The Blue Ridge Mountains, located in the eastern United States, are a popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts. With breathtaking views, diverse wildlife, and numerous trails to explore, day hiking is a favorite activity among locals and tourists alike.
Before heading out on your next adventure, it's incredibly important to have the right gear and supplies. Being properly equipped and having the necessary hiking essentials could save your life ... yes, even on a simple day hike.
In this essential hiking gear guide, we'll discuss the day hiking essentials you'll need for a safe and enjoyable experience out on the trail in the Blue Ridge Mountains
Day Hiking Essentials
We've been day hiking for more than 25 years in the Blue Ridge Mountains, and even today we're usually out on a trail on the weekends. Along the way have learned what day hiking gear is essential to bring, and which gear isn't.
This guide will help you figure out what to bring on a hike, and more specifically a day hike. Longer distance and multi-day hikes require alot more hiking gear.
Coming prepared for a day hike in the Blue Ridge Mountains is very different than preparing for an overnight hike. But with a few essentials, you can pack lightly, be comfortable, avoid injury and most importantly, have a great day out in the Blue Ridge Mountains!
Let's jump in and learn how to pack for a day hike!
Before you hike
One of the key steps you'll want to take before hitting the trail is to research the area you'll be hiking and the trails. This includes:
- Reading trail guides
- Watching trail videos
- Purchasing or downloading trail maps or using a trail-map app that works offline for your phone.
We prefer hard copy trail maps, and in particular the ones that have a protective cover, so they don't get ruined by the elements. You can purchase these at your local hiking store or on Amazon.
Important - ALWAYS let someone know where you will be hiking and what time you expect to return. That way if you don't return on time, that person can call the appropriate authorities. This is a critical pre-hiking step that you should always take care of, it could save your life.
Day Hiking Checklist
We're going to jump into our recommended list of what to bring on day hike below, but first here is a simple check list you can use as you prepare to head out on the trail to make sure you have everything. You'll want to customize this list to suit your needs.
Day Hiking Gear Type
Quick-drying shirt, pants or shorts, warm layer (fleece, down jacket), rain jacket or windbreaker, hat, sunglasses, hiking boots or shoes, socks
Map, compass, GPS device, trail guidebook
Water bottles or hydration bladder, water filter or purifier, electrolyte tablets
Trail snacks (nuts, energy bars, dried fruit), lunch, personal eating utensils
First-aid kit, any necessary medication, insect repellent
Emergency whistle, headlamp or flashlight, fire starter, space blanket
Sunscreen, lip balm, hand sanitizer, trekking poles, camera, binoculars
Proper Footwear for Day Hiking
Wearing proper footwear is absolutely crucial for a safe and enjoyable day hike in the Blue Ridge Mountains. In fact, out of all of these items, wearing quality footwear is the most important. Sneakers and tennis shoes just don't cut it.
The terrain here in the mountains can be rocky and uneven, and hiking in inappropriate shoes can lead to blisters, sprained ankles, or worse. You'll want to opt for a pair of sturdy, waterproof hiking boots with ankle support. Trail shoes may be suitable for shorter hikes with mild terrain, but they may not provide enough support for longer or more challenging hikes.
When you aren't sure how the terrain will be, it's always a safe option to wear hiking boots instead of hiking shoes.
Brands we have personally used many times on the trail and feel offer excellent quality and durability at a reasonable price include:
- Oboz - These are higher end boots, that literally fit like a glove. They are incredibly comfortable and durable.
- Keen - Very high quality and comfortable, and a little less pricey than Oboz. Keen offer excellent shoes for those with small feet.
- Merrell - As well known brand name offering high quality boots and shoes that are easy to find, comfortable and durable.
Oboz makes some of the highest quality and superior fitting hiking boots and shoes in the industry. Their various product offerings constantly rank high for the best hiking footwear available. The photos to the left are my current Oboz Sawtooths.
All Oboz footwear features their patented O-FIT Insole which creates a superior fit, feel and overall performance. When you put their footwear on, you feel it and their boots and shoes literally fit like a glove.
