Even if you are just headed out for a few hours it is important to make sure you have certain things in your day pack. Whether you are out for a few hours or a full day you should always have enough supplies to sustain you for a full day, without bogging you down with unnecessary weight and bulk. Most of these items are common sense items to seasoned hikers, but sometimes we need a refresher, or maybe you know someone who is just getting into hiking.
- First Aid- Often overlooked but highly valuable to have in your pack. For day hiking purposes you don't need much. The kit should have basic items to take care of blisters, pain killers, and minor scrapes/cuts. Make sure you get a kit that allows room to add additional items. I always make sure that my first aid kit includes a syringe to irrigate a wound effectively. Adequately cleaning your wound is critical, even if you are just out a few hours. I also add a energy gel or energy bar. This stays with my first aid kit and is used if I get stranded with an injury or are out unexpectedly longer then anticipated. A simple source of calories is excellent to have in case you come across someone with low blood sugar on the trail. The best kit to purchase for day hikes would be the Adventure Medical Kits Ultralight and Watertight .5. The kit is waterproof and organized in an easy to locate package. The kit also allows room to add additional items if desired.
- Whistle- If for some reason you become stranded and need rescue your whistle may save your life. A whistle will travel farther then a human voice and is easier to maintain over extended periods. It can also help to locate members of your group if you get separated, or thinned out on the trail. The whistle doesn't need to be anything special, but the louder the device the farther the sound will carry. Most packs come with an integrated whistle, typically found on the chest strap. This is typically effective enough, but if you feel that you may want more power, look into the Storm Whistle.
- Maps- With the current apps available on cell phones there is no excuse not to have a map available. For short day hikes in more populated areas only having a map app is sufficient. Make sure you have an application that works when the cell service is turned off. Even then you may need to pre-download maps to view them offline. If your day hike is in a more isolated area then I recommend taking a secondary map. My preferred method is a non-digital format just incase something happens to the cell phone. Most common day hiking areas are covered by the Green Trails Maps but any similar map for your area would work.
- Headlamp- We joke when packing for a day hike that I am leading that you must include a headlamp. I have a reputation for easy hikes turning into something more midway through. Joking aside it is critical to pack a small headlamp. It doesn't need to be anything fancy, just enough to get you down the trail if you are caught in the dark. Your headlamp would also work great as a signal if in a rescue situation. Although your phone has a flashlight, I would not recommend relying on that only. Petzl offers excellent value with light performance and ease of use on many of their headlamps.
- Rain Gear- Even in Arizona I always make sure to take rain gear. Not only is it critical if you get caught in bad weather it doubles as emergency shelter. If your are stranded overnight your rain jacket and rain pants can help keep you warm when temperatures drop. I recommend using a jacket with a hood for added versatility. Most technical rainwear packs down into one of it's pockets and takes up a minimal amount of space.
- Snacks- For shorter day hikes I normally just grab a Skout Trailbar, just in case I am out longer then expected. For longer hikes make sure you bring enough food to sustain you for 24 hours. Even if you just plan on hiking for half the day, making sure you have extra food will make you more comfortable when things don't go as planned. You don't need much to sustain you for 24 hours, just make sure to choose energy dense foods. I prefer homemade nut butters, for variety and ease of transport.
- Water Treatment- Make sure to always have a method of treating water on the trail. Companies make drops, or dissolvable tablets that work great and weight nearly nothing. Being able to treat trailside water could save your life if you become stranded or simply run out of water. My preferred method is Aqua Mira Drops, because they are lightweight and effective. You may even mange to fit them in your first aid kit for added organization.
This is by no means a comprehensive list of what you should have in your daypack. These items are often overlooked or forgot about. All these items can be easily packed and do not weigh much, giving you no excuse not to carry them on your next adventure.