Ten Essentials for Day Hiking

New to hiking and want to prepare yourself for the great outdoors by learning about the ten essentials for day hiking? Read on to learn more about the ten essentials and my recommendations for them.

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What are the ten essentials?

The ten essentials are a collection of first aid and emergency items that can help you in the event of minor injuries, sudden weather changes, or unexpected delays. I’ve listed each item below! However, these ten essentials are just the basics and you should note that depending on the activity, you may need different items. For example, a lifejacket is not part of the ten essentials but if you’re kayaking, you need one! This list is my take on the ten essentials for day hiking – if you’re camping or backpacking, you may need some additional items!

When was the hiking essential list first put together?

According to REI, the original Ten Essentials list was assembled in the 1930’s by The Mountaineers, a Seattle-based organization for outdoor adventurers, to help people be prepared for emergency situations in the outdoors. The ten essentials as they are today are more of a “systems” approach than just a list of ten items. As Jack Sparrow would say, they’re “more like guidelines, anyway”.

The Ten Essentials for Day Hiking

The first five items are intended to prevent and respond to emergencies, the second five are intended to allow the hiker to safely spend one (or more nights) outdoors (even if you don’t plan to!). Put together, all of these items are what I consider to be the ten essentials for day hiking.

Click on any of the pictures to purchase the items!


“But I have maps on my phone!” Phones can, and will, die. Even if you bring a backup phone charger, sometimes temperature swings can totally knock out a phone battery. If it’s your only source of navigation, you could be SOL. You may also not have service for maps to load, meaning even if your phone is working, it can’t help you.

This awesome bracelet is a great multi-tool for hikers. It’s got a compass, a fire-starter, twelve feet of paracord, and a whistle. Great to have in an emergency situation! However, remember that while a compass is a great tool, but you do need to know how to use it. I recommend watching this YouTube video from REI on compass basics. My Garmin watch also has a built in compass, which is great as a backup.

I do a lot of short hikes in more urban areas, so this is an essential that I give myself flexibility on. Most of the time, I can hear a road and know that I can get myself out to the road to ask for help if I got lost. However, for long hikes such as the Rachel Carson Trail or the Baker Trail, I purchased the trail guides for both of those trails and trust me, I have used them.


Again, this is another place where new hikers think they can get by with just their phone. The flashlight from a phone is helpful in a pinch but likely won’t save your life. A headlamp is hands-free, which is safer when navigating in the dark. I have definitely tripped and broken a phone before!

This headlamp is great. I’ve had it for over a year and it’s super lightweight so it’s always in my bag. It’s got a bunch of different settings, including strobing and the eye-ball friendly red light, and is super bright at its brightest setting. It is rechargeable, which I love because I never have enough of the right batteries on hand for anything. However, you do need to make sure that it’s charged before adventure!

Having a headlamp in my pack was super helpful when we came across this abandoned tunnel in Western PA!

Sun Protection

You can protect yourself from the sun in many different ways. Since I am super pale, I usually choose all three on hot days!


I am obsessed with sunscreen. I use it all the time. My daily moisturizor has a basic SPF in it, but for long days outside, I need more. I have two favorite sunscreens. I use Sunbum for my face and Banana Boat for spraying over the rest of my exposed skin. This Sunbum face sunscreen is TSA approved and is light enough to wear on a regular basis without getting that gross, sticky sunscreen feel.

Flexible spending accounts can cover sunscreen! This is a great way to make sure you’re protected from the sun while saving money.


Hats are another great way to protect yourself from the sun. I typically use a baseball cap, specifically this one because its lightweight and easily adjustable for my tiny head. Is it attractive? No. Does it keep my face for getting sunburned? YUP! And that’s what matters. I also do water sports on the Allegheny here in Pittsburgh and hi-viz is required for safety so it is a multi-purpose purchase!

Sun Clothing

This has been a game changer for me. I actually prefer these long sleeve shirts to a tank top and sunscreen. I just feel way more protected.

My favorite sun shirt is from RAB, purchased at the Three Rivers Outdoor Company in Pittsburgh! I’ve had this shirt for a year and it looks brand new! I wear it at least once a week in the warmer months, if not more. It has held up very well in the wash.

I also love my Columbia sun shirt. It’s lightweight and I’ve had it for five years without any issues. I prefer the long sleeve sun shirts to be as protected as possible.

