10 Best Hiking Gear Essentials for a Day Hike

Planning to do some hiking this fall? Learn what hiking gear items to bring that will ensure you have everything you need to keep it safe and fun on the trails.

Hiking is one of the best ways to connect with nature and go within. It’s also a great way to relieve stress and ease anxiety. 

But before you hit the trails running for that stress reliever and zen fix, it’s important you gather up the essentials to make it a comfortable and enjoyable hiking trip.

This means planning your hiking gear accordingly so you are safe and comfy on the trails.  

Whether you’re an avid and experienced hiker or someone who is just beginning to get out and explore the trails, being prepared for a hike is a must – for your safety and comfortability.

Here are 10 best essentials for hiking to add to your packing list. 

This guide covers the 12 best hiking gear essentials for a hike, including:

1. Best Hiking Backpack

The first thing you’re going to need is a good hiking backpack. This is one thing I never leave home without when I go hiking. 

It comes in handy for carrying snacks, food, a sweater, your water bottle (unless the backpack has a hydration pack), first aid kit or anything you don’t want to carry in your hands. 

You can opt for that old backpack you have stashed away in your closet if you’re planning on a short hike but if you’re planning on a full day hiking trip, perhaps to see the foliage in the fall, then you’ll want to invest in something more comfortable. 

A good full day hiking backpack is typically in the 20-35 liter range which is large enough to hold all your hiking essentials comfortably.

Key Features to Look Out for When Selecting a Backpack –

  • Pockets or sleeves to hold a hydration pack or eco water bottle. This will make it easier to stay hydrated while hiking and not have to worry about plastic water bottles leaking or taking up space when empty.
  • A hip belt and sternum strap to help shift the weight of the backpack so your shoulders don’t get sore and to keep the backpack’s shoulder straps in place so that they don’t slide off your shoulders while hiking. This is especially ideal if you have back issues.
  • A cooling mesh back panel to keep you cool. It can get hot and sweaty with a load on your back while hiking so having a pack with a cooling mesh is a plus.

Below are my top hiking backpack picks for sustainability, durability and comfort:  

2. Comfortable Clothing

Among the most important hiking gear to invest in, is the kind that goes on your body! You want to make sure that what you are wearing fits well, feels comfortable and is weather appropriate for your hike. 

A short 1-hour hike may not be so bad but if you’re going on a 5-6 hour day hike, wearing clothing that makes you feel itchy, sticky, and needs constant adjusting will make your hike miserable – comfortable clothing made specifically for outdoor activity is ideal. 

Let’s start with layers – 

Base Layer 

For starters, a moisture-wicking base layer is ideal for breathability and allowing your body to regulate its body temperature. This will make it more comfortable to hike in and fully enjoy your trek without the damp, sticky feeling from a sweaty shirt. 

Why not use cotton? 

In the cold, cotton is not something you want to wear during any outdoor activity that may entail sweating. Cotton will not provide insulation or keep you warm if wet. It will take long to dry and will only make you feel colder than you want to be. 

In the heat, perspiration increases and if wearing cotton, the air pockets in the fabric become saturated with water absorbing your sweat like a sponge. I don’t know about you, but I’m not comfortable hiking in wet clothes full of sweat!

Personally, I prefer hiking in a moisture-wicking tank top during the warmer months but opting for a lightweight short sleeve shirt works just as well if that is your preference. 

During the colder months, a long sleeve shirt gets added to my hiking gear along with a fleece sweater or light insulated jacket. 

Middle Layer

Check the weather ahead of time and plan your hike accordingly. If you know there’s going to be a chill in the air, pack a fleece vest with your long sleeves, a fleece jacket or an insulated jacket to keep you warm. Sometimes a hike turns out to be longer than expected so you want to make sure you have the right hiking gear in place. 

Jackets without hoods make for a less bulky backpack. You can always throw in a lightweight beanie hat in case you need it. 

Keep in mind that temperatures will vary along summits, shaded trails, waterfalls, and also throughout the day with morning and evening temps being the coolest. 

Being cold can be miserable when you’re still a ways from exiting the trail. That’s when you’ll quickly realize how important it is to prioritize comfort and that extra layer in your backpack will be worth it!

Outer Layer

Be sure to pack a lightweight rain jacket you can stash in your backpack like this pack and go, eco-friendly jacket that comes with its own fold away bag, is designed for layering and is wind and water resistant. This is one hiking gear item you don’t want to leave home without. You never know when you might need it. 

Hat, gloves and a buff also come in handy and take up very little space. 

In case you don’t know what a hiking buff is

It’s a lightweight, stretchy, breathable, moisture-wicking and multi-use microfiber tube layer. Buffs are typically very thin and great for wiping off sweat. You can wear it as a head wrap or around your neck and face to keep you warm in cooler temps. 

