What to Pack for Hiking: 44 Best Essentials for a Hike

Hiking is one of the best ways to escape our day-to-day lives and explore nature. But there’s way more that goes into the perfect hike than just finding the perfect trail. You also need to pack the right essentials and gear!

It can feel overwhelming, particularly if you’re a beginner hiker, to know exactly what to pack for hiking. That’s why I’ve put together a list of the best hiking gear, including a list of the essentials you should bring on every hike.

This guide covers the 44 essentials for a hike, including:

  • Best Hiking day pack and gear
  • The 10 Hiking Essentials
  • What to wear hiking
  • Beyond the hiking essential gear
  • Luxury amenities to make hiking feel less like roughing it
  • And a free printable packing list for hiking!

Without further ado, let’s discover the 44 essentials for hiking that belong on your packing list.

What to Pack for Hiking: Essentials for a Hike Pinterest Pin
What to Pack for Hiking: Essentials for a Hike Pinterest Pin

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Looking for more day hiking gear recommendations? Check out these posts!

Free Packing List for Hiking

Want a little help preparing for your next hike? Download this free, printable packing list for a day hike with all the gear mentioned in this post!

How to Know What to Bring Hiking

It can be stressful to know what to bring on a day hike for beginners. For hiking, you want to carry the essential safety gear, but some comfort items as well.

For day hikes, you’re goal should be to:

  • Bring all the necessary safety supplies for hiking, like a first aid kit and the 10 essentials
  • Pack some amenities, like a camera, comfy clothes, and sunglasses
  • Keep your hiking day pack lightweight – you don’t want to carry around a lot of unnecessary weight

This guide takes you through each one of these goals and I’ve provided links to my favorite hiking gear. 

If you’re just starting out, REI is a great place to learn more about the must-haves for hiking. I purchase most of my outdoor gear from REI and their staff is always incredibly knowledgeable. 

Hiking the Hidden Valley Trail in Joshua Tree National Park

Find the Best Hiking Day Pack

Before you set out for a hike, you need to invest in the right gear. While there’s seemingly infinite amounts of hiking gear, there’s one that truly matters: a good hiking day pack.

Your day hiking pack should be a backpack, not a crossbody, not a messenger bag. A backpack keeps your hands-free and evenly distributes the weight of your essentials while you hike. 

The size of your pack will depend on hike length and how much you plan to carry. Backpack capacity is measured in liters, based on the volume held in the body of the bag. 

For most hikes, you’ll be fine opting for a pack between 15 and 30 liters. For those bringing only the essentials and thin outer layers, a pack under 20L should work fine. If you’re like me and like to carry plenty of snacks and a camera, you’ll want a pack between 20-35L.

Choosing a high quality backpack made for the outdoors is important. Osprey is one of the top outdoor backpack brands. They make everything from daypacks to backcountry packs.

For men, I recommend the Osprey Talon 22.

For women, I recommend the Osprey Tempest 20.

Both these backpacks are designed with hikers in mind, providing:

  • Pockets in all the right places, including interior pockets and hip pockets
  • Chest and waist straps to distribute weight away from your shoulders
  • Mesh paneling along back for breathability while hiking
  • Clips for bike helmets and trekking poles
  • Sleeve for hydration reservoir (I recommend the Osprey reservoir too!)

Read More: Hiking 101 – The Ultimate Guide to Hiking for Beginners

Essential Things to Bring When Hiking

If you read any article on hiking for beginners, you’ll hear about the 10 essentials. These are the essential things to bring on a hike, no matter the distance. The 10 essentials include gear like navigation, a hiking first aid kit, and water that could save your life if you were to get stranded overnight.

These hiking essentials belong at the top of your list of what to pack for a day hike.

Hiking the Queens Garden Trail in Bryce Canyon National Park
  • Navigation – Even with a keen sense of direction, you should carry some sort of navigation on your hike. The most reliable navigation is a physical map. You can pick one of these up at the park headquarters or sometimes at the trailhead. If there’s a trail map at the start of the hike, I like to take a picture of that too.

