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Beginners Guide to Hiking Essentials (40+ Item Day Hike Checklist)

In this post I’ll cover everything you could possibly need when venturing out on a full day hiking adventure with my complete day hike checklist.

I originally put this list together when preparing for the four day long Salkantay Trek (read about that here!) through the Peruvian Andes to Machu Picchu.

We hiked 40+ miles (60+ km) over this span while crossing a variety of terrains and climates.

That trek required efficient packing and thoughtful planning to ensure we’d be ready for anything the mountains threw our way. One day we even hiked through 12 hours of rain, snow and ice!

Salkantay Pass, Peru two men hiking during icy conditionsPin
Photo at Salkantay Pass with my guide Robinzon during an icy adventure

While you might not need every item off this list to prepare for the day hike you have in mind, rest easy knowing this list was organized with rigorous hiking in mind.

Take from this list what you need and ignore what you don’t.

You’ll notice some links and advertisements from partner or affiliate sites throughout this post. I typically earn a small commission on any purchases made through those links at no additional cost to you. If you check those out, great. If not, I’m still happy you’re here!

Hiking checklist things to include in your day pack

Two quick housekeeping items before we dig into the full post

If you’re more interested in locating a quick checklist to help you prepare, I’ve got you covered.

Be sure to bookmark this post, pin or save the checklist below so you can easily refer back to it when packing.

With that said I highly recommend you read the full post.

It’s full of good packing advice, helpful gear recommendations and if you’re a beginner hiker it will help educate you on the ‘why’ and ‘when’ to pack certain items.

Day hike packing checklist cheat sheetPin

With that said, let’s jump into the complete beginners guide to hiking day pack essentials!

Hiking day pack

In order to properly prepare for a lengthy day hike you’ll need a good hiking day pack.

Something in the 30L range is ideal and should have sufficient space to pack everything covered in this list.

The most important feature you’ll want in a proper hiking day pack is a slot for a water reservoir insert.

After that I’d recommend a pack with waist and chest straps to help better distribute the weight over your body.

I’d also suggest selecting a day pack with containers on the waist straps.

This is a common feature amongst higher quality brands and these compartments are perfect for storing items like snacks or salt tablets that you might want to have easy access to during your hike.

REI is one of the best places to shop a wide variety of hiking day packs. You can view their current offerings here.

Water reservoir

Day hiking will require you to bring a significant amount of a water to ensure you stay hydrated.

Chances are a water bottle isn’t going to cut it.

Sizes typically range from 1 liter to 3 liters and most hiking day bags will have an area designed to house this device.

Water reservoirs also keep your hands free from having to carry a bottle which makes for a more enjoyable hiking experience. You also won’t need to stop to pull a water bottle out of your bag every time you get thirsty.

I’ve used reservoirs from Platypus, Gregory and Osprey and never had a bad experience with any of them. You can shop Amazon’s full selection of water reservoirs here.

Life straw water filter

Hikers who are going deep into the back country should consider packing this handy little device.

If something happens to you or the water supply you’ve brought along for your adventure a water filter like Life Straw can serve as a worthy insurance policy.

Water proof backpack cover

Many higher end day packs will come with a waterproof cover. Be sure to check the product description if purchasing online or look through all of the compartments when buying in person.

If your bag does not include a waterproof backpack cover this is something you’ll want to purchase and leave in your bag.

This is especially important for anyone doing longer hikes in the mountains. Weather can change at a moments notice and you don’t want everything you’re carrying getting soaked when you’re miles away from your vehicle or camp site!

If you’re in the market for a new cover REI’s Duck Back brand should do the trick.

Hiking boots

Make sure you have a sturdy pair of hiking boots (preferably worn in a bit) when going out on longer hikes.

Longer hikes that take you further off the beaten path tend to be rockier and less maintained.

Be sure to buy boots that provide proper ankle support and grip. You really do not want to roll an ankle after hiking hours off into the wilderness.

I’d take this a step further and recommend purchasing water proof or water resistant hiking boots.

Unless you’re hiking somewhere with little risk of precipitation or moisture, the goal of a great hiking setup is having the option to become completely water proof should the situation arise.

The downside to water proof boots is they often lack breathability. You might not need the water resistance if you’re hiking in dryer hotter climates.

If you’re unsure what to buy then visiting an outdoor apparel store in person will give you the opportunity to ask specific questions. Shopping for hiking boots at a boutique or larger outdoor apparel store like REI ensures you’ll have a wide variety of options to choose from.


Gaiters are a great way to reduce the amount of trail debris, snow, mud or precipitation that can make its way down into your hiking boots.

The further off the grid you’re going, the better the idea these become to bring along!

Trekking poles

If you’re hiking through snow, difficult terrain or something with significant elevation change, trekking poles might be a good idea.

