Weather you become a recreational weekend hiker or a backpacking summit enthusiast, your hiking checklist will depend on the type of hike you choose, its level of difficulty and length, the climate, and the geographical characteristics of the region.
If you are a beginner, you should start with an easy to moderate hike, like a 3-mile loop with no major elevation changes. For a hike like this, all you will need is a comfortable pair of shoes, a hat, some sunscreen, and a bottle of water. As your hikes become more challenging–more miles and rougher terrain–you may want to invest in a good pair of hiking boots, a backpack, and a bladder, and you will need to pack some healthy protein rich snacks. Once you start building up a taste for the outdoors and are ready to answer the call of the wild, you will have to gear up with some more specific equipment and–ideally–get a hiking partner and plan your first backpacking trip!
The following is a list of items that any well-prepared hiker should include in his/her hiking checklist:
What you need:
A good pair of hiking shoes that fits you well is crucial. Uncomfortable, tight, or inappropriate footwear can hurt your feet and will most likely ruin your experience, especially on long hikes and backpacking trips. Your shoes should not feel tight anywhere and should allow your toes to wiggle a little bit. There are many great brands that specialize in this type of footwear; some of the most popular ones are Keen, Merrell, and Salomon. Visit an REI or a sporting goods store and get advice from the specialists. If you need to cut on cost, it is probably better to shop for a lightly used pair of good hiking boots than to buy a cheaply made brand new pair. If you do get a brand new pair of hiking boots, make sure you break them in before going on a big hike. New hiking boots can take a few miles to break in and can give you blisters or soreness.
♦ Comfortable, quick-drying, light weight, light colors, breathable clothes
Polyester shirts and nylon-spandex convertible hiking pants are excellent choices for day hikes or backpacking trips through the summer and winter seasons. Wool or synthetic socks are also very important, they will wick moisture and keep your feet dry. Stay away from cotton because it takes too long to dry. For cold weather and overnight stays, packing a thermal shirt and underpants is recommended. Last but not least, to prevent chafing or rubbing, wear comfortable quick-drying underwear. Avoid tight elastics and rough seams, and, if any, make sure you cut off any manufacturer tags.
It is recommended to always wear a good water resistant sunscreen, especially if you sweat a lot. Try to apply sunscreen before you get dressed, this way you will be less likely to forget to put it on, you will cover all of the exposed areas, and you won’t get it all over your clothes. Additionally, you should reinforce your sun protection with a wide brim light hat and protect your eyes from the sun and stray branches by carrying a pair of light plastic sunglasses.
♦ Plenty of water (depending on temperature and the length and level of difficulty of your hike)
Make sure you take enough water with you for your specific hike, especially if you are hiking in the summer time or through the desert. For short hikes, 2-3 miles, you can use a water bottle or canteen. For longer hikes, the most comfortable and practical way to carry water is in a bladder-backpack, which can hold up to 3 liters of water. When backpacking, besides your bladder and canteen or nalgene, you will need to bring a water filtration system to filter water from any native water source you might encounter on the way. Some areas you will visit might not have this option, therefore, it is very important that, while planning your hike, you get informed and learn about any creek, river, or lake nearby the trail. You will be using filtered water for drinking and cooking, and if you are lucky, even for some personal hygiene. Get some while you have the chance!
When hiking or backpacking everything you decide to bring with you will be on your back, so having a high quality comfortable backpack is very important. For a day hike, your backpack weight won’t exceed more than a few pounds, but when backpacking, your pack can easily reach the 50 pounds mark (you will be carrying enough food and water to last you for a few days, a tent and a sleeping bag, and all the necessary gear to survive in the wilderness). Make sure your backpack has enough pockets to allow you to organize your gear and that it is the right size for your body type.
Pack enough food for the length of your hike. You will need to bring one breakfast, one lunch and one dinner for each day of your hike. For example, oatmeal for breakfast, a peanut butter sandwich for lunch, and one freeze dried food bag dinner, such as vegetarian chili or pasta primavera. Power bars and other snacks are a great source of energy in between meals. For more examples, check the ‘Best Hiking and Backpacking foods’ list below.
