Hiking can be an exciting activity. But, it can also quickly turn into a very uncomfortable experience if you don’t bring the right things.
If your feet or back start aching just because you didn’t give any thought to the hiking essentials you really need, you’ll enjoy the whole experience a lot less (trust me, I’ve been there, trying to hike across an island in flip flops!).
But, I love hiking, and no matter your level of fitness, I believe that with the right hiking essentials you can definitely find a hike you’ll enjoy too.
Hiking also combines very well with longer road trips (you’ve got to stretch those legs at some point!). Just hop in your car or RV and set a course for the best trails in the area.
Anyway, let’s get back to what to bring on your hike.
Yes, I would say your baggage has to be as light as possible but, going on a hike with just a water bottle in your backpack isn’t the best idea.
Whether you’re planning a short hike exploring a local mountain or a more challenging multi-day hike such as the Annapurna Circuit trek with Kandoo, there are some hiking essentials you shouldn’t forget.
Therefore, in this article I want to focus on these hiking essentials; the important things to take on a hike of any length and level of difficulty.
What to Bring on a Hike: 11 Hiking Essentials
1. A Backpack that Fits Your Body Type
Having a heavy backpack can be a disaster during the trek. That’s why you should always opt for a backpack that fits your body type.
A backpack that’s too big or too small can affect your posture and make you feel uncomfortable.
But you also need a backpack that is big enough to carry everything you need. That’s why I strongly recommend keeping in mind your body type and getting a backpack that’s a bit larger than your torso length. This way, you won’t have to worry about the weight of your bag and you will be able to breathe comfortably while hiking.
Choose A Functional Backpack with Multiple Pockets
Having enough space for all your things is important, but so is having functional pockets.
Having a separate compartment for your water bottle (or a bladder), a compartment for your valuables, your snacks, etc., just makes your life a bit easier. And when you’re on a strenuous hike, believe me, that is exactly what you want.
I’d recommend going to a good quality store to get some personal advice about which backpack works best for your body type and your hike(s). But if you do decide to buy something online, make sure you read some reviews first and check their return policy in case it turns out not to be a good fit.
2. Suitable Clothing
If you’re planning on hiking to high altitudes, you’ll definitely need warm clothing. But even if you are doing a simple hike in a warmer climate, the weather may change, and it does get cooler as the sun starts setting. Therefore bringing layers is always a good idea!
Ideally, wear and bring clothes that are designed for trekking. This is because trekking clothes are designed to be waterproof, lightweight, and wind-resistant. Trekking pants are ideal because they are quick drying and have pockets on the legs, perfect for storing smaller items.
But in any case, the clothes you take with you when hiking should be breathable, easily layered, and comfortable.
Unless you are hiking in very warm weather I would say make a warm hat one of your hiking essentials, just in case it gets colder during the hike. A hat really makes a difference! And so does a pair of dry socks by the way, in case you had to walk through water or got hit by a surprise rain shower.
A rain jacket or other waterproof layer is always a good idea because it can make all the difference if you happen to get caught in a sudden downpour.
One Final Tip: if you do get caught in the rain, you will want your phone, camera and other electronics to stay dry as well. So make sure they can be packed away somewhere waterproof.
3. Suitable Footwear
Good shoes are definitely one of the most important things to have on a hike.
Again, getting professional advice in a shop is what I would recommend, to get the right shoes for your feet and your type of hike.
And never go on a long hike with brand new shoes! Wear them in first, even if that means wearing them around the house for a day or so.
4. Sun Protection
Especially during hikes in colder climates or on less sunny days, people tend to forget to wear sunscreen.
But even on a cloudy and colder day, the sun can still do damage. And of course you never know if the sun might come out unexpectedly during your hike.
So yes, appropriate sun protection is a hiking essential.
Make sure to apply sunscreen (preferably SPF 30+) 30 minutes before going out into the sun, as it will help you to avoid sunburn.
And of course keep in mind that the sun is stronger at high altitudes, so you might want to reapply sunscreen several times during your hike.
Bring a good hat and sunglasses as well.
Staying hydrated is very important when trekking. Consider getting a water bottle with a filter. This way, you will be able to drink clean water from any source while hiking or trekking.
I like water bottles with a wide mouth so that you could add ice cubes to make the water cooler.
