What to Bring on a Day Hike

Inspired by my friend Nadya’s recent post on what to pack when going to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, I thought I would share how to take the extra “packing” stress out of the most popular outdoor adventure – a day hike! The goal of preparation is to make outdoor activities safe, pleasurable, enjoyable and to turn them into a habit! It may seem like a lot of prep, gear, and research but I absolutely love doing it for you 🙂

(If you wonder how to travel light on a ski / snowboard trip, check out this post. If you struggle with fitting all your gear in a small bag, learn more here.

WHAT IS A DAY HIKE?

Known to over exert myself and my companions who are not VERY used to spending a lot of time in the outdoors, I thought I should start with some advice on how to choose an appropriate day hike. Pick something that is <8 miles, 4-6 hrs round trip and ~1000ft elevation at most in the beginning. I suggest choosing hikes that you can start mid-morning and still return to car by mid-afternoon. Also use the 1000ft total elevation as a rule of thumb to not pick an overly strenuous hike that will exhaust you climbing and test your limits (and joints) descending.

As you progress, I would consider anything 6-8 hrs or <10 miles round trip as a day hike. The more elevation the better for me 🙂 #freebuttworkout But I’m also relatively fast hiker, I live at high elevation in Colorado, have no issues with altitude under 12,000ft and I leave VERY early in the morning if aiming for a longer distance (8+ miles) in order to be back before dark. I’ve overstayed my welcome in the mountains a few times and trust me, coming back in pitch black (even with a head lamp) is no fun for you, me, or a guide for that matter! #doasIsaynotasIdo

My preferred source of hiking information and comments is AllTrails.com You can also see the current conditions of the trail as experienced by recent hikers, which has saved my sorry ass a couple of times when trails were blocked, flooded, socked in, etc.

SHOES

You’ll need hiking shoes. NO IFs, NO BUTs, regular gym sneakers just WON’T cut it! (No ankle support and no sole traction.) I need the ankle support for descending but I also prefer lightweight shoes so my choice for ALL seasons is Adidas Terrex Swift R Women’s Hiking Boot. Another shoe with plenty of traction I absolutely LOVE is Salomon Speedcross 4 Women’s Trail Running – super fun colors! It doesn’t provide ANY ankle support however and is for summer only, so choose accordingly. For winter hiking, I either split board and use my snowboarding boots with micro spikes where needed or hike with well insulated and water resistant Sorel if just going “around the park”.

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Sorel boots keep my toes warm 🙂

BACKPACK

For a day hike I could go with anything from 15L to 30L pack, depending on what you have available or what you are willing to purchase and how much you are interested to spend. I personally use an 18L CamelBak for a day hike and a 36L Osprey for an overnight or weekend adventure. 18L fits all my gear, water, food, first aid kit, and tools. 36L also fits a change of clothes, a couple of thicker / waterproof layers, and a sleeping bag and a pad hooked to the outside.

Some people choose to own many different backpacks for various activities and needs. Being a minimalist and having to live out of my car way too often, I prefer to have one backpack that fits all my “one day trip” activities. It may be slightly larger than needed for a short hike in the state park but it will at least fit all your belongings and still have space for picnic ingredients 🙂 CamelBak 3L Hydration Pack comes with all the outside loops, hooks, and tool attachments you could ask for. It also features impact protector back panel (for all the mountain biking, snowboarding, and backcountry you will eventually get yourself in :-)) and a 3L hydration pack. (More on water later, but I drink A LOT so I need all 3L and then some)

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How to look like a Xmas tree? Let everything hang OFF your backpack 🙂

If you need the pack to be larger (overnight hike) or smaller/cheaper (less techy-er), here are two other options I would recommend:

FOOD

Here it can get tricky as it really depends on how much and what you like to eat. I suggest you prep a big breakfast at home even if you end up finishing it at the trailhead or in the car on the way. During the day I choose NOT to bring sandwiches but opt for lighter, tastier, calorie dense, and protein rich snacks instead. Beef/bacon jerky from Trader Joes, dried fruits and unsalted nuts, pretzels, healthy crisps, protein bars, energy chews keep me running and satisfied. Post-hike, I indulge in a drink and an yummy protein dinner. Honestly, I come down from the mountain SO hungry I can skin my own cow. (Maybe that approach doesn’t work for you…:-)

WATER

As I mentioned above, I drink A LOT of H2O! For < 6 hrs hike I bring 3L hydration bladder. If the hike is over 6 hrs or if in the desert or in very hot weather, I add an insulated bottle with another liter of water in my backpack. And an IZZE soda in case I get dehydrated and my blood sugar drops.

FIRST AID KIT

Know yourself and what medication you need. Prep accordingly. You can buy a simple first aid kit from any outdoor store or you can assemble your own. NB! Know who you are hiking with, what medical condition they may have, what medications they need, and how to administer them. Learning how to use an epipen while someone is going into anaphylactic shock due to an allergic reaction is NO FUN!

LAYERS

You carry a pack for a reason – store your layers in it and be comfortable and cozy at all times, no matter the weather, the temperature, or the elevation! I hike mostly with long leggings and bring shorts in case it gets too too warm. On top I layer a tank top, long sleeve technical moisture wicking layer, and then a jacket. Depending on the season and the chosen destination, I may have insulated pants, a woolen layer, a rain jacket, and a puffy coat. In terms of swimsuit, my sports bra and cheeky undies will have to suffice if we encounter hot springs or a swimming hole. #wearmatchingunderwear

SOCKS

Since #Ihaveasockproblem I will write about them under a separate heading 🙂 In winter I opt for Smartwool socks or Burton snowboarding socks. In summer I go for something thin and not blistering. Since my feel blister no matter what shoes or socks I wear and how I try to prevent it, I bring a second pair of socks and apply anti-blister medication before I put on the socks.

Last but NOT least, enjoy time in Mother Nature, stop to smell the flowers and listen to waterfalls and streams, appreciate the leaves changing colors or the greens of the summer pastures…and have AS MUCH FUN as possible!

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Be warm! Don’t care what you look like or how much is hanging off your backpack 🙂

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