What To Bring On A Short Hike

What to Bring On A Short Hike

Hiking is a fantastic activity for getting outside, exercising, and spending time with loved ones. Additionally, studies show that being outside has a significant positive impact on your stress levels, mental clarity, and general health. Since hiking is essentially just walking on dirt, it must be the simplest way to enjoy the great outdoors.

When it comes to preparing for a hike, you want to take the minimum amount of gear necessary to keep yourself secure and comfortable in the wilderness. It’s important to think about what you might need to have with you in case something goes wrong, but bear in mind that a burdensome pack can make hiking less enjoyable.

For the purposes of this post, a short hike is one that is 5 miles or less in length or that takes you between one and four hours to complete. It should be noted that this is a list of day hike essentials rather than a list of backpacking gear. This guide does not include gear for camp kitchens, tents, or sleeping bags.

What to Pack for a Short Hike

Who doesn’t enjoy working from a list? So let’s start with a list of what to bring on a short hike. You will be well-prepared for most situations if you bring this essential hiking gear:

What To Bring On A Short Hike Checklist:

Hiking Shoes

Hiking Shoes

You can find our Hiking Footwear Guide here

Clothing Layering

Proper Clothing Layering

You can find our Hiking Clothing Guide here



You can find our Hiking Water Systems Guide here


Food / Snacks

Navigation System

Navigation System / Fully Charged Phone

First Aid Kit

First Aid Kit

Sun Protection

Sun Protection

Power Bank

Trash Bag

Trash Bag


The most crucial item in your pack to prevent dehydration and keep you moving comfortably on the trail is a full bottle or hydration bladder. Pack one liter of water for every hour you anticipate hiking. Carry at least two liters of water for a four-mile hike because inexperienced hikers can anticipate moving along a moderate trail at about two miles per hour. Pack more on days that are especially hot.

Water is indeed heavy. On long hikes, consider bringing water purification drops or a filter, and locate water sources like streams on a map in advance. Instead of carrying a pack that is too full to carry comfortably, you can refill partway through the day.

What To Bring On A Short Hike: Water

No reusable bottle on hand? Any screw-top bottle will do, including a soda bottle or an old disposable water bottle.

For day hikes, I prefer to use a water bladder rather than a water bottle. I advise using a water bladder instead of a water bottle because it’s easier to carry in your backpack, prevents sloshing, and the hose hanging over your shoulder serves as a constant reminder to hydrate. As opposed to using a water bottle, a water bladder does not require you to stop, take it out of your backpack, sip from it, and then carry on with your hike.

Food And Snacks

Food is one of my top trail hiking necessities! Even if you only intend to hike for an hour, it is still advisable to bring food with you.

To maintain energy levels, hikers should aim to consume about 200 calories per hour. The best hiking food is nutrient-dense, non-perishable, and packable food. Think about things like granola bars, different kinds of nuts or dried fruits. Nutrition is secondary for your first hike; bring whatever food you’ll want to eat, even if exercise makes you feel hungrier.

What To Bring On A Short Hike: Food and Snacks

Navigation System / Fully Charged Phone

A navigation system should be the third item on your day hike packing list. This could be a physical GPS unit, your smartphone or a simple map. Make sure you only use a navigation system that you feel confident using.

If you plan to use your phone as your GPS, as I frequently do, make sure to download the offline map before you head out on the trail. This can be easily done in Google Maps.  If the trailhead lacks WiFi or data, you won’t be able to complete this task. By downloading the map offline, you can still access the map for a general idea of your location even without service.

Take advantage of the paper maps that many parks provide at the entrance, as they are frequently more thorough than Google Maps.

What To Bring On A Short Hike: Map

If something bad happens, having a means of communication with the outside world is essential. I always let someone know where I’m going and when I expect to return. They can call and check-in if I’m running late or forget to check-in on my way home. Always be cautious and share your hiking location, schedule, and the names of your hiking mates if you’re not hiking solo.

First Aid Kit

You should always have a complete first aid kit with you when venturing into the backcountry. Most backpackers purchase prepackaged first aid kits, which offer a portable and trustworthy setup for minor incidents. You’ll be able to modify your first aid kit as you gain more hiking experience to suit your particular needs. As soon as you get home from your trek, make sure to replace anything you used.

First Aid Kit

Sun Protection

Even when it’s cloudy, you’ll probably be in the sun for a good portion of any hiking trip. And for this reason, using good sun protection is unquestionably among the most important items to pack for a day hike.

For me, that entails wearing a hat, sunscreen, and a good pair of polarized sunglasses. An SPF lip balm may also be necessary for some people in order to prevent cracked lips. If you’re going on a day hike at a higher altitude, you’ll want to make sure you’re ready for the harsh sun.

Power Bank

Your phone’s battery will probably deplete much more quickly than usual because you are using it as a map, camera, and possibly as a means of communication. Bring a fully charged power bank to make sure you don’t lose all of those things.

