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Ever gone on a day hike and realize you either over packed so now you’re lugging around a heavy bag or you under packed and have that thought of, “well shit, I could’ve used that!”

Trust me, we have all been there, from experienced hikers to new, there has been at least one hike where this has happened. Of course, what you carry is going to be highly dependent on the type of hike you go on.

Today, I’m going to cover the short but fun hikes and the must-haves needed in your bag (for me these are hikes just under 10 miles). After a few trial and errors, I’ve narrowed down to packing my bag with the minimalist 8 items.

Sure, there are probably a few extras I can carry, but on small day hikes, I prefer to have a pack the allows me to feel lightweight and flexible. This is in case I come across a good tree or rock to climb.

Day Hike Essentials Pinterest image

Before I get into the nitty gritty of the minimal day hiking essentials, what I carry it in is very important. Choosing the right pack before hitting the trails can make or break enjoying the outdoors. With all the variety of packs from size to color to design, finding the right one can cause your head to whirl.

For a day hike, I recommend a pack size or 18L up to 24L. If you are set on doing smaller hikes, an 18L backpack with a hydration water bladder like this one is the way to go.

Day Hike pack

However, if you plan on hiking one trail all day, or multiple trails, a 24L bag will store enough essentials to last.

Let’s get on with my list of things I always carry with me on day hikes. Keep in mind this is what I use and what works for the hikes I go on regularly.

Day Hike Essentials List

1. Water, water, water!

Seriously, guys, so many people underestimate the need for ample water even on a short hike. It does not matter if you plan on only being out on the trail for as little as a couple of hours, carry more water than you might need. The general rule of thumb is 1 liter for every 2 hours you plan on being out.

However, time of year, the difficulty of the trail, and time of day can be an exception to carrying more. Having a pack with a water bladder built in makes it much easier to carry water versus lugging around a big jug or multiple bottles.

Most daypacks will have a 3L water bladder, however, that may not be enough depending based on what I mentioned previously. My pack has a 3L water bladder, but I also carry my stainless steel water bottle as well. You never know if you will get caught out on the trails for a longer period of time or if you need to briefly rinse an injury.

2. A map!

Knowing exactly where your going is typically a good thing. Many trails in state parks have clear defined markers, but some can be old and worn down.

When it comes to a lot of national parks or forests, the trail is cut, but not always marked. It can be very easy to wander off a path or take a wrong turn and get lost. Yellowstone alone has several people go missing each year because of this. Almost all parks offer maps to guest free of charge.

The best type of map is a topographic one, this will show you changes in elevation along with trails unless you’re doing backcountry hiking. But that’s a completely different adventure!

Don’t forget a compass, and no the one on your phone doesn’t count. I don’t recommend relying on technology out in the woods, you can never guarantee good cell service.

3. First aid kit

Gone are the days of those bulky plastic boxes that our parents had. Nowadays there are a wide variety of first aid kits in nifty compact pouches.

They range from your large extended trip sizes to the bare minimum pocket sized pouch. While carrying one to two band aids for the occasional blister may be all you need, it’s better to have the mind of a scout and be prepared.

I personally opt for a happy medium kit which includes band aids, alcohol wipes, a small pack of gauze, tweezers, and various ointments for burns or bug bites. This size fits perfectly in my pack without adding on weight or taking up too much space.

Day Hike first aid kit

4. Food!

Now you’re probably thinking, why pack food if your just going to be out for a few hours? Well, if you’ve never hiked, but you have worked out, you know that exercising can create quite the appetite. While I don’t bring a full on meal with appetizers, I do carry a few high energy trail snacks that have protein and carbs.

My snack list typically includes 1-2 granola bars, a small bag of nuts (especially almonds), and my favorite beef jerky. However, you may want to limit how much beef jerky you consume since it can be high in sodium, so you will end up drinking your water quicker. Speaking from experience here.

5. Extra clothing

It is yet another necessity, even for a day hike. I always bring a lightweight rain jacket, a shirt, and a pair of socks. I’ve had a hike or two where I crossed a stream and nothing spells miserable like hiking in wet socks, hello blisters!

As far as the rain jacket, I’ve rarely had to use it for its intended purpose since I try to plan ahead and look at weather reports before my hikes. But! It can serve as something more than just protecting you from getting wet, I’ve used it as an impromptu floor cover for when my husband and I find a nice spot and enjoy the surrounding scenery.

You’re probably wondering about the shirt, no worries I didn’t forget. So this changes depending on the season. In the middle of summer or mosquito season I pack a lightweight long sleeve.

I don’t always wear it, but if the mosquitos get to be more than the bug spray can handle I will throw it on, not to mention it does help protect from the sun as well.

6. Sunscreen and Bug Spray

I know it’s technically two items mentioned, but where I’m from the two go hand and hand. Here in Texas, the mosquitos are just as brutal as the sun, so for me, they stay in my pack year round.

In addition to sunscreen, don’t forget a hat and sunglasses. As for bug spray, I find that a lemon eucalyptus spray like Repel to work really well, and it’s DEET free!

7. Matches

This one might be a bit of a stretch for a simple day hike, but remember the motto, “Be prepared”. A simple hack to carrying them and keeping them dry is storing them in an empty tic tac case. Not only is it small enough to fit in the pocket compartment of your bag, but now you are recycling!

I never have and hopefully never need to build a fire while on a short day hike, but should you become lost or injured and end up needing to stay into the late hours, having light and warmth is a good idea. Just follow safe practices of building a small contained fire, we do not want to risk it getting out of control.

Also, keep in mind, many parks do not allow you to build fires, so this is just purely for emergency purposes

8. Other emergency essentials

With so many uses a good knife or multitool is a good item to pack each time you think about hitting the trail. Add some paracord along with it and you will be sufficiently prepared for if or when something goes wrong. The great thing about these last items is they take up very little space, so no need to worry about having a bulging backpack.

Optional items:

A camera

This item is optional, but it could make your hikes more memorable. Nowadays the camera quality on phones are really good quality, that this is all most people prefer to take, especially since it’s lightweight.

However, some may opt to carry a DSLR  camera to try for those more advanced photos or photos at a further distance. There are many great high-quality cameras on the market that won’t break the bank and can make wildlife viewing really fun!

Final thoughts…….Safety

So you’re packed, hiking shoes laced up, and ready to hit the trails! One final piece of advice. Please practice safe hiking!

Let a family member or friend know where you plan on hiking, keep a form of identification with you, and stay on the trails. Many reasons why people get into sticky situations like getting lost is due to the simple fact that they don’t stay on the trail.

Enough of the “ mom” lecture for now, go out there and explore!!!!

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Categories: Travel

Justine Hiett

I am a wife and mom who loves to get outside and explore. My goal is to spread my passion through my trips as well as tips on just plain ol' everyday living.

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Pedernales Falls State Park: Central Texas Hiking - Love Every Aspect · at

[…] you hit the trails make sure to read my post on Day Hiking Essentials. This article will act as a sort of checklist to ensure your prepared for a fun-filled day of […]

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