There are two types of people when it comes to packing for any kind of trip. The most common type, I think, are those who pack too much. An extra pair of pants, extra socks, extra food, extra shoes. I definitely include myself in that – for anything more than one night I tend to bring something home un-used. The other type of person includes those who pack next to nothing; stuffing one or two things in the smallest bag they own and ending up having to purchase things while away. When it comes to day hikes, especially those where you are going into the supposed wilderness, too much or too little are both problematic. Too little and you are under prepared, which can lead to expedition failure. Too much and you are carrying extra unnecessary weight that can drain your energy levels and make you miserable.
So here are my top tips for what to put in your day hike pack. I’m basing these tips on my experience of walking alone all day – experience based tips rather than anything legally binding!
Your pack itself as as important as the gear you put into it. You need something that is comfortable and light, and easy to use. Oh and if it’s waterproof that’s also rather handy here in the UK. I use my Osprey Tempest 20, a 20 litre pack that is more than big enough for a full day out on my own. Having a number of pockets that you can get to without taking the pack off is handy, but most important is that the fit is good whatever you decide to wear, and it is comfortable when full. Don’t go too big, but you need enough space for everything so you don’t end up carrying anything in your hands. You might find 15 litres is plenty for you, or if your waterproof layers are bulky you may prefer 25 or even 30 litres.
What to Wear
Comfort is definitely key. Up top go for a non-cotton base layer that will wick any moisture away from your skin, with a thin but warm fleece layer over that. In cold conditions make sure that your base layer has good thermal properties but is still wicking. And ladies, wear a sports bra, you’ll be much better supported. On the legs your most comfortable pair of trousers is the best way to go; whatever you like to get out and about in. Never ever wear denim on a day hike.
For your feet choose shoes appropriate to the trail you are walking; hiking boots give the best protection, but you could choose walking shoes or trainers with great grip if you prefer. Wear decent socks too, they are your first defence against blisters and fatigue.
I also always carry a waterproof jacket, and if I’m going to be up high at all I’ll bung waterproof trousers in my bag too. When buying a jacket, check that the hood stays in place and go for one with vents in the armpits to help you stay dry on the inside! I’ve done long day hikes without waterproof trousers and have been thoroughly miserable when my bottom half is soaked through – it makes it pretty hard to move comfortably. They might look a bit silly and rustle like anything when you walk in them, but it’s so worth it! I only put mine on if it starts raining and I’m more than a mile away from home; my top tip here is to check they go on while you are still wearing your boots!
And in the words of Baz Luhrmann… wear sunscreen. Whatever the weather! And pack a small tube of the stuff in your bag so you can reapply during your walk as needed. Sunglasses, a buff and a hat are also good hiking buddies, and if it’s cold or likely to be make sure that’s a warm hat and add gloves for good measure.
If you are going on a day hike I would hope you have at least worked out your general route in advance, even if you haven’t decided which of two or three possible paths to take. Safety is very important and planning your route and working out how long you think it will take will help – give someone who isn’t coming the general details just in case.
Take a map that covers your route… and know how to use it!! I definitely recommend using the Ordnance Survey Explorer maps for hiking, as they will include all the footpaths, bridleways and other rights of way, and you’ll always (I hope) know where you are and where you are heading. A compass is always wise along with that map – know how to set the map using the compass and if you are walking across moorland or similar terrain then know how to use bearings. There has been lots of talk recently (including on this photo I posted on instagram) about how map reading skills are on the decline; electronic devices are fantastic these days (I recommend the OutDoors GB app for iOS), but please don’t rely on them solely – some of our best countryside has some of the worst phone signal and using GPS will eat your battery.
Food and Drink
One of the best things about going on an all-day hike is finding a nice spot to sit, relax, and enjoy lunch. I admit I’m still a bit old school and really enjoy a nice jam or peanut butter sandwich (or maybe one of each, but never in the same sandwich!) for my ‘long stop’. On a nice sunny day I might fill my SIGG lunch box with some salad with all kinds of vegetables, seeds, nuts and fruit to make me feel virtuous, but generally I stick to what will be easy to eat a) if it’s raining and b) if I decide to eat while still walking.
