The Lazy Hiker's Guide to the 10 Essentials
The 10 Essentials for Hiking are very important for safety and emergency preparedness when you’re out in the middle of nowhere. You may think you’re an exception to the rules, but you want to at least have the bare minimum and I’ve put together a quick guide that’ll cover your bases without requiring too much preparation.
In short, the 10 Essentials are:
The video shows you what I personally carry in my pack; my goal is to pack as light and minimal as possible but not be completely unprepared in case of an emergency or unexpected change in plans (like running out of water, weather changes, running into an unprepared hiker, etc.)
I wanted to go into a little more detail with each of the Essentials, so feel free to scroll through this guide and I hope you find some useful tips!
Your navigation is going to be your best friend on the trail. Especially when trails are not clearly marked or if there are splits and forks that’ll take you in different directions. It’s crucial to have some kind of navigation system if you were to get lost or choose to venture away from where you planned on going.
I personally use my smartphone and download offline maps from Google as well as the GPS system in AllTrails. It’s not the best, but I’m holding off on too off-the-beaten-path hikes until I’m comfortable with a map and compass.
Other options include: a GPS device, Personal Locator Beacon (PLB), or a Spot device.
I always have a tactical flashlight in my bag. It’s small and light, expands and contracts to control the width (spread) of the light beam so that I can have a wide view up close, or be able to direct a narrower beam further away. There’s also a strobe function.
If I know that my hike will take place partially in the dark (a sunrise or sunset hike), I will carry a headlamp with fresh batteries. That way my hands are free to use trekking poles or grab things if I needed to. I’ve had people drop flashlights in the dark and it’s just not fun to be fumbling around a trail in darkness trying to find your flashlight.
I’m notoriously bad at being prepared for sunlight, so I’m usually covered in farmer’s tans and squinting on bright, sunny days. You need sun protection even on overcast days! So you should always have at least a small bottle of sunscreen (SPF 30+), and maybe some sunglasses. Another idea is to get UV protecting sleeves for arms and legs, or even sun protecting clothing sold at many outdoor retailers.
There are so many first aid kits and necessities that it’s really hard to specify the perfect combination. But it’s important you have something; you just have to find what works best for your needs. I carry a small day hiker’s first aid kit as well as moleskin (for blisters) and a ton of wet wipes, wilderness wipes, and hand sanitizer.
Some things to keep in mind: if you’re prone to aches and pains, consider bringing some OTC medication like Ibuprofen or Advil. If you tend to roll your ankles or stumble across uneven terrain, bringing an ankle brace or KT Tape will be a great addition to your kit.
I carry a folding knife with a serrated edge in a little holster in my hip pouch. Knives can be useful in many situations besides the obvious (like the threat of animals) - perhaps you got caught on something and need to cut out of it, or you need a sharp edge for food preparation, or even need to cut some equipment for repairs. A multitool is also useful in these situations, and offer a wider variety of tools to help you on the trail.
Day hikers may not necessarily think they need to bring equipment for fire, but consider the idea that you might get injured on trail and Search & Rescue is hours out or may not be able to get to you that day. It is possible that you’ll find yourself having to stay overnight and need some source of warmth if your clothes aren’t doing it for you. A reliable lighter, match, or even a firestarter tool will go a long way, and barely takes up any space in your bag. You’ll also want something to get it started, like a couple cotton pads soaked in petroleum jelly.
A light and cheap option for shelter is to get an emergency blanket (the kind that looks like tin foil). It’s not the most ideal option, but certainly better than nothing when it comes to needing some warmth and/or protection from the elements. Another cheap alternative is a trash bag. If you have backpacking gear, a tent footprint plus the fly is a quick and easy combo for a makeshift shelter if you don’t want to carry the tent with you (you can hold up the fast fly with your trekking poles if you have them), but backpackers should consider bringing an additional shelter option in your bag if you are leaving your tent during the day.
Portable snacks that are easy to eat without creating too much of a mess are ideal. Carry them in a large Ziploc bag so they don’t get lost in your pack. Think of your macronutrients here: carbohydrates for energy, protein for strength, and fat for hunger. Make sure they are easily digestible but not perishable items; if you can, try to bring an extra day’s worth of food, just in case.
My favorites: GU Energy gels (Chocolate Outrage tastes like frosting!), energy gummies, protein bars, trail mix, granola, and some fruit or fruit bars.
Trust me when I say it is NOT FUN to run out of water on the trail. I thought I was prepared with two 32oz bottles (a little over 2L) of water for a 7-mile (roundtrip) hike with 1,800 feet of gain. What I failed to consider at the time was the fact that despite starting at dawn, we were hiking out in the middle of a hot August day on an exposed trail with little shade. Luckily, I ran out of water about a mile from the trailhead on the way back, but it was the worst mile ever.
For most of my day hikes (generally between 6-12 miles with up to 3,500ft of gain) I carry a 2L hydration bladder, a 40oz (1.2L) Hydroflask, and a frozen 12oz bottle for electrolyte powder. But even if that’s not enough, I also carry a LifeStraw so that I can filter water on trail.
Other options include: SteriPen, purification tablets, or a water pump.
You always want to be prepared for changes in weather. Dressing in layers is extremely helpful, as well as carrying some accessories that’ll come in handy if it gets too cold or too hot.
Some things I usually carry: a Buff (there are various kinds depending on weather type, so be sure to double check before purchasing!), gloves, water resistant windbreaker, and/or a lightweight rain jacket. I also carry an extra pair of hiking socks in case my feet get wet during the hike (helpful in water crossings).
Hope these tips were helpful! These certainly aren’t an exhaustive list of items you should carry, but a good start for beginner hikers or those of us who haven’t been overly prepared on hikes. Other useful resources for the 10 Essentials are below: