What to Bring on a Hike - Short, Medium and Overnight for Beginners

What to Bring on a Hike

Nothing is worse than going about your day only to be caught by surprise in a storm, without your umbrella. When you aren’t prepared in this situation, you get wet, but when you are not prepared on a hike or while camping, you could find yourself slightly more inconvenienced. We can help you be prepared for the storm. For your convenience, this advice is broken down into sections based on the length of your hike, hikes on fully serviced trails, 5 hours or less, 5-10 hours, and 10 hours or more (including overnight hikes).

Hiking on a Paved Trail

Hiking on a designated and serviced trail can be very enjoyable! You don’t have to venture out into the wilderness and pretend to be on Survivor to be an avid hiker. When hiking on a serviced trail you should consider packing a light bag with the essentials. Bring a first aid kit with you as injuries can happen anywhere and at any time. Bringing snacks and water with you is a good idea as well. You should also carry a cell phone or some other way to call for help, especially if the trail is large and not very well travelled. Packing extra clothes or a jacket can keep you prepared if the weather suddenly turns. Even though you may not be out in an isolated area, you should never set out on a hike unprepared.

Short Hikes (Defined as 5 hours or less)

A short hike is one that you can get done within a day and still have time left over for other things. The chances of you being out overnight if something were to happen is slim (unless you’re hiking at night which is addressed later), because you are likely to have a good amount of daylight left.

However, this does not mean you can leave unprepared.

You should always have a small first aid kit with you. You never know what is going to happen and having a first aid kit can make a scary situation easier, or even just ease small discomforts. To avoid injury you should always have proper footwear. Supportive shoes or boots can help prevent injuries.

Always bring food and water with you. Bring what you think is enough for the time you are gone, then bring a little extra. As long as you are bringing the type of food that can handle a hike (which you can find here), you won’t have to worry about it going to waste if it is not eaten.

Even the most experienced hikers can get lost. Having a cell phone, or other type of radio communicator if there is no cell signal, is a must. If you are intending on venturing off the trail or you know you are in an unfamiliar place you should also consider bringing a map or handheld GPS to help you out.

Plan for the weather. Check the forecast before you go out and bring extra clothing items (or sunscreen) even if there’s a chance you may need it. Along the same lines, the sun can go down very fast, so consider bringing a flashlight or headlamp with you as well. If you are comfortable with carrying one, you can bring a pocket knife or other multipurpose tool (like an army knife).

Medium Hikes - Day Hikes (Defined as 5-10 hours)

When setting out on a medium length hike you run the risk of being out after dark, especially if you get lost, so you should take extra care to be prepared.

Bring a bag with the essentials, your first aid kit, water, and food. You should also bring extra food in case the trip takes longer than you are anticipating or you become fatigued. Carrying enough water for this hike can be a little difficult, so if there is freshwater along your route, you can bring a smaller water purification system. Before you prepare to drink even purified water from a natural source, do some research on the area and see if there is any reason that this water could be dangerous. You can check for local water advisories, or swim status of nearby lakes. Purified water should be free of microorganisms and chemicals, not just large particulates that you can see with the naked eye. When packing your food for the trip you should plan on bringing everything you think you’ll want to eat, and then more. It’s better to have too much and eat it later than not have enough food. Unlike water sources you can find and purify, eating berries, plants, and mushrooms you find can be extremely dangerous and is not something you should do. Packing a little extra can help keep you going.

Because you are planning on being away for a longer period of time, you should pack extra clothes. In addition to making sure you have the right clothes, you should also have proper shoes. Research your trail before you go to decide which types of shoes you should bring. Temperatures can change quickly and it’s important for you to be able to keep warm. Bringing extra safety items as a precaution may seem excessive, but if something does happen you will be glad that you have them. Things like a utility knife, whistle, and signal mirror can be a big help if you find yourself lost.

You will also need some way to call for help. Bringing either a fully charged cell phone strictly for the purpose of calling for help or a radio communicator can make all the difference in a bad situation. In case you are still gone when it gets dark you should bring a headlamp or flashlight with you. Everything looks different at night and even the most experienced hikers can find themselves lost in the dark. You should also consider bringing a blanket, pillow, and cushion in case you unknowingly have to spend the night outside. Sleeping on the ground will take away valuable body heat. Even a blanket between you and the ground can help to keep you warm.

The old saying goes, hope for the best prepare for the worst, and this is the exact mindset you should have when preparing for a hike of this length.

Long Hikes (10 hours or more) and Overnight Hikes

Being gone from camp for longer periods of time, you need to bring more supplies, especially if you plan on being gone overnight on a hike.

You should make sure you bring a large bag that was designed for hiking so you are able to carry everything you need with ease. Bringing your first aid kit is a must when going on prolonged hikes. Other safety equipment like a signal mirror, whistle, radio communicator, cell phone and utility knife is important to bring with you in case you run into an emergency or get lost. If you are hiking into a very remote area you should also consider bringing a signal flare with you in the event that your radio or phone fails.

Bringing a map, pre-planned route, or GPS with you will help you stay on course and prevent you from getting lost.

Hikes of this length require a somewhat substantial amount of food and water to be brought with you. You can either bring a water supply or you can bring a water purification system. Make sure the water you are purifying is safe to drink by researching the area you are in. This is very important (and if you don’t believe me go rewatch the movie “Vacation,” your hot spring might just be poop). Proper food storage to keep animals away is something else you need to think of before you set out. Keeping everything in airtight containers or bear canisters will stop the smells from traveling and prevent unwanted hiking partners. Eating things you find along your hike is not recommended. Even the most experienced hikers can make mistakes identifying species of plants, berries and mushrooms. It’s better to plan ahead and eat things you know are safe.

If you are planning an overnight hike you need to make sure that you prepare accordingly. Anything that you think you may need to make a mini camp while on your hike is something that you should bring.

Bringing extra clothes (more than what you think you need for the day/days that you are gone) is a good idea in case you get caught in bad weather or end up damp.

You also want to bring sleeping bags and a sleeping mat. Having the extra layer between you and the ground will help you stay warm and comfortable. Your shelter should be portable and easy to travel with. If you are short on space while traveling, you can make a variety of shelters with a simple tarp and plenty of rope. There are also specific tents for backpacking, and specific backpacks made to carry tents. You can also make your own shelter out of things you can find, if you are really feeling ambitious, however you should bring a back up option just in case.

You could consider making yourself a fire kit complete with fire starters, matches and other kindling. To help keep waste to a minimum and still save space, consider wrapping your food in food-safe paper and use it as fire kindling.

Just as with any time you are hiking in the dark, bring plenty of light sources with you. If you are setting up a temporary camp a lantern may be beneficial. Overnight hikes are not something that you should attempt unless you are an experienced hiker and know the area that you are hiking in. If you choose to follow through with the hike, make sure you research where you are going and plan your route in advance.

The more prepared you are, the less likely something bad is to happen.

About the Author

Alex Wilder

My name is Alex Wilder and I’ve enjoyed outdoor activities my entire life, particularly camping, backpacking and hiking. As soon as the weather starts to warm up, you’ll find me outside and I try to make at least six camping trips a year. I have experience in several different countries including Costa Rica, France, Ireland, Canada and the United States. I am entering the fourth year of my Bachelors of Biology with a specialization in ecology, animal behavior and communication and I am currently writing my thesis on avian behavior and bioacoustics. I also enjoy cooking and often experiment with different recipes. I am in the process of building a conservation blog. If you’d like to read more of my writing you can find me on Instagram at @conservation.queen