What should you pack in your day hike backpack?

For beginners, it’s easy to get lost in gear. Heck, it’s easy to get lost in gear for well-seasoned hikers as well, but it doesn’t take a lot to be ready for a day out on the trails. If you’re wondering what you should be putting into your backpack for a day-hike check out this list to learn about what’s in my day hike backpack.

The day hike basics

So you may have heard of the 10 Essentials, and they’re definitely important, but for shorter hikes in parks that you are familiar with they might not all be necessary.

If you’re heading out to a new park, or anything over just a couple of miles, then I recommend being fully prepared for anything.

There have been times when I was at a new park and what was supposed to be three miles turned into nine, all after wanting to explore just a little more. Sometimes those trail numbers don’t add up to a full day of walking around and exploring.

REI has a printable list you can use, and my recommendations are listed below.

This post contains affiliate links. This website receives a small commission for any purchases made from these links at no additional cost to you. You’ll notice a lot of these items refer you to the TXTH Gift Shop, and that’s because I won’t sell what I don’t use.

Backpack options for a day hike

Day hike backpacks are a different capacity compared to a multi-day backpacking trip.

You’re going to want to stick to 18-30L backpacks to be comfortable, but have enough room for a few items.

I currently alternate between two day-packs: A Patagonia Refugio 28L and the Osprey Skarab 32.

Why do I need two day packs?

Well, I don’t. Not really, but I do utilize them differently. The Patagonia bag is more like a traditional backpack. I use it daily for work as well, but for a nice short hike it’s easy to grab and it’s comfortable to wear.

It also has a pouch for a laptop or a hydration bladder. And that brings me to why I picked up the Osprey.

When I learned that I wasn’t bringing enough water on my hikes (Read: Pedernales Falls SP), I decided I was going to invest in a ‘proper’ hiking backpack, and the Skarab 32 came with the hydration bladder.

And I’ve gotta say, Osprey makes a pretty good one too. It’s designed to not let water slosh around, and the nozzle is easy to use, clean, and it just works.

The Osprey backpack has fantastic storage, loops for my trekking poles, and waist straps for additional comfort. The Patagonia bag is just a backpack, so if I’m going to do 5-10 miles, I’ll grab the Skarab.

Day Hiking Gear

The specific gear I’ll take with me is pretty much the same for each hike, and I only adjust the number of things I’ll consume.

For my skin and clothing

I bring Murphy’s Naturals bug spray and mosquito repellent sticks. Chapstick and Kleen Freak body wipes if I need to wipe off and freshen up after a hike.

I will also throw in a neck gaiter to protect my neck if I happen to be out of sunscreen. The gaiter won’t wear out throughout the hike, and if it gets sweaty it’ll keep you cool. They’re great to have.

Checking the weather ahead of your journey is fine and dandy, but if you live in Texas then you’ll know it can change in an instant. I usually pack a small jacket that can keep me cool or dry if I know the weather can change throughout the day.

In winter I’ll wear layers, and in summer I’ll bring extra socks. The weather here is bananas y’all.

GPS Device

I’m currently using my iPhone for shorter hikes, but as a backup, I’ve been taking a long my Garmin SX GPS device. I’ve not taken it into the backcountry yet, but I’m glad to have it just in case my battery dies. And if you use your phone to record content as I do, a dying phone battery is going to happen.

For more information about which GPS devices to use, check out this post.

And for the money they cost, it’s great to get comfortable with using a compass and a map. The trail maps you receive at most state parks aren’t designed for compass use per se, but being able to read the compass effectively is a great skill to have. REI has a great mini-course on using them.


For snacks outside of an actual lunch, I always bring two things: My Kate’s Real Food bars and Liquid I.V. Electrolyte powder. These are the primary fuel sources to keep my calories up and hydrated.

I tend to hike quickly, so I can cover some miles in a short amount of time, and I like to have some good higher-calorie snacks to keep me going, and in Texas it gets hot, so supplementing my water with electrolyte powder extends the life of my water in my hydration bladder. Just makes it more efficient.

Kate’s Real Food bars are filled with amazing, natural ingredients that also offer a good amount of calories to keep me moving. They feature great flavors too that you can taste, not just a compressed bar. You can see the different ingredients used in each bar. The serving size offers great fuel midway through a longer day hike.

Here is a fun post about snacks on the trail and what you should consider.

Safety Items

There are two essentials that I bring with me for day hikes: a knife and a multi-tool device.

I’ve been using this Gerber pocket knife for years, and it does exactly what I need it to do. It was a very cost-effective purchase that got the job done. I usually don’t even use it to cut rope or small branches, so it does great as a package opener for meals.

My Outdoor Element Firebiner is clipped to my backpack, and I know if I ever get stuck in a situation to use it, I’ll have it handy.

This multi-tool can do a few different things, but most importantly, it has a spark wheel that can be used to start a fire. You just never know what you’ll accidentally get stuck in the dark, and that’s precisely what a lot of this is for. As the saying goes, ‘better have it and not need it, then need it and not have it’.

If you get into a situation where you cut yourself on the trail, or need gauze or ointment, having your first-aid kit will help with the accidents that can happen. I’ve sliced my finger on short hikes, so there’s no set length where it’s possible.

I use this first aid kit that features all of the essentials you’ll need on your hikes.

Trekking Poles

Trekking poles seem to be one of those things that you either love them and use them all the time, or just refuse to use, so here’s my general rule: If I’m hiking somewhere I’ve never been then I’ll bring them. If I’m hiking somewhere that I know has hills with rocky terrain, then I’ll bring them. Othwerise I just leave them in my car. If you decide you want to start using trekking poles, make sure you’ve learned how to use them correctly. Check out the video to learn more.

They aren’t essential pieces of gear, but helpful in areas with inclines/ declines that will help with stability.

What do you like to bring?

That’s what I typically like to bring in my day pack, but what do you like to bring? Drop your fave in the comments below.


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