Ten Essentials to Bring on Every Hike

Hardshell, mid-layer, and base layers are crucial items in your ski trip packing list.

Written by thealpinepursuit

Hey! My name is Dylan. Welcome to The Alpine Pursuit! I am an adventure enthusiast who loves travel, health, and photography.

Ready to head out into the wilderness, but do not know where to begin? Well you came to the right spot. The ten essentials to bring on every hike will keep you safe while out on the trail.

Exploring the wilderness can be an extremely rewarding experience. However, make the effort to research, prepare, and train before heading out onto the trail. It is a huge mistake to go out without preparation. The more you know the safer you will remain while on your trip. Many think nothing will ever go wrong. And for some, you may be right. All it takes is one time. Far too many emergencies are possible. If one happened, would you be ready for it?

Although, you never know what may be thrown your way, there are strategies to increase your level of safety. You must make sure to train and bring the proper gear. These will be lifesaving. In fact, even a simple day hike can turn into a nightmare. There is a reason seasoned hikers prepare properly. Here is what you need to know to stay safe.


  • Critical gear and training will save your life.
  • Always leave a detailed trip itinerary with a family member.
  • Know your limitations.

Hiking Essentials to Bring on Every Hike


Whenever you head out, there are 10 categories of essential gear. Check out Adventure Travel Packing List for a complete packing guide.


10 essentials to bring on every hike: Navigation


1. Navigation


Navigation is the ability to find your way while out on the trail. May sound easy to just follow the trail. Not always. In fact getting lost can become easy with bad weather, unfamiliar terrain, and poorly marked trails.

There are three vital pieces of equipment to assist with navigation. These include a map, compass, and GPS device. Nothing should ever replace an old-fashioned map and compass. Furthermore, the newer GPS watches are a great addition. Some of these systems have built in emergency features. Search and rescue can be contacted in locations cell service is unavailable.

By all means, nothing can replace the ability to read a topographical map and use a compass.


10 essentials to bring on every hike: Insulation and Layers


2. Insulation


Weather conditions can abruptly turn cold, windy, and wet in the matter of minutes. An unplanned night out in the wilderness can cause hypothermia and shock without the proper layers. Carry extra clothing.

When deciding your extra layers, research the typical temperatures, winds, and precipitation. The following gear applies as a minimum: waterproof shell, down/synthetic mid-layer, hat, gloves, base layers, merino wool socks, and an extra outfit placed in your pack. The fabrics chosen are important. Wool provides warmth even when wet, whereas cotton cannot.


Hiking Essential: Light Source


3. Light Source


One must have light. An unexpected fall, or taking the wrong trail could leave you scrambling around in the dark. Always carry a headlamp or flashlight in your pack.

A headlamp is the perfect choice to allow for both hands to be available for other tasks. There are a number of options. You will want a light that is bright enough for the intended activity. The brightness required for a hike in the woods is quite different than if you plan to ski. Plan accordingly to prevent buying the wrong headlamp. Headlamps are measured in lumens, or the brightness, and will include the intended activities for the use of the headlamp. Ideally, you will want to have a headlamp in the range of 150 to 500 lumens. For just a backup in case a hike goes too long the lower lumens will work fine. Always carry an extra set of batteries.


Hiking Essential: Fire and Heat


4. Fire


In case of an emergency, you must have a reliable source of fire. Reliable sources of fire include waterproof matches, lighter, or magnesium flint. Fuel the fire with dry tinder and wood. The ideal fire starter ignites quickly and will burn for enough time to catch the wood on fire. If hiking in wet conditions, it may be helpful to pack a small amount of tinder in your pack.

For any trips where firewood is not available, another option for a fire source is a stove. A stove is recommended for trips above treeline or in the snow. Also, a stove will act as a heat and water source.


10 essentials to bring on every hike: UV Protection


5. Sun Protection


The sun is no joke. High altitude, alpine regions, and long climbs with exposed skin can cause long term problems. The sun can cause snow blindness and intense sunburns. Bring along sunglasses, goggles (mountaineering), sunscreen, and UV protective clothing.

Polarized lens are a must. Protect your eyes from possibly damaging radiation. You must have extra-dark lens for prolonged travel on snow or ice. An additional pair of glasses is useful within your group.