Elevation change can be particularly hard on the knees and trekking poles are a great way to take some off the load off!

Man taking photo on Pacaya Volcano in GuatemalaPin
It can be extremely windy on Pacaya, you have been warned!

Be mindful that trekking poles are generally not allowed as airplane carryon. If you purchase a set of trekking poles make sure they collapse small enough to fit into your check bag or special luggage.


If you’re hiking before dawn or after dusk be sure to bring a headlamp along for the ride.

I prefer a headlamp to a flashlight since it doesn’t occupy one of my hands. A headlamp does a great job of illuminating the path ahead with minimal effort or focus.


While I prefer a headlamp, it isn’t absolutely necessary.

Either way be sure to have a source of light other than your cell phone. Your cell phone light generally drains battery quickly and isn’t as powerful as headlamps or actual flashlights.

In lieu of a headlamp, be sure to have at least a small flash light for emergencies. Here’s a link to REI’s flashlight options.

Polarized Sunglasses

It really doesn’t matter what the weather forecast calls for, I’m always bringing sunglasses.

Sometimes the cloudiest of days can seem the brightest when you consider the glare.

Planning a long hike in potentially snowy conditions? Don’t forget that snow also reflects light and can even cause temporary snow blindness!

One surefire way to be miserable all day when hiking is to forget your sunglasses at home. Having a reliable and comfortable pair of polarized sunglasses should be a priority for anyone looking to endure longer hikes.

Moisture wicking t-shirts

There are a number of brands and styles to choose from when it comes to moisture wicking clothing.

Don’t be the person wearing a soaked cotton shirt covered in back sweat. Gross.

If you don’t have a brand you currently prefer I would recommend heading over to and browsing their website.

They have a number of brands geared towards hikers like yourself!

Trekking pants

Let this serve as a reminder to pick your hiking outfit thoughtfully.

I rarely opt for shorts for the following reasons: bugs, sun exposure, overgrown sections of trail and because water resistant hiking pants will keep you drier should you encounter precipitation.

Another option would be to start in shorts and have a pair of water resistant pants stashed in your hiking day bag.

Man posing in front of large mountain near Salkantay Pass PeruPin
We took this photo the morning after hiking down from Salkantay Pass in Peru

This is another situation where I’d recommend heading over to to compare hiking oriented brands.

My personal favorite brand is KUHL. I wore a pair of their hiking pants for 5 days straight during the Salkantay Trek in Peru and was very happy with how they held up.

Moisture Wicking Underwear

For the love of god, wear moisture wicking underwear when hiking.

I’m a big fan of the Pair of Thieves brand if you’re in the market for men’s moisture wicking underwear that won’t break the bank!

They are highly rated and I can personally attest they are well worth every penny. You can grab a pair on Amazon at the link here.

If you’re camping somewhere over night it’s never a bad idea to bring an extra pair either!


If you’ll be hiking in colder climates a set of leggings pairs well with a water resistant outer layer to keep you warm and dry.

Since these will usually be worn as a base layer make sure they’re moisture wicking. Also be mindful about material density and its suitability for the climate you’ll be hiking through.

Hiking socks

I absolutely love the FEIDEER brand of hiking socks. I’ve tried several other brands that are marketed more towards hikers, but these remain my top pick.

They do a great job of keeping your feet dry while still providing enough cushion to tolerate a full day of punishment from a long hike.

Any time I’m hiking for more than a few hours I like to bring an extra pair.

Fresh socks can be a great way to refresh your feet mid hike or when you make it back to your vehicle at the end of the day.

Fleece top layer

A fleece top layer is one of the most important layers to have at your disposal when hiking in cold temperatures.

If you’re in the market for a good hiking fleece you’ll notice that you can purchase the material in a variety of densities. Think of your options as being light, medium or heavy.

The heavier the layer, the better suited it will be for colder temperatures.

Fleece is moisture wicking by design which means it’s a great material to utilize when selecting your hiking gear for the day.

Man taking photo at Humantay Lake, Peru during rainy morningPin
We had some slight breaks in the rainy conditions to grab a few photos at Humantay Lake

I’d recommend purchasing a light or medium weight fleece if you don’t have one as these will be better suited for layering compared to heavier options.

The online apparel store at REI allows you to easily filter through different fabric types, don’t overlook this tool!

Down jacket

The down jacket is the day hikers perfect solution to cold temperatures.

Down jackets are typically super lightweight, fold up small while providing significant warmth. They are typically insulated using the feathers of geese or ducks.

The ability to fold up small into your hiking bag without adding much weight are the two key reasons I recommend this type of jacket.

Waterproof rain jacket

A waterproof rain jacket is an absolute must if you are hiking in the mountains or anywhere with unpredictable weather patterns.

I’d recommend purchasing one made from GORE-TEX which folds up super thin and is extremely lightweight.

