8 Essential Things to Bring on a Hike

The kinds of supplies you’ll want to take with you on a hike depends a lot on what type of hike you’re doing. For instance, are you:

  • Doing a short day hike? Is it under 5 miles?
  • Doing a long hike? I’m talking 10+ miles.
  • Doing an overnight hike?

Depending on what your answer is determines what you should bring with you on the said hike, and what I’ll be covering today is 8 essential things you should have regardless of which type of hike you’re doing above.

Now in terms of the supplies I’ll be covering here, the only thing that will really differ is how much of those essential supplies you should bring, meaning:

The longer the hike, the more of the said supplies you should bring.

Here are the 8 essential things to bring on any hike with you:

  1. Water (I’ll tell you how much to bring).Things to Bring on a Hike
  2. Energy packs/bars and food (I’ll share how much to bring).
  3. Some energy drinks (Gatorade for example).
  4. External USB charger (in case your phone needs juice).
  5. A map of the hike you’re doing so you don’t get lost.
  6. A compass just in case you get lost.
  7. Some protection like a lighter, bear spray and other stuff (just in case).
  8. Soap.

This is typically the type of stuff you’ll want to carry with you on a hike and honestly, for most of the hikes you do, you can fit them all in one medium sized hydration pack that carries 3 liters of water.

The rest of the stuff on this list can fit in that type of thing.

You’ll want as much mobility and least weight as possible so you don’t end up dragging yourself too much because what you’re carrying is just to heavy to manage. Anyway, let me share the details of each essential thing to bring on a hike:

1) Water (the most essential thing to bring on a hike):

hydration bladder to bring on a hike

I almost always do day hikes that are either short or long, but regardless, water is the first thing I pack when I am getting ready. However, this is a common question people ask:

How much water should you bring on a hike?

For me, I typically fill up my hydration pack bladder with 3 liters of water and this is enough to last me for about 80% of the hikes I do that are 10-15 miles long.

I do also carry an extra bottle of water with me just in case I run out.

At the same time, it is also important to note the area where you’re hiking at in determining whether you need to bring so much water or not.

For example, if I’m hiking somewhere where I know there is a lot of water (Streams/rivers), I’ll typically bring less water and just refill my hydration pack any chance I get.

So for instance, when I hike in the Catskills, I’ll bring about 3 liters of water and refill for whatever else I need in the environment there.

If however, I’m hiking in the desert (like Coyote Gulch), I’ll bring more water than I think I’ll need because I’d rather have more and carry more, than run out of water and risk dehydration.

Long story short: Bring more water than you think you need in most environments (do research beforehand) and in dessert environments, bring at least 2 times as much water than you think you’ll need.

2) Energy packs/bars and similar stuff:

snacks to bring on a hike

Don’t go on any hike without having snacks to refuel you. Relying on just water is a big mistake because a lot of people end up doing (including myself before I knew better) was that:

  1. I would sweat a lot.
  2. Drink a lot of pure water.
  3. Sweat even more because of that.
  4. The sweat would get rid of the salt in my body.
  5. I would get cramps (this is not a good position to be in when you’re hiking).

To avoid that end result, you need to bring snacks that have sodium, salt and sugar to refuel your body with more than just water. At the same time, you’ll also want to carry the kind of food that doesn’t give off a smell that attracts animals.

I typically carry 5 energy bars and fig bars with me, for a total of about 1,500 calories (for a 10-15 mile hike). I’ll also make sure than when I start my hike, that it’s on a full stomach too to carry me through several miles before I stop and eat one of my snacks.

3) Energy drinks (very important):

energy drinks to bring on a hike

You should keep a bottle or two of an energy drink on you because they have ingredients other than water that can help your body maintain healthy salt levels.

If you just rely on drinking water and all the salt starts coming out, you don’t just risk cramps, but throwing up and other bad things.

If you keep drinking water when this happens, you’ll actually make the problem worse (I learned this the hard way).

Therefore, when you hike and get into a tough situation where you think a cramp might hit or you’re getting nauseous: stop and drink that Gatorade (or whatever energy drink you have).

And by the way, this recommendation is in addition to having water on you.

So in addition to carrying say 2-3 liters of water, I’ll also keep a bottle or two of Gatorade or a Powderade on me.

That way, if I start to feel cramps, I’ll take a few sips of this and it’ll get me back up and running on the trail I’m on.