Snacking is also important, and I’ve learnt in recent months that eating little and often is the best way to go. At the very least I’ll have a banana, an apple, an oat bar, and a packet of sweets with me. Then of course there are plenty of other lovely things to eat while hiking: GORP (good old raisins and peanuts), seeds, dried mango (my favourite!), snickers, fudge fingers, polos, chewing gum (please take your litter home), and of course a packet of jelly babies for emergencies. I don’t go in for gels or the like, it’s not really necessary for day hiking as it’s very easy to take on actual food while on the go, but for very long hikes I do take some glucose tablets just in case.
I always carry water and find that one or two SIGG bottles do the trick depending on the time I’m expecting to be out. I try not to use disposable plastic bottles but sometimes there is no choice, and I am partial to drinking a bottle of still Lucozade on long hikes. I have recently got a two litre bladder that fits neatly into my pack as I’m pretty poor at drinking enough when out all day and I know people who swear by them as they hold the water in a really good place on your back, but I’m yet to use it; if anyone has any tips let me know!
I always carry my mobile phone (although don’t expect it to have a decent signal for much of the time when in rural countryside), which also doubles as my GPS device as well as my camera for most hikes these days. As iPhone batteries are notoriously poor, especially when tracking your whereabouts using something like the OutDoors GB app and using the built in camera with location services switched on, I also carry a portable charger with me – I’ve recently bought the TeckNet PowerZen portable battery charger on recommendation from Terry Abraham and so far it’s proved an excellent purchase (full review coming once I’ve given it some more testing). I don’t tend to carry a separate camera when hiking any more; a DSLR is too cumbersome if hiking for more than an hour or so, but you may choose to take a point and shoot camera and maybe a little gorilla pod (or dare I say selfie stick?!) so you can get photographs with you actually in them.
Just in Case & Spares
I will pack a spare pair of socks for every ten miles I am planning to walk. I don’t always use them, but I can if I choose to. They are vital if you are walking in the rain and/or muddy conditions, or when it’s very hot (blisters are most common when your feet are wet – from water or sweat!), and even on a bog standard hiking day changing into clean socks can help make you feel fresher and reset the energy levels.
I would also say that if the weather is wet and windy then a dry pair of gloves and a second buff may also be a good idea. They only take up as much space as spare socks (or less) but will certainly help those fingers and your face should the ones you’re wearing get soaked through. There is nothing worse than cold and wet feet and hands – go prepared.
Depending on the weather forecast and trail type I will pack an extra layer (and make sure there is space in my pack for the layers I am already wearing). On cold days that extra layer will be a down jacket, or it might just be a fleece mid layer. I also try and make sure there is enough space left to pack away my waterproof layers too, as I’d rather not be wearing those if possible, and certainly don’t want to be carrying them.
Take some toilet paper and/or tissues (and a small seal-able bag for disposal). It’s so important to drink plenty of water when hiking, for all kinds of important reasons I don’t need to go into here. You should of course make use of public loos when they are available, but if you be caught short on a rural trail you’ll need to have supplies with you.
Carry a small first aid kit including plasters, antiseptic cream/wipes, bite cream, pain relief, a stretchy bandage and safety pin, some tape, and some tweezers. This little lot should help you with the most common hiking related issues. Anything more serious and you will have to use your imagination and get some help.
Finally, I always carry a whistle attached to the outside of my pack so I can get to it easily if I need to attract attention. I have never had to use it but it’s one of those things I remember from fun times on Dartmoor as a kid that has become habit. Other things I might carry depending on the circumstances include a survival blanket, a head torch, and a Swiss Army knife.
I hope this list will give you some guidance for your next day out enjoying the countryside. Ultimately, you should pack whatever you feel you need for your day hike. If having a spare pare of knickers, some sliders, a flask of tea, a bivvy bag, and a fistful of black bin liners will make your experience a much better one, then please feel free.
Do you have anything to add? Are any of my suggestions out of date? Please feel free comment with your thoughts, as well as links to your great hiking stories.