The Perfect Kit: Day Hiking

Any season is perfect for hiking (if you ask me), but spring and summer bring out the best in our favorite trails. No matter when you go, you can mix it up by hiking on regional trails, getting to know native plants and local wildlife, and going on all-day hiking adventures to see waterfalls, lakes and mountains.  

So what are the best clothes and gear to keep you cool, comfortable and protected on a day hike? Here’sa collection of hiking favorites to make the most of your next trek outdoors. You can learn more about what to pack for a day hike with this Day Hiking Checklist and, of course, always pack the Ten Essentials.

Gregory Nano 22 H2O Hydration Pack

Our preferred daypacks tote just enough stuff without being bulky, help keep you hydrated and make it easy to stay organized. Thankfully, the hydration masters at Gregory have produced a sleek and stylish daypack at a budget-friendly price that checks all those boxes. Its 3-liter Hydro hydration pack is quick-drying, which helps it get and stay cleaner longer, and stows away into a separate, zippered compartment. The Nano 22 weighs in at just over 1 pound empty—with padded shoulder straps for a more comfortable carry—and has plenty of storage: 22-liter capacity inside, plus a top zippered pocket with a key clip, a zippered side stash pocket and a side mesh water bottle pocket. The pack’s grooved foam back panel offers breathability, which can minimize sweat and help keep you cool even on hard hikes. I also love the easy-pull top drawcord opening, which makes it easy to grab essentials and stash extra layers inside as it heats up. $89.95

Patagonia Capilene Cool Trail Shirt (Men’s & Women’s)

What should you look for in a great hiking shirt? Lightweight, moisture-wicking material, preferably in a light color that will reflect the sun to help block heat. This top from Patagonia is all of the above. It’s made from Capilene®, a polyester fiber that comprises at least 35% recycled materials. It’s quick-drying, and it’ll keep you cool whether you’re embarking on a long hike or hitting a shorter trail in direct sun. Its gusseted sleeve construction helps prevent underarm chafing, and its silver-salt-based HeiQ® odor-control tech keeps you smelling fresh even if you decide to take that extra loop—or two. $45

No matter how much time you spend hiking, comfort is key. My favorite hiking pants are durable, have extra pockets and boast cord clips for hands-free hiking. That’s why I reach for the Trailmade Pants from REI Co-op. They feature five separate front and back pockets, articulated knees so you can move freely and UPF 50+ fabric that shields legs from harmful UV rays. These breathable and sturdy hiking pants are made from a quick-drying nylon-spandex blend (bluesign®-approved), making them ideal for day hikes in warm to cold conditions. $69.95

goodr National Park Polarized Sunglasses

Colorful sunglasses that also benefit our national parks? I’m in. You can sport your favorite on your next hike with these easy-wearing, polarized sunglasses from goodr, which feature designs inspired by national parks, from Yellowstone to Yosemite. The sunnies are nonslip, reduce glare and have UV400 protection. Not to mention that goodr sunglasses are an REI Co-op staff and customer favorite: “These are so comfortable,” says one customer-reviewer from Las Vegas. “The tint with the polarized lenses gives me crystal clear vision.” $30 

Fjallraven Abisko Hike Lite Cap

A great hiking cap can be the difference between taking in the surroundings in beautiful weather or cursing the sun for blinding you. Choose one with a decent-size brim that keeps the sun off your eyes and face and allows you to enjoy your hike, whatever the weather conditions. I love the Abisko Hike Lite cap from Fjallraven: It’s made from well-ventilated, quick-drying, stretchy fabric and fits easily into a pocket or daypack when it’s not on your head. $40

Salomon OUTPulse Mid GORE-TEX Hiking Boots
Photo credit: Ashley Batz

Salomon OUTpulse Mid GORE-TEX Hiking Boots (Men’s & Women’s)

When it comes to hiking shoes, I’ve experienced it all: the good, the bad and the ugly. There’s nothing worse than starting a hike and, 3 miles in, you already have a blister. Or, encountering a creek and realizing, “These shoes aren’t waterproof.” 

