Hiking is the foundation of almost all Scouting activities. In this article, you’ll learn the 10 must-have items for your next hike, whether it’s a 100-mile backpacking trip at Philmont or a 1-mile stroll in your local state park. 🙂
Written by Eagle Scout and pro outdoor journalist, Owen Clarke.
Cole here — I asked Owen to share his experience on ScoutSmarts, as he’s a true expert in outdoor adventuring. Get ready, this article will be a real treat! You can learn more about Owen’s work at his website, oclarke.com.
As a Scout, hiking is likely the activity you’ll be participating in the most. Whether you’re heading out backpacking, rock climbing, fishing, orienteering, birdwatching, or anything else, anytime you’re moving on two legs in the outdoors… Well, you’re hiking!
Since earning my Eagle 10 years ago, I’ve embarked on a career as a full-time outdoor adventure journalist, so I’ve been on plenty of hiking trips. I became the first person to hike a new 170-mile trail through the Slovenian Alps. I’ve hiked to the summit of all 58 mountains in Colorado higher than 14,000-feet. I’ve been caught in blizzards in the Moroccan Atlas and fallen off of volcanoes in Ecuador.
But, even though Scouting taught me to “Be Prepared,” I’ve forgotten almost every item on this list of 10 hiking essentials at some point or another, and I’ve seriously regretted it! The point is… The gear you take hiking is the foundation of your outdoor kit, and there is NO piece of gear more important than these 10 items.
So, let’s go through the 10 things you absolutely need for any Scout hiking trip (and cover a few bonus items, too!). As we go through this list, check your gear and make sure you have these items in your closet. If not, I’ve put a helpful link below each item so you can quickly order one online!
This way, you can make sure you’re prepared for your next Scout adventure, wherever it might take you! 😀
PS — If you click my link and then make a purchase, ScoutSmarts will earn a small commission. You’ll pay nothing extra, and can freely support the site! I’m confident that these items will help you or a loved one to have a safer, more fun time on any Scouting hike!
1. A Sturdy Water Bottle
The humble water bottle may not be the most exciting piece of hiking gear, but it’s probably the most important! One good rule is to drink about 1 liter (32 ounces) every two hours while hiking. That’s one Nalgene water bottle. If you’re hiking in Summer heat, like at Philmont, then you’ll probably need to drink even more water to stay hydrated and avoid heat exhaustion or heatstroke.
Some hikers prefer to use water bladders with drinking straws but there are pros and cons. Water bladders with drinking tubes make it easier to keep drinking water while moving, but the drinking tubes can be really hard to clean, especially if you use mixes for flavored drinks.
The choice is yours, but I personally prefer plain ol’ Nalgene water bottles, like the one at the link below. The wide mouth makes it easy to pop in ice cubes or pour in hydration mix. This plastic is lightweight but very strong. I’ve dropped my Nalgene off a 100-foot cliff while rock climbing, and it was totally fine when I rappelled down to pick it up!
2. Reliable Rain Gear (A Poncho and Pack Cover)
Every hiker needs rain gear, as in some regions, rainstorms can happen at a moment’s notice! You don’t just have to keep your body dry though, you need to keep your gear dry, too. That’s why, proper rain gear for hiking consists of a poncho (or rain jacket and rain pants) and a pack cover. Using the link below, you can find my best recommendation for an adult-size and child-size poncho kit!
For your pack cover, this one from Osprey (see below) is a great option, with Medium, Large, and X-Large sizes that will fit a variety of backpacks. Simply stretch the cover over your pack, cinch it tight, and get back to hiking! 😉
3. A Fire-Starting Kit For Emergencies
You may not plan on starting a fire during your hike, but it’s always important to bring some form of fire-starting system with you. You never know when you might get stuck in the woods overnight, and being able to build a fire is crucial to staying warm in the wilderness.
