15 Must Haves For Your Next Hike

Updated: Dec 3, 2018

Here is a comprehensive list of everything we pack for our day hikes. Everyone's pack and hiking styles are different, but I can't live without these things...

Lighthouse Trail @ Palo Duro Canyon State Park, Texas

Below you will find a list of everything I have in my bag when I’m out hiking. This is my ideal packing list for day hikes of all lengths, but obviously if you are doing a thru-hike, backpacking or camping you will need a different list. This list is different for everyone, there are some basics and then some items that are personal preference. My husband’s pack usually varies widely from mine because he loves going off trail and making his own path (in some areas this is allowed, and in others it is prohibited so make sure you do a little research before you head out) therefor, he is prepared for more situations than I am. I’m in this to explore a new place I’ve never been, and see the world from a new point of view…but I like to stay on the trail! To each their own!

1. Hydration

When we first started hiking we would jump out of the car as soon as we got to the trail head and start walking. We usually said, oh we will just be going on a short hike and exploring so we will leave everything in the car. It took me exactly one time to decide that the weight of the minimalist packing list far outweighed (no pun intended) running out of water. I have never regretted taking this pack when I didn’t need it but I have regretted leaving it in the car! I have also run out of water half way through a very long (in my opinion) out-and-back hike.

(See where he's pointing? That's where we are headed in the dead of summer!) More on that hike later! This is why I use a 3L bladder inside my CamelBak. This pack does come with a smaller bladder, but I drink a lot of water. Also, the 3L bladder that I bought is specifically shaped to put the weight of the water on my hips, which is a lower center of gravity. This is far more comfortable for me, and if you have the extra money worth it, but if moneys tight right now (we’ve all been there!), the one it comes with is fine.

2. Shoes

I love flip flops! Seriously, I’m that crazy person who will wear them through the snow if I’m just going from my car to the house. I always make sure they are in the car, but while I’m on the trails I like to use a light weight, water resistant summer hiking boot that covers my ankles.

There are tons of options out there, many people use tennis shoes, it really depends on the trail, the time of year, etc.

My husband recently referred to me as a floppy porcupine. What is that you ask? I am apparently floppy because I fall…like a lot! If my ankle starts to roll instead of catching myself, my bodies reaction is to give into gravity. Luckily so far this has saved me from injuring my ankle, but that is why I prefer hiking boots that give me a little more stability in the ankle area. (If you are wondering why the porcupine bit, it is something about me having an “adorably prickly personality” whatever that means.)

[What’s your spirit animal? Apparently, I’m a floppy porcupine!]

3. Hiking Poles

I love these hiking poles from Black Diamond. I like them for two reasons: First, they are collapsible, so I can attach them to my pack when I don’t need them. Second, they are teal (which is my all-time favorite color!). I am aware that the color has absolutely nothing to do with whether or not they are a good buy…but I mean come on, they are soooo pretty. They have other great features, like they are very lightweight, and sturdy. But the reality is that I bought them for the color and lucked out that they were amazing! Hiking poles are great when you are tired and on a steep decline or when you are wading through a rocky creek bed. Not everyone uses them, but I won’t go without them.

4. A Pair of Dry Socks

They make dry bags you could buy in case there is an afternoon shower or you slip in that creek bed and accidentally submerge your boot…but I just throw a spare pair of socks in a Ziplock® bag and move on. It is cheaper and I’ll admit plastic isn’t great for the environment, but I re-use it so that’s something, right? After you’ve sat in a car for a 5-hour drive home with wet feet, you too will pack an extra pair of socks.

5. Quick-Dry Pants

I’ve been hiking for a little over two years now. Every time we’ve gone out for a hike my husband asks what I’ll be wearing and then proceeds to roll his eyes at my choice of shorts. He has told me at least 50 times to wear pants. But, here’s the problem…I didn’t have any. I mean I had a couple of pairs of jeans and a few capri yoga type pants but I’m plus size and I just hadn’t found any pants that fit correctly. They were either too thick or too long, or too baggy, on too restricting. I then attended an awesome event hosted by REI and bought a pair of Columbia Just Right pants. We have been on exactly one hike since then and I’m here to tell you, my husband was right (Although, I will not be admitting that to him). I am never going back to shorts! We did this hike that was rated moderate. It was not maintained or well marked, so there was a lot of brush and thorny bushes. We went with some friends who were in shorts and they had scratches all over. It did rain for the first half of our hike, which is why I mention quick dry. Here are the pants I love. (Although I would like more pockets).

