23 May 2022 by Matthew Jones
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.
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.
Rucksack 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.
Regardless of the size of your pack, additional items can help organise and protect your kit. These include:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
SPF 25 or higher offers the best protection from UV rays.
Protection from the midges, mosquitoes and other biting insects that can make walking a misery.
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 protect your vision by blocking UVA and UVB light. Look for sunglasses labelled as ‘UV400’ for maximum protection.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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