What to bring hiking – 10 Essentials

What to bring hiking – 10 Essentials

The 10 essentials - what you should pack in your bag for hikesDo you know what to bring hiking? You might have noticed on almost all if my posts, I mention that you should bring the 10 essentials when you go hiking. There are plenty of bits and bobs that you might also want to carry with you to the great outdoors, but these are the 10 items that you should carry with you on every hike. You want to bring these even if you’re only popping out for a few hours.

Every so often someone asks me to list these items in the comments, so I figured I should put a list together for newbie hikers. It is very unlikely that you’ll have to use most of these items, but you should always hope for the best, and plan for the worst case scenario.

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10 essentials for hiking

TLDR: These are basically just the things you should always have on your bag; flashlight, whistle, fire-starter (matches), first aid kid, extra clothes, shelter (like an emergency blanket), food/water, knife and a way to navigate/communicate. Most of these items don’t take up much space, so we just leave them all in our bags, so we’re ready to go.

1. Illumination

This one is really important. It is easy to misjudge how long a walk might take and get caught out once the sun has started to set. Having the ability to see your map and the trail will definitely help get you home safely. Bring a headlamp or a torch (flashlight) plus spare batteries.

The North Shore Rescue website mentions that lack of light is the biggest reason for NSR call-outs. So, pop a light into your bag!!

2. First aid kit

You can pick up mini first aid kits that fit into a teeny pouch. I normally add in some extra plasters (band-aids) for blister prevention. It’s worth taking a basic first aid course if you can, so you can use the items in your kit. I also added water purification tablets to my first aid kit in case I need extra water while out and about.

I normally bring hand sanitizer and toilet roll or tissues. I keep meaning to buy a kula cloth, but i did not get around to it yet.

3. Navigation

I normally use my phone to help navigate these days, the GPS is pretty good at keeping us on the correct trail. However, we normally carry a hard copy map and compass too. I prefer real maps for the extra detail, and because they never run out of batteries.

4. Fire Starter

I have matches in a waterproof bag. In the summertime it’s illegal to start fires in British Columbia, but I leave them in my bag just in case. Our mini tool kit also has a foldable saw in case we need to chop up firewood.

5. Knife

We have a whole mini tool kit. You may need a knife for cutting twigs to make a fire in an emergency. I have never actually needed to use the knife on a day hike, but we’ve used a few of these tools when camping.

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6. Extra layers

We live by a temperate rainforest in Vancouver so we always carry waterproof jackets! I normally also bring an assortment of extra layers (including a down jacket that packs down into a teeny bag.) Gloves, a warm hat (they call them toques here!), and extra dry socks are always good to have too. Try to bring clothes that will wick-away water and dry quickly.

7. Emergency Shelter

Add an emergency blanket or a bivy sack to the bottom of your bag. They are shiny, so will help keep you warm like a sleeping bag, or as a make-shift mini shelter. I also carry a waterproof pad to sit on. I found it on a trail in Whistler and took it with me, rather than leaving trash on the trail.

8. Communication

Nearly everyone carries a cell phone, so you can call for help in an emergency. We have an extra battery-charger as a phone is as useful as a brick once it’s out of juice. Just be aware that once you’re far in the the back country, there is often no cell service. You can buy a satellite messenger device if you head out into the wilderness alone regularly.

Always carry a whistle, so you’ll be able to draw attention to yourself in an emergency. It’s louder than your best shouting voice, and you can blow on a whistler for far longer than you can shout for help.

9. Water

We always bring more water than we actually need (after we ran out once on a long hike – it was horrible feeling so dehydrated!) On long (really epic) day hikes I normally carry 4 liters, as well as a way to filter more water if and when I need to. Marc needs even more, for example he drank 7 liters on our hike to Mount Burwell.

We started to carry refillable bladders this year. If you buy these, you might find that they make water taste HORRIBLE to start with. You can fix this by soaking them in water with bicarbonate of soda.

10. Food

It’s normal to bring some lunch out on the trail. In Canada I normally pack sandwiches, fruit and trail-mix or nuts. In Japan, I’d bring onigiri (rice balls) as they are small, tasty and full of energy! I also normally have “emergency bars” of granola just in case I suddenly get really hungry. I hardly ever eat them; Last year I had a Lara bar that went on over 15 expeditions before I ate it. Still, it is really good to have some extra grub just in case.

