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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.