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What To Pack In Your Hiking Bag – 5 Must Have Items

Hking with a pack in Colorado

Hiking is such a fantastic activity. It lifts the spirit, improves the mood, gives you a breath of fresh air (literally!), and is an excellent form of exercise. If you’re just starting out, you may wonder what you should pack in your hiking bag.

The five essentials to pack in your hiking bag include water, a cellphone, snacks, appropriate clothing/jackets, and a basic first-aid kit. If you can fit more into your bag, we suggest bringing a change of socks, shoes, and clothing.

Follow along as we go over all the day hiking essentials. We’ll review the necessities and then move on to some extras that we’ve always found helpful!

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Hiking Essentials List

When packing for your hike, you basically want to pack for the worst-case scenario. If all goes well, great! If something doesn’t quite go as planned, at least you are prepared. That said, there’s no reason to pack every piece of hiking gear, either.

Even if you only plan to hike one mile, it’s better to be prepared and not need it than the other way around. Before we hit the essentials that should go in your hiking backpack, let’s talk about the bag itself.

For day hiking, it’s recommended to use a backpack between 21 and 35 liters. This gives you enough room to pack all the essentials without lugging around a huge pack. Lowe Alpine’s AirZone Z Duo ND 25L Day Pack is the perfect size for a day hike.

And by the way, if you’re looking for a way to buy top-quality hiking gear without breaking the bank, check out this hiking gear on a budget guide! It has some intuitive insight into how to pick the right time to buy and trade hiking gear.

Now, let’s dive into the hiking essentials!

Hikining mountain man

Water

On a hot day, it’s easy to notice you’re sweating, losing fluids, and thirsty. This is not so obvious when hiking on cool or rainy days, but water intake is so important when hiking.

According to a study published in the European Journal of Nutrition, water intake recommendations for adult men and women are around 88oz and 60oz per day, respectively. The recommended fluid intake increases when physically active, such as on a hike. 

The University of Utah recommends drinking around 1 quart (32 ounces) of water per hour while hiking in dry climates such as the western states. In humid environments, this number may drop a little.

To combat dehydration while hiking, you can use something like Hydro Flask’s 32 oz Wide Mouth Water Bottle. It has a double wall of insulation rated to keep drinks cold for 24 hours. The cap is also insulated, which is often a weak point in insulated bottles.

What To Pack In Your Hiking Bag Water Hiking

If you are worried about running out of water, you can invest in a water purifier to drink from water sources along the way. Grayl’s Geopress Water Purifier will purify contaminants and can filter 65 gallons before needing a replacement filter. The great thing about the Grayl is that it’s a handheld water bottle that fits perfectly in your day hiking bag.

Snacks

It may seem silly to pack snacks if you’re going on a short hike, right? The truth is, food is super important when you’re doing physical activities like hiking. You may not realize it, but hiking burns some calories! According to Harvard University, you burn around 200 calories every 30 minutes while hiking in the woods!

Food is also beneficial for your water intake since all food contains some percentage of water. The type of food you bring doesn’t make a huge difference, but three of our favorite recommendations include the following:

  • Protein bars: Look for protein bars with low added sugars values. These are hard to find, and many types will advertise as ‘healthy.’ Take a good look at the ingredients as well, and avoid bars with a lot of unpronounceable words.
  • Nuts: Almonds, cashews, peanuts, whatever nuts you enjoy. Nuts are high in the good fat, which will help give you energy for your hike.
  • PB&J: Ah, take me back to my childhood! Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are a great treat when you reach your summit or the halfway point in your hike. 

Bring food that is practical and lightweight. Avoid things that should be refrigerated or require water or heat to make. Keep it simple, and you’ll be just fine!

That said, if you want to bring something warm like soup on a cold hike, consider getting an insulated food jar! Hydro Flask’s 8oz Insulated Food Jar is a great choice to keep your food warm. It also has a leak-proof lid, so you don’t have to worry about any spills in your hiking bag.

Cellphone

Before you claim that cell phones don’t belong in nature, think about this: You’re hiking by yourself, slip, and twist an ankle. Your cell phone may be the only way you can call for help!

Despite what people think, cell phones are fantastic for emergencies. You can use the GPS to navigate if you get lost (as long as you have some service). At the very least, you can pull up a compass app and find out which way is north.