We have cute little waterproof bags so we don’t create any waste on our trips. Then I pack peel/eggshells/rubbish etc into that to bring it all home.

Extra seasonal items to bring hiking:

  • Microspikes or snowshoes
  • Bugspray
  • Sun Protection – I always carry a small tube of sunscreen, but in summer I also bring a cap, sunglasses and a neckerchief. Actually sunglasses are also often essential on sunny days in the snow too. I just leave them behind on super-rainy days.

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Extra items depending on location:

You might nee to bring bear spray if you are hiking in an area with Grizzly bears. Still, if normally you will hike in larger groups in those areas, so it’s not very likely that you’ll run into a bear. Take a peek at the BC government’s Staying Safe in Bear Country website for more information about hiking near bears.

Anything else?

  • Camera (plus tripod/ extra lenses)
    I keep my camera on a strap around my neck and tucked into a case strapped to my backpack. This allows me to reach it quickly. It also stops it swinging and bumping about when I’m scrambling or on steep terrain.
  • Walking poles
    These make it easier for me to hike long distances and cope with descents that are tough on my knees.
  • Rubbish bag
    Seeing litter on the trail makes me irrationally mad at the world, so I normally carry a plastic bag to collect other litter-bug’s waste.

Appropriate footwear

I didn’t include this on my list (as it’s on your feet, rather than something to bring) But it goes without saying that you need to wear appropriate hiking boots or trail shoes.

I realize this is a little different from my normal trip-report type posts, but if you fancy getting outside more for 2021, hopefully this will give you the confidence to get started. At least now you’ll know what to bring hiking. Or, if you’re a regular hiker, did I miss anything?

If you don’t trust my list, you can have a look this post from Vancouver’s North Shore Rescue.

The 10 essentials - what you should pack in your bag for hikes What to carry on day hikes - the 10 essentials What to bring hiking - from a walk and a lark

49 thoughts on “What to bring hiking – 10 Essentials

  1. Very good list Josy! Admittedly, I don’t carry all of that on the trail because we usually run and have to stay light, but I always carry the emergency essentials. I always recommend to bring a sweet drink like Lucozade/Gatorade. It helps with electrolytes and it’s easy energy.

    I look forward to reading about your 2020 hikes!

    1. I have always wondered about how trail runners manage without packing everything. You all have such teeny bags!

      I guess if you don’t stop, you won’t have the same issue getting cold, but it would be a bit scary if something happened in the back country.

      Good shout for a sweet drink. We often stop to grab something like that after a walk, but I rarely carry it with me. I think i’d need to if I was running though!

  2. Great list Josy, if you’re hiking as much as you do then you need to cover all eventualities don’t you? Assume it’s all packed in your rucksack ready to go at a moments notice? Whistle is a great idea, never thought of that, and real maps obviously so much better than GPS.

    1. Yep. All this stuff doesn’t take up much room, so I leave it in my bag. We just add food and clothes at the start of each hike. 🙂

    1. Ooh that is a good point! I carry much less when we go skiing (although we have never been back country like you do – we stick to the official slopes)) I should at least pop a whistle into my pocket!

    1. Yep, I’ll take a photo of ours and add it when I have a chance. It’s like pepper spray (but in a large can.) You’d only use it in an emergency if a bear gets very close(!)

      I have never heard of other people complain about the taste of those water bladders, but I honestly couldn’t stand to drink from them until I worked out I could use bicarb to improve them!

      Are there any other things that you need to carry in the Aussie bush?

  3. Good stuff! I have never thought to keep water purification tables in my first aid kit, but running low on water is probably the most common issue, and the tablets don’t take up any weight/room at all.

    1. Yeah they are teeny and very easy to use. We’ve had them in our kit for 2 years, and only needed to use them 4 times. It’s just when we did need them I was very glad!

  4. The trick for cleaning out yucky tasting bladders is so key! I couldn’t seem to get mine to not taste “off” so I’ll give this a whirl. Thanks for all the helpful tips.. it’s funny how certain simple things you can forget when planning a trekking trip.

