Take a Hike: Essential Hiking Gear for Beginners [2024]

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Take a Hike: Essential Hiking Gear for Beginners [2024]
Are you planning a one-day hiking trip, but you aren't sure what to take with you? As much as you want to carry a light load, you also don't want to find yourself on the trail without something essential. Find out exactly what you need with this checklist of hiking essentials for beginners.
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What's more fun than having a day off from work? Hiking! Either with friends or by yourself. If you're trying to make the most of your day, get an early start and return by dusk. 

You could even enjoy the sunset somewhere picturesque before rewarding yourself with dinner and a drink!

To go hiking, you need to pack, right? Whether you're packing for a one-day hike or a multi-day trip, it's an art form! Imagine completing your entire hike and returning with aching legs and a sore back. 

Plus, you realize you didn't use half the items you lugged around—how frustrating! Still, it's equally as horrible to realize an hour into your hike that you have forgotten something essential, like your first aid kit!

That's why I put together this one-day hiking checklist for you. It covers all the essentials you'll need on the trail! No excesses, just necessities. Trust me, you want to carry only what is essential!

I'm focusing on one-day hikes, but if you want a more comprehensive list of what to pack for a multi-day hiking trip or backpacking adventure, you can go through this ultimate packing list for backpacking.

Top 9 Hiking Essentials for Beginners

Knowing which hiking essentials to pack for a hiking trip is important. Take a look at what you should bring on a hike if you plan to spend just a day on the trail. This list is the ultimate for a starter pack. You get to carry as little as possible while feeling prepared for any situation.

9. Water/Hydration

Water is one of the heaviest things that you'll carry while hiking. Go for a lightweight water bottle to keep your supply cool and fresh. 

I recommend grabbing a Takeya Insulated Stainless Steel Water Bottle. This water bottle keeps liquid cool for up to 24 hours, and the 40oz option can carry a generous amount of water. Still, it should fit in the mesh bottle pockets on the sides of your backpack.

In case of emergencies or longer hikes, you'll want to be able to drink from the local water supply, such as rivers and streams. 

These Membrane Solutions Straw Water Filters use a five-stage filtration system to remove 99% of bacteria from water. They work like a filtering straw. Just fill up your water bottle and drink through the straw.

person sitting on a hillside with backpack and mug
Photo by Lucija Ross on Unsplash

8. Food/Nutrition

The food you'll carry to hike depends on how long you expect to be on the trail and what you like to eat. A tasty sandwich and your favorite chopped fruit are great things to carry on the track. Always carry emergency food if your hike is longer or you get hungrier than expected!

Emergency food items should be lightweight but high in calories. Food, such as energy bars, trail mix, and jerky, will do. True, not the most satisfying food, but it'll keep you going when needed.

7. Toiletries

While you don't want to fill your bag with your toiletries, you'll need a few hiking must-haves. These include sunscreeninsect repellenthand sanitizer, and biodegradable soap.

You can go a few days without brushing your teeth, but few things leave me feeling refreshed and rejuvenated than freshly brushed teeth. I recommend bringing something like the mini disposable toothbrush as a personal pick-me-up on the trail.

Of course, remember to bring additional doses of any personal medication you need. It's always best to err on the side of caution.

6. Socks/Sandals 

You should always carry at least one extra pair of socks in your hiking bag. Your socks could get wet when you still have hours of walking ahead of you. If that happens, your feet might get uncomfortable and sore, so you need a fresh pair of good-quality socks.

I always recommend bringing a pair of comfortable sandals too, and these can give your feet a welcome breather if you reach a rest point on the trail. 

Also, once the trail is done, you might still have some time before getting home. I bet you'd feel better taking off those hiking boots and slipping into sandals.

Person in boots splashing through a puddle
Photo by Zach Reiner on Unsplash

5. First Aid Kit

A first aid kit is non-negotiable when you are going hiking. You'll be grateful for your kit if you need to dress wounds, wrap swollen joints, or administer pain relief.

Luckily, there are a variety of compact first aid kits on the market that include all the essentials in small and lightweight packs. I recommend the all-purpose emergency first aid kit, which weighs 1.3 pounds.

4. Survival Tools

The following items seem unnecessary, but they're still hiking essentials. While these are things you hope never to use, these survival tools can be lifesavers if things go amiss. 

You'll need these tools if you get lost, find yourself stuck after dark, or are caught in unexpected weather!


A knife or multi-tool, like a Swiss Army Knife, is essential. It's small enough to cut food, rope, clothing, or other items, and it's not for fighting off bears. A knife is a surprisingly versatile tool when you need to MacGyver yourself out of an unexpected situation.


Even if you don't plan to camp overnight, cook food, or heat your coffee over a fire, you should bring a box of waterproof matches. Matches are better than lighters because they are inexpensive, lightweight, user-friendly, and long-lasting. 

