Heading out for a single or multi-day hiking trip and wondering what to pack and what to leave? Packing for a hike is tricky because half your brain will tell you all the items you don’t want to be stuck without, while the other half reminds you that you don’t want to pack so much you weigh yourself down – after all, you’ll be carrying all these items on your back!
So be smart. Use common sense. Check out my list of essentials below and pack accordingly. Oh – and check with your doctor…this is not medical advice, just some tips to consider.
Before You Start Packing
Before you even both with your packing list, there are a few question you need to answer:
- How long will you be on the trails? (Hours, days?) – This is going to clue you in as to how many meals you’ll need to plan, how much water to bring, how many changes of clothes to pack and so forth.
- Are there other activities you’ll be doing in between the hiking? – If your hiking trip is more like an outdoor adventure complete with fishing, camping, swimming and climbing (which is my kind of trip), you’ve got to have the supplies for all of this, such as a swim suit, fishing line etc.
- What will the weather be like? – Obviously, the climate plays a big part in your packing choices. In scorching heat, you need cover. In chilly temps, you need layers.
Twelve Essentials You Must Bring Hiking
1. Water: Hydration is key. Water will keep you going for a more extended period. Make sure the water is pure and clean because the worst thing you can imagine while hiking is diarrhea (hey, just keepin’ it real). One liter of water is enough for a short hike. Calculate your water requirement depending on the number of day’s you’re spending out.
2. Whistle: This is one of those things you hope you’ll never need, but if you do need it, you don’t want to be caught without it. If you find yourself lost or in danger, blowing a whistle loudly could bring help sooner. Many backpacks have whistle attached inside.
3. Protection from the Elements: Weather is always the most unpredictable factor when hiking. The weather forecast may say it’s going to be a sunny day, but you can find yourself stuck in a rainstorm. So it’s a good rule of thumb to assume that anything goes and be ready for it. A rain jacket is essential if there is any chance it will rain, just as a hat is key to block off sun or keep the head warm. In heat, lip balm and sunscreen are non-negotiable. In winter, coverings for head, ears, toes, feet etc. are a must. Layer up so you can bundle or lighten up depending on how you feel.
4. Knife: During hiking, a knife is the ultimate survival tool.
5. Food: Hiking is can be a strenuous workout. Don’t let yourself get hangry or crash prematurely. You’ve got to get energy into your body to keep it going. Healthy, wholesome foods with plenty of natural fats, proteins and carbs are the best way to go. But, again, not a doctor, so speak to your practitioner.
6. First Aid Kit: Look, when you’re out in nature, anything can happen. You’ll want to be ready for the minor cuts and scrapes that can happen when walking in the wild with the basics, like bandages and antiseptic solution to avoid infection at the site of injury. Medical tape can be used in case of a sprained ankle, securing a splint, and covering a wound. You could also pack one of those first aid blankets; they are pretty compact but will keep you warm in an emergency or if you get stuck somewhere. Some type of emergency flair or light would be a good idea too, in case you need help when it’s dark. Don’t forget to carry personal medications like inhalers, painkillers and an epi pen. Not to beat a dead horse, but, consult your doctor before taking on a hike; especially if you’ve got any medical conditions or allergies.
7. Map/Compass/GPS: GPS is a technological tool you can use while hiking to know where you are, but it’s not a reliable source because you’ll run into a lot of spotty areas with no signal and could have a battery die too. That’s why you want to have a map and compass with you. It’s old school, but it’s more reliable for knowing where you’re at and where you’re going. That said, be sure to get a lay of the land before you head out on a long hike. It’s just not smart to start hiking with zero reference point as to the landscape you’re dealing with.
8. Firestarters: Even if you’re not planning an overnight hike, it’s not a bad idea to have at least one firestarter on hand; just in case you get stuck somewhere unexpectedly. This way, you can keep warm and avoid becoming hypothermic. It can also be used as sending a signal for help.
9. Insect Repellent: Bugs and critters are just a part of being outdoors, but bug bites can be serious in certain regions. Ticks and mosquitos can both carry disease, so it’s best to try and avoid them altogether with really good repellent.
10. Spare Socks: Whether your socks get wet from sweat, rain or snow, having dry socks is an absolute must. You won’t regret carrying an extra pair of socks if you find yourself with soggy ones. After all, you’ll be in them throughout the entire excursion.
11. Hand Sanitizer: If you don’t want to get an infection while hiking, you need to use hand sanitizer before having your meal or snacks to kill off any bacteria you picked up along the way.
12. Light Backpack: The most important of all is the backpack. Make sure it is comfortable to wear, light in weight and the correct size for your body. If you’re buying a backpack for the first time, do a trial run with it first to make sure it’s a good choice. Pack it up just as you would for your longer hike, put it on and then go for a 1-2 mile walk with it in your local neighborhood. That’s the best way to tell if it will work for you on a longer trek.
Here is a quick checklist of other essentials varying according to the type of hiking and number of days:
- Hiking poles
- Bag for trash
- Field guide
- Wet wipes
- Notebook and pen
- Pair of walkie-talkies
- Post-hike snacks and clothes
- Portable charger
- Extra food
I have laid out the essentials you may need while hiking. Don’t over pack for your hike. Consider the terrain, the weather, the length of time you’ll be out and so forth to make a common sense decision about what to bring and what is excess. So now this is the right time to gear up for shoestring adventure. You may be out of your comfort zone for a while but don’t forget to make sure that this experience worth the effort.