  5. Fantastic list of essentials. Recently I’ve started to always carry extra socks with me as well for hikes. Wet feet are the most uncomfortable I find, so I always appreciate having dry socks on hand for just in case!

    1. YES! Extra socks is a great idea. Although I often just leave some in the car to have fresh feet *after* the hike.

    1. I guess it also depends how far into the back country you go. As long as you start with some kind of light, navigation, whistle and extra layers, you’ll be good for hikes with good paths/lots of people.

      We just got into the habit of carrying everything as it’s always in my hiking bag, ready to go.

  6. This is a fantastic list for hiking! I have to say, I barely go anywhere without my headlamp. It’s just one of those things that’s useful for so many situations. I love your reusable bags for snacks, I should get some!

    1. I love those bags! They are waterproof on the inside so easy to wash.

      We only got headlamps last year (before that I always had a torch) but you are right, they are really handy. Great for camping too!

  7. I always have my hiking kit ready! It’s grown over the years. I love my hiking shoes. I used to just wear Nike’s haha until I realized how grippy real hiking shoes are!

  8. this is so helpful! I’m such a scatterbrain so I’m definitely saving this to help me on my next trek!

  9. Extra layers are so important and so is bringing enough water! I’ve definitely gone on long hikes without all the proper gear but this is a great checklist to use for next time!

  10. Great list! I’ve admittedly not always brought some of these on hiking trips, especially day trips, but it’s a good reminder for me to stock up and be prepared for anything! The emergency blanket is one that I definitely need to invest in. I usually put my phone in airplane mode when I hike (because why would I need to check it while hiking?) so it saves a lot of battery.

    1. Those emergency blankets are super cheap (less than $5) I was even given one for free when I attended a avalanche awareness event.

      Great idea for airplane mode! I do that on longer hikes (although sometimes I forget!)

  11. Great list for a newby like me. I tend to try and be prepared for every possible solution, so I’d be more than likely to schlepp a massive bag with me, if left to my own devises. So I really need someone like you, to tell me what to pack. So thank you

  12. This is a great post! I often take a backpack hiking with me, with an extra layer, water, bandaids, a map and my phone. And usually a snack that sits in my bag forever. But I don’t have a full first aid kit or a knife. And I don’t usually bring my headlamp either. I’ll have to make some adjustments!

  13. These are such handy tips! Hiking is definitely one of those activities where you can very easily pack far too much so knowing exactly what you need is key. Especially if it’s strenuous!

  14. Awesome list! Extremely informative! I don’t regard myself as a professional hiker at all, but I have absolutely come to love nature and the outdoors – and the opportunity to lose touch of everything else and just marvel at its raw beauty! I will enjoy it even more after this pandemic!

    1. I know what you mean. I have a feeling that the trails will be really full once things start to open back up as everyone has missed being out in the wilderness so much! I hope you’re doing okay in self isolation!

  15. I miss hiking so much! I’ve been meaning to put together my hiking pack so I’ll be ready to go when it’s okay to go out again! I need to see if my headlight still works!

    1. Yay! I’m glad it helped Patti. I have to admit, when we first got to BC, I didn’t realize light was the most important thing.

  16. Thanks for this great list, I have made note of all these things. I plan on visiting BC in May and I am going on my first hike, I am a little nervous but this list is well written and great for newbies like me!

    1. Oh yay, I am glad it helped! Let me know if you need advice when you come to BC. We love hiking here! 🙂

  17. Did someone say grizzly bears??? I don’t envy hikers who love hiking and live in an area with bears and cougars. Thank you for the excellent list. I love the reusable sandwich bags!!

    1. Thanks Anne! Those bags have saved us so much packaging over the last couple of years. 😀

  18. “ Seeing litter on the trail makes me irrationally mad” – nope. This is completely rational. Hiking to enjoy the beauty of the natural world AND littering is irrational.

    Great post. I have some of those cute waterproof bags, and never thought to use them for food waste.

    1. I’m glad it’s not just me! Those bags work perfectly for packing out food waste, as you can just wash them once you get home. 🙂

    1. Oh yay! I hope it is helpful for you Carrie! I did the same thing when we got to Canada. I had no idea about 10 essentials before that!

    1. Oh yay! I hope you have fun as you get started! You’ll be surprised by how quickly you’ll be able to progress to more epic trails 🙂

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