While Oboz aren't the lightest boots in the market, they are some of he most durable. They also offer superior support for your ankles and feet to help you stay sure footed on the trail, and avoid injury.
We've worn many hiking boots and shoes over the years, and we're always trying out new ones. Oboz hands down are the longest lasting boots and shoes we've worn.
Necessary Clothing For Day Hiking - Dressing in Layers
Choosing the right clothing for your day hike in the Blue Ridge Mountains is essential for your comfort and safety. You can see in the photo above that Jenn and I are wearing all "stay dry" hiking gear, with our hiking boots, and Jenn is even layered.
Always dress in layers, so you can easily adjust your clothing as you warm up or cool down throughout the day. The temperatures here in the mountains can fluctuate quickly.
Start with a moisture-wicking base layer to keep you dry and comfortable, even if you sweat. Add an insulating layer, such as a fleece jacket or vest, for warmth. A waterproof and wind-resistant outer layer, such as a rain jacket, is also essential, as weather conditions can change quickly in the mountains. Be sure to use a rain jacket that "breaths".
Wear breathable, moisture-wicking and comfortable hiking pants or shorts with pockets for storing essentials like a map, compass, snacks, a pocket knife, etc.
Avoid cotton if at all possible, as it does not do well in the mountains. Cotton gets wet, either through rain, damp air, or your body sweat. Once wet, it wicks heat from your body, and in harsh conditions can quickly cause hypothermia.
"Stay-dry" moisture wicking clothing, with SPF protection is the way to go. This includes underclothing. Chaffing for men and women is a real problem when hiking and can turn your wonderful hiking trip into a miserable experience.
- Men's underwear - Exofficio Men's Give-N-Go Boxer Brief - Tight fitting, stay dry, light, and comfortable.
- Shirts - There are hundreds of different stay-dry shirts on the market. Which shirt is best is really personal preference, but I (Larry), prefer Columbia and Under Armour. I prefer wearing bright colors, to make myself easier to spot in the event of an emergency.
- Shorts/Pants - My goto summer hiking shorts are a pair of Eddie Bauer Rainer shorts, but there are many other really great brands including Columbia Silver Ridge Cargo Shorts which I also like. When temps are cooler and vary more, I wear a pair of Eddie Bauer convertible pants. These are great as you can just zip the legs off when you get hot or if you need to wade any creeks.
- Socks - Socks are another item you don't want to "skimp" on. Socks have a direct impact to how comfortable your feet are when hiking. Darn Tough Light Hikers are about as good as it gets.
- Women's Undergarments - ExOfficio Women's Bikini Briefs and Sports Bras
- Shirts - Jenn wears a number of different "stay dry"/moisture wicking shirts, but her favorites are by Columbia.
- Shorts/Pants - Columbia Women's Cargo Shorts - They are light weight, nylon and have lots of pockets. For convertible pants Columbia Women's Convertible Pants are perfect.
- Socks - Jenn prefers standard thin athletic socks, like Hanes Women`s Cool and Dry Women`s Ankle Socks. She doesn't like for her feet to get hot.
Neither one of us wear hats, but I do sweat a lot and carry cheap cotton bandanas with me to wrap around my head and to use for many other purposes as well. I cannot tell you how often these come in handy when out on the trail.
What to bring on a Day Hike Video
Appropriate shoes and clothing are the most important and essential items for your hike, but there are other items like food, water and supplies you'll need to carry along with you. You'll need something to carry all of this gear in, which is when a lightweight day pack fits the bill.
When we hike, we each generally carries 2-3 bottles of water, some spare socks and whatever other items they want to bring, like small cameras, flashlights, snacks, bandanas, first aid kit, toiletries, etc.
We've tried a number of different packs for our main day pack. The one we use currently is the Osprey Hikelite 18 (if you prefer a larger pack, go with the 26. What we love about this pack is:
- Very durable - Made of rugged and thick material
- Water resistant, with a waterproof pull over cover, built in.
