Ultralight Day Hiking Pack List

day hiking
Day hiking in the Mojave Desert

Day hiking in the Mojave Desert

Day hiking is different from backpacking because you don’t plan to camp out, which means less gear (and less weight). If everything goes well you’ll be home in time for dinner.

But, you should prepare for the worst case scenario too. You could get lost, injured or caught in bad weather and be forced to spend a night (or three) in the wilderness.

That’s why it’s always a good idea when you go day hiking to bring not only the gear you plan to use, but a few extra essentials “just in case”…

This is what I pack when I go for a day hike:

My “3 Pound” Ultralight Day Hiking Pack List

Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil Day Pack (2.4 ounces)

day hiking

Sea to Summit Day Pack

I like this little pack because it is ultralight (less than 3 ounces), comfortable and convenient. It fits inside my regular backpack for peak-bagging and side hikes and goes in my motorcycle saddle bags or Jeep whenever I travel. That way I can always be prepared for impromptu hiking opportunities.

This is the epitomy of a “minimalist” day hiking pack. It is basically a stuff sack with straps and a zipper. If you do a lot of day hiking and need your pack to stand up to more regular use and abuse, you may want to get something slightly heavier duty, like the REI Flash 18.

SOL Emergency Bivvy (3.8 ounces)

day hiking

SOL Emergency Bivvy

Thermal bivvys work by blocking rain and wind, and reflecting your body’s own heat back toward you. If all goes according to plan you will never have to use this (because you’ll be spending the night warm and cozy, snuggled in your own bed).

But, if you have to spend an unexpected night in the wilderness this can keep you relatively warm (combined with all your spare clothing) in temperatures down to around forty degrees. (And alive… though not necessarily comfortable… in even colder temperatures.)

MontBell Ultralight Thermawrap Vest (5.2 ounces)

Montbell UL Vest

Montbell UL Vest

This is my favorite piece of clothing! It goes with me on all my backpacking trips, day hikes and almost every time I leave the house. A jacket is overkill in three-season weather. Arms are a waste of fabric (and weight). But keeping your vital organs warm is vitally important, and this is where a good vest does the trick.

Montbell’s Thermawrap Vest is ultralight, comfortable and packs down to the size of an apple. But the best thing about this vest is the synthetic insulation (which, unlike goose down, retains loft and warmth even when wet).

Marmot Mica Rain Jacket (7 ounces)

Marmot Mica Rain Jacket

Marmot Mica Rain Jacket

Even if there is no rain in the forecast it’s good to be prepared for the unexpected. In addition to providing protection from precipitation, a lightweight rain jacket blocks wind and adds a surprising amount of warmth when combined with a vest.

I use a Marmot Mica Rain Jacket. I wore thisĀ  rain jacket on my thru-hike of the Colorado Trail (with it’s daily thunderstorms) and it worked as well as rain jackets weighing twice as much.

Fleece Hat & Gloves (3.5 ounces)

Fleece Hat & Gloves

Fleece Hat & Gloves

Hat and gloves are typically thought of as winter wear. But these lightweight items provide more warmth (when combined with vest, rain jacket, spare clothing and bivy) than heavier clothing items, because they prevent loss of heat through the extremities (head and hands), which is a common place for heat to escape.

I carry Mountain Hardware’s Power Stretch Gloves and Micro Dome Fleece Hat because they are lightweight, packable and provide a lot of extra warmth for not much extra weight.

8 L Sea to Summit Dry Sack (1.1 ounces)

Dry Bag

Sea to Summit Dry Bag

My day pack is water resistant silnylon (but not waterproof), so I keep my spare clothing inside this Sea to Summit Dry Sack. If it starts to rain I will move other items inside the dry bag that I don’t want to get wet (like cellphone and maps).

A full pack always rides better than a saggy half-full pack, so I also use this dry bag to take up unused space in my day pack (by adjusting the amount of air trapped inside).

Fire Starting Kit (1.5 ounces)

Firestarting Kit

Firestarting Kit

The ability to make a fire is very important in a survival situation. It can be used to stay warm, cook food, boil water, signal for help and provide emotional comfort (which is more important than it sounds).

My fire-starting kit consists of the following: Wetfire Tinder Cubes, Spark-lite Firestarter, Mini Bic Lighter. Make sure to practice starting a fire with your kit. That way when you need to build a fire in a pinch, you won’t have to struggle with it (it takes a little bit of practice to get good at it).

