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Day Hiking Essentials for Fun and Safety

By camping hammock Elastic Laces water filter

A Day Hike Checklist for Fun as a Group.

hiking with my boy in the washCool morning air combined with the shadows of my favorite trail inspire me to create.  My mind opens freely to the quiet and the calm as I push past fragrant trees and the damp smells fill my olfactory.  Each step brings me closer to another idea. I grasp at it my fingertips touching it but not quite able to clench it.  My rhythm increases as my thoughts race in a fog of inspiration.

Hiking to me is so much more than exercise or sightseeing.  I see far more inside myself on a small trek than I do of the outdoors.  Now, it may not be all that to everyone, you may think I am a little to clingy to the mystic universe that is “walking in the woods”, and that is ok.  In my youth, my walks in the mountains were my best friend.  For the one or two young people who understand, I try to stay true to my heart.  For the rest of you, I will try not to chant further.


a beautiful sunset in the desert

Taking youth into the back country requires a list of items to ensure safety, on a day hike the essential are few.  One item I would like to emphasize is leadership.  A minimum of two adults on any outing is a requirement when youth are present.  I would recommend having at least one more adult for each pair of buddies, 4 youth.  Buddies?  Yes, the good ‘ole buddy system, teach them young to have a friend.  Teach them to be self-sufficient and to serve one another. 

So onto the essentials for safety, comfort and survival.  What should the youth carry in their day pack?  Why should they carry it?  These are the base items, you can mix and match as you choose, but throughout my hiking existence I have found these are the items I keep in my pack.


Where am I?  How do I get back?  Question you don’t want to be asking if you are several miles into the wilderness.  GPS is wonderful and I recommend having one, I carry one.  I also carry a compass and a map.  The art of navigation with a compass and map should be taught to youth, and used.  Without practice, the talent will fade.

Proper Attire for the Season & Area:

Be aware of where you are going, the weather report, and the temperature range.  A good pair of trail shoes, hiking boots or footwear equal to the task can make the difference between a good trip and a miserable trip.  A jacket or vest, for temperature control, is a necessity, especially when faced with an unexpected overnight stay.  All too often we overlook protecting our noggin from the sun, wet, &, cold, remember the hat.

Speaking of Sun Protection:

Lip balm, SPF rated of course, and a small tube of sunscreen keep us in good shape and help us avoid heat exhaustion and worse.  Again, the hat comes into play.  I also carry a small poncho for rain gear, and shade.  The poncho is optional, but I sure like it.

Flashlight or Headlamp:

Headlamps are so small and light now, it is silly not to have one in your pack.  It doesn’t happen often, but when faced with an unexpected overnight stay this little item makes a huge difference in the comforting result.  There is no reason to go big or expensive.  Test before you go and carry an extra set of batteries.  BTW – I match my equipment so I only have to carry one type of battery as a spare to my GPS, Headlamp, Etc.

First-aid Kit:

Each hiker should have a small personal kit, at the very least, each buddy group.  The leaders should have a group kit with them.  You can make your ow, again this shouldn’t be an expensive item.  I will cover First-Aid kits in another article.  Remember, first aid includes hygiene, toilet paper, allergy meds, hand sanitizer and personal essentials.


Everyone who goes hiking should have a way to make fire.  That is my story and I am sticking to it.  I love a basic Ferro stick, lightweight, simple and always works.  Fire building skills should also be learned and practiced.  It is a favorite subject for the youth and they pick up on it surprisingly fast.

Knife or Multi-Tool:

I am a mini-multi-tool fan.  For the youth, I usually prescribe something lightweight and easy to use.  It isn’t always about survival, I can’t tell you how many, belts, pack straps, and even one young man's braces I have fixed over the years.  It isn’t always surviving. Usually, it is all about turning an uncomfortable situation into a pleasant one.

Hydration and Nutrition:

Take plenty of water and a few snacks.  I usually carry 2L of water and a couple cliff bars as well.  A good basic water filter like a filter straw can save your life.  A container is part of this requirement, hydration pack, canteen, etc.  GORP and other such high-nutrition snacks are great, plan your trip and timeline.  Don’t over carry when it comes to food.  Young men, old ones too, love to cram their day packs full of snacks.  They aren’t needed.  Water should be your focus with just enough food to keep you comfortable.

Emergency Shelter:

chilin in my hammock

Remember the poncho?  Well, if you have a poncho and a small amount, 20ft or so, of Paracord, you have a safe haven.  Now I know you are thinking emergency and survival, but I use mine on almost every trip.  A poncho makes a great ground cloth to take a nap on, eat lunch on, or take off your shoes and air out your feet.  Ponchos also make great a great sunshade and wouldn’t you know it, they work to keep you dry in the rain.  The other item I take is my camping hammock, obvious reasons and so WORTH!  (My poncho makes a great hammock rain-fly.)


Those are the basics.  Therein lie the five C’s of survival: Cordage, Cutting, Combustion, Cover, & Container.  If you are dressed appropriately and have water, you will have a great trip and will be prepared for almost anything thrown your way.  Add and subtract items as your adventure requires.  Most importantly, use your head, be safe and have fun!


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