WHEN DAY HIKING IN THE BACKCOUNTRY IT IS IMPORTANT TO REMEMBER THAT MOTHER NATURE AND LIFE FOR THAT MATTER CAN BE UNPREDICTABLE. BUT WITH THE RIGHT ESSENTIALS IN YOUR DAY-PACK YOU CAN HIKE ON WITH CONFIDENCE.
A day hike refers to a hike that can be completed in a single day.Whether you’re casually hiking to a beautiful waterfall or taking a peaceful wilderness stroll with your family, carrying the proper equipment is absolutely critical. When things go wrong, as they can often do, this can mean the difference between a minor inconvenience and a dire result. Day hikers generally carry at least water, food, a map, rain gear, etc. But that is not enough. Your day-pack isn't meant to be heavy, though. You want your day-hike to be enjoyable not a chore. So what should you bring with you on a day hike? In the article below we discuss our preferences for some of the most critical day hiking equipment.
First things first. You want to choose a day-pack that is sturdy, weather-proof, and of course comfortable! There are hundreds of bags to choose from. First what you want to look for is a day-pack that has a couple of different compartments and/or pockets to store and organize your day hike essentials. Second you want look at the straps and padding on the pack. Does it look comfortable enough to wear for a couples hours? Personally I like the bags that have a chest strap and waist strap built in. Like larger backpacks it makes it easier to adjust your load as needed. The extra straps also provide additional places to hook a camera bag or water bottle. Also look for extra lashings, extra D-rings and external straps. These additional shoring points provide places for water bottles, jackets, etc. The third and last thing I want to talk about is the size of your day-pack. Size does matter. You do not want to use large capacity backpacks designed for carrying loads for days. These larger backpacks are designed to carry a well balanced full load. Yes you can get away with using them, but they will not be as comfortable as a day-pack on a day hike. The reason for this is where the straps are placed on large bags. They are placed higher on the bag than a day-pack. So if you are only carrying a third of what the large backpack can actually carry you will get what I call bag "droop".
The Straps on a large backpack can only be tightened up so far. They cannot in most cases be adjusted to center a small load into the proper place on your back. This will cause your bag to be uncomfortable bouncing off your hips during your hike. Most day-packs range from 20 liters to 35 liters on the high-end. A 20 liter sized backpack is usually sufficient for 1/2 day hikes, you'll want a larger pack in the 35-liter range for all-day hikes so you can carry extra water, food, clothing, and the other essentials. Also it is good to choose a bag that made with bright colors. In an emergency situation your backpack can help make you more visible to rescuers.
So Here Are 10 Items You Should Have In Your Day-Bag
A topo map and compass are two navigation components that should accompany you on any trip into the backcountry. They’re reliable, lightweight, durable, and guaranteed to never run out of batteries. They can keep you from getting lost or help you find your way again. However, they won’t do any good if you don’t know how to use them. So brush up on how to use a map and compass and how to keep from getting lost before heading out on your next trip. Also, we recommend keeping your maps in a clear, waterproof map sack to keep them dry and protected. GPS devices and map phone apps are excellent tools for supplementing a map and compass. If you plan on using GPS regularly, you may want to carry a USB power bank in case your device runs out of juice. While GPS tools can be very convenient and useful on the trail, they should never fully replace your map and compass.
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It's absolutely essential to stay well hydrated on the trail. Your body needs water to keep all its critical systems running properly. Make sure bring enough water for the duration of your hike. For a 24-hour water supply, one gallon (or 4 liters) is recommended per person. Make sure your water is easily accessible via water bottles or a hydration bladder so you can drink freely while you hike. Also, it’s important to remember that while water is critically important, it’s also one of the heaviest things you’ll carry on the trail. So carrying a bunch of extra water should be avoided as well. That’s why we bring lightweight, reliable water purifiers on our hikes so we can replenish water as often as necessary.
3. FIRST AID SUPPLIES
When traveling into the backcountry, you’ll always want to carry a comprehensive first aid kit. Most backpackers buy a pre-packaged first aid kit, which will provide a lightweight and reliable setup for minor ailments. However, you will likely need to supplement a pre-packaged kit with specific items that are essential to you and your needs. Perhaps you have allergies and know you need to carry an Epi-pen? Obviously, this needs to be included in your medical kit, but a standard first aid kit would not include this item. Because of this, you may opt to create your own medical kit from the beginning. This can be ideal for many outdoorists since they can pick and choose the exact items they want to include in the kit. As you gain more trail experience you'll be able to add or subtract from your first aid kit depending on your individual needs. And always make sure to replace anything you use as soon as you return home from your trek.
Gauze pads in various sizes
Moleskin or another type of blister treatment
Ibuprofen (or another preferred pain-relief medication)
Insect sting treatment
Antihistamine for allergic reactions
First-aid cards that include instructions on how to use the items if you are not familiar
Aspirin and ibuprofen
Poison ivy / poison oak treatment
Insect sting treatment
Prescription medications (e.g., antibiotics)
It’s an extensive list and I realize it looks like a lot of items to carry. However, consider the possibilities for what could happen.