Swiss Army Knife (1 ounce)

Swiss Army Knife

Swiss Army Knife

Survivalists will tell you that you need a big Rambo-style knife. Not true on a day hike (or a thru-hike for that matter). You won’t be improvising a shelter, setting traps, hunting game, cutting firewood or any of those activities. (If you are healthy enough to do that, you can just walk out of the woods). But, a small knife is still an important tool to include in your pack.

I have carried my 1-ounce Swiss Army Classic on all of my thru-hikes and day hikes and it does a great job for a small knife. On occasion I have carried a larger knife (old habits die hard), but always end up using my Swiss Army Knife the most.

Platypus 1 L Soft Bottle (0.8 ounces)

Water Bottle

Platypus Water Bottle

Staying hydrated is important. Depending on how far you plan to hike, and whether there is a place to refill with water along the route, you may need more than 1 liter. I usually carry 1 liter for hikes 10 miles or less and 2 liters for day hikes up to 20 miles. In extremely hot weather I may carry up to twice that amount.

I like the Platypus Soft Bottle because it fits comfortably in my day pack. It doesn’t poke my back or put excess pressure on the sil-nylon walls of my pack (like a hard water bottle would).

Water Purification Tablets (0.2 ounces)

Water Purification Tablets

Water Purification Tablets

I carry a couple of these tablets but I have never used them. On a day hike I typically pack in all the water I expect to drink. When refilling from a natural water source I rarely treat water. I have drank untreated back-country water for years with zero ill effects (which does not imply that your experience will be the same).

But, I do keep these “just in case”. They take 4 hours to work, which is inconvenient. If I planned on actually using them I’d bring chemical drops instead (like Aquamira or MSR Drops), which only take a few minutes to activate.

Map/Guidebook Pages (0.2 ounces)

Maps or Guidebook

Maps or Guidebook

Day hiking is usually pretty straightforward. You hike in, you hike out, you go home. One of the things that can complicate the process is if you get lost. You need a good map showing the trail and surrounding area to help you stay on course.

You can download and print maps for many trails online or create your own using software like National Geographic Topo. If using a guidebook you can save weight by photocopying and packing just the pages you need for your day hike.

My Pocket Atlases include maps for the PCT, CT and JMT.

Compass (0.3 ounces)

Compass & Thermometer

Compass & Thermometer

A compass will keep you pointed in the right direction so you won’t get lost. If you intend to do a lot of cross-country navigation on your day hike you may want a bigger compass with sighting mirror and declination adjustments, etc.

But for day hiking on established trails this little compass from REI does the trick. It includes a thermometer too.

Emergency Whistle (0.2 ounces)

Emergency Whistle

Emergency Whistle

An emergency whistle is used to signal to others if you need help (this is more effective and easier than yelling for hours).

In the U.S. and Canada the universal distress signal is three whistle blows followed by a one minute pause, repeated until help arrives. The reply signal is one whistle blow followed by a one minute pause. In other parts the world (I have been told) the distress signal is six blows, and the reply is three blows.

Cell Phone, Camera, GPS (4.6 ounces)

Cellphone, Camera, GPS

Cellphone, Camera, GPS

My HTC Droid Incredible serves three functions on a day hike: 1) Taking pictures 2) Occasional GPS navigation and 3) Calling for help in an emergency. I do not make or accept personal calls while hiking because it is rude to other hikers and ruins the peace and quiet and sense of isolation that I love about nature.

If you bring your cellphone please keep it in Airplane Mode or Powered Off. Most cellphone batteries only last about 12 hours in Standby Mode. If you leave your phone on all day the battery will be nearly dead right when you could need it the most.


Adventure Medical .3 First-Aid Kit
(2.3 ounces)

First Aid Kit

First Aid Kit

My First Aid Kit is compact, lightweight and includes stuff for fixing minor boo-boos on the trail (cuts, scrapes, bruises, etc.)

I figure major injuries will require professional medical attention and knowledge about first aid that I don’t have, so a larger medical kit isn’t going to be of much benefit to me. But these little kits include quite a lot of stuff for how small they are.


Petzl Zipka LED Headlamp
(2.4 ounces)

Petzl Zipka LED Headlight

Petzl Zipka LED Headlight

An LED Headlamp is better than a flashlight because it weighs less and provides hands-free lighting. I like my PETZL Zipka because the strap retracts back into the body of the headlight making it more compact and less “tangly”.

