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Hiking essentials

Hiking essentials list: things to pack on every hiking/walking trip. Based on my experiences, I have put together this hiking packing list to take the guesswork out of what to pack for your next hiking adventure.

hiking along a coast

1. Navigation tools: Map and Compass

Hikers should always carry a map of the area they intend to hike in. Ideally, the hiking map should be waterproof or carried in a waterproof bag. A hiking compass should also be carried. Compasses that have adjustable declination are easier to read, therefore reducing the risk of a navigational error.

Compasses are especially important in bad weather when your visibility is limited. Knowing how to use a map and compass is as important as the map and compass tools. A good book and how to use and map and compass is Map and Compass – A comprehensive guide to navigation (see it here)

A hiking altimeter, GPS devices, and smartphones are also useful navigation tools as they help you stay found, not get lost, help you to know your direction of travel, and bearings to a distant landmark.

2. Hydration: Water

Hydration is essential to enjoy hiking safely. Stay hydrated by drinking often while hiking. If you feel thirsty at all, that means that you are starting to become dehydrated. Being even slightly dehydrated can reduce your energy and endurance capacity. Try to drink a small amount every 10 to 15 minutes. If you feel thirsty, drink more.

A person can go several days without eating, but not long without water. Dehydration reduces the body’s ability to function properly and cope with stress. Hikers should carry water bottles or hydration bladders (reservoir), and a way to purify water from outdoor sources. Water purification can be completed by boiling, with chemicals or a water filter.

3. Nutrition: Extra Food

Carrying extra food that requires no cooking and stores well is always a good idea. Carry more food than you will eat for your intended length of hiking time. The food will increase your comfort, increase your warmth and improve physiologic functions in your body.

4. Insulation: Rain Gear & Extra Clothing

Hikers should carry extra clothes that provide rain and cold protection. Unseen storms can move in quickly and catch us off guard. Clothing should not be made of cotton. Synthetic or wool fabrics are much better for outdoor activities as they improve comfort and protection from hypothermia.


Avoid cotton clothing, socks, and underwear when hiking. Cotton absorbs moisture and holds it, making cotton clothing very slow to dry. If cotton clothing becomes wet or damp it will significantly increase heat loss as well as a wind chill. The outdoor saying goes “cotton kills”. Synthetic or wool hiking clothes you can find in any outdoor shop, are a much better alternative.

Foot Care

Keep your feet as clean as possible. Dirt and small rocks are abrasive and lead to sore and even blistered feet. Hiking gaiters significantly reduce the amount of dirt and other trail debris that get into your boots or shoes. Keep your feet as dry as possible. Hiking through water and even sweat build-up can get your feet wet. When your feet are wet, or even damp, they are much more likely to blister. Carrying a pair of extra hiking socks is a good idea. If you tend to get sore feet or blisters, using sports creams can help significantly.


Hiking shoes are a better alternative to hiking boots in most conditions. Here are a few reasons to use hiking boots: if you have problems with your ankles; if you are carrying a load heavier than 15 pounds; if you are overweight; or if you are hiking in snow or wet conditions. In most other cases, hiking shoes are better because they are lighter and breathe better. If you are going off the paved trail, gaiters will increase your comfort and keep your feet in better condition.

Hiking Poles

Use hiking poles as much as you can (and need) – they will reduce knee pain, get an upper body workout while you hike, increase your balance in slippery conditions, and help you hike up steep inclines easier.

5. Fire – Firestarter

A fire can provide us with essential warmth, psychological comfort, and the ability to cook food and purify water. Hikers should carry a way to produce fire from either a lighter, matches, or sparker. Matches should be carried in a waterproof container. Hikers should also carry fire starter fuel (starting fluid). Fire increases our comfort, adds heat, protects us from hypothermia, can cook our food, purifies water as well signaling for potential help.

6. First Aid – First Aid Kit

Hikers should always carry a first aid kit for treating injuries and for medical emergencies. First aid supplies should be kept in a waterproof bag or container. You may need to add items to your kit for your personal needs. First aid knowledge and training are also extremely important.

7. Repairs – Knife or Multi-Tool

Repair and survival tasks are made considerably easier with a pocket knife or multi-tool and repair supplies such as duct tape for the repair of clothing and equipment. Hiking repair kits contain a variety of items for quick equipment repairs.

8. Illumination – Headlamp & Flashlight

If it gets dark, it is vital to have illumination for even the most basic tasks like seeing trails, maps, and equipment, staying found, or signaling for help. Headlamps are easier to use than a flashlight because they provide hands-free lighting options. LED bulbs are ideal for hiking because of their long burn times and durability. Flashlights and even keychain lights are often adequate lighting. Carrying extra batteries is always a good idea.

9. Sun Protection – Sunscreen, Sunglasses & Hat

Sunscreen, sunglasses, and a hat are essential for protection from the sun, and its harmful solar rays. The higher in altitude, the more important sun protection is. Snow and water reflect the sun and increase the chances of serious sunburn.

Use sunscreen on exposed skin if you are going out for more than an hour. If your skin is sensitive to the sun, you may need sunscreen every time you hike. Apply sunscreen before you start hiking and reapply as directed on the sunscreen bottle. Remember to protect your eyes from the sun with a good pair of sunglasses. Eyes can be easily burned by the sun and long-term over-exposure to your eyes can lead to serious vision problems in the future.

Many outdoor professionals prefer to use clothing as much as possible for sun protection. Wearing hiking pants, long sleeve shirts, and a good sun hat will protect most of your skin from the sun. In environments where the sun is extremely intense such as high altitudes, coasts, beaches, and deserts, a small parasol (hiking umbrella) can be useful. Think of it as a portable shade.

10. Emergency Shelter

All hikers should carry a space blanket or space bag unless they are already carrying a bivy bag or tent to protect them from possible hypothermia, cold, rain, snow, and sun. It is a good idea to be aware of the range of conditions (extremes) for the area you will be hiking in.

This list is a basic list that doesn’t include everything that you may need to hike safely. Make sure to consider your personal special needs and the environment that you will be hiking in.