Guidelines as to how much water you should drink vary. Some say a gallon (around 4 liters) per 24 hours, others say half a liter per hour. In reality it will depend on the temperature, the intensity of the hike and your fitness.
Of course you will drink more than when sitting at home and do make sure you bring enough water for emergencies. The hike might take longer than you planned for a number of reasons, so just make sure you won’t run out of water if it does.
Of course how much food to bring depends on the length of your hike, but even if you are only going on a short hike bringing some snacks is highly recommended.
You never know what happens on the way. The hike might take longer than expected, you may feel faint, etc.
Bring food that is easy to prepare and not too heavy to carry.
Cliff bars, a bag of nuts and premade sandwiches are good hiking snacks. Or fill a thermos with a hearty soup if you go hiking in colder weather.
7. A Power Bank
Not just for the sake of taking nice pictures, but first and foremost for your own safety you don’t want your phone to run out of battery.
That makes a good power bank a hiking essential.
I would say a power bank suitable for hiking is lightweight, water-resistant, and powerful enough to fully recharge everything you don’t want to run out of battery on your hike.
I love bringing a solar-powered power bank, but weight and the number of charges should be your main criteria.
8. A Map and a Compass
While phones and GPS units are handy, they aren’t always reliable in remote areas. Plus, they could break or run out of battery.
Consider carrying a paper map and compass as a backup and know how to use them.
9. A Headlamp or Other Type of Flashlight
Even if you aren’t planning to still be hiking after dark, as I said several times before, you never know what might happen.
I like bringing a headlamp because it keeps my hands free, but any flashlight will do. Just make sure the batteries are full!
10. A Basic First Aid Kit
Ok, don’t go overboard here, especially if you are only going on a one day hike, but bringing a small first aid kit is, I would say, a hiking essential.
You can find compact pre-packed first aid kits on Amazon that are recommended for camping. They are perfect for almost any hike.
Using some anti blister balm before your hike is highly recommended! It really works. Alternatively putting vaseline on blisters also helps.
And of course always make sure to replace anything you use from your first aid kit as soon as you return home from your hike.
11. A Multi-Tool and Duct Tape
Whether it’s your backpack breaking or something more serious happening on a hike, a good multi-tool knife and some duct tape will come in handy a lot more often than you’d think!
Gerber and Leatherman are the two top brands if you want to go for a high-quality multi-tool, but a cheaper version will do as well.
Extra Items to Bring on a Hike
Ok, these next items might not be hiking essentials, but I’d recommend bringing them on a hike as well:
- Some toilet paper and hand sanitizer.
- A compact, quick-drying towel.
- Trekking poles – depending on the length and difficulty of the hike.
- An emergency blanket – a great inexpensive option to protect yourself from the elements in the event you are injured or stranded.
Final Thoughts on Hiking Essentials and More
Now that you know all the hiking essentials, start thinking more about the specific hike you are doing.
Especially if you are planning to go on a multi-day trek, where you are going really determines what you need to bring.
Read up on the destination and if you can, talk to others who have already done the hike to get some first-hand experiences.
And I have just a few final tips I’d like to share that I think are useful for any hike:
1. Let Someone Know of Your Hiking Plans
Even if it’s a simple hike, you might slip, you might get lost, or get surprised by extreme weather. People have gotten injured and lost on the simplest hikes so just to be safe, let someone know where you are going and when you plan to be back.
2. Only Take What’s Necessary for a Safe, Enjoyable Hike
Although I’m quite serious about the hiking essentials and wouldn’t leave out any of them, I do recommend avoiding carrying too much weight.
3. Keep Drinking Water!
More than once I brought plenty of water on a hike but forgot to drink until I started feeling a headache coming up. Try to take at least a few sips every 15 or 20 minutes.
4. Choose a Trail You Can Handle
Start with a hike that is well within your limits and give yourself time to build up to more difficult hikes. That way hiking stays enjoyable and doesn’t become a frustrating and exhausting experience.
5. Don’t Go Hiking Alone
I know, there is something nice about being alone in nature. But if something happens while you are hiking alone you might put yourself in serious danger!
6. Don’t Leave Any Trash Behind
It’s surprising how much trash you can find along many popular hiking trails.
Bring a small garbage bag if you don’t want to put food waste and other trash directly into your backpack.
Enjoy your next hike!
I hope this article has given you a good idea of what to take on a hike, and if you have other suggestions to improve any hiking experience, feel free to leave a comment below.
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