Packing for a day hike can be difficult. There are tons of questions that come to mind. How much water? What types of food? Which backpack? Overpacking can leave you feeling like a pack mule, while underpacking can lead to serious pangs of hunger and thirst later on. Here’s a quick guide about what to bring.
Let’s start with the basics. Proper gear can make or break your hiking experience. Try to avoid carrying backpacks that are heavy when empty. A drawstring bag works great for a couple bottles of water and snacks. Or for something more fancy looking, check out outdoor equipment stores such as Eastern Mountain Sports and REI. Hydration packs, which contain a reusable water reservoir, and small backpacks are perfect for day trips. Start loading your pack with water and then add the food you plan on taking. Avoid carrying heavy water bottles and food containers; those can start to feel like rocks on your back as you get tired.
Proper clothing is very important when heading out for a hike. Good footwear is often overlooked. While sneakers can do the job, for more difficult hikes, a solid pair of hiking boots will improve a hiking experience tenfold. And don’t forget to carry thick socks to prevent blisters. Regardless of the season, take precautions for any type of weather. Wearing lightweight layers is a great way to be prepared. For summer and early fall hikes, I like to wear shorts or light pants, with a t-shirt. As rain and wind can often be unpredictable, I always carry a rain jacket. When it comes to exposure it’s always better to be overprepared than underprepared.
Hydration is probably the most important thing to consider on a hike. For a day hike, which can last anywhere from a couple hours to all day, a good rule to follow is to carry enough water to drink about a 1 liter every hour or so, especially during the summer when the weather is hot and humid. While no one wants to be weighed down with water, it’s better to carry more water than less. One plastic water bottle is not going to be enough to last the entire day. Sorry folks. Sports drinks are also a good option to maintain crucial electrolytes. Carrying small packets of powdered Gatorade or Powerade to mix into a water bottle can give you a good balance between water and energy drinks.
Of course the best part of packing is deciding what food to bring. It is most important to carry foods that are light, quick and easy to eat. Fruit, such as grapes and watermelon, can be refreshing and provide you with natural sugars to replenish energy. Nuts and pretzels are great for making sure that you don’t lose too much salt, which can happen if you drink too much water. I also like to carry some sort of sour hard candy, like lemon drops, as well as protein bars for something more substantial. For longer hikes, sandwiches are a good idea for more of a meal. Pack everything in Ziploc bags to avoid carrying extra weight.
And there you have it – the basics for a day hike. So pack water and food in that lightweight pack of yours and hit the mountains for a great day of hiking. You won’t regret it.