Hiking in Larch Valley towards Mount Temple

Essential Hiking Gear for Safe and Enjoyable Hikes

Hiking can be an enjoyable and memorable activity when you are prepared, and you have the right gear. As a seasoned hiker, there are some hiking gear that I always have with me on the trails, without exception. My Essential Hiking Gear List will ensure you are safe and comfortable on the trails. You will then be able to concentrate on enjoying the hike and having fun!

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hiker on a trail heading towards a mountain with the essential hiking gear in his backpack
randonneur sur le sentier vers la montagne avec l'équipement de randonnée indispensable dans son sac à dos

If you are hitting the trail for a multi-day hike, check out our Ultimate Guide to Backpacking, where you will find all you need to plan an amazing trip.

However, for a day trip, this article includes a comprehensive hiking gear list for summer and winter hiking. 

*Discloser: This article may contain affiliate links, meaning I may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you if you purchase through a link. More information

Backpack

For a day hike, a small pack of around 10-30 L will be sufficient to carry all you need.  The litres refer to the capacity of the pack, that is, the space inside the backpack. The higher the capacity (or litres), the more gear you can carry. 

Your backpack should feel comfortable on your shoulders. They do come with different options to fit different needs. 

My summer day pack is 20 L, and it is big enough to carry everything on this gear list. I love my Osprey Tempest 20 L for women (check it out on Amazon).

The men’s Osprey Talon is also a great choice. Read all about it here.

I also use a winter backpack. It is in no way necessary, but know that it is an option if you practice winter sports such as hiking, snowshoeing, ski touring or backcountry snowboarding. 

winter backpack with snowshoes attached

My winter pack is a little bit bigger at 30 L to accommodate more clothes, like a winter jacket. It was also designed with snow-specific features like back panel access, ski, snowboard, and snowshoe carry, goggles pocket, helmet carry, ice tool carry, and bigger zipper loops to accommodate gloved fingers, just to name a few.  

Essential hiking gear for your feet

Hiking shoes or hiking boots

Your feet are what will keep you on the trail, so treat them well. Make sure that your shoes or boots are the right size for you. If they are too big, they will blister your feet. If it is too small, you might lose your toenails. 

Some hikers prefer hiking shoes, while others will opt for hiking boots. Both are appropriate. 

Hiking shoes are generally lighter. They won’t be as warm as boots, especially if you hike on hot summer days. On the other hand, boots offer better support for your ankles, and the soles are generally stiffer, which will better protect your feet. Hikers will often choose hiking boots if the trails they usually hike are very rugged. 

hiking socks

Keep your feet in mind, you will want to wear socks that keep your feet dry and blister-free. 

The popular Merino wool socks are a favourite among hikers. They are quick to dry and keep moisture at bay. 

Good socks will improve your feet’s health. Do not underestimate the importance of a good pair of hiking socks. Most hikers will have an extra pair in their pack when hiking. 

Hiking Poles

Hiking poles are not essential but I still wanted to include them in my list.

When set at the right height, your trekking poles will relieve some of the impacts on your lower body. I recommend them to minimize the impact on your ankles and your knees. Plus, they give your arms something to do!

They are especially handy going up a steep path on loose scree and even more so on the descent to keep you from sliding down. They can also be very practical to keep your balance when fording streams and creeks. 

See also: All About Hiking Poles. You will be able to make an informed decision on whether to use them or not and which types will be best for you.

First Aid Kit

A first aid kit is essential on the trail. A small kit containing the basic items should always be included in your pack. 

Your kit should contain the following supplies:

  • different-sized sterile gauze pads
  • adhesive tape
  • band-Aids in several sizes
  • elastic bandage
  • antiseptic wipes
  • acetaminophen and ibuprofen
  • tweezers  or tick remover tweezers
  • alcohol wipes
  • plastic non-latex gloves

If you would rather have a more comprehensive list of items to be included in a first aid kit, the Canadian Red Cross has dedicated a part of its website to this subject. 

Water

It is essential to carry your water on a day hike. 

Some hikers opt for a hydration reservoir if their backpack has a reservoir sleeve. Others will prefer bottles. There are rigid bottles like the popular Nalgene ones though any bottle will do. There are also soft pliable bottles that are very popular. They weigh next to nothing on their own and take little space once they are empty. The important thing here is to have enough water to drink. 

Some hikers will choose to carry a lifestraw with them on their hike. If they run out of water, they can use the straw to drink water from a stream or lake. The lifestraw filters the water as you drink through it. 

LifeStraw for purifying water

We suggest carrying 2 L of water on a summer day hike. Of course, the amount of water you will need will largely depend on the duration of the hike, how hard it is physically, and how hot the temperature is on that day. 

Other Essential Hiking Gear for your safety

We recommend always carrying the following gear on a day hike:

  • compass
  • pocket knife
  • lighter
  • whistle
  • horn or bear spray if in bear country
  • trail map
  • headlamp

You may not think you need some of those items or may never use them, but you will be glad to have them if need be. You never know if a hike will take longer than planned for whatever reason. You will be glad to have the headlamp if you are still on the trail after sunset. The whistle will be useful in scaring wildlife away or calling for help. The compass and trail map will be useful in not getting lost or finding your way if you do. The lighter and pocket knife are just-in-case items, but if the need arises, you will be glad to have them. As some say, “better be safe than sorry”

Food on the trail

If you are on the trail for a number of hours, you will have to keep your energy up with good, healthy snacks. Favourites among hikers are nuts and cheese, protein bars or beef jerky.  Fruits are always a good option, too. Any healthy snack will do.

The pack it in, pack it out principle applies here. Your banana peel or the package of your protein bar goes back in your pack. If you brought it with you, you bring it back—no exceptions!

If you are on the trail for a full day, you will need to think about a lunch that you can eat on the trail. Try to stay light so you don’t carry unnecessary weight. A sandwich or a wrap is a good choice. Some hikers like the practicality of canned meat. I find they are heavy, but this is a personal preference.

Make sure to have plenty of food to keep your energy up all through the day, especially if the hike is demanding.

Essential hiking gear according to the weather

Look up the weather forecast before leaving and dress accordingly. I always carry my rain jacket in my backpack. It also doubles as a windbreaker; it can get pretty windy on top of a mountain. 

The weather often dictates the extra clothes I pack. Should I have a long-sleeved shirt or a fleece? It depends on the weather.

Some gear is necessary, depending on the season.

Summer essential hiking gear

Winter essential hiking gear

  • toques and gloves
  • down jacket
  • microspikes or snowshoes
  • goggles

For a more detailed list of winter hiking gear, I have prepared a list of what I add to my pack on my winter hiking adventures. This list will be helpful while planning a winter hike.

Not-so-essential gear

Some items are really nonessential, but I still bring them anyway. I bring them because I use them, but I could do without them and be perfectly safe. 

hiker taking a picture of the grassy and forested hills in landscape
camera and selfie stick
wearing gaters on the trail in wet conditions
gaiters

There are tons of items and hiking materials out there. Some are handy, some are practical, some are not. The choice to buy and use different items depends largely on the type of hiker we are. Some of us are minimalists, others like luxury, and there are those in between. 

This completes my hiking gear list! Once you have all the gear you need to be safe, energized and hydrated, the only thing left for you to do is to enjoy your hike!

Happy trails!

“In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.”

-John Muir

Pin it: Hiking Gear List

list of essential hiking gear
liste d'équipement essentiel pour la randonnée
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