Figuring out what hiking essentials you need in your backpack to start hiking can seem overwhelming.

So many times I’ve wished I had my rain gear or my hand warmers or an extra energy bar.

One hike, after a fall on rocks, I wished I had a first aid kit, not just bandaids. Or the time in Indian Peaks Wilderness with my daughter without bug spray. Never again!

If you don’t have it, chances are you’ll wish you did when on a trail…

The list below is for you to know exactly “what to bring” on your hiking adventure and not intended to endorse any certain product. This is what’s in our pack, our favorites may not be yours…. 

Note: Written from a Colorado gal hiking perspective. Choose according to your location.


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Herman Gulch Trail, Near Loveland Pass, Colorado

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First, the backpack…

I have a smaller backpack for easy day hikes when I need minimal gear. And one for more extensive all day hikes & high altitude hikes.

Osprey Backpack Tempest 9 …. my favorite smaller day pack. I use it for hiking easy to strenuous trails ALL the time. I love this pack. Fits perfectly, extremely comfortable, moves with me, hydration pack stays even. Holds what I need on summer days when less gear is needed. 

Osprey Backpack Tempest 40 … when I need all the extras (winter gear especially) for a hiking or snowshoe day trip. Osprey Packs are one of the most popular brands out there for men and women. I end up using mine a lot for weekend hiking, we tend to go far and sometimes end up above timberline where the weather gets fickle. (even in summer!)

I would highly suggest trying on backpacks first before purchasing one. Every brand has lots of styles and sizes. We are all different shapes and comfort is key to a great hike.


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Easy Hike, Lower Cataract Lake Trail, Summit County, Colorado


The nitty-gritty hiking essentials that go inside …


1. Emergency Blanket,  If you’re in Colorado, every season can turn to winter, or you could become injured on your hike and need to wait for help or wander off the main trail and become lost. They are tiny, easy to pack, and may just save your life. I have never been lost, injured, or needed to use mine. But, just in case!

2. First Aid Kit, Bring a good first aid kit on any day hike no matter the length. We’ve had our share of non-serious yet unexpected injuries! Extend your first aid by taking a class with the American Red Cross or a Wilderness First Aid Class.

3. Map & Compass, Bring a map of the area you are hiking (so you can find help if needed) a campground, fire tower, a road, the direction out if lost. GPS and cell phones are nice to have but not always reliable like a map and compass.

FOR SAFETY in all hiking adventures I highly recommend a Garmin GPS. I have the Garmin inReach Mini and I LOVE IT. Gives me peace of mind for any emergency and it allows me to communicate by text with family and friends. Works wherever you are which is amazing. 

4. Fire Starter, Just in case, you never know if for some reason you’ll have to stay overnight, or if a storm develops, temperatures drop and prevents you from continuing for a while.

5. Whistle, A must-have! Everyone on the hike, kids too, should have a survival whistle.

6. Bear Bell, Noise! It works. If hiking in a quiet, non-crowded area it’s recommended that having noise is the best way for keeping the wildlife away. My bear bell clips on to my pack and I never go without it, even in hibernation season. Easy to use, you can have it jingle or be silent, just keep it with you. Mountain lions don’t hibernate!

7. Carabiners, Just the best little gadget ever! Too many uses to list, just get a bunch, clip them on your pack. You will use them.

8. Rain Gear, Always bring even on clear days! Rain in Colorado is cold, rain at high elevations is shockingly freezing! I could tell you numerous stories about being at high elevations, starting a hike with warm sun, turning to rain, then sleet and wind, sometimes even snow in one hike.


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McCullough Gulch Trail, Breckenridge, Colorado


9. Trail Snacks, Bring more than you need! Endless options are available. Energy bars, energy chews or gels, granola bars, trail mix, almond butter, tuna packets, bananas. Variety of products to choose from. My hiking friends bring snickers!

10. Hydration & Electrolytes, It’s easy to dehydrate at high altitudes by simply walking, especially in Colorado. Really a necessary “extra” to carry with you on every hike. Nuun is our go-to brand and now they have them with caffeine or with vitamins. 

11. Hiking Water Purifier, Drink plenty of water before starting out, drink throughout the hike, trying to always leave some for later. (you never know if you will find a water source to replenish & use your purification source). 

12. Headlamp or Small FlashlightInclement weather, injury, finding you are lost, the hike is longer than you anticipated and it’s getting dark, there really is not a reason why you should not have one!

13Multi-Use Tool/Duck TapeMulti-use tool comes in handy in so many ways. Duct tape, for most anything, especially gear repairs. I recently discovered the Trango Piranha Knife. It’s the perfect emergency knife to hang off your backpack. The locking blade can’t open when it’s on a carabiner. 

14. Bug Spray, One of the best things in Colorado is its lack of insects, but up high in the mountains in summer the mosquitoes can get crazy and abundant. Pull out your snack or lunch and the horseflies appear. Small, compact, works great for us.

15. Sunscreen, Bluebird skies that we love in Colorado comes with intense sun exposure. Use when cloudy too! Never leaves my pack.

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Three Lakes Trail, Keebler Pass, Colorado


The extras … for an even better day but not essentials

Trekking Poles Just about every hiker I know uses trekking poles and they swear by them. I have to admit, I have never used them. Why? I like my hands free for my camera. However, I recommend them since it is highly suggested and I’m the only one I know who doesn’t have a pair. I will admit on a couple of high altitude hikes up steep rocky terrain I did kinda wish I had them. 

Camera I love to take pictures and bring my Sony Alpha a6000 mirrorless camera everywhere!  It’s small, easy to carry, and takes fantastic photos. 


My winter must-haves added to my day hiking backpack …

Hand Warmers Living in Colorado and having experienced tremendous weather changes within an hour (sometimes minutes), I have hand warmers in my pack in summer/spring, winter/fall. I know, I’m a nerd, I wear gloves with shorts sometimes. 

Crampons They work and you will use them on snowy or icy trails! Easy to hang on the outside of your pack. Suggest going to an Outdoor gear store and try them on with your hiking boots.

Gaiters Come upon deep snow, or snowshoeing, a great extra to have.


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Continental Divide Trail at Monarch Pass


Find a backpack you love and fill it up … HAPPY TRAILS!

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