*Elizabeth wrote this post months ago and we’ve never had a chance to finish and publish it until now. But don’t worry, these essentials are timeless!

Cole and I are by no means expert hikers. Let’s just start there. We are constantly learning, trying new things, and making mistakes when it comes to packing for a day hike.

That being said, we also feel like we have learned enough about hiking preparation that we are equipped enough to share what has worked for us.

Many of the hikes we planned for our grand tour, many of our favorite hikes in all the parks, are less than ten miles. Day hikes. Our favorite.

There are definitely perks to overnight backpacking, and I love that in a whole different way. But day hiking is awesome, attainable to more people, convinceable (for dragging along friends), and often more comfortable, what with the removed thirty or so pounds of overnight gear.


Needless to say, we hiked many a ten-or-less-miler during our trip. And here’s what we now know to bring along. Some of these items vary quite a bit, obviously, based on weather, season, and terrain. But with these items, you’ll have a foundation that is easy to build upon.

 

How to Pack for a Day Hike

Preparedness is important to both Cole and me. Cole was an Eagle Scout and grew up an outdoors enthusiast, so preparedness is in his nature. I don’t necessarily have the same survival skills ingrained into my history, but I am the overly-cautious one in our relationship. I like knowing that if something happens, we’re already a few steps ahead of most of the world.

Have you heard of the backpacking “Ten Essentials?” This list of key elements for overnight backpacking trips is how we think about preparing for a day hike. When hiking a shorter trail, we just scale down the list to match our specific route, weather, and terrain.

According to most lists, the Ten Essentials go like this:

  1. Navigation + Signaling
  2. Sun Protection
  3. Insulation
  4. Illumination
  5. First Aid
  6. Fire
  7. Repair + Tools
  8. Nutrition
  9. Hydration + Purification
  10. Emergency Shelter

Some of these might seem a bit much for a quick hike, so scale down as necessary. Here’s how we adapt these Ten Essentials for an average 7-12 mile-ish hike, on an average-temperature day.

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  1. Navigation + Signaling
    • Trail map protected in a gallon-sized ziplock bag for the no-fuss old-schoolers. Or for you tech nuts, get a GPS unit with tracking and maps like our Garmin eTrex 35t.
  2. Sun Protection
    • Mini sunscreen
    • Sunglasses (mine I snagged at an REI garage sale for $25, these are very similar)
  3. Insulation
    • Waterproof rain jacket
    • Extra socks. Even if my feet don’t get wet, I love to change into a very fashionable Chacos-and-socks combination for the car ride home.
    • Long-sleeved layers, hats, gloves, etc. if necessary
  4. Illumination
    • Headlamp, just in case
  5. First Aid
    • DIY First Aid kit, including: 15 various adhesive bandages, antibiotic ointment, Germ-X wipes, antiseptic wipes, burn cream, gauze, tape, rubber glove, toilet paper, Ibuprofen, antacid, and “Green Goo,” a natural multi-functional salve for bites, cuts, sunburns, chaffing, poison ivy, and dry skin.
    • Mini bug spray. Because I get quarter-sized bug bites, every time.
    • Snake bite kit, if applicable
  6. Fire
    • Matches in a waterproof container
  7. Repair + Tools
    • Survival knife
    • Carabiners
  8. Nutrition
    • Protein-rich, salty (for replenishing lost sodium through sweat) snacks. We usually pack some kind of jerky or sausage, nuts and dried fruit, and a hard cheese. Sugary granola bars just don’t do it for us. 🙂
      Paleonola Maple Pancake
  9. Hydration + Purification
  10. Emergency Shelter
    • Two trash bags
  11. BONUS FUN CATEGORY!

 

All of this keeps us more than prepared, and fits nicely — with extra room — into our coolest $2 thrift store find: a seemingly new hydration-equipped small daypack. The brand is Lake & Trail, but I can’t find it online. It has held up very well so far and is the best size for most day hikes. Here is a similarly-sized one that we got mid-year from our sponsor, ALPS Mountaineering.


Obviously, these items vary hike-to-hike. And, for overnight backpacking trips, our packs grow quite a bit. But, especially if you are new, these items will give you a nice foundation for any mid-sized day hike.

I hope I didn’t leave any basic necessities out! Anything I missed?

Now what are you waiting for? Pack your bags and GO!

Have a great weekend from The Switchback Kids! It’s our last weekend before we leave. EEESH!

Written by Elizabeth

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