As the weather warms and snow melts away, trails become accessible again for everyone’s favorite free way to get outside: hiking. For a day hike any time of year, you should be prepared to stay safe in the elements and in the backcountry.
But spring hiking also comes with its own specific fun, like muddy trails, surprise rain storms and quick-changing temperatures, so there are a few extra items you should bring along to stay comfortable on your hike—and should you get lost or find your way off trail.
The 10 essentials you should always pack for any day hike are:
- Navigation: Be it a map, compass, altimeter, GPS device, personal locator beacon (PLB) or satellite messenger, always have a way to navigate back to safety should you get off trail. Make sure you know how to read or use it, and if you’re relying on a map downloaded on your phone, make sure you bring an external battery pack.
- Headlamp: Regardless of the time of day you’re hiking, pack a headlamp in case you get off-trail and are out after dark. Also, bring extra batteries.
- Sun protection: Even in the spring when the sun is coming out of winter hiding, it’s important to protect your skin. Pack sunscreen, sunglasses and sun-protective clothes.
- First aid kit: A basic first aid kit can go a long way whether you have blisters on the trail or a more serious injury. Backpacking first aid kits come with all the essentials and won’t take up too much room in your pack.
- Knife: You never know when a knife might come in handy on a hike—even something as simple as cutting rope or branches you or your dog gets tangled in—and it takes up very little room in your pack, so it’s smart to bring.
- Waterproof matches/lighter/fire starter: In the unlikely event that you get lost on your hike, having a way to start a fire means you have a way to stay warm and potentially signal to others.
- Emergency shelter: You never know what’ll happen on a hike—you could get lost and have to spend the night, severe weather systems could move in quickly—but having a packable emergency shelter like a light, emergency bivy or even a space blanket can keep you safe.
- Food: Bring more food than you think you’ll need for a day hike. If you get lost, you’ll be thankful.
- Water: Rehydrating on a hike is essential. Bring more than you think you’ll need in case you get lost.
- Layers: Bring packable layers that you can take off if you get hot or add on if a cold weather system moves in. This includes an insulating layer and a waterproof shell, so you’re ready for any weather that could come at you.
On spring hikes, you should also bring along:
- A waterproof day pack: Spring weather is notoriously wet, so having a day pack that will keep the water out means all your preparation in bringing insulated layers, first aid kits, and other items that need to be dry to do their job, won’t go to waste.
- Waterproof boots: You’ll likely encounter mud and maybe even sections of lingering snow on your spring hike. A pair of waterproof boots with good traction will help keep your feet dry and stable on the trails.
- Gaiters: If you know there’s likely to be snow on the trail still in sections, wearing waterproof gaiters over waterproof boots can keep moisture out of your pants and socks.
- Microspikes or crampons: Even though the snow has melted, some trails can still be icy or snowy in the spring. Microspikes or crampons can help provide traction and prevent slips and falls on icy terrain.
This list might seem like overkill, but if you’ve ever wandered off-trail on a hike and had trouble finding your way back, you know having a few extra emergency items in your pack go a long way.
What’s more, in the spring, being prepared for changing weather conditions will simply keep you more comfortable—and set your hiking season off on the right, dry and comfortable foot.