Hiking Checklist: Essentials to Bring on the Trail

Buying Guide

Leave your worries behind and bring a backpack filled with these hiking essentials instead.

Last updated: 8 January 2022
7 min read
Hiking Checklist: Essentials to Bring on the Trail

You could spend a lifetime backpacking and still not see everything the great outdoors has to offer. Whether you're trekking through forests or hiking to various lookout points on a mountain, you'll need to pack some hiking essentials so you can stay safe, protected and comfortable on the trail. Use this packing list to ensure that every hiker in your group has everything they need for a day hike.

A Daypack

You'll want a daypack or small backpack to hold all your essentials and contain either a water reservoir or water bottle pockets. Depending on the length of your day hike, choose a daypack with a capacity between 11 and 35 litres. If you're hiking in cold weather and need to fit a jacket or are carrying hiking gear for someone else, you may require a larger daypack with up to a 50-litre capacity.

Make sure the daypack you choose is both water-resistant and durable enough to resist abrasion from passing branches. If you tend to get sweaty, choose a daypack with a mesh back panel. And make sure you select a daypack with enough pockets to conveniently access all of your gear during your day hike.

Comfort and fit are also important, especially for longer hikes. So, choose a daypack with the right torso length and waist size. If you fasten the hip belt at the top of your hips and the shoulder straps don't lie flat, the daypack is too long. If the hip belt doesn't fit snugly and comfortably around your hips, the waist size is too large. Make sure a proper-fitting daypack is on your packing list.

Clothing and Footwear

  1. 1.Base Layer

    • Underwear: cotton underwear can absorb sweat and leave you soaked, so opt for a pair of synthetic, moisture-wicking underwear to stay dry on your day hike.
    • Top or Tee: choose a moisture-wicking, quick-drying fabric like Nike Dri-FIT, which disperses moisture for fast evaporation. There are lots of styles of short-sleeve and long-sleeve T-shirts from which to choose, so you can put together hiking gear that makes you look your best.
    • Socks: a pair of synthetic or wool socks will keep your feet dry. If you're hiking in the rain, you may want to add a waterproof pair to your gear list.
    • Trousers or Shorts: some leggings and tights can snag on passing branches, so make sure you choose a pair of trousers or shorts that will resist abrasion. Nike ACG clothing is specifically designed for outdoor trailblazing.
    • Sun Hat: a wide-brimmed hat that shades your face and neck is essential to staying cool and comfortable during your day hike.
  2. 2.Footwear

    The right pair of hiking shoes, hiking boots or trail running shoes will keep all the hikers in your group going for miles. You'll want to prioritise cushioning, traction and durability while ensuring a proper fit. That means there should be room in the toe box to wiggle and stretch, and the heel collar should not slip or rub. Don't count on breaking in your hiking shoes on the trail, or you could end up with blisters—instead, select a pair that fits comfortably from the get-go as part of your essential hiking gear.

    Choose a pair with enough cushioning in the midsole, especially for longer hikes. If you might encounter rocky terrain, look for shoe features like toe guards and durable upper materials. If you expect muddy trails, you may want shoes with a GORE-TEX lining, slip-resistant rubber soles with widely spaced lugs, and lots of instep support. The proper footwear should be at the top of your packing list.

  3. 3.Rainy Weather Clothing

    • Rain Jacket: backpacking requires some exertion, so you'll need a jacket that is both waterproof and breathable to keep you dry. You should also look for features such as fully taped seams, storm flaps over the zips and an adjustable hood. If you'll be carrying the jacket in case of rain, make sure it's packable to fit in your daypack.
    • Water-Resistant Trousers: a pair of durable, water-resistant rain trousers to protect you from rain, wind and scraping branches.
    • Gaiters: you may want to invest in a pair of gaiters to avoid soggy steps, even if your hiking shoes are waterproof. Gaiters keep water from entering through the tops of your shoes.
  4. 4.Cold Weather Clothing

    • Insulated Jacket or Fleece: if it's cold out, you'll need a jacket that helps you retain heat without adding too much bulk. Nike Therma-FIT fabric does just that. You'll find hoodies, sweatshirts, jackets and gilets designed to keep you warm without weighing you down.
    • Gloves or Mittens and Hat: you lose heat more quickly in your fingers and ears than your core, so it's especially important to protect these delicate areas from the cold weather. Choose a warm beanie and a pair of gloves or mittens when backpacking in cold weather.
  5. 5.Food and Water