If you use lithium batteries they last forever. I can’t even remember the last time I replaced my headlight batteries (probably 1,000 miles ago).

Parachute Cord (1.2 ounces)

Parachute Cord

Parachute Cord

Parachute cord is one of those things you probably won’t use often, but will be happy to have if you need it. It can replace a shoelace, repair gear, tie things to your pack, etc.

This cord is strong (rated to 550 pounds), inexpensive and lightweight. I keep about 15 feet of paracord in my day pack.

Wet Wipes & Hand Sanitizer (2.6 ounces)

Wipes & Hand Sanitizer

Wipes & Hand Sanitizer

When you gotta “Do your business” in the woods you’ll need something to wipe with. I’ve used toilet paper and paper towels before, but eventually settled on wet wipes.

Purrell hand sanitizer is good for washing your hands afterward until you can find some water to do a more thorough job.

Make sure to always dig a “cathole” and bury your deposit. A stick or trekking pole works good for digging holes.

Insect Repellent (1 ounce)

Insect Repellent

Insect Repellent

DEET is the king of bug repellents. But, it is a nasty chemical that eats plastic (don’t spill it on your rain jacket or backpack), smells terrible and does god-knows-what to your body when absorbed through your pores.

I don’t use DEET anymore, opting instead for the less effective (but more pleasant) natural bug sprays. The one I’ve found works the best is Lemon Eucalyptus.

Sunblock (1.5 ounces)

Sunblock

Sunblock

I usually get a dark tan in the summer and don’t use sunblock often, but it’s nice to have just in case. If you have fair skin you might really need this. Sometimes cloudy overcast weather causes a worse sunburn than direct sunlight.

I buy one of these small travel tubes and refill it from a larger bottle of sunscreen as needed. (Make sure you don’t hike out with an empty tube of sunblock left over from the last hike.)

Duct Tape (0.5 ounces)

Duct Tape

Duct Tape

Duct tape has many uses on the trail (from taping toes to repairing gear). I keep about 15 feet in my day pack. (To save weight wrap it around a pencil or lightweight drinking straw)

Duct tape works better than moleskin for blisters because it’s thin, sticks better and does not cause excess pressure on the blister. Just apply duct tape to a hotspot (before it becomes a blister) to protect it from whatever it was rubbing against.

Medicine (0.5 ounces)

Medicine

Medicine

There are a few common ailments that can be treated with over-the-counter drugs that could become a lot more serious if not treated. Things like pain and swelling, allergic reactions and stomach problems like diarrhea.

My “backcountry medicine cabinet” includes a few doses of Advil (Ibuprofin), Benadryl (Antihistamine) and Immodium AD. (If you take prescription medications don’t forget those too.)

Lip Balm (0.5 ounces)

Lip Balm

Lip Balm

Another small item that’s easy to forgetĀ  is chap stick, but if you get cracked lips you’ll be happy to have it.

I like Carmex lip balm because it comes in a little tube that doesn’t melt and get messy like chap stick can. I try to find the super tiny travel size ones that weigh almost nothing.

Total Pack Weight

Base Weight: 2 pounds, 12 ounces (gear minus food and water)

Total Weight: ~ 6 pounds (with lunch, snacks and a liter of water)

Note: This pack list does not include clothing worn (just what goes into my pack). You’ll want to dress appropriately for the weather and don’t forget a sun hat and sunglasses. For more information about ultralight backpacking clothing read this post.

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28 Responses to “Ultralight Day Hiking Pack List”

  1. I like this article. Light-weight yet complete in regards to safe day hikes on all kinds of trails.

    What are the cost-effective sources to purchase some of the higher cost items on your list? Thanks.

    • @vee: You can find most of the stuff on this list at REI or Amazon. Backcountry.com is a good place for clothing. New gear is usually about the same price no matter where you buy it, unless you can get it on sale. Sometimes you can find used gear on Ebay. A few things on this list are kind of on the expensive side (like the rain jacket and vest) because they come from my thru-hiking kit and I use them for day hiking also. But there are cheaper alternatives like a Dri DucksRain Jacket ($35) and a Fleece Vest ($30), which may weigh a bit more but will work just fine.

