Hiking Checklist: 45 Essentials to Pack [+Printable]
- Since hiking often takes place in remote areas, it’s essential to be prepared—if not overly prepared—for any situation, including emergencies and extreme weather.
- Use our printable hiking checklist to ensure you have everything you need to enjoy and stay safe on your hike.
- Proper hiking footwear makes all the difference, so choose hiking shoes that offer arch support, stability, shock absorption and traction.
With nearly 59 million people in the United States hitting the trials in 2021, hiking has become a beloved pastime for many. Whether you enjoy hiking for your health, exploring the outdoors or bonding with friends and family, hiking is the perfect way to reconnect with nature and explore the beauty of the earth.
While hiking is widely popular, it still comes with a few risks, and being ill-prepared for a hike can lead to a bad situation. But have no fear! We’re breaking down all the essentials you’ll need for any hike. Whether you’re heading out on a day hike or a full-on backpacking trip, we’ve created a comprehensive list that can prepare you for any situation.
Keep reading to learn all about the clothing, shoes, equipment and devices hikers need. Also, don’t forget to download our hiking checklist to help you pack for your next adventure!
Your Checklist Depends on Your Hike
Hiking means something different for everyone, so your checklist might look slightly different from another hiker. For example, a beginner hiker on a day hike will pack less than an avid hiker on a multi-day backpacking trip.
No matter your skill level, you must prepare for any situation you might face when hiking. From protective gear to food and water, the essentials will likely be the same for everyone. As you begin packing for your hike, account for the weather, terrain, mileage and trail conditions.
So, what exactly does one need for a hike? Let’s look at these 45 essential items for hikers.
1. Hiking-Appropriate Clothes
Comfort and safety are extremely important when you’re outdoors. Wearing clothing that allows for movement and breathability is essential, so lightweight, stretchable and moisture-wicking clothing is a great place to start.
Additionally, you should always account for the elements. When hiking in cold regions, wear a base layer of clothing that traps heat without making you sweat. In warm weather, it might be tempting to wear shorts, but you should be mindful of bugs and ticks. In this case, opt for long yet breathable hiking pants instead.
2. Hiking Pack
When choosing a backpack for hiking, it’s important to consider the length of your hike, the amount of gear you need and how much weight you can comfortably carry.
While a day hike may only require a basic hiking backpack, multiple-day hikes require a backpacking pack that provides room to carry all your essentials for the entire length of your journey.
Here are a few things to consider when buying a backpack for hiking:
- Fit: A backpack should span the length of your torso and have adjustable straps to customize the fit. A well-fitting backpack will distribute the weight evenly across your hips and shoulders to avoid weighing you down.
- Weight: It doesn’t matter how strong you are—a heavy backpack will only make your hike more difficult. When purchasing a backpack, look for a lightweight option so it doesn’t add too much to the final weight.
- Features: Consider the features you’ll need for your hike, like room for a hydration bladder, hip belt pockets and outer loops for attaching gear.
3. Hiking Footwear
If you’ve ever been hiking in the wrong pair of shoes, you know that you never want to be caught in that situation ever again. Hikers should wear shoes that can handle the terrain and keep their feet and joints comfortable throughout the hike.
The best hiking footwear has substantial tread depth to ensure traction on slippery and steep terrain. Of course, the shoes also need superior arch and ankle support, shock absorption, cushion and a wide base for stability. A shoe that checks off all these items is sure to suit you well!
Are you in need of a great hiking shoe recommendation? Check out the KURU ATOM Trail hiking shoes! Not only do these shoes have everything we just listed, but they are extremely durable and breathable. Did we mention ATOM Trail’s adaptive heel cushioning? Hiking shoes don’t get better than this.
4. Food and Snacks
Is there anything better than enjoying a snack or meal alongside breathtaking scenery? Whether on a two-mile nature walk or a three-day backpacking trip, packing some food to munch on along the way will keep you nourished and energized.
Consider bringing lightweight, non-perishable foods with you. Look for nutrient-dense foods that contain plenty of carbohydrates, protein and healthy fats.
