Aside from the shoes on your feet, it doesn't take much equipment to go
day-hiking. While backpackers must concern themselves with tents,
sleeping pads, pots and pans, and the like, day-hikers have an easier
time of it. Still, too many day-hikers set out carrying too little and
get into trouble as a result. Here's my list of essentials:
1) Food and water, first and foremost. Water is even more important than
food, although it's unwise to get caught without a picnic, or at least
some edible supplies for emergencies. If you don't want to carry the
weight of a couple water bottles, at least carry a purifier or filtering
device so you can get water from streams, rivers, or lakes. It goes
without saying, but never, ever drink water from a natural source
without purifying it. The microscopic organism Giardia lamblia is found
in backcountry water sources and can cause a litany of terrible
gastrointestinal problems. Only purifying, chemically treating, or
boiling water from natural sources will eliminate Giardia.
The new water bottle-style purifiers, such as those made by Exstream,
are as light as an empty plastic bottle and eliminate the need to carry
both a filter and a bottle. You simply dip the bottle in the stream,
screw on the top (which has a filter inside it), and squeeze the bottle
to drink. The water is filtered on its way out of the squeeze top.
Of course, in many areas you won't find a natural water source to
filter from, so carrying water is still necessary. Remember that trails
that cross running streams in the winter and spring months may cross dry
streams in the summer and autumn months.
What you carry for food is up to you. Some people go gourmet and carry
the complete inventory of a fancy grocery store. If you don't want to
bother with much weight, stick with high-energy snacks like nutrition
bars, nuts, dried fruit, turkey or beef jerky, and crackers. The best
rule is always to bring more than you think you can eat. You can always
carry it back out with you, or give it to somebody else on the trail who
If you're hiking in a group, each of you should carry your own food and
water just in case someone gets too far ahead or behind.
2) A map of the park or public land you're visiting. Never count on
trail signs to get you where you want to go. Signs get knocked down or
disappear with alarming frequency, due to rain, wind, or park visitors
looking for souvenirs. Always obtain a map from the managing agency of
the place you're visiting.
3) Extra clothing. On the trail, conditions can change at any time. Not
only can the weather suddenly turn windy, foggy, or rainy, but your own
body conditions also change: You'll perspire as you hike up a sunny
hill and then get chilled at the top of a windy ridge or when you head
into shade. Because of this, cotton fabrics don't function well in the
outdoors. Once cotton gets wet, it stays wet. Generally, polyester blend
fabrics dry faster. Some high-tech fabrics will actually wick moisture
away from your skin. Invest in a few items of clothing made from these
fabrics and you'll be more comfortable when you hike.
Always carry a lightweight jacket with you, preferably one that is
waterproof and also wind-resistant. If your jacket isn't waterproof,
pack along one of the $2, single-use rain ponchos that come in a package
the size of a deck of cards (available at outdoors stores or drug
stores). If you can't part with two bucks, carry an extra-large garbage
bag. In cooler temperatures, or when heading to a mountain summit even
on a hot day, carry gloves and a hat as well.
4) Flashlight. Just in case your hike takes a little longer than you
planned, bring at least one flashlight. Mini-flashlights are available
everywhere, weigh almost nothing, and can save the day. I especially
like the tiny squeeze LED flashlights, about the size and shape of a
quarter, that you can clip on to any key ring. Some turn on and off with
a small switch, so you don't have to squeeze them for extended periods.
(The Photon Micro-Light is a popular brand.) Whatever kind of flashlight
you carry, make sure the batteries work before you set out on the trail.
I always take along an extra set of batteries and an extra bulb, or
simply an extra flashlight or two. You never know when the darn things
will run out of juice.