Day Hike Checklist: The Hiking Essentials You Shouldn’t Be Leaving At Home

Bug out bag
Written by Russell McCarty

Whether you’re a novice hiker going out on your first ever hike, or a hiker going out on your hundredth hike of the season, it’s important to always have a plan in place. History has taught us that most hikers do this by using a day hike checklist. A tool that ensures that absolutely everything that they need is tucked away safely in their bag.

It’s an important thing to consider because it can keep you safe, it can make you think of things you otherwise might not have thought of. It can even make sure you don’t accidentally forget to pack food (something that is done more often than you might think).

See also: Night Hiking: Planning Your Perfect Hike in Dark Evenings

Creating your own first checklist can be quite a daunting prospect, as there are a lot of things that you might need to consider, depending on the type of hike you’re planning to do. There are quite a few variables that may occur, with the biggest variable being the weather.

You should always make sure that you check the forecast before you go out hiking, that way you can tailor your checklist to match the weather that you could face. But, you should always plan for the unexpected too.

Planning and preparation are both important tasks that you should take into consideration when you’re participating in an outdoor activity. As every now and then, things can go wrong. See our tips on how to hike safely for more insight.

The chances of it happening to you are minimal, but you do need to be prepared. By preparing yourself you make sure that if ever anything did happen, nothing bad would happen.

The Variation Checklist

As we mentioned in our introduction, there are plenty of things that can vary when you go out hiking. These variables are the things that slightly alter the way your hike checklist could look. For example, you could go hiking in the peak of summer, where you’re working to keep as cool as possible. Or you could go hiking in the depth of winter, where you’re working against the cold as well as shorter daylight hours.

Another variable would be the trail that you’re planning on hiking. It could be a trail that you’ve already been to, where you know you’re not going to have an issue. Or, you could be going to a trail that you haven’t even seen a photograph of before.

In a situation like that you need to be extra aware of your surroundings at all times. Don’t forget bugs; if you’re going to a trail where there are guaranteed to be insects, you risk itchy bites if you don’t have bug repellent with you.

The main point is that no matter what circumstance you may find yourself in, you can plan for it. In this article, we’re going to show you just what sort of things you might need to take into consideration when preparing for your own hike.

Remember that some things might not apply to you, you probably won’t need thermal gloves in the heat of summer. But, what if you get caught out in the night during a summer hike? These are the things we want you to think about, the things that most people tend to overlook.

What should you include?

There are a lot of things that you could include on your list to make your hike more efficient, safer and even more comfortable for yourself and your companions. To make it easier we’ve split the things you need to consider into sections, that way you can see how easy making your own selections will be. Happy Hiking.

Section 1: Navigation

Navigation should always be the first thing to consider when you’re planning to go on a hike, the last thing you want is to be getting lost in the middle of nowhere. By planning your route, you can save yourself a lot of time, something that could be essential when hiking.

How simple your route will depend on the type of trail you’re going to be hiking on. Is it clearly marked out or will you need to spot specific landmarks? These are the things you need to take into consideration when adding navigational tools to your checklist.

A Map and Compass

Learning to read a map is one of the key skills that a lot of hikers have, especially if they are fond of the great outdoors. By reading a map you offer yourself, and anyone hiking with you, an added layer of protection. If you do get slightly lost you can use landmarks, rivers, or even mountains to work out exactly where you are.

By using a compass, you make sure that you’re not reading the map upside down or heading in the wrong direction. Something that happens a lot more than some hikers may make you think.

A Notebook and pen

Taking a notebook and a pen will allow you to jot down any important information about your route as you hike. For example, if you notice something unusual like a collapsed path or a tree blocking part of the route, you can make a note of it.

That way if you’re coming back the same way, you already know what to expect. Your notebook can also be used to help you navigate your map. By writing down your coordinates at different points you can make sure you’re on the right track. This is useful if you think you may be lost.

A GPS (optional)

The idea of taking a GPS on a hike is something that some hikers will hate and other will love. Now remember, it is technology, there is always a chance it could break – so don’t forget your map.

Most GPS devices are usually useful for novice hikers or those who can’t read maps. They can also be used as a backup if you find yourself lost, or if your map gets wet.