First Aid

It may seem silly to carry a first aid kit for a short hike, but it is so much better to have it and not need it than the reverse. I keep mine in my backpack all the time. It’s super lightweight so it’s not a big deal to carry it. Even if I don’t need it, I may be able to help someone else who gets in a tough situation.

I use this first aid kit. which has everything you could need for a short hike. It’s actually intended to cover two people over four days so you could use it for longer backpacking trips as well. If you have a flexible spending or health savings account through your health insurance, it actually covers a first aid kit! That way you save money and protect yourself on the trail!

Looking to take your ten essentials for day hiking on some hikes? Check out some of my favorites!
- Best Hikes Near Pittsburgh
- PA State Park Guides
- Guide to Cuyahoga Valley National Park


A pocketknife or multi-tool can be helpful in many different situations. It’s useful for tasks like building an emergency shelter or lighting a campfire with poor fuel. It can also help repair a damaged backpack. I like to carry it in case my dog happens to get stuck in a bramble or root.


Matches, a fire starter, or a lighter start a fire, which can be useful for keeping yourself warm or signaling for help. The bracelet I mentioned in the first section has flint steel to start a fire (AND a guide that comes with the bracelet on how to use it). This is another essential that I generally don’t pack when hiking where I hike since I am usually only gone for two to five hours and am close to roads.

Additionally, you’ll need to know the regulations for the area you’re hiking. Many areas don’t allow fires at all, especially where I used to live in Southern California. By starting a fire, you could cause major damage to property and potentially loss of life.

Emergency Shelter

It may seem silly to have an emergency shelter when you’re day hiking. However, you never know what can happen. I don’t carry around a tent when day hiking, but I do carry a large garbage bag. This can be utilized as shelter or to keep me warm. It can also keep the contents of my pack dry if it starts raining.

Extra Food

If you’ve ever seen my Instagram, you know I LOVE hiking snacks. That’s not just because food tastes extra delicious outside (even though I swear it does). It’s because as you’re hiking, you’re going to be burning more calories than you do normally.

Some of my favorite hiking snacks include sport-specific foods, such as Cliff Bars or Honey Stinger Waffles, but also include normal foods that I happen to eat on a trail. My main go-tos are peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, bananas, apples, chips, and of course, gummy bears. Backpackers take the weight to calorie ratio of food into account because they’ll be gone for a long time, but for hiking, I’m ok if my pack is a little heavier due to a nice lunch.

Extra Water

Extra water is especially important in hot conditions. Dehydration can lead to confusion and disorientation. For any sort of overnight hiking, I’d recommend bringing something to purify water – a filter or purifying drops. For day hiking, extra water is sufficient.

I love my Osprey 1.5 Liter Hydration Bladder. It’s so much easier to remember to drink water when it’s right there. For anything longer than three hours, I will also carry a 32 oz Nalgene bottle and use this to refill my hydration bladder.

Extra Clothes

Extra clothes are important for cold or wet weather. If you get wet when it is cold, you could risk hypothermia and death. Extra layers to keep your core and extremities warm are very important in a survival scenario.

When day hiking, take note of current and future weather conditions. Mount Washington in New Hampshire is one of the deadliest mountains in the US. This isn’t because of its size but rather how quickly the temperature can drop and conditions can change. If you’re day-hiking in an area known for quick weather changes, it’s better to pack more and not need it than need it and not have it.

Don’t let the sun fool you – it was FREEZING up here. We walked by multiple snow patches!

For day hiking in Colorado in July, I brought both my rain jacket and my Patagonia puffy jacket. They’re lightweight enough that they didn’t weight down my bag and it was cold enough at the top of the peak that I needed the puffy jacket!

Many hikers also carry a large trash bag for this reason. Trash bags are waterproof and can easily be made into an extra item of clothing by ripping out arm holes and a head hole.

Ten Essentials for Day Hiking Notes

Note that the above list is the ten essentials as defined by many hiking organizations. Boy Scouts of America’s “Scout Basic Essentials” are very similar (Map and Compass, Sun Protection, Extra Clothing, Flashlight, First-Aid Kit, Matches and Fire-starters, Pocketknife, Trail Food, Water Bottle, and Rain Gear – see this post at Scout Outdoors for a list as well as downloadable gear lists for different types of trips). The links in this post are my recommendations, based on what I use as my ten essentials for day hiking. I have not recommended anything that I wouldn’t use myself!

Do you have anything you’d add to your version of the ten essentials? Let me know in the comments below!

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