Hiking in the PNW is always an adventure, with weather that changes from minute to minute, and rain always an option. This free day hiking checklist is free to download and will cover all the essentials that you need to have a good time hiking and get you home safe and sound on trails that are at the edge of the wilderness, where going off-trail either intentionally or accidentally can leave you stranded or lost.
If you are hiking in more urban areas, with more people around, you can obviously pare this down some. This however remains my go-to list to consider whenever I am going out on the trails.
Daypack – At the core of your day hiking gear is your daypack. Typically a day pack will be between 20 and 36 liters unless you are carrying extras like camera gear. If you are doing short 1-3 mile hikes, just about any old pack will do, but if you are doing any kind of distance, consider shopping for one that has a waist strap, good shoulder straps and that fits you correctly. This will reduce your fatigue, make the whole experience more enjoyable, and make you less sore the next day.
Trekking Poles – Trekking poles are something people tend to feel passionately about. Personally, I hardly ever use them but I hike with people that do because they have old injuries that make them wobbly on the slopes. Used all the time, trekking poles transfer some of the work your legs do to your shoulders and arms, letting your legs go further and farther. Ultimately a pair of trekking poles weigh almost nothing so even if you don’t use them for the whole hike, they can add some stability to your movements if you encounter sketchy slopes.
Map – Most people navigate by their phones, which is fine. Fine at least until your phone dies, or you drop it off the side of a cliff while taking a selfie. If you are going on a simple, well-marked hike, just a printout of the rough trail will work. If you are doing a more involved trip, consider one of the more durable and more accurate ones from National Geographic or Green Trails.
Compass – Yes, you have a compass on your carabiner key chain, but if it is like mine, it points in the completely wrong direction. If you get off trail and turned around, a compass will at least keep you headed in the right direction. A basic orienteering compass on Amazon is about $10 and weighs less than 2 ounces. There isn’t much of an excuse not to have one with you.
Personal Locator Beacon – A personal locator beacon is an absolute must-have in my book, regardless of where you are adventuring. You may have heard of all the Missing 411 cases where people get lost in the woods and never found, or listened to all the YouTube videos about missing hikers, and most of these cases would never have happened if the people involved had a personal locator beacon for emergencies on the trail.
Every person should have one of these when they go wandering in the wild places. While they aren’t inexpensive, they are pretty cheap insurance against going missing and never being seen again.
GPS – This is fairly optional, but they can be handy if you are wandering where the trail gets sketchy and isn’t really well marked. Some sport watches will offer GPS navigation so you don’t need a dedicated unit.
Altimeter Watch – Really, most sports watches will offer this up. I have an old Coros Pace, now they sell the Coros Pace 2, and it tracks my altitude pretty accurately. Why you would want this is to help determine your location on your map, or to brag about how high up you got.
First Aid Kit – One of the items at the top of everyone’s list of 10 hiking essentials, you absolutely need at least a minimal first aid kit. A premade kit like the Medical Kit .7 that I carry is relatively inexpensive at about $35 on Amazon. It covers all the basics of bumps and scrapes on the trail. No first aid kit is perfect, so regardless of the one you carry, you should inventory it and adjust its contents for where you are going and what activities you do.
Lighter and Fire Starter – My suggestion is to have both a lighter as well as a backup fire starter in your emergency kit. Both weigh nearly nothing and having both greatly increases your odds of being able to start a fire if you wind up cold and lost in the woods with the sun setting. You might also consider packing along 2-3 fires worth of tinder in a sealed container as well.
Emergency Blanket – A basic mylar blanket can literally save your life if you wind up staying in the woods all night when it is cold out. The tiny amount of weight that one adds to your pack is completely worth it.
Whistle – Minimal weight, but if you are trying to signal people of your location, a whistle works much better than yelling especially if you are exhausted and feeling weak.
Itineraries – These you leave behind. The best plan is to leave one with a friend, and the other in your vehicle under the seat or in the glove box where someone can find it if you have gone missing. This will give them a general sense of where to go looking for you.
Tools & Repairs
Multitool – You may not use your multi-tool much, but they do come in handy when you need to make repairs to equipment, cut things, or even fashion a survival shelter. You don’t need to get real fancy with one, but I’d suggest getting one of decent quality with a small saw blade. Leatherman is the go-to brand for multitools and you can get one for between $70 and $110 depending on the bells and whistles you get.
