Explore the Outdoors with These Essentials Items to Pack for a Short Day Hike

day hike checklist

Whether you are an avid outdoorsman or just like to spend occasional time outdoors, one of the basics of outdoor adventures is the day hike. You and your family or friends set aside a day meant to enjoy the great outdoors and find some beautiful views.

Before beginning your adventure, you must face the question of what to bring. While it depends on a variety of factors like the weather or time of year, there is a basic set of hiking essentials that you should always have. Here is a day hike checklist to ensure your outdoor adventure goes well.

Clothes to Pack for a Short Day Hike


While what you wear may not be at the top of your priorities, your hiking clothing is an important part of your day hike preparation. When you check the weather before leaving for your hike, you should prepare for the temperature, wind, and rain. Here’s a checklist for your clothing choices for your day hike.

  • Rain jacket: if there is even a slight chance of rain in the forecast, you should prepare for it. It’s a light addition to your hiking checklist that could make your life easier if you encounter a downpour in the middle of the woods
  • Hat: wearing a hat protects your face, eyes, and scalp from the sun in the summer months, and protects your head from harsh wind and low temperatures during colder months.
  • Socks: wearing the right socks can help prevent blisters, wick sweat, or keep your feet warm and dry. Try to wear either wool or synthetic socks made for hiking.
  • Long sleeves/pants: Covering your skin keeps you warm in the colder months and protects you from the sun, briars, poison, and bugs during the warmer months.
  • Sweat-wicking t-shirt/tank top: if you’re hiking during the extremely high summer temperatures, wear something that keeps you cool and dry from your sweat
  • Winter coat/vest, gloves: If you’re hiking during the winter and fall months, you should prepare to brave the colder temperatures with a fleece coat or vest that insulates your body heat.

In addition to your clothing, wearing the appropriate footwear is essential to a comfortable and enjoyable day hike. If you don’t have a pair of good hiking boots, sneakers that have good traction and support can suffice for less extreme hikes.

Essential Hiking Items to Pack in Your Rucksack


Carrying everything you need while in the outdoors means having the proper bag. Having a comfortable and sturdy backpack usually is the best option for a day hike. Make sure your bag isn’t too heavy and is packed efficiently.

Here is a list of essential backpack items to ensure a pleasant day hike:

  • Hydration
  • Food
  • First-aid
  • Navigation
  • Sun Protection
  • Fire
  • Lights
  • Tools

Hiking Essentials: Hydration and Food


As humans, our top priority is to stay hydrated and fed, even if we’re in the middle of the woods. In fact, going on a day hike especially requires the right nutrition to fuel your outdoor exercise.  

The most important item on your day hiking checklist should be water. When you’re out in the woods, hiking up mountains and sweating, making sure you’re hydrated is imperative to survival and comfort. No matter how long or short your day hike is, you should always start with one full water bottle.

It’s also helpful to bring a sports drink like Gatorade to replenish electrolytes lost from sweat. If you’re only bringing one water bottle, it’s useful to have a way to purify water so that you can fill your water bottle up at a stream in a pinch.

You also should have enough food to fuel you for your whole hike. If you plan on hiking through lunch time, pack a lunch of sandwiches, fruits, and vegetables to keep you energized for the rest of your hike. It’s also good to bring granola bars as quick easy snacks, but make sure to carry your wrappers with you.

Hiking First Aid Kit


Another item that you need to bring is a proper first aid kit. When you’re out in the woods, you don’t know exactly how long it would take to get help if a serious injury occurred. It is imperative to have a few basic first aid items for the safety of you and the people you’re hiking with.

Your hiking first aid kit should include:

  • Bandages: for small cuts or blisters
  • Sterile dressing: for covering blisters, burns, or larger cuts
  • Gauze roll: for holding dressing in place
  • Tweezers: for removing splinters or ticks
  • Antiseptic Towelettes: for cleaning smaller wounds
  • Pain relievers: aspirin or ibuprofen for aches and pains or for reducing inflammation
  • Splint: malleable splint for any fractures or other serious injuries

Navigation Tools


Some often forgotten essential hiking items are navigation tools. You may think a map on your smartphone will suffice, but relying on electronics in the woods can be dangerous.

If you don’t have cell service or your phone dies, you could suddenly be in a dangerous situation.

Especially when exploring unfamiliar hiking trails, you should always carry a paper map of the area and a compass.

Another useful tool is a GPS meant for the outdoors that doesn’t rely on cell service. Having these items with you is a safety net that could save time and make sure you don’t get lost.

Sun Protection: Day Hiking Essentials

Going on a day hike means exposure to the sun for a majority of the day. Even if it’s cloudy, it is important to apply sunscreen before leaving and carry it with you to reapply throughout the day.

You should also have sunglasses or a hat to protect your eyes from the sun’s rays. Ending your day with sunburn is not a fun addition to your adventure story.

Lighting and Other Tools for your Day Hike Packing List

Even if you think you’ll finish hiking before dark, make sure to bring flashlights with extra batteries just in case. You could take a wrong turn or have an unexpected setback and end up out in the middle of the woods without light. Navigating your way home is much easier when you can see where you’re going.

Any item that has multiple uses is an essential item for your hiking backpack supply list. That’s why having a knife meant for the outdoors is a great item to pack. Besides its use for protection from wild animal attacks, you can also use it to cut through heavy brush or cut cloth in the event of an injury.

Another essential item for your hiking supplies checklist is a fire starter. A fire can make the difference between life and death if you’re stranded in the woods overnight. It provides warmth, a means to cook food and protection from animals.

Extra Items to Add to Your Day Hike Checklist


There are some items that aren’t necessary but would enhance your experience on a day hike. Whether it is bringing a comfort from home, or just making the hike more pleasant, here are some extra items to take hiking:

  • Watch: to keep track of the time rather than having to look at your phone
  • Camera: to capture the spectacular views and memories with friends
  • Binoculars: to take in the views and wildlife in a more detailed way
  • Journal: if you want to document your day hike or are inspired to write while in nature
  • Insect repellent: to keep away pesky mosquitos or other bugs that can get annoying
  • Toilet paper: if you have to go in the woods, this could make it a little more pleasant. Make sure to bury your used toilet paper when you’re finished.
  • Hand sanitizer: before you eat lunch or after using nature’s bathroom
  • Towel: can be used to wipe off sweat or dry off in the occasion of a finding a water source to cool down in
  • Cell or Satellite phone: in the case of an emergency, you may need to use one of the two to contact help

Bringing some of these items can enhance your hiking experience. You can probably go without them, but they may make you more comfortable or help you to enjoy your time.

Whatever you end up bringing on your day hike, this is not a time to over pack. Having a heavy backpack while hiking for a short time isn’t worth the back pain. Keep to the basic necessities so that you don’t end up carrying a bunch of items that might as well be extra rocks in your backpack.

Final Thoughts on Your Day Hike Checklist


As you’re putting together your hiking backpack list, remember day hikes are about enjoying the great outdoors with friends and family. If you think something might distract from that experience, consider leaving it at home.

Also remember that whatever you pack, you have to carry on your back for the entire hike. If your pack is too heavy or feels awkward on your back, either take some items out or rearrange the weight so that it’s less of a burden to carry.

Moriah Thoman

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