Originally posted in 2017; updated in 2019 to explain a new daypack.
In July 2017, the Spokane Spokesman-Review ran a story called “What’s in your daypack?” It’s premise was that when heading out on anything other than the easiest trail (and maybe even then), you should have with you what’s needed to survive an incident or accident. I felt more than a little vindicated after reading it. My years spent hiking, climbing, and mountaineering taught me (usually the hard way) to be prepared, to be ready to self-rescue if possible, to have some means of mitigating the sufferfest (either mine or someone elses), and – above all – to not put others (like SAR folks) at risk only because I was poorly equipped for prevailing conditions. I know, I know; many, many people go on hikes with little more than a t-shirt and shorts, flip-flops, a phone, and a can of warm soda (a dubious variation on “go light, go fast”), and 95 times out of 100 the poop doesn’t hit the rotor. So why carry all this stuff? Well, life is, and always will be, a little (or a lot) like shooting craps. May you always roll sevens; but if (or when) a hike rolls you snake eyes, this stuff is really, really nice to have along. Think of it as a hedge on your hiking bet.
Back in the day being “equipped” often meant carrying around what felt like a sack of concrete – actually, it probably did weigh that much. Now, however, thanks to the continual evolution in outdoor gear toward lighter, stronger, and more compact, it’s easier than ever to carry enough to avoid censure for insufficient equipage. Hiking gear choices are highly personal – and potentially wildly contentious – every how-to article, posting, or book (and there are plenty out there) seems to offer a different set of choices, each backed by fierce opinions. But, over the years, I’ve usually learned a thing or two by looking at other’s lists. So, solely in the spirit of might-spark-a-helpful-idea or good-for-a-laugh, I’m offering up my own idiosyncratic three-season day hiking gear list. If even one item below suggests how you might avoid or minimize unnecessary suffering, then win-win!
- Hat, trucker style (3.0 oz) – I can’t bring myself to wear one of those goofy wide-brimmed sun hats except on raft trips.
- Hiking shirt, long-sleeve t-shirt or zip neck, synthetic (6.4 oz) .
- Hiking shorts (7.3 oz) – LLBean sells a nylon (Supplex) cargo short with built-in underwear that’s tough, quick drying, and well ventilated.
- Hiking socks, wool, pair (6.0 oz) – I no longer use liner socks, preferring instead just a heavy (trekking or mountaineering) wool sock for its cushioning. My feet don’t seem to get any hotter or sweatier as a result, nor do I get blisters, nor do my feet get sore.
- Hiking boots, pair (36 oz) – A highly personal but critical choice. At the moment, I’m using Merrell Moab 2 Ventilator Mids for general hiking and Lowa Arco GTX for rougher trails, cross-country, and easy snow.
- Boot insoles, pair (6.2 oz) – ABEO performance orthotics help me considerably with cushioning and support, particularly with lighter boots like the Moabs.
- Gaiters, shorty (3.1 oz) – These keep stuff out of the boots and off the socks.
- Hiking glasses, prescription (1.5 oz) – I got safety work glasses so they’ll survive my getting whacked in the face with a tree branch.
- Bandana, cotton (0.7 oz) – An item with many, many uses.
- Map, paper (0.1 oz) – I always have a paper map or maps on me, showing the waypoints in the GPS and some of the surrounding area.
Bamboo staff (16.5 oz) – Used for balance, testing the terrain, fending off critters, checking the depth of water or snow, sweeping spider webs off the trail, etc. Homemade and modeled after the one carried by Colin Fletcher, my earliest hiking and backpacking inspiration. Trekking poles (8.9 oz each) – One of these replaces the bamboo for a hike & bike, air hiking, or for easy snow (with a basket change) and two (again with basket change) replace the bamboo when snowshoeing.
Mystery Ranch Coulee 25, 25 liter (46.4 oz) – In 2017, I figured because my load was so much lighter now I could do away with a hip belt and carry it solely on my shoulders. That worked for two years or so before thoracic outlet syndrome struck (there were warning signs, which I dutifully ignored), bringing with it a whole new dimension of pain. So, in 2019, I returned to a daypack with a hip belt and some supporting structure. Yes, it’s much heavier but that is much preferable to crushed shoulders. The LovedOne stayed with the strapless ME-2 Pack which continues to work well for her as both a daypack and a backpack.
On the Daypack
- Left Hip Pouch
- Personal Locator Beacon (PLB), ACR Electronics ResQLink + GPS (5.7 oz) – Not for one- or two-way communication (which may be useful on longer trips) but fine for a last resort call for help on a dayhike or short backpack.
- Whistle (0.5 oz)
- Left Strap Pocket
- Camera, Olympus TG-5 (10.2 oz) – I have other cameras but this one is really tough and also takes good snapshots.
