What to bring on a short hike

What to bring on a short hike: Essential Day Hiking Gear for Beginners

Are you about to go for a short hike but you are not sure of what to take and what to leave behind? Do not worry since you are not alone, it can be a bit daunting when you are getting started hiking, so it is great that you are searching for some expert advice before you take off on your hike. I have been there too, and most of my friends have also been there, but after a lot of research, I managed to narrow down to the 12 must-have items for a short hike (yes, there are more  than ten essential items). Have a look and do not allow yourself to learn the hard way since you might end up with a negative attitude for hiking. You should plan to hike even on short hikes. You know the old saying “no one plans to fail, they fail to plan”, well the same applies to hiking. So here is what you are going to need to take on day hikes.

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Now as a beginner, the first thing that I would suggest is that you not only get the right gear but also start with some beginner hikes (one hour hikes, two hour hikes etc..) and work up to a halfday hike. That way you can try it all out and fix any issues and get used to hiking before you you do a lot of hiking on advanced trails. National Parks are a great place to start hiking as they usually have a range of hiking trails of different difficulty and guidance about the length and difficulty of each. I’ve hiked in a number of National Park and some of my favorite trails for day hiking are in National Parks.

Must-have items for a short hike

  1. Appropriate hiking footwear

To start with, you will not want to fail to get the proper pair of hiking socks (see here for more info about hiking boot socks) and boots depending on the place you will go hiking. After all, what is the use of going for a short hike only to get home with itching feet? So, be sure to look out for a shoe that will provide you with the required traction, and better yet, the support and cushion required.

hiking boots and socks

Hiking boots and socks

A quick tip to getting the right pair lies in determining the traction and status (dry/wet, rocky/smooth) of the grounds of the place you want to go, after which you will decide whether to get boots, WaterSports shoes, or gaiters. That way, you can be sure to remain warm while going out in a cold place and cool/dry when going to a hot area. Also, do not forget to look out for hotspots that can result in blisters. So, try to go for a short walk to test the shoes before taking it for the hike.


  1. Appropriate hiking clothing

Besides getting the proper shoes, you will want to get the appropriate clothing. So, how can you determine the best clothes to carry for the hike? You will need to visit the place before the hiking day so that you can discuss with the people there about the weather. However, you will also want to keep in mind that the weatherman is not always right and that the weather can change. As a result, it is best if you get the proper emergency set of extra clothes in case it gets cold or wet.


When you learn that you will go hiking in a cold place, it is best if you get warm clothes to keep you warm in the cold evenings. However, do not forget to get wicking/quick drying t-shirts and pants for use during the hike since you will not want to stay wet from sweating. On the hand, if you will be going to a hot place, you will need wicking/quick drying clothes to ensure that you stay cool and dry.


Do not forget to take a rain jacket, sun hat, headband/insulation hat, mosquito net clothing, gloves, UPF-rated shirt, and socks. Besides that, get some bandanas since these can be used as a signaling cloth, ground cloth, shoulder pad, sweatband, carry bag, sling, water filter, among others.


  1. First aid supplies

Accidents happen all the time, and you do not want that to be the cause of a shorter hike than planned. As such, do not forget to bring an emergency supply with you. This does not have to be necessarily yours, but you can use it for a person who accompanies you. For you to make the best decision, determine whether to get a pre-packed emergency kit or a DIY aid kit. A pre-packed aid kit does not cost much, and you can get one for as little $10. However, when you decide to make yours, do not forget to include antiseptic ointment, tape, bandages, painkillers, a small bottle of hand sanitizer, safety pins, cotton balls, rubber bands among others. Something else that is a must-have is the second skin gear and moleskin. That way, you can keep walking even after developing a small blister.


  1. Emergency supplies

Besides getting a first aid kit, you will not want to forget other supplies. These are not necessarily for use when you get hurt, but you can use them to prevent damage before it occurs. Some of these supplies include:


  • Whistle

This is a lightweight product that will not add any weight to your luggage. You can use it to notify a distant-walking person that you need some help. The benefit of taking a whistle is that it does not require much energy to blow, which means that it is essential especially when you do not have the power to shout. You may not need it, but you will thank me when it comes to your rescue.


  • Pocket knife or a multi-purpose tool

Such a tool can come to your rescue in a variety of ways. These include cutting tape for first aid, slicing fruits, making kindling for an emergency fire, fixing broken eyeglasses, as a survival tool in case of an attack, among others. So do not forget to carry this.


  • Flashlight

We all have different definitions of a short hike. To some, this can be a half day walk, while to others, this can be a day up to two or three days adventure. For those who consider a short hike as a half day walk, a flashlight may not be essential, unless you will want to take it during the afternoon hours.


However, for those who want to go for a day or some few days, then a flashlight is crucial. After all, do not forget that the simplest way to get lost is due in the dark. So, remember to take a headlight since it can save you when walking through caves or in fog weather. Do not forget some extra batteries too.


  • Emergency shelter

What will do in case it gets dark, cold or rainy when you are not out of the hike? For me, I would not want to imagine myself in such a situation especially when I do not have an emergency shelter. Remember, cold can kill you faster than hunger and thirst.

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So, do not leave yourself to lie down, and let the ground suck all heat off your body. As such, take along an emergency bivy, sleeping bag cover, survival blanket, or anything else that will keep you warm in case you happen to spend the night outside.


