Whether you’re an experience hiker or first timer, you could be going for a day hike or a multi-day hike, either way you need to ensure you’ve packed everything you need for the hike. It could be a life saver! But wait, what to pack for a hike?
Packing for a hike will differ depending on the length of the hike, the weather and where you’ll be hiking. Our aim is to share with you our knowledge and experience on what to pack for a hike no matter the distance, weather, or which country you could be hiking. We have also included a packing check list, to help you pack the right things for your next hiking adventure.
For those beginner hikers out there, we have included some tips on how to prepare for that hiking trip.
Essential hiking tips for beginners
If you’re hiking for the first time, there’s just some things that we would recommend, before you head out on that hike. As you will note, these recommendations are not only for your safety, but for the safety of others around you.
We would firstly recommend that your first hike is somewhere local and that you’re familiar with the area.
There is no point booking your hike to Mount Everest thinking it would be a great idea and a great hike. Your inexperience could put you and the others around you in danger. What happens if you find it too challenging or you don’t like it? You can’t exactly turn around and go back when you’re in the middle of nowhere.
Start on a trail that’s local and with easy terrain, that way you’ll be more familiar with your surroundings and less likely to get lost.
Choose a short-distanced hike
If you are hiking for the very first time, you’ll want to choose a short hike that isn’t too challenging.
Hiking may look easy but it isn’t! Especially if you have a challenging hike with a variety of terrains to navigate. Getting half way and realising that it is too difficult or that you’re not enjoying it, will only put you off from hiking.
A 5-10km distance will be sufficient for a beginner, but as you get more experienced, you can increase the distance.
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Being able to read a map is crucial when it comes to hiking.
Not only will reading a map help with planning your route. You’ll also establish the elevation you’ll climb, how long the route should take, but in the event, you take a wrong turn, the map will be able to guide you back to safety.
If you don’t feel confident with reading a map, or you want to gain some experience before going it alone, you could join a hiking group and go out with experienced hikers for the first couple of times.
Hiking gear for beginners
As a beginner, you should be prepared and organised for any eventuality, this includes purchasing the right gear for any type of hiking expedition. So, if you haven’t already prepared for your new hiking adventure, you should consider these items to purchase:
- Map and compass
- Hiking shoes
- Trekking poles
- Sleeping bag
- Camping stove and equipment
- Lightweight towel
- Emergency blanket
We will go into more details shortly, but these items will be a must depending on the distance and the type of hike for example, a short- or multi–day hike.
What to pack for a hike – day hike?
On a day hike, you don’t want to over pack. If you do, you’ll be carrying the weight around with you for the entire day. So, what to bring on a day hike?
Where else will you keep all the essential items you will need for a hike?
When choosing a backpack, you’ll need something that is lightweight, comfortable yet big enough to store everything you will need for the hike.
In our opinion, we would recommend Osprey. We have used Osprey for many years and really can’t fault them. If you are purchasing your first backpack, or looking for a replacement, then check out the best backpacks to purchase on a budget.
Map and compass
A map and compass could be your life saver, so you must be able to read a map.
You’ll need a good map and compass to plot the route you intend to take and follow the route. Going unprepared without a map could get you lost. Always research and plan your route before heading out on the hike.
It would also be a good idea to have a waterproof map bag to keep the map dry should it rain.
You can use a GPS (Global Positioning System) to help you plot and navigate your hiking route, but don’t rely on this too much. Why? If the batteries run out, or no signal then you could get lost or deviate from the route. Should this happen, then the map will help to get you back to safety.
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In sunny conditions even if it isn’t hot, you can still get sun burnt. Sun burn isn’t good for your skin and can lead to skin cancer. So, to protect yourself, always apply sun screen, even if it is a cloudy day.
Sun protection comes in different forms, from cream, to the spray that you rub in, to SPF lip balm. If you are light skinned, you’ll need a high SPF, always pack this and apply sun screen prior and during the hike.
The sun can be very bright, sunglasses, hat and protective clothing will help with keeping the sun from your face and from burning.
A spare set of lightweight clothing should be included, in the event the weather changes and you need to change.
Take into consideration the altitude you’ll be climbing, the higher you climb the colder it will become. Pack layers to keep you warm when you get cold and those will soon come off when you get hot. At lower altitudes, wear cool, breathable clothing. In colder climates, wear base layers, they will keep you very warm and toasty.
You should pack only clothing that will dry quickly.
We would recommend taking wet weather gear with you, so should it rain, your clothing will stay dry.
I’ll be doing a day hike, why will I need a torch?
If you have planned your trip well and left early enough, then you shouldn’t need it, but take one just in case you do get delayed or lost. As darkness approaches, use the torch to see the trail ahead of you.
Make sure there is enough charge in the battery and bring spare batteries.
First aid kit
A first aid kit is a must.
Any minor injury or illness, can easily be treatable by yourself.
You’ll want straps, bandages, plasters, medication and more. You should check out our comprehensive post on what to pack in your first aid kit to help you have everything you need in the event of a minor injury or illness.