    • Hydration Pack or Water Bottle: a general rule of thumb is to carry a litre of water for every two hours of trail time. A daypack with a water bladder is convenient for drinking hands-free, but you may also need to bring an extra water bottle if the capacity isn't sufficient for your day hike.
    • Snacks or Lunch: make sure you bring enough food to refuel as you hike. If your hike is four hours or less, a protein bar or some trail mix should do the trick, but you may need to pack lunch for a longer hike. Always bring more food than you think you'll need in case you get lost.
    • Water Purifier: if you end up lost or injured on a day hike, having a water filter or water treatment tablets with you will ensure you can make water you find on your hike safe to drink.
  6. 6.Health and Safety Items

    • First Aid Kit: you can buy a prepared first aid kit or make your own out of supplies such as adhesive bandages, gauze pads and antibiotic ointment. Check out what the Red Cross recommends as essentials for a family of four.
    • Map and Compass or GPS: wanderlust won't prevent you from getting lost, so make sure you have either a map and compass or a GPS device. Don't rely on your mobile phone, since service may be out of reach. If using AllTrails, make sure you download the map before you go.
    • Personal Locator Beacon or Whistle: if you get injured or stuck, you may need to send an SOS. Personal locator beacons can be pricey, and may not be necessary for highly trafficked trails. But if you tend to take the path less travelled, it's a good idea to carry one. If you're hiking a popular trail, a whistle may suffice to get you help.
    • Sunglasses and Sun cream: if you don't want to return home looking like a lobster, you should apply sun cream and bring extra, since it will wear off as you sweat. Pick sunglasses that will protect your eyes from UVA and UVB rays.
    • Emergency Blanket or Bivouac (Bivvy): even if you're hiking on a warm day, temperatures can drop drastically overnight. An emergency blanket or bivvy is essential gear to keep with you in case you get lost or stuck on the trail late at night. These fold down to be palm-sized, so it's no big deal to throw one in your pack.
    • Headlamp or Torch and Batteries: if a day hike takes longer than planned and you end up in the dark, a torch or headlamp will help you get back to safety.
    • Lighter and Fire Starter: being able to start a fire will allow you to cook food and stay warm in an emergency while increasing your visibility to rescuers.
    • Insect Repellent: if mosquitos are common in your area, you may want to bring bug spray so you're not scratching the next day.
    • Medication: make sure you add any prescription medications that are important for you to take daily to your packing list. You might also want to bring over-the-counter medications such as pain relievers, antacids and antihistamines
    • Blister Pads: if you've never hiked this far in your shoes or boots before, it's possible you could get a painful blister that slows you down. Blister pads can provide some much-needed relief if this happens on your day hike.
    • Baby Wipes and Hand Sanitiser: these will help you maintain your hygiene, especially if there are no toilets along the backpacking trail.
  7. 7.Hiking Accessories

    • Knife or Multi-Tool: a small pocket knife can come in handy in emergencies and should be on your checklist.
    • Trekking Poles: trekking poles are the next best thing to having four legs. If you reach a precarious spot in your uphill day hike, they can give you the stability you need to continue. They can also decrease the pressure on your knees and allow you to move faster. They're not a necessity, but some hikers find that they make the journey more enjoyable.
    • Camera: the jaw-dropping mountain scenery, the open sky, the changing leaves, your kids getting along ... it's all worth capturing. Your phone camera might be sufficient, or you may also want to bring a professional camera.
    • Binoculars: a pair of binoculars might enhance your hike. They're optional, but if you want to look at trees on mountaintops and birds from afar, pack a set in your daypack.
    • Repair Kit: a rip in your daypack or a broken zip on your rain jacket can put a damper on your day hike, so bring a small repair kit to fix common issues.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Kind of Food Should I Bring on a Hike?

A hiker should bring shelf-stable proteins such as nuts or trail mix, jerky, tuna salad pouches or protein bars along with dried fruits and wholegrain bread or tortillas when backpacking. Make sure you pack extra food, since you'll be burning a lot of calories along the way.

How Much Water Should I Bring on a Hike?

Every hiker should bring about one litre of water for every two hours of hiking. In two hours, expect to walk about eight miles at a normal pace or six miles at a relaxed pace. A relaxed pace is more likely if you're going uphill.

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