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Day hiking is a great way to get outside, experience nature, and get some exercise! In this post, I’m going to show you everything I packed on a short day hike in the desert. From the 10 essentials to fun items like binoculars, this is everything I carried in my backpack!
Please keep in mind that things like the time of year, location, distance, duration, and weather all factor into what I pack for each hike.
You’ll see all my core hiking essentials below, but this is not intended to be a list of what to pack on every hike around the world.
My Day Hiking Essentials
Day Hiking Backpack:
I get a lot of questions about the backpack I use on day hikes.
I have the Gregory Jade 38 L backpack and I love it. It’s so dang comfortable! They also make it in a 28 L size if you want a smaller day hiking backpack.
I went with the larger size because I tend to carry camera gear and lots of layers, especially on winter day hikes. I wanted one backpack that would work for my day hikes throughout the year.
I love the hip straps with big pockets for easy access to things like snacks and my phone.
There’s a space for a water bladder and hose which is another important feature that I look for in a day hiking backpack.
The 10 Essential Systems
I carry the 10 essential systems on every hike.
The 10 essentials are the things that I carry in my backpack in case there’s an emergency, the weather changes, or I have to stay out on the trail longer than I expect.
I go into great detail on the systems here: The 10 Essential Systems for Day Hiking
The 10 essentials include:
- Extra water – You need to stay hydrated. Bring extra water and a way to get more water if you run out. For example, I always carry my Sawyer water filter.
- Extra food – I bring more than I think I will need
- Extra clothes – Extra clothing and rain gear in case the weather changes
- Illumination – such as a headlamp with extra batteries
- Sun protection – sunscreen, sunglasses, hats…
- A good first aid kit – A first aid kit is more than just bandaids. Check out this first aid video for some of the common injuries to be prepared for.
- Knife or Multitool – I carry something like this Leatherman
- Emergency Shelter – such as an emergency blanket or tarp
- Fire – a lighter, matches, tinder, and/or stove
- Navigation – A map and compass (that you know how to use), GPS device
Yes, I do actually carry all of these things on a day hike. It might seem like a lot at first, but a lot of these items are small and lightweight.
Two is One, One is None
There’s an old adage “two is one, one is none”.
In other words, you need backups of your life-saving equipment.
For example, if I carry a GPS unit that I’m depending on for navigation, then I’m going to carry extra batteries for that GPS and I’m also going to bring a map of the area I’m in and a compass that I know how to use.
If my GPS unit or phone gets lost, broken, or runs out of battery, I’ll still be able to find my way using the map and compass I brought as a backup.
Another example is with water. Water is crucial to survival.
As I mentioned above, I love my Sawyer Squeeze water filter and I carry it on every single hike. But what if it fails? What if I lose it or drop it in a river?
Remember, “two is one, one is none”. So I also carry water purification tablets as my backup method of getting safe drinking water.
Let’s Talk More About Some of These Hiking Essentials
Extra food and clothes:
I always pack more hiking snacks than I think I’ll need on a hike.
For hiking clothing, I always check the weather before a trip and pack accordingly. I like to have extra layers to put on in case it gets colder or windier than I thought.
The weather in the mountains is often unpredictable and changes quickly.
Sometimes if you get hot and sweaty on a hike, as soon as you stop to sit down, it can feel very cold. Again, having those layers will be important.
These are some of my go-to layers:
All About Water:
We definitely need to talk more about water and hydration.
I always use a water reservoir (sometimes called a water bladder) with a hose, NOT a water bottle.
I see a lot of beginner hikers packing a little water bottle in their backpack, or just holding one in their hand as they hike.
There are a few reasons why I don’t think this is not the best water storage option on a hike. First, a small water bottle is probably not nearly enough water for the duration of the hike.
Second, if the water bottle is stuffed away in your backpack, I can pretty much guarantee that you won’t drink from it as often as you need to.
When you use a water reservoir with a hose, you can easily sip water frequently throughout your hike, without even stopping. In addition, you can carry more water!
As I mentioned in the video, I also carry a small water filter so I can get more water if I run out.
Most of the time, I don’t need to do this on a day hike, but since water is so important, and the filter is so small and lightweight, it makes sense to carry it just in case I run out.
Using the filter, I can get more water from a nearby lake, river, stream, pond, or puddle if I need to.
For this, I choose to carry a headlamp.
Again, not something I’m planning to need on a day hike, but if I get stuck and need to wait in the dark, I’ll be really happy I have a headlamp with extra batteries.
If you’re using a GPS, make sure you’re familiar with how to use it, and have a backup plan in case the GPS fails, breaks, or you accidentally drop it in a river.
This is why extra batteries and a backup map and compass are important to pack too.
At the very least you should have a map and a compass that you know how to use.
Here are some resources on learning how to use a map and compass:
Do a Google search for a local wilderness navigation course in your area for some hands-on training and experience before you head out on a hike.
Communication is an important part of your safety outdoors, and it’s something that’s frequently overlooked.
Of course, you want everything to go great on a hike, but you also want to have a contingency plan for when things go wrong.
So how will you communicate if something goes wrong and you have an emergency? Most of the time, there’s no cell service in the wilderness.
Carrying a Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) or satellite communicator are ways to communicate in an emergency when you’re off the grid.
A Garmin InReach Mini is a small lightweight option for emergency communications and it’s what I carry. With the Garmin InReach technology, you can go off-grid but stay in contact with two-way messaging and the SOS feature in the event of an emergency.
Other signaling options are a signaling mirror or a bright-colored signaling panel which can be used to help a Search and Rescue team find you in an emergency. A lot of backpacks even have whistles built into the strap clips that can also be used.
- After I’ve packed all the hiking essentials, I like to pack some binoculars for fun! I love binoculars because they help me notice more of the beautiful things around me when I’m on a hike. Through the binoculars, I can see further and notice more details on the trees and plants. I’ve even been able to watch wild animals through the binoculars, which is my favorite use for them! One time, I saw a mountain goat on a cliff through the binoculars and watched him for over an hour!
- I love to pack a camera and/or my GoPro if I have room in my backpack!
- I always carry some paracord in my backpack. Having paracord and knowing basic knots can be helpful in an emergency. You never know when you might need it!
- How did I ever hike without trekking poles? Trekking poles are so incredibly useful that I almost always use them now. They help while hiking up and down steep sections of trail and have tons of other uses.
- Depending on where I’m hiking, I will carry bear spray. If I’m down in the desert in Southern Utah, I don’t carry it, but if I’m in the mountains of Montana, I definitely do.
Beginner Hiking Tips
Hiking has enriched my life in ways I could never have imagined. If you’re new to hiking, I’m here to help you with all the resources and tips you need to hit the trails with confidence.
Below are some additional tips for beginner hikers:
- Start with a short local day hike with minimal elevation gain. Going on a really long strenuous day hike for your first hike can be overwhelming. Start with a hike that’s just a couple of miles in your local area, and see how you feel.
- Always tell someone where you’re going and when they can expect you to be back. The more details you leave, the better. Proper planning before a hike is so important.
- Check the weather, but keep in mind that the weather is often unpredictable and can change quickly in the mountains so make sure you’re prepared for weather conditions to change.
- Listen to your body. If you need to take a break, then take a break. If you’re in a group, speak up and express what you need.
If you have ANY questions, please ask me in the comments below.
I hope you hit the trails with confidence this Summer and enjoy some fresh air and time in nature.