Ready to hit the trail, and wondering what to pack for a great adventure? Our packing philosophy for a day hike is simple: we aim to balance light weight with safety. An easy, short loop can get confusing if we’re lost, or seem really long if we’re injured. We always pack these essentials to stay safe and keep us headed in the right direction. And we always assume that we might not have mobile phone service, we might be the only ones on the trail, and if we get lost (or injured), we might be out later than we expected… or possibly even overnight.
Our hiking gear list features our favorite, trail-tested gear that we’ve tested over thousands of miles and hundreds of adventures, from our favorite hikes near Atlanta to view-packed adventures on our favorite hikes near Asheville.
Backpacks & organization
We’ve tried and tested a ton of backpacks over the years. Our favorite backpacks combine light weight, comfortable wear and convenient gear organization. For warm-weather hikes, we love the Osprey Stratos 24 and women’s Osprey Sirrus 24 backpacks: they feature a curved aluminum frame and a perforated back panel to maximize airflow between the pack and our backs, helping keep us cool and dry when summer’s swelter sets in. Both also feature an integrated rain cover to keep the pack dry. (Get more details in our Osprey Stratos 24 and Sirrus 24 backpack review.)
For shorter trips, the Osprey Daylite, Cotopaxi Inca 16 and the REI Flash 18 Pack are our go-to favorites. They’re streamlined, minimalist, lightweight, and durable – and also pack small for travel, or for use as a day pack on a multi-day backpacking adventure.
Weather in the South is unpredictable. It’s amazing how quickly a “zero percent chance of rain” turns into a heavy afternoon shower. We always pack several Sea to Summit Lightweight Dry Bags to stash our phones, cameras and extra clothing layers in case of rain. And the super lightweight Sea to Summit Ultra-Mesh Stuff Sacks are great for keeping our gear organized, and make it super easy to transfer gear between backpacks for different adventures.
Navigation: GPS, compass & trail maps
Trail routes can change, and sometimes, it’s easy to get turned around. And getting lost takes the fun out of a hike, so navigation gear tops our hiking gear list, even on local trails.
We track the trail with a Garmin Oregon 700 GPS. It’s a handheld GPS that works offline, so we can view maps, waypoints, tracks and trail info even if we don’t have a mobile phone signal. And Garmin’s Tracback feature guides me back to the trailhead where we started from, following our outbound hike in reverse.
But as much as we love our Garmin, electronics can fail and batteries drain. We always carry a Suunto compass and a printed trail map to help navigate in an emergency. Our favorite maps are the National Geographic Trails Illustrated series; they’re light weight, durable, waterproof, and cover much of North Georgia and western North Carolina’s prime hiking trails. And they include most USFS gravel roads, as well, which make them great for navigating the Cohutta Wilderness and finding remote trailheads on the Appalachian Trail in North Carolina.
First aid & safety
The Adventure Medical Ultralight Watertight first aid kits are lightweight, small, and carry medical essentials in case of injury out on the trail. Watertight packaging keeps the contents dry, making them useful in rainy weather and on water-filled adventures like the Jacks River Trail.
Sometimes a great waterfall or stunning sunset keeps us out on the trail later than we expect, so we always pack our Black Diamond Spot headlamps. They’re small, lightweight, bright (200 Lumens), waterproof, and keeps our hands free. (Not into headlamps? A mini flashlight works well, too.)
We always pack Sawyer sunscreen and Sawyer insect repellant. Lip balm and sunglasses, like our favorites from Sunski and Rheos, are a must for sun protection. Carabiner clips are randomly useful on the trail, and we always have a few extras clipped to our backpacks. Ditto for a mini roll of duct tape, a length of paracord and a lightweight, serrated Gerber folding knife. We also carry a reflective emergency blanket, and a fire starter, like the Adventure Medical Fire Lite Kit.
Fuel & hydration
We always pack more water than we need, and high-calorie food when we head out on a long day hike. Trail mix, bananas and Clif Bars, Shots and Blocks are staples in our packs. To help stay hydrated on the trail, we always pack GU Hydration Tablets: drop them into a water bottle, and they fizz and dissolve to create an electrolyte-fortified drink.
