Day Hike Checklist: A Simple And Easy Way To Pack

hiking checklist
Jessica Bayne
Written by Jessica Bayne

As spring approaches and the weather gets warmer, more and more people are thinking about the outdoors again. For some people, the coming of spring means life, rebirth and fun. For outdoorsmen, it means getting to spend significant time surrounded by nature.

One of the best ways to commune with nature is to go on a day hike. It’s convenient because you don’t have to bring a lot of things and can travel lightly. To ensure that you have everything you need, you need a day hike checklist.

There are many ways you can obtain a checklist for your hike. You can go online to download forms that are pre-made or customizable. For people who prefer to use the web to make a hiking checklist, it is better if you opt for the customizable version so that you can include your personal preferences.

Working desk with blank notepad and ready to write fountain pen.

You can also make your own checklist based on your experience. Here are some of the essentials that you need to think about when putting together your checklist.

10 Hiking Essentials

When you’re outdoors you usually away from every day conveniences like running water, toilet, telephones and our stoves that we take for granted when you’re in civilization. Putting together a solid day hike checklist can save your life in the event of an emergency. Here are some essentials that you need to take along with you.

1. Navigation

You have to bring navigational aids even if you’ve been hiking the same terrain for a number of years and you’re familiar with it. Having navigational aids could help if you get sick and your companions are not familiar with the area or if you get disoriented and want to get a bearing to refresh your memory.

GPS as a navigational aid

Navigational aids can come in many forms and you should bring at least 2 for backup. For example, you can download a map of your hiking area and save it on your GPS tracker and bring the physical map with you. Check out our tips on how to choose the best GPS watch for your hiking needs.

Alternatively, you can bring a map and compass with you just don’t forget to encase your map in a protective case to shield it from the rain. Other alternative navigational aids are: altimeters and topographical maps.

2. Sun Protection

Sun protection can help ward off sunburn and protect you from diseases like skin cancer. Sunburns can be very uncomfortable especially for children. They tend to become itchy and scratching them will only make the condition worse. To protect yourself and your hike mates, bring along some sunscreen with at least SPF 30.

hiker applying sunscreen

Sunscreen wears off quickly if you sweat during a hike so don’t forget to reapply every 4 hours. You should also consider reapplying if you get wet. Don’t forget to apply on your whole face, neck, arms and other exposed areas. Apply sunscreen even if it’s cloudy outside to protect your skin from harmful UV rays.

Aside from sunscreen, you should also consider bringing a hat, lip balm and sunglasses along. A hat can give your face and neck additional protection. Lips can get dry especially in high altitude and your eyes need to be protected from the UV rays too.

3. Insulation

Most people think that blankets, jackets or thick socks are only for overnight stays in the wilderness. What they don’t realize is that it can get cold especially if your hike takes you up the mountains. Being cold can seriously ruin your fun and can even get you sick.

Female hiker with gloves on

Consider bringing along jackets, blankets, gloves and other forms of insulation depending on where you’re going. They can help keep you warm and protect you from the elements.

4. Illumination

Just like insulation, illumination is not just for overnighters. You need to think ahead and bring flashlights or lamps just in case. Most outdoorsmen do not leave home without their flint and some tinder. Follow their example by bringing along at least a lighter with you even for your day hikes. It can come in useful when you want to build a fire for cooking or signaling.

survival lighter with flashlight

Flashlights and overhead lamps can be used for signaling or for illumination, especially during late afternoons. Fog or sudden rainstorm can impede your sense of sight and it never hurts to have extra light when you need it. Consider bringing extra batteries too. In order to choose the best LED flashlights, see our article on this topic for more information.

5. First Aid Supplies

When you’re outdoors conveniences are far away including medical help. You never know what will happen when you’re out in the wilderness and a first-aid kit can come in handy in times of emergency. The Red Cross has pre-packed first aid kits so that you can just buy one online and be on the go. See our article on how to choose the best first aid kit to keep you safe at all times.

Make it a habit to replenish your first-aid kit and to check if medicine is not expired before heading out so that you can confidently use everything that is in your kit. If you have medication, include it in the first-aid kit as well.

A red first aid kit with hiking boots in the woods.

This is very important especially for people who need regular medication like insulin or are suffering from hypertension. Hiking can cause muscle soreness especially if you’ve been out of action for a while. Medicine such as ibuprofen for muscle pain should be included in your kit as well as paracetamol for headaches or slight fever.

6. Fire

Fire is a good way to warm up cold bones and cook food with. As stated above, veteran outdoorsmen always have their trusty flint and tinder when they’re outdoors. It is good to follow their example and have different ways to make fire with you during a day hike.

Aside from flint and tinder, you can bring along a fire starter kit, lighter or waterproof matches in a waterproof container. It is best to have at least 2 different ways to start fire along with you so that you can always make a fire when needed.

starting a fire with a lighter

Fire can save your life when temperatures drop suddenly and you need a way to stay warm. A fire can also be used as a signal for help or to mark your location when you need to be rescued.

A good roaring fire can also cook food and replenish your strength to give you energy to finish your day hike and boil water so that you are drinking potable water.

7. Repair Kit and Tools

A knife is a very versatile outdoor tool that you should consider bringing along with you for your day hike. Knives are versatile as they can be used to hunt and kill food, chop away brush to make hiking easier and as a means to defend yourself against wild animals. Your knife can be used to chop wood to splint a broken leg or cut medical tape and bandages.

You should always have a knife with you not just during a day hike but also when you’re camping, fishing or hunting. Not only can knives do the things stated above, they can also help you build a shelter in case your day hike gets extended. For any outdoor activity, make sure that your knife is sharp and has good weight so that it is easy to use.

sharp knife with knife case

Other tools to consider brining are duct tape and repair kits for your stove. Duct tape can be used to repair your tent, reseal food, splint a broken tent pole or fishing pole, repair your water bottle, make butterfly bandage strips, bandage your ankle, make a sling or serve as a bandage for your blister.

8. Nutrition

We know it’s only a day trip but it’s always better to have extra food when you’re outdoors. If you plan to go on a day hike alone or with friends, extra food for at least a day per person is a good rule of thumb. We know that you don’t like to carry extra weight but extra food can be very important during an emergency and you’re hike gets extended.

Extra food need not be heavy. You can bring energy bars, trail mix, chocolate, soda crackers, jerky or meals-ready-to-eat (MRE). These foods do not spoil overnight and provide nutrition you need outdoors or if you get stuck in the wilderness.

mre - meals ready to eat

You have a lot of option for food when you’re going on a hike. You can make one and keep it in an airtight container or you can buy pre-packed food online. For tips on how to keep your food warm during camping, see our earlier article on this topic.

9. Hydration

Water is perhaps the most important thing you have to bring with you on your day hike. Man can survive 3 weeks without food but only 3 days without water. Granted you’re only going 1 day but water is still very important because you need to stay hydrated during your hike.

As you probably know by experience, you sweat a lot when hiking even when the temperature is cool. This is because your body is exerting itself thereby producing warmth which in turn makes you hot and sweaty.

As a rule of thumb, you should bring with you a quart of water for every 2 hours of hiking. So if you’re hiking for 4 hours, bring 2 quarts and so on. This is to replace water you lost due to sweat and evaporation. It is also best to bring more water if you’re hiking in a hot and humid environment.

hiker drinking water

A good plan is to bring a water bottle and personal filtration system with you like a LifeStraw. This way you will always have access to clean potable water in the wilderness without having to carry big bulky water bottles.

You can also opt to bring water purification tablets that kill microorganisms in water that cause cholera, typhoid or dysentery. Having more ways to purify or filter water on a hike can help save your life or your hike mates’.

10. Emergency Shelter

Yes, we know it’s bulky and sometimes heavy but it can be a godsend should it start to rain during your day hike. Hiking in wet clothing and shoes can be very uncomfortable and access to emergency shelter can feel like living in a palace when it’s pouring cats and dogs.

tarp emergency shelter for hikers

Your emergency shelter can be a piece of tarp, tent or tube tent. Just make sure they are lightweight and easy to erect so that you can take shelter when needed.

Factors That Affect Your Checklist

Now that you know what to bring along, you can now make a checklist. Here are some factors to think about when putting up your list.

