What to Pack for a Short Hike

A List of Essentials

A map and compass are vital emergency supplies, but make sure you know how to use them -- before you hit the trail. Photo © Lisa Maloney

There's nothing quite like getting a mile or two into the wilderness, then realizing you left your water bottle behind—or your cell phone, or your jacket.

Avoid a calamity by making a packing list. This is a great practice to follow before every hike, but it's especially important on your first few trips, when you might not exactly be sure what you'll need during the hike. There are a few things you should always take along, no matter how long or short, popular or deserted, the trail may be.

1. Sturdy Boots or Shoes: If you're walking a long distance, you'll want shoes or boots that fit you well. Hiking boots with tough soles are best for rugged terrain, while ordinary running shoes are good for simpler trails. Watch out for hot spots that may cause blisters, and always break your footwear in with several short hikes before tackling a long one.

2. Backpack: You'll want a safe space to keep your supplies. A backpack with a hip belt is ideal; it allows the strong bones of your pelvis to support the pack's weight, easing the load on your shoulders. For extra comfort, look for a backpack with padded, ergonomic straps.

3. Appropriate Clothing: Always wear clothing that is appropriate for current (and anticipated) weather conditions. Lightweight, breathable fabrics like cotton and linen are perfect for warm weather. Synthetics designed for athletic activity are best for wicking moisture and staying dry. Check the weather forecast before you go, and keep in mind how quickly conditions can change in your area.

4. Water or Sports Drink: Even if you're not going far, you'll never regret having a bottle of water along. Staying hydrated is essential even on the shortest hikes. To keep up your electrolyte levels, bring along a sports drink or a package of electrolyte powder to mix with your water. Your body will thank you when you come to the end of the trail.

5. Food: Munching on some calorie-dense food is a great way to revive flagging energy and boost your mood. Try candy bars, energy bars, or a handful of healthy trail mix—all of which are easy to store in your backpack.

6. Guidebook: A trustworthy local guidebook is always good to have on hand. If there's even a tiny chance of getting lost, you should bring a map and compass along (and know how to use them). The longer and more remote your hike, the more essential these tools are. You never want to get stranded in an unfamiliar area.

7. Sunglasses and Sunscreen: Another thing you don't want to do on a hike is come home with a sunburn. Pack some sunscreen (of an appropriate SPF), even if it's cloudy out—you never know when conditions might change.

8. Emergency Supplies: An emergency whistle is small, light, and effective any time you're within earshot of others. Hopefully you'll never need it, but if the unexpected does happen, you'll be glad you brought the whistle along. Basic first aid supplies are appropriate, too, and will come in handy if you ever need to bandage a scrape or cut.