Last Updated on February 27, 2018
Since I am hiking in Northern California’s Redwoods these week, I thought it would be the perfect time to share my packing essentials. Here is my packing checklist with 10 essential items I always pack for a successful day hike:
1 Hiking clothes
This is clearly the most important thing to make a hike successful: you need appropriate gear. I recommend quick drying pants, made from a light, synthetic material. Avoid cotton, because it traps sweat. If you’re starting early in the morning, you might want to add an extra layer – fleece is perfect to keep you warm. Depending on where you’re hiking, you might also want to pack a lightweight rain jacket and a hat to protect you from the sun. If you don’t want to spend a whole lot of money on new hiking gear, I recommend checking out BC25.com, a website where users can find deals and discount codes. You can look up coupon codes by category, for example gear coupons, or us the handy outdoor gear price checker which gets you instant price comparisons. These discount codes include major brands like The North Face, Cotopaxi or Patagonia and outdoor stores like REI.
Just as important as comfortable hiking clothes are comfortable hiking shoes. It pays off to invest a little more in a good pair of hiking shoes. I recommend shoes with a waterproof, breathable membrane and sturdy, supportive high ankles. Brands I love include Merrell’s, Vasque and Hi-Tec. When it comes to shoes, expensive doesn’t always mean ‘the best’. What’s most important is that your feet are comfortable in them, that the soles will last for a while, the shoes are not too heavy and that your feet can breathe. When buying a pair of new hiking shoes, make sure to try them on. There needs to be wiggling room for your toes and the shoes shouldn’t feel tight anywhere.
3 A solid backpack
Just as important as comfortable footwear and clothes is the right backpack. It is important to find the right size – not too big, but also not too small, a pack that fits well, is light weight, is well designed (with practical pockets) and has an extra hip support belt. Key is not to fill up your pack all the way – make sure you only bring things you’ll really need.
4 Bug spray / Bear spray
Depending on where you are hiking, you need to pack a can of bug repellent and/or bear spray. I’ve been on several hikes where I got eaten by mosquitoes and quite frankly, it can completely ruin a hike, because no matter how beautiful the scenery you’re walking through – if all you can think about is your itching bites, you won’t be able to enjoy it. As for bear spray – if you’re hiking in bear country, and you don’t take any precautions for a possible bear encounter, you’re stupid.
5 A Map or Compass
Knowing where you’re going is key on a hike. If you’re hiking in a State Park with clearly marked trails, this is less important, but it is still a good idea to download an offline map. If you’re doing a wilderness hike, a compass is absolutely essential.
6 A Flashlight or Headlamp
I personally prefer a headlamp because it allows me to have both hands free, but a flashlight also works. If you’re thinking you’ll be back before dusk – still pack a flashlight. I’ve gone on several hikes now where I completely underestimated how long it would take me. Even my hike up to the Hollywood Sign in LA a couple of months ago had me scramble down the unlit dirt trail in the dark because I had enjoyed the views from up there for much longer than expected. Luckily I could use the flashlight on my smartphone, but if you decide to rely on your phone’s flashlight, make sure you have enough battery or pack a portable charger. I’d still preferred a headlamp in the uneven terrain that I was walking through so that I’d be able to hold onto things for a better balance.
7 Sufficient snacks and water
No matter how short the hike you’re going on, never leave without water. As for snacks, make sure you calculate an appropriate amount of snacks for your hike – nothing is worse than a long way down the mountain with a rumbling tummy. Good snacks include for example trail mix, nuts, nut-based bars, fruits and veggies, energy bars, sandwiches and granola bars. Staying hydrated is extremely important – carry at least 2 liters of water, but more when you are going on desert hikes.
8 First Aid Kit
Another absolute must: a first aid kit. The main items it should contain are band aids, sterile dressing pads to stop bleeding from an open wound, tweezers and safety pins, an antibiotic ointment, duct tape, ibuprofen and antihistamine. While it is easy to put together your own first aid kit, the most convenient thing to do is to invest in a pre-packed first aid kit for hikers.
9 Camera Gear
Obviously I am biased here, since I never leave the house without my camera, but when you’re on an epic hike, you’ll want to make these memories last forever. Most people are content with the quality of the photos their smartphone takes (again, make sure to bring a portable charger), but if you’re looking to enlarge some images later on to a canvas sized poster, you might want to look into some more expensive camera gear. For a hike, I highly recommend a lightweight and compact mirror-less camera. CNET has a fantastic overview of the best mirror-less cameras that are out there right now.
10 Sun and/or rain cover
Depending on where you’re hiking, you’ll want to bring a rain cover for your backpack and for yourself. The cheap waterproof hiking pants I invested in when I hiked to Machu Picchu were some of the best hiking equipment I ever bought (and they were only $6). I’ve already mentioned a rain jacket under #1, and this can usually double as a wind breaker. For sunny hikes, sun screen, sun glasses and a hat are a must.