Weather and Temperature

The weather and temperature is important so that you will know what type of insulation to bring, clothes to wear or amount of water to carry. A good rule of thumb is to take a look at the weather for the next three days of your hike.

blue sky with clouds

You will only be gone for a day, but knowing the weather for the next 2 days can be important in case of emergency. Events can also take place that could prevent you from finishing your hike as scheduled so you need to be prepared and in the know.

If it looks like it’s going to rain or snow, make sure that you’re wearing the right clothes or bring jackets and your emergency shelter.

Number of Hikers

The number of hikers is important because it will tell you the amount of food  and water to bring. For friends, it is better to personally take care of their own water and food. This way, everybody has access to food and water without being dependent on their hike mates.

friends hiking

Brining your own personal supplies will also be easier since it everybody will now need to carry their own packs. For families, estimate the amount of food and water everybody needs and add a day’s provision in case of emergency.

Distribute the weight so that everybody has to carry something. In cases like this, extra hydration methods are important so make sure to bring LifeStraw or extra purification tablets so that everybody can drink potable water.

Terrain and Altitude

If you’re exploring new terrain, make sure to check out the hiking path via GPS or to bring along a topography map. Knowing what kind of terrain you will be facing will make it easier for you to decide what equipment to bring and the type of clothing to wear. For rougher terrain, you need heavy duty hiking boots and gear while well traveled and flat hiking paths are suited for sandal wear or shorts.

wearing sandals for hiking

Some people are sensitive to altitude so make sure you have remedy for altitude sickness. Know the symptoms of altitude sickness before your hike and make sure you know how to go from high altitude to low altitude quickly to alleviate symptoms immediately.


Boots, shoes and sandals should be well suited for the terrain. Some people pack sandals during their hike so that they can change footwear when crossing streams or during walks on easy terrain.

Man and Woman in Hiking Boots

Some people need additional support for their legs and prefer high-cut hiking boots while others are perfectly fine using hiking sandals. Whatever footwear you decide, make sure that it is sturdy enough to survive your day hike and is lightweight for a more enjoyable hike.

How To Make Your Checklist

Now that you know what to bring, wear and which boots to use; you can now prepare your checklist. Begin your checklist by including the 10 essentials needed above. You can type it up and print it out so that you can put check marks on the different items you need as you put them inside your day pack.

Some people will not want to bring some of the essential items like insulation or emergency shelter especially when the weather is sunny and clear. However, we strongly suggest that you consider bringing all 10 to be prepared because as many seasoned outdoorsmen know, many unexpected things can happen in the wild.

writing in a checklist

It is always better to have backups and extras because you are at the mercy of nature when you’re outdoors. You are now ready to include items that are not really necessary but can make your hike more memorable and easier. Consider items like:

  • Camera for taking pictures and posting selfies
  • Trekking poles for extra support
  • Two-way radios for communication or signaling
  • Cellphone or satellite phone
  • Bug spray to ward off pesky bugs and mosquitoes
  • Clothing like soft shell jacket or rain pants
  • Extra socks just in case
  • Binoculars to enjoy faraway views
  • Whistles for emergency and signaling
  • Utensils to make eating and cooking easier
  • Snacks so you can eat on the go
  • Garbage bag so that you don’t leave any manmade footprints behind
  • Post hike clothing, snacks and water

This checklist can be personalized and is very comprehensive so that you have access to all basic supplies in cases of emergency during your day hike. Remember that packing smart is always better than packing light.

things to bring for hiking

Aside from following our suggested checklist, you can also ask seasoned outdoorsmen and hikers so that you can draw from their experience and include other useful items for your day hike. Follow this checklist so that you won’t forget anything.


Jessica Bayne

Jessica Bayne

Jessica believes that the only things you need to explore the world are a good backpack and a bit of courage to make the first steps. She also loves the beauty of a sunset seen from the mountaintop and the delicious flavor of a meal prepped over the camping fire. Ready to start a new adventure at any given time, Jessica knows how to be prepared for any situation and understands how important is to find the right gear. She also knows a lot about the type of gear to have and how to choose the products you actually need.