Here are some popular hiking snacks to consider:
- Trail mix
- Dried fruit
- Protein bars
- Beef jerky
For longer hikes and backpacking trips, here are some popular food choices that make easy, packable meals:
- Dehydrated meals
- Vacuum-sealed proteins (tuna, chicken, spam or salmon)
- Instant oatmeal
- Nut butter with crackers or tortillas
- Dried mashed potatoes
- Boxed pasta and rice meals
- Stovetop stuffing
It’s no secret that hiking is hard work. Like any other physical activity, you should always have adequate water on hand. But how much is actually enough? It’s probably more than you think.
The American Council on Exercise suggests that we should drink between seven and 10 ounces of water for 10 to 20 minutes of exercise, for a rough estimate of 34 ounces per hour. For a day hike, a few water bottles per person or a full hydration pack might do the trick. For backpacking, consider bringing a water purification system along (more on that later).
You need to plan for the weather, too. If you’re hiking in the middle of summer or in a hot climate, you’ll likely consume more water than you think, so pack extra!
6. First Aid Kit
A well-stocked first aid kit is essential for any adventure, as it can help you treat minor injuries and potentially save a life in an emergency.
Here are some items that you should include in your hiking first aid kit:
- Adhesive bandages (various sizes)
- Butterfly bandages
- Sterile gauze pads
- Adhesive medical tape
- Blister treatment (moleskin, blister pads)
- Antiseptic wipes or spray
- Pain relievers (such as ibuprofen)
- Antihistamines for allergic reactions
- Antibacterial ointment
- Tweezers and scissors
- Disposable gloves
- Personal medications (such as an inhaler or EpiPen)
In addition to these items, bring a basic first aid manual and know how to use the items in your kit. Always check your first aid kit before each hike to ensure it’s well-stocked and up to date.
7. Hiking Poles
Hiking poles are popular among hikers of all levels as they offer many benefits. Walking poles can give you stability on uneven and steep terrains. They are especially helpful when crossing slippery surfaces to the risk of falls and injury.
Trekking poles also absorb shock on your knees and joints while hiking downhill, preventing pain and future soreness. Hikers also love hiking poles because they reduce fatigue as you distribute your weight. Whether you’re on an easy long hike or a short strenuous one, your body will thank you for using trekking poles.
9. Rain Jacket, Poncho or Windbreaker
Have you ever been caught in a rainstorm without proper rain protection? If so, you know how unpleasant hiking in wet clothes can be. Even if you’re not anticipating rain, bringing a lightweight rain jacket, poncho or windbreaker is never a bad idea. Your future self will thank you if you prepare for unlikely weather conditions.
You might find yourself questioning whether you should bring a light source if you’re not anticipating an overnight hike. In reality, you should always expect the unexpected in the wilderness. In the event that you end up hurt or lost while on a day hike, a flashlight or headlamp will allow you to continue your hike or set up camp after the sun sets.
Light sources are also helpful in emergencies, as you can use them as a signal to indicate that you or someone in your group needs help.
11. Extra Batteries
While you should always check the batteries in your flashlights and electronics before leaving, bringing a few extra batteries on your hike can save you from dead-battery woes in the long run. Grab a few extra sets of AAA and AA batteries (as these are the most common) and store them in a dry bag or another location in your pack where they won’t get wet.
12. Sun Protection
When you’re in the sun all day without protection, you’re sure to end up with a nasty sunburn. While the most effective way to protect yourself from the sun is to cover your skin with clothing, warm hiking conditions can make it uncomfortable to be covered the entire time.
Sunscreen is highly recommended to protect yourself from sun damage, so make sure to pack a bottle! Continually reapply sunscreen throughout the hike, about every two hours, or any time your skin gets wet.
If you’ve ever hiked without sunglasses, you know that the sun can quickly become your enemy. Sunglasses reduce glare and improve your visibility, especially if you’re hiking in areas with snow or water—where the sun’s reflection is particularly intense. Furthermore, sunglasses reduce eye strain when hiking in bright, sunny conditions.
If you’re unsure what kind of sunglasses to bring, choose a lightweight pair that won’t slip or bounce around on your face. You should also pick a pair of polarized sunglasses, as the polarization adds an extra layer of eye protection.
