Planning a day hike can create stress, even among veteran hikers. Researching the day’s weather forecast, sorting through your gear options, and trying to account for unexpected changes are all part of planning a successful day hike. It’s no wonder that one of the most common comments guides have heard over the years is, “I don’t know what to pack.”
Many hikers rely on what’s known as “The 10 Essentials,” a list of 10 categories that a hiker should fill with an essential item. For example, the “navigation category” could include a map, a compass, and/or a cell phone or satellite device.
The list, created by the Seattle Mountaineers in the 1930s, might be a good starting point for novice hikers. However, it can lead to an overindulgence of “stuff” loaded into day-packs and may lull hikers into a false sense of safety in having *all* the essentials they need.
Hiking in the White Mountains is a transformational experience. When considering a hike, would-be adventurers often envision clear blue skies, songbirds in overhead canopies, majestic views from above-treeline ridges, and the sense of smallness in comparison to the vastness.
Hiking in the White Mountain National Forest is legendary for its iconic views and creating feelings of peace and tranquility. But that feeling becomes dampened when weighed down with an overstuffed pack or when an emergency happens due to lack of planning or unexpected circumstances.
Instead of regurgitating the top ten list, here’s our take on what items you need on a day hike in the White Mountains.
A well-fitted, adjustable day pack is an essential item. You have to store all of your other items somewhere, and a comfortable day-pack is the place to do it. If you don’t already have a day-pack, it’s best practice to head to your local outdoor store for a proper fitting. Try on different options and look for a pack that offers fully adjustable shoulder straps, a chest strap, and a waist strap. There are many size options, and what you need depends on how far you’re going or how long you’ll be on the mountain. At Guineafowl, we prefer a 22 to 24-liter total capacity, which is plenty for a single day, but not too much to be bulky and create a lot of wasted space and weight.
Our bodies are 70% water, so yes, you’ll need some liquid nectar while hiking. Most daypacks will have a built-in area to properly store a hydration bladder and access for a drinking hose. If yours doesn’t, it may be time to upgrade, as bottles are bulkier and more challenging to access on-the-go. We recommend a day pack that can fit a 2-liter bladder for most people. Of course, you can always fill it halfway if 2-liters is more than you’ll need, but you certainly don’t want to run out.
In addition, we recommend carrying some form of water purification device if for any reason you may blow through the whole two liters. For example, hikers often rely on a steripen, life straw, or dissolvable tablets. Regardless of what you choose, it’s a good idea to have a way to filter water on the mountain.
Food is nearly as important as water on a hike. Not just because your body requires you to replace the calories it’s burning to lug you up this mountain. But also because snacks make the journey more enjoyable–trust us. A standard hike in the White Mountains can burn over 1,000 calories; if you work hard on climbs and spend a whole day out on the trails, it's easy to burn over 2,000 calories! While you don’t need to replace 100% of what you burn, you should be fueling regularly and eating before you notice your hunger–having something to eat every 45 min to an hour is a good rule of thumb.
Some of our favorite trail snacks include quick, on-the-move options like energy gels and energy bars that don’t require stopping to consume. We also refuel with “real food” options like beef jerky or beef sticks, apples, bananas, mandarin oranges, and trail mix with nuts and seeds. Regardless of what you prefer, opt for lightweight items that can be eaten quickly and easily while hiking (and don’t require ice packs to stay edible!). Also, consider what waste items your trail snacks create and have a plan for storing trash during your hike. It’s good practice to leave one area in your pack or one pocket in your clothing as trash storage.
Clothing and Shoes
Proper attire is of utmost importance when hiking or exploring the outdoors. First and foremost, comfortable, well-fitted, and well-tractioned shoes will make the hike safer and more enjoyable. If you don’t own hiking boots or sneakers, it’s best practice to get fitted properly at your local outdoor store.
For the rest of your body, a good rule of thumb is light,
moisture-wicking layers. The layering system keeps your body temperature comfortable and limits perspiration. Since the weather conditions can change dramatically between your car and your destination in the White Mountains, you want to limit sweating–our body’s natural cooling system–which will make you even colder if the temperature drops. Our guides typically wear a thin merino wool base layer (t-shirt in the spring and summer, slightly heavier long-sleeve in winter and fall) and a full zip mid-layer with light insulation. We’ll also pack a wind and waterproof shell to protect against the elements. In the winter, it’s a good idea to carry a packable, insulated (850g) down layer that fits over your mid-layer but under your waterproof shell.
Finally, for the sake of your sanity–and your back and shoulders tasked with carrying the load–it’s a good idea to check the weather early and often before heading out. If it’s sunny and 65 with a zero percent chance of rain, you don’t need to pack four layers of clothes, a hat and gloves, and a balaclava “just to be safe.”
Accidents happen. That’s why it’s a good idea to carry a few first aid items on your hike. What you should carry depends on several factors, including how long you’ll be out, how many people are in your group, the type of terrain, and access to cell phone service and/or road crossings. A good basic kit includes band-aids (blisters are the most common trail mishap), medical tape or an ace bandage, NSAIDs, tweezers, and antiseptic spray or ointment. You can also buy a pre-packaged first-aid kit if you prefer. Be sure to check expiration dates and replace items as needed.
A paper map, compass, GPS, phone, or a satellite device. Pick one or two, and learn how to use them. If using a mobile device, always download the map before getting to the trailhead, as you should expect to have service gaps in the mountains. It never hurts to carry a paper map of your trail, but be sure to pack it in a ziplock bag to prevent moisture from making it unreadable!
Some hikers prefer to carry a pocket knife or multitool and a whistle. Experienced hikers may also carry matches or another form of fire-starter. We don’t feel these items are essential, and we discourage the idea of starting fires for warmth unless it is vital to survival. Most well-planned day hikes do not result in forced overnights in the backcountry.
Carrying a headlamp or flashlight falls under the “use your best judgment” category for us when talking specifically about day hikes. Often a “just in case” item, it doesn’t add much weight to your pack, and you’ll be happy to have it if you somehow get lost on the mountain. Also, if you plan to enjoy your outing leisurely, you may want to grab a light (and don’t forget extra batteries!).
It’s good practice to lay out all your gear in an organized fashion prior to packing to make sure you have everything you need.
While some hikers will forever pack for the “just in case” items (and even more!), we suggest a common-sense approach. We encourage hikers to do their research, know the trail conditions and weather forecast, and learn their preferences. Hiking is more enjoyable when you can escape the weight of your world, not pack it on your back for the journey.
If you’re considering an outdoor hiking adventure in the White Mountains, but would rather leave the packing and planning to the professionals, Guineafowl can help. Guineafowl Adventure offers curated, full-service, end-to-end guided group hiking and outdoor experiences, so you can relax and enjoy your time communing with nature in the White Mountains. Visit our website to see a listing of scheduled hikes, or contact us to book a corporate or private hike for your small group.