Trash Bag

One of the most important hiking rules is to leave no trace, to keep the trail and the places you visit in exactly the same condition as when you found them. Bring a small trash bag with you to make sure you can do this; a quart zip lock bag works great for this.

Day Hiking Backpack

A quality, comfortable daypack is necessary for day hikes. It will be necessary to transport layers, snacks, and water. Due to the chilly mountain air, you don’t want to start a day hike in the mountains early and discover that you don’t have a place to put your layers when you need to take them off. Furthermore, carrying your water bottle by hand is a little annoying.

Depending on how light you prefer to travel, you’ll need a daypack with a capacity of about 20L for a brief, easy day hike. Aim for 28 to 30 liters for a longer day hike where you’ll need to bring more supplies, including lunch.

Backpacks vs Daypacks
Trekking together in a forest

What to look for In A Backpack

Here is a quick rundown of the factors to take into account when choosing your new day hike bag:

  1. Waist Belt: 80% of the weight of the backpack should be worn around your waist. Therefore, check that it has a waist belt and doesn’t snag on your hips when you wear it!
  2. Pockets: I adore having pockets in my backpacks. Typically, the waist belt has pockets where you can keep your phone, a map, and snacks. You can also store your sunscreen and possibly an extra water bottle in the side pockets. a pocket on top for your first aid kit and hand sanitizer, and an inner pocket for your wallet and keys.
  3. Price: Particularly if it’s your first hiking backpack, price should be taken into consideration when making your decision. Some brands are more expensive than others. Start with something affordable, comfortable, and go on from there.

What to Wear on a Short Hike

Clothing should be the next item on your list of things to bring on a day hike. Wearing the right clothing will help keep you warm and dry while hiking. It’s crucial to choose fabrics that wick moisture away from your skin, allow for airflow, and dry quickly. High-end clothing can be very expensive, but there are also less expensive options.

Base Layers

Base Layers

Start with a base layer that is breathable, sweat-wicking, and controls body temperature. Avoid cotton because it is slow to dry, doesn’t offer insulation in cold climates, and can actually make you colder. Cotton traps heat when it’s hot, which is also not ideal. So if you can, try to avoid this material. On hot summer days, I would choose a lightweight shirt that wicks away sweat or a long-sleeved shirt for sun protection. When it gets cooler, I will then add a second mid-weight layer on top.

Mid Layers

Mid Layers

Pack a fleece or insulated jacket if you think it might be chilly outside or if you think you might be out longer than you anticipated. When you stop for a break or are on a summit, it can be surprisingly chilly, and there can be a big difference in temperature between the middle of the day and morning and evening. This was the case when we hiked the DeCaLiBron Loop and believe me, it’s not fun to be cold. If it does get chilly, you’ll be glad you packed an extra layer in your backpack.

Outer Layers

Outer Layers

Always bring a packable, lightweight raincoat along with a hat and gloves if you anticipate getting cold. A buff, which is a thin layer that goes around your neck, is something else I frequently wear. It is effective at removing perspiration, shielding you from the sun and wind, and keeping your neck warm if it gets chilly.

Best Footwear for Hiking

Your typical running shoes should work just fine if you’re going on a brief hike with little elevation gain. You’ll need something more robust, comfortable, and ideally waterproof once you start doing the longer day hikes with more elevation gain.

Hiking Shoes vs Hiking Boots

Hiking shoes vs. hiking boots

I have a pair of hiking boots and a pair of hiking shoes, and I alternate between the two. On longer hikes and hikes that have a lot of uphill climbing and downhill descending, I prefer the boots because they have better ankle support. The drawback is that they are a little heavier and bulkier. Hiking shoes are the best option for comfortable, lightweight wear. 

Waterproof Hiking Shoes

Do they need to be waterproof?

You’ll need waterproof hiking shoes or boots if your hike requires crossing streams, or if you’re hiking in the Pacific Northwest and it’s a little damp.

The problem with waterproof footwear, according to many, is that it doesn’t function as well in warm to hot conditions. Traditional waterproof barriers, such as waxed leather, make it difficult for moisture to escape from the inside out, which can cause discomfort from the accumulating sweat. In addition, if water does manage to get inside, it may take a lot longer to dry out your new waterproof boots.

Hiking Safety Tips

I’ll say it again: make sure you tell a few people you can trust where you’re going, the hike you intend to take, and how long you anticipate it will take you to finish it.

Make sure your fitness level is appropriate for the hike. Never attempt to chew more than you can bear. To determine whether you can successfully complete your hike, look up reviews on the internet. If you’re planning on hiking at high altitudes, check out our guide on How To Train for High Altitude Hiking.

I hope this guide helped you find the answer to what to bring on a short hike. I believe you’ll be ready for a safe and enjoyable day hike if you pack the items on this list and do your pre-hike research. Get Hiking!