- Has two side pockets for water bottles.
- Pockets, and a large main storage area, that expands.
- Water bladder holding area.
- Large enough to hold everything we need.
- Has a key clip, and other clip areas.
- Incredibly comfortable mesh for your back to keep the pack from being directly on your back.
One thing we've learned is NEVER forget your camera. This is particularly true when running a website and writing up hiking guides ... but we digress ...
We have never been on a hike and not wanted to get a photo of something or someone.
So make sure you bring your camera.
If you have a small camera, and little to no gear, the Daypack we mentioned above will work fine. However, if you're like us, and have a camera, multiple lens, filters, flash, batteries, lights, a tripod, cleaners, and so on ... a dedicated Camera Backpack is the best option.
We personally use a LowePro camera backpack and in particular the one below.
The bag has plenty of room for your camera gear, essential day hiking gear, some snacks, your tripod, a water bottle, even my DJI Drone, and is incredibly comfortable to wear. It even comes with a waterproof protective cover built into the pack.
Food and Water for a Day Hike
Staying hydrated and keeping your energy levels up while on the trail is critical, even while on a short day hike. This is particularly true during the warmer summer months where humidity levels and temperatures can be high in the Blue Ridge and Smoky Mountains.
We typically pack 2-3 bottles of water per person.
Many of the creeks and streams in the Blue Ridge Mountains are crystal clear, but don't be tempted to drink the water! While it's probably safe, don't risk drinking it straight from the creek. If you want to drink creek or stream water, always boil it first or use a filter, like the Sawyer water filter (which we keep in our pack at all times).
We also carry the snacks with us, in our day pack. Things like trail mix, protein bars, snickers candy bars, peanut butter crackers, beef jerky, and other items we all like. You'll want high carb/high protein items, as hiking burns lots of calories. Salt is also good, as it helps you stay hydrated.
We store all of the food in ziplock bags, so the smell doesn't attract any wildlife, especially black bears. We also bring an extra ziplock bag to store any trash or wrappers for the same reason. You can also use drawstring or fold-over "ditty bags".
The weather in the Blue Ridge and Great Smoky Mountains is incredibly unpredictable. In can be clear and warm one minute, and pouring rain and cold a few minutes later. After getting soaked a few times, we now carry along waterproof and wind-resistant outer layer, such as a rain jacket.
We recommend spending a little extra here. Hiking in plastic based or rubber based rain gear gets pretty miserable quickly. These less expensive rain protection products don't allow your clothing to breath, and trap moisture and heat inside the jacket or pants. This makes you hot, sweaty and sticky.
Instead, purchase products with waterproof nylon based material or even better, Goretex. Goretex is by far the best material, but it's expensive. Also be sure to purchase a product that folds-up or rolls-up small to take up less space in your day back.
Jenn and I both use the Marmot Pre-cip lightweight rain jacket. What we love about this jacket is how light it is AND it folds up into it's own pocket, making it easy to store.
This jacket is breathable, and fully protects you from the rain. It tightens up around your wrists, up your neck, and the hood has a built in gutter to pull the rain away from your face.
We have literally been in downpours in these jackets out on the trail, and stayed completely dry.
A multi-tool is a versatile and essential tool to bring when hiking because it can be used in a variety of situations on the trail. A multi-tool typically includes a knife, pliers, screwdrivers, wire cutters, and other tools that can come in handy in many different scenarios.
Here are just a few reasons why you should consider a multi-took as a day hike essential:
- Emergency situations: In an emergency situation, a multi-tool can be a lifesaver. For example, if you get lost or stranded on the trail, a multi-tool can be used to create/build a shelter or to start a fire for warmth and signaling for help.
- Repairs: A multi-tool can be used to make quick repairs to your gear or clothing. If your backpack, tent, or sleeping bag needs a quick fix, a multi-tool can help you get the job done.
- Food preparation: If you plan to cook food on the trail, a multi-tool can be used to cut, slice, or open food packaging.
