10 Must-Have Items for Your Hikes

10 Must-Have Items for Your Hikes

Okay, okay, so maybe “must have” is a little much. But if you are going to be doing any kind of significant hiking then this is the list for you. What do I mean by significant hiking? Well, anything more than a simple stroll around the neighborhood park, really. If you’re going to be interacting more heavily with nature, taking a dirt path or measuring your time on the trail in hours, I’d call that significant.

We like to travel with a hiking bag filled with some goodies. Over the course of several hiking trips over several years, we’ve learned that it’s best to be prepared and to have these items on hand.

1. The Bag

First, of course, is the bag. This can be a full-on hiking backpack, or a school bookbag, or even a simple drawstring tote. Basically, you need something that is large enough to hold your items and comfortable enough for you to transport. We use a simple school-type backpack, although occasionally we just take the dog backpack or the dog stroller to hold our items.

2.  Water & Snacks

Stay hydrated! Dehydration can be responsible for all sorts of nasty problems including muscle cramps, fatigue and even loss of consciousness. Plus, it’s just uncomfortable to walk around with a dry mouth or a rumble in your tummy. We always try to keep enough bottles of water on hand for each of us (dogs included!). You’ll need to consider how much you need per person or animal as well as how long you might be out on the trail. There is a trade-off, of course, between having enough water and keeping the overall weight that you’re carrying down but it’s always best to over-estimate instead of finding yourself parched several miles away from the car. We also like to bring small snacks like beef sticks or crackers to give us the extra boost we sometimes need along the way.

3. Flashlight

Even if you don’t intend to be out at night, you still want to have a dependable flashlight on hand. Trust us. There has been more than one occasion when we miscalculated how far we still had to hike versus when the sun was going to set and at those times you definitely want something to light your way. Also, even in the daylight there may be places – caves, crevices, dark wooded areas – that you want some extra illumination for. And finally, this can be a useful way to signal for help if necessary. Make sure you keep the batteries fresh!

4. Multi-Purpose Tool

If you aren’t familiar, these are small tools like a Swiss Army knife with multiple useful items attached. The standard items you’ll often find on these sorts of tools are a knife, a saw, pliers, a flathead and Phillips screwdriver, and a can opener, among others. You don’t need the fanciest one or the one with a million items on it but be sure you have the basics that I listed above at least. Scissors are also a nice option, if available. I actually like to collect these so I tend to have different versions scattered all over in bags, the glove box, toolbox, my pocket, etc.

5. Binoculars

Yes, I know these aren’t a necessity like some of the other items on this list but binoculars are really nice to have if you like bird watching or find yourself at an elevation with some beautiful views. My eyesight isn’t 20/20 so I really like to have a pair of these on hand.

6. First Aid Kit

You can go all out with a big container like you’re a paramedic or something, but unless you’re doing some serious hiking in dangerous terrain I think you can stick with having a simple kit on hand. Band-aids, Neosporin, tweezers, maybe some gauze. Of course, if you’re a known klutz you might need to go with the bigger version.

7. Hand Sanitizer / Sanitizing Wipes

As the pandemic taught us, it’s good to have some disinfectant handy. I like using hand sanitizer but you might also consider some wipes. These are not only useful for disinfecting but I’ve also used them to help clean off my hands if I end up getting muddy.

8. Ponchos

In some parts of the world, storms can come up fast and it can be nice to have a poncho to throw over yourself to stay dry. Walking in wet clothes gets pretty uncomfortable pretty quickly. You can get some basic, thin ponchos that fold up to a small size for cheap.

9. Compass

If you like going off the beaten path, you want some way of keeping your bearings. It’s easy to get turned around, especially in wooded areas. It’s also a good idea to take a look at a map before heading out to make sure you have at least a rough sense of where you started from and which way you’re going. Even better, bring a map with you!

10. Smartphone

Yeah, I know. Duh, right? Assuming you have one anyway, bringing a smartphone along with you is a great idea. First, for the ability to communicate should you need to report something or get help. Beyond that, the phone can provide a number of functions that I’ve already talked about. Flashlight, compass, maps. You can take pictures. You could listen to music. I guess you could eat it if it came to that, or hold it over your head as a tiny umbrella. A smartphone is a super useful tool. BUT —  don’t think that a phone can completely take the place of these other items. I may prefer to use my phone instead of digging in the bag when possible, but you have to plan for the worst case scenario. Maybe there’s no service so the maps don’t work. Maybe your phone battery runs down and dies while you’re out. Use the phone but always have a backup tool where possible.

Remember, you don’t need to break the bank to have a good hiking bag. The items you need and the quality of those items is going to be largely dependent on where you’re going and what exactly you’ll be doing. And this is in no way a complete list! You may – and likely will – find your own needs for some tool or another while out on your hikes. But this is a good start for a general use hiking bag.

Did we miss anything? Let us know in the comments!

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