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14. Insect Repellant
Wooded areas, lakes and mountainous terrain are often home to a variety of insects that you may not typically come across. Thankfully, with proper precautions, you can keep ticks, mosquitoes and other insects away.
First and foremost, it’s often best to keep your ankles and legs covered with long socks and pants to protect from ticks. For other bugs, insect-repellent spray can keep your skin bug-bite free. Remember that most repellents protect for a limited time, so you should re-apply it after a few hours, especially if you’re sweating or swimming.
If you have environmental concerns with insect repellant, choose one that is registered with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
15. Multi-Tool Pocket Knife or Swiss Army Knife
A multi-tool pocket knife can help you in various hiking situations. For example, you may need a knife to clear your path, cut through underbrush or cut rope. The tweezers may prove necessary in the event of a splinter, while the can opener tool is helpful for cooking on the trail.
With so many tools at your disposal, a multi-tool can solve dozens of problems you might encounter in the wilderness.
As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words—and hiking can lead to some indescribably beautiful views. Whether you choose to use your phone’s camera, a professional camera or a Polaroid camera, you’ll want something to document your hike!
While we don’t advise that you carry your camera in your hands (you don’t want to drop it!), try to keep it somewhere accessible, like a pants pocket or the outer pocket of your pack. You never know what sites you’ll see along the way!
17. Dry Bags
Dry bags are especially helpful for hikes where you might find yourself wading through water, or where there’s a chance of rain or snow. Dry bags are waterproof, and—more importantly— watertight. So the bag will keep the water out and everything inside dry.
Dry bags come in many sizes, so you might opt for one that’s large enough to store your entire pack so everything stays dry. Otherwise, you can bring a small dry bag where you can store your electronics and other essentials that can’t get wet.
18. Bear Spray
Bear spray is an absolute safety essential for hiking through bear country. Of course, bear spray is only effective when used properly—in fact, it can hurt you more than a bear if you misuse it.
Here’s a rundown on how to use bear spray:
- Keep a safe distance. You should only use bear spray if the bear is within 30 feet of you. If the bear is farther away, remain calm and back away slowly.
- Remove the safety clip. Before using the spray, you must remove the safety clip to ensure the canister is ready to use.
- Aim slightly down. Spraying in front of your face or upward leaves room for the wind to guide the spray back toward your eyes. Instead, spray at a slightly downward angle in a zigzag motion.
- Adjust if the bear does not retreat. If you notice the bear is still approaching you, adjust your angle to spray directly in the direction of the bear’s eyes.
- Retreat to a safe location. Possibly the most important step is to retreat to a safe location as quickly as possible once you use the bear spray.
19. Duct Tape
Duct tape can be a hiker’s best friend. Duct tape works well as an emergency patch for clothing, rain gear, hammocks, tents and water bladders. Here’s another pro tip—duct tape is a great tool for deterring blisters. If you feel a hot spot on the back of your heel or under your foot, stick a layer of duct tape over it to reduce friction!
Paracord, also known as parachute cord, is a lightweight, nylon rope that is extremely durable and can hold a large amount of weight for its size. Paracord ratings depend on the weight it can withstand, typically between 550 to 1,100 pounds.
Paracord is useful for many outdoor applications, such as tying down tents, handing a bear bag, securing gear to backpacks, or creating a makeshift sling. Paracords are also useful for emergency situations—you can use them to make an emergency tourniquet, splint or rescue harness.
21. Emergency Blanket
Emergency blankets, also known as mylar or space blankets, are lightweight and highly reflective blankets that retain body heat.
Whether you’re unexpectedly stuck on a trail overnight or the temperatures are much lower than expected, an emergency blanket can be a life-saving device for situations where hypothermia is a risk.
You can also use an emergency blanket to create a makeshift shelter, as the reflective mylar material traps heat and protects from the elements.
22. Lighter or Waterproof Matches
If you plan to stop and set up camp along your hike, you don’t want to forget your lighter or some waterproof matches. These fire sources are essential for building fires in the evening and cooking.
