So you’ve got a hankering to strap on your backpack and hit the open trail? Good for you. Figuring out the when and where of hiking is usually easy, but the next question can be a bit trickier: What should you take? After all, everything that comes with you on a hiking adventure is carried on your back. That’s why it’s important to choose wisely and pack the right belongings. 

While your exact hiking kit will depend enormously on where you’re headed and the time and distance it will take to get you there, you should never be without these three essentials. 

1. A Good Old-Fashioned Navigation Kit

You likely own a GPS-enabled smartphone featuring a detailed map. Shouldn’t that be enough to keep you from getting lost on a leisurely day-hike? It’s true that unless you’re in a far-off remote location, your trusty smartphone will probably keep you on the right path. 

But remember, your trusty smartphone is just an expensive flashlight if you lose cell and GPS signal — and it’s not even that when your battery runs out! Conversely, the beauty of a quality printed topographical map and compass is that they won’t let you down. