Trails in Northern California

Trails in Northern California

Leave No Trace!

Visit for more information about Desolation Wilderness. Visit or call 1- 877-444-6777 to make park reservations. Visit Campfire Permits to get a permit online. More about Leave No Trace principles.

July 03, 2015

Packing for a Fun and Safe Hike

For a full day hike, you may have read "The Ten Essentials" lists over and over again on the internet.  The lists sound like everything but the kitchen sink, and you are only going for a full day in the woods, hiking along designated, maintained trails.  I routinely see people on the trails with no more than water, sunglasses, and maybe a sandwich...maybe not even water and food.  You think that in a worse case scenario you would be close enough to others, or a ranger, and some help should you get sick, injured or lost.  Many of us tell ourselves those troubles only happen to people who are not familiar with the outdoors, or the daredevils and adrenaline junkies who tempt disaster.
My day hiking pack is ready to go with all the items shown and mentioned below!

Over the years I confess that I have been, on a few occasions, over-confident and under-packed.  I have used a space blanket, needed medication, a fire starter, or my bear spray (safely locked in my car trunk!)  I have gone without food, and been stuck in unexpected snow flurries overnight without a headlamp....really. Stormy Nightfall will fill you in on some of that.

For now, let's explore what you really need, basics, and some fun things too.  To nail down your own list, I recommend that you research your destination's weather forecasts, trends, and learn about the topography, distances, and consider possible injuries.  View maps of the trails you want to use, and get a "quad" map. Those are available at the local ranger station.  While you are visiting the ranger station, ask them about potential hazards (like high creeks, snow drifts, and tree falls), as foresters have given us great insights about current weather and trail conditions.

Here is a bullet list of things I pack:

  • Snacks/food.
I enjoy salami, jerky, trail mix, cheese, and those sports jelly bean like snacks.  I may take french bread.  It holds up well and I am not big on sandwiches, but need the carbs.  Whatever it is, pack some food that will survive your hike!
Favorite snacks and fizzies (electrolytes)
  • Water and a purifier, electrolyte fizzies.
Keep your electrolytes balanced out there.  Otherwise you may find yourself battling muscle cramps that were avoidable.  Be sure not to get dehydrated.
I love my SAWYER Squeeze Water Filtration System, and my Life Straw.  I look for lightweight, compact means and prefer to avoid batteries. (No, I am not getting compensated for telling you my favorite products).

The Life Straw needs to be broken in like some shoes.  It is very hard to suck the liquids through until you do it a few times.  I recommend doing this at home to make it more fun on the trails.  Kids need it broken in for them.  On the trail it is lightweight and easy to carry.
This is the water system I use.  All you do is screw on the filter to the water bag and you can drink through the filter or pour the water through the filter into your cup to add electrolytes before drinking.

  • Small tarp/space blanket.
The little thin, super compact ones are fine.  We once used a one-man, but for two of us it was very narrow, and even for one person, the extra width would be helpful, so I recommend you get a two-man....they weigh next to nothing and are compact.  My friend got me the heavier red/silver one that is the backdrop for these photos. I like to have it for sitting on, for a picnic and a nap, and using on snow! Minimally, take the featherweight one though. Be aware, they tear pretty easily in use.
The ultra light style of space blanket (Mine has been used!).
  • 1 brightly colored item.
It is preferable when you are in the wilderness to see people in natural colors.  It keeps wilderness experiences more pure.  But in the event of injury or getting lost, having one brightly colored item to capture the attention of helpers may save you misery and get you help more quickly.  SAR teams will have a higher likelihood of finding you faster.  My red tarp with the silver back is excellent!

  • A small first aid kit, with bandaids, bug spray, an extra dose or two of medication you take at home, and I suggest having moleskin.  I have used it for years!  Cut  a piece that is larger in diameter than your hot spot. Next cut a hole the size of the hot spot (discard it) and use sports tape to keep the disc in place without covering the actual blistering area. This really helps prevent a full blown, torn up, bleeding blister. The opening leaves room for swelling and protects the skin from rubbing. 

Prepackaged first aid kits are available, or self pack one. 
Mine also includes migraine meds.

Remember your epi pens!

You can pick up small prepackaged kits for reasonable prices and I get a small one for each kid to carry, just in case, (without medications they shouldn't handle of course).  Prepackaged kits will have a couple of acetaminophen, ibuprofen, Benedryl tablets, and probably some ointment good for treating small wounds.

  • A light source like headlamp +/or flashlight.
I prefer a good headlamp, then if you are out after dark your hands are free.  Just be sure your batteries are good!  My zipper tab tiny flashlight is practically invisible it's so small and is handy.

  • Sunglasses, a hat or scarf.  
    I love my Panama Jack hat!
I need prescription glasses now.  My college professor recently got the ones that go from sunglasses to indoor glasses quickly and she loves them out on the trails. They are on my wish list!  If you don't need prescriptions, get some good sunglasses with rubbery stems to help them stay on if you get sweaty.  I like NATIVEs.
A baseball cap is sufficient, but I like my hiking hat with a wide brim all the way around.  I may look like a hiking geek, but I am sheltered and cooler.  I love the fabrics nowadays.  I can dunk my hat in the cool stream and feel cooler on my hike without wrecking my hat.

My Native sunglasses with flexible stems.
  • Fun items for the kids.
We take mini cards to play Go Fish or dice to play a form of Yahtzee.  I also have a lightweight floppy frizbee that is bright orange, making it easy to find in the woods.  I did some internet searches and found some fun games to play while hiking.  My grandson enjoyed doing "What if" scenarios and learned a lot about finding your way.   

  • A pencil and paper have come in handy.

  • Make a tradition. We have a little "toast" of an adult beverage carried in a flask when we reach our destination.  One time a friend made old-school chocolate, cream-filled cupcakes, frosted with a traditional white zigzag stripe across the tops for another friend's birthday.  Figure out something fun!  Repeat!

  • A camera.
You never want to forget at least a cell phone camera for selfies.  I like my Nikon Coolpix S9700.  (No compensation here either, just my favorite).  I bring 2 extra batteries!

  • Your dog.
I could be writing a whole article on this. Use good judgement about taking your dog. Be sure your dog is fit enough.  They get tired and sore just like people. Dogs get sick, over-exerted, affected by heat and cold they are not accustomed to.  They also get lost on occasion. A dog's feet may not be up to a hike in the woods unless they are out on trails often.  Dogs with bloody feet are not what any loving pet owner wants.  If you decide to take your dog, take a leash and use it if your dog is not under verbal control.  When a dog is not accustomed to the woods, it may get over-excited and harass wildlife, frightening wild creatures, and may put itself in harm's way.  Please carry dog waste out with you. Carry food, water, first aid and a leash. 

  • Shoes.  You will surely wear them anyway, but please be sure they can stand up to the terrain you will be on.  Shoes Have Soles too is a true story of an urbanite hiking in her tennies.  I have learned that appropriate shoes are a safety factor. (I do carry light weight flip flops or water shoes on a carabiner on my pack to wear at the destination) Try looking at REI's shoe guidelines to help decide how much shoe you need.  I also found out that for the kids, shoes matter.  One came with shoes recently purchased and didn't make it in a mile before being upset about blisters!  It turned out he had a growth spurt and his next pair purchased when we got home was 2 sizes larger!  Check the kid's shoe fit before you go.

A real hiker's shoe with multiple repairs needed to get through the hike!

Leave No Trace.  Remember Wilderness Etiquette.

And with that, I wish you a happy and safe hike!

7/4/2015 Photos added and related written edits.
Italicized edit on 7/5/2015