Here is what you need for a day on the trail.
If you’re looking to spend a day hiking out on the Southern trail, a well-stocked daypack is a must. But what exactly should you bring along?
Hiking in the South is full of unique challenges that have a direct effect on the gear you should carry.
“The South is definitely different than the rest of the country,” says Lauren Corbett, manager at The Backpacker in Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina. “It’s very humid in the South, so you have to take that into consideration. In the summertime, you have afternoon thunderstorms pretty much daily. Depending on where you go hiking, a lot of mountains have their own climate around them. You can watch peaks from off in the distance that have rain clouds that literally come right to the mountain, so you have to consider that stuff when you go out.”
So what is a daypack? Essentially, it is a small backpack filled with everything you will need for a 2-8 hour hike. There are actual daypacks designed for such hikes (water-resistant or waterproof backpacks with chest and waist straps, a pouch for a hydration pack, additional straps and features), but a standard backpack will work in a pinch. When filling your daypack, Lauren recommends keeping the heaviest items centered and close to the back of the pack. This will help maintain your center of gravity by keeping the daypack stable and against your body.
Keeping that in mind, here are the items Lauren says you need to pack for a day hike:
- Navigation – Map, compass, GPS
Having a map of where you plan to hike is an absolute must. Use it to plot out your hike beforehand, and reference it during the hike. Pair your map with a simple compass, and your odds of getting lost have drastically decreased. You may also use the GPS on your cell phone, but be prepared to lose service while out on the trail.
- Water – Water bottles, portable filtration, purification tablets
You do not want to underestimate the amount of water you will need while hiking. You will need plenty of water to stay hydrated in the humid Southern climate. Bring along as much water as you can comfortably carry, with three liters per person being a good benchmark. It is also a good idea to keep some water in your car for when you return from your day hike. Lauren also recommends using your map to identify water sources along the trail for potential refills. Just be sure to use a portable filtration system or purification tablets so you don’t get sick.
- Skin Protection – Bug spray, sunscreen
Bug bites and sunburn can make any hike miserable. Luckily, both are avoidable. Wipe yourself down before your hike, and pack it away for later so you can reapply along the way.
- Survival Gear – First aid kit, emergency blanket, multi-tool
Some of this stuff may seem like overkill, but you should prepare for the worst when packing your day pack. This means having a basic first aid kit for any cuts and scraps that can occur along the way, and an emergency blanket for when you need to quickly maintain body heat. A multi-tool knife is also good to have for any number of situations you may encounter. These “just in case” items are lightweight, take up little space in your pack, and could save your life.
If you plan to spend a full day hiking, you will need energy to keep you going. Jerky and nuts are perfect snacks for a hike, as they are both great non-perishable sources of energy. Just throw them in your bag and snag a pack when needed.
If your day hike turns into an it’s-getting-late-and-the-sun-is-going-down hike, you will want a flashlight. Doesn’t have to be anything big and heavy – a small LED flightlight will do just fine. Bonus points if you bring a LED headlamp so you can keep your hands free.
- Fire Starter – Fire paste, waterproof matches, flint
Going off the flashlight, a fire starter is another good “just in case” item to have. If you get lost and it gets dark, fire is your new best friend. Whether it’s a waterproof case full of matches or a flint, fire starters are generally small items that won’t take up room in your day pack.
- Toiletries – Trowel, toilet paper, garbage bag
For when nature calls – and on a day hike, it will. A small roll of toilet paper is a luxury out on the trail, while a trowel will make the perfect toilet hole (If you’re on a trail, you don’t want people walking through your mess. Be considerate). Tip: Instead of carrying a large roll of toilet paper in your pack, save room by wrapping some toilet paper around a pencil.
- Layers – Rain jacket, change of clothes, essentials
This part begins before you even start packing. “You should consider not wearing any cotton clothing. Wear quick dry shirt and pants, even down to your socks,” Lauren suggests. “Cotton stays wet all day long and gets really heavy. You can actually get hypothermia in 60 degree temperatures, and if you can’t stay dry, a pleasant day-hike can get ugly very fast.” So, lets assume you have the correct clothing. Pack a light rain coat for those random Southern thunderstorms that are bound to pop up. And if you accidentally take a dip in a lake while trying to refill your water bottle, a change of clothes (quick dry) is nice to have.
There you have it – the essential items you need to pack for a day hike. Pack for practicality, pack for safety, and pack light.
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