Day Pack Essentials: Don’t hit the Trail Without these items

Day Pack Essentials

Hiking is one of my favorite outdoor activities.  I spend as many weekends as I can on the trails.  It is easy to carry way to much stuff with you. I try not to bring too much, but there are some day pack essentials that I don’t get on the trail without.


Day Pack Essentials – The Pack

I am a fan of Camelbak packs.  I don’t like carrying a separate water bottle because I like having both hands free. Hydration packs hold enough water for a good hike without me having to keep up with a water bottle. I carry a CamelBak M.U.L.E. Hydration Pack, and it holds every thing I need (it serves me well at music festivals too!).




As much as I want to hike without carrying gadgets, there are a few that I think are essential.


I always want to be able to get good pictures on my hikes.  I usually carry my DSLR, but it is heavier than most people are comfortable with.  You can probably get by just carrying your phone. The iPhone 7 and many of the Android offerings like the Google Pixel have incredible cameras for their size. If you want to step it up a bit without carrying a full size DSLR, check out some of the mirror-less options that are available now.  I really like the Sony A7!


I admit it, I have way too many flashlights (is that really a thing).  I keep one in the car, a few scattered through the house, and one in my Day Pack. It is nice to have the extra light if you lose track of time and it gets dark on the trail.  Have you ever hiked in the dark?  It’s not fun at all.  I prefer a smaller (but still powerful light) for my pack like the Maglite Mini LED


Along with my electronics, another one of my day pack essentials is battery power. This includes a set of back up batteries for the flashlight, any other small electronics I carry, and a backup battery pack that I can charge my phone with. I really like Anker PowerCore 20100.  It is usually good for 5-7 charges of my phone, way more than I need on a short hike.


Because I carry a hydration bladder, I like to keep my electronics in a Waterproof Plastic Pouch.  This gives me a little peace of mind should the bladder get busted, my bag fall in a creek, or a rainstorm blows up; my expensive items will be protected from the water.

I also carry a Poncho to keep me dry. Hiking when you are soaked from the rain takes all the fun out of it. The poncho fits over my backpack too, and that gives me an extra layer of security.

Safety and First Aid

Being safe on the trail is my number one priority.  Far too often people are injured or worse while hiking (even on easy day hikes).  A little preparation can go a long way towards making sure you make it home safely.


How do you get found if you get lost?  There a lot of ways to signal, and most of them are inexpensive and take up very little space.  From Whistles, to mirrors, to GPS tracking beacons, there are a lot of items out there to help you get found.  I carry a Rescue Howler Whistle and Signal Mirror paired with my cell phone. It may be overkill, but it takes up very little space and weighs next to nothing. I also make sure that someone knows where I am going before I head out, that way if something happens and I do become lost, someone would know where to start looking.

First Aid

Things happen on the trail.  It is incredibly important that you are prepared to deal with an injury.  It can be anything from a small cut, to a fall with broken bones.  I recommend a good First Aid Kit, but more importantly the training to use it. Check your local Red Cross and for information.  If you really want to step it up, check into a wilderness first aid course.

Snacks and Water

You have to have something to eat and drink on the trail.  I like to carry a full hydration bladder, and enough snacks to last overnight (you never know what will happen out there).  A bag of trail mix and a few Clif Bars is usually enough to keep me going, without taking up too much space.

It is also important that any water you get outdoors be treated to prevent illness. There are so many products out there to treat water it boggles the mind. I have used Potable Aqua Water Purification Tablets in the past and they worked great for me.

Sunblock and Insect Repellent

I always carry a small container of sunblock (Broad spectrum SPF 50 at least for me), and a DEET based insect repellent.  I prefer Off Deep Woods Wipes for insect repellent because they don’t take up much space.  Sunburns, ticks, and mosquito bites can make a trip go sour pretty quick.


Fire Starting

There are a lot of ways to start a fire.  There are more crazy fire starting gadgets out there than you can imagine.  Magnesium Bars, flint and strikers, ferro-rods, and lighters all get the job done, but when it comes to saving space and being efficient, I carry Bic Mini Lighters.  They are incredibly reliable, and don’t take up much space.


Another of my Day Pack Essentials is a good fixed blade knife.  It doesn’t have to be an expensive custom piece. I mean, you can get a great knife for less than $50.  Check out some of these options:

Mora – Morakniv Companion

Condor – CTK232-4.3HC Walnut Handle Bushlore

Buck – 102 Woodsman Fixed Blade Knife


Knowing where you are going is critical to hiking.  A lot of trails are marked, but even on these trails it is important that you be able to find your way out if you get off the trail.  Things happen, trees with blazes fall down, trails get grown over, and sometimes you just miss a turn.  There are a lot of tools you can use to navigate, from hand held GPS units, navigation apps on your phone, to a trusty map & compass. From a cost and reliability standpoint, it is hard to beat a map and compass if you are willing to learn how to use them.  If you just love gadgets, there are some solid handheld GPS units out there that I would love to have on the trail with me like the: Garmin eTrex 10


Paracord is great stuff! I carry about 100 ft in my pack.  It doesn’t take up much space, it can serve many functions, and it is cheap.  It it probably overkill to carry this, but I use it when I take breaks on the trail for crafts and such too. In a pinch you can us it for boot laces, building a improvised shelter, any number of other things.

