What to pack for walking

Before you pack your hiking backpack, use this essential kit checklist to ensure you’re prepared for any adventure, from a day hike in the hills to a multi-day walking holiday.

A backpack with some regular walking items beside is, such as boots, poles and flask

Long summer days are the perfect time to head out on foot, whether you choose to explore local paths, visit one of the UK’s 15 national parks, tackle a long-distance walk such as a national trail, or even decide to roam further afield by booking a once-in-a-lifetime walking holiday.

In all cases, it’s important to be prepared, and this applies equally to day hikes as well as multi-day backpacking trips. Even if you’re not venturing into remote uplands or navigating tough terrain, having the right kit can make any walk much easier, more comfortable and more enjoyable.

That’s why we’ve put together this essential hiking checklist, which will help you get kitted out with exactly what you need for your next walk.

A man bending over as he closes his backpackRucksack or backpack

Obviously, before you get all your kit together, you’ll need a suitable pack to put it all in! Your backpack should be roomy enough to carry all your gear without needing to stuff it to the brim.

For a full day’s hiking in spring, summer or autumn, a 20 to 35 litre backpack is ideal. This size of pack is often referred to as a ‘daypack’.

For longer trips, particularly if you’re backpacking a long-distance trail or going on a trekking holiday, you might need a bigger rucksack, to accommodate extra clothing and camping gear. Trekking packs range from around 45 to 75 litres. We wouldn’t recommend going much larger than this – the temptation with a bigger pack is always to fill it with unnecessary ‘just in case’ extras, which makes for a back-breaking load.

Pack protection

Regardless of the size of your pack, additional items can help organise and protect your kit. These include:

  • Rucksack liner

    Few backpacks are fully waterproof, so this added layer of internal protection can help to keep contents dry. Some have a waterproof roll-top closure for added peace of mind.
  • Dry bags

    Just like a rucksack liner, these waterproof sacks protect your kit, but they are also useful for organising your gear. Some walkers use different coloured dry bags to quickly identify their contents. 
  • Raincover 

    This fabric cover attaches to the outside of your pack to offer waterproof protection. Some packs include integrated raincovers, but you can purchase them separately in the right size to fit your pack.

Two people walking away with backpacks on, one with a cover over the bag

What to pack for a day hike

When dressing for your walk, wear weather-appropriate clothing (think moisture-wicking layers to ensure you stay dry and comfortable throughout the day). On your feet, you’ll need comfortable hiking boots or trail shoes. We also recommend wearing a watch, so you don’t lose track of time, even if your smartphone dies.

Once you’ve got those essentials sorted, here’s what to put in your pack. Of course, every walker is different, and you know your individual needs better than anybody, so use the following list as general guidance and tailor it accordingly.

  • Map and compass

    These two items ought to be first on the list for any long walk. If your map is not weatherproof, carry it in a map case. Use your map in conjunction with a reliable baseplate compass.

  • Emergency contact card 

    Sometimes called an ‘I.C.E’ (In Case of Emergency) card, this should include the contact details of a relative or friend, so that emergency services can reach them in the event of an accident. Keep it in the lid or top pocket of your rucksack. Also include relevant personal medical information, such as your blood type, any underlying health conditions, known allergies and details of any regular medication you take.
  • Personal items

    Some ID, cash and a credit or debit card are good to have, not just in case of emergency, but also in case you stumble across an enticing pub or café!
  • First aid kit

    Sterile dressings, bandages and plasters – especially blister plasters – are all useful items to keep in a first aid kit, as are antiseptic creams or wipes, paracetamol and ibuprofen. If you make up your own kit, place it in a zip-lock bag to ensure that the contents don’t get wet. Take any regular medication that you may need.
  • Head torch and spare batteries

    More practical than a hand-held torch, and useful if a walk finishes later than planned. It can also be used to signal in emergencies. Always carry spare batteries. 
  • Whistle

    The easiest way to attract attention in an emergency. Many rucksacks now incorporate a safety whistle as part of the chest strap buckle. 
  • Water bottle or hydration bladder

    Take a large water bottle of at least 1 litre in capacity, or a hydration reservoir. These are plastic bladders with integrated drinking tubes. They work with most modern rucksack designs and make it much easier to stay hydrated on the go.
  • Food

    Take a packed lunch as well as a mix of snacks such as fruit, nuts, biscuits and/or chocolate. Pack a little more food than you need in case of emergency. Don’t underestimate the restorative power of a bag of sweets!
  • Small repair kit

    A few small items such as safety pins, cable ties, duct tape and a spare boot lace or length of paracord can be useful for making emergency repairs to clothing, rucksacks and footwear.
  • Mobile phone

    Although signal in remote areas can be patchy, it’s still wise to carry a fully charged mobile phone. It’s worth registering it with the emergency SMS service before you set out. This allows you to text 999, which often works even if there’s not enough signal to make a call.
  • GPS device

    An optional extra. Never rely solely on your GPS – take a map and compass too. Consider taking spare batteries or a portable charger, as below.
  • Portable charger

    A portable charger or ‘power pack’ can recharge a dead phone or GPS device. Battery capacity is measured in milliampere hours (mAh). A charger rated at 2,500mAh will typically provide about one full smartphone charge. Make sure it is fully charged before you set out, and don’t forget to bring the right cable to plug in your device. 
  • Waterproof jacket and trousers