While some hikers might only bring a lighter, matches, or flint and striker set to make a spark, you need to carry some tinder, as well, to get your fire started. This Bushcraft Survival Kit is an excellent choice, with an included tinder rope that’s easy to ignite. Dryer lint is also an effective (and free!) form of tinder. Carrying a small lighter as a backup never hurts, as well.
4. A Long-Lasting Headlamp
Even if you don’t plan to be hiking after dark, you should always bring a headlamp. Compact, lightweight headlamps like the Black Diamond Spot 350 are a lifesaver in low-light conditions. These types of headlamps keep your hands free, unlike a flashlight, and weigh less than a baseball!
Whether you’re caught hiking after the sun went down, up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom while camping, or up before dawn to cook breakfast, this headlamp will make sure you can always see what you’re doing in the dark!
5. A Comfortable Hat To Block The Sun
Sun protection isn’t just important in summer. Did you know you can still get sunburned in winter? Some of the worst sunburns of my life have occurred while hiking in winter, when sunlight reflects off the snow. Even cloudy days don’t block all the sun’s rays. The point is, you can get sunburned any time the sun is in the sky, so wearing a proper sun hat is important anytime you’re hiking.
Some hikers prefer sun hats with really wide brims (like this one from Quiksilver), but the problem is that these brims often rub up against the back of your backpack, particularly if you’re carrying a large multi-day backpacking pack. These large hats are also hard to fold and pack into your backpack.
So, I prefer sun hats with small brims, like the one from Outdoor Research below. They’re easy to stuff into your backpack (or even your pocket) but still provide good sun protection.
6. A Fully-Stocked First Aid Kit
A first aid kit is a must-have for all outdoor adventures, especially hiking. Many scouts opt to make their own first aid kits like you do during the First Aid Merit Badge, but you can also start with a pre-designed first aid kit and then customize it yourself.
If you’re only heading out for a few miles, you can often remove some items from your first aid kit, such as extra moleskin, or opt to bring a smaller kit. However, carrying a first aid kit is essential, no matter how short your hike is.
This first aid kit from Adventure Medical Kits is both lightweight (3 ounces, so about the weight of a deck of cards) and fully waterproof. That way, even if you get caught in a rainstorm, or fall into the river while pumping water (it happens to the best of us, trust me), your first aid kit will stay dry! 😛
7. Your Trusty Compass
Sure, our smartphones can do a lot of things nowadays, including GPS tracking, but you should still always bring a compass. Phones can get wet, phones can die, and phones can act funky when they have no service.
A sturdy, well-built compass will last you for years and years to come and will operate in all conditions, whether it’s the dead of winter or the heat of summer. Maybe someday you’ll be adventuring on your own as an adult, still using the same compass you used as a Scout (I sure am!).
The Suunto M-3 baseplate compass linked below hits the perfect mark between affordability and reliability. This is a compass that can perform the most complex orienteering calculations but is still lightweight, durable, and affordable. There’s no reason not to have a compass like this in your pack whenever you head out on a hiking trip!
8. An Accurate, Correctly-Scaled Map
A compass isn’t very helpful without a map, right? No matter where you’re hiking, you should carry a physical map of your planned route and the surrounding area. I, unfortunately, can’t give you a link to purchase a good map here, because I don’t know where your next hike will take you.
But what you should do is look for a map that is waterproof and tear-resistant, if possible (National Geographic Maps – Trails Illustrated are a great example). Nothing is worse than having a paper map turn into mush after it gets wet, or get ripped when it’s jostled around inside your pack.
Finding a waterproof, tear-resistant map may not be possible, depending on your destination, but if you can’t, at least keep your map in a plastic Ziploc baggie or another semi-waterproof container.
9. A Length Of Thin Rope/Cordelette
A short segment of cordelette (a small length of rope) is a critical tool for building anchors while rock climbing, but it’s also something I always bring when I go hiking, as well.
