.

You may not be hiking a long time, but anything can happen and hiking can be more strenuous than you originally thought, so don’t forget to also bring extra water.

Bring your own water bottles! I know Hydroflasks have become very popular, but just remember, Hydroflasks are heavy and adding even one of these to your pack can easily put on a lot of weight. You can substitute this for a lightweight hydration pack, like the one made by Camelbak.

I know some hikers that prefer Gatorade because of the electrolytes – I don’t like it because of the sugar and I don’t think anything beats just plain water in this situation. What do you think?

TRAVEL TIP: Water purifiers and water purification tablets are a good idea as it works as a water filter to removes bacteria, parasites, and chemicals, so that you can safely and quickly drink from any water sources you find.

Snacks: No one wants a growling stomach on a hike

Keeping plenty of snacks and extra food on hand is important to keeping your body fueled. Your snacks should consist of a healthy balance of carbs, protein and fats.

Good examples are dried fruit, apples, jerky, nuts, energy bars (such as Clif bar), trail mix, GORP granola bars, and peanut butter sandwiches.

If you plan to hike all day, feel free to also bring a heavier meal. A fire starter or waterproof matches and an extra liter of water will help for cooking food.

Hiking is physical activity that will burn loads of calories and this will keep you energized in order to complete your hike without thinking of gnawing on the vegetation.

Multi tool knife: No one wants to be crippled by broken straps

Multi tools help you fix something in a pinch, such as tears or broken straps or tangled cords.

Pair this with some duct tape and your should be ready to face most unforeseen issues, including a blowout (wrecking your hiking shoes).

The pocket knife is also useful to cut any food such as apples, bars and spreading your peanut butter 🙂

Here’s some great multi-use tools:

First Aid kit: No one wants to be stuck with an injury

The dangers of the great outdoors includes weeds, loose branches, trips and falls, and blisters. So it is very important to be prepared in case of an emergency and to have easy access to these important things.

If an unfortunate emergency situation occurs, a simple and lightweight kit can make sure these minor ailments can be cleaned and addressed quickly and appropriately to get you moving along again.

Be sure to include band-aids (all sizes), hand sanitizer, antiseptic wipes and medical tape and gauze in your emergency supplies supplies to maintain a measure of health and hygiene during your hike.

At very little extra cost, there are additional items you may want to include in your first aid kit. For one, an emergency blanket (or a space blanket) if the temperature suddenly drops significantly or you find yourself having to camp overnight.

Another is a personal locator beacon. A PLB is a small, colorful personal electronic transmitting device that is designed to pulse out a distress signal to alert potential rescuers if you find yourself truly lost or in danger.

TRAVEL TIP: Keep a loud whistle with your gear too. If you get trapped or lost, using the whistle is your lifeline to alert other hikers or rangers that you need help.

It’s also not a bad idea is to take a first aid class in case a bigger emergency arises for yourself or someone else you may encounter on the hiking trail.

Sun Protection: No one wants to deal with blistered skin

Sun protection is an incredibly important even on cloudy days. Your gear should include a bottle of sunscreen, SPF lip balm, sunglasses (preferably polarized), a brimmed hat, and protective clothing.

The sun is powerful and before you know it, a bad sunburn, cracked lips, or a face on fire can ruin your fun factor. Not to mention snow blindness can halt you in your tracks if you’re not prepared.

Along with not wanting to deal with blistered skin, no one wants to deal with itchy skin or constantly swatting away bugs on a hot day. Just as important is insect repellent. Keeping the mosquitos, ticks and other bugs away will make your hike more enjoyable.


And a last and very important thing to bring when hiking is the principle of LNT: LEAVE NO TRACE.  As the popularity of hiking and camping grows, lessening our impact in nature is becoming more and more important.

Leave the plastic bag at home, but do bring the trash bag to clean up after yourself and maybe even trash you see on the local trail.

I love these sustainable and recycled bags, utensils and plates from Sustainable Products. Perfect for taking with you on hikes.

National parks are getting loved to death by a surplus of crowds, garbage and environmental damage. Follow these 7 sacred principles to keep the wilderness wild! 

Hat, backpack, compass, map and hiking boots  to bring on a day hike
Day hike with hiking stick and water socks


An easy way to remember what to bring on a day hike is to download this packing list for your hiking essentials.

Here are some other posts where you may need to bring these hiking essentials:

Originally posted: December 2, 2019

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