- First aid: A multi-tool can also be used for minor first aid situations, such as removing splinters, cutting tape or gauze, or opening packages of medication.
- General use: Even if you don't encounter any emergency situations on the trail, a multi-tool can still be useful for general tasks such as opening cans or bottles, tightening screws, or cutting rope or cord.
When choosing a hiking multi-tool select one that is lightweight and compact. Many are very heavy. Also, make sure the tool includes a knife, pliers, and screwdrivers.
This budget friendly, rugged and lightweight multi-tool is our personal pick when on the trail.
The Gerber Suspension-NXT contains 15 different tools, including: Features spring loaded pliers, wire stripper, medium flathead driver, awl, file, rules, can opener, knife, bottle opener, and scissors.
The best part? It weights less than a 0.5 lbs and is only 4.5" long when closed.
It has a slim design that fits easily in a pocket or in your day back and is made of stainless steel so it won't rust.
Emergency and Safety Gear
Many fail to take hiking here in the mountains seriously, and well, the results are unfortunately not good. While you probably won't ever have one, you'll always want to be prepared for an emergency situation, and in particular one where you might get stuck spending the night out on the trail due to weather or getting lost.
First Aid Kit
We've never had to use one, A first aid kit is an essential item to pack for any outdoor adventure, including day hiking. Basic first aid supplies, such as bandages, antiseptic wipes, gauze, and adhesive tape, can help treat minor injuries or cuts. Additionally, include medications, such as pain relievers, antihistamines, and anti-inflammatory drugs, in case of emergency.
Definitely something you want to carry in your day pack. We made our own, to make it a bit smaller, but the link has a nice one, in a hard case, that is perfect for your pack.
This small hard case first aid kit includes all the basic necessities, including over a100 pieces of useful and valuable hospital grade medical supplies, all kind of bandages, iodine pads, burn gel, trauma scissor, gauze pads, etc.
The kit is perfect for small scraps, cuts, and burns. It also comes with sting relief, plastic gloves, a tourniquet, tweezers, scissors and emergency whistle.
We would recommend adding some Tylenol, Advil, and Benadryl to the pack.
The best part about this case is that it's about the size of your hand and fits easily in your day pack.
In case of an unexpected change in weather or a delay in returning to the trailhead, an emergency shelter, such as a lightweight tent can provide necessary protection from the elements. It's always better to be over prepared than underprepared, so pack an emergency shelter even if you don't think you'll need it. They are small, lightweight and inexpensive.
We really like the Go Time Life Tent. It weighs in at 8.07oz, an is about the size of a soda can rolled up. It comes with plenty of paracord for tying it up, is 100% waterproof AND it is large enough for two people.
It even has an emergency whistle to use if you need help and to alert a rescue team. The tent is bright orange, making it easy to spot.
Hiker unit29 said: "I used this tent in November of of 2021. Saved my life. I got caught in a storm and the temperature dropped so bad i was completely wet and the 52 degree weather was not friendly . I used it as a poncho. I was desperate looking for something dry and warm and I not think this would work. The next day I was alive and warm. It really works."
Emergency hiking blankets, also known as emergency blankets or space blankets, are lightweight and compact sheets of material designed to reflect and retain body heat. They are typically made of a thin layer of Mylar or other reflective material that is heat-sealed to form a waterproof and windproof barrier.
In emergency situations, such as getting lost on the trail or encountering unexpected weather conditions, an emergency hiking blanket couple with an emergency shelter can provide essential warmth and protection from the elements. The reflective material helps to reflect up to 90% of a person's body heat back towards them, effectively preventing heat loss and helping to maintain body temperature. Additionally, emergency blankets can also be used as a makeshift shelter, rainfly, or ground cloth
Emergency hiking blankets are compact and lightweight, making them easy to pack and carry in a backpack or pocket.
They are often included in first aid kits or survival kits, and can also be purchased separately at outdoor and camping stores. Some emergency blankets come in a compact, folded package that is easy to store, while others come in a pouch or carry bag for added convenience.
Headlamp and/or Flashlight
Even if you plan to finish your hike before dark, it's essential to pack a headlamp or flashlight in case of unexpected delays or emergencies. Make sure to pack extra batteries or a rechargeable power bank to ensure your light source doesn't die during your hike.
Things happen, sometimes you don't pay attention to the time, get turned around, or perhaps you get delayed by weather. You do not want to be out on the trail in the middle of the woods in the dark, with no light source.
The LE LED Flashlight is small and lightweight portable flashlights are bright, battery efficient and easy to throw in your day pack.
They are super bright and long-lasting. The beam distance is up to 492ft.
They are also water resistant and can be used in most any conditions. The LED flashlight has ability to narrow or widen the area you wish to light.
You can stretch the head-pulling zoom to adjust its focus and get spot beam or flood beam you need.
Other Essential Items for Day Hiking
We also carry a few other items that we've learned (the hard way) to bring with us:
- Toilet Paper/Tissue - In a small ziplock bag, we carry both tissues and a some toilet paper. In that same bag, we carry some hand sanitizer as well. You just never know when you might need it, especially on longer hikes. If you use it, don't leave it on the ground like we've seen many people do, bring an extra zip lock bag to put your used toilet paper in. Always leave no trace.
- Bandanas - When hiking , you really just can't have enough of these. We carry 4 with us, and end up using all 4 every single time. They are great for controlling sweat, as napkins, for cleaning off gear, good to eat on to keep from spilling items, backup toilet paper, and the list goes on ... one of the best items you can bring along with you.
- 2 Lighters - On a day hike, you'll most likely never need these, but I carry two, just in case. Why 2? In case one doesn't work. Yes, I was a boy scout .... "Be Prepared"
- Sunscreen - Protect yourself from the the sun, especially when hiking in open areas or above the tree lines.
When planning for a day hike, it's important to bring along the necessary supplies to ensure your safety and comfort while on the trail. Here are some essential supplies you should consider bringing: Backpack, Water, Food, Navigation tools, Sun protection, Clothing, First aid kit, Multi-tool, Emergency supplies, and Personal items.
When packing for a day hike, it's just as important to know what not to bring as it is to know what to bring. Here are a few items that you should consider leaving behind: Heavy gear, Valuables, Glass containers, Non-essential items, Unfamiliar gear, Non-biodegradable items: Avoid bringing non-biodegradable items, such as disposable plastic bags or wrappers. These items can harm the environment and wildlife.
Remember, every item you bring adds weight to your backpack and can make the hike more challenging. Stick to the essentials and only bring items that you truly need for the hike. By packing smart, you can have a more enjoyable and comfortable day hike.
The length of a daily hike will depend on several factors, including your physical fitness level, the difficulty of the trail, and the amount of time you have available. Generally speaking, a day hike is considered to be any hike that can be completed in a single day, without the need for overnight camping.
For beginners or those who are new to hiking, it's a good idea to start with shorter hikes and gradually work your way up to longer and more challenging ones. A good starting point might be a hike that's around 2-3 miles in length and takes 1-2 hours to complete.
More experienced hikers may want to aim for longer hikes, with distances ranging from 6-12 miles or more. These hikes can take anywhere from 3-8 hours to complete, depending on the terrain and elevation gain.
Ultimately, the length of your daily hike should be based on your physical abilities and limitations. It's important to be honest with yourself about your fitness level and choose a hike that is appropriate for your abilities. You should also consider the weather and daylight hours, and make sure to leave enough time to complete the hike before dark.
The reasonable distance to hike in a day depends on several factors such as the individual's fitness level, the terrain, elevation gain, weather conditions, and the type of hiking trail. Generally, a hike of 8-12 miles in length is considered reasonable for an average hiker on a moderate trail. This type of hike would take around 4-6 hours to complete, with breaks included.
