The Guide To Summer Day-Hiking Essentials For Beginners
Updated: Aug 21
If you're a first-time hiker, you might wonder what kind of gear you need to get started. Can you just wear sneakers and a t-shirt? Should you go out and buy all the stuff?
Prior to starting my ADK 46er journey and becoming a more intense hiker, I had always gone out on hikes very casually. Usually in sneakers and jean shorts and maybe a small bottle of water. All of that changed as I started to plan for my first hike in the Adirondacks. I'll admit that I maybe went a little overboard with gear at first. I was worried about everything and wanted to be prepared for every little scenario or thing that could go wrong. I was consumed with thoughts about getting lost, getting hurt, seeing a bear, being stuck in the woods overnight, etc. I'll admit that I packed a lot of things that I realized I didn't really need. Below is a list of gear that I've found to be essential when going on a day-hike.
(Disclaimer: keep in mind this is a portion of what I pack, as my needs change for each hike I go on. This list is meant for day-hikes in the summertime and good weather. This set of items may not be exactly what you need for your situation, so please always consider your personal circumstances and needs before heading out on a hike in the wilderness.)
First and foremost, a good pair of hiking boots is absolutely essential. Your run of the mill sneaker is not going to cut it for your first day-long hike up a mountain. When I headed up to the Adirondacks, I knew the terrain was going to be much more rugged than I was used to. These are not the flat, packed down trails of your local park. I was happy to have my first basic pair of Salomon's back then. Since then, I have upgraded to one of the toughest hiking boots Salomon has to offer and I would highly recommend them. I've attempted to hike in sneakers since then and there is definitely a huge difference in support and stability. The exact hiking boot I own is listed below:
A good pair of hiking boots warrants a good pair of wool hiking socks. Hiking socks are meant for keeping your feet comfortable in those boots and often will help to repel any water if you need to walk through a stream or puddle. I wear the exact socks below even in the summertime.
Hiking Back Pack
You've got to have a way to carry all your stuff. Try to find a pack that has a bunch of buckles and adjustable straps - that's how you know it's good. Having a pack that cinches up to your body will help you carry it easier and it will feel like it's lightened the load - it will be so much more comfortable to carry long distances. I actually carry a tactical backpack. The main bag has a few compartments and then has a lot of detachable pieces, plus a lot of hooks and loops to attach various items that I might need along the way. Bonus: if you can find one that has a pouch for a water bladder - see the next item below.
You could pack just a plain old water bottle but I think you'll get a lot more mileage with a water bladder, plus it is easy to access with the tube that runs out the top of the backpack, rather than having to stop and take your bottle out of your backpack each time.
Bug Hat and Repellant
Preventative action against bugs is a must, especially if you are going hiking in the spring or early summer. Black fly or mosquito bites can really dampen the excitement of a hiking trip, and ticks are definitely something to be concerned about. Below is a bug hat that I own and have used for summer hiking trips that I thought worked well (and didn't look too dorky.)
Map and Compass
Get yourself a good paper topographic map of the location you're heading to and a compass. I find that I am always using some kind of map to figure out my location. If my phone map doesn't work for some reason, a paper map is a lifesaver and a compass will be essential. I don't have a specific recommendation for this one other than maybe take a look at the National Geographic maps, but your map is likely going to be different than a map that I might recommend on here which is why I have not linked to one.
I always bring my flashlight with me just in case for some reason I find myself out past dark. I never want to unintentionally get myself into that kind of situation, but in the event I do, I know I have my flashlight. Make sure it is stocked with fresh batteries or be sure to bring extra batteries with you. An even better choice is a tactical flashlight. These flashlights often have several different modes including SOS and strobe lighting so you can signal distress if needed. They also often come with rechargeable options so you can bring your charging cord with you and use the Solar Power Bank mentioned below to recharge if you run out.
Solar Power Bank
This brilliant product was brought to my attention by my good friend CC. The power bank is shaped like a cell phone. It has the Qi wireless charging capability as well as wired charging capability. You could potentially charge more than one device at a time. You'd have to pre-charge the device, but the best part is that as long as it has a little bit of juice, you can use the solar panel on it to draw in some more power. My phone tends to use a lot of battery while climbing up the mountain searching for a signal, or because I'm taking so many photos with it. When I get to the top of the mountain, I pull out this little device while I'm snacking and enjoying the views, and I charge my phone while simultaneously taking advantage of the sunlight powering the solar panels at the peak. I think it is such a brilliant product!
Sun Screen and Sunglasses
Again - you don't need me to link out to a recommended product. Pick a high SPF sunscreen, be sure to reapply while you're out on the trail, and pick a pair of polarized sunglasses to protect those eyes! This is an item that is easy to forget - I know I have forgotten in the past and regretted it.
What are other items that you consider part of your essential hiking pack for your day hikes? Is there anything else I should add to this list?