The Salomon OUTpulse Mid GORE-TEX Hiking Boots are my top choice because they provide ankle support, feature Fuze Surge EVA-based midsoles for responsive cushion, and have excellently grippy Contagrip® rubber outsoles. Whether you’re on steep terrain, gravel, tromping through water or in conditions ranging from hot and humid to snowing, this pair keeps on trekking. 

In fact, they’re a fan favorite. One customer from Pittsburgh says, “As someone who hikes almost exclusively in trail runners, I was looking for a hiking boot that would be lightweight yet waterproof for those muddy or colder days where you want a bit more protection. These work perfectly!” $160

Darn Tough Hiker Micro Crew Cushion Socks (Men’s & Women’s)

It’s not often that you find a pair of socks “guaranteed for life,” but Darn Tough hiking socks live up to their name. I’ll admit it: I was late to the game when it came to wearing hiking socks. I made do with what I had, and I was afraid that the wool would feel scratchy, itchy and I’d sweat right through them. Reader, I was very wrong.

The best pairs of hiking socks are durable, prevent chafing and keep your feet dry even if your boots get splashed with water. The Hiker Micro Crew Cushion socks do all of the above. The merino/nylon/spandex blend wicks moisture and a ring-toe construction prevents hot spots. The Hiker Micro socks also feature extra cushioning over the ankle and Achilles’ heel, which can relieve pressure you might feel while climbing uphill. $25 

Thinksport Clear Zinc Active Face SPF 50 Sunscreen

There’s no overemphasizing the importance of wearing sunscreen. Even on cloudy summer days (I’m looking at you, Bay Area), ultraviolet rays penetrate through the clouds and can leave you with a nasty burn. No sunscreen blocks 100% of UV rays, but I gravitate toward SPF 50 potency and am partial to options that are free of harmful chemicals (like those that damage coral reefs). Learn more about How to Choose Sunscreen.

The Clear Zinc Active Face sunscreen by Thinksport contains no benzene, PABA, parabens, oxybenzone, avobenzone or phthalates and goes on mostly clear—not pasty white like other zinc-based lotions. It’s rated to be water- and sweat- resistant for up to 80 minutes before reapplication is needed. $15.50

Black Diamond Spot 400 Headlamp

Headlamps come in handy on early morning hikes or if you end up staying out later than you anticipated on the trail. My favorite headlamps are small and compact. I prefer ones that feature at least 400 lumens because they’re powerful enough to illuminate the trail at night, and you can adjust the brightness setting depending on your needs. The Spot 400 from Black Diamond is an Editors’ Choice Award winner because it’s dimmable, has a long burn time (up to 200 hours) and features night-vision-friendly red light setting. This model is also waterproof, which is great if you’re caught in a storm. $49.95

HART Outdoor Day Hike First-Aid Kit

Preparedness Kit

Even short hikes require some emergency and safety preparation—including reading up on what to expect unexpectedly. (Good thing there’s a whole library of Health and First Aid Articles to help you get ready.) 

You never know what remedies you might need on a trail, whether you get achy legs, have a run-in with a wasp or get a minor cut or scratch. It’s always best to carry a small emergency kit like the HART Outdoor Day Hike First-Aid Kit. It comes with bandages, antiseptic wipes, wound cleansers, scissors and basic pain and allergy medication and peace of mind, among other things. $14.95

You may also want to pack a blanket in case you encounter unexpected extreme weather conditions: This Emergency Blanket from SOL can keep you warm by reflecting up to 90% of your body heat back to you. $5.25

Finally, always carry a map and a navigation device to help you get back on track if you get lost. I like the compact, accurate Suunto Clipper L-B NH Compass that easily clips to a sleeve, map edge or bag strap for easy reference. Be sure to read How to Use a Compass before setting off on your journey. $20

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *