There are two extremes when going on a day hike. I suggest neither one.
Extreme One is carrying no gear at all and just hoping for the best.
Extreme Two is carrying so much gear you fall on your face 4-5 times during a hike.
There is an alternative, which is preparing the best and most perfect day pack. This pack will include everything you need to make it back and forth in one piece. This pack will ensure both a lightweight and thoroughly enjoyable hiking experience. Even better, if you primarily hike with two people, the perfect day pack only needs to be worn by one of you, which means you can trade off.
How’s that for awesome?
The best hiking day pack
There are the items you must have regardless, as they are essential to your day hike experience.
A Good Day Hike Bag
In order to have a successful day hike you need a good bag. The bag should have load bearing straps and also be big enough to carry water and all of the essentials.
The bag I use is the Bago Hiking Bag. It only cost me 18 dollars (at the time) and it is fantastic. I recommend it if you are looking for something cheap and beginner friendly. It has the appropriate load bearing straps and it even features a mesh backing that improves breathability.
A good hiking bag is any bag that works for you, but getting a good one makes all the difference. It needs to be able to hold the essentials as well as be comfortable throughout the hike.
As an added bonus, the Bago Hiking Bag features a rain cover that is nestled in the bottom. If it starts raining I can guarantee that my essentials won’t get wet by quickly covering the bag in the sleeve.
Water is the big one here. Make sure you bring enough water on your hike in order to stay hydrated throughout. How much water should you bring? More than you think. My wife and I brought about 2 liters EACH when we went for our most recent 12 mile day hike. This turned out to be more than enough due to the fact that it was a little bit colder and we were out of the sun for a major part of the hike.
Again, bring more than you think. We have been on more than our fair share of hikes where by the end we were struggling to keep going because of thirst. For our 17 Miler we brought 4 liters of water and 2 big bottles of Gatorade and we ran out 2 miles before the end. We drank a lot during the day because it was super crazy hot, and discovered that we should have brought more. The point is, you need to bring more than you think you need because water is well worth its extra weight.
Better yet, keep an extra bottle of water in your car for when you have a long drive home. This will help as you will have water to look forward to when you at last finish the hike, and you won’t need to save an extra during the hike for the ride home. We often fail to do this but it definitely has helped when we remember!
You don’t need a lot of food when going on a day hike. You probably could survive without any food, but what would be the fun of that? I suggest bringing just enough food to last you through the day, plus a little extra just in case of emergency.
I usually bring an apple, a few fiber bars, and a trail mix if I am feeling particularly awesome. Other than that you don’t need very much, but any packable snack that you enjoy is okay, just make sure you don’t bring so much that you end up carrying unneeded weight.
Maps and Compass
Knowing your way around the trail can be huge. Oftentimes you will end up having to find your own way along the trail because signs will be nonexistent or sparse. It is a really good idea to have a good map of the area and a compass just in case things get dicey. This is something we have been avoiding, but we are going to do a better job at adding this hiking essential to our day pack.
Carrying a rain jacket is a fantastic idea, especially if you are going on a longer day hike. You never know when the weather might turn inclement, and having a rain jacket ready to go is the right idea.
Get one that you can fold up real small and tuck away in your day pack!
Is duct tape really a day hike essential? Yes, of course! It is super lightweight and it can be used for all kinds of different situations.
You can go to Amazon and get small emergency rolls here or you can do what I did. I wrapped duck tape around a pen and threw it in my bag. And it came in our handy on our last hike when I accidentally punctured our trail mix. A few short minutes later and we had fixed a potentially life threatening (JK) situation! Our trail mix was saved!
You can see my jerry-rigged contraption below.
Duct tape is good to have around, so make sure you carry some on your next day hike.
Having illumination in case it gets dark is essential to safety. You never know when your trip might turn into one that is much longer than expected. If you are hiking for 10+ miles, any amount of meandering or backtracking can cause you to lose precious time. Time is everything on long hikes, and before you know it the sun is setting and you are practically running down the trail
Don’t wait for an emergency to actually happen before you add a headlamp into your day pack. Be prepared and make a good choice to keep at least one in your bag.
Bug spray is a small and essential item to carry with you. When you start getting bitten by every other bug in existence it’s a good idea to have it packed away. Make sure to get just a small bottle in order to save weight.
Having a charged cell phone is a must. When we hike I put my cell phone on airplane mode in order to save the battery, but maintain its use as a camera. I would recommend bringing at least one cell phone with you for emergency purposes because you just never know. Plus, having one to take pictures is an added bonus.
This one is essential if you are hiking in open areas and/or you are prone to burns like my wife. For me, I don’t really burn that easily, but it is still a good idea for me to throw some sunscreen on any exposed areas. My wife usually brings sunscreen with her to reapply often, and I would recommend at least throwing a small bottle in your day hike bag.
Also, think about wearing a hat or long sleeves if weather appropriate. Any protection you can get from the sun is a good idea.
Last But Not Least
Make sure you throw some adventuring spirit into your day pack. Remember why you went out in the wild to begin with. Don’t get so focused on the end goal that you forget to stop and smell the roses (where are you hiking that has roses??) along the way.
-Jordan @ THH
Bago Hiking Bag
Nugo Fiber D'Lish Bars