Every experienced hiker knows that you need to come well prepared to have a successful and joyful hiking experience. Obviously, everyone has their preferences when it comes to what they'll carry with them, but some universal things should have a spot in every hiker's backpack.
So, to make things easier for you, whether you're just starting your hiking adventure or simply looking for new ideas, we've compiled a list of the top 10 essentials for hiking.
In addition to that, we'll go over some safety instructions to make sure your hiking trip goes smoothly.
Let's jump straight into it!
Hiking Safety 101: A Quick Overview
As interesting and fun as hiking can be, it can also be pretty risky - and, at times, even dangerous.
So, if you hope to maximize the fun and minimize the danger, here are a few extra tips you should keep in mind before packing your bag and heading outdoors.
Have A Plan
Trails can vary in difficulty, length, predictability, terrain, and so on. The same can be said for the outdoors in general.
If you don't want to be unpleasantly surprised when you arrive at the trail - or even worse, in the middle of a hike - always do your research first.
You can complete some trails in a couple of hours, some in a day - and some might be longer than a day hike, taking a couple of days to complete.
So, always plan ahead how you're going to conquer the hike while considering all of the characteristics of the chosen trail.
Occasionally, you might come across a trail that's forgiving in terms of preparation, but most won't be. Because if that, our advice is:
Don't leave anything to chance.
Tell Someone Your Plan
One thing you should know about hiking is that you probably won't have cell service - and even if you do, it'll probably be poor.
So, to ensure that help can be sent your way in an emergency, always inform someone you trust about your whereabouts during the hike and the expected return time. Also, tell them what you'll be wearing and how many people will be hiking with you.
Instruct them to send help with all the necessary information about your outdoor whereabouts if you fail to return on time.
This way, it will be much easier - and much quicker - for the rescue team to search and find you and, more importantly, get you help.
Don't Hike Alone
Even though you might see hiking as a perfect opportunity to escape everyone and everything and clear your head, it's not. Well, it is, but our point is:
If you want that, a walk might be a better choice for you.
A day hike is much better when enjoyed with some friends or family - and hiking is also safer that way.
Don't Walk Off-Trail
We know that nature can be very tempting, especially in magnificent national parks, but you'll need to fight the urge to explore your surroundings outside the hiking trail.
If you wander off in an attempt to get the best photo or pick a beautiful flower, you're putting yourself at risk.
The trails are there for a reason - and you never know what obstacles might be hiding once you leave them.
Also, you should never forget that you are sharing the outdoor space with wildlife. Don't test your luck.
Pack Light But Smart
While some things are considered essential gear during your hike, others merely add more weight to your backpack while being relatively useless.
By packing unnecessary things, you are limiting space for the things you'll need - like extra water, sunscreen, a map and compass, matches, additional layers, matches, duct tape, and such.
It's always better to leave a professional camera at home to make room for some warm clothes.
So, choose wisely and try to limit what you carry with you. Pack light - and pack smart.
Check The Weather
Now, this is one of the most important things to do before hiking.
Knowing what the weather might be like on the trail can help you prepare appropriately and pack everything you'll need for those conditions.
It's important to note that weather can be uncertain even with a forecast, so never take that for granted. Even if the forecast says that it'll be sunny and dry, never set foot on a trail without some extra warm clothes.
10 Essentials For Hiking You Should Pack & Know How To Use
Now that you know some of the essential tips for safe hiking, we can get down to the nitty-gritty of this article and discuss the 10 essentials you should always carry with you when hiking.
1. Extra Food
Hiking is a strenuous activity that requires you to nourish your body to complete it. That's exactly why having extra food with you is essential when hiking.
So, what should you carry?
Our advice is to carry some high-energy snacks or granola bars with you on a day hike, sandwiches if the hike is longer, and always have items with a long shelf life, as well - dried fruits, nuts, etc.
One tip we always like to give is to pack an entire day's worth of food, should anything go awry and you end up in an emergency, such as an injury or getting lost.
If you happen to get lost, you'll need these resources to survive until help comes.
2. Extra Water
Even when you're chilling at home and doing nothing, you need to hydrate your body. So you can imagine how necessary it is when you're engaging in exhausting physical activity in various weather conditions.
Water is essential for outdoor survival, so you shouldn't only bring a water bottle or two and risk not having enough.
Our tip is to pack something to treat the water that's on-site to make it consumable, as well. That can be done in many ways, some of the most popular being water filters/purifiers, chemical treatments even a portable stove for melting the ice.
Yes, it's a thing.
