Whether you’re a seasoned hiker or a beginner, it’s important to pack the 10 essentials and hiking gear to ensure your safety on the trails.
Packing the “Ten Essentials” for hiking is a good habit to adopt whenever you step into the backcountry, even on day hikes, and no matter how long or short the hike.
You may only use a few of them or none at all on routine trips, but it’s when something goes wrong that you’ll truly appreciate the value of carrying these items that could be essential to your survival.
The original Ten Essentials list was created in the 1930s by The Mountaineers, a Seattle-based organization for climbers and outdoor adventurers, to help people be prepared for emergency situations in the outdoors.
The original essentials for hiking list included a map, compass, sunglasses and sunscreen, extra clothing, headlamp/flashlight, first-aid supplies, fire starter, matches, knife, and extra food.
The list remains much the same as it was back then. The difference is that instead of individual items, the list focuses on an issue rather than the specific items needed.
Below, I’ll share an updated list of the 10 essentials for hiking which makes up the majority of the essentials you should pack when putting together your day hiking packing list.
When I first started hiking I didn’t know about the 10 essentials for hiking. It was through attending educational sessions at MEC in Canada and through becoming part of the outdoor community that I learned the importance of these items for keeping me and other safe.
While I’ve never had to use any of the emergency items such as emergency shelter, I have dug into my first aid kit when blisters strike and have never regretted bringing snacks and water!
So, if you’re new to hiking or just want a refresher, carrying on reading to find out what the hiking essentials for beginners and experienced hikers are.
Table of Contents
First, you’ll need a backpack
A backpack is an essential piece of gear for day hiking. You’ll need some way of carrying your hiking essentials, and a backpack is the best way to do that since you’ll be hands-free.
Day hiking backpacks allow you to carry all the items you need for your outing, including food, water, clothing layers, and the additional items listed below.
A day pack helps distribute the weight of your bag evenly across your body. This can reduce strain on your shoulders and back compared to carrying everything in your hands or pockets.
Backpacks can also come with features like hydration reservoirs, external attachment points for trekking poles, and plenty of pockets for easy access to your hiking essentials.
Additionally, you should pack a waterproof rain cover for your backpack if it didn’t already come with one which some do.
Even if the forecast doesn’t call for rain, weather can change unexpectedly, and the last thing you want is for all your hiking gear, including your extra layers, to get soaking wet.
Make sure to get a rain cover that fits your backpack size and shape, and practice putting it on before your hike so you can quickly protect your pack if needed.
Map & compass
For any full-day hike or route that isn’t on a well-marked trail, you should have a map and compass with you (and know how to use them!).
In addition, besides just having a map and compass, you need to know how to read them and use the two tools together. Lots of mountain schools and outdoor stores around the world offer courses and sessions in map reading.
Alternatively, you can learn a lot from watching youtube videos and then practicing your skills with a paper map.
If you’re in the UK then OS Maps really can’t be beaten when it comes to providing you all the information you need. In America and Canada, you can get lots of maps specific to hiking areas and national parks.
GPS hiking apps
While you should have a map and a compass, hiking apps that use GPS to pinpoint your location can be super useful. Realistically, they’re what the vast majority of hikers rely on these days (for better or worse).
If you are relying on a phone app for your navigation and to act as a GPS device, make sure you have offline maps downloaded. You should also pack a battery pack so you an charge up your phone should the battery run out. And try to keep it on airplane mode to maximise the power you get from it.
Here is my pick of the best hiking apps to use (they’re not all navigation-based, but most are!).
AllTrails is my go-to hiking app for finding, planning, and navigating while I’m out on the trails. With offline maps on AllTrails+ you can be confident you’re still on the right track, even without mobile signal.
If there’s a likelihood of it raining while you’re hiking, you may also want to consider a waterproof phone pouch to keep your phone in.
I don’t know about you, but it’s super difficult to use a touch screen phone when there’s rain all over it. Plus, if you get too much rain on your phone then it can break the phone meaning no navigation, no chance of communication!
