How to Pack for a Day Hike

July 25, 2023

Going on a day hike is a perfect way to get out and enjoy the outdoors without having to spend forever planning a camping or backpacking trip. You can go out, do your hike, and then come home and enjoy a hot shower and the comfort of your own bed.

Knowing how to pack properly and efficiently for your day hike is one of the keys for a successful, fun, and safe outing. By thinking ahead and preparing for a variety of situations, you’ll be ready for your day hike in no time.

Day Hike Considerations

  • Whether: First up is the weather. Knowing the weather forecast is essential for knowing what to pack. Will it be extremely hot? Potentially rainy? Cool and overcast? Weather can change drastically, especially at elevation, so knowing the forecast and preparing for a change in weather will go a long way in keeping you safe and happy.
  • Inform Others: Always tell someone where you’re going and how long you expect to be gone. This means you’ll have to know your hiking route ahead of time, or at least have a good idea of mileage and the type of terrain you’ll be covering.
  • Note Trail Features: Taking note of any features along the trail is key as well. Will you need to do river crossings? Cross rock gardens? Climb steep hills? Knowing the answers to all these questions will help you prepare and know what to bring.
  • Gauge the Needs of the Group: Finally, you should consider the ability and needs of everyone in your hiking party. Will everyone be able to complete the hike safely and in good spirits? Do you have a plan for if someone gets injured or wants to turn back? Is someone missing a piece of gear that you have and could bring for them?

Man applying a bandage to a cut on a woman's knee during a hike.

Day Hike Essentials

  • Backpack: The first thing on that list is a comfortable backpack that can store your essentials. 
  • Water & Fuel: Next you’ll need plenty of water and an energizing snack (or lunch if your hike is more than a few hours). 
  • Locator Tools: Bringing along a map and compass is a great idea, too, so you can be sure to stay on the trail and not get lost.
  • Extra Clothing: Always pack an extra warm and dry layer to put on if the weather changes abruptly. 
  • Light Sources: A headlamp with fresh batteries is a nice safety to have as well, in case your hike takes longer than you thought it would and you’re out on the trail after dark. 
  • Safety Equipment: A first aid kit is essential, too. Make sure you’re equipped to deal with blisters, cuts, and headaches along the way.

Woman with raincoat and hiking boots taking out water bottle from backpack.

Day Hike “Just in Case” Items

These next items are dependent on where and in what season you’re hiking.

  • Sun Protection: If you run the risk of being exposed to extreme sun, you’ll want to be sure to bring a hat, plenty of sun screen, sunglasses, extra water, and maybe a bandana that you can soak in water to cool down the back of your neck.
  • Rain Gear: If your hike could end up being cold or rainy, you should bring a rain jacket, rain pants, a pack cover to keep your backpack dry, and a hat and gloves. Other items to consider include extra food, bug spray, bear spray, a camera, and, if you’re in an area with cell service, a phone to call for help if you need it.
  • Shoe Options: It can be easy to think, “I won’t be gone long” and set off on your day hike armed with nothing more than a decent pair of shoes. But being prepared for a variety of situations can give you more flexibility on the trail and make your hike more comfortable and enjoyable.
  • Hiking Checklist: You can even create a day hike checklist and pack according to it. This way, you won’t worry you’re forgetting something each time you hit the trail. Consider weather, route, essentials, and extra items and you’ll be well on your way.

About the Author: Kampgrounds of America

Kampgrounds of America is the largest system of open-to-the-public campgrounds in the world, with over 500 locations across the United States and Canada. Founded in Billings, MT in 1962, KOA’s family of campground brands – KOA Journey, KOA Holiday and KOA Resort – today serve more than a million camping families each year. KOA is dedicated to “connecting people to the outdoors and each other” by providing people with a variety of camping experiences and the information they need to make the most of their camping trip. Read more of their camping and travel resources by visiting


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