What to Pack for a Day Hike

Are you looking to get outside more in the mountains, but don’t know where to start? You watch your friends post beautiful pictures of mountain tops, golden larches, and vistas that you can only get to with a helicopter or your own two feet. The mountains are no joke though, and while social media makes these beautiful vistas seem easy to get to, we are starting to see more people get themselves in trouble. At Uplift Adventures, we want to set you up for success and teach you the skills you need to safely get outdoors. Here is a good start, a good refresher, or a good reminder on what to pack for a day hike.


First, let’s ask a few questions. There are a lot of lists out there on what to pack, but as a professional, I want to take you the next step and make you even smarter. Trip planning is the key to any trip outdoors. We go into a lot more details about trip planning during our Intro to Backpacking (multi-day trips), but let’s go over some basic questions now.

What is the length of your trip and how long will it take you?

Where can you find this information? There is a lot out there that is available now-a-days to gather information. For example:

  • Blogs
  • Guide books
  • Topographic maps

Do your research before you head out so that you know (at least) approximately how long it will take you and what the distance is.

What time of year are you going?

Depending on the time of year, can influence what you put in your day pack. For example:

  • Spring/Fall: Make sure you pack gloves, toque, microspikes, gaitors
  • Summer: You might want extra water and sunscreen.
  • Winter: Hand and toe warmers, a big puffy jacket, neck warmer, stove and fuel

What does the weather forecast say?

This is crucial. Find a weather forecast that is good for the area that you are travelling in. Find one with some specifics.

Pay attention to more than just the temperature. Look at the wind speed (if you can find a weather forecast that is more specific and gives forecasts based on elevations, then look at all elevations), precipitation, and when the sun will set and rise.

Also, review the weather for the following day too. This will make you more prepared if something goes wrong on your day adventure.

Where are you going?

This might seem simple, but where you are going will impact how you pack. If you are going up a popular hiking trail with a hundred other people, you might pack differently than if you are hiking in a less known area.

Are you in the desert, in the mountains, on a mountain ridge with no water on a hot day? These are questions you should think about before heading into the outdoors.

Now, tell someone where you are going, how long it will take you, and stick to that plan. If your plan changes, make sure your emergency contact knows that you have changed your plans.

Is there cell service where you are going? How do you get help if you need it?

It is common to lose cell service in the mountains. So, how are you going to call for help if something goes wrong?

There are a lot of options out there for communication devices and we will talk about some of them below.

Who are you going with?

This will impact how you pack because maybe you are going with friends who aren’t very experienced, or you are going with family, or kids. Maybe you are going in a big group and not everyone needs to bring everything.


1. Navigation

As a professional guide, I always have at least two means of navigating if I’m going into the backcountry. Remember, you need to know how to use these tools for them to be effective. If you are just following a blue dot on your phone, this is not effective and can get you into a lot of trouble. Learn how to navigate.

  • Map and Compass

You can have a map without a compass, but you can’t use a compass very well without a map. And if you don’t know how to use a compass, then what is the point in bringing it along? If you want to learn, check out our Navigation Course to get good at map and compass skills. They tell you a lot of information!

  • Altimeter

I like an altimeter mostly for elevation. I use a Suunto watch to help me navigate. Again, you need to know how to use this equipment and know that you need to calibrate it often for best results. I often use my altimeter on multi-day trips or off-trail navigation.

  • GPS Device

This is an interesting one because it is changing so fast. In the past, people have used Garmin devices. Being someone who has used Garmins a lot for field work, I see a lot of value in them.

However, many people use their phones now. Your phone and apps are a great tool now-a-days. I like the big screen that you get with your phone. I can track, take waypoints, and so much more with phone apps. Again, you need to know how to use them properly and if you are using your phone app to navigate and you have no other way of navigating, then take a course. Do not rely on your phone only. I see it too often where people are following the blue dot on an app and they get themselves in trouble. Some apps are better than others, and some are vetted through a local expert…and some are not.

2. Illumination

This means ‘Give me Light!’ Again, going back to those questions that you asked yourself at the beginning. How long is your hike, mean if it is a 1km hike that you are doing along a trail first thing in the morning… is a headlamp really necessary?

Illumination means a headlamp or flashlight, preferably a headlamp. If you decide hiking is something you really want to get into, invest in a good headlamp. The amount of lumens means how bright the headlamp is; the higher the lumens, the brighter it is. I recommend a headlamp in the video below.

Also, make sure you have extra batteries for your headlamp and put them into your gear kit.

3. Sun Protection

Even in the winter, you want sun protection! Sun protection can mean sunscreen, sunglasses with UV protection, lip balm with SPF, and a hat with a rim. Again, go back to those first questions that you asked yourself and investigate. What is the weather doing that day? And keep in mind, that light reflects off snow, so you can get a serious sunburn on your skin or eyes in the winter time.