Be sure to keep an eye on the weather and plan your hike accordingly so that you’re prepared for any weather scenario you might encounter. 

Hiking Pants 

Movement in comfortability is key when you’re on the trails. It allows for better flexibility and performance during your hike. Which is why having the right set of comfortable hiking pants is critical to your hiking gear. 

Here are some of my top picks for flexibility, moisture-wicking and comfortability:

Hiking Boots

When it comes to your feet, a solid pair of sturdy hiking boots and moisture-wicking socks are a game-changer for comfortability. The last thing you want is blistered, tired feet or a twisted ankle when you’re trying to get through rough terrain or a rocky climb. You might also want to keep a pair of comfy slides in your car to switch into after a long day of hiking. 

The type of shoes you choose, will depend on the type of trails you intend on hiking. 

Low-cut style hiking shoes work best for the less strenuous, more moderate type trails allowing to go further with efficiency. 

High-top, thick soled style hiking boots will protect your ankles and allow you to challenge yourself on more strenuous trails. 

Low-cut hiking shoes:

  • Lighter in weight
  • More breathable 
  • More flexible 
  • Dry faster

The downside is that they expose your ankles and provide less support. Which is why they work great for easier, moderate trails. 

High-top hiking boots: 

  • Keep your feet warm
  • Sturdier on your feet
  • Protect your ankles 

Lets face it, hiking shoes are not the most attractive. I’ve learned to accept that it is not a fashion statement but more so all about comfortability. So, if you’re looking for “cute” and comfortable hiking shoes, those will be hard to find. 

Here are my picks for vegan, sustainability, comfortability and durability: 

3. Sun Protection

To protect your skin on the trails, adding sunscreen to your hiking gear checklist is key. You don’t need to lug around a bottle that takes up space and adds weight to your bag, something as small as this eco-friendly, toxic-free and cruelty-free sunscreen in a tin can works great and can slide into any pocket. 

Don’t forget to add a breathable, wide-brimmed sun hat and sunglasses to protect your eyes and face as well. 

4. Navigation Tools 

There are plenty of hiking apps out there, both free and paid, that come in handy when planning your hike. I highly recommend downloading some of them to your phone and making use of them to help you find the best trails, insights, and to help navigate your way through the trails while keeping safe. 

Image by Gaia GPS

Some of the best apps to consider: 

AllTrails – over 200,000 trail maps to explore

Cairn – hiking safety

Gaia GPS – allows you to see your location in real-time

Maps 3D Pro – GPS system for outdoor adventures

Hiking Project – discover new trails 

PeakVisor – AR 3D maps and peaks identification 

SpyGlass – advanced compass and AR navigation app

FarOut – long distance trail guides

Seek by INaturalist – explore nature

These hiking apps are great for making your hike as smooth and enjoyable as possible but having a backup plan is essential.

Plan for Backup

There is only so much juice your phone can hold. What happens when your phone dies? Your SOL! 

Using apps on your phone will quickly suck the life out of your battery. The last thing you want is to be stuck lost in the woods without having a good backup plan. Safety first.

Always go prepared with a backup battery or portable charger, waterproof map case to keep your map dry and a waterproof compass to help you find your way. 

If you’re planning a long day hike or backpacking trip, having the Garmin InReach Mini is ideal. This navigation tool will allow you to send text messages when your WiFi connection or cell phone service is out of reach. This is a hiking gear item worth investing in.

Lastly, be sure to communicate your hiking plans with friends or family – including the time you intend on heading back home so they can take rescue action if needed. 

5. Water

Your body gives you its best – mind and body – when it is fully hydrated making water one of the most essential elements for optimal health and performance. So, planning to bring more than enough water to keep you hydrated is key. 

That doesn’t mean lugging around a bunch of water bottles. You want to not only keep it eco-friendly but also make sure you have access to clean water without the heavy load. 

A great way to go about this is adding a portable water filter to your backpack hiking gear. It takes up very little space and allows you to drink from nature’s water supply when needed to stay fully hydrated and prevent dehydration – which can be highly dangerous. Especially when you’re in the middle of the woods. 

You can also add a hydration reservoir to your backpack if you have one with a pocket for it. With a hydration reservoir, you drink water from an attached tube – similar to a camelback. It’s also easy to carry without it spilling or bouncing around in your pack if you had water bottles which are terrible for the environment to begin with. 

If your backpack doesn’t have a hydration reservoir pocket, a lightweight stainless steel reusable water bottle would be even better for environmental purposes. 

Personally, I would rather opt for a ss water bottle I could use over and over again any time. It’s a more eco-friendly option than a plastic hydration pack. You may even be able to stick your water bottle in the hydration reservoir pocket on your backpack just the same. 

6. Snacks and Food for Energy Fuel

Plan to bring enough snacks and food to keep you full and energized throughout the day. Nutrient dense snacks and food are essential for fueling your mind and body. 

Making your own trail mix with nuts, seeds and dried fruit or packing up some Larabars would make perfect snacks on the go. Even better, veggie snacks like celery sticks and carrots or solid fruit like apples or pears are great fuel for the body. 

Hitting the trails at the crack of dawn can also quickly stir up hunger mid to late morning. At which point, breakfast options like this one or this one come in handy. 

For food other than snacks, vegan meal packs make a great meal alternative. 

If you’re planning on a full day hike, you’ll be burning a lot of calories and will need to make sure you have plenty of food to keep you satiated and ready for an emergency situation. 

7. Flashlight or Headlamp

Just in case the sun starts to set and dusk starts to fall quickly before you make it back to the trailhead, you’ll need a lightweight flashlight (preferably tactical for brighter light) or headlamp for a hands-free lighting source. 

Make sure your equipment is fully charged or add charged batteries to your hiking gear checklist so you don’t leave home with dead batteries! 

8. First Aid Emergency Kit

Investing in a travel and lightweight first aid kit that can easily fit in your backpack with the rest of your hiking gear essentials, is important on a hiking trip or on any outdoor adventure for that matter. 

You never know when you might slip or fall and scrape yourself up. It happens to the best of us so it’s better safe than sorry.

A great kit to invest in is the Adventure Medical Kit .9 Ultralight and Watertight First Aid Kit which comes in a waterproof nylon, dryflex bag with the necessary first aid essentials for treating minor injuries including unexpected allergies. Sometimes nature can spark an allergic reaction to trees, flowers or plants in the wild that you’re not accustomed to being around if you’re sensitive to allergies. 

Add in these soft, organic biodegradable mini coin towelettes to wipe down the injury. They are compressed, disposable mini tablets you can carry in your pocket or simply place in your first aid kit so they don’t take up much space at all. 

I also recommend this Survival Kit Bracelet which is equipped with a firestarter and whistle in case you need to build a fire or alert passerbys if you find yourself in an emergency situation. 

9. Travel Toilet Tissue, Wipes and Pee Rag  

Whether you are planning a short or long hike, be sure to always plan ahead and prepare for bathroom breaks. When you gotta go, you gotta go! 

But before anything, it’s important to understand the practice of exploring the outdoors sustainably and implement the 7 Principles of Leave No Trace. These principles will help you with planning and preparing for bathroom breaks outdoors ahead of time. Specifically with how to consciously poop outside with respect to the environment. 

That being said, prepare your hiking gear essentials with an outdoor bathroom toolkit that includes the following:

  • Biodegradable Compressed Coin Tissues – Use these for wiping down both #1 and 2. These are mini compressed tissues that can easily be packed into a backpack pocket
  • Outdoor Biodegradable Wipes with Aloe & Vitamin E – Use these as a follow up to wipe down #2 if needed (You know how it sometimes goes!)
  • Reusable pee cloth – You can solely use this reusable pee cloth to wipe down but then you would be carrying a dirty cloth tied to your backpack. Instead, use it as a final wipe down to dry yourself after you’ve completely wiped yourself clean.
  • Compostable Biodegradable Bags – Use these to throw in the dirty wipes and tissues. These can be tied to your backpack until you get to the nearest trash container. 

Having an outdoor bathroom kit is not something we would naturally think about needing but whether you’re going on a day hike or a backpacking trip, it’s an outdoor essential you’ll want to have on hand. 

10. Trash Bags 

Stash a trash bag in your backpack to dump your garbage in as chances are, depending on the trail, you may or may not find trash cans along your hike. Between the toiletries, food scraps and packaging, you’ll need it. The last thing you want to do is dump your trash on the trails. Throw in a pair of eco-friendly gloves to pick up trash you find in your path and help keep the trails clean. It doesn’t hurt to do our part! 

The good thing about trash bags is that they don’t take up much space and you can always tie it to your pack when full so you don’t have to carry it. 

Disclosure: Some of the links in this article may be affiliate links, which can provide compensation to me at no cost to you if you decide to make a purchase. These are products I’ve personally used and stand behind. You can read disclaimer here

Sandra Campillo
Sandra Campillo

Sandra Campillo is a vegan lifestyle and travel blogger and affiliate marketer. Join Sandra and other monthly readers on SandraCampillo.com to learn how to live a healthier, more sustainable, and compassionate way of life while creating a passive income lifestyle.

Leave a Comment