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Essentials for your hiking day pack


What should be a fun hike can turn into a nightmare if you don't pack the right items. While it's important to be prepared, you don't want to pack everything but the kitchen sink in your quest to bring the right gear, so work out what you need and leave behind what you don't. 

No packing list suits every person and every hike, so pay attention to weather conditions and the route you're hiking when picking what to pack. 

What should you take on a hike?

What you'll need in your daypack for your hike depends on the length of the trail, where you're heading, and the conditions. For instance, you'll need to pack more food and water for a full day hike than you would for a 2-3 hour hike. When you're heading on a well-hiked trail where someone is likely to pass by sooner rather than later if you get in a bind, you won't need to be as well-prepared as if you're going deep into the wilderness and might not see another soul for days. 

What you need on a hike fits into three main categories: food and water supplies, health and emergency supplies, and clothing and accessories. The first category includes any food you require for the day, water bottles, and potentially a water purifying system if you can't carry as much water as you'll need. 

Health and emergency supplies encompass anything you need to stay safe or could require in an emergency, including a first aid kit and emergency communication devices. Then you'll want to bring any clothing you might need for the current conditions, such as an extra layer for cold days, a waterproof jacket, or a hat to keep the sun off your face.

Items you need in your day pack for hiking

Food and water supplies

Hydro Flask Stainless Steel Reusable Water Bottle 

The straw lid makes this water bottle ideal for drinking on the go. It comes in 20-, 32- and 40-ounce sizes to cater for hikes long and short.

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Clif Bar Energy Bars 

Made with a careful balance of protein, fat, and carbohydrates, these Clif bars provide sustained energy for moderate activity. They're relatively calorie-dense, so you can easily pack enough to keep you going for your hike without weighing yourself down or adding too much bulk to your pack.

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LifeStraw Personal Water Filter

The LifeStraw makes microbiologically-contaminated water safe to drink, making it perfect to take on hikes as an emergency backup in case you run out of water. It's compact, too, so it's easy to fit into your day pack.

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Health and emergency supplies

Protect Life First Aid Kit 

It's small enough to carry on a day hike but this first aid kit contains everything you need for minor injuries, including bandages, a tourniquet, and an emergency blanket.

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Garmin InReach Mini Lightweight Satellite Communicator

While it's overkill for a casual hike, this satellite communicator is a must-pack item for anyone who hikes challenging or remote trails. You can communicate with others and send out an SOS in places without cell service.

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Energizer LED Tactical Flashlight

This bright yet compact flashlight will help you find your way home if something happens and you end up out on the trail after dark.

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Supergoop! Play Everyday SPF 50 Lotion

You can get sunburned even on overcast days and it's a surefire way to ruin your hike. Wear a high SPF sunscreen, such as this one, and bring it with you to top up every few hours.

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Clothing and accessories

Champion Packable Jacket

This lightweight packable jacket is perfect for changeable days when you're not sure whether it's going to rain. It packs into its front pocket and takes up little space in your pack.

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Dickies Dri-tech Moisture Control Crew Socks

Getting wet feet or having footwear that rubs can put a damper on the most enjoyable of hikes. As such, it's a good idea to pack a spare pair of socks to change into or to act as an extra buffer to prevent blisters.

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Adidas Saturday Relaxed Adjustable Cap

Pack a hat to keep the sun off your face, even if you're not sure you'll need it. This baseball cap doesn't take up much space but could make your day.

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Q. How do you pack a backpack for a day hike?

A. It's not just what you put in your hiking backpack that's important, but how you pack it. Generally speaking, bulkier items should be packed toward the bottom and low-bulk items toward the top, as this keeps the load closer to your center of gravity. However, you can make an exception for heavy or bulky items you need easy access to, such as your water bottle, which should be packed near the top of your bag. Try your backpack on before you leave to make sure it feels well-balanced and adjust it if not. 

Q. What should you wear on a hike? 

A. Wear clothing that's comfortable for the weather conditions, whether that's shorts (women/men) and a tank top (women/men) or two pairs of hiking pants (women/men) and a warm fleece jacket (women/men). That said, bear in mind that conditions can change during the day and you may heat up while hiking, so it's a good idea to have at least a couple of lightweight layers you can put on or take off as required.

Comfortable shoes with good grip are vital. Hiking boots (women/men) or hiking shoes (women/men) are ideal, but a solid pair of sneakers or training shoes with deep treads will do the trick if you don't hike regularly enough to buy dedicated footwear. 

Also, pay attention to any hazards that might affect your clothing choices. For instance, if you're hiking in an area where ticks are rife, wear long pants and a long-sleeved top, even on hot days. 

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Lauren Corona writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.

BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers.

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