Twelve Essential Items for Hiking

Everyone has a slightly varied list when it comes to hiking gear but most stick to an essential ten items similar to the list that first appeared in Mountaineering Freedom of the Hills Mountaineers (Read about it here). Below I expand upon the essential ten for what I personally believe are 12 items every hiker must have! This is just a basic list. Stay tuned for future posts where I will individually go over each essential in great detail.

1) Navigation

(Basic Map, Topographical Map, Compass, GPS)

Unless you are going on a familiar short hike, some sort of navigation should accompany you. Handheld GPS’s are wonderful. They have revolutionized navigation for the average hiker. But I highly recommend basic compass and map understanding as well. It can literally save your life. GPS units are great but if one fails, have a back up plan.


2) Hydration

(Water storage and filter)

Without water, depending on the conditions, you could die within several hours. It is essential for survival. Having water storage and a way to filter water are a must have for any hiker. Another great suggestion is to study the map before heading out and highlight water sources that that are on or around the trail. This can come in handy if you become stranded and need to refill your water container.

3) Nutrition

A human can last several weeks without food as long as they have water. So this isn’t a must have but keeping energy is essential if you get lost and plan on having the energy to walk out on your own. Having the extra calories can do wonders to keep you warm at night as well. What do I bring? For short trips, generally some sort of jerky and energy bars. If I am doing a multi-day trip, I prefer MRE (Meal Ready-to-Eat) packs.

4) First Aid

Another essential for hiking, even for short day hikes is first aid. It should be fairly obvious why a first aid kit is needed. I recommend the bare minimum of gauze pads, ointments for cuts/burns, bandaids, tape and pain medication (Advil, Alive, Tylenol).


5) Insulation

(Rain Gear and/or layers)

I learned this lesson first hand with hiking in the Pacific Northwest where weather can change quickly and dramatically. I was hiking on a beautiful 60 degree sunny day. About four hours into the hike, the weather quickly turned to rain. Then the temperature plummeted. I was soaked and freezing. Thankfully it was a short hike and I was quickly able to warm up in my car.

What kind and how much insulation will really depend what time of the year you hike and obviously where you are hiking. Be sure to research the areas weather and be prepared for the worst. As they say, “Hope for the best, prepare for the worst”.


6) Fire

Insulation can do wonders in keeping you warm, but having the option to make a fire is a great backup plan. It will keep you warm and dry, keep the bugs away, and may help rescuers spot you (smoke). When selecting a fire method, I prefer to have backup plans. Also look for water proof methods. Having some cheap BIC lighters is always a good start. Then keep a few waterproof matches as backup.

7) Appropriate shoes

Too many times I see people on a hiking trail with open toed shoes or flimsy running shoes. Blisters and stubbed toes come to mind. Depending on the types of trails you are doing, you need to have appropriate shoes/boots. They can be the difference between an enjoyable hike and a blister filled miserable hike.

8) Tools

(repair kit, duct tape)

Duct tape has so many uses. It can patch a shoe or pack, fix a strap, create a rope, patch your shelter, patch rain gear, wrap a sprained ankle, and many, many more.

A multitool and/or knife are also great to have in any pack.

9) Illumination

Lighting is crucial when you end up hiking longer then planned. Many times I have avoided spending nights on the trail thanks to having a headlamp. This gave me the ability to continue following the trail and make it safely to my car. A headlamp is also great so that you can gather fire wood, start a fire or assemble a shelter with both hands free.

I personally carry both a headlamp and a handheld flashlight. I feel better having backup plans if one fails.

10) A solid backpack

Having all these items doesn’t do you much good if you cannot carry them with you. Having a good backpack that is comfortable and well organized can reduce a lot of stress and heartache on the trail.

11) Sun protection

Whether it is hot or cold, sunny or snowy- you can get burnt by the sun. Being prepared will make your days on the trail and after the trail more enjoyable!

When choosing sunglasses, look for ones that block 100% of ultraviolet light (UVA and UVB). For sunscreen, I choose “sport” versions which last longer when sweating. And I have always found having a hat to block the sun invaluable.

12) Emergency shelter

Nobody expects to become lost or injured on the trail, but it happens. And if it does, having a light, small shelter can help tremendously with dealing with the elements. I personally carry the Eagles Nest Housefly rain tarp and a space blanket. This gives me the piece of mind that I can stay warm and dry if the elements turn for the worse.