Please remember that fire is dangerous when used improperly and in extremely dry climates. Always double-check the park, forest and trail rules about campfires before leaving your home to ensure you’re fully prepared. If campfires are prohibited in the area, you may bring a camp stove with a contained flame for cooking purposes only.
23. Earth-Friendly Mini-Toiletries
Don’t forget to bring everything you need to stay overnight! We’re talking toothbrushes, toothpaste, deodorant, lip balm and more. If you plan to bathe, bring biodegradable soap, shampoo and conditioner to ensure you take care of the earth and animals around you.
Other helpful toiletries may include:
- Baby wipes
- Hand sanitizer
- Hair brush/comb
- Face wash
24. Toilet Paper
When in nature, there are typically no restrooms or other facilities available, and you may need to use the restroom outdoors. In this case, you can use toilet paper to clean yourself and prevent the spread of bacteria and infection.
Always follow the Leave No Trace principles when hiking and camping, meaning you should leave the area as you found it. This includes properly disposing of toilet paper by burying it at least 200 feet away from water sources and trails or packing it in a sealed plastic bag.
25. Handheld Shovel
Speaking of the Leave No Trace rule, you may want to bring a handheld shovel or trowel to dig holes and bury any waste you must leave behind. When following these rules, dig a small hole at least six to eight inches deep to bury your waste. Doing this will prevent the spread of disease and protect the nearby water sources.
You can also use a trowel for other tasks on a hiking trip, such as digging a fire pit or leveling a tent site.
26. Permits and Parking Passes
There are quite a few popular hikes in our nation’s national parks and forests that only allow so many people on the trail at once. Limiting the number of people on trails reduces human impact on surrounding nature and ensures better safety on narrow and highly advanced trails.
Here are some of the most popular hikes in the United States that require permits:
- Angels Landing (Zion, Utah)
- Subway (Zion, Utah)
- The Narrows (Zion, Utah)
- Havasu Falls (Havasupai Indian Reservation, Arizona)
- Half Dome (Yosemite, California)
- Mount Whitney Trail (Sequoia, California)
- The Wave (Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Arizona)
- John Muir Trail (Sierra Nevada Mountain Range, California)
- Kalalau Trail (Kauai, Hawaii)
If you are considering one of the above—or another hike that requires a permit—check the website of the land management agency that oversees that area (such as the national park’s or forest’s website). Many websites have a permit application process, but you should note that applying for a permit does not guarantee it. Many permits are handed out through a monthly raffle system, so you may need to apply multiple times.
Even if a trail doesn’t require a permit, many will require a parking pass, especially trails where you’d stay overnight. Do your research ahead of time to buy any necessary passes and permits, and don’t forget to pack them before leaving your house!
27. Extra Socks
Hiking in wet socks creates additional friction that can lead to hot spots and blisters. Nobody likes walking around in soggy socks, so if there’s a chance of water, rain or snow on the trail, you’ll be so happy you brought extras.
Are you looking for a pair of breathable, sweat-wicking hiking socks that are sure to keep your feet happy? KURU’s SPARC 2.0 socks come in various lengths and provide support and compression where your feet need it the most—the arch and ankle. KURU creates these socks with a careful balance of nylon, poly and LYCRA® to create a sock that keeps your feet dry during physical activity and sweltering heat.
28. Warm Hat
Before heading out on your hike, grab a beanie or another warm hat to keep with you. You never know if the mountain air will be colder than you expect, and a beanie is sure to keep you warm. All winter hikes should include a wool hat, but you might be surprised at how much use you might get out of it on a fall or spring hike too!
If you’re heading on a winter hike or preparing for extreme weather, grab your gloves to keep your hands warm. Our hands are one of the few parts of our bodies that release the most heat, so if your hands are cold, chances are the rest of you will be cold too. Even if you’re not expecting cold weather, it can’t hurt to bring them!
Hikers may also bring a pair of work gloves to prevent blisters and calluses on their hands while gripping their hiking poles.
30. Personal Medications
As with any trip, you should always pack your medications, especially those that must stay in your system. If you’re taking multiple medications, consider using a pill box to save some room in your pack.