Fixed Blade Knife – Most people underestimate the utility of a medium-sized fixed blade knife. A full tang, straight edge knife is useful for everything from cooling to splitting wood if you need it to. You don’t have to go insane on the expense on this one, but get a decent quality knife that you can confidently rely on in an emergency.
Duct Tape – Duct tape, the classic gray tape you never use on ducts, but on pretty much anything else. This stuff can be used for temporary fixes on more things that you can imagine, from broken tent poles, to patching holes in gear, and even as temporary bandaids if you are about that redneck life. If you really want to go hardcore, get Gorilla Tape. It sticks better than regular duct tape and it very tough!
Small Gear Repair Tape – In addition to duct tape, you might consider some gear repair tape that is purpose made for things like patching holes and tears in things like packs and coats. These washable fabric patches are perfect for permanent repairs for things like your down fluffy coat.
Clothing & Footwear
Moisture Wicking Underwear – Your regular underwear might be fine on a short hike, but if you are going out all day, consider putting some money into a really good fitting pair of underwear that wicks moisture away from your skin. This will keep you chafe free and walking happily.
Moisture Wicking Base Layer – I used to skip on a tight fitting base layer, but over the years I’ve learned that a good quality base layer does a great job of keeping your skin sweat free regardless of the time of year.
Quick Drying Pants or Shorts – Whether you get soaked by a surprise rain shower, or from a creek crossing, a pair of pants that dries quickly will make hiking much more comfortable. Heavy cotton pants will stay wet and be heavy for ever and make hiking miserable.
Long Sleeve Shirt – A long sleeve shirt comes in handy both if you need just a little something to get the wind off your skin, or if you want to keep the sun off your skin. Personally, I’m not a fan of slathering myself in sunscreen, so I will typically wear a loose long sleeve in the summer that keeps the sun off my arms and neck.
Lightweight Warm Jacket – Something more that you should carry almost all year round, a lightweight warm jacket is important to bring along almost year round. When you stop to take a break and eat lunch, a light jacket will keep you warm and getting a chill. Additionally, while it may be 60 degrees at the trail head, it might be 40 degrees at the peak. A super light, packable down or synthetic jacket weighs almost nothing and can compress into a very small space, so you should bring it along in all but the warmest of weather.
Boots/footwear Suitable For The Terrain – For shoes-wearers, be sure to strap on a pair of shoes suitable for the terrain you are going to cross. Regular tennis shoes aren’t really up to much more than the easiest of terrains and short distances. Personally I’m a sandals person and so you can almost always find me in a pair of sandals on the trail.
Synthetic or Wool Socks – Not much is more miserable than hiking in wet socks. Wearing sandals 99% of the time, this isn’t something I worry about much, but I’ve been there and it sucks. Cotton socks hold water like a sponge. If I have to wear socks when I’m hiking or running, I really like the ones from Balega.
Hat or Cap For Sun Protection – The sun may not that be intense in the morning at the trailhead, but by the time you are up a mountain and the sun is directly overhead, you may want something to keep the sun off your face.
Extra Clothes – Definitely an option, but layers are always a good thing. My general rule is to be prepared to spend a night outdoors. Consider the weather for the next few days and consider if you need any extra layers.
Windbreaker – If it isn’t raining, a lightweight wind breaker can make hiking on a breezy day much more comfortable.
Rain Coat and Pants – I primarily hike in the PNW so these are in my pack most of the year. Unless there is 0% chance of rain, I stay prepared for it.
Long Underwear – If you run cold, these are a must in the non-summer months. Even just a thin layer under your pants can help to prevent cold, miserable legs on the trail.
Insulated Jacket – For the colder months, consider taking along a thicker jacket. Even if you are warm enough while hiking, when you stop to rest or to eat, you should throw on your coat to keep from getting chilled.
Fleece Pants – If your run real cold, or are hiking in the colder months, you might want to consider getting a pair of these to keep you warm on the trail.
Gloves – For the colder months, these are a must. Cold hands are miserable, and even a thin pair of gloves can help to keep your fingers from aching when a cold wind kicks up. Additionally, if you wind up overnighting accidentally, these will be a big help to keep you warm.
Warm Hat – Like gloves, even a light weight warm hat can be a literal life save if you encounter unexpected cold weather.
Bandanna or Buff – Bandannas can be super useful as headwear, a face covering, a towel and more. A buff also is great for keep the wind off your face/neck or covering your head.
Gaiters – If you wear shoes, gaiters can be invaluable for keeping dirt, sticks, snow, stickers, and even bugs out of your shoes.
