What to Bring on a Day Hike

Okay so you’re new to hiking and you want to make sure you’re equipped, let’s first do a reality check.  We’ll also start off by assuming that this is only a day hike.  I’ll cover multi-day hikes or backpacking in another post.  I’ve learned a lot the hard way so hopefully I can impart some easy advice to you.

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Ehren’s note:  In response to quite a few requests, this is part of a new series of posts that I’m writing to help those who want to hike but are overwhelmed by the information out there on the Internet and are a little reluctant or hesitant due to a level of discomfort and fear.  Let me know how I may be of better help.

Okay so you’re new to hiking and you want to make sure you’re equipped, let’s first do a reality check.  We’ll also start off by assuming that this is only a day hike.  I’ll cover multi-day hikes or backpacking in another post.  I’ve learned a lot the hard way so hopefully I can impart some easy advice to you.

Before we even decide on what to bring, there are 3 things that must be taken into consideration:

  • Terrain
  • Weather
  • Duration/Time

The Terrain: Perception vs. Reality

Groomed trails or nature paths Groomed trails or nature paths A pretty typical hiking trail A pretty typical hiking trail

Take a look at the difference between what most people I speak with think of as hiking vs. what is really hiking.  Maybe this is just a Torontonian thing because we don’t really have mountains – any so-called mountain is really just a large hill.  I often have people telling me they are hiking but then I realize they are just taking a stroll through a place like High Park in the city.

Another problem is that hiking in general is a pretty broad term and I won’t argue that the common and popular thought is incorrect – but there is definitely room for improvement with regards to how we inform one another of what we’re actually doing.

Types of trails:

  1. Groomed nature trail or path — often very accessible to almost all ages and can be used by anyone with disabilities.  Lots of signs and often well marked.
  2. Typical wilderness hiking trail — with the exception of some trail maintenance (i.e. clearing overgrowth, fixing bridges, etc.), these type of trails are often not managed or groomed.  The terrain may be very rugged and diverse and often contain tree roots or jagged rocks that partially stick out from the ground.  There is also little to no signage but most of the time, these trails are well marked.  Sometimes but one has to be aware that markers can fade off of trees.

Think of this as the where are you going?  part of the plan.

>> What to bring:  You can probably get away with running shoes or sandals if you are on a groomed nature trail or path, but if you are on a typical hiking trail — you need to be wearing a pair of hiking boots with ankle protection and better traction for rugged and slippery surfaces.  This is especially true if you are new to hiking.

Weather:  Expect everything and anything

Wet wet wet weather Wet wet wet weather Some ominous-looking clouds on the trail Some ominous-looking clouds on the trail

I realize a day hike isn’t considered too much of a big deal but it can be depending on how the weather turns out — and it can change unexpectedly.  Check the weather forecast days ahead as well as when you are about to leave for the day hike.

>> What to bring:   Sunscreen, a hat, and rain gear.  At least a rain jacket.  I’ll get deeper into what to wear in another post but anyone going on a wilderness hiking trail should not wear cotton and jeans.  This type of clothing can’t handle getting wet and will not be able to keep you warm.  Yes, this is accounting for summer days too and it can get cool in the summer depending on where you are.

Duration and Time:  How long will you be out there?

Think about the distance you’ll be tackling and the speed at which you will and can hike at.  Whether it is easy or not, this is important because it will help inform you of how much time you will need to account for.

Maybe you’re hiking to a lookout point for a sunset?  Or perhaps on a 10km loop?

Daylight is important to keep track of when on the trail Daylight is important to keep track of when on the trail

>> What to bring:  If you are starting the hike later in the day or anticipate that it will be a longer than anticipated trek — bring a headlamp or at least a flashlight.

Wait, there’s more…

So we’ve covered the three key considerations when going on a day hike but now here is the full list of real essentials that those considerations will influence including what I mentioned earlier in italics:

The Full List

  • Footwear (hiking boots recommended)
  • Rain gear (a lightweight rain jacket at a minimum)
  • Hat
  • Sunscreen
  • Headlamp
  • Compass
  • Map
  • Handheld GPS, not a cell phone (in addition to the map if you have one)
  • Water (a minimum of 3 litres)
  • Insect repellent
  • First aid kit
  • Firestarter
  • Matches (waterproof ones if possible)
  • Knife
  • Snacks and extra food just in case

Obviously not all of these will be necessary on a groomed nature path but you’d be surprised how often I encounter people who are hiking wilderness trails with practically none of these items.  Not even water.

Even when hiking wilderness trails that are a loop, it is crucial to ensure the safety and survival of yourself and those around you in situations that are unanticipated.

Did I miss anything?  Let me know.

Some additional helpful resources:

The Ten Essentials (via Wikipedia)

Top 10 Beginner Hiker Blunders (via Backpacker Magazine)

Tips and Hints – Beginner’s Guide to Hiking (via Mountain Designs)