Section 2: The Necessities

The necessities are a collection of items that most hikers will always have in their bags. But, they’re also a collection of items that are easy to forget about. It might not immediately be obvious why the item is there, but each item in this list has its own purpose and uses.

A watch

It’s sometimes best to start with the oddest item on the list. A watch is a useful necessity when you’re hiking in an area where you’re working with shorter daylight hours. It simply allows you to keep track of time, something that is more easy to forget about than you may think while marching across beautiful landscapes.

By keeping track of time you can ensure that you give yourself enough time to get off of the trail before nightfall. Unless of course, you planned for a night time hike.

Sun protection

Protection from the elements is vital while you’re out hiking. Sun protection should always be kept in your hiking bag, even if it’s slightly chilly when you set out in the morning. On most hikes around midday the weather will either become incredibly warm or rainy, make sure you check the forecast before heading out.

Most hikers recommend that you use a hat to keep the sun off of your face, sun cream with a strong UV protection factor, and even lip balm to keep your lips from getting cracked in the heat.

Insulated clothing

On the other hand, if you are going to be hiking somewhere where you know it’s going to be cold then you’re going to need something to keep you well insulated. Most hikers recommend thermal clothing or waterproof clothing, as well as thermal gloves, a hat, scarf, and other thermal accessories.


Food is probably the second most important thing that you should ever take with you when going hiking, second only to water. You need to remember that hiking can be exhausting for your muscles and it can leave people feeling fatigued. It’s best to bring food that are good sources of protein and energy for your hike.

That way, you’re both looking after your body, and making sure that you have enough energy to successfully complete the hike. Most hikers take enough food for an extra day, that way if they do end up in an emergency situation, they don’t have to worry.


Water is the most important, and most vital thing that you remember to tick off of your checklist when going hiking. As a rule of thumb you should always take more water than you think you will drink as you never know what could pop up. If you were to end up in an emergency situation, it’s better to have too much water than not enough.

Recommended Reading: We’ve written a whole article on how to keep your water cool on long hikes that you might be interested in.

First Aid Supplies and any necessary medication

Most people have a well-stocked first aid kit somewhere in their home, that way if anything happens, they can deal with it. The reason you should take one hiking is exactly the same, if something happens while hiking you want to be able to deal with it quickly and efficiently.

You can purchase first aid kits on the internet that have been specifically put together for hikers. These tend to include things like ibuprofen, paracetamol, plasters, dressings, cleansing wipes and even thermometers.

You should also make sure you have any regularly prescribed medication with you. Again, just like with food and water, take more than you need.


Sunglasses might sound like an obvious choice for summer and an odd choice for winter. Yet, have you ever been hiking in winter and found yourself blinded by the brightness of the snow? Sunglasses can be a quick and easy option for protecting your eyes from that, even during winter.

Mobile phone

A mobile phone is both a good and a bad idea while you’re out hiking. In modern society, a lot of people are too dependent on their mobile phones, and you need to try not to be while out in the wilderness. It could run out of battery charge or you might not be able to find a signal, no matter how much you jump around.

But in an emergency, if you can get to high ground, you do have a good chance of finding a phone signal in most, not too rural, places.

Spare laces

As a hiker, the last thing you want to happen is to have your laces snap. It’s uncomfortable, and can lead to numerous blisters. Both of those things will result in an unhappy hike that hurts. By taking spare laces you have your back-up.

Some hikers also take paracord in their emergency kit. It can be used for a number of things, including makeshift shoelaces, and building an emergency shelter.

Section 3: Things that could be handy

There is a wide range of other ‘normal’ items that you could take with you while hiking. They all serve their purpose, and a lot of hikers still use them, depending on the type of hike that they’re going to be going on.

If there’s ever anything you want to take but you’re unsure, you should go ahead and take it. You never know when it could come in handy.

Walking poles

Walking poles are fantastic devices for hikers of all ages, contrary to popular belief. A lot of people find that after a few hours of hiking, their knees start to ache. These poles take the pressure off of people’s knees, almost like crutches from a hospital.

Hot flask

A hot flask full of a warm drink, or a tasty soup, will quickly become your best friend if you’re starting to feel the cold while you’re out hiking. By drinking something warm, we almost create a placebo effect where our body feels like it’s warming from the inside out. It could be just the boost you need to keep hiking in the cold.


