Hiking gear list: our favorite, trail-tested day hike gear

Hiking gear list: our top favorite, trail-tested day hike gear

What to pack when you’re hiking North Carolina's beautiful terrain? Here's what’s in our backpacks on hikes near Asheville, off the Blue Ridge Parkway and in WNC's stunning wilderness.

Western North Carolina’s beauty is simply stunning and its trails are abundant – enough to fill a hiker’s bucket list for years. There’s nothing better than an epic day hike on North Carolina’s stretch of the Appalachian Trail, or a day chasing Asheville’s gorgeous waterfalls. But accidents happen, on trail and off – so before we chase down an adventure, we grab a backpack and some essentials from our hiking gear list. No matter the trail distance, it’s important to pack a few hiking safety, first aid and navigation essentials to help make your adventure a fun (and safe!) one.

Our hiking gear list features our favorite, trail-tested gear that we’ve tested over thousands of miles and over hundreds of adventures. In the Asheville area and looking to gear up before you hit the trail? Grab nearly everything on our list (and a whole lot more!) at Diamond Brand Outdoors, our favorite, locally-owned outdoor gear shop. They’ve got two locations, both staffed with local trail experts and gear gurus: one in downtown Asheville, and one near the Blue Ridge Parkway, just south of the city.

What to pack? Hiking gear list: our favorite, trail-tested day hike gear

Hiking gear list: the essentials

We carry these gear staples on almost every trail, no matter the distance. They’re small, lightweight, and essential to help our hiking crew stay safe, on the trail and prepared for the worst, in case it happens.

Backpack & organization

A solid gear list starts with a comfortable backpack to carry our gear. The Osprey Stratos 24 (and women’s Osprey Sirrus 24) are our favorite backpacks for warm-weather hikes throughout the South, combining light weight, an integrated rain cover, comfortable padding and support, and an enormous ventilated back panel to help keep us cool and dry. For shorter, just-off-the-Parkway hikes when we’re not carrying much gear, we carry the Osprey Daylite Daypack. The Daylight is a weight-conscious pack that remains comfortable on full-day adventures, and despite its light weight, offers a roomy 16L for gear storage.

To keep our backpacks organized and help keep small gear from settling in the bottom, we use a few Sea To Summit Ultra-Mesh Stuff Sacks. They’re ultra-lightweight, and their see-through mesh makes it easy to find gear inside. And to keep our mobile phones, cameras and electronic gear dry through deep creek crossings (or in an unexpected rain shower), we pack a few Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil Dry Sacks.

Hiking gear list: our favorite, trail-tested day hike gear

First aid & safety

Bug bites, sunburn, accidental falls, cuts: they’re unfortunate, but can happen anywhere. The Adventure Medical Ultralight Watertight First Aid Kit offers first aid basics to help treat injuries – and it’s packed in a small, lightweight, waterproof package that makes it foul-weather worthy. We also pack an emergency whistle, sunscreen (Beyond Coastal is one of our active-wear favorites), insect repellant (Sawyer offers great protection in DEET and Deet-free options), and hand sanitizer.

A just-too-beautiful sunset, or a wrong turn on the trail, can leave us out after twilight. We always pack a lightweight headlamp to help us navigate the trail when daylight is lingering. Our favorite is the Black Diamond SPOT: it’s bright (200 Lumens), waterproof (IPX8 to more than a meter submersion for 30 minutes), and dimmable for varying brightness. (A headlamp is great for keeping our hands free, but a compact flashlight will work, too.)

Keeping dry and warm is important on the trail, so we always pack extra layers, and a lightweight rain shell. Our go-to rain jacket for the trail is the Marmot PreCip; it’s seam-taped, waterproof and breathable.

Hiking gear list: our favorite, trail-tested day hike gear

Navigation

Let’s face it: it’s easy to get turned around, and it happens to the most seasoned, trail-savvy hikers. We carry a Garmin Oregon 600 handheld GPS to track our adventures. Garmin’s offline maps keep us on trail even when there’s no cell service, and the Oregon 600 has a ton of other useful features, like time to sunset and route trackback. But electronics can fail, and batteries die, so we always carry a Suunto A-10 Compass and a topographic trail map (the National Geographic Trails Illustrated Maps are waterproof, tear-resistant, and include many of the most popular trails and wilderness areas).

Hydration & fuel

Staying hydrated is ultra-important. Our favorite water bottle is the classic Nalgene Tritan 32oz Wide Mouth: they’re nearly indestructible, and have held up to years of abuse. (While we always pack more water than we think we’ll need, we carry the Sawyer Mini Filter as a lightweight, compact way to filter from backcountry water sources.) And we always pack extra calories, including a few energy bars and a powdered or tablet energy drink mix, to help replenish electrolytes and a few calories, too. On longer adventures, we love Greenbelly Meal2Go Bars. Greenbelly is a meal-replacement bar that packs 1/3 of a day’s nutrition in a tasty, lightweight package.

Longer hikes & deep wilderness adventures

Our list for long hiking adventures in the backcountry adds a few safety essentials. (Since we have them, and they’re small, we often carry these on shorter-length trails, too.)

Backcountry safety gear

When we’re hiking remote wilderness areas and adventuring on Appalachian Trail, we carry a short length of lightweight paracord, an emergency blanket, and a mini roll of duct tape for gear or boot repair in a pinch. A lightweight folding knife, eye drops, and a fire starter, like the Adventure Medical Kits Fire Lite Kit, are lightweight additions that can prove useful in an emergency.

What to pack hiking? Our favorite, trail-tested safety gear for backcountry hikes

Backcountry water filtration

We always use our Sawyer Mini Filter to filter backcountry water sources when our water bottles are running low. While we’ve never had to use them, water treatment tablets work in an emergency, too: we carry Portable Aqua Purification Tabs as a backup to our everyday water filter.

Extras: relaxation, fun & convenience

There are a few pieces of that we almost always pack. They don’t count as essentials, but we’ve used ’em and loved ’em for many years.

Hiking gear list: an ENO Hammock is the ultimate mid-hike way to chill

The perfect mid-hike chill

There’s nothing like summiting a view-packed summit and settling in to soak in the view. And nothing beats the uber comfort of an ENO DoubleNest Hammock, hung with ENO Atlas Hammock Straps. We’ve trekked hundreds of miles with our ENOs, from lofty summits to sandy beaches and whitewater-filled rivers. They’re quick to set up, oh-so-comfortable, and the perfect place to chill out.

Ditch the water stops

Sure, Nalgene Tritan water bottles are easy to fill, easy to clean and ultra-durable. But when we’re packing in the miles on a long adventure or trail run, stopping to dig out the water bottles is a drag (and so, we admit: we probably don’t hydrate as much as we should). The Osprey Hydraulics LT 1.5L hydration reservoir is a game changer: it fits easily into our Osprey Stratos 24 and Osprey Sirrus 24 backpacks and offers quick, on-the-move hydration through a hose and bite valve secured to our backpack straps. The result: we drink more, and more often.

Eric Champlin is a writer and photographer who loves to hike, run, backpack, kayak and cycle the southeast. He’s the editor and founder of Atlanta Trails and Asheville Trails, online magazines that cover the South’s best outdoor adventures. His mission? To inspire others to get fit outdoors and explore the South’s incredible scenic beauty.

Eric is also a freelance writer, photographer and creative director.