Preparing Your First Hike? Here’s What to Pack!

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packing for a hike
packing for a hike

When preparing for a hike, striking the right balance between comfort, safety, and avoiding unnecessary weight is crucial. It’s essential to be ready for any unexpected situations without overburdening yourself with excessive gear, which could dampen your enjoyment of the trail.

Start by assessing the length of your hike. For short journeys, like a mile or two, you can opt for a lighter pack. These quick outings usually involve lower chances of needing an unplanned overnight stay or immediate access to restroom facilities, unlike longer full-day adventures. Additionally, your choice of destination will influence your packing needs. A scorching, shadeless desert hike will demand different gear than a rainy forest trek. This list serves as a general reference that you can customize according to the specific requirements of your upcoming hike.”

Selecting the Perfect Daypack

When embarking on your initial hike, almost any backpack will suffice; just grab your commuter bag, school backpack, or whatever is readily available. However, as you venture into longer and more challenging hikes, it’s wise to consider a backpack equipped with padded straps and a hip belt for better load distribution and comfort. Additional features like water bottle holders and multiple pockets for organization can prove to be quite useful too. If you plan on going for an overnight hike, take the time to try on different packs at the store and seek assistance from a sales associate to find the one that suits you best.

Important Things to Pack for Hiking

This comprehensive gear list includes all the essentials necessary to ensure your safety in the backcountry, especially during situations like getting lost or facing survival challenges. Although some items on the list might appear excessive for a short day hike, it’s highly recommended to carry them in your pack at all times.

1. Food

The Most Enjoyable Aspect of Hiking? Snacking, without a doubt. Hikers should aim to consume approximately 200 calories per hour to sustain their energy levels. Optimal hiker food is non-perishable, easily packable (won’t get crushed or smashed in your backpack), and foods rich in fiber and nutrients. For a day hike, consider bringing foods, like nuts, dried fruit, granola bars, peanut butter sandwiches, and trail mix. On your initial hike, prioritize satisfaction over nutrition: Pack the food you truly desire to eat, especially if exercise tends to diminish your appetite.

2. Water

The Key to Beating Dehydration and Ensuring Comfortable Hiking is Full Bottles or a Hydration Bladder. As a general guideline, pack at least one liter of water for each hour you plan to hike. For beginner hikers on moderate trails (accounting for steeper sections), a pace of around two miles per hour is common, so carrying at least two liters of water for a four-mile hike is advisable. On exceptionally hot days, consider packing even more water.

Indeed, water can add weight to your pack. For longer hikes, it’s worth contemplating carrying a water filter or purification drops, and planning ahead to locate water sources, such as streams, on a map. This way, you can refill your supply midway through the day instead of carrying an uncomfortably heavy pack.

Don’t have a reusable bottle? Don’t worry. Any screw-top bottle, be it an old disposable water bottle or a soda bottle, will serve the purpose.

3. First Aid Kit

Having essential first aid supplies is vital for treating injuries while hiking, whether for yourself or your fellow hikers. Make sure to pack basic items such as bandages, an elastic wrap for potential sprained ankles, and pain medication like ibuprofen. Additionally, include hand sanitizer and wound-cleaning materials, such as alcohol prep pads, in your first aid kit.

4. Navigation

Getting lost outdoors is more likely than you might imagine, especially in unfamiliar territory. When embarking on your initial hike, it’s advisable to acquaint yourself with the planned route beforehand. For those with limited experience in trail navigation, selecting a well-traveled hike where you’re likely to encounter fellow hikers is a prudent choice. Utilizing mapping apps such as Gaia GPS can provide valuable route suggestions. Pre-downloading maps of the region allows you to access them even if cellular service is lost, and be sure your phone is fully charged prior to commencing the hike. While a paper map and compass are imperative for extended hikes or off-trail ventures, ensure you possess the knowledge to utilize them effectively.