Always make sure you have enough food to fuel your body before, during and after the hike. Ensure you have packed extra food in case of emergencies.
What sort of food should you pack?
You need plenty of food that will provide you with energy. Energy snacks such as nuts, fruit especially bananas, seeds, energy bars, etc,. Lunch could consist of a sandwich, or pasta.
You need to think healthy on a hike, taking sweets and crisps and buying fast food will only make you feel uncomfortable and slow you down.
Eating the correct food can only make you feel better and achieve your goals.
The biggest thing is keeping hydrated.
We can’t live without our water pouch. A water pouch stores water, in a pouch normally at the rear of the bag, with easy access to drink. We have a 2lt pouch which we fill with water even if we are out sightseeing in a large city.
This is ideal to keep you hydrated throughout your hike, but crucially the weight of the water is distributed across the back, so that the backpack doesn’t feel heavy.
If you are not comfortable using a camelback pouch, then reusable water bottle is a must. But you’ll need a good size bottle to keep you hydrated throughout the hike.
We would also recommend packing at least one energy drink to replace the electrolytes that you would have lost during the hike.
Good hiking shoes should be worn to keep you comfortable during the hike. Your feet should be supported and waterproof shoes will keep your feet dry in all weathers.
Bad shoes, or bad footwear, will make your feet feel uncomfortable during the hike, but won’t support you and by the end of the hike your feet will be sore and painful.
If you have recently purchased new hiking shoes, make sure you wear them in to prevent blisters.
Hand sanitiser will prevent the spread of germs and reduce illness. But you can use hand sanitiser to freshen up your hands until you can wash them properly.
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Also referred to as hiking poles. These are not a necessity, but some find that trekking poles helps reduce impact on the knees and helps with stability.
You can pick up some really good hiking poles in your local outdoor activity shop or online and can be relatively cheap. You should look out for lightweight folding poles.
You ideally want a pair, but one pole will be sufficient.
Need to know more about trekking poles and which you should purchase, then check out this review on Hiker Hunger Trekking Poles.
It says what it is on the tin. But insect repellent will help prevent insects from biting.
Ensure it is applied before and during the hike. We use Jungle Formula and swear by it. You can pick up insect repellent in grocery stores or pharmacies.
This is self-explanatory. But, in the event of an emergency, the emergency blanket will keep you warm, by trapping the heat radiated from your body. This could be your life saver.
These blankets are lightweight and compact, which gives no excuse for this not to be packed.
This isn’t a necessity, but we have included it, as you may wish to take pictures of some incredible landscape and wildlife as you hike.
It’s easy to purchase a good compact camera, which is small but has all of the best features to get very good photographs. However, if you would prefer not to take unnecessary items, then most mobile phones have a good camera feature on them, to allow you to still take really good pictures, but with the least number of items packed.
A phone is a must on a hike. If you run into any trouble, providing you have signal, you can contact the emergency services.
Most phones will have maps or a GPS system that could help you to navigate the route if you’re not relying upon the map. We also mentioned earlier, instead of taking a camera, the mobile phone can still take stunning photographs that are Instagrammable.
BUT, don’t forget mobile phones rely on battery which can run out of juice. If you can’t recharge the battery regularly, then don’t rely on the GPS or take too many photographs on your phone.
What to pack for a hike – Multi-day Hike
On a multi-day hike, it’s so important that you pack the right gear. Not only will you be lugging this stuff around with you for days, but you’ll also use these items daily. If you miss anything, you will be without it for the entire journey and that could be unpleasant, especially if you leave your tent behind. So, what to pack for a multi-day hike?
You’ll need everything for a day hike, but more for a mutli-day hike. We list the additional items below:
If you’re hiking for at least one night or more, then you’ll need shelter. If you’re camping out, then you’ll need a good and reliable tent. A tent should be lightweight so you can carry the tent with you as you hike. It’s also important to ensure the tent is water proof and easy to assemble. Look out for tents that are compact, making it easier to fit inside your backpack.
Tents to look out for are ones, that reduce condensation, are well ventilated, with guttering to prevent you from getting wet on the way into the tent.
If it gets cold at night, the best way to stay warm in your tent, is with a sleeping bag. It will also make sleeping a little more comfortable, especially if you’re sleeping on the ground.
A sleeping bag should keep you warm, while keeping you as comfortable as possible. But needs to be compact so it can pack easily.
Camping stove and equipment
A camping stove and equipment will cook your food, when you pitch up a tent with no kitchen facilities. And you will need cooked food after a long hike.
Most stoves and equipment are small and compact, making it easier to pack, but ensure you have sufficient gas to light the camping stove.
Need more help with camping? This ultimate guide to camping for beginners will provide you with everything you need to know.
Toilets unfortunately are not around every corner. And even if they were, not all toilets have toilet paper.
It would be good practice to always bring some on a hike, or just out sightseeing.
Where possible always bring eco-friendly toiletries. Eco-friendly toiletries, is exactly as it says.
