What should I take on a day hike?
October 1, 2009 2:11 PM   Subscribe

What should I take on an easy day-long hike?

I've signed up for a 10-mile hike. It's a very easy walk on flat, open terrain, no narrow trails or anything. It's my first hike though and I'm not sure what to wear/bring. I need to bring my own lunch and snacks. Experienced hikers, what would you recommend that won't leak, break, crumble or get squashed? And how much water should I aim to bring along?
posted by different to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (38 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Bring The Ten Essentials.
posted by zsazsa at 2:17 PM on October 1, 2009 [4 favorites]

This goes without saying, you should wear your most comfortable pair of shoes. Even if they look crummy. 10 miles is fairly long. Pack a PB&J sandwich and a bag of baby carrots for a snack, also bring one water bottle. A zip up hoodie and some comfortable sweat/jogging pants should be light and comfortable for walking. Have fun!
posted by dragonette1 at 2:19 PM on October 1, 2009

BTW... go for comfort....
posted by dragonette1 at 2:20 PM on October 1, 2009

A rain jacket; it can get chilly if you're wet. Approximately one liter of water per three miles is generally a good rule of thumb. Bug repellent, sun screen, band-aids for blisters or scratches, a cap or hat to keep the sun off your face, a change of clothes in the car in case you get wet (no need to carry it with you in your pack), a sandwich and perhaps some granola bars, maybe some M&Ms for quick energy, sunglasses, a camera if you have one, and a will to have fun.
posted by netbros at 2:24 PM on October 1, 2009

Wow, I would definitely say more than one water bottle. Your first hike, you're going to want some for the way there, some for the way back. And I'd add some extra nuts or protein to the lunch idea.
posted by misha at 2:25 PM on October 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

It's all about comfort and knowing to use what you have.

At least consider:
About 1L/Qt of water
bags of snacks
a lunch
a map of the trail
a jacket in case of rain.

You'll certain want:
A good pair of socks (NOT cotton tube socks)
Some blister bandages: moleskin is my preferred solution, but I'm ancient. Bandaids work in a pinch.

If necessary:
insect repellent

It wouldn't be a bad idea to carry:
A compass if you know how to use one
a small light

In the car:
A change of socks for when you get back
Another litre of water
a sweater and perhaps warmup pants.
posted by bonehead at 2:30 PM on October 1, 2009

Bring The Ten Essentials.

Are you joking? A map? A freaking compass? A headlamp? A bloody knife? She's going on a group day hike in flat, open terrain. This isn't wilderness survival. It's not even overnight.

I would bring a light backpack that you can wear comfortably. Are there places to fill up a water bottle on the way? I might bring a litre of water. If you bring much more it ends up getting heavy, though I don't know what the weather in your area is this time of year. If you're very out of shape or it's really hot, or you won't have an opportunity to fill up, you could bring more. But if you have a drink before you go, you don't need to bring too much. Plus, the more you drink, the more you have to go pee on flat, open terrain with a bunch of other people around.

Wear comfortable running shoes or light trail shoes if you own some. Bring some granola bars that you can snack on while you walk. Maybe bring a couple of apples. Wear appropriate clothes for the weather. This time of year I would probably wear shorts and a t-shirt and carry something light that I could wear on top if it got cool, but that will again depend on the weather in your area. Generally avoid cotton, at least in underwear, because as you sweat it tends to chafe. Cotton shorts are fine. If you think you're going to sweat a bunch, go for a non-cotton t-shirt so it doesn't hold the sweat. Hiking shorts that have seamless insets are helpful in that regard, but it's really not the end of the world if you don't have some. It doesn't sound like you have too much to worry about. Just enjoy the walk.
posted by Dasein at 2:30 PM on October 1, 2009 [3 favorites]

To revise slightly what I just posted, yes, you want a map of where you're going, but those 10 Essentials are really overkill for a day hike.

And bonehead is right that cotton socks are also not ideal. Some polyester socks would be better.
posted by Dasein at 2:33 PM on October 1, 2009

I'm with Dasein, particularly given that the OP "signed up" for this hike, suggesting that someone (likely more experienced) is running the affair. I'd bring water (I'd say 2L, but I drink a lot) and food (sammies and power bars, for example--but don't forget that power bars will make you quite thirsty). Sunscreen, sunglasses, and a harpoon.

I'd wear long pants.

I also wouldn't get particularly jazzercised over this. I'm not particularly fit, and I wouldn't think twice about walking 10 miles on something that has been identified as a non-strenuous hike.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 2:37 PM on October 1, 2009

Lots of water and bandaids. There is nothing worse than walking with blisters on your feet, which can happen even if you think your shoes are broken in.