You need to know how to use these devices, though, so it's better to get them some time ahead and give yourself a chance to get acquainted with them.
You can also use water in many different ways. You'll need it to rinse a wound if you injure yourself, or it could be heated up and used to warm yourself up, wash your hands and other items, and so on.
You get the point, water is essential.
3. Extra Layers Of Clothing
Always have spare, warm clothing with you - just in case.
Generally speaking, layers are your best option for hikes. This way, you are going to be ready for many different weather conditions, and you're going to be able to regulate your temperature, as well.
A rain jacket is a must if you ask us since it's able to stop your clothes from getting wet and potentially giving you a cold - or worse.
These jackets are versatile and can act as both protection from rain and wind, as well as provide you with some warmth.
A change of clothing is also a good idea because you really don't want to hike in cold, wet clothes. Not only is it uncomfortable, but dangerous for your health.
We would also recommend taking a hat and some gloves with you, too.
Gloves will help your hands stay warm but will also protect them from getting scraped and injured along the way.
Whether you want protection from the heat, the cold, or the rain, as far as the hat goes, you'll be grateful that you have it. Speaking of sun protection, sunglasses count as hiking essentials, too - but more on that later.
Another recommendation is to bring an emergency blanket. It's a multi-use piece of equipment that might play a vital role in your hike.
So, a rain jacket and other extra clothing layers you think you'll need, a hat, and a pair of gloves should find their way into your backpack.
4. Hiking Boots
This one goes hand-in-hand with clothing. You want to be comfortable and protected by your footwear while hiking.
For this reason, you have to find the right pair of hiking boots. Thankfully, there are loads of different ones out there - but make sure they're waterproof, warm, secure, and comfortable. Anything less than that is a no-go.
So, before hitting the trail, get yourself a nice pair of boots that'll accompany you on all of your future hikes.
5. Navigation Essentials
As we've mentioned in our tips for safe hiking, getting to know the trail beforehand is a must. However, even if you take our advice, you should never go for a hike without navigation essentials.
What we mean by navigation is primarily a map and compass.
We know that you probably thought, "Oh great, I have a GPS on my phone/in my car, I'm all set!"
Not so fast.
We've all gotten used to relying on our electronic devices to get us to our destination if we happen to get lost. But, hikes are a different story.
Since you're most likely not getting cell service, you can't expect to Google search or GPS your way out of this one.
There are a few options available - either download a map of the trail if it's available online or get a good old traditional, printed one.
The good news is that most national parks offer maps both online and on-site, so even if you somehow forgot about them, you can purchase one once you've arrived at the park.
Most experienced hikers will always have a printed-out map because they don't want to risk their phone dying and being left with no map.
As far as a compass goes, the situation is similar here, too. Most phones have a compass app installed, but you shouldn't put all your trust in that.
If you choose to carry a compass, you'll not only be sure navigation-wise, but you'll also feel like an explorer from the past. Cool, right?
So, you should always make room for a map and compass, and, preferably, a GPS device. These will be your best friends when hiking.
6. Sun Protection
When you hear "sun protection," we bet that SPF comes to mind first. That's wholly justified since SPF is most definitely your BFF - and a holy grail of sun protection.
You can only imagine how high the UV index is at higher altitudes.
To get the best results from your sunscreen, we suggest that you buy a broad-spectrum (protects against both UVA and UVB rays) SPF of at least 30 and apply it on both your face and your body.
Don't forget to reapply some every two hours or so!
But, what else is there besides sunscreen that can protect you from the UV rays?
Well, as we've mentioned, a hat should always be on your head - and sun protection is only one of the reasons.
Second of all, you'll want to protect your eyes from sun exposure, so don't forget your sunglasses.
For those who are more on the pale side, it might be worth looking into UPF clothing. That's one of the best solutions for protecting your skin from UVA/UVB damage - without having to reapply anything!
7. First Aid Kit
Hikers are no stranger to injury, so this is non-negotiable. In case of an emergency, this is one of the ten essentials that could save your life.
You can purchase a first aid kit in many stores - and online - so you shouldn't have a hard time finding one. You can also make your first aid kit and customize it to your own needs if you want.
There are some items, though, that should be found in everyone's kit:
- Knife/ Scissors
- Alcohol or an alcohol-based sanitizer
- Latex or nitrile gloves
- Ibuprofen, antihistamines and some loperamide medication
- Antiseptic ointment
- Liquid bandages
- Anti bite creams (for insect bites)
- Skin treatment for poisonous plants
If you have any additional health issues, make sure to bring treatment for that as well.
