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Essential Gear

8 Things to Pack on a Day Hike

March 12, 2017
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Spring is an ideal time for day-hiking, with sunny, slowly-warming weather, colorful spring foliage, and the desire to make the most of the trails before the summer’s heat.

If you haven’t been on a day-hike in a while, here’s a handy list of essentials to pack for a great (and safe) day out.

  1. Navigation Tools: Know where you’re going, pack the tools to help you get there, and know how to use them. A map (in a protective case) and compass are the most basic tools, and since they don’t rely on batteries or cell phone reception, they won’t let you down when you’re far afield. Even if you’re hiking a trail you know well, bring a map and compass and practice using them so you’re ready to tackle a more challenging track in the spring.
  2. Layers: We all know the weather can and does change, and being unprepared gear-wise is one of the primary reasons a sticky situation turns dangerous in the wilderness. Choose the right basics for hiking comfort (like our MerinoLux™ Go Everywhere® Tee and our Zip N’ Go Pant), and pack a few extras in case the weather turns. These can include base-layers, wind/rain shells, hat and gloves, and an insulating jacket for additional warmth, like the Batten Down Jacket. If you need them, you’ll be glad you packed them.
  3. Emergency Kit: The same applies to packing an emergency kit. Put together the basics you’d need to survive a night in the open, including a light source with extra batteries, fire-starting materials, knife or Leatherman, and shelter. (That can be as easy as packing your waterproof tent fly and floor.) Part of putting your your kit together should also be having a plan: always leave your plans with someone, and walk through a worst-case scenario in your head so you feel prepared.
  4. First Aid Kit: A first aid kit is also handy to have with you. Blister protection, support bandages, antihistamines, and pain medication (both oral and topical, like a freezing spray) are the items I’ve used most regularly out of my kit. I review my kit at the change of each season to make sure medications are up-to-date, and if I use something, I replace it within 24-hours of returning home so I don’t forget.
  5. This is where I need to add in a disclaimer. The problem with packing lists is that they can read like a gloomy inventory of everything that can go wrong. In decades of hiking, I have used my layers and first aid kit regularly, I’ve rarely needed to use my navigation tools, and I’ve never needed to use my emergency kit, but it’s worth lugging them around for the “just in case” scenario. It’s good to remember that things can happen, and the simple act of packing these items helps me get into a more alert and aware state of mind before I set off.
  6. Food and hydration: Two things I always use are snacks and hydration. Don’t skimp on the water, and pack healthy, high-energy snacks. One of the unexpected pleasures of hiking is that your pack weight will lessen as you eat and drink your way through the day.
  7. A trash bag and dry bag: Protect the environment and pack out what you pack in. A wrapper, chewed gum, or tissue may seem like such a small thing, but they add up in a hurry. Bring a reusable bag or container and pop in used items to carry out with you. Packing a dry bag also comes in handy for protecting your essentials if you encounter rain or a water crossing.
  8. Sun and bug protection: Sun and annoying insects can ruin the day in a hurry. Most outdoor shops stock smaller bottles that are convenient for stowing in your pack.
  9. Bandanna: One thing I always bring with me is an old-fashioned bandanna. They come in handy when you least expect it. I’ve used it as a bandage, to keep my hair back, to create a (very small) patch of shade, and for nose and mouth protection in an unexpected dust storm. It’s lightweight and easy to pack, but I usually choose to wrap it around my wrist – it’s a good reminder that I have it, and it’s great for wicking sweat off the forehead!

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Related Links:
Great U.S. Places to Hike in Fall
The 5 Best Kid-Friendly Hikes in the National Parks
How to Experience Alaska in 3 Days

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