hikers in the mountains

23 Hiking Essentials – What to Bring on a Hike

Whether you’re lacing up a new pair of boots for your very first hike, or you’re a seasoned outdoor enthusiast, it’s always useful to have a reminder of what to bring hiking.

After exploring the world one (hiking) mile at a time, I’ve learned the hiking essentials needed for a trekking adventure.

This list has been put together from my personal experiences, from discovering Patagonia’s beautiful trails across southern South America to uncovering waterfalls and mountain peaks in Shenandoah National Park.

Whether you’re setting off on a day hike or an overnight adventure, there are certain items you need to pack. So, are you ready to make your list of hiking essentials?

Use this list of my essential hiking items to pack to make sure your next trekking adventure is a success!

23 Hiking Essentials - A Must-Have Hiking Packing List

Basic Hiking Checklist

A little bit of preparation can go a long way. With this in mind, doing your homework on things to bring when hiking can be the difference between a difficult experience and a great one. The first 11 essentials for hiking should be at the top of your list – with the rest to follow.

1. Daypack

Having a comfortable, easy-to-carry hiking daypack is a huge asset when on the trails. By storing your items on your back, you’re able to focus on putting one foot in front of the other. 

If you expect to hike for multiple days, choose a larger backpack that has different compartments and plenty of storage so that you can store everything in an organized way. I have had a Gregory backpack for years and it has proven itself to be durable and comfortable to wear.

2. Hydro Flask

Anyone that has ever embarked on a trail will know how easy it is to get dehydrated, which is why you need to have enough water packed for your hike. And, staying hydrated is not exclusive to hiking in hot climates, it can happen during any hike. 

The Hydro Flask will keep water cold for up to 24 hours.  (Conversely, it can also keep liquids hot if you’re out snowshoeing or doing some winter hiking.)

REI Hydro Flask
Source: REI

Packing an eco-friendly hydro flask will keep the liquid cool, and your body refreshed. And if you’re out on the trails for more than a day, the wide-mouth container can double as a food prep and storage container for soups and other backcountry meals.

3. Snacks

Exercising your body depletes its energy stores. Keeping snacks in your daypack is essential for sustaining energy during the hike. No one likes that feeling of hunger on the trail, not to mention having enough to sustain you should a hike take longer than you originally expected.

Some easy snacks to pack are energy bars, fruit, and nuts. There are also freeze-dried foods that only need hot water to make a fuller meal. Either way, you want to be sure to pack the food you’ll need to stay energized for your trek.

4. Swiss Army Knife

Every hike is unique, presenting you with different obstacles to overcome. Having a trusty and compact Swiss Army Knife is a versatile tool to add to your list.

REI Swiss Army Huntsman Knife

From helping to open a can of beans to fixing a loose screw on a pair of eyeglasses, and even getting a thorn out of your foot – the uses are endless. There’s a reason why a Swiss Army Knife has stood the test of time. It’s like having a toolbox in your pocket!

5. Headlamp

If you’ve ever gone on an overnight hike, you’ll know how disorientating it can be to wake up needing the bathroom in the middle of the night. But even when I’m just planning a day hike, I always bring my headlamp.

If a hike takes longer than it should or you run into some obstacles along the way, you don’t want to find yourself outside without a light.

Sure, your phone likely has a flashlight. But in a situation where you’re out after dark, you’ll want to save your phone battery and keep your hands free to catch yourself should you trip on something.

A well-fitted headlamp is very handy during these after-dark situations, whether you need to make a nighttime trip to a campsite bathroom or get a closer look at trail markings to find your way safely back.

6. Tent

If you’re going on an overnight hike then a camping tent is essential. As fun as it can be staring at the stars, you’ll want a tent for a warm, safe space to retire for some shuteye and for safe storage of your gear away from any wildlife or weather.

REI Half Dome Tent
Source: REI

With the advancement of textile technology, tents are now designed to be lightweight, durable, compact while still being protective and resistant, especially in rain and wind. This REI tent also lets you enjoy the views through the mesh panels on top when the weather is nice. 

7. Sleeping Bag

As romantic as falling asleep alongside the evening fire may sound, waking up at 2 a.m. because your bones have frozen is not much fun.