A long-sleeve synthetic shirt and a fleece will give you two extra layers over your short sleeve synthetic shirt and will allow you to add or shed a layer, without adding much weight to your pack. An extra change of clothes—an additional t-shirt, underwear, and a pair of socks—are also important to keep you dry and comfortable. Thermals and a rain jacket or a poncho can also come in handy for extreme weather changes.
♦ A headlamp or flashlight
When the sun goes down and you are still on the go or setting up camp, a headlamp/flashlight could become the most important item in your bag. Headlamps are convenient because they light up what you are looking at and allow you to use both of your hands. Make sure you always pack an extra set of batteries.
♦ A compass and a map of the area where you will be hiking
For a short day hike, make sure you look at the map at the trail head (you may want to take a picture of it so you can take it with you on your hike). If you are going off trail or on an extended hike, is crucial that you bring a laminated topographical map of the area and a compass. It is not difficult to lose your bearing and start heading in the wrong direction. You should always be aware of your location on the map, so stop and check it frequently.
A multi-tool can be useful in multiple occasions. You may not use it on every hike, but is always better to have it and not need it, than to need it and not have it. For example, you can use the knife when cooking or preparing a peanut butter sandwich, tweezers to remove splinters or cactus needles—they can be a real pain—and pliers to improvise repairs. Make sure you keep your knife blade sharp; dull knives can be more dangerous than sharpen knives.
A pair of trekking poles can come in handy and won’t take much room or weight in your pack. Trekking poles offer stability and support in any terrain, especially in steep uphill and downhill trails.
♦ Emergency kit
A good emergency kit is essential for a well prepared adventurous hiker. These are some of the items you may want to include in your emergency kit: bug repellent, Vaseline, ibuprofen or aspirins, cleansing and disinfecting wipes, rolled gauze, and band aids. If you are going on an extended hike and want to be extra prepared, check Brian’s exhaustive Emergency Kit at the bottom of the page.
Weather you are hiking with your dog or just with friends, make sure you bring a roll of biodegradable doggie poop bags. The rule is the burry your own droppings at least one foot under ground. For that, you need to carry a small shovel in your backpack. However, if you are hiking in the desert or in an area where the ground is too hard to dig a hole, if you are in a hurry, forgot your shovel, or are in an area were you are required to pack your feces and take them out of the mountain with you, biodegradable doggie poop bags are the best way to go!
♦ A striker, matches, or/and a full lighter
Campfires are one of the most enjoyable parts of spending the night in the wilderness. Moreover, campfires serve as smoke signals, can keep you warm on cold nights and can also cook your meal. If the wilderness area you are visiting allows campfires, you will need the following items to build a fire: tinder (highly flammable items, such as dry leaves or grass), kindling (little dry branches), wood logs, and a spark or flame (striker, matches, or a lighter). If you decide to bring matches or a lighter, make sure you pack them in a water proof container or bag; sometimes even your sweat can ruin your gear.
If you enjoy hiking, then you probably appreciate observing nature. A small pair of light binoculars will allow you to see distant things in great detail. For instance: a mama bear with her cub feeding in a meadow or a group of wild horses crossing a river at the bottom of a canyon. In addition, binoculars may help you find your trail and/or group if you become lost. Finally, and most importantly, binoculars will allow you to see zombies before they see you.
♦ A city contact and a fully charged cellphone
Always tell someone where you are going and how many hours or days you will be gone, and if possible leave them a copy of your itinerary. If something goes wrong and you need to be rescued, your contacts will know when to act. You won’t have cellphone reception in most wilderness areas or national parks; nevertheless, make sure your phone is fully charged and has plenty of credit before starting your trip.
Hiking and backpacking are wonderful outdoors activities that help us reconnect with nature while exercising our minds a bodies. However, to safely enjoy your experience in the wilderness it’s very important to prepare yourself by going through your checklist and identifying which items you will need for each specific hike. Furthermore, everyone should familiarize themselves with the basic rules and regulations of the area where you will be hiking in order to respect and help preserve Mother Nature.
- Why Hiking and Backpacking is so cool.
- 10 Basic Rules you need to respect while hiking and backpacking.
- Answer ‘the call of the wild’: Backpacking Gear.
- Best Hiking and Backpacking Food.
- Hygiene Kit, basic items and practices that will keep you safe and comfortable.
- Learn how to pack a thorough Wilderness Emergency Kit.
- Tips & Extras, make your trip more enjoyable!