    While physical maps are most reliable, digital maps are more convenient. I like to use digital maps from AllTrails to track my progress on the hike. With AllTrails Pro, you can download hikes and make them available offline.

    For more advanced hikers, consider investing in a Garmin InReach device. This GPS device helps you navigate and communicate in the wilderness, but it doesn’t come cheap. For a more budget solution on shorter hikes, pack an inexpensive compass and a whistle.

  • Sun Protection – As with any outdoor activity, it’s important to protect yourself from the sun. Sunscreen is an essential for any hike (don’t forget to reapply!). But your protection doesn’t stop at sunscreen. You should also carry a sun hat and sunglasses to protect your face, neck, and eyes. When looking for a hiking hat, look for moisture-wicking, quick drying fabrics. Bonus if your hat is machine washable!

  • Extra Layers – Regardless of the time of year, you should have extra layers stored in your pack. Weather can change in a moment, so you should be prepared for colder temperatures and rain. I recommend packing either a lightweight pullover or a fleece jacket, depending on how hot it is. And don’t forget to pack a waterproof rain jacket (look for one with Goretex!).

  • Headlamp – Every hiker should carry some sort of illumination. And no, your cell phone flashlight doesn’t count. I prefer a headlamp over a flashlight to keep your hands-free while hiking. Black Diamond headlamps are the best for hikers, with lots of great features at a fairly low price. Make sure your headlamp has fresh batteries before heading out for a hike. 

  • Hiking First Aid Kit – Hiking can result in unexpected injuries and you should be prepared to handle common injuries. I recommend the Adventure Medical Kit since it’s made specifically for hiking-related injuries. A small first aid kit can be a life saver – I’ve had to use mine many times!

    If you’re in a larger group, have multiple people carry first aid kits. If you’re hiking with a dog, bring a hiking first aid kit for your pup too. 

    Feeling like you need to brush up on your field first aid? The American Red Cross has an intensive (I’m talking 121 pages) PDF on Wilderness and Remote First Aid.

  • Fire Starter – One of the most important of the 10 essentials is a way to start fire if you had to spend the night in the wilderness. I recommend carrying stormproof matches and fire starter. Both these items are lightweight, inexpensive, and don’t take up much space in your hiking day pack – perfect for something you hope to never use!

  • Repair Kit & Tools – Gear rips and tears. It’s just a fact of life. That’s why it’s important to pack a mini repair kit to mend any issues on the trail. While some gear repair tape can be valuable for equipment like tents, for shorter hikes all you really need is some duct tape. The duct tape is strong enough to hold together rips in your backpack for a short period of time. I also recommend carrying a small pocket knife or multi-tool, like a Swiss Army Knife, in your hiking day pack.

Want to make packing for your next hike easier? Download the free, printable hiking gear checklist to help you prepare!

  • Nutrition – There’s nothing worse than a hungry hiker, so pack plenty of snacks to keep you going throughout your hike. You should also pack extra food, just in case you get lost or stranded overnight. I prefer calorie-dense foods like CLIF bars. Don’t forget to bring a trash bag to pack out all trash, an essential part of the Leave No Trace principles.

  • Water – Without a doubt, the most crucial item on this day hiking essentials list is water. This is particularly true for strenuous hikes or hot, arid environments. 

    You should carry at least 0.5L (16.9 ounces) of water for every hour of hiking. Double that for strenuous, high heat hikes. Carry your water in a light-weight, reusable water bottle. Avoid dense, stainless steel water bottles on hikes as they add extra, unnecessary weight.

    For longer hikes, I recommend using a 3 liter hydration reservoir (also called a bladder). These are lightweight, hold plenty of water for your day hikes, and fit within a hiking day pack.I also recommend packing a small water filtration device for emergencies. If you were to get stranded having a way to filter water from a stream could save your life! I recommend the Lifestraw since it’s lightweight and compact.

