hiking, tips

Hiking Basics: What You Do and Don’t Need for a Day Hike

My wife and me in our typical hiking clothes; Amanda looking stylish, and me looking like a dork as usual.

Hiking is a great way to stay in shape, get outside, and see some beautiful places in the world. It’s also easy to get started and requires little gear. Unfortunately, like most things, people like to complicate it.

The last thing you need to do is ask what you need on a hiking message board. The response will be overwhelming, and you’ll end up at Bass Pro Shop with a list that will total in the hundreds.

People are wimps these days. My little boy and I were recently on a two-mile trail at Brownwood State Park in Texas—a trail that my kids have hiked since they were barely old enough to walk, and often in flip flops. In other words, it’s not treacherous. We came upon a group of college aged people, all wearing backpacks, enough water to fill a pool, hiking clothes from head to toe, and carrying trekking poles. In fairness, it may have been their first time outside, and I’m sure it must have been frightening for them.

Hiking doesn’t have to be a big deal. After all, it’s nothing more than taking a long walk in a pretty place.

Here are a few things that you do and don’t need for a day hike.

You Don’t Need:

  1. Expensive hiking boots.

My wife and I have gone on many all-day hikes in Texas, and she has hiked some of the most difficult trails in places like Yosemite National Park in California and Zion National Park in Utah. What do we wear on our feet? Regular socks and our old running shoes.

There’s nothing wrong with hiking boots and socks if you want them and can afford them, but they aren’t necessary unless you are planning to hike a hundred miles along the Appalachian Trail. Tennis shoes usually work just fine.

Amanda in running shoes at Yosemite National Park.

  1. Trekking poles.

I’m sure there’s a decent argument for trekking poles, but I can’t make it. Unless it was a cool looking stick I found on the trail, I’ve never carried a pole on a hike. Can you walk without a stick? If not, consider the poles. Or take your cane. But don’t listen to the hiking expert who has more gear than sense; poles are usually not essential.

  1. Special clothing.

If you are the least bit active, you already have clothes that are suitable for hiking. I’ve worn jeans on shorter winter hikes, but they weren’t comfortable. I prefer cargo pants or shorts (lots of pockets) with a belt, and I like to wear a thin, long-sleeve button down shirt with a collar for sun protection. Sometimes, I just wear a t-shirt. My wife generally wears her running clothes—running shorts or tights and a tank top. If you are hiking in the cold, dress in layers of anything comfortable.

Big Ben and me on a four-mile jean hike at Caprock Canyons State Park.

  1. Survival gear.

I’m discussing day hikes in this post, and not a trek across the Alaskan wilderness. Are you really going to get lost and spend the night on a five-mile trail in a state or national park? Bring what makes you comfortable, but there’s no need to weigh yourself down with enough gear to start a trading post.

You do need:

  1. Plenty to drink.

Plenty depends upon the length of a hike. Most state park trails we hike as a family take an hour or so. Each one of us usually takes one bottle of water, which is just about right. If it is hot, or we are hiking further, I wear a backpack with more drinks. I’d rather bring too much water than not enough.

This is the most important thing you will take. My wife and I underestimated what we needed during a hike at Caprock Canyons State Park that ended up taking much longer than we expected. Before we finished, I was tempted to drink out of holes the buffalo stomped in. I didn’t but was tempted. That hike was rough.

  1. Real shoes.

Whether hiking boots or running shoes, you need a shoe that ties, will hold up your entire hike, and is comfortable. I once met a young man and his girlfriend on a trail who were asking hikers for duct tape. She started in sandals, which broke a few miles into the hike. You don’t want to be in that situation. I’ve also hiked several miles in cowboy boots, and I don’t recommend that, either.

  1. Sun and bug protection.

To me, a hat and sunglasses are essential. I also like to tie a bandana around my neck. Not only does it help protect me from the sun, but it is stylish and can be useful in many ways. Before you hit the trail, it’s a great idea to apply sunblock, insect repellant, and Chapstick.

  1. Trail map and compass.

If you are going to hike in the parks, take a copy of the park trail map with you. You can get one for free at the headquarters. Also, take a compass. They are inexpensive and fit nicely in the pocket of your cargo pants.


The most important things to take (other than water) are common sense, awareness, and respect for nature and other hikers. No amount of fancy gear will make up for a lack of those. Now, take a hike.


Hikers, what essential things do you think I’ve left off?

About Nowhere Tribune

A husband and daddy, striving to love his neighbors and be kind to his pets. I love good food, good beer, and a few good friends. My other interests are hiking, taking walks, lifting weights, reading books by manly authors like Hemingway and Twain, and splitting fire wood with my bare hands.


49 thoughts on “Hiking Basics: What You Do and Don’t Need for a Day Hike

  1. You forgot the most important thing! Snacks! 😀 You’re right on with your other points. I often take other things on longer hikes , such as a headlamp, rain poncho, toilet paper. I do use poles sometimes on steep trails to save my knees on the descents. Hoping to go out again next weekend. Trying to cram in all the hiking I can before the summer heat ramps up.

    Posted by pkadams | May 13, 2019, 8:49 pm
    • This past weekend when we took a dead end trail and it was getting closer to dark, I began wishing I had a flashlight. So yeah, those are all good points! And it looks like we were really close to each other this weekend! We were at Colorado Bend, and I think you were at Pedernales, weren’t you?

      Posted by Nowhere Tribune | May 13, 2019, 8:52 pm
    • And you’re right–snacks. I carried a lunch box full of snacks this weekend. We especially like little tangerines when we hike.

      Posted by Nowhere Tribune | May 13, 2019, 9:09 pm
  2. PS: Beautiful family! Your wife is gorgeous and you’re not a dork.

    Posted by pkadams | May 13, 2019, 8:50 pm
  3. I’ll make an argument for trekking poles. Though I do agree they’re not essential.

    Trekking poles will save wear on your knees when you’re going down steep declivities. But you have to know how to use them right. Put your hands through the lanyards (those loops at the tops of the poles). Then guide the poles as you walk, with your fingers, while letting your body weight be absorbed through your wrists, lanyards, and poles, rather than through your fingers. This eases stress on your knees, displacing it to your shoulders.

    Trekking poles are also useful for fending off dogs, poking marauders in the eye, and gauging the depth of quicksand. Other than that, there’s no need to take trekking poles on a hike.

    Posted by Tippy Gnu | May 13, 2019, 8:51 pm
    • My wife also said the poles would be helpful when going down steep hills, though she’s never used them. I can see how they’d be helpful, and especially for older hikers. (Am I an older hiker?)

      Posted by Nowhere Tribune | May 13, 2019, 8:54 pm
  4. You are correct about the essentials of hiking needs. I have a decent pair of hiking boots and cargo pants. I do use trekking poles and the most use I get from them is moving spiderwebs off the trails. I laughed about the Caprock Canyon adventure because it happened to me also.

    Posted by bigguyhiking | May 13, 2019, 8:52 pm
    • For someone who hikes a lot, I think boots would be a great investment. But not having them shouldn’t keep anyone from going on a hike. Yep–it gets hot in that canyon!

      Posted by Nowhere Tribune | May 13, 2019, 8:55 pm
  5. Good advice. I hiked quite a bit when we lived in Virginia and only bought hiking shoes.

    Posted by Snowbird In Training | May 13, 2019, 9:58 pm
  6. Most of our hikes turn out to be accidental. We travel, we visit new places, we’re driving along and see a park. Let’s hike! Of course I’m not dressed for it so I’m either too hot or too cold, and usually end up with blisters. Someday maybe we’ll plan for it!

    Posted by rivergirl1211 | May 14, 2019, 5:16 am
  7. Great post! My SO and I like taking short hikes. Our favorite is from our town to the next town over (about 6 miles) on a trail between the two, and when we get to the next town we stop for a beer and tacos. 🙂

    As you suggested, we usually just wear normal jogging clothes, tennis shoes, and carry a water bottle and a couple of chocolate something to snack on. Added to your list are sunglasses and cell phones. The phones are used to see how far we are, plus we could call someone if anything were to actually happen.

    We are planning a two-day hike in a month or so, something that requires us to bring food and shelter. That’s a bit more gear intensive, but we still like to keep it simple.


    Posted by thespartanatheist | May 14, 2019, 9:12 am
    • Hey, SA. It’s been a while! Thank you for the comment. Yep, cell phones and sunglasses are important. A hike for beer and tacos sounds like the best kind of hike. And yeah, the two-day will require a little more. Have fun!

      Posted by Nowhere Tribune | May 14, 2019, 9:42 am
  8. Ever try Disc Golf? It’s basically hiking and every once in a while you toss a disc at a “disc-hole-pole”. My “Zen Sport”.

    Posted by GoodAttitudeFood Dude | May 14, 2019, 12:09 pm
    • I’ve never tried it but thought it looked fun. I’d get frustrated though. Kind of like regular golf. I like walking and looking, but don’t like trying to hit a ball.

      Posted by Nowhere Tribune | May 14, 2019, 12:10 pm
  9. I do love a good night hike!

    I live along the Appalachian Trail so I often get to see bearded men trying to hitch their way into town. My brother picked one up once. My mom told him that’s how people get murdered.

    Posted by Shayne | May 14, 2019, 12:23 pm
    • A night hike sounds fun, but not when all those bearded dudes are lurking about. Your mom sounds wise. How cool that you live along the Appalachian Trail. I’d love to check it out.

      Posted by Nowhere Tribune | May 14, 2019, 12:25 pm
      • Haha you’re right! I’d rather encounter a skunk.

        I’ve only hiked short segments, but it’s definitely picturesque.

        Posted by Shayne | May 14, 2019, 12:55 pm
  10. You guys are adorbs! Great photos.

    Posted by Clever Girl | May 14, 2019, 2:55 pm
  11. Lol I’ve got a friend who always takes way too much food and supplies, but it’s all on him as he has to carry it.

