Packing for a Desert Day Hike

So what do you carry for a day on the trail?  I’m a bit of a boy scout so I tend to overpack and prepare for the worst.  My basic philosophy is to assume that every day hike will turn into an overnight.  Here is my basic kit (you can get most of this stuff on Amazon.  See Desert Dog’s Ultimate Day Pack Page):

– Lightweight hiking boots; I know some people hike in athletic shoes or sandals, but I think that is asking for trouble.  Foot and ankle injuries are bad news on a hike.

– Long pants; shorts are OK for established trails, but if you are going to do any bush whacking you’ll come back looking like cats were climbing up your legs.  I like the ultra-light weight pants from Mountain Hardwear, Royal Robbins, and others.  They are just as cool as shorts and protect your legs from the sun and most of the thorns.

– Shirts; anything in the breathable, quick drying fabrics will do here.  I’ll generally throw a light weight long sleeve into my pack just in case.

– Hat; definitely.

– Water; can’t get enough in the desert.  Between me and the dog I can easily drain a 3-liter Camelbak in three or four hours of hard hiking.  I’ll probably start carrying more for the summer.  Do yourself a favor and buy a Camelbak or similar hydration system.  A 20 oz water bottle is just a tease in the desert.

Camelback Cloud Walker 1340 cu in

Camelbak Cloud Walker 1340 cu in

– Pack; I use a Camelbak Cloud Walker.  This is a 1300 cu in pack with a 100 oz water bladder.  There is plenty of space in this pack for an overnight trip and two sets of straps on the outside for bulky items.  Mine cost about $60, but you can get a day pack for any budget.

– Warmies; yeah, I live in the Arizona desert, but the mountains can get downright cold at night.  I carry a longsleeve shirt (I love the Patagonia Capilene series), a space blanket, and a fire starter kit.  Depending on the weather I’ll throw in a hat and gloves and maybe a warmy bottom.  Warmies are also good for treating shock if you get hurt.

– First Aid; bandages, gauze, slings, and tape.  I also like alcohol or iodine wipes & antibiotic ointment.   Might want to add sunscreen as well.

Very basic 1st Aid Kit

Very basic 1st Aid Kit

– Headlamp; have you ever stayed out too long and then had to hike back in the dark?  We all have (or will).  Get a headlamp.  The LEDs give off a ton of light and your hands are free to swat mosquitos or grab at tree roots on your mad slide down the slope.  Oh yeah, bring an extra set of batteries.

– Map and compass; I guess a GPS is a suitable substitute, but I still think everyone should know how to use a map and compass.

– Water purification tablets; a filter would be nice too, but in a pinch you can filter the crunchy stuff out with your shirt and just use the tablets.

– Knife; million and one uses.

– 550 Cord; you can never have enough rope or cord in a survival situation.  Use it for shoe laces, snares, rigging a shelter, slings & splints, and on and on.  Parachute cord, or 550 cord, is one of the best cords you can find.  It will hold up to 550 lbs (thus the name) and doesn’t take up much space.

– Signaling; I just realized my whistle was missing from the picture so I put another on in the pack.  I’d also consider a signaling mirror.  The mirror & whistle are two of the best signaling devices out there and they don’t take up any space.

– Food; I’ll generally throw in enough energy bars, fruit, nuts, and candy to last me through the night.  On day trips I pack food more for the energy & calorie content than its ability to fill me up.  (Saja’s Note:  Don’t forget about the dog!  We need to eat and drink on the trail as well.  I don’t normally eat much during the day, but when I’m hiking I get hungry.  Where’s that chicken jerky?)

– Camera; yup, I bring one of these.

Day Pack Contents

Day Pack Contents

Altogether my pack weighs around 5 lbs without the food and water.  That’s not a lot of weight but it gives me an incredible amount of survival flexibility.  Granted my pack is a bit of an overkill for Tucson’s well travelled trails like Sabino Canyon or Tanque Verde Falls, but I still take it out of sheer habit.  When you get off the beaten path however (like my recent trip up Espiritu Canyon) then a well thought out survival kit is essential.

Shopping Guide:

Don’t want to shop around?  You can get most of what you need on Amazon.  Check out Desert Dog’s Ultimate Day Pack Page.

See also, Packing for a Day Hike Revisited.

© 2009 – 2010, The Desert Dog Journal. All rights reserved.

Filed Under: ArizonaField CraftGearHikingSurvival


About the Author: Tucson, AZ Realtor & Investor. My true passions however are hiking and whisky (although generally not at the same time). If you have a question about any of these just drop me a line!

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  1. Yolanda Zeus says:

    What an excellent blog, I’ve added your feed to my RSS reader. 🙂

  2. […] dictate that the prudent hiker will pack accordingly.  A couple of months ago I posted Packing for a Desert Day Hike.  The article outlines the gear I carry for a typical out and back hike, and if it wasn’t […]

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