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10 Must-Have Items to Pack on Your First Day Hike

A picture of me, on Barren mountain, on the 100 mile wilderness (Appalachian trail in Maine)
Michael Unterkoefler

There’s no better way to explore the great outdoors than throwing on your hiking boots and setting out for the day. Here’s a comprehensive list of hiking items to help keep you safe on your first day hike.

For those of you just getting into hiking and getting your bearings, a day hike is literally what it sounds like: a round-trip hike in and out that can be completed in a single day. If you’re new to the hobby, you might think a day hike is a literal walk in the (state) park, but all kinds of things can happen out on the trail. There is always the possibility of unforeseen risks that may occur during any outdoor activity. That’s why it’s essential to pack the proper gear—even if you fully intend to be off the trails by nightfall.

Hiking Backpack

Investing in a solid day pack makes all the difference when considering comfort and the activity level. Using any old backpack will get the job done, but having a lightweight pack fit for comfort with helpful features makes all the difference. Choose a daypack that holds about 11-20 liters of gear or other equipment.

Plan to pack extra clothes, food, water, plus some safety and first aid materials in your pack, along with anything else you think you may need. The key here is to pack essentials (not your entire closet), which we’ll go over in detail.

Proper Clothing

Always check the weather before trekking out for the day, so you know exactly what type of clothes to pack. The key to staying satisfied during a hike is to stay dry, and as comfortable as possible.

If you are hiking, I’m guessing it’s because you admire the great outdoors and love nature. When you are soaking wet or chafing from uncomfortable clothing, we guarantee your focus will be on that pain or discomfort, rather than the incredible views before you.

Always pack (or wear) layers to ensure you have enough of the “right” outerwear for your adventure. Here’s a helpful guide to layering clothes for outdoor activities.

Hiking Boots

Me hiking up Mount Bigelow, using hiking boots that fit well.
Michael Unterkoefler

Proper footwear is, without a doubt, one of the most essential items to invest in, especially once getting serious about this hobby. Take it from someone who’s hiked hundreds of miles on the Appalachian Trail; hiking boots are a must.

They are designed to protect your feet from rocks, roots, and muddy trails while also offering extra ankle support, and they grip well on rough terrain trails.

When choosing hiking boots, the best thing you can do is to try a few on until you’ve found the right match. If you want to get into multi-day hikes, finding the right boot for your foot is even more critical. I love my Salomons, but again they fit my foot perfectly, and they might not be the right fit for you.

Plenty of Food

Pack plenty of snacks, including energy bars, jerky, nuts, or anything you can conveniently much on while on the trail. If you plan on being out for the entire day, you can also pack a sandwich with other energizing foods like an apple or a banana.

We always pack a little extra food in case of an emergency, so if you usually eat one sandwich pack two. You are exerting energy for the entire day, so it’s essential to replenish your body, too. When it comes to packing extra food, focus on calorie-dense foods, because if it comes down to needing those emergency rations, you’ll want to get as much energy boost per bite (and ounces carried in) as you can.

While on the topic, do your part and clean up after yourself. There’s nothing more discouraging than finding other people’s trash while out in nature. Don’t be that person.

Plenty of Water

Do not skimp on water, as hydrating yourself throughout the entire day is vital for your safety, especially during strenuous hikes when it’s hot out.

Many day packs come with a built-in pocket that fits a water bladder (or reservoir) for convenient hydration. Water bladders have integrated tubes that extend to your mouth, to avoid stopping and pulling out your bottle to drink.

The main idea here is to have water accessible to you throughout the day, and enough to keep you hydrated. Bladders are convenient, and some might even say luxurious, but not necessary.

Iodine Tablets or a Water Filtration System

Mike filling a bottle of lake water, before purifying it with iodine tablets.
Emilee Unterkoefler

There’s nothing quite as unsettling than to learn you are running low (or have run out) of water, with miles ahead of you.

Mishaps like spilling your water bottle, or miscalculating can happen, which is why having a backup plan is essential. Lucky for you, if you are out in the woods, you are likely to run into the water at some point, but you should purify it before drinking it to prevent illness.

Iodine tablets are lightweight, inexpensive, and convenient to have in these situations. They kill bacteria and viruses that thrive in some waters. Be sure to read up on them before deciding if they are safe for you.

Otherwise, you can invest in a water filter; however, the drawbacks are they are heavier than iodine tablets, cost more, and need to be replaced from time to time.

Navigation Tools

Mike taking a break and looking at a map to see where we will go next.
Emilee Unterkoefler

After selecting your route, be sure to acquire a map and a compass. However, that map and compass will do you no good if you have no idea how to use either tool. Read up and understand how to use these before even stepping foot near your trail.

Safety Kit

We never go on a hike without packing extra safety gear. It’s essential to plan for unforeseen situations, and even if you don’t use them, at least you know it’s there in the case of a future emergency.

We always carry a multitool, waterproof matches, a Firestarter, a knife, and a headlamp. Also, consider bringing a whistle and emergency shelter.

First Aid Kit

It’s also essential to prepare for any injuries that may occur during your hiking trip. Anything from blisters and scrapes to rolled ankles may happen and is important to keep in mind.  There are many hiking first-aid kits available, which will provide most of the essentials.

Other Miscellaneous Items

Having a separate small bag inside of your pack to organize extra essentials is convenient to have as well. Insect repellent, sunscreen, Chapstick, baby wipes, and toilet paper are all good things to pack. We always carry lightweight coreless duct tape, and large ziplock bags to carry back our trash.

If you love the sound of birds chirping and being surrounded by breathtaking views, then hiking may just be for you. Find yourself a reliable hiking buddy, especially if you are new to the hobby or new to the area you are hiking in. Also, always let someone know where you are going and when you expect to be back.

Emilee Unterkoefler Emilee Unterkoefler
Emilee Unterkoefler is a freelance food writer, hiking enthusiast, and mama with over ten years of experience working in the food industry. Read Full Bio »
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