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What Gear To Pack For A Day Hike In The Woods

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Make sure you have the right gear for an enjoyable and safe hike in the woods. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

When we head out for multi-day hikes, we’re usually quite considered in our choice of equipment.

As soon as a trip involves spending at least one night out, we’re usually found reaching for appropriate sleeping equipment, a cooking pot, a means of lighting a fire or a stove, a head-torch, and toilet paper amongst other things.

Of course there is a section of the readership of this blog who, like me, also like to spend time outdoors using less, building a fire or even a shelter to keep ourselves cosy overnight, foraging for food or lighting fire by friction.

But even those of us who have the skills and confidence to do this recognise that when a planned journey requires us to get from A to B, particularly when that journey from A to B is likely to take up a good portion of the available daylight hours, we then do not have the luxury of the time to build shelters, forage all our calories and collect all the materials for fire by friction.

We then pack a backpack with the equipment which prevents us having to undertake these time consuming activities. Putting up a tarp or tent is quicker than building a weatherproof shelter from natural materials. Creating a flame with a match or Bic lighter is quicker than rubbing sticks. Emptying a pack of pasta into boiling water is quicker than locating and digging up starch-filled roots.

When we head out for the day, however, we often give much less consideration to our kit. Many will quickly throw, say, a flask of coffee, a couple of sandwiches and a waterproof jacket in a daysack and maybe slip a Swiss Army Knife in a pocket.

In my article A Framework For Preparing Yourself For A Survival Situation I highlighted some headlines I’d read relating to people finding themselves in difficult situations in the outdoors.

These are not isolated incidents. At any time of the year type “lost hiker” into Google search and then click on the “News” tab. Unfortunately, whatever time of year it is, the search will return a raft of relatively recent stories of woe.

The Crucial Day Hike Assumption

There’s an important assumption when we head out on a day hike and it’s worth being explicit about what it is.

We assume we’ll be home by nightfall.

“Home” can be a vehicle, a tent you have pitched on a campsite, a cabin, a hotel, wherever.

But the assumption is that you won’t be spending the night out in the open.

Otherwise it wouldn’t be a day hike.

The Day Hiker’s Paradox

While those of us with experience of spending nights out with only very limited equipment might be equipped in other ways to deal with being benighted, specifically in terms of skills and mental preparedness, most day-hikers are not.

There are many more hikers who will head out for a day hike than are willing or confident enough to take on multi-day backpacking trips.

Even experienced multi-day hikers may have no experience of sleeping out without a tent and a sleeping bag.

Indeed, there are relatively few backpackers who will have the bushcraft/survival skills to properly look after themselves without their backpack contents.

Don’t take this as a judgement. It isn’t at all. It’s merely a qualitative statement about the make up of the population who might take a day hike.

The paradox, then, is that the day hiker who finds themselves stuck out in the woods overnight is likely to be not only light on useful equipment, it’s also more likely that they’ll be relatively inexperienced outdoorspeople.

Moreover, it seems, anecdotally at least, most stories about lost hikers are in relation to people who only intended to be out for the day, or even part of the day.

The Reality Of Time Constraints

Even those of us who have experience of building shelters, finding water, foraging for food and lighting fire by friction are going to have a rough time of it on a cold

or wet night if we don’t get home before dark.

If the decision to stay out is forced upon you – due to time constraints, injury or another event which prevents you getting back to base – the likelihood is that this decision is arrived at with little daylight left. That’s why you are having this decision forced upon you.

The lack of daylight, injury or other limiting factors are also going to severely limit your ability to fix a decent shelter or find materials for fire lighting, not to mention enough firewood to keep you warm all night.

Precautionary Packing For Day Hikes

Most car journeys don’t involve a crash. This doesn’t mean, however, that you shouldn’t wear a seat-belt. Most day hikes don’t result in you spending the night out but equally, you should be prepared for it as a potential eventuality.

What it takes to “be prepared” will vary by environment and time of year. Your skills, fitness, and experience will also be factors. The size of your group and the capabilities of its members will also have some bearing on what you pack.

Pragmatic Packing For Day Hikes

Clearly, for a day hike you are not going to pack a large rucksack full of everything you might need on a multi-day trip. One of the joys of taking a day hike is being relatively light and nimble on your feet.

But it’s certainly worth considering packing items that would help you get out of any likely scrapes you might find yourself in.

In order to help people with their packing, I’ve made the video below talking through various items most day hikers should at least consider for their day pack.

What I’ve attempted to do, rather than just give you a plain list of items, is talk through my thinking. It would be all too easy just to publish a list of specific products as a blog post but I think the real value I can pass on is explaining the reasons why I might choose particular items and the rationale that led me there.

What Else Might You Pack For a Day Hike?

A couple of points here…

First I should say that I failed to mention a whistle in the above video. I always have a whistle on me – usually around my neck on a cord along with a Photon Microlight, unless I’m canoeing. The keyring for my house keys (in the green bag with valuables) also has a small metal whistle on it. Also, the Swedish FireSteel 2.0 has a whistle in the handle of the striker. So, there were actually three whistles in the above video but I didn’t mention any of them!

Second, even though I am based in the UK and this blog has a address, this article and video are not intended to be UK-specific.

Third, the items in the video form a core list to work from. There may be other items you want to consider for your specific environment. In some areas, it would be wise to carry a head-net to keep biting insects at bay. Even if mosquitoes or midges are not bad during the day, they can be terrible from dusk onwards. You may want to carry additional items in bear country. In areas where there is no phone reception you might want to consider an emergency locator beacon.

Fourth, you’ll notice I haven’t really mentioned brand-names in the video. I’m not so much trying to recommend particular items of equipment but rather, types of equipment. Some people will prefer a poncho to a rain jacket. Some will prefer to carry a cigarette lighter as their trusted fire-lighting device. The important point is that you think about it.

So, what other items might you consider for your day pack? Let me and other readers know below.

Finally, while you might be an experienced hiker, there are many more out there who would benefit from the video and this article, including the wisdom and experience encapsulated in comments left by readers. Please share this article with others you think would benefit.

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