The Ultimate Hiking Checklist Of 2023 (For Beginners)
We take our phones almost everywhere we go in the digital age, even when you’re out hiking. So whether it’s to track your steps or take photos of the gorgeous scenes you come across (or even to contact a loved one in case of an emergency), chances are, your phone is in your pocket at all times.
True, there are disadvantages to having your phone with you at all times. You might be too busy taking photos to notice the true beauty of nature. Or you may get stuck scrolling for hours on what was supposed to be a short break. That said, you can always use technology to benefit you personally, and one way you can do that is through hiking apps!
What To Do Before You Head Out
Naturally, the first thing you need to do is the hiking trail, which path you’ll take, and what season you’ll go in. The essentials you pack will vary depending on these basic decisions, so make sure you research and establish at least these basic facts.
Look into parking and transport in the area as well – the last thing you need is to be stranded in the middle of nowhere with no way to get home. Also, look into cell reception in that area – if it’s poor, print out a map beforehand. Here are some things you may consider (remember: there may be others as well!):
- Is it a day hike or a multi-day trip?
- What’s the weather like?
- Will there be cell phone reception?
- What’s my route?
- Is there any parking space?
- How many people will go on the trip?
Another thing that’ll greatly influence what you pack is the weather. Remember that no matter how resistant to cold weather you may think your body is, temperatures can go below freezing year-round – even in summers!
This means you may need to pack extra clothes or blankets. Packing additional layers may add to your burden, but they’re always valuable if you don’t want to catch hypothermia in rainy conditions. Obviously, you can’t be completely prepared for everything, but it’s better to be safe than sorry!
Be it a day hike or a week-long trip, make sure you inform someone about your plans. You never know when you may need someone to come and pick you up – nature is unpredictable like that. This is especially necessary because of being out in the wild.
There is always a chance that you’ll get injured. At the very least, you can rest assured that someone will come looking for you if anything does go wrong. Let the emergency contact know of your destination, your routes, and when you plan to be back.
What Gear To Bring
Before you start packing, you need to get out of the way a couple of things. These two things can very well make or break your entire trip, so consider them carefully!
The Right Footwear
Whenever you decide to go on a hike, you need to consider what footwear you will need. A fancy new pair of shoes isn’t going to cut it – the last thing you need (on top of the other countless issues you may face on your trip) are blisters from the new shoes. At the very least, you need to make sure you’ve broken into your shoes or boots beforehand.
For hiking, the most obvious choice would be getting hiking boots. This doesn’t mean you purchase a new pair a day before your trip (remember: they need to be broken in!). Make sure you secure a couple beforehand. Try to get waterproof boots because the weather can be insanely unpredictable, especially up on the mountain.
The Right Backpack
Besides footwear, another essential item you need to take into account is the right backpack. Contrary to popular (and harmful) belief, not any pack will do. The bag you may take to your other trips or university won’t do. It would be best if you had a sturdy container that could contain everything you’ll need without ripping through a couple of hours into your hike.
However, at the same time, a lightweight, easy loop backpack will be perfect. This doesn’t mean it should be flimsy. Similar to hiking shoes, there are special hiking backpacks as well. But, there’s no need to invest in a huge backpack if this trip will be a one-time thing.
On the other hand, if you’re planning to make hiking a regular thing, consider investing in the backpack. It’ll fulfill all your needs, and it won’t weigh down on your shoulders as much as a regular backpack would. Here are some things you might consider when you’re choosing the backpack:
- How much does it weigh?
- Does it fit comfortably on your back?
- Does it have an easy loop?
- How much water can it carry?
- Does it have a liner?
The Essentials Checklist
Once you’ve figured out the logistics, the next thing you need to do is to get packing! Here is a list of ten items you must have with you when you head out.
It goes without saying that perhaps the most important thing you need on your trip will be a device to navigate through Mother Nature. After all, how else are you going to find your way back home?
A successful hike is when you know exactly where you’re going and how you’re going to come back. Without a navigation device, a single-day walk may end up spanning the next couple of days, and who knows whether you’ll have enough supplies to last. Trails are generally marked, but this is not the case for unconventional routes.
Keep in mind that the GPS on your phone will not be helpful. There’s no telling whether or not you’ll get signal reception, but it’s best not to risk your livelihood on it. The best combination will be a map and compass, but alternatively, a specialized handheld GPS will also be sufficient.
It can be easy to lose track of time when you’re in the heart of nature. You might be so mesmerized by the views around you that you overlook the sun setting. However, just a simple sunset will leave you scrambling through the route – the sun provides much more visibility than you might think, and you’ll be more than aware of it when it does set. You’ll need to preserve your mobile’s battery for emergencies, so make sure you have a separate flashlight.
When packing the flashlight, double-check the batteries, and confirm that they are either new or charged. Pack extra batteries as well, just in case the original ones run out or stop working for some reason or the other (you can never trust tech too much!).
First Aid Kit
If you’re using a well-known and well-maintained trail, then chances are you might find specific stops that keep essentials for hikers on their way to the top. However, that is usually not the case. Once you’re out on the route, no one else can help you. That’s why a first aid kit is essential. It’s easy to consider yourself invincible from the safety of your own home, but remember, nature is unpredictable. A simple fall or a stray insect may leave you heaving with pain.