Other than personal medications, pain relievers can be helpful in the event of a fall or sore muscles. Allergy medicines with antihistamines are also beneficial since you never know what you might come into contact with that may cause an allergic reaction.
Do you need a fun way to see more wildlife and enhance your hiking experience? Don’t forget your binoculars at home! Binoculars magnify distant objects, allowing you to see details that may not be visible to the naked eye.
Whether you’re searching for wildlife, bird watching, scouting out trail conditions or taking in the scenic view, binoculars will immerse you in the surrounding beauty better than ever before.
As a rule of thumb, you should always keep identification on you, and hikes are no exception to this. Keep your driver’s license or state ID with you at all times. In case of an emergency, you should also bring your healthcare insurance information with you.
Tarps are extremely versatile for hikers and campers alike. Tarps are a great resource for making an emergency shelter, as a ground cover and protecting your backpack from rain and moisture.
As with anything you bring on a hike, choose one that is both lightweight and compact, perhaps something that comes in its own carrying case.
If you’re anticipating water, snow or mud on your hiking path, you can’t go wrong with a pair of gaiters. Gaiters are protective fabric guards that you wear over your hiking boots and pants to keep debris, water and snow from getting inside your boots. As a bonus, they also keep the potential of bug and snake bites low since they protect exposed skin.
Gaiters come in various styles, such as ankle gaiters, mid-calf gaiters and knee-high gaiters. Just remember that taller gaiters will trap in more heat, but they’ll offer extra protection against snow and mud.
35. Water Purification
When you’re limited to what you can carry in your pack, bringing a bunch of water bottles may not be ideal. That’s why water purification systems are great for hikers! Water purification devices make it so you can safely drink from water sources like rivers, streams and lakes you’ll find along the way.
Here are the three types of water purification systems you can use:
- Water purification tablets: These tablets release chemicals (like iodine or chlorine) that kill bacteria and other microorganisms. Tablets are a lightweight and space-saving option, but they can take up to 30 minutes to fully purify water and may leave a chemical taste. While the water will be safe to drink, tablets don’t filter out any large particles.
- UV water purifiers: These devices use ultraviolet light to kill bacteria and other microorganisms in water. UV water purifiers are easy to use, but require batteries or charging and may not be as effective at filtering out larger contaminants.
- Water filtration systems: These systems are enjoyed among hikers because they use a physical barrier to filter out bacteria and other contaminants from water. They don’t require batteries so they’re a great option for long hikes and overnight stays. As with any filtrations system, these devices require cleaning and you may need to replace the filter from time to time.
36. Power Bank
Whether you’re hiking the backcountry or staying on a highly trafficked trail, bringing a power bank will give you the peace of mind that you can charge your electronics. Even if you know you won’t have cell phone reception, your cell phone may need charging so you can access downloaded maps, your camera and other essential applications.
Your phone isn’t the only thing that may require a charge while you’re on the trail. Navigation devices, rechargeable light sources and satellite messengers will also benefit from a power bank. If you’re on a multiple-day hike, consider bringing more than one fully-charged portable charger.
Hikers use whistles for two main reasons: communication and signaling for help. When you’re with a group, whistles can be used to communicate with individuals up ahead or behind you.
Make sure to develop a few easy-to-remember whistle patterns that the group can use for the following situations:
- Someone needs to take a break
- An injury occurred
- There is a hazard ahead
Whistle bursts are also a useful signal for emergency assistance. Perhaps you’re injured on a hike with no one around. Due to the loud and high-pitched nature of a whistle, it will catch the attention of other hikers and emergency response teams easier than shouting for help.
38. Personal Location Beacon
A personal location beacon (PLB) is an electronic device that you can use to send a distress signal in an emergency while hiking. A PLB uses a search and rescue satellite system to send a distress signal with GPS coordinates to nearby authorities in an emergency.
Please note that hikers should only use these devices in true emergency situations, such as when lost, injured or in immediate danger. Misuse of personal beacons results in the misuse of emergency services and could put first responders at unnecessary risk.
39. Hand Sanitizer
There’s no doubt that you’ll come across a lot of germs in the wilderness. Since soap and water aren’t always the most efficient way to clean your hands, hand sanitizer is a great substitution. For sanitary reasons, it’s wise to use it before eating, after using the restroom and before touching your face.
