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15 Basic Day-Hiking Essentials You Need To Own

When it comes to enjoying the great outdoors, not much else gets you quite as up close and personal as hiking. For some, it’s a way of life. An adrenaline rush. A 7-14 day summit trek get their juices flowing. For others (like us), it’s a more casual thing – easy to moderate level, with the occasional difficult hike. But almost always with “a payoff,” like a stunning view, or amazing wildlife. Either way, hiking is a great way to get some exercise, and enjoy some time with friends, family, or even yourself.

Heading out on a hiking adventure of any level is exhilerating, no doubt. But making sure you have the proper essentials can make or break the experience. From traversing rugged terrains to embracing a breathtaking landscape, having the necessary gear is key. So let’s have a look look at 15 Basic Day Hiking Essentials that can turn an ordinary hike into a more comfortable, safe, and extraordinary experience.

A photo of a woman's foot on a large rock as she ties her grey and tan North Face hiking shoe.
©2023 Stephen & Andie

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1. Reusable Water Bottle With Filter

This is our number one hiking essential – hydration. In fact, it’s our number one item for any trip, really, since we don’t leave home with out it. No matter what time of year or climate you’re hiking in, it’s a must to replenish. We love this Brita because it’s 30 ounces and has a filter right in the straw, so you can fill it just about anywhere and have the peace of mind that you’ve got built-in filtration.  

2. Hydration Bladder

A Gregory 3D Hydro 2L Reservoir hydration bladder for hiking.

Maybe you’re more of a hydration bladder hiker than a clumsy “old” water bottle hiker.  The benefit to this method of staying hydrated while hiking is quantity of water. Most average water bottles might hold up to around 1 liter (33 ounces), where as some bladders may hold up to 3 liters. Of course, the more water, the more weight you have to carry.  And who’s going to try to pack 3 water bottles in their backpack? The beauty of bladders is that while yes, you might be carrying more weight, they’re designed to rest comfortably against your lower back. And, they’re designed with a cool tube that feeds through the strap of your backpack and sits permanently next to your mouth, so you can drink whenever you want. No more stopping to rummage for your bottle! This Gregory #D Hydro 2L Reservoir is quite popular, and a good buy.

3. Waterproof Hiking Shoes 

A reliable pair of waterproof shoes with traction is our #2 hiking essential. We never thought we were avid enough hikers to merit buying shoes just for hiking. But our last minute, day-before-Alaska-trip decision to invest turned out to be one of the best decisions we’ve made. These in particular are made by The North Face, so – reliable. If you prefer something that sits above the ankle and comfort is a concern, “ankle-height” doesn’t have to mean a clunky, stiff boot. There are plenty of hiking shoes out there that are more like shoes or even sneakers. Andie loves these for those very reasons. I (Stephen) have a similar pair by Columbia, but am currently investigating the world of barefoot hiking shoes. Be sure to check back on this post as I’l be adding that recco once I find the right one!

4. Hooded Poncho

A hooded rain poncho might not be something you’d consider for a day-hike, but something like this can be really handy if the weather takes an unexpected turn. We like the idea of a poncho better than a rain jacket because it covers more of the body, and it’s easier to throw over a backpack. Do yourself a favor and pick one up. They’re super packable, so it’ll be easy to grab when you need it.

5. Wide-Brimmed (or any) Hat

You should have a hat for sun protection. Skin cancer is real and continues to become more and more of a threat due to climate change. A hat with a wide-brim would give the best coverage, but even a baseball cap would help shield your face and scalp. We usually wear caps, simply because we already own a few. And since we don’t wear hats often anyway, we didn’t feel like shopping for more – yet, at least. 

6. Sunglasses

I know. It seems painfully obvious, especially to us former southern Californians who go nowhere without their trusty sunglasses. But not everyone wears them on the regular. So, for the “team no-shades” folks reading this, you really should have some sunglasses. Polarized lenses would be ideal, as even in the rain, the glare can be tough on the eyes. 

