Day Hike Essentials – Beginners Guide

Share:

Beginner’s Guide to Day Hike Essentials

So you’ve decided to break out of your comfort zone and hit the trail for the first time? Amazing! Hiking is a great activity to do alone or with friends, and it allows you to disconnect and enjoy the beauty of nature.

In the past several years that I’ve been hiking, I’ve learned a lot about how to hike smart and stay safe and comfortable in whatever conditions mother nature throws at me. If you’ve never gone for a walk in the woods, there is plenty to learn about planning your hike and preparing yourself with the right gear.

In this beginner’s guide, we’ll explore the day hike essentials for beginners, highlighting the key items you might want to have with you. I hope this guide will give you the confidence to take the first step out of the door and onto your next hiking adventure!

Leave No Trace

Not everyone knows how to be a good steward of the outdoors and the planet when they first get started using public lands for recreation. An easy way to remember best practices for sustainable and responsible use of trails, whether you’re on a day hike or a multi-day backpacking trip is to “Leave No Trace.” 

The “Leave No Trace” framework includes 7 principles that represent how to be a good steward of the land and leave a minimal impact during every aspect of your hiking adventure. These principles are:

  1. Plan Ahead and Prepare
  2. Travel & Camp on Durable Surfaces
  3. Dispose of Waste Properly
  4. Leave What You Find
  5. Minimize Campfire Impacts
  6. Respect Wildlife
  7. Be Considerate of Other Visitors

Basically, the “Leave No Trace” principles encourage you to “leave only footprints, take only pictures,” when you’re recreating on public lands. For more information about the seven “Leave No Trace” principles, you can explore the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics website. 

Disclaimer: Some of the links below are affiliate links. This means that, at zero cost to you, I will earn an affiliate commission if you click through the link and finalize a purchase.

Quick Guide On What To Wear for Day Hikes

Here are some quick clothing recommendations for hiking if you don’t have time to read the whole article.

Dress for the Season

So you’re planning your first hike and getting excited – what’s the next step? Check the weather to determine what to wear! Regardless of the season, you always want to be prepared in case of the weather changes unexpectedly.

You wouldn’t want to get caught in bad weather wearing shorts and hiking sandals, so dressing in layers is always a good rule of thumb. Remember – You can always take articles of clothing off if you get too hot, but you can’t add extra layers when you get cold if you didn’t bring them.

Understanding layering is essential

Each layer serves a specific purpose:

  • Base layer (underwear): Wicks sweat away from your skin.
  • Middle layer (insulation): Retains body heat to keep you warm.
  • Outer layer (shell): Shields you from wind and rain.


Even if you don’t wear all three layers initially, it’s wise to bring them along. You can adjust your clothing as necessary on the trail.

Remember:

  • Choose fabrics like merino wool, polyester, nylon, or synthetic blends for your hiking clothes. These materials wick moisture away, helping regulate temperature and keeping you comfortable throughout your hike.
  • Avoid cotton as it retains moisture, which can cause discomfort, chafing, and even hypothermia in cold conditions.

Day Hike Essentials in Spring & Summer:

Day Hike Essentials - Beginners Guide

Weather changes happen quickly and unexpectedly in the mountains! One of the most common things to expect in spring and summer weather forecasts are afternoon rain showers, so it’s always smart to keep a wind and water-resistant jacket in your pack. Fortunately, these days rain jackets are typically made to be compressible and will fit pretty well when stuffed in the bottom of your hiking pack. Some of my go-to day summer and spring hiking clothes include leggings from Fabletics to protect my legs from overgrown flora paired with a Sweat Wicking T-shirt and a supportive Sports Bra / Crop Top Tank Top.

Protection from sun exposure is another thing to keep in mind when hiking during the spring and summer. It’s important to protect your skin and eyes from exposure to harmful UV rays – especially at higher altitudes. Don’t forget to wear a hat with a brim and a pair of sunglasses to protect your face and your eyes while logging miles on the trail. Additionally, make sure to apply a generous amount of sunscreen to any areas that are exposed to sunlight.

Day Hike Essentials in Fall & Winter:

Day Hike Essentials - Beginners Guide

Hiking during the fall and winter seasons usually offers the most solitude on the trail, and I love hiking during these seasons to see the foliage change color as well!

When it comes to selecting your fall and winter hiking attire, starting with baselayers is a smart move. Opt for moisture wicking base layer leggings and a merino wool base layer top like Smartwool, or a synthetic blend long-sleeve shirt. Layer these essentials beneath hiking pants and a Down or Synthetic insulated jacket mid-layer. Don’t forget to pack a waterproof, windproof, breathable outer layer—even if you stash it in your pack until needed at the summit. Trust me, you’ll be grateful for it.