  • Emergency Shelter – Temperatures can drop dramatically overnight. That’s why you should always carry a compact shelter, called a bivvy, to protect you if you have to sleep outdoors. A bivvy is like a small heat-trapping sleeping bag that rolls up smaller than your fist. It’s lightweight and fits perfectly down in the bottom of the backpack, where hopefully you’ll never have to use it.

  • Identification & Money – While not technically part of the 10 hiking essentials, it’s always a good idea to carry your ID, credit cards, insurance cards, and cash on a hike. You never know when you’ll need them and it’s better to be prepared. I also recommend leaving your itinerary with someone else for more remote hikes, even if that’s just texting a friend your trail and when you expect to be back.

What to Wear Hiking

Another crucial piece of preparing for a hike is wearing the right clothing. When it comes to what to take on a hike, you want to dress in breathable, durable, comfortable clothes. I recommend avoiding fabrics like denim and cotton as they are heavy and absorb sweat and water, making them heavier.

Grinnell Glacier Viewpoint hike in Glacier National Park
  • Base Layers – This your first layer to wear when hiking. Depending on the weather, a base layer could range from a short sleeve hiking top to a long sleeve merino wool layer. No matter the temperature, you want to choose base layers that will dry quickly and resist odors. 

    For warmer weather, I recommend a short-sleeve hiking top like the Patagonia Cool Capilene tee. This is the best alternative to a standard cotton t-shirt. If you prefer to hike in tank tops, look into activewear from Old Navy. Their workout tanks are incredibly affordable and surprisingly high quality. 

    In colder weather, I recommend opting for a merino wool base layer, like ones from Smartwool. These are lightweight, but incredibly warm long sleeve tops perfect for layering. Merino wool tops are odor resistant, making them a great option for long hikes or backpacking trips.

  • Hiking Pants – For pants,  you want durable, rip-resistant materials. I recommend wearing long pants over shorts to protect your legs from overgrowth along the trail. The best hiking pants are quick drying and won’t snag on the trail.

    For women, leggings or hiking tights are also a great option. Choose high-quality brands for leggings that will last for years. I always hike in my Athleta Elation Leggings.

    While everyday workout clothing is comfortable for hiking, it may not be as durable as nylon-based hiking pants.

  • Outer Layers – Depending on the weather, you may want several outer layers when hiking. Often, I start out with a long sleeve layer and stow it in my backpack after I start moving.

    For hot, summer hikes, I recommend a lightweight merino wool half-zip. It’s durable, lightweight, and provides just a little warmth for those cool summer mornings.

    In spring and fall, opt for something a little warmer like a fleece pullover. When you’re not using it, you can roll it up and store in your hiking day pack. I love the Patagonia Better Sweater for its versatility. It’s sporty and durable enough for hikes, but nice enough to wear with jeans to work (hello minimalist wardrobe!).

    For colder months, you’ll want a down jacket. These puffy coats are the best way to stay warm on a hike. Best of all, down jackets are easily compressible, many can even fold into their own pocket! Down jackets are rated based on their fill (higher down fill = more warmth).  I recommend an 850-fill down jacket.

  • Rain Jacket – Rain showers can pop up without any warning on a hike. I always keep a rain jacket packed in the bottom of my backpack, just in case. Always opt for a rain jacket with Gore-Tex, a waterproof, breathable fabric. While fully waterproof rain jackets are a bit pricier, it’s well worth it. My REI XeroDry rain jacket is on the more affordable end for a Gore-Tex rain jacket and is long lasting.

  • Hiking Boots – Shoes can make or break your hike. For every hike, you should wear high-quality, broken in hiking boots or shoes with good tread. Avoid old sneakers at all costs!

    For hikes with rough terrain, I recommend hiking boots. They provide more stability and strong grip, while providing ankle support. My favorite pair of hiking boots are the Columbia Newton Ridge – they are affordable and long-lasting!

    For hikes on paved or smooth trails, I recommend hiking shoes like trail runners. Since they were designed with runners in mind, trail runner hiking shoes are incredibly lightweight with high-quality traction and grip.

