What to Take on a Day Hike

Don't go to the trailhead without the stuff on this list!

B efore I talk about what to bring on a day hike, let me say a few things about safety. Every year people die or find themselves in need of rescue in our local mountains. No joke. So many of these heartbreaking mishaps are avoidable. From my experience, here are a few of the biggest issues that get hikers into serious danger in our local mountains…

  1. Getting lost is your biggest danger. This can quickly spiral into dehydration and/or hypothermia depending on the season and where you are. Both can kill you. IF YOU DO GET LOST, make sure you have EVERYTHING on the list below. It will keep you alive long enough for you to find your way out or get rescued.
  2. Know when to turn back and live to hike another day. Too many hikers push past their limits and find themselves lacking the water or physical energy to get back to the trailhead. Recently, some hikers found themselves at the top of San Gorgonio at nightfall, completely exhausted and without warm clothes. This could have easily ended in death from hypothermia. Use a little self-restraint. That mountain is not going anywhere. It will be there next week or next month.
  3. Don’t go out on steep, snowy, icy slopes without crampons and an ice ax – and the knowledge to use them. REI provides classes on this. Standard snow spikes are fine for walking on a flat trail, but they will not stop you from sliding down an icy slope. Backpacker Magazine did a feature story last year about a guy who slid 900 feet down a slope on his way to Timber Peak and almost died. These kinds of mishaps happen every year.
  4. In the snow, carry enough layers and sleeping gear to bivvy in the snow if you get lost. If you break an ankle or get lost in the snow without a sleep system, you will die. People I know have almost died this way. If you don’t have the gear, don’t hike in the snow.
  5. NEVER hike the Devil’s Backbone Trail to Mount Baldy if there are icy conditions. Too many people have needlessly died on this portion of the trail during winter. If you want to die on a mountain, pick a bigger mountain and go out in a blaze of glory. We’ll talk about what a badass you were at your memorial. Don’t die on a training hill like Baldy.

Core Essentials

  • 20-Liter Day Pack
  • Bladder / Water – 2 to 3 liters depending on the time of year and length of the hike.
  • Trekking Poles – I prefer Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork poles.
  • Boots – I prefer Salomon Quest 4Ds.
  • Hiking Socks – I prefer SmartWool Hiking Socks.
  • Hat
  • Sunscreen and Chapstick

Safety Items

  • First Aid Kit
  • Lighter
  • Fire Starting Pellets
  • Head Lamp – I prefer the Petzl Tikkina Headlamp.
  • Map and Compass
  • GPS – I use a Garmin Inreach Exporer+; it’s the best device on the market.
  • Cell Phone with a GPS app like “The Hiking Project”.
  • Iodine – I carry iodine for wound care and/or water purification.
  • Bear Spay – I carry bear spray if I am hiking alone in mountain lion country.


  • Sandwich
  • Snacks
  • 5-hour Energy

Layers (as needed)

  • Shirt – I prefer the Smartwool Men’s Merino 150 Baselayer Short Sleeve.
  • Light Wind Jacket – I prefer the Outdoor Research Ferrosi Jacket.
  • Lightweight Fleece Layer
  • Down Puffy Jacket
  • Gloves – I prefer the Outdoor Research Flurry Gloves.
  • Emergency Bivvy – I prefer the SOL Escape Bivvy.

 Snow Gear (as needed)

  • Ice Axe
  • Snow Spikes – I prefer Kahtoola Micro Spikes.
  • Crampons – I prefer Black Diamond Serac Crampons.
  • Alpine Coil
  • Harness and Locking Biners – I prefer the Petzl Altitude Harness.
  • MSR Snow Pickets

Leave in the Car

  • Clean Shirt
  • Deodorant
  • Cold Water in a Thermos
  • Sandals
  • Hand sanitizer – Kills bad foot smell on the drive home.
  • Gum