Waste Management

I try to practice Leave No Trace when I am in the outdoors.  That means I have to be prepared to pack out my trash and occasionally someone else’s trash.

Trash bag

If you are going to pack out your trash you need to bring a trash bag.  I don’t mean a 13 gallon kitchen bag.  I usually do just fine with a plastic bag from the grocery store.


Occasionally nature is going to call when you are on the trail.  Knowing how to take care of business in the woods is important.  A Backpackers Trowel designed for this is another one of my day pack essentials. There is actually a really good book out there that teaches you to handle your business on the trail in an environmentally sound way : How to Sh*t in the Woods, 3rd Edition: An Environmentally Sound Approach to a Lost Art.

Day Pack Essentials

Being prepared can make the difference between an uncomfortable situation on the trail and a disaster.  With just a few essential items in your day pack, you can be ready to tackle almost any problem.  What are your day pack essentials?  Let us know in the comments.

Day Pack Essentials for hiking and other outdoor activities.

37 Comment

  1. This has so much truth to it! Especially the insect repellent and batteries. The last time I hiked, I forgot to carry some and ended up with insect bites all over my hands. To top it off, my phone went off. Thanks for such an informative post.

  2. as silly as it sounds, I originally bought my back up battery to play Pokemon go! Now I keep it in my bag every day in case I need it this is a really great list and has inspired me to go out in nature.

    1. No judgement here. I think Pokemon Go! was actually pretty rad. It got people out having fun 🙂

  3. This is so helpful! I’m going hiking for the first time at the end of the month 🙂


  4. Seriously good tips! I’ve made the mistake of thinking I could do a hike in a much shorter time than I actually could and definitely not brought enough water/snacks. Also super guilty of taking far too many risks with the weather! The waterproof pouch looks fantastic. Will have to look into that before my next hike/trip.

  5. So helpful! I need to keep these things in mind next time I head up to Red Rock Canyon here in Nevada. Doesn’t happen as often as I’d like, but this makes me want to find some time!

    1. I would love to hike out west sometime! I’m hoping to take a road trip this fall and squeeze in a few hikes.

  6. Great list!

    As a minimalist traveler using an 18L pack for perpetual travel, I appreciate this list and wish I could carry some of the ‘survival’ items. But alas, TSA is not having it….lol.

  7. Love the Anker backup battery. I have one myself and use it often

  8. I love my anker! I have the same as your post and it is so worth the money, great for exploring!

  9. Will be forwarding this list to my fiancé. He ALWAYS seems to forget stuff when going on hikes. Thanks for sharing 😀

  10. This is an amazing list. Thank you for sharing and I do think it makes for an informative blog piece 🙂

  11. My family is planning a trip to Tennessee in August and we are planning to hike some trails. I loved your tips on what to pack for our hikes.

  12. This is super helpful! Can’t wait to hit the trails this spring and summer using these tips!

  13. Great list! My husband and I are hikers and these are essentials that we carry with us.

  14. These are all such important things to bring on a hike! I always make sure to bring enough water because I just do day hikes, but in Arizona you can never have enough water. Thanks for sharing!

  15. Thanks for the great advice! My kids are getting older, and we’re hoping to do a lot more hiking this summer. Good list of items to remember.

  16. Great tips for backpacking. You really do want to be prepared before embarking on such an adventure. The water purifier is a must for sure!

  17. I want to go hiking with you! I have never seen such a well organised backpack. The signallers something I have never thought about until now.

  18. Love this list! I am going on my first backpacking trip this summer (two of them!), and I have been so lost trying to figure out what I need to get, and what I should pack!


    1. Just remember this is just for a day pack. Backpack (Overnight trips) will require some more equipment.

  19. A camera is always needed while travelling! Great picks!


  20. Great list! I’m going to be referring to this when we go to Switzerland in May – basically the whole point of the trip is to accomplish some epic day hikes. One thing we did buy that wasn’t on this list was a Lifestraw – but this isn’t always the smartest idea especially if you aren’t going to be walking by running water. Awesome list!

    1. I usually carry a Sawyer mini – I can put it inline on my hydration pack.

  21. Great list of essential survival items! Remembering things like this could save your life if needed!

  22. Perfect, the powerbank is the most important thing for me!! I’ve been looking for a good one so thanks for the tip!

  23. My family and I just got into hiking. Looking at your list just makes me realize how much of a newbie we are! Haha! I must remember these!

  24. I love this!!!! I have that exact same water purification, along with a filtering system that just works by gravity. I used to help lead backpacking trips in the Pictured Rocks and Grand Tetons. These are great tips!

    1. That sounds like an amazing experience! I would love to backpack in the Grand Tetons!

  25. I’ve been thinking about doing more camping and trail walking so this is really helpful, thanks!

  26. Great list- esp considering we are about to trek across country with our four small kids in the next few months.

  27. Really helpful tips, especially about signaling and batteries. Your article made me want to get up and go hiking 🙂

  28. Find this lists so useful. Specially when they are written by more experienced people than me in a specific area.

  29. Great post, we’ll make a list similar to what you suggest for our spring break trip.

  30. Needed this. I’m a big hiker and once my best friend and I got lost and didn’t have anything with us and could’ve used this haha

  31. Great list! I like to pack most of those things for a day trip, too! I also like to have a journal 🙂

    1. A Journal is an excellent addition! 🙂

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