Day Hiking Gear: The 10 Essentials

Day hiking is one of my favourite things to do. You can get a long way from civilization,  see some beautiful places and don’t have to carry a huge pack to do it.Even though it’s only a day hike, things can still go wrong. You can slip and fall, get stuck out in a storm or find yourself lost. Just because it’s a day hike doesn’t mean you can throw away all your safety practices.

So if these things can happen kilometers away from help, probably out of cell reception, what can you do to be as self-reliant as possible and get you and your hiking partners back to the car safely?

Bringing the 10 Essentials is a very good place to start.

The 10 Essentials

Since the 1930’s, hiking and scout groups have been refining their packing lists, making sure they had the most useful items in their packs at all times. They narrowed these items down to an easy to remember list, the 10 Essentials.The 10 Essentials are more like 10 categories than 10 items. Most of the categories can include more than 1 item or a couple different items. What you bring for sun protection could just be sunscreen or it could be sunscreen, spf 30 chapstick and a hat to provide shade.Think of the 10 Essentials like a mental framework that you can use to pack your bag for a day hike. When it’s a nice round number, it’s easier to remember.

A note on reliability

Keep in mind reliability when packing your 10 Essentials. A map and compass are far more reliable than a GPS for your Navigation section. If you drop the GPS (as I have, oops) and it breaks or the batteries run out then you won’t know where you are. Compasses and maps are much more reliable.Let’s dive in.

1. Navigation

Without navigation tools you won’t know where to go. On smaller hikes or well signed ones, you won’t need much. On most hikes it’s a good idea to take a map with you so you know where you are going. Even if you know the area well, it’s nice to have. You can change plans on the fly and take different routes by checking the map.GPS are great navigation tools as well but they run on batteries and can break after small drops. I bring a GPS on every hike to record my track and take waypoints but I try not to ever rely on it completely.

2. Sun protection

Getting sunburnt sucks. Getting burnt while travelling is even worse. Sun protection can include chapstick with sunscreen in it, sunscreen for everywhere else, hats and sunproof clothing. Sunglasses are a big one here too. Lots of studies have recommended sunglasses when you are out in the sun. I hate squinting all day so if there is a hint of sun, I’ll have my sunglasses with me.

3. Insulation

This is basically warm and dry clothes. If you are going to spend an extra night out on the trail because you took a wrong turn or someone got injured, you’ll be very happy you have extra clothes. Check the temperatures and weather for the next couple days and see what you should bring with you. Trying to get home in the dark in soaking wet clothes, isn’t much fun and can be dangerous if you can’t get warm.

4. Illumination

Light! Headlamps are popular to bring on hikes but regular flashlights can work just as well. I’ve had to use mine when we were late getting back to the car. It’s nice to know you can keep moving after dark. If you don’t have light, you might have to stop for the night and wait for sunrise.

5. First-aid supplies

Band-aids and such. Bandages, cut-cleaning supplies and pain and allergy drugs are a good start to a first-aid kit. It’s easy to bring a lot of this stuff so pay attention to what you use most and create your own. Adventure Medical Kits makes great pre-made kits.

6. Fire

Fire is great for keeping you warm and everyone’s spirit’s up. Bring some sort of firestarter and good fuel for getting things going when it’s wet. To practice try and start a fire when it’s wet. It ain’t easy. Cotton balls or dryer lint in a waterproof container and a flint make good firestarter kit.

7. Repair kit and tools

A multi-tool or knife are the main ones in this category. Being able to fix broken gear on the trail is really nice. Don’t bring the kitchen sink though. Think about things that might break on your gear and what would happen if you couldn’t fix it. Would it be a big problem? Could you make it back to the car? A good knife is a great survival tool so make sure you have one of these around. Check out the survival videos on youtube to get some lessons on what you can do with it.

8. Nutrition

Food! I always bring too much but personally I would rather have too much than too little. Try to bring a second day’s worth just in case you get stuck out overnight. Bring nutritious food that you know agrees with your stomach. Long hikes suck if you’re feeling sick. Experiment with the carb/fat/protein ratio your body likes the most. Everyone is different.

9. Hydration

Humans can’t go long without water. We need it. Philip at Section Hiker recommends drinking a ½ litre per hour. You’ll feel and hike much better if you are properly hydrated. Water is heavy so if you can’t carry enough, bring a pump or water purification drops so you can get more on the way.

10. Emergency Shelter

This might be an emergency blanket or small tarp. Think about spending an extra night out when you go and what gear at minimum you’d want to do that. You won’t be bringing a 3-man tent and full sleeping bags but aim for the minimum that you can carry that would get you through the night and moving the next morning.

Now go hike!

Day hikes are great for so many reasons and 99% of the time, they go off without a hitch. For those rare occasions when things go sideways, having these 10 Essentials in your pack might save your life.