On numerous occasions I have been asked what I take with me or recommend to take on a day hike in the backcountry. As a disclaimer, I am by no means an expert in the field but have plenty of experience in the backcountry.
This list is compiled of 10 items that I personally recommend having while in the backcountry for hiking but there are many more items which can and should be taken to tailor to your own needs.
This list is by no means all that you should take with you during a hike but covers almost all bases of your personal safety while out spending a day in the great outdoors.
It goes without saying that using common sense while exploring the outdoors is the most important aspect of hiking. Do not approach or feed any wild animals, stay low if a storm approaches, be courteous to other hikers and most importantly:
Pack out what you pack in, NO exceptions.
A golden rule to those looking to get out there and start exploring the great outdoors is to always be more prepared than you think you should be. In the case of an emergency you will be thankful for the items you brought instead of regretful for those you didn’t.
10. Map of Hiking Area
Having a map of the hiking area as well as any guidelines from various websites saved on your phone or printed on paper are important for keeping you on track in the instance of becoming lost or assessing distance covered during a hike.
Having a general knowledge of the area you are hiking in is extremely important in keeping safe while in the backcountry.
Typically, I use websites such as Trail Peak to find directions to the trailhead as well as vital information recorded by other hikers about the trail. In my opinion, having a general knowledge of the length of the hike you are setting out to do is important not only to mentally prepare you but to also have a feel of how much longer it may take you to reach your destination and return to your vehicle before nightfall.
9. Waterproof First Aid Kit
I bring a simple waterproof one person first aid kit with bandaids, blister tape, alcohol wipes, gauze and butterfly stitches all zipped into a waterproof pouch with me on every hike I go on. I have only had to use my first aid kit once to perform first aid but was appreciative of having my kit with me when it was needed.
The specific kit I use can be found on Amazon Here
I take a knife with me for several reasons but my primary reason is safety. I feel that taking a small, foldable knife with you can act as a last ditch resort for the defence against wild animals, creating a shelter in an emergency situation and many other situations where a knife may ensure survival.
7. Emergency Bivy
Although I have not yet used my Bivy, It is extremely lightweight and compact (fits in my palm) and is hardly noticed when it is in my backpack. A bivy is an emergency sleeping bag which can double as a reflector to attract attention if lost in the backcountry as well as a protector from the elements.
The emergency Bivy I use can be found here
I can not recommend a Lifestraw enough! This is your emergency water filter if you have run out of water during your hike. A Lifestraw can be used in any type of water and is guaranteed to filter out 99.9% of waterborne bacteria found in water. It is extremely easy to use and acts exactly as a straw would. You simply place the filter end of the straw into the water you wish to consume and as you pull water through the straw it automatically filters it into clean drinking water!
It is reusable for up to 1000 Litres of water, at which point the straw will no longer pull water through so you will know that it is no longer useable – A wonderful feature to remove any guesswork.
I have personally used my Lifestraw dozens of times and find the taste of the water comparable to bottled water. I have used my straw in running creeks, lakes and rivers and have been surprised at how well the water tastes each time.
Seriously, buy a Lifestraw it is the best investment you will make if you spend any amount of time in the outdoors. Find the link here
5. Extra Food
My golden rule for hiking is to always bring an extra days worth of food with me during a day hike. Typically, bringing foods such as protein bars, energy gels, granola bars or other snack bars are wonderful spare food items to take with you in case of an unexpected emergency.
Perishable foods should typically be eaten the same day with of course packing out all wrapping of any food items.
4. SPOT / GPS Tracker
My peace of mind item that I carry with me and actively pay a subscription for yearly is my SPOT tracker.
I do not have the current generation of spot, I carry a Spot Generation 2 with me when I hike.
Basically, a SPOT tracks your location every five minutes and provides exact GPS coordinates to a set list of people which you input when activating your subscription.
SPOT can also send emergency messages with a push of a button to your list of contacts if you are in need of help but it is not critical and can also send a direct SOS message to the closest search and rescue team of the area you are hiking in. SPOTS homepage directly boasts how many lives have been saved due to SPOT tracking devices to date!
SPOT also has an app on both Android and Apple platforms which allow you to follow a persons location in real time with time and date stamps along the way. It is extremely helpful if you are ever to get lost, hurt or need assistance in the backcountry and do not have cell reception.
The one downside to SPOT is the yearly subscription fee which on average is around $150.00 CAD but when considering the peace of mind and what a SPOT can potentially do for you it is worth each and every penny spent.