We as travellers should be thinking about our environmental pollution and one way to do this, is by using eco-friendly products. Many of our household toiletries are harmful to the environment, but we should be thinking about changing our habits and switching, especially if we are out in the wilderness, admiring the beautiful landscape and creatures we have on our planet.
After a wash or shower, a towel will dry you off.
Make sure you pick a lightweight and compact towel for easy packing.
Of course, you’ll need clothes for your hike, it wouldn’t be hygienic completing the hike without a change of clothing.
Only bring a few sets of comfortable clothing, that’s practical and weather appropriate. Washing clothing is easy providing you have a good water supply nearby.
We would suggest, base layers to keep you warm in cooler climates, but are lightweight. Layers are especially necessary in cooler climates.
In the warmer conditions, lightweight and cooling t-shirts and trousers. Avoid cotton clothing and jeans. Which we will go into in a moment.
Trousers will prevent unwanted guests from attaching to your legs.
We mentioned this earlier, but just to ensure that you pack the right food that will fuel you for your entire multi-day hike. You’ll also need to take more food than what you would for a day hike.
Food that is high in energy, along with snacks, with enough to cover you for the entire journey. You’ll need to pack for three square meals and snacks.
Here are some ideas on what to have for breakfast, lunch and evening meal:
For breakfast you will need something that will keep you full and release the energy slowly to keep you going. Oats are a great source of slow releasing energy, such as porridge, cereal or granola. Include some dried fruit and nuts to bring a bit of texture and flavour to your breakfast meal.
Most cereal or porridge requires milk, but it wouldn’t be a sensible idea taking fresh milk on a hike. To replace fresh milk, use powdered milk, with water.
You’ll want something that will pack easy in your backpack but something that doesn’t require cooking. Sandwiches with fish or egg is a great solution, however bringing a loaf of bread will take up space and most definitely get squashed. There are other alternatives, such as pitta bread or small wraps. Eggs can be boiled the night before and had time to cool down before placed in the wrap or pitta.
Alternatively, pasta will work very well as a lunch if made the night before. Add a bit of tinned fish, such as tuna to include that protein you need.
Most experienced hikers won’t have a specific lunch, yet will snack on food at intervals during the day. You may wish to go down this option, if you find this of an advantage.
The evening meal, will need to consist of protein, carbohydrates and fats to replace all the energy you have used during the day.
We would recommend packing, quick cooking rice, pasta, tinned tuna, tinned salmon, dried meats, lentils and dried vegetables.
When packing your food, place them in portions for each day, in food bags, that seal easily and won’t spill inside the backpack. Plan your meals in advance, that way you know what you will be eating each day.
What you shouldn’t wear or pack for a hike
There are just some rules on things not to pack, these are:
Jewellery and makeup
Only take things that will be used on the trip, there isn’t any point bringing a massive makeup bag, as this will only increase weight, but reduce your baggage space. Makeup while hiking really isn’t important, leave it behind.
Same principle with jewellery, it really isn’t needed. The worst thing that could happen is the jewellery gets lost or stolen and why take it in the first place!
Cotton absorb water, be that from rain or perspiration. Clothing will have some element of insulation, but when wet, many lose that insulation especially cotton. What you’ll be left with, is wet and cold clothing, making you feel even colder, which could be dangerous if you are in the middle of nowhere.
Avoid cotton clothing at all times.
There’s a number of reasons why jeans should never be worn or packed for a hike.
Not only are they considerably heavier, they can become uncomfortable when wet.
Denim is made from cotton twill fabric and related to the above point. Denim takes longer to dry, is heavy when wet and with poor insulation, will only get you cold.
Hikers must consider all weather conditions when they set out on a hike and jeans are just something that isn’t packed.
There are some foods you really don’t want to bring with you. Such as perishable food such as meat that hasn’t been dried. Not only will it go off and could leak all over your belongings, but it will smell. This won’t be pleasant for you or the people you could be hiking with.
Bulky food that will take up too much room, squash, or break causing spillage inside the backpack. As mentioned above, place any food content from a bulky box or plastic container and place in portioned sized food bags, if you are set on taking these foods on the hike. But, make sure they are nutritionally healthy for you for the hike, if not, don’t pack it.
Take your rubbish home with you
The saddest thing to see is rubbish just left everywhere. Not only is it bad for the environment, but for the wildlife around you and it certainly isn’t pleasant to see.
It doesn’t take much to clear your rubbish up after use. Along the route, if there is a rubbish bin, put the rubbish in it.
Many of these points, may seem like common sense. However, many inexperienced hikers, will either miss things off their packing list, not even realise they should have packed it, or pack and wear inappropriate clothing.
This is why we have compiled this comprehensive list on what to pack for a hike, that way, you won’t make the same mistake many other inexperienced hikers might make.
To help you pack everything you need for your next hike, we have included a free download packing checklist.
Have you been on a hike before? What did you pack? Is there something we have missed from this list? Let us know, with a comment below.
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