The first of the 10 essentials is illumination!
You might be starting your hike early in the day and your preparation might tell you that it’s only a four-hour hike, but what happens if you take a wrong turn and get caught in the dark?
Hiking trails, especially those in the forest, can get very dark very quickly and there’s only so long the torch on your phone will last before that fails on you (cutting your communication and light source!).
Everyone you’re hiking with (including yourself) should carry a small headlamp in their backpack.
This doesn’t have to be anything fancy and can be picked up fairly cheaply.
Headlamps are small and light. You can get both rechargeable ones and those that take batteries.
Whichever type you take you should have a backup power source, especially if you’re going on a longer hike.
For rechargeable headlamps, you can take a battery pack (which is also useful for charging your phone up too), or pack some extra batteries just in case.
The Biolite headlamp is my personal favourite. It’s rechargeable, and super lightweight which makes it great for trail running too. It also comes in some great colours and can run for 60 hours when used on the low setting.
3. Firemaking kit
If you’re caught in an emergency situation while backcountry hiking, it’s important to make sure you’re able to start and maintain a fire to keep you warm overnight should it come to it.
A fire can also be used as a signalling device to help emergency services spot you.
Waterproof, or stormproof, matches are a great idea and don’t take up much space in your backpack. Don’t rely on your usual grocery store matches as the paper box they come in is flimsy and they can too easily stop working in damp or wet conditions.
Alternatively, you can use a small firestarting device which creates sparks you can use to light kindling and firestarting blocks.
These are a bit trickier than matches, but relatively easy once you get the hang of it. I’d recommend practicing once you’ve bought one to make sure you know how to use it if needed.
In addition, you want some material that you can use to start a fire with. A good firestarter should ignite quickly and sustain heat for more than a few seconds.
Some options include dry tinder stored in a plastic bag, candles and heat “nuggets” (chipped-wood clusters soaked in resin), or even lint from a household tumble dryer.
If you’re planning on hiking somewhere where there’s unlikely to be firewood you can use to maintain a fire, bringing an emergency heat source is a good idea. This can be a small stove like the MSR Pocket Rocket and a can of gas.
4. Sun protection
Another of the 10 essentials for hiking is sun protection. This doesn’t just stop at sun block or suncream.
It also includes preventing yourself from overheating by wearing the right clothes, a hat, sunglasses and planning your hike carefully if you’re hiking in hot weather or in snow where the reflection of the sun can be extremely damaging.
Taking care to protect yourselves from the sun can not only prevent you from getting burned, but it can prevent more serious conditions including heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
To protect your eyes from potentially damaging radiation in the outdoors, quality sunglasses are a must-have.
For prolonged travel on snow or ice, extra-dark glacier glasses are recommended. Ideally they also wrap around the side of your eyes too to block any glare coming in.
After our trip ski touring the Spearhead Traverse near Whistler a few members in our group were suffering from burnt eyes and had they been wearing these glasses that could’ve prevented it.
Sunglasses that block 100 percent of ultraviolet light (UV) light (that’s UVA and UVB) are best.
If you’re hiking in a group, it’s a good idea at least one of you to carry a pair of spare sunglasses in case someone loses or forgets theirs.
Polarized lenses are also recommended, especially if you plan to hike near water or snow, as they help to cut down on glare.
By choosing the right sunglasses with proper protection, you can ensure your eyes stay safe and comfortable while enjoying the great outdoors.
Sun protection clothing
When it comes to the hiking gear and hiking essentials you need, don’t forget about sun protective clothing.
Clothing can help block harmful UV rays without the need to constantly be topping up your sunblock (though you’ll still need to do that where your skin is exposed).
These days, there are lots of clothing tops that come with ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) rating. If you’re hiking in hot weather, these types of clothing are a great option to keep you safe from the sun.
Other sun protection clothing includes wearing a sun hat; ideally a hat with a wide brim but a baseball cap is better than nothing.
You can also wear a buff as a neck gaiter to prevent the back of your neck getting burned.
