Spring has arrived, and for much of the country this means warm days when it's a positive delight to explore the changing countryside on a day-long hike. Whether a 1-mile ramble or a 10-mile trek, day hiking is even more pleasurable (or less likely to become unpleasurable) with a little preparation. Take along the right equipment and supplies and you'll be ready for any surprises, from inclement weather to map readers who turn a jaunt into something much more daunting.
Here's a checklist of supplies you might consider for your hike:
The right hiking shoes depends a great deal on the conditions you will encounter on your journey. For a short stroll on a pristine path, any comfortable shoes will do. However, if you plan to hike a long way on muddy, rocky, or steep paths, you'll want a good pair of boots that will keep your feet dry and support your ankles. These Wolverine Brighton Steel Toe Hiker Boots ($59.99 with free shipping, a low by $18) feel like lightweight sneakers but provide the heavy-duty support perfect for trekking through the woods.
Consider wearing apparel made of a synthetic fiber or wool rather than cotton, which soaks up water like a sponge. (You wouldn't want to wind up a wet and cold hiker in danger of hypothermia.) You'll especially want socks like these pictured Cabela's Men's Ingenius Series 10 Socks ($13.99, or 3 pairs for $11.99 each, with $8.95 s&h, a low by $6), which feature a wool/synthetic blend to keep wet feet warm. Remember to dress in layers so while you hike, too. You'll stay comfortable that way. A hat is great for both inclement weather and sun protection. And in addition to fabrics that handle moisture well, you can keep this Clear Emergency Rain & All Weather Pocket Poncho ($1.49 with $5 s&h, a low by $2) stuffed in your bag just in case an unexpected little April shower comes your way.
A daypack is a great way to carry all your supplies, and can be a useful bag to have around for other purposes. They can vary widely in terms of price, but since these are simple bags without too many bells and whistles, you don't need to break the bank for something sufficient. One of the cheapest options we found is the High Sierra Curve Daypack ($24.90 with free shipping via Prime, a low by $2).
Map, Compass, or Backcountry GPS Unit
It's easy to become disoriented in the woods, so a standard trail map and compass — like the über cheap Transparent Compass with Neck Lanyard ($2.55 with free shipping, a low by $1) — are invaluable aids to keep track of where you are. An even better choice, albeit much pricier, is a GPS unit programmed with trails for the backcountry like the refurbished Garmin eTrex Venture Portable GPS Navigator ($108.98 with $8.52 s&h, a low by $6).
If you're headed out for a day-long hike in or abouts a nature preserve, it pays to pack a pair of binoculars. You'll be able to bird watch with ease or spot other wildlife from a distance. Check out our binoculars buying guide for more info.
A new LED flashlight, such as the 6-LED Adjustable Head Flashlight ($2.99 with free shipping), will last much longer on a set of batteries than one with an incandescent bulb. Plus, its clip-on and hands-free design makes for easier maneuvering after dark.
First Aid Kit
A lightweight, general purpose first aid kit like the Physicians Care All Purpose First Aid Kit ($10.88 with free shipping, a low by $2) will keep you covered in case any nicks and cuts occur along the trailhead. It contains 105 pieces of first aid including: bandages, gauze, antiseptic wipes, tape, and gloves. It also contains emergency preparedness items — a light stick, a survival blanket, a whistle, a face mask, hand sanitizer and a rain poncho — making it a great all-in-one hiking necessity.
Knife & Fire Starter
It's useful to bring a few key tools with you on a hike because you never know what may happen. A knife, or even better, a multi-tool, is always a handy device to have. The pictured Leatherman Squirt Multi-Tool ($23.95 with free shipping, a low by $1) has pliers, scissors, a knife blade, and other accessories built in. Additionally, should you become stranded somewhere overnight, the ability to start a fire could be a lifesaver. If you take matches, keep them dry, but a lighter like the Wilderness Survival Flint / Fire Starter ($1.55 with free shipping, a low by $2) is a wise choice as well.
Food & Water
Energy bars and good old raisins and peanuts make tasty trail snacks and are high-energy emergency provisions. Remember to check with hikers for peanut allergies, though. Carry enough foodstuff to get you through to the next day in case of an emergency. Also, pack plenty of bottled water, and, if appropriate, carry along a water filter. A neat trick from REI: Wrap your water bottle with several turns of duct tape, and you'll have the tape to use in an emergency.
Bug Repellent & Sunscreen
Nothing can destroy a pleasant ramble quicker than a hoard of mosquitoes or pesky black files. Your local outdoor store should be able to help find a repellent for the specific pests you're likely to encounter. And don't forget to wear sunscreen! Even under the canopy of a forest you'll be catching some sun rays, and your skin can burn sooner than you think. If you're an avid hiker consider investing in some bug-repellent clothing.
You never know what might happen while hiking, so a simple emergency blanket like the Space All-Weather Blanket ($11.86 with free shipping via Prime, a low by $6) is a smart item to keep on hand. It takes up very little space and weighs less than a pound, but can help keep you warm overnight in a pinch. If you bring along some string, you can turn this blanket it into a lean-to, as well.
Why sit at home watching the boob tube when nature is inviting you to witness the annual miracle of spring? Just fill up that pack and head out to the trailhead; it will do both your soul and your soles good.
Note that this feature has been updated since it was originally published last year.