What to pack for a hiking trip?

It's all in there. The tent, the sleeping bag, the sleeping mat, the cooking gear. A 60 liter backpack is usually sufficient.

Congratulations. Because, when you’ve landed on this page you have probably made the decision that you are going on a hiking trip. Which, if well prepared, is a lot of fun. But you might be uncertain about what to take with you. Or, perhaps even more important: what to leave at home.

In this post I will go over some basic hiking gear that you will need regardless of the distance, terrain or time-to-be-spent. But let’s add some complexity and put in some suggestions for gear if you are planning for a longer hike. However: first things first. Let’s define “hiking” and “trekking”.

Hiking or trekking?

It’s a semantic discussion, literally: the choice of words. Hiking or trekking are essentially the same thing. Within this site and in the app, they are sometimes used interchangeable. Some people define hiking as a 1-day-thing, whereas trekking would be considered a multi-day hiking trip over more difficult terrain.
Long story short: a hiking trip might be multiple days, whereas a trekking trip is never just a few hours.

Most importantly: neither of them is a walk in a city park. It could be a national park, it might go through an urban environment – but usually it will be in rural areas. It’s probably off the beaten track and might be a single track. It might involve no tracks at all and could involve sleeping in a tent, or in a mountain cabin, lodge or a hotel.

So, you need proper gear for this.

Decisions involved: how they affect hiking gear choice

The first choice you are faced with, is “how many days is the hike”. Because packing for 1 day or for 10 days is a big difference. Much bigger than the difference between 3 days and 10 days, for example.

Other choices involved: the type of terrain, season, weather conditions, number of people and access to (potable) water. Furthermore, in case of multi-day trips: are you spending the night camping or travelling from cabin to cabin? If camping, will you cook your own meals or are there sufficient locations along the route to eat there?

1 day or 10 days: what to pack?

When you are doing a 10 day hike, you need more clothing than for 1 day. Also, the likelihood of encountering adverse weather conditions is bigger, as the forecastability of the weather decreases when it’s further away.
Furthermore, you will need (more) products for personal hygiene & food. Tooth brush, (more) toilet paper and multiple days of snacks and proper food- for example.

Type of terrain

On more difficult terrain, you might need more gear to keep you safe. Crossing a glacier might be safe, but you probably need crampons. Gaiters might be a nice addition, too. When you run the risk of getting wet feet (whether that’s from dew, snow or rain), you will need water tight shoes and extra socks. When crossing snow fields or loose sand, wearing higher boots might be the more comfortable choice. This is utterly unneccesary on a moderate forest trail.

Season: a big impact!

Which season you will be trekking might be the biggest factor of all. After all, you could perfectly go for a trekking trip in the Atlas Mountains in Morocco in the winter. High temperatures during the daytimes in the valleys. But the peaks of the Atlas Mountains are covered in snow for a good reason: it’s cold there, and not always dry.
Similarly, winter tours in the Alps are perfectly possible on ski’s or snowshoes. But winter weather can be very dangerous and cold, and combined with the risk of avalanches it means considerable more gear to pack. More (and thicker) clothing to keep you warm in case you can’t continue. But also emergency shelters, personal beacons and shovels.

Camping or cabin-to-cabin

It’s a lot tougher to camp out each night: you need something to sleep under to prevent being exposed to the elements. That requires (potentially) a tent, but also a sleeping bag, a bivouac bag (ditch the tent, in that case) and a sleeping mat. When going from mountain cabin to the next lodge, you won’t be carrying a tent and a sleeping might. Probably not even a full sleeping bag but just a liner (as this is mostly mandatory anyway). It saves considerable weight.

Cooking or eating out

Most mountain cabins provide excellent food. Usually you eat what’s served: the only choice is water or wine. But it does save a considerable weight. So even when you are camping, it might very well be worth the (lack of) effort to eat in a lodge, even when you are not staying there. It puts something warm in your stomach. Usually, the conversation is pretty good too, and you can get the bonus of getting information about your upcoming stretch (like: you can’t cross the pass because it’s covered in an unstable pack of snow). Not unimportant: also the hut owner has a much higher chance of knowing where you are going, which in case of bad weather or other unexpected events might be a life-saver.

Last but not least: mountain refuges (or lodges, or cabins etc.) provide the necessary infrastructure in the mountains. Providing them with some revenue isn’t a bad thing at all.

Obviously, not all hiking is done in the mountains and “normal” restaurants could be plentiful along your route. Take this in consideration when planning a route.

Number of people

Although not the most important part of the considerations about what to pack for your hike, I do want to mention it. Especially when you are cooking & camping, the difference could be big. After all: you can spread the weight of items. When hiking with a group of 4, you don’t need extra cooking equipment (just more patience when cooking for more people). Similarly, you can spread the weight of the tent over multiple people.

Availability of potable water

If there is insufficient water along the route, you need to bring your own water. If there is water along the route, but potentially not drinkable, you need ways of making it drinkable. It all has its implications.
Consider 4-6 liters of water per person, per day. If you don’t have access to water for 3 days, it means roughly 15-18 liters of water to carry with you when you leave. As 1 liter of water ways 1 kilogram, the implications are spectacular.

You can prevent this, if there is sufficient water available. It might be doubtful to drink from unknown sources, but a good filter and boiling will clear out most of the risks. It’s more time consuming though (especially boiling). Do not be tempted to drink the water unfiltered or without boiling (you don’t necessarily need to do both, usually). You could easily regret this the next day…

So: what do you pack for the trek!

All of the above culminates to a list. And to a backpack. A 20 to 25 liter backpack is plenty sufficient for a day hike. A 60-70 liter backpack is sufficient for all non-technical treks. With that I mean: no crampons, ropes etc. are considered.

For the below list: yes, the basic stuff is more than what you will need on a good day. But don’t just plan for good days. You might have bad days as weather can turn ugly very quick: wind can pick up or snow can fall or melt relatively sudden.

Backpack with rain coverBasic
Knife/ multi-toolBasic
Headlamp (with spare batteries)Basic
Extra clothesBasic
Dry bagBasic
Trekking polesBasic (Optional)
Water filterBasic (Optional)
BandanaBasic (Optional)
First-Aid KitSafety & Navigation
WhistleSafety & Navigation
CompassSafety & Navigation
MapSafety & Navigation
ItinerarySafety & Navigation
Power BankSafety & Navigation
Sun protection (sunglasses, sunscreen, lip balm, hat)Personal Care
Matches (water proof)Personal Care
Toilet paper Personal Care
Sufficient food & waterPersonal Care
Insect repellentPersonal Care
Gear repair kitPersonal Care
Sleeping bagMulti-Day
Sleeping matCamping
Cooking GearCooking
GlovesCold Weather
HatCold Weather
Long underwearCold Weather
GaitersCold Weather

Hiking: what to leave at home

Choosing what to leave at home might be just as important. First of all: No, sweatpants are not made for outdoor sports. They are sweat absorbing and usually made of cotton. Avoid cotton as a fabric, unless it is a towel. Because cotton absorbs moist. And that makes the clothing not only heavy, but also draining a lot of heat from your body once it’s saturated. And as it absorbs a lot of moist, it takes ages to dry again. Last but not least: chafing is exacerbated when sweaty. Mainly in “uncomfortable places”.

The same is applicable for jeans. You simply don’t want to wear jeans, for the same reason as above: they are too heavy, even when not saturated with water (regardless of its origin). And obviously the same is applicable for cotton shirts, sweat shirts and hoodies. Leave them at home.

Another thing to leave at home, please: speakers. Enjoy the symphony of nature. Or don’t enjoy it, but don’t spoil the experience for others.

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