Food and Water
Water Bottle or Hydration Bladder – People have their preferences, some liking to bring along a couple bottles of water, while others like a hydration bladder in their pack. For me, the bladder is more convenient, but if you plan on refilling along the trail, a bottle may work better for you. Either way, bring plenty of water. For me, it is better to pack a little bit more water than I need than to risk running out.
Water Filter or Purifier – For longer hikes, a water filter is a must. There are many types of units on the market, so you can pick the kind that works best for you. The important thing is to make sure you have some way to purify your water if you wind up being forced to stay out longer than you plan.
Trail Snacks – Trail snacks are essential, especially on longer hikes for fueling along the way. A big meal might slow you down, so instead of one big meal, you might want to have plenty of snacks like trail mix or beef jerky to munch on along the trail.
Lunch – If you are doing a longer hike, consider bringing along a bigger snack for the halfway point of your hike or when you reach the summit.
Extra Day’s Food – Once again, thinking in the vein of being prepared for spending an unexpected night in the woods, consider bringing along some extra food. This can be as simple as a couple extra energy bars, but if you are cold and waiting for rescue, they will make life much more bearable.
Hand Sanitizer – Personally I’m not a fan, but it will kill bacteria on your hands and will function as an emergency source of tinder if you need it.
Menstrual Products – While it isn’t something everyone thinks of packing, they aren’t a horrible idea. Unexpected things happen, and you never know who may need one. Plus they make a good improvised wound dressing.
Prescription Medications – Again, with the idea of spending 1-3 unplanned nights in the woods, having a small supply of any vital medicines is a good idea.
Sunscreen – Personally I’m in the camp of covering up with clothes over slathering on sun screen, but there are times when you need some. Be sure to get good quality sun screen that is safe for the environment and you. Most grocery store grade sun screens and at least moderately toxic. On a recent trip to Ocean Shores in the winter, I tried out the Joshua Tree Winter Stick, which is SPF15 and prevents wind burn, and can highly recommend their products.
Sunglasses – Not needed as much here in the PNW, but sunny days to happen. A pair of sunglasses on a retainer can take a lot of the strain off your eyes on bright days and even prevent sunburned eyeballs on really hot/bright days. I’ve seen it happen to people and it looks miserable. You don’t have to spend a ton on them, but quality does count and not all polarization is the same.
SPF Rated Lip Balm – If you are in the sun and wind a lot, consider some good lip balm. No one likes kissing dry, cracked, chapped lips.
Insect Repellent – Mosquitos, ticks, and other biting bugs can turn an otherwise nice hike into a furitating, itchy event. Personally I’m not a fan of products with DEET in them, and this year am using more environmentally and gear friendly products made from Ranger Ready to keep the bugs off us.
Toilet Paper – As much as I loathe seeing all the toilet paper people leave behind along trails, the fact is that sometimes you need a little to clean up after doing your business. Be sure not to just leave it laying around. It doesn’t break down as fast as you think and ruins the hike for the rest of us. Either pack it out or bury it deep.
Sanitary Towel – A great option for women to use after going to the bathroom, is a dedication sanitary towel that air dries and keeps you from having to use toilet paper to get things dry after doing your thing.
Sanitation Trowel – A must have in the wood because you neve know when nature will call and isn’t taking no for an answer. If you haven’t read up on the subject, consider picking up How To Shit In The Woods, the definitive guide to doing your business in the wilderness.
Urination Device – There are options to dropping your trousers and letting it all hang out if you are a woman that needs to pee during a hike. I’ve heard mixed results on these devices, but they may be something you want to try out. Effectively these female urination devices let women pee standing up like guys.
Baby Wipes – I hate baby wipes for the most part because they are horrible for the environment, and people leave them behind in the woods. The fact is though, sometimes you need a little extra cleaning power after doing your business.
Sketch Book – If you are artistically inclined, maybe think about bringing a small sketch pad or book with you to capture some quick sketches along your hike.
Binoculars – It is fun to get on top of hills and take a look at things far away, or for checking out wildlife from a safe distance. Plus, if you have binoculars in your hands, people will think you are just stopped to enjoy nature and not just trying to stop gasping for breath.
Cell Phone Tripod – Selfies are great and all, but shots with all of you in them are better. A small cell phone tripod makes getting great selfies easier and even comes in handy for getting all of your hiking buddies in one shot.
Two Way Radios – In the back country cell phones don’t always work and getting separated from your group is dangerous. A pair of two way radios can help coordinate groups or keep you in touch with your hiking partner if you get separated in places where there is no cell signal.