7. Compass 

Suunto A-10 hiking compass

If you’re looking for an afordable yet reliable compass, the Suunto A-10 ticks both of those boxes. It’s perfect for those who want a simple, easy-to-use, and lightweight tool for navigating the outdoors. This one requires no batteries and can be attached to your gear or simply carried in a pocket.

8. Backpack

The North Face Unisex Borealis Backpack

You need a backpack. The real question is “what size?” Well, that’s up to you and your needs and preferences. This Unisex Borealis Backpack by The North Face is just about right for most average hiking adventures. It’s not too much backpack, not too little, and it’s made by The North Face, so you know the quality, features, and attention to detail will be on-point.

9. Bear Spray

a Can of GrizGuard bear spray with holster.

This is something you’re going to eventually need to have, so just grab it now and be done with it. We get it, we didn’t break down and buy some for ourselves until we were visiting Yellowstone National Park. But now that we have it, we can’t imagine not having it. Ironically, spotting a bear in the wild is at the top of our wildlife list, and we’d really hate to have to bust this stuff out and use it. But we know we need to be prepared in case that “cute” bear isn’t as happy to see us as we are them.

10. Trekking Poles

bearded man walking with hiking poles

This seems to be a love ’em or hate ’em hiking item, but they sure do come in handy sometimes – especially downhill, we’ve noticed. These Trail Buddy trekking poles are afforable, collapsable, adjustable, and lightweight. They come in a bunch of different colors, and have several different interchangeable tips for different situations, like mud, snow, etc. They might not be for everyone, but they’re worth considering if you’re new to hiking.

11. Headlamp

You might not be planning to hike in the dark, but what if you’re enjoying yourself so much that the sun sets on you. It can’t hurt to have a headlamp in your bag. We like a headlamp better than a flashlight. They’re super dorky, but awesome – especially because they leave your hands free. These are a very inexpensive and convenient way to see where you’re going. And honestly, we’ve found ourselves using these in so many different #vanlife situations besides hiking, the small investment was well worth it.

12. Mineral Sunscreen

This one’s pretty self-explanatory, and it’s always essential to have protection from the harsh rays of the sun. We highly recommend a sustainable, reef-friendly, organic, mineral sunscreen. While you might not be coming up on any reefs on your hike, you might find yourself taking a dip in a river or stream. And who knows – if you’re hiking somewhere like the Ecuadorian Amazon, you might be headed to the Galapagos Islands next, where you will need to respect the reefs. A leave-no-trace mindset is a must, especially in such unique and protected ecosystems. But it’s just a better product for you in general, so why not use it across the board?

13. Bug Spray

We always opt for natural and eco-friendly products as much as possible, and when it comes to bug spray, definitely DEET-free! This stuff smells pretty good, as far as bug spray goes, and you won’t feel like you’re spraying hash chemicals on your skin.

14. Walkie Talkies!

Speaking of dorky… but super-fun, if nothing else! But there is a practical reason – lack of cell service. It’s not unusual to find yourself with zero connectivity out on a hike. So if you’re traveling with at least one partner you can always be connected if you unexpectedly get separated. We might even encourage you to intentionally separate, just for fun! Just be sure to use proper walkie talkie etiquite. You have to say “over” and make that “pcccht” static sound when you finish talking. Jack Black anyone? These have a range of a couple of miles, minimum, which is pretty awesome considering how affordable they are.

15. Survival Kit

an SOL Scout survival kit.

Yeah, a survival kit might be a bit over the top and not something everyone packs along on the average day-hike. But why not? This SOL Scout Kit is stocked with the essentials you’d need to stay safe, stay warm, and get found in a survival situation. It’s just over 5 ounces, and comes in an ultralight waterproof drybag. It’s really cool how much this little kit covers! “Better safe than sorry,” right?

In Conclusion

And that’s our list of 15 Basic Day-Hiking Essentials. We hope it’s been helpful and gave you some ideas of items to make your hiking adventures safe and comfortable – so you can focus more on enjoying nature’s beauty. Let us know in the comments if there’s anything we missed, as we’ll surely be updating this post in the future. Happy trails!


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