    Even if the forecast is good, it’s worth carrying rain gear just in case, especially if you’re going hillwalking in the UK. Waterproofs are also windproof, which is worth remembering on blustery days. 
  • Waterproof pouch 

    It’s a good idea to keep your phone or car keys in a waterproof pouch, particularly if carrying them in a jacket pocket. Alternatively, stick them in a dry bag.
  • Sit mat

    A nice extra rather than an essential, but no one likes a wet, muddy bum! Folding foam sit mats or packable waterproof fabric mats are available from all good outdoor shops.
  • Survival bag or storm shelter

    A useful emergency hillwalking item. If walking with a group, a storm shelter (also known as a ‘bothy bag’) is a good alternative to stick in your pack.
  • Trekking poles

    Not everyone uses them, but many find that a pair of poles can greatly reduce the impact of walking on your joints, alleviating soreness and stiffness. Most poles are either a telescopic or Z-folding design, so they can be collapsed and stowed away when not in use.
  • Spare socks

    Nothing ruins a walk like wet feet – and changing into fresh socks can also help prevent blisters.
  • Hat and gloves

    A warm woolly hat or beanie and a pair of gloves are always useful in the hills, even in summer, as windchill can still be a factor.
  • Bandana or Buff 

    The walker’s alternative to a scarf, a neck gaiter (often called a ‘Buff’, which is the best-known brand) offers protection from cold, wind and sun and can be worn in multiple ways.
  • Gaiters 

    Although optional, gaiters keep your feet and lower legs dry, while also protecting your walking trousers from tears and snags. They’re especially useful for crossing boggy terrain and walking through long, dewy grass or gorse and heather.
  • Guidebook

    Also optional, but a good guidebook can really enhance a walk – as can a nature spotting guide and/or a journal and pen, just in case inspiration strikes…
  • Rubbish bag

    Help to ensure the countryside is as clean as you found it – or even cleaner – by taking away your own rubbish and, if you’re a really good rambler, pick up any litter that you find on the route too. 

a group of people seated under a tree, eating and drinking with walking gear around them

Warm weather extras

In high summer or if you’re going on a walking holiday in a hot climate, don’t forget to add these vital extras.

  • Suncream

    SPF 25 or higher offers the best protection from UV rays.
  • Insect repellent

    Protection from the midges, mosquitoes and other biting insects that can make walking a misery.
  • Lip balm

    An SPF-rated lip balm can help to prevent dry, chapped or sunburnt lips.
  • Sun hat or baseball cap

    A good-quality brimmed hat will shade your face and help to prevent sunstroke.
  • Sunglasses

    Sunglasses protect your vision by blocking UVA and UVB light. Look for sunglasses labelled as ‘UV400’ for maximum protection.
  • Vacuum flask

    We all know that a classic Thermos-style flask keeps hot drinks warm – but it will also keep your water refreshingly chilled, especially if you add a few ice cubes before you set out.

Packing for a multi-day walk

If you’re planning to tackle a long-distance trail, you’ll need to carry a few extra bits of kit, especially if you want to camp along the route.

  • Sleeping bag

    Your bag should have a sufficient temperature rating for the season you are camping in. Try to ensure it isn’t too heavy or bulky. You may want to use it in conjunction with a sleeping bag liner too, which can boost warmth and keep the inside of your sleeping bag clean.
  • Sleeping mat

    A mat ensures a comfortable night but also offers vital insulation from cold ground. You could go for a closed cell foam mat, a self-inflating mat or an air mat. If you choose an air mat, ensure it has enough insulation to provide sufficient warmth for the season you are camping in.
  • Camping pillow

    Sure, you could just stuff a dry bag with some spare clothes, but who doesn’t love a little luxury? Many modern inflatable camping pillows pack down to the size of a Coke can and weigh less than 100g.
  • Shelter

    If you're camping, you'll need some form of shelter – either a tent, a tarp or a bivvy bag. When packing your tent, don’t forget to check you’ve also got the pegs and poles!
  • Cooking gear

    A basic camp cooking kit might include a lightweight backpacking stove, an aluminium or titanium pot and pan, camping gas, matches or a lighter and a compact mess kit such as a bowl, mug and spork.
  • Pocket knife or multi-tool

    Useful for camp cooking as well as emergency gear repairs.
  • Microfibre towel

    A microfibre travel towel is a space-saving way to stay clean on the trail, whether you’re walking from campsite to campsite, going from hut to hut or wild camping. 
  • Toilet kit

    In addition to standard toiletries, if you’re wild camping you might need to pack toilet paper in a zip lock bag, hand sanitiser and a small trowel. 
  • Extra clothes

    As well as spare underwear and a fresh baselayer, extra warm layers are also essential if temperatures drop in the evenings or overnight. An insulated down or synthetic jacket is the perfect layer to pull on in camp.
  • Extra food and water

    You’ll burn plenty of energy on a long walk, so sufficient food is a must. It’s similarly important to stay properly hydrated. Tea, coffee or hot chocolate are always very welcome on camp.

Matt Jones is a Snowdonia-based hillwalker and backpacker, and a writer and gear editor for multiple outdoor magazines and websites. A former staffer at the Ramblers and the Scouts, he knows a thing or two about walking and camping. 

 

Magazine of the Ramblers