Plus, while lighters may fail to ignite at certain altitudes, matches will still give you a spark.


You might feel a bit silly carrying a whistle, but whistles cost next to nothing, and you won't even notice it hanging around your neck. If you're hiking with friends and get separated, a whistle could quite literally save your life!


It's okay to carry an extra flashlight rather than entirely depending on your phone's flashlight. A flashlight is necessary if you get caught on the trail after dark. 

A flashlight gives you better lighting without worrying about your phone battery dying. That way, you save your phone battery, which is extremely comforting in a stressful situation.

Man with flashlight on a hill overlooking city
Photo by Cristofer Maximilian on Unsplash

3. Towel

Not only might you come across an excellent place for a swim, but unexpected things happen! You could find yourself under the rain. You might be splashed by cold, muddy water or need to wash something unpleasant off yourself. Having a towel will come in handy. 

Also, a towel can provide extra warmth in an emergency.

Invest in a good quality microfiber towel that is light, folds down small, and dries quickly. For this, I recommend this Rainleaf Microfiber Towel. If you don't have a separate waterproof section within your backpack, remember to bring a plastic bag to store the towel in if it does get wet.

2. Trash Bag

It needs to be said, being eco-friendly never goes out of style. Being eco-friendly means not leaving behind anything that doesn't belong there. 

It's beautiful to care for the beautiful nature reserves, right? To preserve them for others and future generations is gold. It's arguably the number 1 etiquette rule while hiking. 

Whatever you take on the trail should be taken home with you! So, take with you a dedicated bag for trash.

For your waste, I recommend taking a small trowel or any other digging object with you. When you need to go:

  1. Head about 200 feet away from trails, campsites, or water sources.
  2. Dig a hole about six inches deep for your business, and cover up.
  3. Bring your toilet paper for comfort, and preferably take it away in your trash bag.

1. Navigation Tools

Navigation tools are a must-have when hiking. A few navigation tools are helpful to have with you, even on a relatively short hike. These include a map of your trail, a compass, and a GPS locator. 

You no longer need to get your hands on a million navigation tools. A good hiking app on your phone will provide all these tools and more.

My top choice is the All Trails app. Before you head off, you can explore route maps and read community reviews. On the trail, you get a full range of navigation tools. The app tracks your hike, including time, distance, exact route, elevation gain, etc. So you can monitor your hikes over time.

There is a free version of All Trails, which is good, and a Pro Membership version, which is excellent. 

You can get 25% off a subscription with the discount code Pilotplans25.

Also, remember a waterproof pouch to protect your phone. A portable charger could work, too, if you know you'll take lots of photos and videos. You want something lightweight and portable. I recommend the 313 Power Bank10000mAh Battery Pack. It's affordable too!

person taking a photo with their phone of pink sunset
Photo by Mark S on Unsplash

Hiking Starter Pack: What's Not on the List

Three other hiking essentials are not included on the list: hiking clothes, trail shoes, and your backpack. 

Choosing the right gear will make a big difference in how comfortable you feel during your hike. But since these essentials are things you wear rather than pack, I didn't include them on the hiking list.

Before choosing what to wear, research what the weather will be like to know how to dress. Always layer up with a moisture-wicking base layer, a protective middle layer, and a light but warm upper layer. Ensure your hiking shoes fit correctly and that you wear good-quality socks!

For your backpack, go with the smallest size that is still big enough to hold everything you need. Remember, only plan to carry up to 20% of your body weight on your back to avoid knee and back problems! 

Look for backpacks with features such as chest harnesses and hip belts to distribute the weight evenly.

Osprey makes my favorite bags for hiking. You can read a full review of their backpacks and top recommendations for the best Osprey backpacks here.

Day Hike Checklist

That's my complete list of essentials for a day hike! Of course, there are other fun things that you can bring on a hike. You might want a frisbee for a collective game. Maybe a diary for your memories or a tiny coffee maker for a mid-trail pick-me-up. 

Keep in mind that when packing for a week-long hiking trip, the list differs slightly. You'll need more gear and hiking essentials!

If you abide by this hiking checklist, you won't feel like a beginner anymore. You'll have an extra bounce in your step and a lighter load. You'll know that you're prepared. Why? Because you know you've everything you need to deal with anything unexpected that's likely to happen when hiking.

Plan Your Hike with Pilot! 

You're well on your way to becoming a hiking pro. But every activity needs a well-laid-down plan, right? It can be a lot to think about sorting out your gear and researching and remembering which hiking trails you want to follow.

Remember, the goal is to enjoy yourself! That means having fun on your day without worrying if you had everything planned out. For that, you need a travel planner, like Pilot, to set it all in motion. 

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Disclosure: Pilot is supported by our community. We may earn a small commission fee with affiliate links on our website. All reviews and recommendations are independent and do not reflect the official view of Pilot.

Jessica Suess Blog
Written by:
Jessica Suess
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