    As to what you need to bring, it really depends on the type of trail you’re on. Casual shoes are fine if you a following a well formed path, but there are many walks in New Zealand I’ve done where I’m glad I invested a bit more in some hiking shoes. Especially if you are walking on a rocky, uneven trail, or if you are doing stream crossings of some kind. Your feet will thank you after.

    I would also add, if you are hiking in any alpine area (even if no snow), take a highly wind resistant jacket and some thermals. You may not need to actually wear it, but just in case. The weather (and winds) are much more unpredictable up there. Although to be fair, most alpine hikes aren’t one day…

    Posted by TheCovertAtheist | May 15, 2019, 3:58 am
  12. I’ve never used hiking poles either. I’m guessing they provide some kind of stability? Most people who have them probably don’t need them. If you were crossing some stream boulders or something, I could maybe see some use in them.

    Posted by TheCovertAtheist | May 15, 2019, 4:03 am
  13. Helpful post, I agree, less is more. My lady and I enjoy hiking, but after slipping on enough rocks at Acadia Park in Maine with my old and work sneakers and she gliding effortlessly through in her Oboz boots I too invested in a pair for our upcoming trip to MT/WY/ID for some state park adventures. But like you said, it’s easy to find yourself in a store (REI for me) just jumping down the rabbit hold of gear asking yourself “do I really need this?”

    Posted by kravmagamindset | May 15, 2019, 8:05 am
    • Alright–I’m convinced on the boots. My feet got wet on my last hike (after I wrote this post), and was already re-thinking that one. I hope you have a great trip out west!

      Posted by Nowhere Tribune | May 15, 2019, 8:56 am
  14. I need to find time to get out hiking.
    I generally also carry camera gear so I have to decide what I lug around and what stays home. So, sometimes I decide to only shoot a certain focal length to see what I can do with that.

    Bug spray, sun screen, and lens cleaner for my glasses.

    Posted by Jason Frels | May 15, 2019, 9:30 am
  15. I’ve hiked around Yosemite National Park. It was a Fitbit Challenge and I managed without hiking poles!

    Posted by Michelle Le G | May 15, 2019, 11:29 am
    • That is awesome. I really want to go there someday. My wife goes to all the cool places because she has a group of friends who love to hike. Someday!

      Posted by Nowhere Tribune | May 15, 2019, 12:01 pm
  16. I would add that it’s important to know your route. I know someone (smart people) who got lost in the dessert with their 6 year old daughter. They weren’t prepared at all. Someone else I know was lost on a trail. They went for a short stroll before breakfast, got lost, and spent 6 hours walking without any of the items that you mentioned. Both cases were a living nightmare.

    Posted by Middle Aged Momma | May 16, 2019, 11:05 am
  17. Awesome tips and great pictures! And you don’t look like a dork at all!

    Posted by Mountain Aquarius | May 17, 2019, 4:40 am
  18. Snacks! And I’d disagree on the shoes. I’ve seen so many people in Nikes on more dangerous hikes (4 Mile, Angel’s Landing) because they probably don’t know better. Not all sneakers are created equal…

    Posted by wandersofme | May 28, 2019, 9:39 pm
    • Snacks are a definite! And yeah, on the big, difficult hikes, I’d agree that the hiking shoes would be best. My wife hiked Angel’s Landing in her running shoes, but that probably wasn’t ideal. Thanks for the comment!

      Posted by Nowhere Tribune | May 29, 2019, 6:37 am
  19. Good information!! To use or not to use poles is always debatable. I am an avid pole user but I am over 50 and I use them for stability, same with my Merrel Boots (ankle stability). Although to each his own, I’ve seen flip-flops on people older than me climbing down the Grand Canyon and climbing up the Mist Trail at Yosemite and they did just fine!!! Totally agree with survival gear on a day hike!!

    Posted by thegenxtravels | May 31, 2019, 12:03 pm
    • Thanks for the great comment. My wife and I were discussing boots and poles yesterday while walking the dog. Both could come down to a matter of preference, really. The main point is that they are not essential for a day hike. Some people think they can’t start any activity without having all the “right” gear. The fact that you’ve seen people at Yosemite in flipflops shows that you can get started (though I wouldn’t want to hike in those!). Thanks again, and happy hiking.

      Posted by Nowhere Tribune | May 31, 2019, 12:24 pm
      • I agree with people going nuts on the “right”gear. I live in Iowa and took a short little mile loop hike and saw a few people totally geared up as if they were doing a 10 mile day hike!! And yes polls are a matter of preference. I guess I should clarify that I use them on day hikes where I’m climbing or hiking rough terrain, and I agree they’re not essential for most people but for older people who are more susceptible to falling or stumbling, they are important!

        Posted by thegenxtravels | May 31, 2019, 12:40 pm
      • I’ve seen the same–people with all the gear for an easy 1 mile hike that my kids have done in flip flops since they were big enough to walk. It’s a little funny. I assume they spend little time outside the city.

        Posted by Nowhere Tribune | May 31, 2019, 1:32 pm

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