Whether you're hiking for two hours or ten, always be prepared.
By Trent Jonas
When you set out on a hike, you probably don’t expect that anything will go wrong—and most of the time, you’re right. But things occasionally do go sideways. There's always a chance you lose your way, lose track of time, or potentially injure yourself. That’s why it’s always a good idea to grab a day pack with a few essentials, just in case the unforeseen happens. From compasses to basic medical kits, here are a few emergency items to bring on your hike.
These days, most of us carry a smartphone with a GPS or a standalone GPS unit when we’re hiking. But batteries die and reception can be lost, so it’s always wise to carry a backup compass—and, of course, know how to use it for orienteering. The Suunto A-10 Recreational Field Compass is a lightweight, but full-featured, instrument that will take up almost no room in your pack. But it could very well save your bacon if you ever become bewildered.
If you find yourself out on the trail as dark begins to fall, a headlamp is a wise thing to have along. You can light your way while keeping both hands free. The Petzl Zipka Headlamp is a great option for a daypack. It’s about as big as a fun-sized candy bar and has a retractable headband, so it takes up very little space. Get the USB-rechargeable Petzl Core battery, and you won’t have to worry about digging up those AAAs when you need more power.
For most day hikes, the chances of getting stuck in the wilderness is probably slim. But if you’re planning a day-long hike in a remote area, you can never be sure. That’s why an emergency shelter/blanket, like the SOL Emergency Bivvy—which fits in the palm of a hand—is a wise addition to any daypack.
When you’re setting off for a day hike, it can be easy to decide not to bring a jacket: It’s nice out, so why bother; or a jacket is too bulky to carry along. The Patagonia Storm Racer Running Jacket cuts through such excuses. It rolls down into the size of a small fanny pack and only weighs six ounces. Listen to your mother, and always bring a jacket!
Chances are you won’t need to filter water from an emergency source, but what if you do? That’s why the LifeStraw Personal Water Filter is an awesome addition to your hiking kit: It takes up very little space and doesn’t expire, so it will be there if you ever need it. Be sure to bring a metal water bottle, as well, like the Hydroflask 24-ounce bottle, so you can carry water with you, store water if you have to filter it, or, if necessary, boil it right in the bottle.
Lightweight, compact, rugged, and water-resistant, the Nekteck 21W Solar Charger is designed for outdoor use. It can fully charge a smartphone in a couple hours and has the capability to charge two devices simultaneously. It’s a great way to make sure you’ve always got enough power for your smartphone, GPS, or digital camera.
A knife is always a handy addition to a daypack, and a multitool adds a whole lot more functionality to a basic blade. The Leatherman Signal Multitool goes one notch farther by adding firestarter and saw tools into its slim, compact design. But a firestarter won’t always help if you don’t have dry fuel. So, be sure to pack something to get a fire going, like Coghlan’s Emergency Tinder.
Cuts and scrapes and bug bites and poison ivy and blisters happen. There’s no reason to not be prepared for any of the little medical emergencies that can crop up on the trail. The Ultralight/Watertight .7 Medical Kit, from Adventure Medical Kits, is packed with enough medical supplies for up to four people on trips up to four days. And it won’t take up much space or weigh down your pack.