I don't know what the weather will be like, but wear and bring layers. It sucks to get sweaty and then have clouds cover up the sun and then be freezing the rest of the time.
posted by KateHasQuestions at 2:40 PM on October 1, 2009

Yeah I'm with Dasein, most of those things are overkill. The only thing that I can think of to add is if you can talk to someone who is familiar with the trail you can figure out whether long pants or shorts are most appropriate. Anyways, enjoy.
posted by mmascolino at 2:40 PM on October 1, 2009

Trail Mix
posted by wcfields at 2:43 PM on October 1, 2009

-You'll drink more water and get hungrier than you might expect. Get a bottle of water at the store that you think you'll have trouble finishing in a day, then buy a second one and bring both. Two or three Clif bars or similar will probably be more than you need, but someone else might be hungry, and they don't weigh much.

- You'll be miserable if you wear cotton underwear or cotton socks - cotton soaks up water and holds onto it like a sponge, so you'll end up wet, cold, and chafing. Anything but cotton.

- Your sneakers or running shoes wil be more comfortable and make you less tired than hiking boots.

-Make sure your mobile phone is fully charged.

-The ten essentials is usually a must, but you're going to be in a group so it's slightly less "essential"; But bring whatever you can on that list.

You know those cheapo football-game ponchos that are made of clearish plastic similar to trash bags? And those shiny mylar "space blankets" you sometimes see at marathons? Those are both good because they weigh nothing and if things go wrong and you end up stuck out overnight, you can sit down wrapped in a space blanket with a poncho on top of it and have your own personal tent in which you're fairly dry and warm. Probably kind of miserable, especially if it's raining; but it'll get you through till morning if some emergency happens.

If you find yourself liking hiking a lot, it is a nice idea to gather together some kind of 10 essentials/emergency overnight kit and just keep it all in one bag or small backpack. Then when you feel like going for a hike on a whim, you can grab that and know that you only arrange for anything extra you might need to add for that specific trip. (also handy to grab and run when the fire/flood/zombie sirens go off).
posted by bartleby at 2:44 PM on October 1, 2009

It's all overkill until you turn your ankle over and the only one kind enough to stay behind and walk with you doesn't really know the way back to the car and it gets dark and cold.
the Boy Scouts, luv em or hate em, say it best: "Be Prepared".
the 'the ten essentials' can always be modified a bit, or shared among the group, but what harm is there to make it a good habit to put them in the car, and make them a regular part of preparing for an outing?

As for snacks... i love a cold crisp apple. the sugar is a quick energy boost, and the tart juiciness of a good apple will slake your thirst and make your water last longer.
posted by OHenryPacey at 2:53 PM on October 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'd say bring 2L of water. 1 is not enough, but three will just be heavy for what you're doing.

Seconding wearing comfortable shoes. Non-cotton socks are good as well. Bring duct tape (you can wrap a short length of it around a water bottle) for use as blister prevention: if you start feeling part of your foot getting hot (a "hot spot," if you will), stop hiking, take off your shoes and socks, and apply the duct tape directly to the skin. This will stop the chafing and prevent you from getting a blister.

Sandwiches are great hiking food. My favorite snacks are Nature Valley bars and chocolate covered cranberries.
posted by Aizkolari at 2:53 PM on October 1, 2009

Moleskin, slightly more water than you think you need (you can dump extra water) and slightly less food than you think you need. I'd also wear a hat and sunglasses. Wear layers. If I brought any emergency equipment for a hike like this it would be a flashlight and a whistle since they are light.
posted by chairface at 2:56 PM on October 1, 2009

I'm not joking about the Ten Essentials. They hardly weigh anything or take up much space. I was a Boy Scout, though.
posted by zsazsa at 3:11 PM on October 1, 2009

Definitely bring a waterproof jacket or even a windbreaker. The last hike I went on, we didn't prepare for rain (since it was in the summer, during a drought), and had a 3-mile death march back to the car in a torrential downpour.

Then it started to hail. The one guy who thought to bring a jacket was verrry popular.
posted by muddgirl at 3:17 PM on October 1, 2009

Good socks. I like SmartWool. Unless it's really hot. Oh, you're in SF. Then yeah, SmartWool.
posted by desjardins at 3:17 PM on October 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

Raincoat or light jacket, sandwich, snacks, sunscreen, sunglasses/ hat, 3L water, camera, chapstick, bandaids or medical tape if you are prone to blisters, cell phone. That's all I bring.
posted by fshgrl at 3:40 PM on October 1, 2009

I like fshfrl's list. I also don't venture out dayhiking without some kind of map (even something general found online), some kind of flashlight, and some matches. It can seem like overkill until Something Happens, and then are you become very, very glad you've got them.
posted by itstheclamsname at 3:57 PM on October 1, 2009

or, rather, "fshgrl's list"
posted by itstheclamsname at 3:57 PM on October 1, 2009

this is really your first hike? fun! since you life in SF, I'm going to presume that you aren't a completely sedentary lump who counts walking to the car as your daily exercise, so I think you'll be fine. still, the following advice is always good as a general rule:

