Going out for a day hike is a great way to experience nature and see some amazing views, all while getting a great workout. Since you are only going out on the trail for a day, you can travel light and fast with a lower-volume pack, lightweight shoes, rain apparel, and minimal additional gear. Whether you are going on a short hike to check out a fire tower or backwoods pond, taking a steep trek to the summits of Algonquin and Wright in the Adirondacks, or trying to catch a weather window on Mt. Washington, there are some essential items that you need to bring along:
When you’re only going out for a day, it’s important to be realistic about what you need to bring, as well as how big of a pack you need for that gear. Many hikers choose a pack that is too big and end up over-packing, which adds unnecessary weight and bulk. For a warm weather day hike, you should choose a pack between 10 and 30 liters, depending mainly on how packable your rain gear and light layers are. Opting for a pack made of lightweight materials and featuring a minimal design will also allow you to move faster and won’t hinder your movement. For winter day hikes, the same lightweight, minimal packing philosophy still stands, yet inevitably you’ll need a bit more gear to fend off the cold and stay safe. A pack in the 30 or 40 liter range is necessary since you need to bring additional, bulkier insulation layers, as well as emergency bivy gear.
The Osprey Talon 22 pack is a super-lightweight daypack that is perfect for warm weather hikes. It features minimalist construction, hydration compatibility, water bottle pockets and organizational pockets. Additionally, this pack can double as a commuter pack when you’re not hiking.
Light Hiking Shoes/Trail Runners
For day hiking (and arguably most hiking), heavy hiking and backpacking boots are unnecessary. Not only are they stiff and clunky, but they will sap your energy just as much as carrying extra weight in your pack. The phrase, “a pound on your feet equals five on your back” accurately describes the detrimental effect heavy boots have on your movement and exertion. Hiking shoes and trail runners are lightweight, yet still feature aggressively-lugged soles, stiff midsoles and often utilize waterproof membranes, features that are optimal for muddy, rugged trails.
The La Sportiva Wildcat is a burly trail runner that feels like a light hiker. It features a lightweight, breathable mesh design, combined with a durable, lugged sole. Additionally, the Wildcat is extremely stable and features the cushioning that you need on longer hikes.
A Hydration Reservoir
An easy way to cut down on weight while also making your hikes more efficient is with a hydration reservoir. Nearly every pack on the market today is hydration compatible, with a pouch inside the pack and a port for the hose to pass through. A reservoir allows you to efficiently carry a few liters of water in a manner that is easily accessible without stopping or opening your pack. Some day packs, like certain models from Camelbak or Osprey even come with a reservoir.
The Platypus Hoser water bladder is a lightweight reservoir, available in a variety of sizes. The Hoser is also a versatile piece of gear, since it can easily be removed and hung in camp for cooking.
A Lightweight Rain Shell
When setting out for a day of hiking, usually you hope for good weather. Clear skies provide views, while comfortable temperatures make the hike itself more enjoyable. However, weather is often unpredictable, so rain showers or strong winds on the summit are conditions that every hiker should prepare for. A lightweight shell can provide emergency protection from unexpected weather or block the cool wind at the summit. Many ultralight shells that feature light and thin face fabrics, as well as innovative waterproof/breathable membranes are available on the market today. These jackets are surprisingly durable and protective, while packing to the size of a baseball!
The Outdoor Research Helium II is an ultralight, 2.5-layer hardshell jacket that is a perfect choice for day hiking. It features a super light 30-denier face fabric and a Pertex Shield+ waterproof membrane for durable and breathable waterproof protection. At just 6.4 oz, the Helium II is among the lightest shells on the market and will pack down small to take up very little space in your pack. A helmet compatible hood, waterproof zippers, elastic cuffs and a phenomenal fit allow you to use the Helium II for anything from climbing to running. For additional help choosing the right rainwear for your outdoor adventure, check out our rain gear buyer’s guide!
Darn Tough Socks
When out on the trail, nothing beats a pair of Vermont’s own Darn Tough socks! Darn Tough socks feature premium, naturally antimicrobal and wicking Merino wool construction, with a high thread count for superb durability. Even if you somehow do wear a pair out, Darn Tough has you covered with a lifetime guarantee on all of their socks!