Sunscreen will protect from long exposure to UV rays. Alpine zones and high altitude have strong sun exposure, especially during midday travel. SPF 30 is recommended. Cover all exposed skin. As a reminder, UV rays can reflect off the ground, so make sure to cover the under portions of the nose, chin, and arms.
UV protective clothing is an effective way to entirely block rays from reaching your skin. Long sleeves, hats, and facial coverings will provide the best skin protection. All things considered, try to cover up as much as possible.




6. Extra Water on Every Hike


Carrying enough water is crucial. However, water is heavy and having enough for the entire trip from the start is difficult. While out on the trail, it is important to bring a water purification filter, chemical treatment, or a stove to boil/melt snow. Before leaving for a hike try to map out areas you will be able to fill up. This will be helpful with carrying less weight from the start.

A general standard is 0.5 L/hour for moderate exercise. Other factors will increase the amount like temperature, altitude, and weight of backpack. Although, it is always better to have more than not enough, so this should be your minimum.

In addition, try to never run completely out of water in case of an emergency. As shown above, the amount of water to stay properly hydrated is heavy. Opt to bring a way to filter. It will help to keep your pack light and reduce the amount of prep prior to the hike.


Hiking Essential: First Aid Kit


7. First-Aid


First-aid is often overlooked, but should always be one of the first things to grab in the ten essentials to bring on every hike. A small first-aid kit is vital. Kits can be picked up from the store, or custom made to fit individual needs. This item does not need to be carried by each member. However, every member of the party should know how to use the equipment. The length and number of people in the climbing party determine the exact kit. Most kits will include adhesive bandages, tweezers, blister treatments, gauze pads, disinfectant agents, and over the counter pain medications.


Hiking Essential to bring on every hike: Emergency Kit


8. Emergency Kit


An emergency kit includes core equipment when stranded out in the wilderness. This is one of the ten essentials to bring on every hike that is often left behind. A kit includes an emergency blanket, knife, duct tape, signalling device, and paracord. All of these items provide purpose in a life-death situation.

An emergency space blanket is lightweight and packs super small. There is no reason to leave it behind. A emergency blanket can provide warmth as it removes yourself from the harsh elements. An emergency blanket is a great substitute when not trekking with a tent. Carry when you do not have a tent. Regardless, make sure some type of emergency shelter is present. 

Knives have a variety of uses including repairs, food preparation, and protection. There are many options. Many knives come with an array of multi-use tools.

Some sort of signalling device should be within your pack. If an emergency presents, the best chance of survival in some cases is to be rescued. Any type of reflective material can provide a signal to rescue. Try to provide contrast from your background as well. Bright colors usually work well in the wilderness.

Paracord can be used for just about anything. Uses include creating emergency shelters, repairing torn clothing, or making a splint. The cord is lightweight and durable. In addition, duct tape is great to have on hand for making repairs.


Hiking Essential to bring on every hike: Shelter


9. Shelter


A tent is used as a shelter for multi-day hikes and mountaineering. On the other hand, if only going for a day hike you are most likely not going to be lugging around a tent. In this case, an emergency blanket works for a shelter.  Other ultralight options include bivy sacks and tarps.

Whichever you may use, just make sure your shelter is always on you. A tent left at camp for the day does not count. It is best to have a sleeping bag as well. Cold temperatures, strong winds, and wet conditions can create hypothermia even in the summer.


Hiking Essential to bring on every hike: Nutrition


10. Nutrition


You need nutritious foods while out on your trek. In fact, a good rule of them is to bring at least one extra day of food on a day hike. If you are going on a multi-day or winter climb, than consider bring several days of extra food.

Of course, not all calories are at the same level. The best items to pack are energy bars, nuts, jerky, dried fruits, and oatmeal packets. These items will provide a good combination of protein, carbohydrates, and fats.

In reality, you must be efficient to pack enough food while limiting the weight and space in your backpack.


The Ten Essentials to Bring on Every Hike


In conclusion, these are the ten essentials to bring on every hike when heading out into the backcountry. Never leave without them. Consider the weather, difficulty, length, location, and distance from help. All these factors will influence the exact gear list to bring with you.

Aside from the list of gear, these are the main ideas to finish before heading out. The right gear will save your life. Although, the gear is useless without the proper training. Preparation can go a long way.

Keep in mind your mental and physical limitations. Know what you can handle. Set out to challenge yourself, but do bit off too much. This will lead to problems. Leave a detailed note to family before departure. This note should include trails, duration, and when to expect to hear from you again.

For additional information on the hiking essentials, check out the National Park Guide for the Hiking Essentials.


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