Anytime you head into the woods you need to take some gear with you. Not only from a safety and survival standpoint, but also for enjoyment. But what should you take if you’re just going on a day hike?
We are going to look at some recommendations and talk about why we may need to pack the items. We will also discuss some other do’s and don’ts for your next day hike.
Yes, you need gear, even for that short hike.
During my 15 years of search and rescue experience, I have drawn one conclusion that always seems to be true. People who have extra gear with them always come out better than those who do not.
Another thing I have learned over the years is that it is easy for mundane, simple outings to turn into an emergency. People get rescued often from hikes that were supposed to be an easy stroll in the woods.
Creating a list of basic items to toss in your pack on every outing can significantly help you should you ever become lost, injured, or stranded during a hike. Also, this puts you into a much better position to help another person who may need help on the trail.
The One Day Hike Gear List
The very first thing you will need is a comfortable backpack to carry all of your gear. It doesn’t need to be very large, but the option for a hydration bladder can be helpful.
We wrote a very comprehensive guide on the best survival backpack here.
A Basic Survival Kit
The next thing in your bag is your survival kit. This is a kit made for hiking that should be the first thing in your bag for ALL outings into the woods. I generally build the kit with food, water, shelter, and signaling for help as my priorities.
What you include in your kit is a personal choice and is dependent on your skills, location, and available resources. It should ideally be kept in a small watertight bag. Some items to consider:
- Mylar blanket
- Signal Mirror
- Micro Fishing Kit
- Emergency Poncho
- Water Purification Tablets
- Razor blade
- Small pocket knife
- Duct tape
- Zip Ties
The items can be small and compact. Taking items out of their original container and placing them together with other items can help save weight and space.
Food can be as easy as tossing some granola bars or trail mix in your bag. You can also carry a dehydrated meal that does not require cooking or even an MRE.
Also carry some high energy food such as protein bars or something similar. The spare food can come in handy if you get delayed in the woods and have to spend the night, or even several hours longer than expected.
One of the most important items in your bag. Water is essential for your body to do work. Making sure you stay hydrated, even on short trips, will help keep your body running at full speed. In the event you are in an emergency, having water will increase your survival chances greatly.
Sun Block & Bug Spray
Protecting yourself from the harmful rays of the sun and from biting insects will make your hike go much smoother and be more enjoyable.
You should always have a flashlight on hand in case your hike turns into a night outing. It helps to have a headlamp specifically if you find yourself having to hike in the dark.
First Aid Kit
A simple first aid kit with some bandages, wipes, and first aid ointment is great to have for small scrapes and cuts. I usually carry a clotting sponge and a roll of tape in case of a larger injury.
A whistle is important to be able to signal other hikers for help in case of an emergency.
Taking your phone may seem like common sense but a lot of people leave them behind. If you want to escape from your phone for the hike, put it on silent or airplane mode and put it into your backpack. That way you still have access to it in an emergency.
Small Trash Bag
A small trash bag is good to have to keep up with any trash you have during the hike to make sure anything you carry in is carried out. If you don’t have any trash, you can also clean up some litter and carry it out.
While most cell phones will work as a GPS device, it is a good idea to have a backup. Handheld GPS devices have become much more affordable than in years past.
It is always a good idea to carry a map of the area. Electronics can and do fail. Being able to find an alternate route or determine where you are can be very important.
A multi-tool is a great item to have with you at all times. You never know when you might need a tool to cut kindling, pull a nail out of a tree, make a repair to a piece of gear, or many other things that may pop up.
A knife is another tool you should always have with you. If you ask survival specialists if they could take one item with them into the field, it will usually be a knife of some sort. Make sure if it is a folding or pocket knife that it is locking,
Depending on where you are in the world and the current season extra clothing can be vital to a good hike. If there is any chance of the temperature falling below 70 degrees F (21 C), day or night, you should carry an extra layer at least.
If there is any chance of rain, you should carry raingear or a poncho.
Personal Locator Beacon (PLB)
A personal locator beacon, often called a PLB, is a device designed to help you alert authorities that you are in trouble and lead them to your location.
When activated, the PLB device will transmit a signal to a system of satellites that cover the entire globe. In the US, these satellite signals are monitored by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). This call for help will also relay your current GPS coordinates, which will lead rescue teams directly to you.
The two most popular brands on the market today are SPOT and ACR. Both have been used countless times to aid lost hikers all over the world.
It is essential to carry a spare set of batteries for every electronic device you have with you. I generally advise people to carry a second set of batteries for your flashlight. You should also carry an external battery for your phone.
Fire Building Kit
You should have a small fire kit contained in a waterproof bag. It should include a lighter and waterproof matches along with several types of tinder or fire starters. You can also include a magnesium fire starter or ferro rod.
Emergency Bivy or Other Shelter
If you become stranded in the woods you are going to want shelter. The lightweight emergency bivvys on the market now are small and easy to carry, but provide a waterproof and warm shelter to keep you out of the elements. A shelter also provides a major boost to morale when someone is lost.
Rope is an amazingly useful item that is light and does not take up much room. It can be very handy to have and can help with building shelter, securing items, replacing broken straps or laces, etc. I always carry at least 100ft of 550 cord in the bottom of my pack.