  2. In order to Leave No Trace,I’d add a 1 oz. snow stake from REI so if you have to dig a cathole to deposit poop, you can actually dig a hole. Also carry a ziplock back to carry out your used TP. YUP!

  3. Excellent article, informative with realistic equipment list. Enjoy your articles and videos and consider your website a valuable resource for honest reliable information.

  4. Another option for the vest is a field jacket liner that you can pick-up from your local military surplus store. Warmer and lighter than an equivalent fleece vest and you can find them for around $20 or less. Cut the arms off sew up the front and you have a nice warm synthetic vest.

  5. Loved the post!
    I mainly day hike, usually with the entire family (kids and all), and an item we always carry is some cooking system. The highlight of the trip is almost always a cup of tea on the best scenic point. Lately I go with the Caldera cone, either with my homemade pepsi can stove or with a Trangia burner.

    Thanks for posting!

  6. Great ideas, Erik. You could save someone’s life with good advice like this.

    Erik the Grey

  7. This is wonderful info, thanks! The one thing I would add that may seem like a no-brainer: ID. Since I began bicycling and walking alone, I transferred my DL, health insurance card, and debit card to a tiny protective case that I can switch between pockets and bags as needed. I also made sure to program several ICE (In Case of Emergency) numbers into my cell phone. If something dire should happen, these will help potential rescuers.

    And it serves Reverse Murphy’s Law – now that I have them, I will never (I hope) need them.

  8. So kind of a random question, I see that you take gloves with you but it made me think that I usually prefer mittens for warmth. Do you think it makes a difference or does it depend more on preference?

    • @Caleigh: I have found that mittens are warmer too, but the lack of fingers makes it harder to do things like cook, open zippers, etc. without taking them off. So I prefer gloves.

  9. Hey Erik,
    I’m trying out a Montbell UL Thermawrap vest and I see that the sides have an elastic material instead of synthetic insulation (see the black portion of the orange jacket shown in the photograph in the article). Is yours made this way or is this an “improvement” that they came up with? I would think it would be warmer and possibly lighter if it were insulated all around.
    Regards,
    Bill

    • @Bill: Actually, now that you mention it, my Montbell vest does not have those strips of elastic on the sides. Mine only has two small inverted triangles of elastic down at the waistline, but they only go up a couple of inches. The rest of the sides are completely insulated. This does look like a so-called “improvement” of a new version of the vest, though it does not look like much of an improvement to me. I would rather it be insulated all around. I wish I could recommend an alternative but I don’t know if any other synthetic ultralight vests. There may be some but I’ve always been so happy with my Montbell that I never looked around. If you want to go with down insulation check out the Western Mountaineering Flash Vest. This is a popular UL down vest.

  10. @Bill: I’ve found a possible alternative to the Montbell Synthetic vest that has insulation all around the sides: The Patagonia Nano Puff Vest. It’s a little heavier at 8.5 ounces but still pretty lightweight.

  11. Hey Erik,

    Thanks, I’ll be sure to take a look at the Patagonia. I sent the Montbell Synthetic vest back because I didn’t like the elastic material on the sides. What I’m looking at now is the Montbell UL Thermawrap jacket which is the same thing with sleeves. It weighs 9.3 oz which isn’t bad for a jacket with sleeves and I could probably have a seamstress remove the sleeves if I want. The jacket does not have the elastic on the sides and I like the feel of it. Right now Campsaver has certain colors on sale at $101 – cheaper than the vest.

  12. More bad news for the Montbell UL Thermawrap vest. I was just on their website and noticed that not only does the new model have elastic on the sides (which does not provide any insulation) but the weight has also increased from 5 ounces to 7 ounces.

    I hate when good gear goes bad. I’m just glad I got my vest a couple of years ago before the change. If I were in the market for a lightweight vest today I do not think I would buy the new Montbell.

    I’d go for one of these instead:

    Montbell UL Jacket (8.8 oz)

    Patagonia Nano Puff Vest (8.5 oz)

    Western Mountaineering Flight Vest (5.5 oz)

    Western Mountaineering Flash Vest (3.5 oz)

  13. Hi Erik,
    Good article.. I have the Nano Puff Jacket and it has held up well. Just an FYI Western Mountaineering is saying the Flash Vest is 5 oz not 3.5.. Not sure if they updated it.