4) External USB charger (in case your phone needs juice):

portable usb things to bring on a hike

For long hikes, I like to use my phone to listen to music, use the maps on it and basically all of this entails the power on your phone draining.

I like to keep an external USB charger on my just in case my phone is in need of it.

You never know when it’ll become necessary and because most of them weigh under 1 pound, it’s a good thing to carry on you, whether it be on a short or long hike.

Obviously, you should make sure when you start your hike that your phone is at 100% energy and if possible, look at which apps are activated and close them so they don’t drain your battery.

The more energy you have in your phone, the less likely you’ll need to use an external USB charger, but having it handy is always a good idea.

There’s a much better and safer feeling knowing that there’s always some sort of electronic device you can count on in case things get bad (such as calling 911).

The one I’m using in the picture is about $20.

5) A map of the actual hike you’re doing:

what to bring on a hike trail maps

Folks, I can’t stress how important it is to know where you are when you go hiking. It’s important to do research beforehand and have a map on you in case you need to refer to it to figure it out.

I’ve gotten lost in the woods numerous times due to not having a map handy and this is just a foolish mistake you can avoid. It’s much easier than you think to get lost in the woods, even if you follow all the trail markers, but trust me, have a map handy.

You can easily download maps on your phone and even use free apps like Alltrails.com to monitor where on the trail you’re on (or off so you can get back).

You can get a map several ways:

  • Download it on your phone.
  • Use a map on the trail before you start it (some trails do not have maps so be aware of this).
  • Take a picture of the trail map before you start it.

6) A compass:

bring a compass on a hike

A compass is a very valuable tool to keep on you when you’re hiking.

I typically use one on my phone as it’s more accurate than the cheap ones I’ve used before.

But what I’ll typically do is cross reference the compass with the map I have and see if I’m on the right track. Reading compasses isn’t difficult and it’s a great thing to keep on you.

At the same time, free apps like All Trails will also provide you with map listing and GPS location trackers to help you see where on the trail you are (and if you’re deviating from it).

But if you have to choose, have both these apps on your phone just in case.

The following compass you see to the right saved me when I was hiking in Coyote Gulch and had to find my way out of there. There were no markers I could rely on so knowing the direction in which I came from and following that (thanks to the compass) got me back to my car.

7) Some protection like a lighter, bear spray and other stuff (just in case):

bear spray things to bring on a hike

Just a few days ago, I was hiking at Harriman State Park and ran into a bear (he was about 15-20 feet away from me).

It was a black bear, and I know from research they aren’t usually aggressive, but still, that experience shook me to the core.

However, prior to doing the hike that day, I did make sure to bring certain things just in case:

  1. A bear spray.
  2. A lighter to use for making fire just in case.
  3. A small knife just in case.

In the greater scheme of things, these supplies might not help, but I’d rather have them if I’m going on a hike where I know wild animals are present and these things make me feel a lot safer (and they do actually add to it).

In this case, the bear spray I have is only about $30-$40, but considering how it could save your life (among the other supplies), I’d say keep it on your just in case.

8) Soap (I’m serious):

You’re going to get sweaty, dirty and stinky on a hike and for me, whenever an opportunity presents itself to freshen up in a river, waterfall or lake, I’ll take it. I always keep one bar of soap on me to wash up and freshen up when I’m doing a long hike and for any of you overnight hikers, this is even more recommended, lest you prefer to be swarmed by bugs (this is another reason why you want to stay as fresh as possible).

In addition, after I wash up with soap, I’m re energized and can continue my hike on a new high. Let me give you an example:

I was doing a 10 mile hike in Hudson Highlands State Park.

I started at the Bull Hill Loop Trail, but went over to Breakneck Ridge, so this involved summiting 2 peaks. When I finished the first peak, I ran past a waterfall where I freshened up under a waterfall. Afterwards, I was much more optimistic about continuing my hike to Breakneck Ridge and did with a new sense of freshness.

1 bar of soap is more than enough for any type of hike you do.

How much of the above supplies should you bring on a short/long or overnight hike?

  1. The shorter your hike (5 miles or under), the less you can bring.
  2. Anything over 5 miles, I’d rather you play it safe and bring more just in case. It’s better to have more supplies and not need them, than less and need them.

The good news is that as you start taking these things with you and hiking more, you’ll get a feel for how much is ideal for you to carry with you and that will help you adjust how much of what you should bring.

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