Backcountry Marmot Sleeping Bag

A versatile sleeping bag suitable for a variety of seasons is one of the top hiking necessities when trekking overnight. I’ve used this line of sleeping bags for overnight hiking in different temperatures and seasons from Canada to Africa and have always been warm and comfortable.

If you’re not planning a multi-day hike, keep reading for a piece of gear I always include in my daypack just in case I find myself in a situation where I need warmth and protection.

8. Lantern

In the wilderness, it gets really dark once the sun sets. The headlamp I mention above is great for day and multi-day hiking trips alike. But, if you’re setting up camp for the night, don’t fumble around without guidance. This handy camping lantern provides enough light to cook, wash and go about your business even when it’s dark.

REI Black Diamond Moji Lantern
Source: REI

For overnight hikes, you can even clip it to the top inside of your tent for enough light to brighten the whole area. It’s amazing when you’re trying to find something in your backpack or need light to read or play cards.

9. Navigation Tool

Whether you have a good sense of direction or not, having a compass or map to help navigate out on the hiking trail is essential. The wild can be just that – wild! Depending on where you choose to trek, going too far off of the path can even be dangerous.

Some National Parks and hiking areas offer paper maps. But even still, it’s a smart choice to also have a compass to ensure you can find your way should you get lost or accidentally veer off the hiking trail. Again, I prefer not to use my phone for this because of battery life so I recommend having a small compass tucked away just in case.

10. Rain Jacket

Mother Nature can be a real tease sometimes. One minute, the skies are clear without a breath of wind, and the next minute clouds roll in and it begins to rain. I have some more tips on what to wear on the hiking trail below. But no matter what, I always have a weather-proof jacket to stay dry and comfortable.

Columbia Arcadia II Rain Jacket

The great thing about this jacket is it packs into its own pocket making it easy to store away or clip to your backpack when the weather is good. No need to tie it around your waist or come up with another makeshift way to carry a jacket on the hiking trail!

11. Trekking Poles

Even if you don’t have any lower body aches and pains, trekking poles are a great asset when walking long routes or on steep trails.

Whether you’re hiking in icy conditions, such as Johnston Canyon’s ice walk or up Zion National Park’s Angels Landing, trekking poles can make the journey a lot easier. And, the sturdy poles are particularly helpful when it comes to protecting your knees on downhill trails.

Hiking sign El Chalten

Emergency Hiking Supplies

The only thing worse than finding yourself in a sticky situation on the hiking trail is having no way out of it. These emergency essentials are important to prevent any hiccups…and even disasters.

12. Fix-All Tape

A small gust of wind can rip a small hole in your tent, you can fall and break your trekking poles or you may put your backpack down on a nasty thorn.

Tenacious Tape is a durable, waterproof repair tape that fixes rips, holes, and tears. It’s easy to tuck away and an absolute lifesaver when you need a quick fix for your hiking gear or clothes.

13. First Aid Kit

It’s never fun planning for a worst-case scenario, but not being prepared is even less pleasant!

REI Hiking First Aid Kit
Source: REI

Packing a first aid kit provides huge relief in the unfortunate event you or a hiking companion gets hurt, feels ill, or suffers insect bites and blisters. This kit is specifically designed for outdoor adventures and has enough to get you through 2 days.

14. Sunblock & Insect Repellant

As someone who travels with a sun allergy, I’ve learned there are various ways to prevent the sun from ruining my adventures. The easiest way to do this is to wear UPF clothing but I always pack sunblock – and apply it regularly, even in the cold weather.

Similarly, insect repellant is a must. Nothing ruins an outdoor hiking adventure faster than getting bit by mosquitoes! If you’re heading into a heavy mosquito area or somewhere with a high malaria risk, consider treating clothes with Permethrin.

15. Hydration Tablets

If the sun does happen to get the better of you, then you could get dehydrated. It’s easy to prevent this by packing a few hydration tablets.

They add no weight to your backpack and can be dropped into your Hydro Flask to work wonders with sun-induced headaches and cramps.

16. Bivy

Even the best-planned day hike can run into problems. There’s no need to carry a sleeping bag if you don’t intend to camp. But, a lightweight body sack can serve as a lifesaver if you have to unexpectedly spend the night outside.

REI Sol Thermal Bivy
Source: REI

The Emergency Bivy protects the body from the elements, traps your body heat for warmth, and provides temporary shelter. Again, this piece of essential hiking gear is super lightweight and can be packed at the bottom of your backpack just in case.