  • Wool Socks – Merino wool is the holy grail material for hiking. In socks, merino wool prevents blisters thanks to its quick-drying capabilities. Don’t go on any hike with a quality pair of merino wool socks. They come in different thicknesses and heights, so you can wear different types of socks with different hiking shoes.

    For higher-end merino wool socks, you can’t beat Darn Tough. For more budget-friendly wool socks, I recommend REI’s store brand hiking socks.

  • Breathable Underwear – Breathable and sweat-wicking undergarments are crucial for long hikes. You’ll want quick drying and odor resistant materials. My favorite brand for both women’s hiking underwear and men’s hiking underwear is Exofficio. Their Give-N-Go line for women and boxer briefs for men are designed for comfort on outdoor adventures.

  • Gloves – If you’re hiking in cold weather,  you’ll want to pack a pair of gloves to keep your fingers warm! Look for touchscreen-friendly gloves, like the Smartwool Liner Tech gloves. For particularly cold days, you’ll want something a bit more insulated, like the Black Diamond ScreenTap gloves.

Read More: Ultimate Guide on What to Wear Hiking for Women

Beyond the Essentials for a Hike

While the only truly essential items for a hiking trip are a backpack, the 10 essentials, and the right clothing, I recommend packing a few extras. These items will go a long way towards making your hike more enjoyable. 

Viewing sunset from Keys View in Joshua Tree National Park
  • Trekking poles – For steep hikes, trekking poles can be a game changer. The poles work by helping you remain stable and take away pressure on your knees. Many hikers, especially beginners or backpackers, have found trekking poles to alleviate pain when hiking. Like all hiking gear, lightweight is key. Carbon fiber trekking poles are the gold standard. 

  • Lip SPF – Protecting your lips from sun damage is just as important as applying sunscreen! Use an inexpensive chapstick that has SPF in it for some added protection when spending time outdoors. 

  • Hair Ties – If you have long hair, always pack extra hair ties, even if you plan on hiking with your hair down. You’ll be thankful for extra hair ties when you get hot or your hair ties break.

  • Trowel & Toilet Paper – When you gotta go, you gotta go. Part of the Leave No Trace principles involves burying your waste. If you have to go #2 on a hike, you should bring a trowel (a small shovel) to dig a hole and bury it. Your trowel doesn’t have to be fancy… I use this inexpensive trowel from Amazon.

    For toilet paper, I recommend either burying your toilet paper deep in the hole or packing out your toilet paper in a Ziploc bag.

Want to make packing for your next hike easier? Download the free, printable hiking gear checklist to help you prepare!

  • Hand Sanitizer – Since washing your hands outdoors isn’t really possible, I recommend packing a travel size hand sanitizer in your hiking backpack. Be sure to use it after going to the bathroom or before eating!

  • Trash Bag – The key principle of Leave No Trace is to pack out all trash. This includes everything from snack wrappers to water bottles to orange peels. For hikes, you can bring a full size trash bag or just a small plastic grocery bag. I also try to pack out any other trash I find along the trail as I hike, even if it wasn’t my trash.

  • Bug Spray – Mosquitos are quite the pest, particularly in the summer. Packing a small, travel-size bug spray is a great way to fend them off. I like to use a more natural lemon eucalyptus bug spray, like this one from Repel. I find the smell isn’t quite as overwhelming and I don’t feel like I’m covering my body in toxic chemicals.

  • Bear Spray – If you’re hiking in grizzly bear country (Montana, Wyoming, Idaho), you’ll want to carry bear spray. This is like a bear-specific pepper spray. In an emergency, you can spray the bear to allow yourself to escape. This is only used as a last resort if slowly backing away isn’t an option. Bear spray is available at outdoor retailers like REI and is essential for a hiking trip in places like Yellowstone and Glacier National Park.
  • Walkie Talkies –  On a lot of hikes, you may not have quality cell phone service. If you’re splitting up from a group or arranging to meet at trailheads, walkie talkies can be a great way to communicate. I found my set of walkie talkies to be particularly useful when arranging transportation with friends or family after one way hikes, like the Highline Trail in Glacier National Park.

