The Hiker’s Packing Guide: Gear You’ll Need to Survive the Wilderness

October 08, 2019

The Hiker’s Packing Guide: Gear You’ll Need to Survive the Wilderness


Whether you're day hiking through Yosemite or going on a thru-hike on the Appalachian trail, you need to be prepared for anything that a hike throws your way. Never underestimate the power of the elements. Experienced hikers know that the weather is never on your side — even the clearest days could turn into a rainy mess. 


Hiker’s backpack

Hiker's Backpack

The capacity of your backpack depends on the duration of your hike.

  • Day pack - 15 to 30 liters of volume 
  • Weekend packs (1-3 nights) - 40 to 50 liters of volume
  • Multi-day packs (3-5 nights) - 50 to 70 liters of volume
  • Expedition packs (5+ nights) – 110 liters and above

Ideally, you should have a durable backpack, one that can withstand harsh weather, and has a built-in rain guard. Your bag is the most important item you possess on the hike because your entire life is sitting in there. The more compartments you have, the better. You save real estate by not having to separate your belongings into different pouches. It's easier to organize your things into different compartments as opposed to having them in separate small bags. Also, your belongings will be easier to find.


Weather appropriate clothing

Hiking in the woods

The best hiking attire is made of synthetic materials (such as nylon or polyester) because they wick out sweat as you work harder and drip more. While you may be tempted to wear the soft cotton shirt, don't! It will trap the sweat and moisture on your skin, making it difficult to cool down. Aside from being uncomfortable because you're hiking in wet clothes, you may develop chills easily the higher you walk because of the sudden drop in temperature and rise in altitude. 

Experienced hikers know how uncomfortable it is to trek in damp clothes. While sweating on the trail is unavoidable, wearing moisture-wicking or dry-fit apparel is the best thing you can do for yourself. 

  • Moisture-wicking underwear 
  • Moisture-wicking t-shirts
  • Quick-drying pants - for hiking in colder areas such as the mountains
  • Quick-drying shorts - for when hiking in the desert
  • Lightweight fleece or jacket - these come in handy when there's a sudden temperature drop during the day, and you need insulation to keep your hike bearable
  • Extra clothes (beyond the minimum expectation)



Hiker's footwear

Give yourself time to find the right footwear. It’s unwise to bring more than one pair of shoes in your bag when you’re on a hiking trip because they take up real estate in your bag. You will need as much space as possible to make way for essentials such as food, water, or a thermal jacket.

More blister prevention and foot care tips can be found here.

  • Boots or shoes suited to the terrain
  • Socks (synthetic for the hike and wool for sleeping)
  • Sock liners
  • Gaiters



Happy hiker

Don’t scrimp on your warmers! They’re meant to take up space in your backpack. Your warmers are what will save you from a chilly night or a sudden temperature drop — especially when you’re camping. If you’re lucky enough to pass by a cabin with a heater and stay there for the night, then good for you. But if you plan to do it old school and camp out under the stars, you will need the full regalia. We’re talking thermals, windbreakers, gloves, fleece, earmuffs, bonnets, and a bandana or buff to cover your face.

  • Rainwear
  • Long underwear
  • Warm insulated jacket or vest
  • Windbreaker
  • Fleece pants
  • Gloves or mittens
  • Warm hat
  • Fleece pants
  • Gloves or mittens
  • Warm hat
  • Bandana or buff



Hiker's Meal

Pack nutrient-dense food into your food bags. Your food intake should be higher than usual because you're burning calories double time by hiking 10 to twelve hours a day. 

Some things to consider before packing food on a trip are:

  • The length of your trip – are you going on a day trip, weekend trip, or expedition?
  • What type of food and beverages will you bring?
  • How you'll prepare the food – will everything come pre-packaged or will you cook on the site?
  • If packing a cooler box is an option – we’d recommend you bring a cooler box if you have a van or a car with you to avoid the hassle of carrying it.
  • What tools and utensils will you need?

It's up to you to bring perishable food, such as sandwiches or boxed lunches, but make sure to have a cold source — like dry ice or an ice pack to keep food adequately chilled. 


For Day Trips

Bear in mind that the more you have in your backpack, the more difficult it will be to hike. We'd suggest you bring non-perishable, high calorie and relatively lightweight food, such as:

  • Trail mix
  • Nuts, seeds, nut-based bars or nut butter squeeze packs
  • Fresh, whole fruit that doesn't require refrigeration 
  • Freeze-dried fruit and sun-dried vegetables
  • Energy bars, chews or energy gel
  • Loose granola or sweetened granola bars
  • Pre-made tuna salad pouches
  • Tortillas and/or tortilla shells
  • Dried meat such as beef, pork, chicken, or salmon jerky
  • Dates
  • Water bottles and/or reservoir
  • Water filter/purifier or chemical treatment

It's essential that you bring sufficient water for your excursion and possess some manner of filtering your water while you're out on the trail — whether that's with a filter, a purifier, a chemical solution, or a fire for thawing snow. When deciding how much water you need to carry, take into consideration that people normally need about half a liter of water per hour during moderate activity in moderate temperatures. You might need to bring more than that depending on different factors like the temperature, altitude, level of exertion, or for emergency cases

As a starting point, always carry at least one water bottle or a collapsible water reservoir. When beginning a hike, fill up your bottle or reservoir from a potable water source. 