When reading a map, binoculars may come in handy for spotting each of the landmarks or structures that could be present. That way you can precisely identify your own location on the map. They could also come in handy for spotting people, should one of your party wander off. Our piece on how to select the top binoculars will help you with more options.

Insect Repellent

You only really need insect repellent if you’re going to an area where there are definitely going to be bugs or depending on the season. You will very rarely need insect repellent in winter. The repellent will stop you from being eaten alive by bugs, leaving you without those lumps that itch for days on end.

It also means that the bugs will leave you in peace while you’re eating or in your makeshift tent, should you be in an emergency situation.


A lot of hikers take a variety of high energy snacks with them when they go hiking. These snacks come in a variety of types and flavors. You can get high energy cereal bars or a high energy gel-like paste.

There really is something for everyone. If you can feel yourself running out of energy while hiking, one of these snacks could really come in handy.

Toilet paper and a towel

We all know why toilet paper and a towel could come in handy, and if you’re going on a long hike, or one that lasts several or more days, you will need these. Make sure you use biodegradable toilet paper to leave no footprint behind.

Section 4: Emergency Provisions

No one wants to think about the possibility of an emergency while they are out hiking. But, unfortunately it’s something that we all have to think about.

There is always a possibility that it could happen, and in a worst case scenario it is worth preparing yourself.

A loud whistle

A loud whistle is a simple yet fantastic device for getting attention, or annoying people. It isn’t going to run out of battery, it isn’t going to break if you drop it, and if it’s loud enough to hurt your ears then it’s loud enough for someone quite far away to hear you.

Emergency contact information

You should always carry a card with your emergency contact information on. Even some smartphones now have a feature that allows people to put this information onto them where medical professionals can access it. This means that if something does happen to you, someone can immediately look at it.

They will know who you are, any possible illnesses you may have, as well as anything that you might be allergic to. All of those facts could prove to be vital in an emergency situation.

Duct tape

Duct tape has a wide variety of uses. It could be used to attach one part of a shelter to another, for example. But, a lot of hikers use it for blisters. If you get a blister and something rubs against it, you’re going to be in pain. By wrapping blisters in duct tape you stop friction between your socks, shoes and the blister.

This makes the whole ordeal less painful. However, it has to be said that it hurts slightly when removing the duct tape.

Swiss Army Knife

A Swiss Army Knife has a variety of tools and uses, all of which could be completely functional in a variety of emergency situations. It’s worth having one in your bag. Check out our must-read article on how to choose the best camping knife for more information.

Tools for making a fire

If you end up caught out at night, building a fire will be on the top of your agenda. You’ll need fire to stay warm and you may need to cook food. Gathering wood will be easy in most hiking locations.

But by having the tools to start the fire, you will make the job a lot easier  and ensure that yourself, and whoever you’re with can stay warm.

Batteries and a flashlight

Unfortunately, we don’t have perfect night vision just yet. This means that if you’re caught in the dark, with no light, you’re going to need a back-up option while you build a shelter or while you check that the area is safe. Always make sure you have a nice supply of batteries (preferably to last a whole night) and a flashlight in your bag.

Emergency Blanket

An emergency blanket can be useful. It’s compact enough that it won’t take up too much room in your bag. Most of the time an emergency blanket is used if there’s an accident such as a broken leg. While waiting for emergency services, you can wrap them in an emergency blanket to keep them warm until help arrives.

Happy Hiking

Looking at a list of things that you should have on your hiking checklist can be daunting. There’s always more to it than most people think but once you have that bag packed you’re ready to go. Everything on your personal checklist serves a purpose: to aid you.

The final call on what goes in your bag is up to you – remember to keep yourself protected from the elements, hydrated and energized. Now go and enjoy your hike, after you pack of course. For a complete list of hiking benefits for your mind and body, see our earlier article on this topic.

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Russell McCarty

Russell considers backpacking one of his great passions in life. He actually managed to transform his passion into a living becoming a professional adventurer. Russell loves long-distance backpacking and he enriched his portfolio with famous trails like the Alaska-Yukon Expedition or the Appalachian Trail. With thousands of miles under his feet, Russell is the expert to consult when it comes to how to prepare for a successful outdoor adventure.