There are 10 items that you “should” always include in your pack for hiking, in case you find yourself in an emergency situation:
- First Aid/Personal Care (first aid kit, insect repellent, foot care)
- Water (more than you think you’ll need)
- Light (flashlight, headlamp, extra batteries)
- Trail Food (more than you think you’ll need)
- Sun Protection (sunscreen, sunglasses, hat, UV clothing)
- Navigation (map, compass, GPS, locator beacon)
- Pocket Knife
- Shelter (tarp, emergency blanket or bivy)
- Fire (matches, lighter, tinder)
- Extra Clothes (for warmth/dryness)
- #11, my own addition: Personal Safety (pepper spray, bear spray, firearm)
I say “should” because for day hikes of only a few miles in a populated area with decent cellular reception (like most of my hikes), it would be very difficult for me to get into a situation where I needed to build a fire and/or spend the night in the woods. Mostly I’m hiking in the Cleveland Metroparks or Cuyahoga Valley National Park, where there are lots of other visitors and good cellular reception, and I’m not miles and miles away from major roads or populated areas. If you’re out hiking in the backcountry, you definitely need to hit every category on this list. Remember: I’m hiking in northeast Ohio, where our outdoor options are maintained public park systems near populated areas.
Depending on the hike, I’ll add different items to what’s in my daypack — obviously, more food and water if I’m going to be on a longer hike; I’ll bring my lunch and plenty of snacks if I plan on being out all day. Extra socks on a long hike (your feet will thank you for this), and extra clothing depending on the weather and temperature as something you should consider adding to your pack as well.
The following are just the standard things I keep in my daypack; they rarely change from hike to hike.
Osprey Daylite daypack – I haven’t felt the need to replace this daypack, although if I did, I’d probably go with the Osprey Daylite Plus, which is slightly (5 liters larger). The standard Daylite is a 15L pack, which is (admittedly) pretty small — Dave and I bought them to take to the World Scout Jamboree in 2019, and our event tickets said 15L was the maximum pack size for entry. We saw plenty of people walking around with the Daylite Plus though, so apparently that wasn’t a hard-and-fast rule. Both the Daylite and Daylite Plus are lightweight internal-frame packs with sternum and hip belts, a hydration reservoir sleeve, and compression straps. I really like Osprey packs and find them very comfortable.
KA-BAR Warthog folding knife – This is a lot of knife for $20. I’ve had this little KA-BAR for six years now, and it’s still going strong. It rides along in my handbag when I’m not using the daypack.
Nalgene Tritan narrow-mouth water bottle, 32oz – I’ve always had trouble drinking out of wide-mouth Nalgenes and switched to Camelbak Eddy bottles for awhile… until I discovered one of them had grown mold in the one plastic bit that doesn’t come out of the lid. I hate mold, so that was a deal-breaker for me. I picked this narrow-mouth Nalgene up on a whim, and it’s become my new favorite water bottle.
First Aid kit – this is a homegrown kit that includes nitrile gloves, antiseptic wipes, antibacterial ointment, band-aids, moleskin, gauze pads, nail clippers, an elastic bandage, menstrual products, and various medications (ibuprofen, aspirin, Benadryl, Pepto Bismol). If I were going somewhere remote or heading out for longer distances, I’d bring a more inclusive kit, but for local day hikes, this is fine.
Repel Sportsman Max insect repellent – bugs LOVE me. I can go out with a group of people, no one wearing insect repellent, and be the only one who comes home with bites… even in cool/cold weather, when “all the bugs are dead” (they’re not). As a bonus, my skin is super reactive, and bites will break open and scab even if I never scratch them. I keep bug spray in my bag at all times so that I’ll never forget it at a home and have to deal with getting bit.
BSA baseball cap – I prefer a hat to sunglasses in certain light conditions, because I feel like my sunnies make it just a little too dark to see adequately. As a bonus, it keeps my head a little bit warmer in cooler weather, although it’ll do nothing for my ears. If it’s chilly, I’ll throw a Buff-style neck gaiter in my pack that I can wear under the hat and pull down over my ears.
Columbia Arcadia II Women’s Rain Jacket – It’s not the most packable or most lightweight jacket, but it’s great in the rain. In Northeast Ohio, it’s all too common for the forecast to change suddenly, and on a cool, cloudy day, that can mean sudden rain on the trail. For those situations, I’d rather have a full hooded rain jacket than a lightweight plastic poncho.
Sabre Compact Pepper Spray – This stays tucked in my pack if I’m around other people, but if I’m hiking solo in an less-than-popular area, I’ll clip it to my pants pocket in case I have an unpleasant run-in with aggressive free-range dogs and/or nasty people.
Silva Polaris Compass & Safety Whistle – File under “nice to have” for shorter, well-marked hikes. If you’re going to carry a compass, you should learn how to use it properly and get some practice in before you head out! I don’t go to many places where I need it, but I like to have it (and sometimes practice using it so my knowledge is fresh for Scouts). The safety whistle for getting attention during an emergency.
Ozark Trail 100-Lumen Headlamp – I’ll likely replace this with a better lamp at some point, but this cheapie lamp does the job pretty well (and at under $10, I won’t be sad if I lose it.) In the fall and winter, when the days are shorter, I prefer carrying the headlamp so I can keep my hands free if I’m still on the trail after dark.