The Day Hiker's Ten Essentials

The "Ten Essentials" are required equipment for most trips with The Mountaineers, but for a new day hiker, this list of gear can feel long and intimidating. Learn what our Education Manager Sara Ramsay carries in her pack for a day on the trail.
Sara Ramsay Sara Ramsay
Education Manager
March 03, 2018
The Day Hiker's Ten Essentials

You’ve probably heard of the Ten Essentials, but if you’re new to hiking, the list can feel daunting. So what do you actually need to bring on your easy or moderate day hike? This is what I’ll have in my pack.

It is important to remember that the Ten Essentials can be broken down into systems, and that those systems will change depending on the activity or location. View a comprehensive list of our Ten Essentials, then read below for what I bring in my pack.


I carry a Green Trails map and a basic compass, as well as a map of the area pre-downloaded on my Gaia GPS app. Having this gear in your pack is one thing, but knowing how to use it is another! On an easy to moderate hike, on a well-established trail, you may be able to lean on your leader for some support - but please be sure to contact them first!

The Mountaineers is all about education and learning to take care of yourself, and we offer a number of excellent introductory courses! Browse all of our Navigation Courses and Clinics, and be sure to check out Introduction to Map & Compass, Smart Phone & Dedicated GPS, or Staying Found (On-Trail Navigation). Additionally, did you know that all members receive a free GaiaPro subscription? Learn more on our Member Benefits page.


I always have my headlamp (with spare batteries!) in my day pack. Why a headlamp and not a flashlight? Because a headlamp allows me to go "hands free".

Sun Protection

To save on a little weight, I keep a travel-size tube of sunscreen in my day pack. I also typically hike in a baseball hat and sunglasses, to keep my face and eyes protected. Read more about the importance of sun protection on in this helpful how-to blog!

First Aid

A variety of good first aid kits are available for purchase at stores like REI. If you’d prefer to make your own, and you’re wondering what to carry, check out our blog! Like navigation, your first-aid kit is really only as good as your ability to use it. Browse our First Aid Courses, and consider taking a Wilderness First Aid class!

Knife & Repair Kit

What gear are you bringing that could break? How would that impact your trip? I find that a handful of zip ties and a small roll of duct tape can go a long way towards fixing a busted trekking pole, a hole in your boot, or even a tear in your backpack. I also always carry my trusty Leatherman because I don't mind the weight, which includes both a knife and a variety of small tools, but you can check out other lightweight options like a Swiss Army Knife or other small pocket knife. 


In case of emergency, it's important to have the ability to start a fire. I keep a lighter in my day pack, but you could also carry a small pack of waterproof matches. Be sure to check the lighter regularly, and store it in a dry sack. 


Emergency shelter isn’t meant to be comfortable, it’s meant to be portable and packable, and to provide enough protection to keep you safe in the event of an unexpected change of plans. I keep a large garbage bag in my day pack, which could be used in a pinch as emergency shelter. It also doubles as a place to put wet and muddy gear after my hike! There is also a variety of emergency bivy sacks available at stores like REI.

Nutrition (& Extra Food)

I bring a hearty lunch on most day hikes, including a variety of both salty and sweet snacks. I typically bring a sandwich, some crackers or pretzels, a piece of fruit, and some trail mix. In addition, I bring a couple of extra bars in the event that I’m stuck out on the trail longer than expected. When possible, I repackage my food in a way that makes it easier to pack out any trash. Bring food that you’ll want to eat, and that will keep you fueled for the day. There’s nothing worse than being hungry with a pack full of unappetizing snacks!

Hydration (& Extra Water)

For most hikes under 8 miles round trip, I find that two liters (or four standard 16 oz of water bottles) is enough to get me comfortably through the day. If I know that there will be good, reliable water sources, I might also bring a couple of water purification tablets as a backup. Most trailheads in Washington do not have a spigot with potable water, so it's also a great idea to keep a few extra bottles of water in your car, for the drive to or from the trailhead.

Extra Clothes

Depending on the season, I change this up a bit. For a summer hike, I typically bring a raincoat and rain pants, as well as a lightweight down jacket. In addition, I always bring a warm hat and thin gloves. It can be chilly at the summit! During cooler months, I might bring a warmer jacket or an extra fleece. Either way, hike in layers.

Pro tip! I keep several of my Ten Essentials in a small waterproof ditty bag, which makes it easy to move those items from one bag to the next. I nearly always have my headlamp and spare batteries, my Leatherman and repair kit, a lighter, and a couple of Potable Aqua tablets together in one place!

While the Ten Essentials cover a lot of my “everyday” hiking gear, the list doesn’t cover everything. Choosing gear like a backpack and hiking boots can be overwhelming, especially with so many options available online and at local retailers. If you are new to hiking, consider signing-up for one of our clinics or courses to learn more!

Add a comment

Log in to add comments.
Dominic Giannangelo
Dominic Giannangelo says:
Aug 09, 2018 03:16 PM

And, of course, never trust a cell phone for navigation or as a source of illumination.

Peter Hendrickson
Peter Hendrickson says:
Mar 12, 2021 09:40 AM

Given the profoundly common and frequent use of cell phones for both navigation and light (tip of the hat to Dominic), we've reached the moment to include battery back-up to not only re-charge headlamps but to rescue exhausted phones. Even the thumb -sized can do the job.

Mike Kretzler
Mike Kretzler says:
May 18, 2023 02:48 PM

I recommend bringing two headlamps and leaving the extra batteries at home. If you wonder why, try changing batteries on a tiny headlamp in the dark.