For Weekend and Multi-day Trips

Packing for a multi-day trip is a bit more challenging because you'll have to schedule when to prepare and eat your perishable food and then you'll have to live off non-perishables after that.

These essential, shelf-stable food should be in every hiker's backpack:

  • Easily prepared food such as the ones mentioned above
  • Cereal
  • Fruit or vegetable puree in squeeze pouches
  • Canned goods such as sardines, tuna, or chicken
  • Individual packets of condiments such as mayonnaise, mustard, allspice and/or soy sauce
  • High energy carbohydrates unprocessed or minimally processed whole grains, like barley, bulgur, buckwheat, quinoa, and oats, whole-wheat and whole-grain bread, brown rice, and whole-wheat pasta. (Only if you can boil water during your trip)
  • Marshmallows, graham cracker, and chocolate because what's a camping trip without S'mores!
  • Bottled water, and possibly powdered beverage mixes


Navigation tools 


While all of these navigation resources, tools, and devices are useful in different ways, the best way to use them is to check your position and validate it on your map frequently. Mainly, you should always know where you are on the trail. This process is called 'staying found,' it's the essence of good navigation.

  • Map
  • Compass
  • Route description or guidebook
  • Altimeter watch
  • GPS
  • Satellite messenger/personal locator 


Emergency kit

Lighter to start a camp fire

  • First aid kit or first aid supplies
  • Lighter/matches and Firestarter
  • Whistle
  • Flare
  • Disposable scalpel
  • Emergency shelter

Another thing to bring in your hiker’s pack is some form of emergency shelter to protect you from the elements if you get stuck, or even worse, injured while you're on the trail.

The options you have for emergency shelter include a bivy sack, an ultralight tarp, an emergency space blanket, or even a big plastic garbage bag. 

You must know that your tent is only an emergency shelter if it's with you at all times. If you leave it at the site, then it loses its purpose. You can supplement the tent with rolled-up plastic bags for convenience.


Health and Hygiene

Lip Balm for chapped lips

Even if you’ll be sweating the whole day and going through some not-so-clean areas, don’t compromise your hygiene. This is particularly important for women to remember because their monthly cycles won’t stop for a hike. Always remember the basics like washing your hands before you eat — but if there’s no running water available, you can use hand sanitizer, or patching up your wounds to avoid infection.

  • Hand sanitizer
  • Menstrual products
  • Prescription medications
  • Sunscreen
  • Sunglasses
  • Sunhat
  • SPF rated lip balm
  • Insect repellant
  • Toilet paper
  • Urinary products
  • Sanitation trowel 
  • Baby wipes
  • Alcohol antiseptic wipes
  • Blister treatments
  • Sun Protection

Never forget to bring a pair of sunglasses and a big bottle of sunblock on your hike. If you're hiking in the mountains, you're closer to the sun. Broad-spectrum SPF blocks both UVA and UVB rays, protecting you from sun damage and radiation. Apply sunscreen liberally over the exposed parts of your body. And use UV coated umbrellas (or hats) and articles of clothing to protect the rest of your skin. 


Tools and repair items

Camping knife

Sharp tools such as knives or scissors can potentially be a safety hazard. You should opt for collapsible ones with handguards, so you know they won’t cut through anything in your backpack and destroy your belongings.

  • Knife or multi-tool
  • Small gear repair kit
  • Headlamp or flashlight
  • Camera
  • Interpretive field guides
  • Outdoor journal with pen/pencil
  • Binoculars
  • Two-way radios
  • Trekking poles
  • Traction cleats


Personal Items

Do not forget to bring your phone with you

Your personal items shouldn't all be stored in the same pouch or pocket, because if you lose one thing, you lose them all. Separate them into the tightest compartments of your bag and use a piece of tape to flatten them against the walls of your bag. You know what they say, never keep all your eggs in one basket. Your cellphone can be kept on a sling around your neck if you use it as a navigational device or if you'd like to take pictures. 

  • Credit card/or cash
  • ID Cards
  • Cellphone


If there’s one takeaway you get from this article it’s “pack light, but pack enough.” You don’t want to bring too much in your backpack because it will be hard for you to travel, but you don’t want to scrimp on your necessities either.

If you’re confused as to what you’re supposed to bring, ask yourself this question: “what purpose will this item serve?” It’s similar to the Kon Mari method of keeping only what will bring you joy. But in this case, it’s bringing items with maximum functionality and minimal space consumption.



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