On shorter (and local) adventures, we almost always pack a trusty Nalgene Tritan water bottle: they’re inexpensive, and nearly indestructible. For longer adventures, we love using a hydration pack: the Osprey Hydraulics LT 1.5L is our favorite, and it fits easily in all of our backpacks, making hydration easy on the go.
We always carry water treatment gear in the backcountry, and use a Sawyer Mini Filter to filter water from springs and streams (read our Sawyer Mini Filter review for more details). As a backup, in case we lose our Sawyer Mini (or it fails), we pack Potable Aqua Iodine Tablets.
Layers rock: with a great layering system, it’s easy to stay warm (or cool) and dry, no matter what the weather throws at us.
We designed our own favorite shirts for the trail in our Trailful outdoor shirt collection, featuring our own original designs printed on the absolute softest, most comfortable tri-blend shirts we could find. They’re tagless for on-trail comfort, and great for hanging out around town after the adventure, too. (Also check out our fitted women’s outdoor shirts, and our ultra-soft long sleeve shirts.)
We always pack a waterproof rain shell, and our favorite is the Marmot Minimalist Rain Jacket; the jacket’s Gore-Tex membrane keeps us dry from the outside and ventilated on the inside. The Stio Basis Power Dry and Stio Sweetwater Fleece Hoodie are some of our favorite layering pieces: they’re warm, wicking and breathable. Another favorite is the KUHL Ryzer Pullover; it breathes easy and layers easily under a puffy or rain shell, and thumb locks on the sleeves make layering a breeze. For cooler weather, the KUHL Spyfire Jacket is one of our favorite outer pieces, with 800-fill, ethically sourced, goose down and a weather-resistant outer shell. And the KUHL Renegade Convertible Pants simply rock: they’re toasty warm as a full-length pant, and after temperatures warm and it’s time for shorts, the Renegade’s legs zip off easily.
Chilling out on the trail
We almost never forget to pack our ENO DoubleNest hammocks and our ENO Atlas hammock straps. There’s nothing like soaking in a stunning summit view from the comfort of a hammock, or cozying up in a shady hardwood forest for a quick mid-hike snooze. And on longer adventures when weight is a concern, we pack our new ENO Sub7 hammocks, which weigh in at a svelte 6.5 ounces and fold up into a 4″ stuff sack. There’s really no better way to hang out on the trail.
Dog hiking gear
We almost always hike with our dog, Jake, so we always carry a leash, a water dish, and extra water, food, and snacks for our four-legged adventurer.
We absolutely love Ruffwear dog gear: it’s thoughtfully designed for outdoor adventures, ultra-durable, functional on the trail and stylish around town. The Ruffwear Bivy Bowl is a lightweight, collapsable water bowl that’s equally great for backcountry trail and walks on the Atlanta BeltLine. Our favorite leash and collar combo is the Ruffwear Slackline Leash paired with a Ruffwear Top Rope Collar: the Slackline Leash is adjustable in length, and features a swivel clip to prevent tangles, and the Top Rope Collar makes clip-in easy (which is great for a high-energy pup like Jake). And in the summertime, we always pack the Ruffwear Swamp Cooler; it’s a cooling vest that helps reflect sunlight, and wets to keep Jake cool.
And we always pack TurboPUP bars to keep Jake fueled on the trail. TurboPUP bars are a grain-free trail bar for dogs, and they’re sourced from quality ingredients for convenient, on-trail snacks and meals. (Get more details in our TurboPUP review.)
More of our favorite outdoor gear
Wondering what to pack for an overnight – or a few – on the trail? Our backpacking gear list features our favorite backpacking essentials. Or if you’re chasing some car camping luxury, check out our camping gear list, featuring our favorite tents, sleeping bags, furniture, cookware, and campsite essentials.
Pack it in, pack it out
And, please remember to pack in everything you pack out! Always follow these simple tips to Leave No Trace when you’re exploring the great outdoors, and please practice good trail etiquette to help make the trail enjoyable for everyone. And have fun out there!Some links on Trailful are affiliate links, which means that the merchant might pay us a commission if you purchase a product after clicking our links, at no extra cost to you. We only recommend gear that we personally use and love.
Thanks for your support! - the Trailful crew