Mountain Day Hike Packing List
Hiking in the mountains is one of the best day trips out there. We absolutely love it. A hiking day trip offers an amazing way to get some fresh air and burn a lot of calories while seeing some of the most spectacular scenery. Everything in the mountains is on a bigger scale – the views go on forever, the sunset lasts for longer as it bounces off different peaks, and the sky is much more clear. But this scale comes with a few problems. If you are not familiar with the area it is easy to get lost. The steepness of some trails mean that if you are not wearing the correct footwear you might be face planting your way down from the summit. And the micro climate of the mountains means that you might encounter heavy rain followed by bright sunshine followed by thunderstorms in the same day.
But fear not! We have complied our comprehensive guide for what to pack on a day hike in the mountains. If you are staying with us in Morzine or Le Grand Massif then this guide provides the perfect list for what to bring on your self-guided walking holiday. Our day trips are typically between 10km – 15km with up to 1000m of vertical incline meaning they can take anywhere between 4 – 8 hours. If you are not staying in one of our chalets then this guide can still be used as your checklist for a day hike in the mountains. Please note that the below pictures are equipment that we personally use for our hikes in the French Alps. We are not sponsored by any of these brands – it’s just the equipment that we use and we like!
Bout de Monde (‘End of the World’) in Sixt near Samoens
Going through your own checklist before heading out into the mountains is a great habit to get into. Along with a packing list it is a good idea to do a little bit of preparation before starting your trek. Firstly, you must remember that mobile phone coverage cannot be guaranteed on the mountain so make sure that you tell someone where you are going and during what time period. Secondly, the condition of paths and tracks can change due to poor weather so you need to make your own judgements about the safety of the paths and tracks on the route. Use a map to check the topography of the route to get a better understanding of the steepness of the proposed route. If the forecast predicts rain then it might be best to avoid any particularly steep sections as the rain will make the trails slippery and potentially dangerous. Thirdly, check the time for sunset. If you are an inexperienced hiker we suggest leaving a good margin for error to get you home before it gets dark.
What to Wear
Walking Boots – the style of boot you go for is determined by the type of hike you are doing along with personal preference. A heavy boot with high ankle support will be very stable and support your foot. However it will be heavy and inflexible. A lighter boot (closer to a trail running shoe) will be more flexible meaning you will be able to cover the ground more quickly. However a trail running shoe will offer less ankle support making it potentially unsuitable for longer day hikes when the fatigue starts to set in.
Walking Trousers – the best walking trousers are windproof, waterproof and breathable. There is an inevitable tradeoff between being lightweight and breathable while at the same time being waterproof. We suggest going for the lightweight option and if there is any rain forecast then you can pack an additional pair of waterproof trousers. Consider wearing shorts instead of trousers on a hot day or zip off trousers for the best of both worlds.
Sports Top – Again think light and breathable. The best moisture-wicking hiking tops are made from 100% polyester because of it’s unique ability to wick moisture away from the body. This keeps you dry and cool as the wicking fabrics draws the moisture into the top layer of the garment so that they don’t sit directly on your body.
Waterproof Jacket and Trousers – The best waterproofs are both fully waterproof and breathable. Goretex is the main brand out there but other options are available which use essentially the same technology. The problem with being both waterproof and breathable is that these garments can be expensive. Personally we think that a cheaper less breathable pair is perfectly adequate for a day hike. The whole point of goretex is that it allows your body to be less sweaty as you walk in the rain because your body heat can escape the jacket and trousers. This is more important on multi-day hikes compared to one day trips.
Both the above waterproofs are goretex but not 100% necessary – goretex comes with a price!
Windproof Jackets and extra layers – This depends on the forecast so be sure to check the weather before you head off. Obviously if it is blazing sunshine at 30 degrees for the whole day then you can pack light. Waterproof jackets also tend to be windproof so you don’t normally need to take both. However if you are in any doubt we suggest that you pack more layers than you think will be necessary. Remember that on a cold day although you might be warm when you are walking you will be taking breaks where it is important to have extra layers available to keep your body temperature from falling to much.
Merino wool is a fantastic underlay for colder Autumn hikes
Hat and Gloves – Again this is weather dependent but it is always best to err on the side of caution. Your head and your hands along with your feet will be the first things to get cold if you have not brought the correct gear. Make sure that your gloves are fully waterproof otherwise they will obviously be completely useless in the rain! A wooly hat is fine but make sure that your waterproof jacket has a waterproof hood.