- wear supportive shoes. converse all-stars make awful hiking shoes, and running/tennis shoes aren't a whole lot better. This is critical on rougher terrain with heavy packs, but ankle support is important on any hike. Twisting your ankle at the 5-mile mark is not fun, let me tell you from experience. Don't go hiking in brand-new shoes, though; break them in for a couple of shorter trips or by wearing them around for a week before a long hike.
- try out a walking stick or pair of telescoping trekking poles. Some people love them. For people with bad knees it tends to make a big difference.
- Learn as much as possible about the area where you'll be hiking and about your trail in particular. Don't assume that your guide's definition of "easy" terrain necessarily matches yours. Bring a map if you can. Even if you don't get lost, it will be useful for you to learn to read the terrain.
- check the weather in that area the day before the hike and dress for the low, with layers that you can remove when it warms up and a thin waterproof shell that you can throw on if it rains. Lost day hikers probably die from exposure more often than from hunger or thirst.
- carry a day pack (school backpack size) with room to stuff those extra clothes. Bring more food and water than you think you'll need. Over time, you'll figure out what is essential and what feels safe, and what you can leave at home.
- generally, "be prepared" is the smartest advice you can ever follow, ESPECIALLY because you don't have experience to fall back on. Remember that you are the only person really responsible for your own well-being.
- use your senses when hiking. Look all around, often. keep tabs on the terrain at your feet, so you don't trip or twist an ankle; look for landmarks in the landscape around you; keep an eye out for animals; and enjoy the view. Pay attention to changing weather. Listen to your body. Drink small amounts often, and drink before you really feel thirsty, because by then you'll already be dehydrated.

Have fun! All the advice in this thread may be overkill for your first trip, but it'll serve you well in the future.
posted by Chris4d at 4:03 PM on October 1, 2009

oh yeah, and if you get into outdoorsy stuff, definitely pick up a copy of The Freedom of the Hills (that's where the Ten Essentials comes from). great stuff to know.
posted by Chris4d at 4:08 PM on October 1, 2009

wear supportive shoes. converse all-stars make awful hiking shoes, and running/tennis shoes aren't a whole lot better. This is critical on rougher terrain with heavy packs, but ankle support is important on any hike.

YMMV but I often hike 20+ miles of rocky off trail-terrain in a day in trail running shoes and people run marathon length trail races in regular running shoes. Most boots don't provide that much in the way of ankle support imho. Boots are nice if you have skinny ankles or are blister prone because you can lace them more loosely and they stay on your feet. I sometimes wear boots for this reason. And they are warmer too.

The stiffness of the sole and the rockiness of the trail versus the toughness of your feet are of much higher importance in choosing footwear. If you have soft or weak feet, you will want a stiffer sole like a boot or hiking shoe. I like my soft soled shoes though, and even my boots are soft soled like a sneaker.
posted by fshgrl at 4:30 PM on October 1, 2009

A dog - if you have access to one. Most dogs would have no problems at all with 10 miles or so.
posted by rongorongo at 4:35 PM on October 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

I hike a bit, and the things I usually find indispensable are: flashlight, lighter, water, good shoes (this is probably the most important thing to me), a light jacket/hoody, a knife and a comfortable pack to put it all in. Comfort is without a doubt the most important thing to have in mind when choosing gear. Water is very important, but be wary of weighing yourself down too much on a day hike.

Have fun.
posted by Pecinpah at 4:44 PM on October 1, 2009

If this is your first hike, then don't go out and buy a ton of expensive gear. If you end up hating it, then you're going to be stuck with a lot of stuff you won't be able to do anything with.

It sounds like you're on an organized hike, which means it sounds like (to me at least) it will be led by someone with a pack crammed full of gear for every possible contingency. If this is a "Hiking for Beginners" sort of thing, then that will probably be the case.

With that in mind, here is what I think you need for Hike #1:

1. Good shoes and socks. fshgrl's post above has sound advice in the footwear department.
2. A backpack that fits comfortably. It should hold a hoodie or sweater, a rainproof shell if you have one, some food (sandwiches, snacks, veggies), and water bottles. I'm usually paranoid about running out of water, so if I was doing 10 miles, I'd bring between 2 to 3 liters (but remember, water is heavy). If you can borrow a backpack from someone you know, then do that. It doesn't necessarily need to be a hiking pack (yet), but it should fit well enough, not chafe your shoulders, not be falling apart, etc.
3. Comfortable clothes.
4. Sunglasses and a hat

Now! If you discover you love hiking, and you plan on doing many more day hikes, THEN you can go shopping for more gear:

1. Proper shoes if you didn't buy them before.
2. Hiking poles are awesome if you're doing any sort of climb.
3. A real pack. Packs come in all different sizes. Head to an outdoor store and ask someone what would be a good bag for day hikes. You don't need some colossal monster designed for 2 week backcountry excursions, and a small 7L capacity camelback won't be enough. Personally, I prefer packs with hydration built in. That way you don't need to reach for a water bottle every time you get thirsty.
4. First aid, knife, compass, light, etc, etc.