A cordelette is basically a small, thin length of rope. It’s wider than a shoestring but thinner than a full-sized rope like you’d use for climbing. Still, it’s incredibly strong (the cordelette below is rated to hold more than 4,000 pounds!).
Cordelette comes in handy in endless ways. You can use your cordelette to repair backpack straps and tent guy lines, hang a hammock, lash together a shelter, or even hold your pants up if your belt breaks! This PowerCord from Sterling Ropes is a great option.
10. Athletic Tape (For Injuries And Repairs)
Most first aid kits, like the one linked above, include medical tape of some kind, but it’s normally a pretty small roll of tape, and not very durable. So I always bring an extra roll of climbing tape or athletic tape with me whenever I’m hiking!
Like cordelette, sturdy athletic tape can come in handy in a variety of ways. I’ve used athletic tape to patch up holes in my backpack and my pants, shirt, or jacket. I’ve also used it to temporarily patch a tent fly, fix broken belt buckles, and act as a tourniquet when I didn’t have anything else on hand.
For example, just a few weeks ago I fell down a gully while on a solo trip to hike up Mt. Charleston in Nevada, and slashed my hand open in several different places. My athletic tape helped me stop the bleeding until I could get back to the trailhead!
Athletic tape isn’t something that all Scouting books will recommend, but it’s so lightweight and cheap that I believe it’s always smart to carry a roll with you.
So there you have it! These are the 10 things you need for your first hiking trip (or any hiking trip, for that matter!).
But remember, if you’re going on a camping trip, these basic hiking essentials aren’t enough. You can find these additional items thoroughly covered in Cole’s essential Camp Packing List!
That said, whether you’re car camping and going on day hikes or heading out into the wilderness for a ten-day backpacking trip, I’ve found these 10 essentials to always be necessary. However, there are a few non-essential honorable mentions that I wanted to share with you as a bonus… 🙂
5 Bonus Hiking Essentials
Looking for a little bit of extra gear? Hey, I don’t blame you. It never hurts to be over-prepared. Here are a few bonus items that might not be absolutely “essential” but will definitely help you enjoy your hiking trip a lot more!
Bonus Item 1: Quality Socks (And A Spare Pair)
If there’s one part of your body that’s going to get muddy or wet on your hiking trip, it’s your feet. Wet feet means blisters, and can also lead to frostbite in cold weather, among other problems. Extra socks are lightweight, easy to pack, and will definitely come in handy if your feet get wet. These ultralight socks from Darn Tough are super comfy and durable.
Bonus Item 2: Trekking Poles
Not every hiker prefers trekking poles. But on hikes where you’re gaining or losing lots of elevation, carrying a heavy pack, or moving on rocky trails, trekking poles can help you keep your balance and ease the weight on your feet.
Black Diamond’s Carbon Z Poles aren’t cheap, but they’re reliable. They’ve taken me into canyons and up mountains around the world (and they’d likely still be in my pack today, but a thief nabbed them when I was living in New Zealand). Anyways, you won’t regret grabbing a pair.
Bonus Item 3: A Keffiyeh
A keffiyeh, or shemagh, is a scarf commonly used in many parts of the Arab World for protection from sun, wind, and sand. I wear one almost anytime I’m hiking. Your keffiyeh functions like a bandana but is much larger, more breathable, and able to be tied in a variety of ways. Also, it looks pretty dang cool! 😀
Bonus Item 4: A Hammock
Hammocks aren’t much use when you’re hiking. But when you get tired and want to take a break, they really come in handy! Hammocks are a great way to chill out and relax after a long day hiking, and Wise Owl hammocks are some of the lightest, most reliable, and easiest to set up on the market.
Bonus Item 5: A Deck of Cards
Like a hammock, playing cards aren’t going to help you out much when you’re hiking, but they’re a great compact, lightweight source of entertainment for you and your fellow Scouts during any downtime you might have. These USA-made playing cards feature a unique National Park poster design on each of the 54 cards!