The best hiking essentials for beginners, what to bring on a short hike, and a hiking packing list that will allow you to have the best hike possible!
Packing can be tricky. “What should I bring? Am I packing too much? Did I forget something?” These are all questions that often flash through my head as I’m packing for my summer hikes.
While it’s easy to just throw a backpack over your shoulder and call it good, that’s not the reality of hiking. It seems as if all aspects of hiking need to be planned in advance to ensure a safe and enjoyable adventure.
Here are 11 hiking essentials every hiker and beginner needs!
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What Backpack is best for hiking
The Best Backpack
Before we begin, let’s talk about what you’ll be packing all these hiking essentials in to. Now if you’re going on a typical day hike with paved trails and common areas for the public, you would be just fine with a fanny pack or lightweight backpack. (No need to lug around a weighted pack).
This Cotapaxi bag is my favorite day hike pack. I like how lightweight it is, yet it fits a TON of stuff. My bag held a windbreaker, two stainless steel water bottles, and my Canon DSLR camera.
Surprisingly, it held up very well on my five-mile hike! At a great price and awesome quality, you can pick it up on Amazon here.
On the other hand, if you plan to hike for more than 7+ hours, you might want to consider a medium/large backpack. One with a hydration system can be helpful for hot hikes where it might be a hassle to handle a water bottle.
Update: These hydration packs have been one of my readers’ favorite hiking essentials.
For hikes exceeding 1 day, go for a high-quality backpack designed for hiking. Compartmentalizing items will be much more efficient and intentional.
This backpack I found on Amazon holds up to 55L and has space for a sleeping bag.
What to pack in your hiking bag
Ok, so we’ve narrowed down what type of hike you’re taking and the proper backpack for that hike. Now, let’s begin the fun part: packing!
Hiking Packing List
- Water Bottle: My favorite water bottle is the Hydro Flask It’s insulated which keeps water cool or warm. Perfect for those day trip excursions. Although if you’re heading out on a longer hike exceeding one day, a filter bottle may suit you more. These bottles come with a filtration system built into the bottle so you can literally scoop up water from a stream and drink it without worrying about harmful bacteria.
- Sunscreen: Sun rays get intense when you’re exposed all day.
- Snacks: I like to opt for protein bars. They’re a quick bite and easy to transport. My homemade energy bites are also a hiking favorite.
- First-Aid kit: This is one of those day hiking essentials that you hope you’ll never use, but it’s ready if you do. You can pick up a premade First-Aid kit or create one yourself. And don’t forget a kit for the dogs!
- A good pair of shoes: Well fitted shoes make a world of a difference in your hike. I once hiked four miles in shoes a half size too small… yeah, it was as uncomfortable as it sounds.
- Portable charger / Solar charger: If you don’t have one of these, you NEED one! No, you’re probably not planning on being glued to your phone on your hiking trip, but it’s a good idea to make sure your phone is fully charged (and preferably sharing your location with someone) just in case.
- A well-covering hat: Bonus points for hats that cover the neck and ears. 🙂
- Windbreaker: not only does this come in handy if the weather decides to suddenly downpour, but it’s also great if you need something to sit on or use in case of an emergency.
- Flashlight: Definitely bring one if you’re hiking at night, but also if you plan to day hike. You never know if you will be in a situation where you aren’t able to make it back before sundown, and no one wants to get trapped in the dark. Even if it’s just a small handheld / keychain flashlight.
- A friend: Always bring a buddy or let someone know of your plans. Your safety is the most important concern. And while you may not be embarking on a strenuous trip through a tropical rainforest, still let others know of your whereabouts.
- Hiking poles: I thought these were kinda silly until I actually used them. But they’re useful for stabilizing yourself on rocky terrain. (And they helped me get over a puddle to prevent my shoes from getting muddy, so yay hiking poles!)
- Camera: For taking pictures of scenery or cool plants you find along the way.
- A book: For when the perfect rock calls your name to immerse yourself in a good read.
I know what you’re thinking, “all of this?!”. Of course you can tailor this list to your specific hike depending on weather, location, and duration, but these packing essentials should be a good rule of thumb for a beginner hiker.
Also check out this guide for the “Ten Essentials” list, which covers the basics of packing for the backcountry.
So GET OUTSIDE! Get going, and enjoy your hike knowing with great peace of mind that you’ve got the basics and essentials handy and ready to go.
What do you always pack in your hiking bag? Tell me in the comments below!
Read Next: Crested Butte, CO Summer Travel Guide
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