Even if you’re not planning to do an overnight hike, you want to always be prepared to spend a night if you get lost or injured on the trail. Always carrying these 10 essential items will make sure you’re prepared:
Navigation: map (print and/or on your phone), compass, GPS device
Headlamp: rechargeable or bring extra batteries
Sun protection: Sun glasses. I prefer long sleeves, long pants, and a wide brimmed hat, hood, or buff instead of sunscreen. Sometimes, sun gloves, too.
First aid: foot & blister care, insect repellent, basic meds, bandages, irrigation syringe, athletic tape
Knife: don’t need a big knife. A small one is fine.
Fire: storm-proof matches and/or lighter
Shelter: carried at all times (can be a light emergency bivy)
Extra food: not as critical as water, but make sure you pack electrolytes
Extra water: or a water filter or other way to purify water
Extra clothes: rain jacket, insulated jacket, hat and glove
In terms of specific gear, the list below shows what I use for typical summer backpacking trips. Most items include links to the product description. For day hiking, I carry an Osprey Talon 22 and bring along most of the same items I would take backpacking, except I would leave home the shelter, sleep system, and cook kit.
A particular note about First Aid Kits: The most important piece of gear is the one between your ears. Knowledge is key. Learning how to identify and treat common injuries and illnesses can literally save a life. If you don’t know how to use the equipment in your first aid kit, it won’t do you much good to bring it along. I highly recommend taking a NOLS Wilderness First Aid course so you can feel confident that you’ll be prepared if something goes wrong.