Essential things to pack for a hike: Ten things you need for a day walk or overnight hike

So much of the enjoyment of hiking is dependent on how little gear you can carry, with the pain of a long hike growing exponentially to the weight on your back, but there are some items you simply shouldn't walk without.

Leave behind that hardcover book, the travel Scrabble and the bottle of red wine (OK, decant the wine into a plastic bottle, at least) but don't skimp on or forget the following essentials.


All your gear has to be carried somehow, and that inevitably means a backpack. For day hikes, a pack of 25 to 36 litres in size should be sufficient, and overnight hikers will be wanting a pack of  60-90 litres. Size them carefully because the larger you buy, the more prone you'll be to filling it with extraneous items.

Hiking the spectacular Le Morne mountain

The imposing Le Morne mountain in Mauritius is a difficult hike, but offers spectacular views of the surrounding lagoon - along with a fascinating, and tragic, history. Video: Craig Platt. The reporter travelled with assistance from Lux Resorts.

A well-fitting backpack is crucial to comfort, so have the pack measured and fitted in store. Some packs, particularly daypacks, come with built-in waterproof pack covers. Otherwise, place a waterproof liner inside the pack – buy a large dry bag for the purpose, or simply use a garbage bag, though the latter can easily tear when you're packing and won't seal at the top, where water is most likely to seep in.

Hiking boots/shoes

You'll love or hate your boots – best friend or blistering enemy? – so choose wisely and seek advice on fitting. Traditional hiking boots are high cut to provide ankle support, which can be invaluable on rocky or uneven terrain, and are typically leather or synthetic with a waterproof membrane. The former can be more durable but also heavier and hotter.

Hiking shoes have become more and more common on trails. Low cut, with no ankle support, they still feature thick, grippy soles and rigid design but are lighter and generally more comfortable than boots. They're likely to suffice if you're not heading across scree, boulder fields or other rough terrain.

Rain jacket

Mountain weather, in particular, is fluky and changeable, and a sudden downpour or storm can all but ruin a day if you're not carrying a decent rain jacket – that paper-thin poncho might be all right at the footy, but a quality rain jacket should be one of your prime investments for hiking. The key mix is waterproof but breathable – without breathability, you'll end up in a damp sauna of sweat even if the jacket is repelling the rain.


It's all very well being dry up top, but if you want your legs to share the love, invest in a pair of overtrousers.  As the name suggests, these rainproof trousers slip over your hiking pants or shorts, becoming a rain jacket for the legs. You want to be able to put your overtrousers on quickly – take too long and you might already be soaked by the time you're covered – making trousers with full-length leg zips that pull easily over your hiking boots the ideal.

First-aid kit

Hopefully, a first-aid kit will be nothing more than ballast, but if something does go wrong on the trail it's far better to be able to call on a bandage than a helicopter. Kit essentials include antiseptic wipes, a variety of bandages and sticking plasters, blister treatments, anti-inflammatories, tweezers and oral rehydration slats. Carry the kit in a backpack pocket, or near the top of your pack, for quick access.


Map and compass

Even in an era when the GPS is considered to have killed the compass, there remains no substitute for the old-fashioned ways ... and the skills to use and understand them. Together, a map and compass are light, cheap and unfailing – they never suffer dead batteries or lost satellite signals. 

At a minimum, a map and compass will interpret the landscape around you, telling you what you're looking at and what's still ahead of you. At the worst, they might just save your life.

If you need to learn to use them, pick up a book such as Duke of Edinburgh Award's Land Navigation.

Head torch

Even on a day walk it's worth carrying a head torch in case of delays that keep you on the trail after sunset. When hiking overnight, a head torch is essential, providing light to cook by, set up camp if arriving late and generally function in the dark. As the name suggests, head torches strap to your head, keeping your hands free to do their thing. There's a massive range of head torches, but even the most basic will do the trick.


Unless the route of your overnight hike is lined with huts, you're going to need a tent. Often the purchase of a hiking tent is a game of numbers, a quest to find the lightest model, but there are other considerations. Look for a tent that's easy to pitch – you won't want to be cobbling together a Meccano set of poles if it's raining – has good ventilation, and enough space in the outside vestibules so you can store your packs and boots out of the elements each night. Typically, a good two-person hiking tent will weigh about two to three kilograms.

Sleeping bag and mat

Once upon a time, a night on the ground meant sleeping on a slab of foam only marginally softer than the earth, but sleeping mats have evolved to provide a more comfortable experience. Lightweight inflating mattresses create a cushion of air to soften the experience of sleeping on cold, hard ground, and some now even come insulated with down for extra warmth.

A sleeping bag will be one of your most important hiking decisions. Most hikers will want the warmth of a down bag. They come in two shapes – rectangular and mummy – with the former being more spacious and the latter, which narrows at the legs, more compact and warmer (but also more constrictive). If you're buying a sleeping bag, look for the temperature rating, which is the coldest temperature at which the bag is supposed to feel comfortable (though treat the number as a guide not gospel).


Dinner is the finest time of day on a hike, and whether you're carrying a dehydrated pouch of food or ingredients for a cook-up, you're going to need a stove.

Hikers tend to be as passionate about their style of stove as they are about their football teams. Old schoolers like the simple indestructibility of a methylated-spirits-fuelled Trangia stove, though it cooks slower than most other stoves.

My own choice is a multi-fuel stove, such as the MSR Whisperlite, which cooks quicker and hotter (simmering is a challenge ...). Ever-more popular are gas Jetboil stoves, which boil in a blink. They're ideal for trail coffee stops and reconstituting dehydrated meals, but cooking anything more elaborate can be a mission.

See also: Bucket list: The spectacular new must-do hikes for 2017

See also: No camping: The world's best walks you can do in a day

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