Do 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
- 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.
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.
- 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.
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.