Hiking Checklist: What to Bring on a Hike

Hiking may seem like a simple process: one foot in front of the other, rinse and repeat. But even the savviest hikers can find themselves in emergencies or at the mercy of Mother Nature. It’s critical to bring the right gear, so you can handle any situation. Whether you’re exploring a local waterfall or trekking off-the-grid, make sure you know what to take on a hike.

This hiking packing list will help you prepare for your hike like a boss so you can kick back and enjoy the trail.

Hiking Checklist: The 10 Essentials

Navigation (map, compass, GPS)

Lighting (headlamp, flashlight, lantern)

Sun protection (sunscreen, sunglasses, hat)

First-aid (medical, basic injury, survival)

Repair kit (duct tape, multi-use tool, patches)

Fire (lighter, matches, fuel)

Shelter (tent, tarp, bivy)

Extra food (snacks, ready-made meals, supplements)

Extra water (bladder, bottles, filter)

Extra clothing (base layer, mid-layer, outer layer)

Other Hiking Essentials

Backpack 

Footwear (boots, trail runners, sandals)

Bathroom provisions (toilet paper, shovel, urination device)

Weather protection (gloves, gaiter, poncho)

Fun (camera, binoculars, journal)

Optional: Trekking Poles

Pre-Hike Steps

1. Pick an appropriate hike for your abilities

2. Learn everything you can about the hike

3. Tell someone where you’re going

Ten Hiking Essentials

The most important things to bring on any hike are the ten essentials. They protect you from extreme conditions and help prevent emergencies. No matter what else you bring on a hike, make sure you pack these items.

Navigation

Hikers can get lost in any environment. At a minimum, bring a map and compass. For more security, bring an altimeter, GPS device, or personal locator beacon (and extra batteries). Before you head into the backcountry, learn how to read a map and use a compass

Lighting

You can opt for a flashlight or lantern, but headlamps are your best source of light. They’re versatile, lightweight, and provide hands-free illumination. Make sure you pack extra batteries.

Sun protection

It’s important to protect yourself from harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays. Bring sunglasses, sunscreen, a hat, and clothing with an ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) of 30 or more. Keep in mind that up to 80% of UV rays can pass through clouds, so you need to protect yourself in all weather conditions.

First-aid

Be prepared for minor incidents and emergencies. There are various ready-made kits, but you’ll want to add supplies like tools and medication. Consider adding survival gear to your kit and taking a wilderness first-aid course.

Repair kit

The last thing you need is your gear breaking down during a hike. Be prepared with repair supplies like a multi-use knife, duct tape, and sewing supplies. Most gear comes with product-specific repair supplies (like patches and extra parts).

Fire

One of the most fundamental skills to master is how to build a fire. Fires provide warmth, cooking capabilities, and rescue signals. Bring plenty of firestarters, like matches or a lighter, and add regular fuel or kindle to the fire. Be sure to check local fire regulations before you light up.

Shelter

If you end up in an emergency, you’ll need protection from the elements. Bring shelter supplies, like a camping tent, tarp, or bivy sack. And know how to build a shelter in any weather condition.

Extra food

Overestimate the amount of food you bring on your hike. You never know how hungry you’ll get. A good rule is to gather your food supplies, then add a few more snack options. Make sure you bring a variety of lightweight foods that provide essential nutrients

Extra water

Water is your most fundamental source of survival, so bring more than you think you’ll need. A good rule of thumb is a half-liter for every hour of hiking. If you’re hiking in warm conditions, increase that to one liter for every hour. Bring a bladder and water bottles, and consider bringing a backup water filter.

Extra clothes

Be prepared for changes in weather conditions. Bring lightweight, moisture-wicking clothing you can layer, extra socks, and outer layers to protect you from the most extreme possible conditions during your hike.

Other Hiking Equipment Essentials

Most of your hiking needs are covered by the ten essentials. Beyond the ten hiking essentials, there are a few fundamental things to bring to make your adventure more comfortable.

Hiking Shoes

Appropriate hiking footwear is critical, as it prevents fatigue, accidents, and injuries. If you’re hiking in the wilderness or desert, you’ll need sturdy boots or trail running shoes. If you’re hiking through canyons or gorges, you may opt for water shoes. Make sure you consider the weather and landscape. You might need protection from mud, heat, or water.

Hiking Backpack

You need something to carry all your supplies. Hiking backpacks are made with lightweight material and include compartments for your gear. Make sure your pack fits comfortably by trying it out in the store. Most daypacks are between 20-25 liters, while trekking packs are 40 liters and up. Learn how to pack a hiking backpack before you hit the trail.

Bathroom Provisions

Believe it or not, you can pee and poop in the outdoors. In fact, it’s a very liberating experience. Be prepared for pooping in the woods with a shovel, toilet paper, and a method to carry it out (should you need to). Women can bring a urination device to replace squatting and menstrual products.

Weather Protection

Depending on the weather, you should bring protective items, like a hat, gloves, gaiters, poncho, or buff.

Optional: Trekking Poles

Trekking (or hiking) poles offer a host of benefits. Besides saving your precious joints and posture, trekking poles improve balance and endurance, build strength, and act as an effective weapon against honey badgers. 

What to do Before a Hike

Most of your hiking needs are covered by the ten essentials. Beyond the ten hiking essentials, there are a few fundamental things to bring to make your adventure more comfortable.

Tell someone where you’re hiking

Tell someone. No matter where you’re hiking or how experienced you are, the first thing you should do is tell someone where you’re going. It’s a good idea to create two itineraries of your route and leave them with different people. That way, if something goes wrong, they’ll know where to look.

Pick an appropriate hike

If you’re a beginner hiker, choose a route that’s a few miles long, with less than 1000 feet of elevation gain. You can use a hike difficulty calculator to help you select a good trail.

Know Your Hike

Make sure you know your route, the weather, and the terrain. These factors help determine what gear to pack to stay comfortable and safe. Make sure you have enough time to complete your hike. If there’s supposed to be lightning or flooding, choose a different trail. If there’s wildlife roaming around, bring bear spray or other protective gear. Most importantly, learn the skills necessary to hike safely: navigation, survival, wildlife, first-aid, etc. You’ll thank yourself later.

Conclusion

Hiking is one of the most popular outdoor activities for families and individuals. It’s an enjoyable sport that lowers stress, improves health, and offers unique experiences. But like anything else, hikers should be mindful of what to take on a hike to avoid danger and maximize fun.