You can get UPF shirts for hiking that have hoods which means you don’t need a gaiter or even a hat, though a hat has the benefit of keeping the sun off your face too. So it’s a good idea to go for the ever-so-cool hat and hood combo!
Suncream and SPF lip balm
Spending time outdoors can lead to sunburn and all the associated risks that come with that. Your best protection against this (besides not going outside) is to wear high-quality suncream.
A minimum of SPF 30 is best for anyone hiking outdoors and you should look for a suncream that blocks both UVA and UVB rays.
When you’re putting your sun cream on, it’s important to make sure you cover any and all exposed skin. You also need to reapply it often if you’re sweating or going swimming and you should be reapplying elsewhere every 2 hours anyway.
You also need to make sure you’re applying SPF lip balm as otherwise, your lips are going to burn and feel really sore over the next few days.
My favourite brand for sun protection is Sun Bum. I love the smell, it’s mineral based and is reef friendly too so it’s okay to wear if you’re swimming in wild lakes.
5. Extra food and snacks
I’m a personal believer in you can never pack too many snacks and food for a hike. I guess the limit is how much you can comfortably carry!
On both day hikes and backpacking trips, chucking some energy bars into your bag in case of emergencies is a great idea. You should aim to have an extra day’s worth of food in case your trip lasts longer than you expected. This can be made up of those bars and chews or things like beef jerky and trail mix.
Packing extra food doesn’t mean you need to pack heavy cans of food you can heat on a stove, or sandwiches and things that take up a lot of space. It can simply be gels and chews you might associate with long-distance runners.
The good thing about them is they’re lightweight and will give you a shot of energy if needed.
Some of my favourite bars are GoMacros and Honey Stinger waffles. You can also just pick up some bags of sweets (sweets like Tangfastics or peanut M&Ms are great) to give you that energy boost you might need during your hike.
6. Extra water for hydration
One of the most important things to make sure you pack for hiking is water ad plenty of it.
You’ll need sufficient water for your entire hike (and ideally. a little more). If you’re doing a long hike in hot weather where carrying 5L plus of water isn’t feasible, make sure you have a way of purifying, filtering or boiling water to make it safe to drink.
It’s generally recommended that you take 0.5 litres per 30 minutes of exercise each for moderate exercise. However, this will vary depending on the individual, the heat, and the level of exertion.
I generally take at least 2 litres with me on a day hike, and often 3 if I’m hiking in the summer. I’ll also always have my Sawyer water filter with me and some water purification tablets in my first aid kit.
I prefer to hike with a water bladder that has a tube so I can drink while I walk. When I just have a bottle and have to take off my bag to get my bottle out I don’t drink enough and feel bad the next day.
If you’re hiking with a water bladder, I highly recommend getting a cap for the drinking end so that it doesn’t get dirty or dusty.
I also like to pack some Nuun tablets to have at the end of my hike, especially if I’m hiking in hot weather or am on a multi-day hike. They help replenish electrolytes lost through sweat and with rehydrating you.
7. Proper hiking shoes + extra clothes
Carrying extra layers of clothing is a hiking essential. You never know for sure when the weather is going. tochange and get super hot, too cold, start raining, get windy or get snowy.
Extra layers are also important in case you get stuck outdoors for an extra night and will need some additional layers to help you make it through the colder evening temperatures.
When deciding what extra clothes to bring extra socks, jackets, sweaters and insulating layers for your legs as well as hats and gloves.
I have several guides on how to dress depending on the season or occasion, as well as on the best pieces of clothing for hiking.
- Check out my guide to the best hiking leggings
- Hiking in summer? – here’s what you should wear
- Check out what to wear in hot weather
- Or, if you’re going on a date, here’s what to wear for hiking dates.
Proper hiking footwear
Not having proper footwear is a common mistake that people make when they’re just starting out with hiking.
Your normal road running or casual trainers won’t cut it when you’re hiking more than a few miles.
You need shoes that won’t give you blisters, won’t break on uneven terrain and have good traction.
