The classic day hiker’s checklist of 10 essential items has expanded and morphed into more of a systems approach with fancier category titles. I’ll stick with my tried-and-true assemblage for safety, comfort and survival on the trail from spring through fall. What’s outlined here fits easily into my trusty 25-liter orange and gray rucksack.
1. Clothing and footwear. Start with a synthetic base layer of T-shirt and zip-off pants. Add an insulating layer of microfiber or fleece (jacket or vest), then a weatherproof shell. Always pack at least one more layer than you think you’ll need. Gloves and a beanie too. From trail runners to light- to mid-weight boots with various sock combinations, just be sure your footwear setup fits well. A change of socks is a hedge against blisters.
2. Water. Carry at least two liters in plastic water bottles or a hydration bladder with drinking tube. Drink frequently. Add some powdered sports drink for electrolyte replenishment. On long hikes, consider a purification system to treat more water.
3. Food. Bring along what you like to eat and lots of it to fuel the internal furnace. Energy bars, trail mix, fresh and dried fruit, cookies, chocolate bars, hard candy, sandwiches, cheese, beef jerky, salty snacks. Include a plastic bag for garbage.
4. Sun and bug protection. Take sunscreen, insect repellent and lip balm in a zipper bag. Sunglasses and a sun hat add further UV protection.
5. First aid. Buy a small, pre-packaged first aid kit to take care of blisters, cuts, headaches and other minor issues. Familiarize yourself with its contents; you may never need most of them, but there’s a good chance someone else will. Add any personal prescription medications.
6. Staying found. Copy the trail description from the guidebook and print the map, download them to your smartphone, or snap a photo of the info at the trailhead kiosk. If you use a GPS app to track your location, that’s great, but also carry a compass and know the basics of its use.
7. Light. Should you be delayed, a headlamp and spare batteries could mean the difference between making it back to your car or getting caught out overnight. Most smartphones have a flashlight app that will serve as a backup.
8. Shelter. Weather, injury or other factors may force you to spend an unexpected night out. Be prepared with a small bivouac sack, space blanket or large garbage bag for emergency shelter.
9. Tools. Bring a lighter or waterproof matches for a small fire if benighted. A Swiss Army knife or multi-tool is supremely handy, and a whistle helps should you become separated from your group or someone has to come looking for you.
10. Sanitation. Pack toilet paper, baby wipes and hand sanitizer in a quart-sized zipper bag, plus a plastic trowel. Properly bury your waste and TP, place non-biodegradable wipes in a separate baggie, then clean your hands thoroughly.
Handy extras: trekking poles, camera, binoculars, notebook and pen, and duct tape.
You’re probably not going to pack all of these every time you strike out. A one-mile stroll around Mackworth Island in July is considerably different from an all-day ramble up Avery Peak in the Bigelows in October, so choose your gear accordingly.
Before you go, check the weather forecast to give yourself a leg up on what items to pack and what conditions you might encounter. Leave an itinerary with someone, or at least place a note on your driver’s seat – it could aid in your rescue.
Bring a healthy measure of common sense and good judgement, and use it liberally on the trail. Have fun but keep in mind that getting to the summit is optional – returning to the car is mandatory.