I didn’t expect to be packing for a day hike.
I swat a mosquito with my palm as my thighs brush against a thin line of broken twigs. When I arrived in the gulf coast of Texas last weekend, I expected to be lounging by the water, sipping virgin piña coladas, and reading breezy romance novels. In other words, I thought I’d be running through a cliche beach vacation list.
I did not expect to be in the midst of marshlands, alligator watching.
I look at the alligator in front of me. Its eyes are closed, body half-in the water, snout out towards land. I watch it blink, loosen up, and return to sunbathing.
“Yeah, hun,” I whisper from the observation deck. “You’re living my dream vacation right now.”
But internally, I smile. Even though I’m kitted up in a cute beachside romper, completely unprepared for a day hike at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, I wouldn’t take back this moment for anything.
Would I pack differently? Absolutely. Cue nervous laughter.
I’ve recently fallen in love with day hiking. Quietness. Solitude. Beauty. Nature has a way of dishing out calm in a stress-hole.
And over the past few months, I’ve tried-and-tested, loved-and-hated dozens of day hike packing lists. Then I found the one. This one.
So without further ado, here is my go-to day hike packing list.
P.S. Feel free to add on anything you want or remove anything from this list to adapt your travel needs.
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Day Hike Packing List Essentials
- Reusable Water Bottles: Y’all, I drink a lot of water when I’m hiking (realistically, I drink an unreasonable, can-you-get-sick-from-this amount of water). Originally, I tried to skate by with four KOR water bottles but I could feel them weighing me down (literally and metaphorically). Then, I switched to a stainless steel water bottle that rusted within a day. Now, I’m back to my original KOR water bottle (*sigh*). I only have one but I’m pairing it with a filtration system.
- Sunscreen: I typically use a mineral-based, eco-friendly sunscreen.
- Hiking Shoes: I absolutely love these hiking shoes. They’re designed for light use, which is perfect for day hikes.
- Wool Socks: My feet have naturally high arches so finding socks has always been a struggle for me. I’m constantly stuck in a situation where loose fabric bunches up around my toes. It’s irritating. It’s annoying. At one point, I resorted to a no-sock spree. But for outdoor activities, I love these women’s wool socks. They are cute, stylish, comfortable, and fit perfectly.
- Toiletries: For most day hikes, I pack a comb, a mini-first aid kit, a tiny compass, extra contact lenses, a compact mirror, some hand-sanitizer, and a hair scrunchie into a small pouch. I bought my pouch from a local Japanese dollar store.
- Backpack: I have a confession to make. For the longest time, I went day hiking with my college backpack. I thought I could get away with it. I mean, is it reasonable to spend $100 on a “hiking backpack” when I have a solid one right in front of me? But after a few months, I started to feel like Atlas whenever I traveled. My university backpack grouped the weight in a way that made me feel like I was carrying the world on my shoulders. I hated it. I ended up buying this hiking backpack. To be honest, the price sold me, but I ended up falling in love with how spacious it was. I can fit everything in here (a Mary Poppins-approved dream come true) and as a bonus, it’s nowhere near as straining on my back.
- Flashlight: After visiting Turner Falls, I started toying with the idea of spelunking. Flash forward (see what I did there? Let’s ignore that): I’ve switched out my phone flashlight for one that’s more sustainable.
- Map: Just in case all-goes-wrong, I love having an old-fashioned map in my hands. A lot of parks and wildlife refuges offer free maps at the visitor center.
Packing The Outfit
- Shirt: I’m a girly-girl at heart. I love cute blouses and lace-up details. But when I’m day hiking, I always have to remind myself to wear something that has moisture wicking fabric.
- Long Sleeves Top: Most sunny days, I can get away with a breathable t-shirt. But for colder weather, I opt for a long sleeves top.
- Pants: I swear by leggings from Forever 21, but I also love these hiking pants from Athleta.
- Raincoat: As much as I love my usual black trenchcoat, I tend to pack something a little more water-resistant when hiking (considering Texas weather is indecisive). As a color lover, this raincoat spoke to my heart.
- Hat: I always forget to pack sunglasses. But since my hair naturally turns into a toaster in the heat, I always remember to bring a wide-brimmed hat.
- Jacket: I’m not a cold weather girl. But when I lived in Virginia, I swore by my poofy, I-look-like-Garfield-on-Valentine’s-Day pink ski jacket. Luckily, I’ve since upgraded to a new one.
Accessories To Add To Your Day Trip Packing List
- Chapstick: I’m obsessed with my go-to drugstore chapstick – Burt’s Bees Pomegranate Lip Balm.
- Dark Chocolate: I’m a chocoholic. I’ll use any excuse to pack dark chocolate, including all of the ones listed in this article.
- Trail Mix: Depending on the length of your day hike, trail mix could fall into the essentials section. My go-to recipe: banana chips, raisins, dark chocolate chips, figs, almonds, peanuts, cashew and coconut flakes (all topped with a tiny bit of sea salt). Yum.
- Picnic Lunch: One of my favorite parts of a day hike is not having to worry about food going bad. I love boxing up simple sandwiches and eggplant chips.
- Binoculars: I forgot to bring binoculars on my first birding trip last week. Great job, Anshula. Great job. Mental note: bring a pair on every day hike.
- Camera Gear: Last but not least, I brought all my camera gear. I brought a Canon EOS Rebel 3ti DSLR camera with an 18-55 mm lens. As far as I know, Canon is no longer manufacturing that particular model but if you are interested in professional photography, I highly recommend a DSLR. For a day hike, my camera gear is on the heavier side, but it’s worth it for me since I use it for work.
- Electronics: I packed my phone and a laptop. I also packed a flash drive, a micro-SD converter, and some headphones (I’ve never used any of these on a day hike but they are just-in-case additions).
Did you enjoy this day hike packing list? What would you include in your day hike packing list? Let me know in the comments below!