5. Layers 

Avoid donning cotton attire during your hike, as it absorbs sweat and moisture and takes longer to dry. However, this doesn’t imply that you must invest in pricey high-end hiking apparel. Opt for comfortable clothing made from moisture-wicking materials for your inaugural hiking expedition. During the summer, you can wear running shorts, track pants, or yoga pants along with an athletic t-shirt. In colder weather, begin with insulating, non-cotton base layers, followed by fleece or wool mid-layers, and finish with waterproof outer layers. It’s wise to always carry spare clothing, even if you believe you won’t require them. Make sure to include items for maintaining warmth during stationary periods and rain gear in your backpack. Additionally, think about including a hat and gloves for chillier days or when reaching summits.

6. Illumination 

While a headlamp might appear excessive for a morning hike, it’s a prudent measure to carry one in your backpack in case you end up being outdoors after sunset. Ensure the headlamp is equipped with new batteries or is completely charged before you begin your journey. If a headlamp isn’t available, a compact flashlight serves the purpose just as well.

7. Shelter

Once more, lugging a comprehensive camping shelter is seldom essential for day hikes. However, having some form of weather protection can provide reassurance, particularly during extended and demanding hikes. Think about including a compact space blanket (readily available for a nominal cost at most large retailers), an emergency bivy, or even a small tarp for more prolonged journeys.

8. Knife or Multitool

During your initial dayhike, you might find that a multitool or pocketknife remains tucked away in your backpack. However, having one at your disposal can prove to be incredibly useful for a range of tasks. From conducting minor gear fixes while out in the field to effortlessly slicing through a piece of salami for a quick snack, a multitool or pocketknife can be an indispensable companion on your hiking adventure.

Other Items

In conjunction with the 8 Essentials, it’s worth contemplating the inclusion of the following items based on your destination.

Trekking Poles

Although not obligatory, certain hikers may opt for trekking poles to enhance balance and alleviate knee strain while on the trail. Think about acquiring collapsible poles that can be conveniently stored in or attached to your backpack when not needed. If you’re hesitant to invest in dedicated trekking poles, a pair of budget-friendly ski poles (you can check thrift stores for options) can also serve the purpose effectively.

Cell Phone

Your phone functions as a versatile tool, serving as a map, camera, and a means to seek assistance in case of emergencies. Ensure it’s fully charged and shielded by a durable case. When embarking on rainy hikes or journeys involving stream crossings, safeguard your phone by placing it in a plastic bag or a waterproof case.

Trash Bag

Remember to take your own trash with you when you leave. If you come across litter left behind by other hikers on the trail, make the effort to pick it up and carry it out as well.

FAQs

How should I choose the right hiking boots?

Opt for boots that provide proper ankle support, a comfortable fit, and durable traction. Consider trying them on in-store and wearing moisture-wicking socks for an accurate fit.

What’s the importance of dressing in layers for hiking?

Layering allows you to regulate your body temperature as you hike. You can add or remove layers to stay comfortable in changing weather conditions.

Do I need a GPS device if I’m hiking on well-marked trails?

While well-marked, trails can sometimes lead to unexpected detours. A GPS device adds an extra layer of navigation security, especially if you’re exploring unfamiliar terrain.

How often should I reapply sunscreen during a hike?

Reapply sunscreen every two hours, or more frequently if you’re sweating heavily. Sunscreen effectiveness diminishes over time, so regular application is essential.

Are trekking poles suitable for all types of hikes?

Trekking poles are especially useful for steep ascents, descents, and uneven terrain. However, they may not be necessary for every hike. Evaluate the trail’s difficulty before deciding.

What are Leave-No-Trace principles?

Leave-No-Trace principles promote ethical outdoor practices, including minimizing impact, disposing of waste responsibly, and respecting wildlife and natural habitats.

Conclusion

Embarking on your first hike is an exciting endeavor that promises new experiences and breathtaking vistas. By packing the right essentials and following safety guidelines, you can ensure a rewarding and enjoyable outdoor adventure. Remember, preparation is key to a successful hike. So, gather your gear, lace up your hiking boots, and set off on a journey filled with wonder and exploration.