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  • Writer's pictureMarina Neal

Seven Steps to Have a Great Day Hike

Updated: Aug 17, 2021

A well-stocked pack can make or break an adventure. We've got you covered with the most commonly asked questions and their answers so you can always be prepared to send it!

Women hikes
Photo courtesy of Alexa Romano

How many miles can you hike in a day?

Anything can count as a day hike as long as you're getting outside! Walk through a public park! Go 30 miles in a day! Find an alpine lake! There are endless options for day hikes. The important thing is to be safe and prepared to have a great time.

What size backpack do you need for a day hike?

Before you start packing the perfect daypack, you need to pick the size that will suit your needs. For lighter days, where speed and hydration are the priorities, I’ll go with a hydration vest pack. Usually these go high up one your back and really only have room for water and a light snack. Often used by trail runners, this pack isn’t ideal for a longer day hike.

Women hikes on ridgeline
Photo courtesy of Nahla Gedeon Achi

For a longer day hike, or if I need to pack layers because of weather, I prefer a pack that carries somewhere between 15L and 30L. Obviously, the larger the pack, the more space you will have but also it can get heavy quite quickly.

How you pack your gear really depends on the kind of hiking you are doing. What is the climate like? Is it expected to rain? How cold is it? What’s the terrain like? These are some of the questions you’ll need to ask in order to pack correctly.

Now that you have your pack picked out, it’s time to get it ready for adventures. Here are the essentials you need.

What should you bring on a day hike?

Women studies map in Yosemite National Park
Photo courtesy of Alexa Romano

1. A rain jacket. This may feel not essential, depending on where you are hiking. But being caught in a sudden storm or rainfall can prove to be dangerous, and unexpected storms can happen pretty much anywhere. A lighter alternative is a cheap plastic poncho, it’s not as reusable but it will get the job done.

2. Sun hat and sunscreen. Keep that face from burning! Sun safety speaks for itself.

3. Map or navigation system. Learning to read a topographical map is a pretty awesome skill. There’s a lot of youtube videos on how to do it: check some out here and here. You can get a topo map from most local gear stores or a ranger station for the specific area you want to hike. On day hikes, I personally use Gaia GPS on my smartphone. It has a topo map and navigation built into it and shows you the trail you are on!

4. Food and snacks. High protein/high carb. Granola bars or trail mix are a great option, I usually keep snickers in my bag as an emergency snack. Dried fruit and nuts also do really well to give you the energy to send this hike! For a fancier outdoor lunch, you can check out these great backcountry recipes.

Women purifies water in alpine stream
Photo courtesy of Nahla Gedeon Achi

5. At least 2L of water, and a water purifier. It is so important to have enough water with you, and a way to get more if needed. By the time you are thirsty, you are already dehydrated. Drinking water throughout the day, even if you aren’t necessarily thirsty, is super important.

6. First aid kit. Don’t forget this essential! Keep it stocked with bandaids, ace bandage, ibuprofen, Benadryl, alcohol wipes, burn cream, and first aid cream…at the least. My first aid kit is from Adventure Medical, and it has everything I could possibly need.

7. Extra layers. In an emergency, or even just a suddenly cold day, extra layers can be a game-changer. I usually throw in a fleece and an extra pair of socks. You can definitely bring more clothes if you’d like options on a longer hike, but an extra warm layer and extra pair of socks are the minimum essentials.

Noodles in the desert
Photo courtesy of Nahla Gedeon Achi

Other options for a day hike are a camera, guidebook, or really whatever you feel you need. Now, to pack it.

How should you organize your daypack?

Packing a daypack is fairly simple and follows the same basic guidelines as packing a backpacking pack. First, if you don’t have a waterproof pack, line the inside of your pack with a trash bag or waterproof liner for extra protection. This can be a lifesaver if it starts to rain, or if you fall into a body of water.

Pack the things you likely won’t need at the bottom of the pack, as well as the lightest. Extra layers are generally what I pack down first, followed by things I may need but not super quickly. This is my first aid kit, food and snacks, map, and water purifier. At the very top, I put the things I’ll need quickly, such as my rain jacket and water. Side pockets and exterior pockets are also great places for water, phone, wallet, keys and anything else that’s small.

Hiking in a slot canyon
Photo courtesy of Alexa Romano

If you need any gear listed in the essentials, but don’t want to buy new, remember that used gear sites, such as Switchbackr, exist. We are here to support your perfect daypack needs. Once you have your bag ready, and your shoes strapped on, go forth! Have an adventure!

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