Don't forget that medication is serious, and you should always make sure that you know how to use it in an emergency; don't do more harm than good.
8. Safety Items
You'll want to pack some safety gear with you that can be useful in a plethora of different situations - and might even save your life in an emergency.
A fire can save your life in many ways - it can help you signal for help, keep you warm, help you prepare food, etc.
You should carry a match, lighter or flint, and some cotton balls or cotton tissues to start a fire.
But don't start a forest fire, please.
A multi-tool - or a Swiss Army Knife - is a hiker's best friend. It's a small, compact, lightweight, but incredibly useful tool.
It usually contains a small knife, scissors, screwdriver, needle, bottle opener, magnifying glass, tweezers, corkscrew, nail file, and so on.
While some of these tools might seem more useful than others, all of them can be utilized in a number of ways and might even save your life.
You should be able to find your way - even in the dark. You never know what might prolong a hiking trip and turn a day hike into an overnight stay, so you should always have a light source on you.
A headlamp is a handy tool that's easy to carry and very practical. Some might say that it's a worthy substitute for a regular old flashlight; some would beg to differ. Either way, you should carry at least one of them.
However, don't forget that they both work with the help of batteries; you should pack spare batteries in your kit.
Whenever you're hiking, you need to keep in mind that you're a visitor in nature. So, you need to do your best not to disrupt the life there.
You'll be eating, drinking water, and using lots of different tools along your way, which can create trash.
Do not, under any circumstances, leave that trash around you on the trail, around the park, or in the forest.
Instead, bring a trash bag with you so that you can put your leftovers there.
That's important, not only to prevent littering but to protect the wildlife as well.
9. Emergency Shelter
By now, you've probably already understood that you have to be prepared for the worst-case scenarios while hiking. Well, this is one of those ten essentials for hiking that will help you in such situations.
While some national parks and trails have an emergency shelter somewhere along the trail, you shouldn't rely solely on that. It's better to always carry a portable shelter for yourself if you ever happen to need one.
And by "shelter," we mean a tent that you know how to use and put up and that will provide you with the necessary protection. Don't forget to pack sleeping bags, as well - nights in the forest can be ice-cold.
10. Gear Repair Kit
Some of your gear might get damaged on the way, and you can't let that stop you. So, you need to have a repair kit to help you fix the problem.
These kits usually include duct tape, zip ties, fabric repair products, a tent repair kit - things like that.
Don't overlook this one, because - well, what good is your hiking gear if it's broken?
You came here wondering, "What are the ten essentials for hiking?" Well, hopefully, we've answered your question, given you some ideas - and taught you some hiking safety tips, too.
Here is a quick rundown of what we've gone over in this article to make it easier to remember.
First of all, always have a plan for your hike, and tell someone about it. Don't hike alone and stick to the trail. Pack smart and always check the weather forecast beforehand to know what to expect.
Now, to the ten essentials:
- Food And Water - Food and water are some of the most important ones, but not just any food and water. You want food with a long shelf life and tools to help you treat water found on-site.
- Clothes And Shoes - Dressing well and in layers is a must to make your experience as safe and comfortable as possible. Hiking boots are another essential.
- Sun Protection - You'll also need to sun protection - sunscreen, UPF clothing, hats, sunglasses, etc.
- Navigation - Navigation is a must if you don't want to get lost or stranded; whether it's a map and compass, a GPS device, or something else, carry it with you.
- First Aid Kit - No hiking trip should happen without a first aid kit. Whether it's a pre-made, or a self-made one, it could save your life.
- Safety Items - A variety of safety items and multi-tools could help you along the way, so don't lose track of them when packing, either.
- Emergency Shelter - Whatever circumstances you encounter on your hike, you should have a shelter (tent and sleeping bag) ready.
- Gear Repair Kit - If some of your gear gets damaged, it won't be any good if you can't repair it. These kits are just the thing you'll need in those situations.
There you have it - your top ten essentials for any hiking trip. Now, you can enjoy your day hike, knowing that you have taken the necessary precautions and have all of your essentials with you.
Resupplying and restocking points, map suggestions, and lodging places are all contained within the guide so that you can have the best hiking experience possible.
Ask any of the thru-hikers who have hiked the entire trail, and they'll tell you that following our tips will make your journey one to remember. We can pretty much guarantee that hikers from all across the country will tell you the same thing!
We hope you'll have a wonderful experience and create unforgettable memories to share with your fellow hikers. And remember - have fun, but stay safe!