The Basics: 5 things to take with you on a day hike

Rescue Just AheadI have been reading lots of stories of day hikes gone wrong lately.  I covered the topic of rescues in Yosemite in a post a few weeks ago. And this week another story of rescue hit the press. He went off trail and found himself stuck with no cell phone and without supplies.  He suffered from frostbite but apparently escaped without more serious injuries.  I am grateful for that.

But it begs the question.  How do so many day hikers find themselves in this type of predicament?

In almost all of these stories there is an underlying mistake.  They all fail to prepare for the elements that they are trying to conquer.  So I thought it might be helpful to share a list of the 5 things to take with you on a day hike.

Here’s my list:

  1. A cell phone – you may not always have a signal but the added weight is negligible even for the UL crowd. Plus it can be used for the light!  Mine even has a calculator for backcountry arithmetic.
  2. A knife – I’ve only used my a few times on day hikes but you never know when a knife will be useful.
  3. More layers than you need – My hikes here in the desert usually start with short sleeve temperatures but the deep canyons cool off earlier than sundown.  It gets cold fast and extra layers are always helpful.
  4. Knowledge that someone knows your route – Ok, I had to twist that to make it fit, but I always write in on the board in my kitchen, on a tablet that I drop on the kitchen island, and tweet my wife from the trailhead to confirm.
  5. More food and water than you need – I can hear the UL backpackers grumbling already, but for day hikes I always take more than I need.  Who knows, a night in a desert canyon with a torn ACL could feel a bit less challenging if you had water and a sandwich or bar.  The knee would still hurt like crazy.

What’s on your list?  Certainly the terrain and weather will dictate what you put in your pack.  But what are your must-haves for a day hike?  You might also want to read this guide: How to hike: 8 steps to become a badass day hiker.

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I'm the founder of Vestor Logic, the digital strategy and web design firm that created Trail Sherpa, ParksFolio, and Modern Steader. I'm a day hiker, top chef in camp, doting husband, and father to two headlamp wearing boys. My work in digital media brings those experiences to life.