27 August 2018.
Crisp countryside air, the gentle kiss of wind on your cheeks, epic mountain views and emerging at the summit with aching legs and big smiles.
Few things are more rewarding than a day spent in nature and really good hike.
But what you take is an important part of making any hiking trip successful. Packing too much can very well make you work harder than you ought to, while forgetting some key hiking essentials may mean things could go horribly wrong.
Generally, I don’t buy into all the fancy gadgets out there. I’m not dressed head to toe in khaki with state-of-the-art quick dry fabric and far too many zips, and I certainly don’t travel with hiking poles or packs of dehydrated food.
And unless you’re an avid hiker, I really don’t think you need to.
Hiking is a huge part of my travels, a way to get back to nature, disconnect and escape the chaotic city bustle, but it’s often not the sole reason I’m on the road, and so instead of choosing gear that is only going to be useful when I’m clambering up a rocky slope, I prefer to pack items that are useful for hiking, sure, but can be used as part of my everyday travels as well.
If you’re a newbie hiker or hiking enthusiast looking for what hiking essentials you actually need for a comfortable day hike, rather than an avid hiker looking for the latest high-tech gear, this hiking packing list has all my favourite hiking essentials for your next trip!
* This post includes affiliate links and any purchases made through these links will earn us a small commission at no extra cost to you. *
For years, having to choose between packing too many pairs of shoes and packing only the most useful, I always fell back on plain running shoes for hiking.
Now a few years on, roaming around with slightly weaker ankles and far less patience for blisters and wet feet, I’ve happily decided that for any hiking adventure longer than a couple of hours, hiking boots are a must.
I travel with the SCARPA Cyrus Gore-Tex Mid Hiking Boots which are particularly great for ladies with narrower feet, are water resistant, have a super comfortable underfoot cushion layer, decent ankle support and are surprisingly lightweight making them great for short or long hikes without being dead weight in your backpack when you’re not hiking.
For men, these LOWA Renegade Boots are also a great option using Gore-tex technology for a waterproof, breathable and lightweight hiking shoe.
Don’t forget the socks! I generally prefer a thicker pair to ensure my boots keep a snug fit. These Larry Adler Merino Wool Blend Socks are my go-to Australian brand but these Darn Tough Socks are another good option.
Long gone are the days of churning through plastic bottles, making bad excuses for not being able to recycle them on the go and feeling no guilt whatsoever.
In 2018, a reusable water bottle is an absolute essential.
I use this stainless steel Klean Kanteen bottle which comes in a variety of sizes and colours.
If you’ll be filling up from rivers during your hike or anywhere with questionable water quality, a SteriPEN is an excellent, compact accessory for purifying water on the go. Unlike other filtration systems which filter water at a frustratingly slow rate, the SteriPen uses UV light to purify 1L in just 90 seconds. I used this throughout Central Asia and never had any issues.
For more strenuous hikes in hot climates, I also like to pack a tube of Hydralite to add to the water as I go. These effervescent tablets help to replenish electrolytes from heavy perspiration and are particularly helpful for long sweaty hikes or multi-day treks.
For hikes where you won’t be able to fill up with water along the way, these multilitre CamelBak water bladders come highly recommended.
Sugary, salty, carb-loaded – regardless of what the professionals say, in my mind a proper hiking snack pack should look like a 5-year-old went wild in a candy store and then got reigned in at the last-minute by the responsible adult who threw in a few healthy nibbles for good measure.
Fruits, nuts and wholemeal crackers are great for providing a boost of energy, but often, there’s no better motivator (or reward) for getting to the top of a leg-burning climb than a piece of chocolate or three.
If you’re hiking somewhere unfamiliar, always pack a map or hiking guide – whether it’s a hard copy or a digital one.
For the last few years I’ve been using the Maps.Me, a free offline maps app which, along with regular roads and cycle paths, has a number of marked hiking trails available. The live GPS tracks your progress, topography graphs allow you to prepare for steep ascents and helpful markers indicate out points of interest, such as waterfalls and viewpoints, along the way.