The SPOT tracker I currently use can be found on the SPOT website here along with current pricing plans and other SPOT products.
3. Hiking Backpack
What I feel is a vital essential for comfortable outings starts with a supportive hiking backpack. I have exclusively used Osprey Backpacks since I had first started hiking and backpacking and love the quality, feel and performance of this companies backpacks.
When you are searching for a backpack I would first suggest searching at a place that has specialists who can help you find a proper fitting backpack for your body. Height, weight, gender are all important factors in finding you a proper backpack which will be comfortable for your hikes.
A comfortable backpack helps to take the load off of your shoulders, back and hips and distribute the weight evenly amongst the three. A quality backpack will typically include a hip strap as well as a chest strap and can be height adjusted.
If you have the option, going for a gender specific backpack is always your best option, as womens backpacks typically take into consideration wider hips and chest areas.
I have hiked with unisex and womens backpacks from Osprey and have always found womens backpacks are more comfortable for long term use.
I currently use the Osprey Womens Tempest 40 in Mystic Magenta and love it! It is a wonderful backpack that can carry more than enough supplies for a long day hike. It is light, adjustable and has dozens of wonderful features including a water bladder holder, different zip compartments and straps for various items.
It goes without saying that I of course advise on carrying a water revisor with a capacity of 1.5 Litres or more for a day hike. I use Platypus 2.5 Litre as it is easy to clean and use.
Bringing layers is essential to safe and successful outings! Anyone who has spent any amount of time in the backcountry can tell you that weather changes rapidly up high and can bring snow, high winds, rain and severe storms at a moments notice. Bringing items to help you prepare for those unexpected storms can ensure your bases are covered during these circumstances.
Typically, I bring lightweight gloves, a long sleeve shirt, change of socks and a rain/wind jacket with me on each hike. It is often surprising how drastically the temperature can change from the parking lot to the summit of your hike so bringing items that help you prepare for changing elements is vital.
1.Hiking Boots and Socks
The most important item to take with you during your hike is proper footwear!
I can not stress this enough
The amount of times I have seen individuals wearing running shoes (which can be okay) skate shoes or sandals is astounding. Not only is wearing improper footwear terrible for the health of your feet and overall body but is also unsafe.
Oftentimes trails can have sharp rocks, bugs, poisonous plants or low lying animals (snakes) which can be a threat to feet that do not have the right protection.
The problem with skate and running shoes is they offer very little in regard to ankle support as well as sole support. A sharp rock you may not be paying attention to and step directly on can bruise the sole of your foot and cause painful bruising which you may have to endure for the rest of your hike. You also pose the risk of rolling an ankle easily on unstable ground as running shoes do not support the ankle.
My best advice when choosing a hiking boot is to choose one that goes above the ankles and has a thick sole. These two features alone will protect you from a world of pain!
I am no shoe expert, but allowing a professional fit you at a hiking specific store is the best thing you can do for your body if you are considering spending a serious amount of time hiking.
Running shoes are okay, we all have done it! But if you are looking for some serious support on longer more technical hikes with the ability to walk through creeks without hesitation, or to have no fear of rolling an ankle.. investing in hiking boots is the next step for you.
I use the Salomon Quest 4D GTX and have for the last two years with no complaints. These boots do not need break in time, as a matter of fact the second hike I had taken these on was over 28 Kilometres andhad no blisters and little to no foot pain! A true first!
This all goes without saying that also having a proper hiking sock is a vital piece to hiking comfort. Finding a sweat wicking sock that is a bit longer than your boot is a great place to start when searching for a proper hiking sock. I assure you that investing in a proper pair of hiking socks with save you from painful blisters due to wet, dirty and sweaty socks. Buy some and thank me later!
Although there are many other things I can recommend including a hiking buddy(s), trekking poles and camera equipment these are the top 10 items I feel are essential for survival and enjoyment in the backcountry.
It is important to understand that nature does not need us, we need nature. Respect natures raw power at all times, as nature will win each and every time against you.
Be extremely cautious when or if you are hiking alone, but still enjoy yourself.
Talk loud, sing to yourself and make yourself known while in the backcountry to let any wildlife know you are in the area. Most wildlife do not want to see you just as much as you don’t want to see them! Making yourself heard is vital to ensure that you do not startle a predator.
My last word of advice: Please, oh please… Leave your “bear bells” at home!