For experienced hikers or those who are physically fit, longer distances of up to 20 miles or more can be considered reasonable, but it's important to be aware of the difficulty level of the trail and to plan accordingly. On the other hand, for beginner hikers or those who are not as physically fit, a shorter distance of 2-6 miles may be more appropriate.
It's important to keep in mind that hiking is not a race, and it's important to take breaks and pace yourself throughout the hike. It's also important to bring along plenty of water, snacks, and appropriate gear for the hike. Always be aware of your surroundings and stay on the designated trail to minimize the impact on the environment.
Ultimately, the distance you hike in a day should be based on your own fitness level, the trail difficulty, and the weather conditions. Always be prepared for the unexpected and make sure to plan ahead to ensure a safe and enjoyable hiking experience.
Day hiking is a recreational activity that involves walking or hiking on trails or paths, usually in a natural setting, and returning to the starting point within a single day. Day hikes can range from easy walks on well-maintained trails to more challenging hikes on rugged terrain with steep inclines and varying elevations.
Day hiking can be a great way to enjoy the outdoors, get some exercise, and explore natural environments without having to spend the night in the wilderness. It is a popular activity for people of all ages and fitness levels and can be enjoyed solo or with a group. Many state and national parks, as well as local nature preserves, offer a variety of day hiking trails with different levels of difficulty and terrain.
The length of a day hike depends on a variety of factors, including the hiker's fitness level, the terrain, and the conditions of the trail. In general, a day hike can be anywhere from a couple of hours to a full day, but typically, a day hike is considered to be around 5-10 miles (8-16 kilometers) in length, taking anywhere from 2-6 hours to complete.
However, the length of a day hike can vary greatly depending on the individual and the specific trail. Some hikers may prefer shorter hikes with less elevation gain, while others may be up for a longer, more strenuous hike. It is important to research the trail beforehand and take into account your own abilities and limitations to plan a day hike that is both safe and enjoyable. Additionally, it is always a good idea to bring plenty of water, food, and other supplies, such as a map, compass, or GPS, in case of unexpected delays or emergencies.
The main difference between day hiking and backpacking is the duration of the trip and the gear required. Day hiking is a recreational activity that involves walking or hiking on trails or paths and returning to the starting point within a single day, typically without the need for camping gear or overnight supplies.
Backpacking, on the other hand, involves hiking and camping overnight or for multiple days, often in remote wilderness areas. Backpackers carry all of their gear and supplies with them in a backpack, which can include a tent, sleeping bag, stove, food, water filter, and other necessities for extended outdoor living.
Backpacking requires more advanced planning, preparation, and experience than day hiking, as hikers must be able to navigate unfamiliar terrain, carry heavier loads, and manage their resources effectively to stay safe and comfortable in the backcountry.
While day hiking is generally more accessible and requires less equipment and experience than backpacking, both activities offer unique opportunities to explore nature, challenge oneself physically, and enjoy the benefits of spending time outdoors.
To go hiking for a day, you will need some essential gear and supplies to ensure your safety and comfort on the trail. Here are some items that are recommended for a day hike:
- Proper footwear: Choose sturdy, comfortable hiking shoes or boots with good traction.
- Clothing: Dress in layers, including a moisture-wicking base layer, insulating mid-layer, and a waterproof or windproof outer layer.
- Backpack: A small backpack to carry essentials like food, water, first aid kit, and extra clothing.
- Water: Bring at least two liters of water per person for a full day hike, and more in hot or dry conditions.
- Food: Pack snacks and a light lunch, such as energy bars, trail mix, sandwiches, or fruit.
- Navigation: Bring a map and compass or a GPS device to help navigate the trail.
- Sun protection: Wear a hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen to protect from the sun's harmful rays.
- First aid kit: A basic first aid kit with essentials such as bandages, antiseptic wipes, and pain relievers.
- Emergency shelter: A lightweight emergency blanket or shelter in case of unexpected weather or delays.
- Other optional items: A headlamp or flashlight, insect repellent, a whistle, trekking poles, and a camera to capture the beautiful scenery.