Rucksack – Having a correctly-fitting rucksack is essential to keep you comfortable on a long trek and will help avoid injury and prevent using more energy than necessary. In order to ensure the correct fitting you should locate the uppermost part of your hip bone with your fingers. Your hips provide the foundation for your rucksack on your body and will support the majority of your pack’s weight. Then fill your rucksack with improvised weights such as a couple of bags of sugar and rice to simulate a fully loaded rucksack. Put on your rucksack and adjust the straps – the weight should be spread across your back (make sure that heavy items are spread across the rucksack so that one side is not heavier than the other) with most of the weight being supported by your hips. Most people find it comfortable to have the top of the hip strap in line with the top of the hip bone. In terms of rucksack size it really depends on the distance of your hike and personal preference for what you want to carry – for example it’s nice to have a portable chair to relax in for lunch but do you really want the extra weight? Typically for a day hike you can use anything between 20L – 50L.
This rucksack is 48L – on the big side for a day hike but offers great back support
What to Bring
Mobile phone – Make sure that it is fully charged and check if there is likely to be mobile reception where you are walking. If there is not then it is extra important to tell someone where you are going. If you are not familiar with the area then there are excellent Apps such as Komoot where you can download maps and routes. The maps can be stored temporarily on your phone which means you don’t need 4G to follow them. These Apps use GPS instead of 4G which is good for remote mobile reception areas and also for your battery life.
Mobile battery charger – You can buy these for as little as £15 which will give your phone at least 1 full charge. If you can’t bear walking without checking your emails or listening to Spotify then a portable phone charger will keep your battery charged for the full day.
A great little compact mobile phone charger by Energizer – very sturdy
Map + Compass – Again if you don’t know the area well then be sure to pack a physical map and compass. Don’t just rely on your phone because it could get wet or run out of battery unexpectedly. Many modern maps are a plastic composite which means they stay dry in the rain.
If you bring a compass make sure you know how to use it before you head off into the mountains!
2L of water – The amount of water you take is fairly subjective. You might sweat a lot generally and obviously if it is a blazing hot day you need to take more water with you. However 2L is a good guide if you are out on the trails for more than 4 hours. For longer day hikes we strongly recommend investing in a water filtration and/or water purification system. They both clean water that you can collect from rivers and lakes but there is a difference in the level of protection they provide. Water filters are designed to physically block waterborne protozoa and bacteria, but not viruses. A water purifier comes in tablet form that dissolves in your water to combat all 3 classes of microbes, including microbes. The advantage of both is that you don’t need to carry all your water from the start of your hike – you can filter or purify water that you collect along the way. You can learn more about the 2 different options here.
These are traditional 1L carabiner style water bottles. Anything will do as long as they don’t leak!
Packed lunch + snacks – Be sure to have a big breakfast packed full of slow release carbohydrates – think porridge oats and weetabix. There is a lot of science out there about the best snacks to take out on a hike. It can get very complicated! Essentially you need to remember that you will be burning a lot of calories and these need to be replaced periodically during the day. It is not unusual to burn several thousand calories during a full day of walking so try and do a rough calculation about how much food you will need. If you have a health monitor such as a fit bit then you will be able to see exactly how many calories you burn during the day.
Sun hat + sun screen + sun glasses – Along with checking the weather forecast be sure to check how exposed the hike will be. You will need more sun protection if you are doing a high altitude trek along an exposed ridge compared to a low altitude trek through a forest.
First aid kit – Exactly what you need depends on how long you are going for and what terrain you are tackling. However it is always worth bringing a few essentials – plasters, a hydrophilic bandage, alcohol wipes, first aid scissors and tweezers are a good place to start. Hiking and camping shops stock small first aid kits that can fit neatly in your back pack.
Spare socks + blister plasters – These are particularly important if it is raining. Hiking in the rain can be miserable if your feet get wet and cold. Even if you have fully waterproof hiking boots along with waterproof trousers the rain can find a way into your boots. The more you have ‘broken in’ your hiking boots the less likely you will need blister plasters. Wear your new boots inside the house and try walking around town for a couple of hours before going on a day hike.
Walkings poles – these are not essential but will make a big difference on longer hikes – particularly those with steep sections. Not only do poles offer more stability but they also take pressure off your joints on long trails. Essentially they take some of the load bearing off your knees, hips, and ankles and share it with your arms which are typically under utilised when hiking.
Head torch – Not essential but if you think you might be hiking close to sunset then it is a good option. Don’t rely on your phone as it might run out of batteries and is not as practical as a head torch as you need to carry it in one of your hands. Most modern head torches have LED lights meaning they have several hours of battery charge.