If you’re relying on Maps.Me or really any kind of digital app for navigation, don’t forget to come prepared with your phone fully charged, the correct map region downloaded and any important points marked.
If you’ll be hiking for multiple days without electricity and, like me, your phone doubles as a torch, clock, library and about a dozen other things, it’s also a good idea to bring a power bank so that you don’t lose power.
For full day hikes, a proper bush picnic is on the cards.
Either prepare everything before you go to minimise what you need to pack, or bring the ingredients you’ll need and assemble everything when you arrive at your wilderness lunch spot.
A reusable plastic container for any items that might get squashed is a good idea, along with a sharp knife and cutlery. Also, remember to pack a bag for all your rubbish – take out what you bring in!
Weather is a fickle beast, especially in the mountains.
I’ve been caught out in snow storms at almost 4,000 m in the middle of summer, wrapped in fog and icy winds on what should have been a pleasant afternoon wander, and spent hours trudging through torrential rain and sleet praying the end of the trail would appear as soon as humanly possible.
Conditions can change incredibly quickly and it pays to be prepared, whether you’re on an easy day hike or a multi-day trek.
Always check the weather before setting out and be prepared for rain or snow if you’re at altitude.
Unless I know snow and freezing temperatures could be involved, I normally don’t bother with waterproof pants, but a solid wind and waterproof jacket is an essential item to throw in your backpack.
My trusty Berghaus jacket has joined me for the last 10 years of hiking trips everywhere from Patagonia to the Balkans. The original model has since been discontinued, but if my last one is anything to go by, this similar Berghaus Glissade Jacket should last for many years.
If you’re hiking at altitude where cool conditions are expected, don’t forget a cosy base layer. Merino wool products are my favourite as they’re certain to keep you warm, while the antimicrobial properties of the fabric ensure you’ll stay a whole lot less smelly, especially if you’ve been on the trail for days without a shower.
On longer outings I’d also add a bandage, insect repellent and painkillers, but for anywhere completely off track that receives little foot traffic, is unlikely to have phone reception and where weather conditions are notoriously unstable, a fully stocked first aid kit – like this one – is an excellent idea in case of emergencies.
Epic ridgelines, dazzling peaks and lush alpine meadows – hiking has a habit of taking you through some pretty spectacular scenery.
Though you’ll inevitably encounter plenty of incredible views to point your camera at, there’s no need to be weighed down by unnecessarily cumbersome camera gear – a mirrorless camera system is the perfect balance between size, weight and quality.
We travel with the Olympus OMD-EM1 Mkll and Olympus Pen-F and for shorter hikes often try to pick just one lens that will get the best shot in most scenarios. The M.Zuiko 12-100 F4 IS PRO is my favourite versatile lens and great for capturing both landscapes and close-ups, plus it’s weather sealed meaning freezing temperatures and unexpected downpours are no problem when on the EM1.
For the full range of camera gear that we carry, read this post.
If you’ll be out in the sun all day, there’s no need to end up as a rubbed raw, shiny red lobster.
For any hike, broad-spectrum sunscreen with a minimum of 30SPF is the bare minimum, while a hat, sunnies and a lightweight, long-sleeved shirt are also a good idea if you’ll be walking in direct sunshine, patchy shade or snow.
Ah the elusive perfect backpack. For hiking, it’s probably one of the most important items you’ll carry, and yet if I’m honest, I still haven’t found one I desperately love.
While not perfect for longer trips, the daypacks I do travel with are great for short day hikes when I’m not carrying a lot of gear, and as they’re not strictly made for hiking, are versatile enough for wearing around cities as well.
This Quechua 30L Hiking Backpack is my current day pack and so far it has served me well. It’s a great budget-friendly option, has a handy inbuilt rain cover, is comfortable to wear for long periods and is also cabin luggage compliant meaning it’s the only pack you’ll need for a short trip.
This 25L Eastpak Backpack is my other go-to which won’t look out of place whether you’re in the city or the mountains. It’s incredibly durable and well made but rather small if you’re packing a lot of gear. It’s a good option for short, easy hikes where wet weather won’t be an issue and when you’re after a versatile option when you’re not on the trail.