Packing for a day hike – Our day hike essentials

Packing for a day hike? Don’t leave without these day hike essentials!

Day hiking is an awesome way to spend time outdoors. It’s probably the outdoor activity we do the most (next to surfing) and it’s our favourite way to explore a new place.

There are a few things to consider when packing for a day hike though, from what kind of backpack to use, what snacks to pack, and what kind of emergency gear you’ll need. So in this post, we’re going to take a look at some of the day hike essentials to pack for your next epic day hike.

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What are the 10 essentials for hiking?

The 10 essentials for hiking is a list that is recommended by a number of hiking and scouting organisations. These include:

  1. Navigation.
  2. Emergency and first aid gear.
  3. Insulation.
  4. Sun protection.
  5. Food.
  6. Water.
  7. Tools and repair kit.
  8. Fire.
  9. Light.
  10. Emergency shelter.
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What we bring when packing for a day hike.

Using the 10 essentials of hiking as our starting point, we’ve developed a day hike packing list that includes something from each category, without over-packing and carrying unnecessary weight. Here’s how we’ve broken it down.

Hiking gear

  • 15-30 litre backpack – Depending on extra water, extra snacks, rock climbing gear etc. Here’s the one we usually use.
  • Waterproof backpack – For instances where you know you’re going to get drenched, like during a river crossing.
  • Trekking poles / walking stick.
Our favourite back when packing for a day hike
Jill in the jungle section of the Golden Grotto trail with the Salomon Agile 17: One of our favourites when packing for a day hike.

Emergency + first aid

  • Mobile phone programmed with emergency numbers on speed dial.
  • Power bank (charge the night before). Here’s a great compact option.
  • Triangle bandage – for slinging up broken arms and dislocated shoulders.
  • High-decibel emergency whistle. Here are some really loud ones.
  • Lighter / waterproof matches and cotton wool (kept in a separate tinder box).
  • Space blanket (also called a shock blanket as it’s primarily used to treat patients in shock).
  • Zambuk  – Or any kind of chap stick.
  • Disinfectant liquid.
  • Plasters (Band-aids).
  • Personal medication – We usually only carry medication for headaches and nausea. Anything else we deal with once we’re back at the car.
  • Personal ID (include contact details for your next of kin).
  • 2 itineraries of the hiking trail. Keep one for yourself and give one to a friend.

Clothing and footwear

  • Buff / bandanna – Great for extra sun protection, or keeping warm .
  • Sunglasses.
  • Good hiking shoes. (These are the ones Bevan uses and these are the ones Jill uses).
  • Gaiters.
  • Quick drying shirt.
  • Hiking pants.
  • Long-sleeve sun layer.
  • Socks.
  • Extra socks –  These can also double as mittens in the cold.
  • Wind jacket or rain jacket.
  • Thermal jacket – We like down jackets.
  • Sun hat.
  • Beanie (toque).
day hike essentials clothing and footware
Bevan surveying one of the many incredible views from the Phuzamoya Trail.


  • Paper map – Kept in a water-sealed sleeve. Apps are helpful too, however, paper maps are far more reliable.
  • Compass.

Food, water and sun protection

  • Snacks – Pack enough to replenish your calories as well as something for an emergency dinner on the trail.
  • Water bottles and bladders (enough for at least 1-2 litres).
  • Water filter – If you’ll be hiking near rivers and streams.
  • Sun cream.

Tools and repair kit

  • Knife or multi-tool.
  • Duct Tape – For repairing gear on the trail. This can also act as an emergency bandage or sling in a pinch.
  • Cable ties.

Extra Gear

  • Head lamp – Even if you don’t intend on staying out till after dark. You may be delayed on the trail, or worse, need to spend the night, so be prepared. This is the one we use.
  • Garbage bag – Don’t be that guy who throws litter on the trail.
  • Bug spray.
  • Binoculars.
  • Field guide.
  • Camera gear – Try keep it light and compact.
  • Tarp – This can be used to erect an emergency shelter.

Things to bring and leave in the car

Jill Hiking Double Mouth
Jill hiking the Double Mouth Nature Reserve.

A few questions to ask when packing for a day hike:

Forewarned is forearmed and and making sure you’re properly prepared for a day hike can be the difference between an awesome day outdoors, or a nightmare experience.

Here are a few questions you can ask about the trail to get you started.

How much water should I bring on a day hike?

This will depend on how far you're planning to walk and in what conditions. If you're out in the blazing sun over mid day then your water intake is going to be much higher. For us, when we're packing for a day hike, we normally carry 1.5 - 2 liters of water on us. This has always proved to be more than enough for our purposes, and having some water to spare is never a bad thing.

How big of a backpack do I need for a day hike?

When packing for a day hike the size of the backpack will come down to how much extra gear you are carrying. We manage to pack all of the items on our list into a 17 liter backpack. If you need extra space for specialised gear like climbing ropes, then a good range to look for is between 17 and 30 litres. More than that is getting excessive.

How long can you hike in a day?

Not all day hikes are the same. While many are quiet strolls through the shaded forest, some can be incredibly difficult or technical. The main thing to think about here is not what is possible, but rather, what is possible for you? If you're unsure of how far you can manage on a hiking trail then take a morning walk somewhere flat and easy in your local area. plot a route of about 5km and see how long it takes you to walk that route comfortably. You can use this as a gauge to measure how far you'll be able to walk on a hiking trail. Be sure to do some research on the trail you want to hike to make sure it's within your fitness and ability level. Don't wait till you're on the trail to find out it's not what you thought it would be.

What should I eat on a day hike?

Try to eat foods that will replenish your calories, and take up as little room as possible in your pack. When we're packing for a day hike we always include some of these,

  • Trail mix of nuts and seeds.
  • Fresh fruits like bananas and oranges.
  • Dried fruits. Energy bars.
  • Dried meats.

How remote will I be on the trail? Will there be mobile phone reception?

Communication to the outside will be essential in an emergency situation so make sure that if you are going to be hiking through an area that has poor or no mobile phone signal that you have a backup plan such as a GPS phone. Always sign the hikers' register if there is one.

Do I need a permit to hike this trail?

Some trails require permits so make sure you do some research. Find out if you need to apply for a permit or register at the trail head.

Are there any wild animals I may encounter?

Wild animals come in all shapes and sizes, and while most of these critters are welcome sights on the trail, not all of them are safe to be around. In South Africa, for example, baboons can pose a big risk to hikers out in the mountains, especially if you're carrying food. The general rule of thumb for all wild animals is to keep a safe distance and DO NOT, under any circumstances, feed them. Find out what kind of animals are likely to be in the area you're going to be hiking and make sure you know what to do if you encounter any dangerous ones.

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  1. Hello

    For the beach Kosi bay to sodawana walk – Is it a good idea to have a pair of rock/Aqua shoes for the beach walks

    1. Hi Rowan – thanks for the question.
      It just depends on what you prefer using for beach walks. That stretch from Kosi to Sodwana is 99% sandy. On the low tides you can walk on the hard packed sand closer to the ocean, while at high tide you’ll be plowing through soft sand above the high water mark so the most important thing is that you have shoes that are comfortable. I’ve always been fine with my hiking shoes (very comfortable for walking). I can only think of one place where you’ll have to walk over the rocks which is at Dog Point, but other than that, the patches of rock you encounter will be no problem. You might find rock/aqua shoes handy if you want to explore some rock pools, but you’ll be fine without them for the longer walking sections. I hope this helps.

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