Trail running shoes can be great for summer hiking and are what I use mostly during the summer. In the winter or trails I know will be wet, muddy or snowy – or when I’m backpacking – I’ll wear my hiking boots. If you’re hiking on an easier trail, or where you know you’ll be crossing streams, hiking sandals can be great choice too.
Extra hiking socks
Being able to swap out a pair of socks while hiking can make a huge difference in your overall comfort level.
If your feet get wet on the trail you can get miserable very quickly. Plus wet socks and feet can increase your chances of geting blisters. I like wool socks but synthetic hiking socks are good these days too.
Micro spikes are important to pack if you’re hiking in hard-packed snow or in early spring and late fall when there’s a chance of snow and ice on. thetrail.
These slip on over your shoes and give you extra traction which can prevent many any injury!
Weather in the mountains can change quickly and if you’re not prepared for rain you’re going to get wet, cold and miserable pretty quickly should the heavens open.
I’ll always pack a lightweight rain jacket (my Arctery’x one is my favourite) as well as waterproof trousers if I’m hiking any time other than summer. In the summer months, I’ll typically be wearing shorts and so just go for wet legs, rather than trying to keep them dry.
You should always carry an insulating jacket with you and/or an additional layer like a fleece layer.
It can be extremely chilly at mountain summits and you want to be prepared in case you get stuck somewhere for longer than you were anticipating.
I like my Patagonia Synchilla sweater or the Better Sweater, and my Patagonia down sweater. The latter is pretty lightweight and can pack up quite small. The fleece layers are a bit heaveir, but I’ve never regretted carrying it.
Hat and gloves
If you’re hiking in winter or somewhere where it’s likely to be cold, gloves and a wooly hat are day hiking essentials.
Gloves in particular are super useful if you’re starting early in the morning, or later in the evening.
8. First aid kit & repair kit (AKA first aid for your hiking gear!)
Another top essential day hiking gear item is a first aid kit, and then a repair kit for your gear.
Your first aid kit doesn’t need to be huge, and you can buy small ones that are already made up with essentials, or make your own one up.
I have a pre-made one and then I add some extra plasters, blister care and antiseptic cream.
Remember, having a first aid kit and gear repair kit is only beneficial if you know how to use them. Take the time to familiarize yourself with the contents and learn some basic backcountry first-aid skills.
What to include in your hiking first aid kit
- Plasters and blister care
- Medical Tape
- Triangle bandage
- Small pair of scissors (if not carrying a multitool)
- Antibiotic cream
- Ibuprofen and/or paracetamol
- Antihistamine tablets – make sure they’re nondrowsy
- Tweezers and a tick-removal tool
- Whistle to signal if needed
In addition to a first aid kit, I also recommend carrying a few extra items so that can carry out any emergency gear repairs. It’s easy to get rips in your trousers, tops or tent and having a small repair kit can help you patch things up.
What to include in a gear repair kit for hiking
- Cable ties
- Tenacious tape and/or duct tape
- Needle & thread
- A small lighter
9. Emergency shelter
Carrying an emergency shelter is a must for any hiking trip, as it can protect you from unexpected weather conditions or provide you with shelter in case of an injury where you need to stay warm and dry.
You can get lightweight versions like an emergency space blanket, or you could opt for a bivy. If you’re backpacking where you’re packing your tent up every day then that’s your shelter.
But if you’re pitching up and then doing day hikes without your tent, you should really have an emergency shelter in addition.
10. A multi-tool and/or knife
Carrying a knife or multi-tool with you on a hike is another hiking essential that has so many uses.
Not only can they come in handy for gear repair, food preparation, and first aid, but they can also be used for emergency situations like making kindling or cutting rope.
Multi-tools and knives come in a range of designs. You can opt for a basic knife with a single foldout blade or go for a multitool that has things like screwdrivers, can openers, and scissors. The latter is best in my opinion since it can do so many things.
11. A rubbish bag
Carrying a rubbish bag with you when hiking is a good idea so that you can carry not only your own trash out but other pieces you may see along the trail.