You can get pre-made first aid kits fairly quickly at your local drug stores – they’ll contain everything you could need. However, if you don’t find them sufficient, you can always make your own little kit and add everything conventional kits don’t.
Hiking usually calls for getting up at the crack of dawn and making good ground before the sun starts beating on your back. In that case, it’s essential to wear and carry sunscreen. Countless people come back from hikes sunburnt and in pain. In the long run, too much exposure to the sun can even cause serious diseases. Sunscreen provides an extra layer of protection from the sun’s UV rays, so it’ll save you from becoming too exhausted and dizzy due to the heat as well.
Pack it on thick – you’ll be out the whole day, so you might as well prolong the protection as much as possible. Keep an extra bottle in your bag if it’s a multi-day trip. (Bonus tip: keep sunglasses with you!).
Take note of what you eat in a day. When it comes to hiking, you’ll always end up being more hungry than you might think. Whatever you eat in a day will not be enough when you’re trekking through rocky terrain with the sun at its peak and your pack weighing you down.
So, pack at least two servings of your regular lunch. As is the case with the shelter, you never know when you’ll need to spend a night or two in the wild, so it’s better to be prepared for the worst-case scenario.
If you think your extra lunch will weigh you down, then at least pack a couple of extra protein bars in your pack. They’ll take up little to no space, and they’ll give you the extra boost of protein you’ll need halfway through the day.
The same principle applies to water. In fact, you’ll likely become more thirsty than hungry early on in the day. Although water supply will weigh you down quite a bit, keep in mind that it’ll be worth it when you feel like you’ll die from thirst.
Depending on your route, you may find clean water sources along the way, but don’t bank your life on it. For one thing, there’s no telling whether the stream you’re counting on hasn’t dried up. Always pack more water than you think you need (this goes for every place!).
Pocket knives or hunting knives are more valuable than you might initially think. They’re suitable for cutting through extra thick foliage or gauze if you’re injured. On top of that, they’re the only weapon you may have against wild animals that have set their sights on you.
You never know when you’ll need to cut through something or protect yourself, so it’s always helpful to keep one handy just in case. Plus, it’s practically weightless and doesn’t take up much room either.
Having a lighter or matches doesn’t mean you start up a campfire wherever you go. On the contrary, keep a lighter with you if you need a small fire when temperatures drop to freezing in the middle of the night. Alternatively, starting a campfire may also be necessary in case you get lost on a day-long trek – it’ll be a beacon for any rangers that come out looking for you.
Speaking on campfires, make sure you research and practice campfires. There’s a fine line between a safe campfire and wildfires, so ensure that you’re equipped and skilled to handle a fire. Keep your lighter somewhere waterproof, or you might render it useless in the rain!
Depending on the weather conditions, you might need anything from a tent, tarp, and sleeping bag. You don’t need to lug an entire tent for a day-long hike. You’ll only need a tent if you’re hiking with other people or if you plan to stay a couple of nights in the wild.
Alternatively, for a day-long hike, a small tarp or sleeping bag may still be helpful just in case things take a turn for the worse. If you end up having to spend the night out, then you’ll be grateful you packed at least some form of shelter.
Read my article about the best 2-person camping tent here.
Weather forecasts are precisely that: forecasts. You never know when the prediction is correct and when it isn’t. In that case, there’s no reason to trust weather forecasts completely. You never know when the clouds will obscure the sun and make temperatures drop by the minute. On the same note, you never know when it will rain either – the weather 3000 ft up will be different from ground level after all.
If you’re worried about the pack weighing you down, then only pack the most essential items: a rain jacket, extra socks, extra pants, and an extra top.
Other Items You May Consider Bringing
The above checklist consists of the ten most basic things you need to have in your pack throughout your trip. However, there are some other items you may consider bringing along as well. These may include, but are not limited to:
- Trekking pole (if it’s a particularly rocky terrain)
- Camera (to capture those memories!)
- Soap (if you’re staying out overnight)
- Insect repellent
- Power bank (for your mobile or GPS)
Distribute Your Gear
If you’re trekking with a group, then distribute your gear among yourselves. Keep a system for the heavier items, such as stoves or tents – rotate between the members every few hours, so a single person doesn’t end up breaking their back lugging the heavier stuff around.
Optimize Your Gear
As you hike, make sure you take stock of your gear every few hours. Adjust your backpack and its strap every couple of hours so you don’t tire yourself out. Consider what exactly you need for survival, and keep only those items in your pack.
After The Trip
Your arrival signifies a successful trip! No doubt you had the experience of a lifetime, and if you’ve enjoyed that much, you may consider going again. Your experience will also teach you what you can go without and what additional things you may need to pack next time. Before you collapse on your bed and call it a day, go through all your gear and wash and clean all the items. Inspecting your equipment will also let you know of any repairs that need to be made before your next trip.
Lastly, record your memories for the years to come! Go back to your original plans and note down the crucial things you experience and what you learned from your trip. This way, you can make sure the next trip is an even better one!
A final word
And there you have it – the ultimate hiking checklist for any hiking trip, day-long or spanning multiple days! Naturally, these aren’t the only things you may need on your journey. The requirements could vary from person to person and from route to route as well. Take your logistics and personal preferences into account as you pack.
Although this list accounts for all possible issues and necessities, some factors may still call for other items. The key is to keep only the bare minimum items with you. Everything else belongs in the comfort of your home.