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What To Bring On A Hike

Medically reviewed by Til Jolly, MD, Susan Kerrigan, MD and Marianne Madsen on January 7, 2023

As the weather warms and cabin fever sets in, many of us start planning excursions. Whether you’re an experienced mountaineer or a casual stroller, you need to be prepared. Weather can be unreliable. You’ll drink more water than you ever thought you would. So no matter how brief the excursion, expect the unexpected. That could even mean dealing with a medical emergency. Although what to bring on a hike varies depending on length of the trip, who’s coming along, weather, and the terrain, here are some essentials you should bring.


Your Pack


Daytrippers don’t need to invest a ton of money on a big bag to stow your gear.  Select a comfy pack with padded straps and just enough room for the necessary gear. You only need something sized between 10 and 30 liters. Any more space, and you’re likely to fill it–and regret it later. Overpacking has ruined more than one scenic hike. If you want to increase your comfort level, spread out the weight. Consider getting a hip pack for fast access to munchies and hydration. What Americans call a “fanny pack” –– to general snickers from UK residents –– has been updated and modified. On one-day hikes, the right one will serve you and your lower back better than the best knapsack




Don’t just rely on your phone. Signal strength can be spotty –– especially in natural parks and forests. Plus, you’ll burn through your battery. Instead, charge up your phone and save it for emergencies (and a few perfect selfies). Invest in a GPS device that’s rugged and waterproof. You may also want to develop some compass and map-reading skills –– an old-school ability that pays dividends when your tech fails. Of course, if you’re sticking to a clearly marked trail while hiking in a popular area, you may not need these items–but it’s still a good idea to have them. Another option is to use an app that lets you download a map that you can use even without nearby cell service.


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Make sure your friends or family knows of your plans, and set a time when you’ll reconnect. That way if something happens, someone, somewhere will be looking for you. If you get stranded overnight, the key is creating warmth. Find an area away from the wind and build a fire. 


Food and water


If you haven’t hiked in a while, you may be surprised at how thirsty you get. Plan on downing at least one liter of water every two hours. On a hot hike, demanding ascent, or especially in the desert, you’ll need even more. For longer excursions, large-volume hydration packs and collapsible pouches work well. Don’t rely on a natural water supply –– it may either be unsafe or unreliable. Still, you’ll want to pack iodine tablets or a water purification system for emergencies. Hikers have gotten stranded on familiar, well-traveled trails. Dehydration is an avoidable enemy.


Hunger is another obstacle to a happy hike. Again, if you haven’t hiked in a while, you’ll be shocked by how much food you can put away. Before you set out, take a look at a calories-burned calculator. Then pack meal replacement bars, trail mix, gorp, or other calorie-dense foods. There’s nothing wrong with a good old peanut butter and jelly as a midpoint reward.  You can also find plenty of simple, easy recipes online. Always pack an extra day’s worth of food just in case.


First-Aid Kit


Before you go, pack a simple first aid kit including at least the following:


  • Bandaids
  • Sterile gauze or dressing pads
  • Antibiotic ointment
  • Antiseptic towelettes
  • Pain reliever
  • A multi-use knife 
  • Matches or other lighter
  • Scissors
  • Tweezers


You may need other items based on where you’re going and your personal situation, especially if you’re taking children along.



Cotton kills. To drive home the point, an Alaskan State Trooper reported on the 2005 death of a hiker by noting he was clad in “all cotton, which is the worst fabric for cold, wet weather.” Cotton traps water –- including sweat. This increases your risk for hypothermia. This potentially deadly condition occurs when your body loses heat faster than it can produce heat, causing a dangerously low body temperature.  You normally run around 98.6 F (37 C). Hypothermia hits when your body temp drops below 95 F (35 C). Not only do more than 1,500 people die from hypothermia each year but hikers are more vulnerable in the non-winter months when they don’t expect to become chilly. Stay safe. Choose wool, silk, or polypropylene inner layers. Moisture-wicking synthetics could save your life. And don’t neglect the socks and undies. Few things will wreck your trip like uncomfortable inner garments or slipping stockings. Choose items that are snug and breathable. Finally, bring shades –– polarized sunglasses–and if you have sensitive knees, trekking poles.




Trail shoes or hiking boots should be waterproof with traction on the soles. Ideally they provide ankle support as well. Avoid turning battered trainers into go-to hikers, and your feet will thank you. On shorter, local hikes, however, decent sneakers on a well-worn trail are fine. Just as you want to avoid hypothermia, heat stroke is a real concern. If you feel suddenly nauseous, light-headed, or have blurry vision, find a shaded area and drink some cool water. 


Hiking can lower your stress levels and improve cardiovascular endurance. A 2019 study showed that spending two hours a week in natural surroundings helps your health and wellbeing. So take a hike!


Written by John Bankston

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