Gear List: Three Season Day Hiking
Updated: Dec 20, 2019
A lot of people have been asking me what I bring when I hike, so I figured I'd make a quick list of what I always have on me for a day hike. The 10 essentials are a great place to start when you're thinking about what you need even on a short day hike. I never leave the trailhead without them! Here they are, and I've included some links to the specific equipment I carry.
1. Navigation: A map and compass is absolutely necessary along with knowing how to use them. REI has this short video about using a compass, so it's pretty easy to learn the basics! These are the maps I use. They're made of tyvek so they're waterproof and they won't rip. I also have this Garmin watch that I use to track my hikes but not as my primary GPS. A lot of people ask me if their phone GPS is good enough, but it's really not! Even if it's completely charged and you have an external charger, phones can die in cold weather (yes even in the summer if it's chilly at a summit). Even if you have offline maps, it's still not enough to be your only form of navigation in case of an emergency situation. This being said, offline maps are great for quickly checking your directions while you're hiking and I highly recommend having the GaiaGPS app with maps downloaded on your phone!
2. Illumination: Always, always, always bring a headlamp! Even if you don't plan on being out after dark sometimes unforeseen events occur and it takes you longer than you anticipate. This is a small thing to bring that could save your life when the sun goes down. Also, remember that batteries drain in cold weather so if you're hiking in the winter keep your headlamp/batteries in an inside pocket.
3. First Aid: I have a small first aid kit that I put together in a ziplock bag that always comes with me when I hike. It has chapstick, an ace bandage, body glide, vinyl gloves, moleskin, blister pads, paper towels, Dermabond skin glue, band-aids, wound seal powder, pads (these are great for absorbing blood), Benadryl, Advil, Sudafed, Claratin, an epi pen, duct tape, a tampon (I get bloody noses a lot), and alcohol swabs. It's light, it fits in the palm of my hand, and it could be very helpful in many emergent situations. For backpacking or international trips I take a kit that's a little more substantial, but this one is perfect for short day trips.
4. Knife: I bring two knives with me when I hike. The first is a multi tool Swiss army knife with a little screwdriver, scissors, and many other functions. I love this because having a little screwdriver is super convenient for adjusting trekking poles and scissors are good for cutting duct tape and moleskin for blisters. The other is a Spyderco folding knife because it's easy to open with gloves on and when your hands are freezing hands in the winter.
5. Fire: I just bring a little Bic lighter. It's light and easy!
6. Emergency Shelter: On summer day hikes I bring just an emergency blanket (like the shiny ones they give out after marathons). It's just for emergencies and in winter I bring a bivvy sack but I get into that in my winter gear list!
7. Water: I almost always bring my MSR Squeeze water filtration system. I love it because it is super lightweight and easy to use. What makes it stand out from similar systems is that it doesn't require a dirty vesicle. It can filter water from even a tiny puddle if you're desperate because the tube directly goes into the source instead of needing to fill a bottle and squeeze the water through a bottle top filter. You can get away with just carrying all of your water for some day hikes, but bringing a filter gives me piece of mind just in case I run out. There are other systems like UV lights and tablets, but with having silty sources for many of my hikes, it's not ideal (the water will be bacteria free but it will still be muddy to drink).
8. Extra Layers: I always carry a rain jacket, a midweight fleece, extra socks, gloves, and a hat. At the top of mountains it can be chilly even in the summer! Also a raincoat is always necessary just in case the weather turns which can happen quickly and without warning. In the picture below, it was early June and we experienced beautiful sunny weather, extreme winds, rain, and pea sized hail. I also add in a puffy down jacket if I plan on spending any time above treeline because it can get chilly and it would keep me warm under the emergency blanket. For shorter day hikes it can be overkill, but I'd rather be safe than sorry when I'm above treeline.
9. Extra Food: High calorie snacks are so important for hiking! Always err on the side of caution with how much food you're bringing. I usually do enough to last me at least double how long I think the hike will take. You burn a lot of calories hiking, so bring more than you think you need! I'll do a separate post for snacks and backpacking food later.
10. Sun Protection: This is the only one of the 10 essentials that I sometimes slack on. I don't really get sun burned, so I usually just put on lotion in the morning that has SPF in it. Definitely bring sunscreen or other protection if you tend to get sunburns though. You'll definitely be in the sun a lot, especially if you're above treeline.
The 10 essentials are the majority of items that fill my pack when I day hike. I keep most of them in stuff sacks so they're easy to just grab and go. In addition, I usually bring baby wipes, hand sanitizer, carabiners to attach stuff to my bag, sunglasses, a buff or bandanna, bug spray, and a bag for trash that I find on the trail.
Another extremely important piece of equipment is footwear. Simply put, hiking is an activity that does not have good footing. Yes, you can pick trails that are more gentle, but when you're climbing mountains the terrain is not usually appropriate for sneakers (read this post for proof). I'm partial to trail runners in the summer and I have a wide flat foot, so most boots just aren't comfortable. After trying countless different footwear options, I've settled on the Altra Lone Peak 4 RSM Waterproof trail runners. I know they're not the most fashionable but they truly get the job done with the amazing traction and surprising amount of support.
I have also recently acquired a PLB, the ACR ResQLink. A PLB is a personal life beacon that functions as an SOS button in case of emergency. It's about the size of a flip phone, and gives me an extra little piece of mind especially when I'm on solo adventures. I decided on the ResQLink because there's no monthly fee and it works anywhere in the world. The battery needs to be replaced every six years, but compared to other devices with monthly subscriptions required, it's a very cost effective alternative.
For my pack I've been using my Osprey Tempest 20 daypack. It's super comfortable and can hold a good amount of weight while still feeling really light. The hip belts are supportive but not bulky. It's really perfect for a daylong outing. I also bring a pack cover to keep things dry if the weather turns. Trekking poles are usually along for the ride as well because they've saved me from my own clumsiness countless times. They also really reduce the impact on my knees and ankles when I'm descending.
One note on where you're buying your gear: REI is the best. Between their 1 year no questions asked return policy and 10% back in dividends, you really cant beat it. They also have awesome sales, so between the outlet, used gear, and garage sales, you'll almost never have to pay full price!
So that's my three season day hiking gear haul! I try to keep it to only the necessities so that there's not too much extra weight. Here are a few other gear lists for what I bring when I'm day hiking in the winter, layering for winter outings, and going above treeline in winter. Hope this helps you prepare for your next outing and happy hiking!
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