Even go as far as thinking, it is winter time, it’s a sunny day with some wind up high. It just snowed. You might want to consider packing googles as well. Food for thought.

4. First Aid Kit

This one is pretty self explanatory. However, take it to the next level and find out if there are any medical conditions or allergies in your group. Know if anyone packs around something extra for medical emergencies.

As a professional guide, I carry more than most. However, I find what I use most are band-aids, sterilizers, blister wounds, gauze, emergency blankets, and triangular bandages. Most common injuries have been cuts, blisters, and broken bones.

Again, know how to use your first aid kit. Uplift Adventures hosts Wilderness First Aid Courses. If you are in the backcountry a lot, I recommend taking more than a Standard First Aid.

5. Gear Repair Kit

This will look different for everyone. Think about the activity that you are doing and what you might need to fix if something breaks. For example, maybe you are snowshoeing and a binding breaks. How can you fix it so that you can make it back to your car?

Some staples are a multi-tool knife, duct tape, flagging, safety pins, zipties, and your extra batteries. I put this all into a small pot so that I can boil water if I have to. I also put #6 into my gear kit.

6. Fire Starter Kit

Again, I would consider the questions we asked at the beginning. What are you doing? Where are you going? If you are going for a full day adventure, you might want to consider bringing a small stove and fuel with you. Think about what is best for the adventure you are going on.

I carry a minimum of (1) lighter, some fire starter (such as cotton and vaseline in a bag), and a couple of tea lights. There are several types of fire starters out there. Other considerations to bring are flint lighter with ferro rod, a small folding saw (good for shelter building too), and matches in a waterproof container.

7. Shelter

Do I need to say it? Go back to the original questions. As a bare minimum, you should have an emergency blanket with you. As a professional guide, I carry a SilTarp with me and can use (and have used) as shelter. A folding saw can really help you make an emergency shelter. If you don’t know how to make one, consider taking a shelter building course with us. We focus on these skills more in the fall / winter time.

8. Nutrition

This is your food! I always have some emergency food with me in my pack. Make sure it is high energy, like nuts or a Cliff bar. Something that can sustain you and give you energy. Of course, know how long you are hiking for and make sure you have enough meals, some extra calories because you’re burning more, and then a stash of emergency food. You don’t have to go crazy here.

I’ve seen people pack their food in bulk containers. This is quite common actually and not something I recommend. Often, I use reusable sandwich bags a lot, and ziplock bags. Then, I avoid packing food that squishes easily, like a banana or peach. I learned that one the hard way!

9. Hydration

Are you going onto a ridge top with no water? You will need to pack more water. Is it going to be a cold day? Maybe pack hot water in a thermos instead. Depending on the day, your distance, the weather, etc will determine how much water you should bring. I pack at least 1 – 2 litres. Sometimes 3 litres if I’m going onto a ridge. If I have my dog with me, I need to pack more (I make him pack some in a little dog backpack).

If you know there is water along the trail and you have a big day, consider bringing a water filter. There are lots of great options out there now. Maybe you just bring a life straw (although they aren’t my favourite to use).

The other thing with hydration is electrolytes. If you are sweating a lot, you need to be replacing your salt. Have you ever had a headache on a hot day, but are wearing a hat and drinking a lot of water? This is likely because you need to replenish your electrolytes. There are a lot of great options out there now like NUUN tabs, Skratch, Gatorade, etc.

10. Insulation

Make sure you bring all three layers, but you don’t always have to wear each one at the same time.

First layer is your base layer. This goes against your skin and the purpose is to wick away sweat to keep you dry. Cotton is highly discouraged in the backcountry.

Second layer is your insulative layer. This can be a down jacket, fleece, etc. Something that adds warmth that isn’t a cotton hoody. There are varying types of layers based on temperature.

Third layer is your outer shell. This protects you from the elements like wind, rain, and snow. This can be a soft shell or a gortex layer. There is a lot we can teach in this section alone, but play around with what you have to find what works for you.

Also, consider bringing a toque (beanie), gloves, neck warmer, and toe and hand warmers depending on the time of year that you go.

11. Communication

This is your communication device. It might be a cell phone (and I take an external battery charger with me).

As a guide, I often carry radios with me depending on where I’m going, but this is not necessary for an individual. However, there are a lot of communication devices out there right now. Satellite phones are becoming less popular and more people are relying on satellite devices such as a Spot, inReach, or personal beacon device. I highly recommend the inReach and this is what I use. My inReach is also a GPS device, so I get two-in-one.

12. Bear Spray

If you are going into bear country or worried about another type of critter (bear spray works on more than bears). Then make sure you bring non-expired bear spray and know how to use it.


This is a good start to get you outside and exploring more. Taking courses from trained professionals is a great way to get better acquainted with the outdoors and improve your skills.

Take some time and watch our Facebook Live video for a few more tidbits on ‘What to Pack for a Day Hike’.

Enjoy. Have fun. Stay safe, my friends.