The “pack it in, pack it out” idea along with Leave No Trace Principles should always be followed, meaning that everything that was brought in should be taken back out, including any trash generated during the hike.
Unfortunately, not all hikers and people outdoors follow this which can ruin trails and endanger wildlife. a
By bringing a rubbish bag to pack out any trash found on the trail you can make a huge difference in preserving the natural beauty of the area.
12. Bear spray if hiking in bear country
If you’re going anywhere where bears may be present then you must pack some bear spray.
While bears will typically stay away from you if they hear you, it’s not worth the risk and bringing bear spray with you is very easy to do.
A can of bear spray should always be kept somewhere easily accessible; either in a holster on your hips, or in an outside pocket on your backpack that you can reach in seconds.
You don’t want to be faced with an angry bear and have to empty everything out of your backpack before you find it! Also, make sure you know how to use the spray before you have to use it!
13. Bug spray or bug wipes
When hiking in certain regions, during spring and summer in particular, bug spray or bug wipes are an absolute necessity.
Mosquitoes, ticks, and other biting insects can ruin a hike if you’re constantly scratching. They can also cause illness if you’re bitten by a tick carrying Lyme Disease.
When choosing a bug spray, look for one containing DEET or picaridin, as these have been shown to be effective against different types of insects. It’s also important to follow the instructions on the label and reapply as directed.
If you’re looking for a more natural bug spray, look for ones with citronella or lemongrass that help ward off bugs.
You can also get bug wipes which I sometimes feel work better than the sprays, as well as mosquito coils which are useful when you’re sitting having lunch or are hanging around by your campsite.
14. Smidge for midges in Scotland
When hiking in Scotland, midges can be a huge problem. Midge bites can be itchy and the sheer number of midges can make it almost impossible to enjoy the outdoors.
That’s why carrying a reliable midge repellent like Smidge is essential.
Smidge is highly effective at repelling midges and also mosquitoes, ticks and other similar insects.
Carrying a bottle of Smidge in your backpack is a must if you plan to hike in Scotland during the summer months!
15. A kula cloth
While toilet paper is usually the number 1 option for your number 1s in the backcountry, a Kula cloth is a better, more environmentally-friendly option.
Kula cloths are pee rags that you use as you would toilet paper for your #1s. After using it, fold it and fasten it with the button then attach it to your pack and let it dry in the sun. The anti-microbial fabric ensures that the cloth stays clean and free from any odours.
Final thoughts on the 10 day hiking essentials
Hiking is a great way to get outdoors, explore nature, and stay active. But before hitting the trails you should make sure you pack all of your 10 essentials, plus any additional essential hiking gear as listed above for your comfort and safety.
The ten essentials for hiking include proper clothing, a first-aid kit, a knife or multi-tool, navigation, sun protection, extra food and water, a headlamp or flashlight, emergency shelter, and a way of making a fire.
By packing the ten essentials found on this hiking essentials list, you can help make sure you’re prepared for any situation that may arise while out on the trails and have an enjoyable hiking experience.
FAQs about the 10 hiking essentials
What are the 10 hiking essentials?
The ten essentials for hiking include proper clothing, a first-aid kit, a knife or multi-tool, navigation, sun protection, extra food and water, a headlamp or flashlight, emergency shelter, and a way of making a fire.
If you were going on a hike, what 3 items would you make sure to bring?
Food and water and additional layers including warm layers and waterproof layers.
What do you need for hiking?
You need to pack the 10 essentials for hiking, as well as a backpack and appropriate clothing and footwear.
Last Updated on March 16, 2023 by Hannah
Hannah started That Adventurer after graduating back in 2013 and has documented all of her adventures since then. From backpacking South America to city breaks in Europe, a 3 month road trip across the USA in a self-converted van and 6 years living in Canada, you’ll find posts on all of this.
Hannah specialises in active travel and on That Adventurer you’ll find hiking, walking, biking, skiing and all sorts of active travel guides to allow you to see a destination in an adventurous way.