The Darn Tough Merino Light Hiker Micro Crew is a great sock for wearing with a pair of trail runners or light hikers. The Micro Crew ankle is a great height and ribbing keeps the cuff of the sock in place. This cut also hugs your foot and is comfortable in the toe and heel, while remaining breathable.
A First Aid Kit
While day hiking is a relatively safe outdoor activity, accidents can occur, and it’s important to stay prepared. A good first aid kit is an essential piece of gear for anything from climbing to canoeing. On a day hike, it’s good to have specialized medical supplies. Moleskin patches for blisters, band-aids for scrapes and cuts, aspirin or ibuprofen for aches and pains, as well as bandages, gauze and tweezers for other emergency situations are all great items to have in your kit.
While you can build a first aid kit yourself, it’s often easier and cheaper to buy a packaged kit. The AMK Adventure First Aid Kit has everything you need to go hiking and comes in 3 sizes that you can choose from depending on how many people are in your party. The First Aid .5 kit is a personal first aid kit, while the 1.0 kit is for 1 or 2 people, and the 2.0 is good for up to 4 people. These kits all come with the essential first aid supplies that you need in order to stay safe on a hike and they come in a handy case that is easy to pack.
A Map and Compass
Even on a short day hike on a mountain or trail that you have traveled many times before, accidents can happen. You can become disoriented or lost, and proper navigation tools are essential. Get a topographic map for the region that you are going to be exploring, like one from the National Geographic Trails Illustrated series, which features clearly marked campsites, defined trails and mileage ticks. These maps are also waterproof, durable, and available for destinations across the country. They include many places that our staff members love to hike like the Adirondacks, Green Mountains, and White Mountains. Additionally (though it seems a lost art sometimes) a compass, such as the Suunto Partner 2 A10, is also a crucial piece of gear to bring on any trip in the event that you lose the trail. Need a refresher on how to use one? Grab the Outward Bound Map and Compass Handbook and learn how to find your way through the woods.
Like your first aid kit and compass, many of the essential pieces of gear that you need for day hiking and other kind of trips are mainly necessary in case of unforeseen circumstances. A space blanket, or other emergency bivy system can save your life if you are injured and immobilized or caught in a sudden storm. Reflective materials trap and reflect heat, keeping you warm and preventing hypothermia. Emergency blankets and bivies are super compact, so you won’t even have to think about it in the bottom of your pack until the moment you need it.
After exploring every trail-side waterfall and cave, pausing to take in the scenery, and spending a little extra time on the summit, the nighttime darkness can start to creep into your “day” hike. It’s a good idea to bring along a compact headlamp, just in case you get caught on the mountain longer than expected. In the winter, a headlamp is crucial, since your daylight window is significantly shorter. Select a bright headlamp with multiple light modes and a comfortable-to-wear design.
The Petzl Tikka RXP Headlamp is a great choice for day hiking and general outdoor use, with a 215 maximum lumen output, Reactive Lighting Technology that uses a sensor to adjust automatically to your surroundings, a rechargeable Lithium-Ion battery, as well as a supportive headband for active hiking, climbing or backcountry skiing.
Once you try hiking with a pair of trekking poles, you’ll never look back! They greatly increase your stability, which allows you to move faster and avoid twisting an ankle or tripping over a rock. Trekking poles are great for variable terrain and steep ascents or descents. Additionally, you can use a single pair of trekking poles for snowshoeing and winter hiking as well. A good, lightweight three-piece trekking pole breaks down for easy storage on your pack. Look for a trekking pole with a comfortable grip, easy-to-use flick-locking mechanisms, and a durable, yet lightweight design.
The Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Trekking Poles are super light, three-section, double adjustment poles for hiking and trekking. Utilizing carbon fiber shaft segments for a stiff, 475 gram design, as well as a natural cork handle that wicks sweat and provides a moldable, comfortable grip. Look for high-performance poles when hiking, trekking, snowshoeing and even backcountry skiing.