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When preparing for a hike, you’ll want to make sure to bring along enough calories to sustain your energy for a long day of activity. If you’re headed out on a long hike, we recommend bringing some extra calorically-dense food, just in case your trip takes longer than expected. We commonly snack on snack bars, dried fruits, nuts, and jerky while we hike. For a more substantial lunch, we like to pack tortillas or bagels and make sandwiches with hard meats (like salami) and cheeses (like parmesan). Pre-made tuna or chicken kits are nice to have as well.
5. INSULATION/WEATHER GEAR
Weather can change quickly on any wilderness trip, so we always recommend bringing an extra insulation clothing layer, even on warm weather trips (having that extra layer with you can save your life if you get stuck out there over night and the temp drops!). Always pack a down hooded jacket (or something similar) and rain protection (poncho) on every hiking trip, regardless of the forecast. Gloves, extra socks, and good waterproof hiking boots should also be part of your gear.
For your clothing system, you’ll want to avoid cotton products, which take a long time to dry and pull heat from your body. Instead, wear quick dry, synthetic layers and manage perspiration to keep your clothing from soaking with sweat. Wet clothing will quickly chill you to the bone as soon as you stop hiking.
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Sometimes a hike will take longer than expected, and getting lost in the dark can quickly compound a bad situation. If you ever do find yourself unexpectedly in the backcountry as daylight is fading, you'll be happy to have a headlamp or flashlight to help you find the way home. We usually hike with our phones as well, and their built-in flashlights serve as a good backup light source. Make sure to test your batteries prior to your hike. You may want to carry extras as well.
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7. REPAIR KIT & TOOLS
I bring a lightweight multi-tool, a basic repair kit, and a full tang, fixed blade knife on every backcountry trip I take.Duct tape and Tenacious Tape as part of my repair kit. Both are excellent tools for repairing gear in the field, so we always hike with a small amount of both in our packs.Tenacious Tape is great for fixing sleeping pad punctures, tent fabric tears, sleeping bag rips, puffy coat holes, tear in rain parka, and stuff like that. Duct tape is a great all-around repair tool that can be used for things like splinting a broken tent pole, splinting a broken leg, or repairing sunglasses. It is also good for preventing blisters when you feel a hot spot on your foot. Other useful tools to have with you include 550 cordage, a plastic grocery bag, and a couple of 1 gallon zip-locks (for quick water-proofing).
Knowing how to build a fire in nasty weather can be a life saving backcountry skill. To make a fire as easy as possible, we always bring two bic lighters (one is kept in a dry place as a backup), a few stormproof matches, and a few small fire starter cubes. We only use the fire starters when we really need them, but they make fire building much easier, especially in wet conditions. If you’re looking to go more survivalist style, you can carry a small fire flint, but small lighters tend to work just fine for us.
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9. EMERGENCY SHELTER
If you’re on a multi-day backpacking trip, you'll already have a shelter in your pack. But for day hiking trips, we recommended bringing a small, lightweight emergency shelter, just in case you unexpectedly have to spend a night outside. Emergency blankets and bivys (we prefer the bivy) are lightweight, affordable options that could potentially save your life if you're ever in a really bad spot.
10. SUN PROTECTION
Sun protection is an incredibly important part of any backcountry trip, even when the weather looks cloudy. Sunscreen, spf lip balm, sunglasses (preferably polarized), a brimmed hat, and protective clothing should be considered essential on every hiking trip. Bad sunburns, bleeding cracked lips, and conditions like snow blindness can be debilitating if proper respect isn't paid to the sun's power.
Beyond the Essentials
HAND SANITIZER- Dirty hands are the biggest contributor to illness in the backcountry. This happens because many hikers leave proper hygiene habits behind when they hit the trail. But this is an easy issue to avoid, so bring a small container of hand sanitizer and use it after bathroom breaks and before preparing meals.
TOILET PAPER AND TROWEL- Dirty toilet paper is the most common form of backcountry litter we find on trails throughout the world. A) Gross. B) Why? The answer is far too many backcountry travelers are not prepared to bury their waste properly. To dispose of human waste the right way, you need to dig a cathole at least 6-8 inches deep before you go, and if you don’t pack a trowel (we currently use this cheap and lightweight snow stake), you won’t be able to dig a hole deep enough. It’s as simple as that. After doing your business, either bury your TP deep in the hole, or pack it out in a ziploc bag. C’mon people. You love nature. That’s why you’re out there. So educate yourself on Leave No Trace principles and help us keep our wild spaces beautiful for generations to come.
TREKKING POLES- Trekking poles shouldn't be considered an essential item, but many hikers like them for a variety of reasons. The main benefit of trekking poles is reduced impact on knees and increased stability, which can be especially beneficial on long uphill or downhill sections of trail and when fording rivers. In addition, trekking poles can be used as tent pole supports for many ultralight shelters, which will help shave weight on long-distance trips.
PLB (PERSONAL LOCATOR BEACON)- A personal locator beacon is a device that can be used to send a GPS emergency signal from the wilderness in areas without cell phone reception. If you’re ever deep in an isolated wilderness and you need emergency help, a PLB could save your life. The main downside with locator beacons is they tend to be pretty expensive and require a subscription, but their upsides are worth it in our opinion, especially when hiking in truly remote locations. We like the Spot 3 Satellite GPS Messenger, which will allow us to trigger a search and rescue if necessary, but also lets us send simple pre-programed messages to loved ones while we’re on the trail.
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