Personally, I always add a fleece jacket on top of the base layer underneath the insulated mid-layer for extra insulation in colder weather. Then, I keep my outer layer in my pack and use it when needed.

Don’t overlook the importance of packing a beannie for fall and winter hikes. It offers extra warmth for summit stops, ensuring you stay cozy as temperatures drop.

Footwear

Day Hike Essentials - Beginners Guide

Having reliable hiking footwear is essential for navigating all types of terrain and minimizing the risk of injury. When I first started hiking, I opted for the highly-rated Columbia boots—lightweight, waterproof, and budget-friendly.

As my hiking adventures evolved, I upgraded to Danner boots, which excel on challenging terrain with its sturdy traction, particularly on slippery surfaces common in wet weather. However, during hot summer months, I opt for lighter Danner shoes to keep cool.

Socks are often overlooked but equally important. Opt for wool hiking socks from brands like Darn Tough and Smartwool to steer clear of discomfort caused by cotton socks. These socks provide superior moisture-wicking properties, keeping your feet dry and blister-free on the trail.

Hiking pack

Last, but certainly not least, you can prepare yourself for your first hiking adventure by bringing some specialized gear in your hiking pack. But first, how do you choose a hiking pack?

Day Hike Essentials - Beginners Guide

I like to hike witha pack that offers ample storage and organization, along with waist and chest straps for added support. The Osprey Tempest 20 and 25 liter REI  packs fit the bill perfectly. They provide plenty of storage space, exterior fasteners, and loops for trekking poles. Additionally, they feature a sleeve and port for a hydration reservoir, and they even come with a rain cover for unexpected weather changes.

What to Pack for Your Day Hike Essentials

Now, let’s talk about what goes into your pack! Since you might not have cell service on your hike, it’s wise to bring along a waterproof topographic map, a compass, and download an offline map beforehand.

If you’re planning to hike and backpack often, it’s worth considering investing in a satellite communicator like the Garmin inReach® Mini 2.

In addition, make sure to pack a first aid kit, and consider assembling your own repair kit with essentials like gear repair tape, a pocket knife, needle and thread, safety pins, and duct tape. These items can be lifesavers in unexpected situations in the wilderness.

Don’t forget to bring extra sunscreen—it’s essential for protecting your skin during outdoor adventures!

And if you find yourself on the trail after dark, having a source of light is crucial for finding your way back. Be sure to pack a headlamp or a small flashlight with you.

Another essential piece of gear to consider, especially if you plan on taking photos with your cell phone or camera, is a power bank. dditionally, if you’re hiking in bear country, don’t forget to pack bear spray for safety.

Regardless of the length of your hike, remember to bring extra water and snacks. Salty, non-perishable snacks like trail mix with nuts are excellent for replenishing electrolytes when you’re drinking more water than usual on a hike. It’s also a good idea to keep a personal water filter in your hiking pack, just in case.

Beginner's Guide to Day Hike Essentials
Beginner's Guide to Day Hike Essentials

If you’ll be hiking in the winter, it might be a good idea to check trail conditions before you arrive at the trailhead. Depending on recent weather, you might want to pack trekking poles and snowshoes or microspike/crampons traction devices. If there is a considerable amount of fresh snow on the ground, gaiters are a great addition to your hiking boots as well. They are designed to fasten onto your laces and will keep the snow and moisture out of your shoes so your feet stay dry. 

Even if you’re just beginning to get into hiking, this shortlist of gear will set you up for success and many miles of safe, fun hiking! Make sure you have these Day Hike Essentials handy before hitting the trails. Now that you know the basics to get you past the trailhead so that you can blaze your first trail, the only thing left to do is take the first step out of your front door. Happy trails!

Meet Sunshine
and Sancho

I’m so glad you’re here (and so is Sancho). I’m Sunshine! A Virginia-based travel enthusiast on the hunt for cozy stays, great views, unique experiences, and dog-friendly adventures. Sancho and I have spent the past 3 years exploring Virginia (and beyond) in order to share our favorite places and uncover hidden gems.

Join us on a journey to get out of our comfort zone, take the road less traveled, and explore alongside our furry family members.

Join us on our next adventure

Get the inside scoop on the best places to travel and stay when you subscribe to our newsletter.

Categories

Destinations

Hiking

Camping

Gear Guides

Access our list of faves

Want to get your hands on our list of over 800 Virginia-based activities, destinations, and viewpoints? Our interactive Virginia map features trails, scenic spots, natural wonders, unique vacation rentals, DMV culinary gems, and much more.

Share:

One Response

  1. Your blog is awesome, one of the best I have seen around. The level of details you have provided are beyond imagination.
    I plan to use your blog for upcoming hiking trips – we tried first one during spring break but it did not work out due to bad weather and my little kids.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *