Packing for a Day Hike Revisited

Redfield from SouthMy recent day hike into Redfield Canyon Wilderness highlighted that not all day hikes are created equal and safety considerations 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 for the fact that I wanted to try my new Osprey pack this is what I would have taken to Redfield Canyon.  Upon reflection, my day pack would have been completely inadequate due to one very important factor:  access.  Most of my day hikes are fairly close to civilization in lightly travelled but well defined areas with decent access.  Redfield Canyon is the exact opposite.  It is remote, difficult to get to, harder yet to get into and out of, and large enough to present a significant challenge to a search party.

A successful hiker is a prepared hiker.  That does not mean that you need to pack in the kitchen sink, rather it means that you are prepared for reasonable contingencies.  The more remote your hiking area, the more contingencies you should be prepared for.  You’ve no doubt heard the saying, “Hope for the best.”  Well, hope is a poor planning factor and you are better off planning for the worst.  My day pack is adequate to keep me comfortable for 24 hours under most situations, but it is lacking in water purification, food, and first aid supplies if the emergency should extend to 48-72 hours or more.  My advice is to carry a good 48 hour pack for day hikes in remote areas, especially if you are hiking alone.

What that looks like is very dependent on your experience and conditions, but here are some guidelines:

  • Extra clothes.  Remember layers are your friend.  No cotton, please!
  • Shelter.  Something to keep the rain and sun off, and something to wrap up in.  A poncho does double duty if you have cord and space blankets are wonderful.  I prefer these over a tent and sleeping bag for day hikes and one-nighters unless it is really cold.
  • Fire.  Matches or a lighter and some dry tinder.  Dryer lint works great.  I also like pine pitch but it is harder to light.
  • Water.  Carry more than you need in the desert and bring a filter and/or tablets.  I recently heard of a guy that uses swimming pool chlorine tabs and shaves a bit into his water.  Anyone else heard of that or tried it?
  • Food.  Two or three days worth of emergency rations is not much weight.
  • Signaling.  A whistle and mirror are mandatory in my book.  For night time bring a couple of chem lights tied to a three foot string.  Spin this in a large circle and you can be seen for miles, especially from the air.
  • Navigation.  Map, compass, and GPS.  If you can’t read a map and compass then take a course, because the GPS will fail when you need it the most.
  • First Aid.  You can really overdo this if you aren’t careful.  I like Motrin or Tylenol for pain and swelling, and Benedryl for spiders, bees, and other bites and stings.  Throw in some iodine or alcohol pads for cleaning wounds and plenty of wraps and bandages.  Sanitary napkins (ie Kotex) make great field dressings.  You can bring a sling or two or just use cord and safety pins to improvise.  I am also a big fan of SAM Splints and Coban self-adhesive wrap if you can get them.  This may sound like a lot, but you can build a very effective first aid kit for a pound or two and you really don’t want to cut up your clothes for bandages in a survival situation!
  • Miscellaneous.  A good knife and headlamp (with extra batteries and bulb).  Eye protection for blowing dust, snow, etc.  Duct tape and good cord have a million uses.

Basically, a day pack for remote areas should look a lot like a multi-day pack but with less food and comfort items.  After all, a broken leg in a place like Redfield Canyon Wilderness could easily become a three day ordeal.

One final bit of advice.  Always leave your hiking plan with a responsible party and set a 911 time so they know when you should be considered overdue!

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

Filed Under: Field 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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