What to Take on Your First Dayhike

Your first packing list

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, or...

Make sure that doesn't happen to you 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 be sure what you'll need during the hike. Here are a few things you should always take along, no matter how long or short, popular or deserted, the trail may be:

  • Sturdy boots or shoes that fit you well. Watch out for hot spots that may cause blisters, and always break your footwear in with several short hikes before tackling a long hike.
  • A backpack (or daypack) to carry 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.
  • Appropriate clothing for current (and anticipated) conditions. Check the weather forecast before you go, and keep in mind how quickly conditions can change in your area.
  • Water. Even if you're not going far, you'll almost never regret having a bottle of water along.
  • Food. 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.
  • Guidance. A trustworthy local guidebook is a good place to start. If there's even a minimal chance of getting lost, you should bring a map and compass, too (and know how to use them).
  • 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.​​

The longer and more remote your hikes get, the more you'll need to carry to be properly prepared.

The classic "Ten Essentials," first published in Mountaineering: Freedom of the Hills, has long been considered the bible of what to carry on any hike or expedition:

  1. Map
  2. Compass
  3. Sunglasses and sunscreen
  4. Extra clothing
  5. Headlamp/flashlight
  6. First-aid supplies
  7. Firestarter
  8. Matches
  9. Knife
  10. Extra food

The updated Ten Essentials list takes a system approach to the same question. In other words each entry identifies something you should be ready to account for during a hike (illumination, nutrition, etc.), then recommends items that can fulfill that goal:

  1. Navigation (map & compass)
  2. Sun protection (sunglasses & sunscreen)
  3. Insulation (extra clothing)
  4. Illumination (headlamp/flashlight)
  5. First aid supplies
  6. Fire (waterproof matches/lighter/candle)
  7. Repair kit and tools
  8. Nutrition (extra food)
  9. Hydration (extra water)
  10. Emergency shelter (tent/plastic tube tent/garbage bag)

Start with either of these lists, then consider each item and eliminate anything that doesn't make sense. For example: If you're traveling entirely on foot, without a camp stove or other complex equipment, you probably don't need a full repair kit and tools. A knife and a little duct tape can repair almost anything, from a rip in your daypack to frayed shoelaces or a tear in your waterproof jacket.

Read more about the ten essentials for hikers


  • Always pack the night before a big hike, or at least make a packing list the night before. This gives you extra chances, the next day, to remember anything you forgot to put in your backpack.
  • You can add items to the Ten Essentials list, especially if you're traveling with kids or a dog. Bringing along a favorite toy or pacifier or a delicious snack may help soothe cranky or tired children. You'll need extra food and water for both kids and dogs, and dogs will need a dish to eat or drink out of, too.

"Ten Essentials" lists reprinted courtesy of "The New Ten Essentials -- A Systems Approach" adapted from Mountaineering: Freedom of the Hills, 8th Edition by The Mountaineers, The Mountaineers Books.