What's In a Day-Hike Backpack?

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Getting out and enjoying the forest can be so enjoyable. The peaceful setting, sounds of nature, and beautiful vistas all contribute to the love of hiking. Yet, going out unprepared can have serious consequences. We hike at most places we camp, but we had to learn how to prepare to hike. Unlike going for a walk, hiking requires a bit more awareness of what could happen. 

Most of our hikes range from an hour to a half-day, so we didn't think about taking emergency items for spending the night in the forest. What we have learned is that getting lost can keep you out longer than you expected, and there is always the chance that you might turn an ankle, causing you to stay in place until help arrives. When we returned to camp after spending the better part of a day lost in the woods, we made a point to learn more about preparing for a hike.  

First, make sure you dress appropriately. Go for layers in your clothing and top with a jacket. Wear hiking boots and socks. Tie a cotton bandanna around your neck and wear a hat. Then, find a good sized backpack to handle the list of items below and any other items you might like to take along. A backpack with lots of outside pockets works well. It can keep frequently used items like water bottles, sunscreen, trail map, and compass within easy reach so you won't have to dig through the main compartment. 

Day-Hike Backpack Contents

- Compass: And learn how to use it (don't rely on your cell phone compass)
- Trail map (put it in a ziplock sandwich bag to keep it dry)
- Bottled water
- Granola Bar or another nutritious snack
- Flashlight
- Whistle
- Sunscreen, insect repellent
- Hat, sunglasses
- Knife (a pocket knife is OK, but consider taking a sheathed camp knife)
- First aid kit (band-aids, alcohol wipes, antibiotic salve, tweezers, Ace bandage)
- Space blanket and nylon cord
- Rain poncho
- Lighter or box matches (keep in a zip lock bag) 
- Ziplock bag of dryer lint coated with wax  or cotton balls coated with petroleum jelly (to start a fire)
- Toilet paper (fold up lengths and carry in a ziplock bag), sanitation trowel
- Paper towels (fold up several and carry in a ziplock bag)
- Trash bag (always take out whatever you brought in!)
- Trekking Poles (this may be an option for some, but an essential for us!)

You could also take:
- Lunch and additional bottled water
- Binoculars
- Camera
- Quick-dry towel
- Tarp

Before you go, write out an itinerary, take a copy with you and stick to it. Then, put a copy in your vehicle, and leave a copy with someone. We often travel alone, so we leave a copy with the camp host or park ranger and check in with them when we return. You could also text it to a friend, just make sure you let them know when you return!

This is not a complete list if you are planning a multi-day hike, but it should get you thinking of additional items you might need to spend the night in the forest. For longer hikes, think in terms of activities. What do you need to prepare food? What do you need for shelter and sleeping? How will you build a fire? Should you take water filtration items? By thinking about what you will do along the trail, you will be more likely to pack the items you will need for an overnight in the woods.