- Sunscreen (1.2 oz) – Travel size.
- DEET insect repellant wipes, 3 (0.3 oz)
- Right Strap Pocket
- Garmin 64s GPS (7.9 oz) – If you can find one, the Garmin 60CSx works just as well and is easier on batteries.
- Spare batteries (1.8 oz)
- Lip balm (0.1 oz)
- Right Hip Pouch
- Energy snacks (2.3 oz)
- Hand warmers, pair (1.6 oz)
- Right & Left Forward Side Pockets
- Water bottles, 1 liter, 2 (3.2 oz) – These are recycled Gatorade or Powerade bottles; light, tough, and cheap. Easier to clean and/or replace than a hydration bladder.
- Left Back Side Pocket
- Rain/wind shirt (6.4 oz) – Outdoor Research Helium II: Rain shield, wind shield, bug shield, sun shield; in bright orange for use during hunting season.
- Right Back Side Pocket
- Mittens, light weight (2.6 oz)
I realize that many folks use their phone as a combo GPS, camera, and distress caller (assuming they can get a signal). All other considerations aside, this makes your phone a potential single point of failure. I’m more comfortable with separate camera, PLB, and GPS devices plus a map and compass. I rarely take my phone on dayhikes.
In the Daypack (in ziplock freezer bags)
Valuables Pouch (stuff I’m not ever leaving in the truck)
- Waterproof pouch (0.7 oz)
- Wallet (4.0 oz)
- Car keys (2.0)
Survival & Repair Kit
- Ziplock bag (0.2 oz)
- Portable Aqua tabs, 6 (0.1 oz)
- Leatherman Squirt PS4 tool, with extra whistle & tick puller on a lanyard (2.3 oz)
- Compass (1.5 oz)
- Princeton Tec Sync headlamp (3.0 oz) – I always check to make sure batteries are still fresh. This type of headlamp uses a rotary switch, rather than various confusing button presses, to select operating modes.
- Repair tape & parachute cord (1.8 oz)
- Butane lighter, fire starter, and storm matches (1.3 oz)
First Aid Kit
- Ibuprofen; Acetaminophen; Ibuprofen PM; Povidone-iodine swab; Triple antibiotic packet; 4″ Kling gauze roll; Absorbent surgical gauze pad; Band-aids; Benzoin (for blisters); Blister pads; Electrolyte tablets; all in a ziplock bag (3.0 oz)
- Ziplock bag (0.2 oz)
- Toilet paper (2.7 oz) – I’ve tried sticks, leaves, pine cones, and snow – never again.
- Wet wipes (1.0 oz)
- Ziplock bag (0.2 oz)
- Hat, balaclava (2.0 oz)
- Fingered gloves, windstopper (1.9 oz) – If I hadn’t gotten frostbite back in the day, I could probably get by with fewer mittens and gloves.
- Buff (1.4 oz)
In the Daypack (Loose)
- Sunglasses, prescription, in a crush-proof case (3.8 oz)
- Emergency food, pack of beef jerky (3 oz)
- Parka with hood, synthetic (13.4 oz) – I could go lighter with down but moisture often falls from the sky where we usually hike and down is no good when wet.
- Quarter zip pullover (8.1 oz) – Generic (REI) fleece in summer; Patagonia micro puff in Spring and Fall.
- Rain pants (Outdoor Research Helium) in Ziplock bag (5.4 oz) – When it’s wet or shorts are not enough; also are useful when plowing through wet vegetation.
- Trash compactor bag (1.0 oz) – Useful as a pack liner, stuff sack, trash bag, etc.
Optional or As Needed
- Hiking pants (14.6 oz) + underwear (2.7 oz) – When conditions don’t allow for shorts or I know I’ll be going cross-country likely through brush.
- Bear spray & holster (12 oz) – These canisters gradually lose pressure, so check the expiration date before you aim it at that grizzly.
- Microspikes (15 oz) – Not a replacement for crampons but very useful on icy trails where a slip/fall could ruin your day.
- Packa, rain pancho/pack cover combo with stuff sack (14 oz) – Usually taken only on backpacks.
So, excluding any options and food and water, gear worn comes to about 4 pounds and pack weight to about 9 pounds. This is enough of the right stuff to have a very good probability of covering any reasonable contingency I’m likely to experience (or have experienced) on a day hike. I may not be comfortable, but I (probably) won’t die. Another plus (beyond staying alive) is that it’s only a few more pounds (depending mostly on the amount of food taken and whether I cook it or not) from a dayhike to a 5+ day backpack (with my aging, but very comfortable, Granite Gear Crown 60).