6. Sunscreen

This is pretty obvious, if you can decrease your risks of premature aging and skin cancer, why wouldn’t you? As a side note, some places require you to use eco-friendly sunscreen. We discovered this on our latest trip to Mexico. The oils in the sunscreen were affecting the eco-systems of the fish. We were snorkeling, not just hiking, but that’s something to consider when you are choosing a sunscreen.

7. Communication Device

Many places, even inside national parks do not have cell service. So far, our method has been to tell someone who will not be joining us, where we will be, who we will be with, what trails we plan to do, when we will be back, etc. [Edited: I recently read that you should put a printout of your plans under the driver's side seat of your vehicle so that emergency personnel know your plans...I'll have to read more about that and write a post about it in the future.] If you are hiking a well-traveled trail this may not be a big deal, but if there is a possibility that you won’t see anyone else it might be beneficial to have radios. We don’t have any yet, but are looking into getting some just in case we are out of cell range and anything happens. So check back later for a more in-depth post on that.

8. Sunglasses

I prefer polarized lenses, and to be honest I don’t always wear sunglasses…but on the days when you are in the desert and the wind kicks up you will be happy you brought them. Also snow blindness is no fun. Sunglasses don’t weigh much so it’s no big deal to bring them. I love these RayBans, but everyone's face shape is different, so ask an associate or scour Pinterest if you don't know what style looks best on you.

9. Hat/Scarf

A hat or scarf can protect you from the sun, they can also be dipped in cold water to help keep you cool in hotter/dryer climates. A scarf can also be used to cover your mouth if you walk through a swarm of gnats or can keep you warmer in the winter.

Okay, my hat is in my hands in this photo, but Kevin has his on.

10. Bug Spray/Permethrin

I do not like bugs. I am in awe of my 2-year-old niece who loves bugs and collecting pinecones. I don’t go hiking without a can of bug spray…it’s just who I am.

I just discovered last week what Permethrin is, thanks to some co-workers. Apparently, hunters have been using it for years. It is a spray that repels ticks and other bugs and is even said to be safe for pregnant women to use. Kevin has had many ticks on him, in all my time outdoors (hiking and in the military) I have never seen a tick, and I hope to keep it that way. My husband said he used to have to treat his uniform with chemicals while in the Army; I never had to do that and am told it is now sewn into the military uniforms. (I have no idea if this is true or not.) But it was easy to use. We bought a spray bottle off of Amazon, but it can also be found in most outdoor stores and event Target. We covered our pants, socks and shoes in it and then let them dry overnight. There was no discoloration or staining and it claims to be good for 6 washes.

* I guess this isn’t something I carry in my pack, but something I treat my clothes with beforehand…anyway, still good to know, I wish someone had told me sooner.

11. Map

I like to stop by the visitor’s center and grab a map on my way into major parks, my husband likes to bypass this and get right on the trail. It’s up to you, but I figure having a map on hand could come in useful if you get lost or the trail is not well marked. These all-weather maps from REI are my new obsession! You can even get the all-weather paper and print your own customized maps! (I can't wait to do this with the destination guides I've been designing!)

12. 1st Aid Kit (including and medicines you need...for me it's an inhaler)

This should be self-explanatory. There are tons of options out there for 1st aid kits. The one we are currently using is from 12 Survivors. The important part is to know where the first aid kit(s) are located if you are traveling in a group.

13. Camera

We just upgraded our old waterproof camera because it was 10+ years old and technology is better now. I chose the Olympus TG-5 because it’s waterproof, so I don’t have to worry if it starts raining, or if I slip in a stream, etc. It also shoots in RAW which was a necessity for us, as you can see we love photographing all of the amazing places we’ve been.

Most of all, it is very lightweight and compact. I’m just trying to make it up this mountain that non-Texans call a hill…the last thing I need is ton of extra weight and bulk slowing me down.

14. Your ID

If you are stopped by a park ranger or need medical help, it’s always a good idea to have your ID on you.

15. Snacks

Even if we are going on a short-day hike, I pack snacks. That little bit of extra energy can be the difference between and enjoyable experience and a hangry wife. I personally don’t like nuts, so I’ll be sure to write a blog post sometime soon about some great hiking snacks that are high in protein if you don’t like or are allergic to nuts.

Again, every person’s preferences are different and every hike is different, but this is a generic list that I’ve found works well for us!

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