1. Appropriate footwear.
For a short day hike that doesn’t involve a heavy pack or technical terrain, trail shoes are great. For longer hikes, carrying heavier loads, or more technical terrain, hiking boots offer more support.
2. GPS and/or map
A map and compass not only tell you where you are and how far you have to go, it can help you find campsites, water, and an emergency exit route in case of an accident. While GPS units are very useful, always carry a map and compass as a backup. There are several hiking apps that allow you to download trails to view offline such as the Hiking Project or All Trails. However, never assume they will be 100% accurate or that your trail will be on it. Always check the trailhead before heading out. Also, don’t assume that you will have cell service. REI sells a neat bluetooth device that allows you to message without cell service within 4 miles called GoTenna, awesome for more than just hiking.
3. Extra water and a way to purify it.
Without enough water, your body’s muscles and organs simply can’t perform as well. Consuming too little water will not only make you thirsty, but susceptible to hypothermia and altitude sickness. As a general rule of thumb, adults go through 1 liter of water for every 1 hour of hiking. Depending upon the difficulty of the trail, adults general hike 2 miles per hour; likely longer with bigger groups and young children! If you are in warmer climates, expect to pack more water.
4. Plenty of snacks
Any number of things could keep you out longer than expected: getting lost, enjoying time by a stream, an injury, or difficult terrain. Extra food will help keep up energy and morale. It’s especially important to go for nutritional snacks that will keep your energy levels up. Options like sturdy fruits, veggies, jerky and nutrition bars that won’t get squished in your bag are great. Real Food Bar comes in three great flavors – cacao sea salt, peanut butter and cherry cashew. The great thing about the bars is that they provide a great bang for your buck in terms of calories and nutritional value. You’ll be burning more calories than you might be used to, so it’s worth loading up on food.
5. Rain gear and extra clothing.
Because the weatherman is not always right. Can’t stress this one enough. Dressing in base layers allows you to adjust to changing weather and activity levels. Two rules: avoid cotton (it keeps moisture close to your skin) and always carry a hat. For rain gear, a light waterproof jacket that is easily packed is a great option, water repellent pants and shoes will really come in handy (nothing worse than being cold and wet all day). Prana Stretch Zion pants are a great option with 4-way stretch fabric with a DWR finish that will keep you dry in a light rain shower.
6. Safety items: fire, light, and a whistle.
The warmth of a fire and a hot drink can help prevent hypothermia in case of emergency. Packing waterproof matches can be a lifesaver. Also a whistle as a way to signal to other people your location. A flashlight or headlamp (there are so many great options on the market) can really come in handy if hiking through caves or other dark areas. A headlamp will allow for hands-free maneuvering in case any climbing is involved. Make sure the batteries are charged too.
7. First aid kit.
Prepackaged first-aid kits for hikers are available at any outfitter. Double your effectiveness with knowledge: take a first-aid class with the American Red Cross or a Wilderness First Aid class.
8. Knife or multi-purpose tool.
These enable you to cut strips of cloth into bandages, remove splinters, fix broken eyeglasses, and perform a whole host of repairs on malfunctioning gear. A basic pocket knife will do.
9. Sun screen and sun glasses.
Especially above treeline when there is a skin-scorching combination of sun and snow, you’ll need sunglasses to prevent snow blindness and sunscreen to prevent sunburn. This is a must! If in doubt, pack it.
You’ll want something you can carry comfortably and has the features designed to keep you hiking smartly. Don’t forget the rain cover; some packs come with one built-in. Pro tip: Most daypacks have a built-in reservoir for water. This is incredibly useful because it not only distributes the weight of the water more evenly across your back than water bottles would, it allows for hands-free mobility so you don’t have to stop walking every team you need a drink of water.
BONUS: Trash Bag. This 11th piece of gear is essential to making sure that the trails you love stay beautiful for generations to come. A zip lock bag is a great option as well for keeping the trash you pick up along the trail separate from the rest of your gear.