  • Fire starting material

Something else that you will not want to miss in your pack is a fire starting equipment. After all, your hike can go longer than expected due to getting hurt, getting lost along the way, or unexpected rain. As such, you should have an idea of several means by which you can start a fire in case one fails.

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One suggestion is for you to use fire steel and a FireStarter including cotton balls. You can carry with you some petroleum jelly for smearing the cotton ball so that you can have an easy time lighting the cotton. Also, you can opt to use some hand sanitizer on the cotton since this contains alcohol. That way, you can be sure to have an easy time when staring the fire.

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  • Trekking poles

Finally, you will need to get trekking poles among the emergency supply items. The reason is that you might get tired than you expected or end up getting hurt. For this reason, you will need trekking poles to support you so that you can ease the pain.


  1. Nutrition/Food

Hiking is a great way to burn calories. This means that you will need to refuel so that you can maintain the morale and energy of moving on. As a result, do not forget to pack food for the day. In addition to that, add some snacks such as granola bars, dried fruits, energy bars, cookies among others. Freezer bags are perfect for packing trail food. Things like dried fruit, granola bars and nuts in trail mix contain healthy fats and protein that can keep you going on your hike.  You can eat these when trekking so that you can stay energized. Do not underestimate the need for carrying food since you might spend more time than you expected due to attractive scenes. Don’t forget to take a trash bag and follow leave no trace principles (take everything with you when you go).


  1. Hydration / Water bottles

Besides getting enough food and snacks, you will want to get enough water. After all, you do not want your organs to fail due to dehydration. So you are going to need plenty of water. Carry with you at least two liters of pure water per person and a pack of water purifiers. That way, you can be sure to remain dehydrated since you can fetch the water in the hiking area and purify it in case your bottle gets depleted. Remember, you can also use the water to clean a wound just in case. So, the more water you carry, the better. Keep your water bottles on the outside of your pack in an easy to reach place so that you can drink on the go!


  1. Sun protection

You will not be pleased to come back home with a sunburnt skin after a hike. As such, take with you some sun protection items and be sure to make good use of them. These should include sunscreen or sunblock cream meant to be applied to the uncovered parts of the skin. Also, carry some SPF-rated lip balm for the lips. Do not forget that this can help you when you want to light a fire. Also, sunglasses are a must-have especially in the winter to help prevent snow-blindness. Do, not forget to carry a wide-brimmed hat, as this can help to reduce exposure to sunlight.


  1. Navigation tools

While most people prefer to take with them a smart  phone as a shortcut to locating where they are, it is essential that you get a map and compass. After all, you can lose a phone or end up with a low battery phone. Besides that, you might end up in a place with no network, yet you might need to determine where to find a campsite, water, or an exit route. So, be sure to carry with you a map and compass, and learn to use these prior the hiking. Once you do that, you can be sure to have a successful hike.


  1. Toiletries and sanitation materials

Staying healthy is a must wherever you go. As such, it is essential for you to carry ample toiletries and sanitation material. Hence, be sure to carry toilet paper, a ziplock freezer bag (ziploc bag), and hand sanitizer. Again here don’t forget to use your trash bag and leave no trace that you have been out on the trail. Anti bug spray or anti bug lotion can also be good in the warmer months when biting bugs are around.


  1. Daypack/ backpack

You should never forget the importance of getting a backpack, where you will store all these stuff. The main concern on this point is for you to get a hiking pack that will fit all these items without breaking. In addition to that, ensure that it has enough padding, on the shoulders and back so that you can stay comfortable when carrying a lot of supplies. Do not forget to get a bag that features a variety of pockets since these will help you in the organization.


After all, you do not want your food lying next to the clothing or hiking shoes. Therefore, ensure that it features a variety of pockets where you can arrange everything easily. Finally, look for a bag that is weatherproof or one that includes a rain cover. In case you get a bag that meets your needs, but it does not feature a waterproof design, opt to buy a rain cover. That way, you will not have to worry when it happens to rain.


  1. Communication cell phone/ Camera

Last but not least, do not leave your cell phone or camera behind. After all, what would you do if you were two, and your partner happened to faint or get attacked? Besides that, what would happen if you decided to leave late, only to find your car on flat tires or a dead battery? Do not let this imagination to be real while you do not have a means to communicate. So, carry your phone and ensure that you can keep it in airplane mode or a battery saver mode so that it’s battery can last longer. In addition to that, do not carry it as the main form for capturing pictures since it might end up on a low battery earlier than expected. So, take with you a camera for the photos and a phone for emergency communication.

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Do not allow yourself to learn how to pack for a short hike through trial and error. As such, I recommend that you carry a list of these essential items and ensure that you include each of these in your backpack. Also, do not underestimate the need for you to take warm clothing since several things may go long leaving you having to spend more time than expected. So, follow our recommendations to the letter and be sure to come back from hiking with a smiling face.

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Comments 2

  1. Hi Nigel! I’m pretty sure you’ve covered it all. I can’t stress enough how important a good footwear is- there were times when I regretted buying those nice looking fancy boots because they killed me on a trail.

    1. Post

      Hi Donna,
      Thanks for your comment. Yes, the right footwear is essential when hiking. It is advisable that you tryout those new pair of hiking boots around the house and down to the shops a few times before taking them on a hike!

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