Read More: 7 Best Hiking Apps for Your Smartphone

Luxury Things to Take on a Hike

So we’ve covered the basics and things that aren’t basics, but are nice to have. This last section covers the non-essential things to take hiking. While you don’t need to bring these items, they sure do make your hike more fun!

Hiking the Canyon Overlook Trail in Zion National Park
  • Portable charger – Phone batteries die faster when they’re searching for signal or running GPS apps. Both of these tend to happen a lot when hiking! I like to carry a small portable charger in my backpack for long hikes to make sure I don’t run out of battery and can still navigate along the trail. It’s also a great way to keep your other hiking gadgets, like fitness trackers, powered!

  • Hammock – For those casual weekend hikes, packing a hammock can be a great way to relax. Lightweight hammocks like the ENO DoubleNest are very popular. To use them, all you have to do is fasten the hammock between two trees! You can cuddle up and enjoy the sound of the outdoors while reading a good book or taking a little nap. To protect the tree bark, I recommend bringing two small towels along as well to place under the hammock straps.

  • Binoculars – If you’re hiking in an area known for wildlife, you’ll want to bring binoculars! You should always keep your distance from animals, but binoculars can be a great way to see wildlife up close. I’ve watched everything from bald eagles to moose in my pair! You don’t have to break the bank on binoculars either… For most hikers, a simple, compact pair of binoculars will work.

  • Go Pro or Camera – Documenting epic hikes is one of my favorite things to do. Whether you take pictures and videos on your phone or on a fancy camera, you’ll enjoy your photos for years to come. For those who want some stellar photos and videos from the trail, I recommend investing in a GoPro Hero. GoPros record in high-resolution, are waterproof, and ultra-durable.

    If you’re hiking with a DSLR camera, I highly recommend investing in a clip to fasten it to your backpack. The Peak Design Camera Capture clip is the best one out there.

Read More: 40+ Best Gifts for Hikers

Frequently Asked Questions About What to Take Hiking

What should I pack for a day hike?

You should pack a hiking backpack, the 10 hiking essentials, extra clothing layers, durable hiking shoes, and a few non-essentials like a trowel, portable charger, and smartphone.

What should you not take on a hike?

You should not take valuable items, like jewelry or nice clothes. Don’t bring multiple pairs of shoes and non-essential jackets. Don’t wear clothing made of cotton or denim as these materials get heavy and don’t dry quickly.

What do beginner hikers need?

Beginner hikers should always carry the 10 essentials and a hiking backpack. The 10 essentials include potentially lifesaving gear like navigation, headlamps, first aid kit, and extra water. Be sure to pack extra layers and snacks too!

What the 10 essentials for survival?

The 10 essentials for survival in hiking are navigation, illumination, sun protection, first aid kit, repair kit and multi tool, fire starter, emergency shelter, extra food, extra water, and extra clothing layers.

What should I wear for a day hike?

You should wear lightweight, breathable, quick-drying clothes for a day hike. Look for materials like merino wool for base layers, fleece or down jackets, and hiking pants. On colder days, don’t forget to wear gloves and a hat.

Final Thoughts on What to Pack for Hiking

Don’t let packing for your next hike be overwhelming. While this list covers 44 of the best day hiking gear, at the end of the day, you just need the essentials.

Before you head out on your hike, be sure to pack:

  • A quality hiking day pack
  • The 10 hiking essentials
  • Extra layers, like a rain jacket and a pullover
  • Durable hiking boots or shoes
  • And a few luxury, non-essentials items to make your hike more enjoyable

Don’t forget to download your free, printable day hiking packing list!

Looking for more hiking gear recommendations? Check out these posts!

Want to share your thoughts, tips, and advice with me and other readers? Have questions about your trip? Head down to the comments section below!

This post may include some affiliate links, where I earn a small commission if you choose to make a purchase, all at no additional cost to you. I only recommend products or brands that I use. Any income helps me continue sharing national park tips and itineraries for free.