Even when you don’t have cell phone service, there are still ways to track your phone in emergencies. Cell phones can also track your hike. Someone could look at that app and see which trail you started, helping emergency personnel find you quicker.

If you plan a longer hike, consider getting a power bank like BioLite’s 20 PD Powerbank. This little baby weighs just 5.8 ounces and can charge your phone 1.5 times. This is an excellent resource to add to your hiking pack.

Cell phone hiking with directions

By the way, if you plan to hike solo, we have some great tips on how to hike alone safely.

Extra Clothing

Depending on where you live and hike, you may have to pack extra clothes for changes in the weather or adverse conditions. Winter and summer are the harshest times to hike and a good time to pack extra clothing.

If it’s hot, consider bringing a towel to dry off and a change of clothing. Depending on how far of a drive it is, you’ll be grateful you brought it and don’t have to sit in your own sweat for the ride back home.

If it’s cold, consider packing extra layers and an extra pair of socks. Fingers and toes are the most vulnerable to cold weather, so wear weather-appropriate gloves and socks. SealSkinz’s Waterproof All Weather Insulated Gloves are sure to keep your fingers warm even on the most frigid hikes!

Basic First-Aid Kit

In today’s age, first-aid kits are tiny and pack so well in a day hike bag. There’s no reason not to bring one! You will *hopefully* never have to use your first aid kit, but it’s always great to have when you need it.

You can make your own first-aid kit or buy one. If you decide to make your own, here are our recommendations on what to put in it:

  • Bandages
  • Tick remover
  • ibuprofen/Advil/Motrin
  • Antiseptic or alcohol wipes
  • Antibiotic ointment (such as Neosporin)

With these five things, you can address most minor injuries. If you’d rather have some extra gear, consider buying something like Adventure Medical Kit’s Travel First Aid Kit. It has a few additional items like moleskin for blisters and antacids in case you drink some sketchy water.

Learn more on how to pack a first-aid kit, ensuring your’re prepared for any bumps, scrapes, or unexpected mishaps along the trail!.

Hiking with a packed bag and a full kit

Extras!

We’ve given you the five critical items to pack in your hiking bag. Now it’s time for some extras! While these hiking supplies aren’t essential for a day hike, they can come in handy. Some of these you can simply store in your car for after the hike, others you can sneak into your pack.

  • Matches
  • Whistle
  • Compass
  • Rain cover for backpack
  • Sandals to change into after the hike
  • Trekking poles
  • Victory beers
  • Paracord rope
  • Disinfectant hand wipes
  • Wilderness Wipes to clean your body after a muddy or sweaty hike.
  • Sun protection (hat, sunscreen, sunglasses)
  • Bear spray.  (You can read more about what to do if you encounter a Moose, Black Bear, Grizzly Bear, Mountain Lion, Wolves, Bob Cat, Alligator, Wild Boars, Snake or Coyote! Be prepared for every encounter.)
  • Toilet paper or wipes
  • Bug spray

Sea To Summit’s Wilderness Wipes are seriously awesome, especially if you plan to stop somewhere around people after your hike. 

What To Pack In Your Hiking Bag

A Recap of What to Pack in your Hiking Bag

Hiking has so many benefits to the mind, body, and soul. Nature has a way of calming the mind, healing the soul, and working the body to give you a trifecta of awesomeness!

If you’re new to hiking, you may be wondering what you should pack in your bag. Five crucial things should always be in your pack, no matter the length of your hike.

To recap, the five things to pack in your hiking bag include:

  • Water
  • Snacks
  • Cellphone
  • Weather-appropriate clothing
  • Basic first-aid kit

You can get through most situations with these five things, even if you run into trouble. Check out dirtbagswithfurbags for more hiking, climbing, and vanlife information!

References

Boulware, D. R., Forgey, W. W., & Martin II, W. J. (2003). Medical risks of wilderness hiking. The American journal of medicine, 114(4), 288-293.

Gandy, J. (2015). Water intake: validity of population assessment and recommendations. European journal of nutrition, 54(Suppl 2), 11-16.

Kleiner, S. M. (1999). Water: an essential but overlooked nutrient. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 99(2), 200-206.

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