Good luck, and enjoy!
posted by threetoed at 5:10 PM on October 1, 2009

Seconding duct tape for pre-blistering situations. I don't always carry all of the 10 but I do like to bring a flashlight. It's fall now and even if you're on a group hike it's always nice to have more light.
posted by Wood at 5:43 PM on October 1, 2009

I would bring

1. 32 oz of water
2. a length of duct tape
3. waterproof jacket
4. fully charged cellphone
5. space blanket
6. two peanut and jelly sandwiches
7. a head lamp
8. Wool or synthetic fiber clothes

I find that people bring too much water. I'll hike for three hours in cool weather before I need a drink. I end up dumping most of my water out at the trailhead on the return trip. And why peanut butter and jelly? They don't go bad, they provide a decent nutritional balance, and still taste great when they are all squished up.
posted by Foam Pants at 5:55 PM on October 1, 2009

flip flops and a dry cotton tshirt for the drive home! total bliss.
posted by fieldtrip at 6:01 PM on October 1, 2009

Man, I always bring some toilet paper. It's just one of those things you don't need until you do, if you catch my drift (it turns out you shouldn't just automatically trust sausage you buy at random Russian grocery stores). And you don't have to bring a whole lot or anything. And you can always pack it out in a baggie to dispose of properly.
posted by Comrade_robot at 8:07 PM on October 1, 2009

I would bring a camera. TP. Two sammies. Snack including a candy bar for energy. Lighter (you never know). Extra cell phone battery and some water. I also bring in my lightweight day pack one of those 99cent disposable panchos in case of rain, a pen with a few pieces of paper in case you meet someone along the way and want to get an email addy or phone number and a bandana. THe bandana can be used as protection from the sun, around the neck with some cold water or to look like a Woodstock hippy tied around your thigh. I would also have in my pocket, not in my pack which can get separated, a list of emergency phone numbers and any medical issues such as allergies.

Oh, don't forget to bring your smile and positive attitude.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:19 PM on October 1, 2009

Thirding duct tape for blister prevention - but I'd suggest putting it on your heels before you set out hiking. If you wait until you feel a hot spot, your skin will be sweaty and it won't stick as well.
posted by rube goldberg at 8:35 PM on October 1, 2009

Are you joking? A map? A freaking compass? A headlamp? A bloody knife? She's going on a group day hike in flat, open terrain. This isn't wilderness survival. It's not even overnight.

Haven't you ever seen a movie? What happens when the the terrorists' plane crashes and you find the suitcase full of money, and the grizzly bear kills two of your companions and stalks you through the woods and most of the world's population is wiped out by disease and you have rebuild civilization along with the few (non-aggressive) survivors you meet. I wouldn't go without night-vision, an assault rifle, and something to help you break into the Doe Library, in order to gain knowledge in a post-technological apocalypse.

What's wrong with a map and a compass? I'm assuming that she's going to carry a small bag for food and water anyway, and these won't take up much room or weight in there.
posted by ActingTheGoat at 3:40 AM on October 2, 2009

If the OP has never been on a hike, I am doubtful that she will know how to read a topographical map and use a compass if lost in the mountains etc. If you're concerned about getting lost, bring an iPhone with GPS in it.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 6:58 AM on October 2, 2009

I don't have time to read through the whole thread, so this may be redundant, but:
In scouts we have a few guidelines:

-3L of water
-Closed shoes (you don't want any thorns or something getting in), so no crocs or whatever.
-A sandwich or two, some fruit (apples are good, they don't really get squashed or leak)
-a comfortable backpack
-a hat to block the sun from your face, preferable over a visor which doesn't keep your head from heating up from the sun.
-an extra shirt (you might get wet or sweaty or something)
-rain-appropriate gear if you live in an area where there is a chance of rain in the middle of your hike.

And seriously, don't bring a map and compass. In scouts, the head of the whole local group takes a map, and the group leaders always do the hike once before so they know the path. The kids rely on the group leaders, and they really don't need specific knowledge (although, y'know, we do teach them about the flora, fauna and history of the area 'cause it's scouts and all that). So I think you're best off relying on your group leader. If you've never hiked in the area before, a map and compass won't do you much good anyhow, especially if you're not experienced and knowledgable in navigation (which sounds simple but is a whole art form in itself).
posted by alon at 5:02 PM on October 3, 2009

Oh! And toilet paper.
posted by alon at 5:04 PM on October 3, 2009

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