  14. Great website with tons of useful information – thank you Erik!
    I use Photon keychain lights instead of the Petzels. They are very light, inexpensive, are brightness adjustable and burn for up to 18 hours.

    http://www.photonlight.com/

  15. Just wanted to say something about the duck tape for stoping blisters.I just wear a pair of regular socks with a pair of ankle socks over them and not had blisters for a long time.Plus i wear my socks like that every day.P.S. Luv the site.

  16. Thanks bunches for all the hard work and great info on this site; and I love, love your spreadsheet, which I view as a generous gift. I’m struggling with what to wear on a week long trip, in September or early October in Virginia; All my prior camping experiences have involved the luxury of packing way more than I needed, so I’m a newbee to backpacking. I have a moisture-wicking Tshirt, and a very light-weight and quick-drying pair of convertible pants that I use for kayaking. There are so many choices for my next two or three layers that I get lost… I think part of what’s tripping me up (heh, heh), is most of the gear lists are either for day or thru hikers, but I’ll be in between — kind of. Average temps: high seems to be around 75 to 80 and low for that time of year being between 50 and 60. Oh and what do people like to sleep in? I would much appreciate any help.

    • @Christina: Here’s what I wear on three season multi-day hiking trips: My UL Backpacking Clothing System. Hope this gives you some ideas about how to layer for your week-long hikes. I sleep in my base layer, socks and warm cap. It keeps the inside of my sleeping bag from getting greasy and dirty and also adds a few degrees of warmth.

  17. Thank you, I was able to find a pretty good deal on the base layer you use and ordered it.I have a little time to scrounge around for the rest.

  18. I really appreciate this list. Thanks to you I upgraded my emergency mylar blanket to a bivvy sack. I think in an emergency it will provide more warmth.

    Regarding a day hike pack:
    I like your Sea to Summit but I really wanted something with side pockets for my water bottles, and a chest/sternum strap to keep it in place.
    I preferably wanted to keep it at 1/2 a pound or less.
    Love REI but none of their packs fit the bill. The Flash 18 has no side pockets. The Flash 22 weighs 1 pound. The REI travel daypack has side pockets but no chest strap.

    I finally found a bag with all the features called the ChicoBag Travel Pack

    It’s about 7 oz. Not as light as Erik’s pack but it can hold my water bottles.
    Found it on this guy’s site, and he also lists Erik’s Sea to Summit:
    http://20literadventure.com/best-lightweight-packable-backpacks/

    Thanks!

  19. That’s really very similar to what I carry. :) Except I don’t really go UL on clothes because it gets a bit expensive, and I use the Flash 22 pack because it has pockets. I don’t see a point to going lighter, really, I don’t feel like it weighs me down at all.
    Like Dave, I have micro lights instead of a headlamp.. a Photon one and a different one because REI stopped selling Photons.
    Also, sun glasses and extra socks. I’ve vowed to always carry these 2 things.

  20. I picked up a solar charger for the cell phone. it is about the same size and along with the cord I can re charge the phone in case it dies. It is made by Opteka. worth checking out.

  21. Dear Erik, does everything listed above fits into the 8 Liters Sea To Summit Dry Pack?

    Thank you !
    Greetings from Norway

  22. Greg Taylor - Maryland Reply March 25, 2014 at 5:40 pm

    When I joined the Marines I was taught the importance of socks, boots, canteen “kit” and knife.

    Love the article. But if i may please;

    Socks: wool. Thin if alone. Liner nowadays. Thick and/or with liner if cold. Save your feet. At all cost your feet are the last thing keeping you warm, dry and standing. Carry extra and dry out the wet.

    Boots: room in the toe, should feel like a hand holding your foot. Change the cushion when you get them for something better. Go stand in a machine that calculates your exact foot pressure if needed (which you can find through Dr. Shoals). Tend to them, wash the cushion often for Bactria in the washer and dry them.

    Canteen “kit”: is a canteen with built in stove and stand and a P38. Which is a can opener/anything else you want it for. You have water and a stove with an elevated stand. Now you can cook, purify or even shave in it. It’s everything. Be in the bush for a few days and heat water for ramen noodles or coffee and you’ll see.

    Knife: (K-Bar). Use it to dig, cut, chop, hammer, open or. Anything. (Was an absolute mandatory purchase before even graduating from bootcamp back then). Desert Storm era though.

    Just sayin; not an Armageddon guy but a guy who has never wished he had anything more.

    Greg

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