08 16 2014.

day hiking: what to pack

Packing for a hike can be confusing. You want to bring all of the hiking essentials but you don’t want to bring too much as you’ll be carrying that weight around all day. In some cases, a hike is a test of your survival. Everything could go smoothly (and most likely will) or something could go wrong and you could be in the wilderness for longer than you had planned. When I pack for a hike, I pack a little bit extra (water, food, clothing) just in case I find myself in the woods for an extra night.

So here’s what I do when I’m packing for a hike.


Gear In General

  • First, you’ll want a backpack with straps that clip around the front of you. Preferably a strap around the upper chest area and another around your waist. The clips prevent the backpack from moving around too much, they distribute the weight more evenly, and they also close the space between the pack and your back, which keeps your shirt from riding up!
  • Hiking boots. These are a serious must for hiking. They’re durable, they “stick” to rocks. Many pairs are semi-waterproof, allowing you to step through mud and shallow water. They’ll save your ankles. Just make sure to break new boots in on a shorter/easier hike or two.
  • Tall wool socks. If you’re going to wear hiking boots, you need to wear hiking socks. Tall wool socks will prevent your boot from rubbing on your ankles. Trust me, you really don’t want to develop a blister half way into a hike.
  • Warm layers. I usually start out my hike in shorts and a wicking t-shirt on a warm day, but I’ve had to put on a warmer shirt and pants before.
  • Toilet paper and a plastic bag. We’ve all been there. You’re halfway up the mountain and you’ve got to go. Hiking with a full bladder can be painful and is not recommended in the least! Luckily, you were smart enough to pack some toilet paper. Find a secluded spot, do your business and dispose of the toilet paper in your plastic bag. No littering!
  • Trail maps. Trail maps have saved my hikes twice. Even if you study the trails in great detail before a hike, things can change drastically once you’re actually out there. You may even need to revise your hiking plan once you’re already out on the trail. Trail maps aren’t just useful or fun to look at – they’re actually survival tools. They don’t cost much and they don’t weigh much. Throw the map in your bag and forget about it until you need it.
  • A flashlight. You never know what could happen when you’re out there and you may find yourself hiking well past dark.
  • A portable first aid kit. Just in case.

Optional, But Helpful

  • Hiking Poles. They don’t have to be the top-of-the-line $300 pair. I bought a collapsible pair online for $24 and they’re exactly what I needed. Let me stress that hiking poles aren’t necessary but they are so helpful, especially for the descent. They relieve a lot of pressure from your knees and ankles. If you’re going on a long hike, you really will want poles.
  • A raincoat, poncho or trash bag. I usually don’t pack any of the three unless there’s even a chance of a shower in the forecast. Hiking in wet gear
  • Some cash. As you may have read in my recount of Wildcat Mountain, having some spare cash at the end of the hike prevented us from having to walk 5 miles uphill on the side of the road to get back to my car. Depending on where you’re hiking, you may have to pay a few bucks to park.

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Food preferences, of course, will vary from person to person. The food choices below represent what I pack for a hike and are meant as a jumping-off point for others. Just make sure that you pack enough food.

  • Lots of water. For a day hike I pack anywhere between two and three water bottles, depending on how strenuous the trail is and how warm it is outside. I tend to drink a bottle of water every 1.5 hours while ascending. If, by any chance, I ended up injured, and my stay on the mountain was extended, I’d be thankful that I packed that extra bottle of water.
  • Oatmeal balls. I love these. Mix oats, ground flax seed, peanut butter, honey, chia seeds, mini dark chocolate chips, cinnamon and vanilla extract in a bowl. Refrigerate for a half hour or overnight. Right before leaving for the hike, roll the mixture into small balls. They’re perfect for munching on during short breaks while ascending. Delicious and protein-packed.
  • Dried fruit. I prefer unsweetened dried mangos, apricots and pineapple. Another great, light snack.
  • A banana. Bananas are actually very beneficial to bring on a hike. Bananas help regulate muscle function and the balance of fluids in your body. So eat a banana, if for no other reason, to thank your body.
  • Hardboiled eggs. I’ll hard boil two eggs per-person the night before and keep them refrigerated. Just before leaving for the hike, I double-bag some ice cubes and pack the ice along with the eggs in a tiny insulated lunchbox. The eggs stay cold for most of the day! The best thing about eggs for lunch is that it’s a small, light meal – I don’t feel weighed down – and I’m full for hours afterwards.
  • A treat for the top. I like to pack a bar of dark chocolate to surprise and share with my fellow hikers. It’s always nice to reward yourself when you’ve accomplished something – and proves to be great for moral support! If you’re doing day-hikes on the Appalachian Trail (or other thru-hike locations), it’s a great idea to put the rest of the chocolate bar in a hiker box that can be found along the trail. I’m sure a thru-hiker would be pleased to see some chocolate in the box!

Perhaps most important of all. Don’t forget to bring your intuition. Hiking is exhilarating, breathtaking and freeing, but it can also be dangerous. Feel out any situations that seem weird – whether they be encounters with others, wildlife or trail conditions and make the right decision for your safety.

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