12 Steps to Prepare For a Day Hike

Day Hiking Checklist

Daydreaming About a Day Hike That Could Turn Into a Nightmare

You simply cannot stand it anymore. Your cabin fever has literally reached a fever pitch, time to get outside and breathe some fresh air again. Wild edibles are popping up, birds are flocking and the rivers, and streams are running strong with snow melt.

It is a wonderful time and yet it can be a treacherous time for the unprepared. The ground is still soft from snow melt in many parts of the country, and the streams you could cross with just a few steps last fall are now yards wider making the crossings dangerous. Predators are out prowling for prey and the bears are hungry after a long and difficult winter.

Hiking like any outdoor activity requires preparation. You have to prepare for the most likely conditions. While the days may be warm, spring nights can be damp and cold, but wait you say you are only going to be gone a few hours in the afternoon, no need to worry about how cold it gets at night, right.

You could encounter hungry wildlife, or become trapped by flash flooding. Anything can happen to anyone at anytime. You cannot stop it from happening in many cases, but you can be prepared for it to happen, and being ready can mean the difference between surviving and not. Nothing should be unexpected, so you are not preparing for the unexpected you are preparing for the expected.

Prepare To Become Lost or Stranded and Hope You Do Not

You have been over the same trail a dozen times, so you know it by heart. However, do you know the surrounding area by heart, the areas 100 yards in any direction?

The weather in the spring can be unpredictable, sudden and sometimes violent storms can be upon you before you have time to react. Flash flooding can occur even if it is not raining in your area. Anything can happen that could prevent you from making it home. Snowmelt and rain storms at higher elevations can cause flash floods in lower areas so you have to pay attention to where you are hiking.

Hiking Checklist

1.) Did you inform others of your plans, so if you do not arrive back home at the designated time they can alert the authorities? If someone can alert the authorities that you are missing then you can expect rescuers to be out looking at some point.

2.) Do you have a map of the area and a compass, and more importantly do you know how to use a map and compass. A GPS system is great but they can fail at any time. Know how to read a topographical map, and know where your home is located on the map, and then know how to find your current location on the map so you can plot a course back home.

3.) Stop thinking in terms of hours but rather think in days when it comes to packing your backpack. Your plans may only be for a few hours of hiking, but as you know plans can go off the rails quickly.

Assume you will be gone 72-hours instead of just three hours. You cannot carry enough food and water for an extended period, but if you are stranded for five days, for example, would you rather be hungry for all five or just for two days.

Pack at least 72-hours worth of food. Know what natural resources are in the area. Are there streams and rivers available for drinking water? Your topographical map will be able to tell you. 

You should never hike in an area unless you know the general area by having hiked it before or have studied the terrain on a map. Again, this means you need to know how to read a map. Do not rely on electronic devices for your maps. Devices need charged batteries, and they can be broken or rendered useless if dropped in the water or exposed to rain. A waterproof cover over your good old fashioned map will ensure you have the means to read your map under any condition.

4.) Make sure you have the means to filter and purify any surface water source. Have the means even if you have a filtration system. You would need purification tablets and/or a container in which to boil water.

5.) Pack a shelter such as a poncho or tarp. Anything that keeps the rain or in some cases the snow off you is a good thing.

6.) Have various means to start a fire. Waterproof matches are dependable to a point, so do not rely solely on them. Magnesium sticks and Ferro rods are impervious to water and temperature, so they are a must for any hiking pack.

7.) Have extra socks. The ground may be wet where you would not expect it to be because it is spring. If your feet are exposed to wet conditions this can lead to immersion foot (trench foot) even if the temperature is well above freezing, and wet or damp feet can cause blisters to form as well.

8.) Do you have self defense items against animals and possibly humans. Bear spray in bear country is a must, and of course the spray can be used to defend against dogs and humans as well. If you are so inclined then carry a firearm that is capable of stopping large predators. Moose, elk, and other wildlife besides bears can be dangerous to humans, so make sure you know the type of wildlife you could expect to encounter.

9.) Do you have signaling devices so you can help rescue personnel find you. Brightly colored cloth that can be seen from the air or ground is ideal as well as mirrors, and smoke from a fire during the daylight hours. Whistles can be used along with any device that would make noise.

10.) Maybe you did not pack a tent, poncho, or tarp but do you have an ax, or machete that can be used to cut and trim brush for a shelter. Do you have cordage that can be used to secure saplings together to make a crude teepee that could sustain your for several days.

11.) First aid kit, carry one at all times regardless of how long you expect to be gone.

12.) Fixed bladed knife and/or a multi-tool. You should never leave home headed for the woods without a fixed bladed knife.


One problem people run into is packing too heavy and then decide it is too much trouble carrying all the gear around, so they opt for a bottle of water and few protein bars, and then they get lost or stranded.

It may seem like to some people that there are a lot of items that you would have to pack just for a few hour hike but you are not packing just for a few hours. You are preparing for several days, to counter events beyond your control.

Once gathered up, the materials and gear needed is not all that much, and if you study the terrain and decide water is plentiful and you have the means to purify it you can reduce your carry weight.

Food is a big factor and do not try to convince yourself otherwise. However, you cannot only rely on snares and traps for your food. You are not going to run down a wild hog like Dave or Joe, so no point in trying and taking the chance of getting injured or worse.

Pack a small survival fishing kit, but do not become obsessed with traps and snares and making spears for hunting. If someone knows you are hiking, knows the general area you are in and would be expected to notify the authorities if you do not make it back at the designated time then rescuers will be out looking . Your 72-hour food supply would be adequate. Shelter in place if you know someone will report you missing.