Optional Additional Gear to Consider
In addition to the gear listed here, there are many items that you may want or enjoy having when hiking.
|Hydration Bladder||Bear Spray|
|Trekking Pole or Hiking Staff||Pedometer|
|Wool Socks||Bear Bell|
|Water Filter||Toilet Paper|
|Flares (Flare gun or handheld “pen” flares)||NOAA Weather Radio|
|Two-Way Radios (for groups)||Raingear|
|Snake proof Gaiters||Guidebook for the area|
|Extra Water Bottle||Prescription Medication|
|Hand Sanitizer||Sanitary Wipes|
|Bright Colored Hat (if hunting is allowed in the area)||Lip Balm|
What NOT to Bring on a Hike
There are some things that you should not bring along on your hike to make sure that you, and others on the trail, have a good time.
Some people apparently enjoy having a beer while they hike, but this is not a good idea. Mixing alcohol with an activity that has you walking through the woods avoiding obstacles and navigating is just not a good idea and gets many hikers into trouble each year.
People get seriously injured or even lose their life after stumbling down a cliff, tripping into rocks, or becoming lost.
Bluetooth speakers have become popular on the trails over the last couple of years. There is nothing more annoying than hiking around other hikers who insist on their music blaring as they trek along.
Leave the speaker at home, and instead listen to the sounds of nature and enjoy the peace and quiet. Other hikers will thank you.
Massive First Aid Kits
You need a first aid kit anytime you go into the woods, but, what do you need in that kit?
A lot of people carry way too much medical gear with them on short hikes, or any hike really. You need bandages, alcohol wipes, tape, some basic painkillers, etc. You do not need trauma pads, suture kits, scalpels, nasal airways, a neck brace, and 20 different over the counter medications.
This tends to be a soft spot for some people but it simply should not be done. When you see someone with the dog walking along the trail on a rope dangling from their pack you are seeing a trained and experienced dog.
I have seen many instances where people have put themselves in harm’s way trying to save their dog that got loose or worse, they were injured or otherwise needed rescue because their dog tripped them with their leash or caused them to fall.
There is also the liability of the dog biting someone or fighting with another dog. Often people think their dog would never bite another dog. However, when two dogs are approaching head to head on a small trail they are not able to stay out of each others space, which can trigger aggression.
Day Hiking FAQ
How do I find good trails to hike?
There are many websites and apps that are dedicated to cataloging and rating trails. The most popular for several years has been Alltrails.com, which also has an app.
Another popular option is “Hiking Project” which is part of the REI Co-op Family. Hiking Project also has a website and an app. The website provides a treasure trove of information such as weather information for the area and other helpful data.
The best way to find good trails is to talk to your local outfitters or outdoor/hunting store. The staff that works these places are generally outdoor enthusiasts and love to talk about their favorite places.
There are also groups on social media sites like Facebook that are dedicated to hiking, which are a great resource.
What if I run into a bear in the woods?
If you encounter a bear in the wild and they do don’t seem to notice you, stay calm and keep your distance. Make small sounds such as talking or clearing your throat. Most of the time the bear will see you and take off the other direction.
If the bear does notice you and hasn’t fled the area you need to take steps to avoid an attack. Step one is to identify if it is a grizzly bear or a black bear as their behavior is vastly different.
First, you need to make sure the bear knows you are a human and not a tasty prey animal. The best way to do this is to start talking to the bear as the human voice is unique.
If the bear still hangs around or starts moving towards you slowly, the most important thing to do is to STAY CALM. Bears generally initiate confrontations to protect their cubs, a kill site, or their personal space. Therefore you need to get out of the area. DO NOT RUN! Running will only trigger their prey drive and they WILL CHASE YOU!
Instead, maintain visual on the bear, and beginning moving sideways. This increases the distance between you and the bear while allowing you to keep an eye on the bear and where you are going.
Moving backward increases the chances that you may trip and fall, which would be bad. Pick up and small children, continue talking and make yourself look as large as possible. Make sure the bear has an escape route.
Here‘s a more in-depth article on how to survive a bear attack with specific advice on the type of bear you’re dealing with.
What clothes are good for hiking?
Synthetic fabric is the best choice. Shirts and pants that are designed for sports or working out are a good choice as they are usually moisture wicking. Avoid anything cotton or denim. Use layers for warmth rather than bulky jackets or coats. Wear sturdy boots to protect your feet.
What should I do if I become lost?
The most important thing to do is actually to recognize you are lost. Most people will wander and keep trying to get back to the trail, which can often make matters much worse. As soon as you realize you don’t know where you are, STOP.
Stay in one place and do not move. If you have a cell phone or radio call for help. If possible, use your phone or GPS device to give the dispatcher your GPS coordinates.
If not possible, give them as much detail about where you are and where you were going as possible. Most search and rescue teams are very familiar with the trails and the areas around them.
If calling for help is not possible, start blowing your whistle. Someone blowing a whistle is a well-known call for help and if any hikers hear a whistle they will most likely check it out, or at least report it to authorities.
If appropriate for the conditions and location, build a fire and toss green wood and other plants on the fire to create smoke.
Listen to the sound of search and rescue members looking for you. They will call your name and blow their whistles looking for you to respond.
Always make sure someone knows where you are going and when you should return. If you haven’t checked in with them that you are out of the woods they can call for help and let the authorities know you are missing.
How fast will I hike?
A fit adult will hike level terrain at about 3 mph. This will be reduced to 2 or even 1 mph on uneven or steep terrain.
The rule when calculating mileage is to expect about 2 mph average with breaks every 2 or 3 miles. Very advanced and athletic hikers can do as much as 20 to 25 miles a day.
What is “Leave No Trace”?
Leave no Trace, or LNT, is a set of guiding principles that help us to enjoy the outdoors without leaving a lasting impression or ruining the experience for others.
For starters, you should pack out anything that you take in. Stay on marked trails and don’t harm any trees or vegetation. Leave souvenirs such as cool rocks or sticks alone and instead take only pictures.