For some people, what to pack for a hike may seem obvious. But if you are new to hiking it may be difficult to think about all the different situations you can encounter on the trail. Plus you don’t want to weigh yourself down, you have to consider only the essentials. I will go through everything you will need and some things that you don’t need but may want, to get you through even a strenuous day hike.
Beginner’s Hiking Gear Checklist
Before we get into a list of items, just consider your trip. Take some time to sit down and think about what the weather may be like where you are going, how long the hikes are, and what items you might need to keep yourself comfortable.
Consider The Climate
One of the biggest considerations when deciding what to bring on your hike is the weather. Obviously the type of clothing and supplies you will need can vary greatly between a cold mountain hike and a hot desert hike. But even closer to home, wind conditions, humidity and sun exposure are all important to think about.
I was in Zion National Park this summer doing the hike to Angel’s Landing. It’s a pretty strenuous hike with some significant climbing involved to get to the very top. It’s a half day hike easy and the heat can be very intense if you go in the afternoon. I can’t tell you how many people I saw with little kids that had no back packs and no water. A lot of people were even attempting this hike in flip-flops! Recipes for injury and heat stroke.
Always check the weather forecast to get an idea of the temperature and if rain or snow may be a factor. If you are traveling to an unfamiliar part of the country, do some quick Google searching to find out what the weather conditions are at the time of year you will be visiting.
Essential hiking gear
- A good backpack – I use a hydration pack so I don’t have to carry water bottles. Don’t go cheap on this one, spend a little extra and get a good backpack. I prefer Osprey Packs and would recommend this hydration pack on Amazon for day hiking. This one is great for all purpose.
- Some good trail shoes or boots – Try out these Merrells, they have come highly recommended to me by friends and they have great reviews on Amazon.
- Plenty of snacks for energy – Beef jerky, trail mix, an apple, maybe even a sandwich. Stuff you can eat on the go.
- Plenty of water – see hydration pack above. If you don’t have a hydration pack then just bring a couple of liters of water, give or take.
- Sunscreen – nobody likes a sunburn
- Bug spray – bug bites are no fun either
- A first aid kit
- Light jacket or sweatshirt – depending on the temperature. However a light waterproof jacket can always help you out in a pop-up shower
- Map or guide for the trail you are on – download one onto your phone so you can open it up without internet or print one out.
Not quite essential hiking gear, but good to have
- Wool socks – your feet support you, it’s best to take care of them. These Darn Tough Socks are frikkin’ awesome.
- A good knife – I love my Spyderco, but a multi-tool or Swiss army knife may work for you.
- Extra clothes – good to have an extra T-shirt
- Sunglasses – you may be in the shade for your whole hike, still good to have though.
- Digital camera – see recommendation below
- Hat or bandana – keeps the sun and/or sweat out of your face
- GPS location device – know where you are at all times even without a cell signal
- Satellite phone – good for emergencies but can be pricy
- Trekking pole – I personally do not use them while hiking unless through water however many people may benefit from one
- Binoculars – great for seeing nature and wildlife that you may not be able to see with the naked eye.
- Zip-lock bags – keeps things safe and dry like your phone, wallet, keys etc also good for your trash
- Anti-bacterial wipes / Baby wipes – these can be really helpful in case your snack made your hands sticky, you get dirt on your hands etc.
Where are you hiking and when?
Where you are actually hiking could really change the needed hiking gear. Are you going to get wet? Will you have to do any climbing? Things like this will drastically change what kind of gear to throw in the old pack.
Are you going to be in a forest with a lot of shade, perhaps a creek? Take that bug spray for sure but the sunscreen won’t be as crucial here. Is this hike going to be out in the open sunlight across a field with high grass? Then definitely take the sunscreen and wear long pants.
When you are hiking is also going to have an impact on what to pack. If you are hiking in the summertime and it’s 90 degrees out, you will not need a jacket and you will need to take some extra water. I would probably also go with the trail shoes rather than the boots if you can get away with it.
If you are hiking in the winter time, definitely layer up, take the jacket, and consider the boots with wool socks. Use common sense and make sure you pack your hiking gear accordingly. Just always make sure you are going to be warm enough or cool enough and have ample food and water.
While it’s very important to take the essentials because the last thing you want is to be a few miles out in the wilderness and realize you forgot something you really needed… like your lunch. Also be careful not to overpack. This is a mistake many people have made, myself included. I have taken my big DSLR camera on hikes more than once and really wished I had not because it is so bulky.
If you really want to take a camera other than your phone, then I suggest a more compact mirrorless camera. I have the Sony A6000. It’s small and lightweight and takes beautiful pictures. Not quite as good as a good DSLR, but I think you would be pleasantly surprised with the image quality this little thing can produce.
On a day hike just keep it simple and stick to the basics. You may realize that there was something you wish you had. You can just bring it next time and it won’t be devastating. I like to keep my pack as light as possible, because at the end of a 5 mile hike those straps can really start tugging on your shoulders and feeling heavy if you are overloaded. So keep that in mind when you are packing.
Now that you’ve got your gear list, check out our post on how to prepare for your first hike for some other tips and tricks.