Don’t skip the rain jacket as it’s the single most important item for keeping you dry should you encounter precipitation when out roaming the wilderness!

Wool hat

Cold weather calls for a warm hat!

Not only will a nice wool hat help keep your ears and head warm but it’s also my favorite way to regulate temperature when hiking since it’s so easy to take off and put back on.

Colorful sunrise in the Italian Dolomites during hike to Tre Cime di LavaredoPin
Since this particular trip to Europe wasn’t very hiking oriented, I left behind some hiking gear I’d normally have handy

This is especially true when hiking at elevation where temperatures will fluctuate widely depending on time of day and the amount of cloud cover.


Even when you don’t need a warmer wool covering, it’s usually a good idea to bring a hat on your longer day hike adventures.

Hats are a great way to reduce sun in your eyes, sun exposure to your face and they help prevent critters like ticks from getting into your hair when hiking through wooded areas.

You can shop an endless variety of styles here.


Don’t forget to pack gloves suited for the climate you’ll be hiking in!

The first consideration should be density and whether they’ll provide sufficient warmth for your hands. I’ve found that even a thin pair of gloves goes a long way in cold conditions.

Another key consideration is water resistance. If it’s cold and starts to rain you’ll really be wishing you had gloves that block out moisture.

Wet hands can be at elevated risk of frost bite in colder temperatures as moisture draws heat away from the body.

Be sure to consider different glove features and climate suitability when shopping for a new pair.

Sandals or gym shoes

I usually pack a pair of sandals or gym shoes in the car for after the hike.

There’s nothing more refreshing after 10 hours of hiking than taking off your hiking boots to finally let your feet breath!


While I’d recommend bringing a legitimate rain jacket, a poncho can serve as a worthy alternative.

I’d opt for a poncho instead of a rain jacket if I thought there was little chance of encountering precipitation.

A poncho will generally take up less space, weigh less but provide inferior protection against the rain.

You can shop ponchos on Amazon here.


Many hikes involve exploring alpine lakes, walking along rivers or discovering beautiful remote beaches.

If taking a dip is on your agenda be sure to pack your swim suit!

Small towel

A small towel can come in handy during a day hike in a number of ways.

The most obvious would be if you plan to swim in a lake or river along the way. Being able to dry off will be important!

A towel can also make itself useful by creating a surface to sit on or prepare food.

It’s like Towelie always says – don’t forget to bring a towel!

If you’re in the market for something new I’d suggest aiming for something smaller, light, that is able to dry quickly.


Sunscreen is a must for day hikes since you’ll be exposed to the elements for most of the day.

Chances are you’ll be sweating and need to reapply at least one time throughout the day.

Sun Bum is a brand I know and trust, you can check prices on Amazon here.

If you have sensitive skin, a preference for sunscreen without chemicals or need something that’s environmentally friendly check out some of the mineral based options below.

On a related note, this type of sunscreen is approved for use when snorkeling or swimming around coral reefs.

Be sure to pack a sunscreen bottle that’s small and lightweight so it doesn’t take up too much precious space or weight in your hiking pack!

Hand sanitizer

Chances are you won’t be encountering a real bathroom during your hiking adventures.

Even if there’s one a the trailhead, there’s a likelihood it doesn’t have running water and isn’t very clean.

The easiest way to keep your hands clean during a hiking adventure is to pack a small container of hand sanitizer.

This will come in handy before preparing any food you have brought or after using one of mother nature’s abundant restroom options.


Many people prefer hiking off into the wilderness with a knife handy. It can serve as a great form of protection and provides enormous utility in adverse scenarios.

If you prefer hiking with a knife let this serve as your reminder to bring it!

Toilet paper

Toilet paper is worth its weight in gold when hiking off into the wilderness.

Be sure to pack enough into a Ziploc bag to get you through any difficult situations that may arise throughout the day.

First aid supplies

It’s a good idea to bring a small set of first aid supplies with you when day hiking.

Bandages, antibiotic creams, ibuprofen and medicine for nausea just to name a few things worth packing.

An injury or illness becomes a much bigger problem when you’re hours away from your vehicle or civilization.

REI offers a wide selection of first-aid kits geared towards hikers. For many, these pre-packaged kits will be a better solution than trying to purchase each of the individual items.

Personal Medications

Be sure to pack any medications, vitamins or other supplements you need on a daily basis in a waterproof container or Ziploc bag.

Lip balm with SPF

Going on lengthy hikes virtually guarantees you’ll endure a high amount of sun exposure.

Don’t forget that your lips need SPF protection just like any other area of exposed skin. Be sure to carry lip balm with SPF and to reapply throughout the day.

Ziploc baggies

I’m a huge fan of stashing some extra Ziploc baggies in my hiking day pack.