40. Wilderness Waste Pouches
Wilderness waste bags are an essential tool for the Leave No Trace and Pack In, Pack Out rules. Wilderness waste bags allow you to throw away any trash you create while on the trail while keeping the garbage separate from the rest of your valuables.
Wilderness waste pouches are popular among hikers thanks to their reusability; however, some additional large plastic bags make for an easy waste pouch replacement.
41. Hydration Pack
We’ve talked about the importance of hydration quite a bit already, but if you’re looking for a hands-free way to keep your water close, there’s no better option than a hydration pack.
Many hiking backpacks come with a built-in pocket for a water bladder, so make sure you use them! Fill your hydration bag with water and ice before you leave for the hike and keep the mouthpiece close to your body and clean throughout the hike. Trust us when we say a hydration pack is infinitely more convenient than packing around water bottles!
Keeping track of time is essential while hiking, especially if you have a set itinerary or need to reach a campsite before dark. A watch allows you to keep track of the time and stay on schedule. A watch is also useful for tracking how long you have been hiking and when you need to rest, eat or hydrate.
If you have a smartwatch, it may also be equipped with a compass, altimeter, barometer and GPS—all excellent hiking tools.
43. Overnight Sleeping Essentials
Heading on a backpacking trip and staying overnight? Don’t forget your overnight essentials! This may include a sleeping bag, a sleeping mat, a change of clothes, a tent or shelter, additional food and so much more. For the best experience, choose gear specifically designed for backpacking, as it will likely be lightweight and easy to carry.
If you’re in need of a detailed list of overnight sleeping essentials, check out the overnight hiking and backpacking section of our printable hiking checklist!
44. Hydration Drink Mixes
Whether you’re on a long day hike or backpacking for a few days, bringing a hydration drink mix can be especially helpful. You can lose electrolytes through sweat while performing physical activity like hiking. While water is essential for rehydration, electrolytes will need replacing too.
Electrolytes are essential to regulating your body’s fluid levels. Without them, you could begin to feel sick. Hydration drink mixes replace the electrolytes you lose while sweating. Dry drink mix packers or tablets are ideal because they won’t take up space in your pack. Simply add the mix to your water and drink up!
45. Satellite Messenger
A satellite messenger uses satellite communication technology to send and receive messages, and share GPS location information. These are particularly useful in remote or off-the-grid areas where traditional communication methods may not work.
If your hike takes you into the backcountry, where cell phone reception is scarce, a satellite messenger will keep you in touch with select friends and family members. It will also prove extremely valuable on the off chance that you find yourself in an emergency and need to connect with first responders in the area.
Add Some Comfort to Your Hike
When you’re hiking, safety and comfort are the two highest priorities. So when it comes to hiking shoes, don’t just pick anything with a hiking label on it. Instead, choose a shoe that uses innovative technology to give you the comfort you deserve.
With arch and ankle support, adaptive cushioning and traction that keeps you safe, KURU has hiking shoes for all occasions and terrains. For wet and muddy conditions, consider the QUEST. Or for the summer, when you want something more low profile, choose the CHICANE. You’ll also adore our ATOM Trail, the trail running and hiking shoe born from our best-selling ATOM sneaker.
- Number of people who went hiking in 2021. Number of hiking participants in the United States from 2010 to 2021 (September 2022)
- How much water to drink while exercising. Healthy Hydration (January 2009)
- Zion National Park permit information. Permits and reservations (April 2023)
- Yosemite National Park permit information. Permits and reservations (March 2023)
- Sequoia National Park permit information. Permits and reservations (March 2023)
At KURU, we’re on a mission to help you Heel Better™ with footwear technology designed to relieve foot pain, so you can live a life you love. Since launching our innovative technology in 2008, we’ve received more than 29,000 five-star reviews from thousands of customers who tell us their KURU shoes helped them with conditions (such as plantar fasciitis) and got them back to doing what they love. Explore our plantar fasciitis shoe comparison guide to find the best shoes tailored for your needs.
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