Tech Backpacking Essentials

hikers in the mountains

While hiking is all about being out in nature and disconnecting, having a few gadgets can help make your experience smoother and more memorable. Here are some tech essentials that I always carry with me.

17. Camera

The next best thing after an unforgettable hike is being able to relive the memories once it’s over. A compact digital camera is a great addition to your backpack, allowing you to capture photos of the landscape, wildlife, and those special moments you want to remember.

As much as I love snapping photos with my phone, I prefer to bring along my Sony a7 iii mirrorless camera. It takes amazing photos, and I’m a sucker for landscape shots when hiking.

18. USB Power Bank

Although sometimes there’s not much of a signal out on the trails, your phone still needs to stay charged whether you’re using it to take photos or stay in touch with family and friends.

Perhaps someday there will be a cell phone battery that can last a few days. But for now, a USB power bank can give your phone that little bit of extra juice when needed, and even your camera, if it’s compatible like mine is.

I used this power bank to recharge my phone and camera in Africa out in the wilderness for several days before we returned to a source of power.

19. Camera Tripod

This bendy-legged camera tripod is more of a nice-to-have than an essential per se, but if you have space, it can offer a lot of fun.

As a lightweight, easy-to-pack gadget, the small tripod makes it easier to snap creative photos on your hike. It can wrap around tree branches, picnic tables or set up on a flat surface like a tripod. The remote shutter button also makes it easy to take selfies or group photos while still capturing all the natural beauty, too. 

Hiking Gear List Extras

Now that your backpack is full of the important things to bring on a hike, you’re almost ready to hit the trail. Just in case you’re planning a multi-day hike, you’ll want to bring along a couple of things to help make cooking easier.

20. Cooking System

Having a quick-cooking system makes preparing nourishing meals both easy and convenient, without having to carry various supplies.

REI Jetboil Flash Cooking System
Source: REI

This flash boil system can heat water in just seconds and be used to rehydrate or mixed with dried or instant foods. Best of all, the whole system weighs less than 1 pound.

21. Coffee Press

Although I’m not a huge coffee fan myself, I know that for many people their day only truly begins when they take their first sip of coffee – like my husband!

For the sake of most humans on the trail, the day becomes a lot more pleasant after a hot cup of java. For this reason, a coffee press is a hiking essential for overnight adventures…not to mention an immediate mood-lifter.

What to Wear Hiking

The items below are musts for any kind of hike. For more specifics about hiking clothes, see my recommendations about what to wear on a hike.

22. Hiking Boots

Possibly the most important piece of wearable gear on your list of hiking must-haves is a comfortable pair of hiking boots. I’ve happily worn these boots across 5 continents hiking on all kinds of trails and they’re still my go-to today.

Consider that you’re going to spend a good few hours in your shoes, so make sure they fit you well, are comfortable to walk in, and can endure the various elements expected on your trail.

23. Hiking-Appropriate Pants And Clothing

This may seem like a no-brainer, but wearing the right hiking pants can have a serious impact on your hiking experience. It’s important to consider the season that you’ll be hiking in and make sure that the fabric is durable and quick-drying. You’ll also want your legs to stay protected against plants and insects.

If you’re hiking in winter, I’ve put together a list of the best hiking pants for women to give you a head start on picking the right pair.

Other important hiking clothes include a sun-protective hat, moisture-wicking socks, and clothes made from breathable fabrics.

angels landing Zion National Park

Is Your Backpacking Checklist Complete?

This basic list of overnight and day hike essentials is a great place to start preparing for your trip. I hope my mishaps and experiences give you a head start as you pack for your next trekking adventure.

In addition, there’s lots of room to customize and adapt your list depending on whether you’re hiking in Arches National Park or the humid tropical jungles of Mindo, Ecuador.

And if you’re looking for a gift and reading this post as inspiration, then you can be sure these items, as well as this list of gifts for hikers, make the perfect presents. 

Either way, you’re sure to be prepared for a successful day out on the trails!

What are your hiking essentials?

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2 thoughts on “23 Hiking Essentials – What to Bring on a Hike”

    1. Jackie Sills-Dellegrazie

      Thanks for reading, Kim. 🙂 Fall is a great time to get to the National Parks!

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