They can help keep items like your phone, cash or medicine dry and they’re convenient for collecting trash like snack wrappers.

Hiking with a larger electronic like a digital camera? A gallon sized Ziploc bag can come up clutch if you need to stash your expensive camera somewhere water proof in a hurry!

Garbage bags

Garbage bags are a great way to separate wet clothing, muddy boots or trash in your hiking bag.

They can also serve as a backup water proofing tool for loose items should you encounter rain.

I usually keep two in my hiking bag just in case since they weigh virtually nothing and take up zero space.

Bug spray

Some days you don’t need a drop and others you can’t get enough.

There’s nothing more obnoxious than fighting off mosquitos all day long when you’re trying to enjoy some off the beaten path wilderness!

The two biggest considerations should be container size and whether or not you want DEET in your product.

REI has a great selection of small hiking oriented bug repellents or you can shop a wider selection here on Amazon.

Bear spray

As you elevate your hiking game to more remote areas that take you further into the wilderness and higher up into the mountains, bear spray will more commonly become an item you should pack.

Either pack it to be safe or do your homework ahead of time to determine if necessary. Popular hiking destinations like Banff, Canada or Glacier National Park, Montana are two areas you’ll definitely want bear spray when visiting.

Man hiking to Iceberg Lake in Glacier National ParkPin
On the trail out to Iceberg Lake

Big PSA here, bear spray is not welcome on carry on or checked luggage with most airlines. This means you’ll need to purchase it at your destination when flying.

Counter Assault is a leading maker of bear spray based in Montana. You can shop their current offerings on Amazon here.

See what people are saying about recent trail conditions and bear activity on

Electrolyte packets

One of the best ways to ensure sufficient hydration is through the use of hydration packets like Pedialyte or my personal favorite LMNT.

I wouldn’t advise mixing these into your hydration reservoir since those can be a pain to clean out and electrolyte packets can leave a salty flavor residue on whatever you mix them into.

You can bring an extra water bottle (on top of your hydration reservoir) to mix your electrolyte packets into when hiking.

Salt tablets

An alternate to electrolyte packets is to pack salt tablets instead.

These powdery tablets are easy to eat while you’re hiking and don’t require a separate water container for mixing.

SaltStick is my preferred brand of salt tablets and I never go on longer hikes without them.

Keep some with you in a ziplock baggy. If your hiking pack has waist pouches store them there for easy access along the trail!

Battery cell

On a day hike it’s unlikely you’re going to need to charge a bunch of electronics. But many hikers rely on their cell phone for GPS, trail maps, a camera and to call for help in case of an emergency.

A battery cell can prove very useful if you find yourself constantly draining your phone battery for these reasons.

Anker makes great portable battery cells and this is something that’s great to have in many situations other than hiking.

You will never regret having a backup battery cell handy!


Venturing out on long day hikes means you’ll need salty snacks for energy in between meals.

What do I recommend? Glad you asked.

Epic makes delicious meat based snack bars that are packed with protein.

The Sriracha Chicken ones are my personal favorite. Another great option is Rx Bars. Load up!

Digital Camera

Chances are if you’re adventuring out on a day hike you’ll be encountering some pretty incredible views along the way.

Cell phone cameras are great these days but they still leave a bit to be desired compared to a real digital camera.

For many, photography and the great outdoors go hand in hand. Consider taking the leap and upgrading to a real digital camera if you haven’t already to better capture your most epic adventures!


I’m not usually one to listen to music on hikes like this, but some people are.

And since this is a complete guide, this is a reminder to pack headphones if you plan to bring them.

ID (Passport, etc), hiking permits, park pass

Don’t forget your personal ID or any other essential documents related to your activity. Be sure to store them in a Ziploc baggy or somewhere that won’t get wet.

Many National and State Parks in the United States require varying degrees of timed entry reservations, hiking, or more often camping permits and park entry passes.

It’s a lot to keep track of!

Cell phone

It probably goes without saying, but it wouldn’t be a complete packing list if I didn’t remind you to pack your cell phone!

If you’re looking for an app to help you track your hiking accomplishments or discover new ideas be sure to give AllTrails a try.

Whenever I’m visiting a National Park or new area it’s the first place I go to research what my hiking options are.


Whether or not you’ll need or use cash for anything will be very dependent on where you’re hiking.

Hiking in Italy? You’ll be sure to encounter rifugios along the way where you can purchase food.

What about hikers Central or South America? Chances are you’ll stumble across locals selling water or snacks along popular routes.

If you’ve hired a guide for your adventure (where ever that may be) be sure to have some cash on hand for a tip!

Don’t forget to save this post!

Be sure to bookmark this post, save or pin the day hike packing checklist below if you haven’t already:

Day hike packing checklist cheat sheetPin

I hope you found my list of hiking essentials and day hike checklist helpful!

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