Backpacking Essentials: Hiking Gear List

backpacking essentialsWhen hiking, it’s important to be prepared. Even for a short trip, knowing what to pack for a day hike and how to pack it can keep you comfortable and safe. Hiking is a great way for individuals or families to explore nature and exercise, but being prepared will ensure that the experience is a memorable one for all the right reasons.

Here is a basic rundown of what you’ll need to pack for shorter “day” hikes or longer adventures into nature.

What to Bring Backpacking

Here’s the short hiking gear list to bring on your trip:

  • A water bottle
  • Comfortable shoes
  • A shoulder bag with:
  • sunscreen
  • a map
  • a journal
  • cell phone
  • compass or GPS
  • snacks

Basic Safety Tips

Before you get started, here are a few cardinal rules to follow for any hike. Always tell someone where you’re planning on backpacking, and when you’re expected to return. Put a safety system in place by asking your friend or loved one to check up on you, and give them an anticipated return time, so that they can know when to take action if you run into trouble.

If you enjoy hiking and want to make it a regular hobby, it’s worthwhile to take a basic first aid course. When in the wilderness — even if it’s just a State park — you never know when you or a fellow hiker might need medical assistance. In this case, an ounce of preparedness is worth a pound of cure.

Finally, always plan ahead. If you aren’t familiar with the environment where you’ll be hiking, try to purchase a guide and read through it, or carry it with you. This can help ensure that you disturb the natural wildlife as little as possible.

Short 1 Day Hiking Gear List

When on a short hike, the key is to pack light. You want to bring enough water and fuel to keep yourself hydrated and comfortable, but you also don’t want to weigh yourself down or end up with an aching shoulder from a heavy bag. Here’s a rundown of the day hiking essentials:


It’s important not to drink water from natural sources on your hikes, even if these are streams and creeks that may seem crystal-clear. These water sources can carry harmful bacteria that could make you sick.

Carry a re-usable water bottle with you, and keep yourself hydrated, especially if you choose a strenuous hiking trail. Take enough water for your entire trip, even if you won’t be backpacking for very long, and don’t plan on running into water sources along your way.

If you want to hone your survival skills and drink natural water, carry water purification tablets like chlorine or iodine, or a UV light pen, with you to eliminate the risk of getting sick.

Hiking can burn up to 300 calories an hour, so you’ll want to bring fuel to keep your body going. Pack healthy, natural snacks that are high in energy, like protein bars, fruit, dry cereal or nuts. If you’ll be out all day, eat a big breakfast before you go and pack sandwiches with non-perishable high-energy foods like peanut butter.

A “Safety Kit”

It’s important not to neglect these backpacking essentials. A few important items to include on your hiking gear list include:

  • A basic first aid kit with bandages, tape, antiseptic and some kind of pain killer. If you’re allergic to insect bites or bee stings, it’s important to carry the medicine you need along with you. Also wear a medical alert bracelet for any other conditions.
  • A compass or GPS
  • Sunscreen
  • Biodegradable toilet paper
  • Scissors or a multi-use tool
  • A small pack of matches (which can dry out if they get wet) and a lighter
  • A topographical map of where you’re hiking

These items can be stowed in the car for a short-distance hike, or carried with you in a small shoulder bag for distances where you’ll be in the “woods” for more than a few hours.

Additional Items

You may want to carry your cell phone with you. Even in regions where you’ll be out in nature, you should carry your phone just in case of an emergency — because you might unexpectedly have service. If you want to escape contact with the outside world, switch your phone off for a few hours while you hike. But for safety reasons, don’t leave it behind.

It’s also a good idea to bring a journal into the woods with you. Hiking is a great time to think and reflect, and you may want to soak in a particularly beautiful view with a pen in your hand.

Essentials for 2 Day Hikes or Longer

Overnight trips require more planning, preparation and packing. After you get comfortable hiking short-distances, build yourself up to long 2 day-hikes or plan an overnight along a route. You’ll want to bring:

  • Plenty of water or water purification tablets
  • Non-perishable food. Pack plenty of sandwiches, as well as food to cook for dinner over a fire or on a hiker’s camping stove.
  • A tent or tarp
  • A sleeping bag
  • A change of clothes, or at least just another dry pair of socks and warm layers (even in summer)
  • A heavy-duty flashlight

All of these items will require careful packing. Try not to carry more than 25 pounds of gear and food with you, and also keep in mind that you’ll want to come back with much less than you leave carrying.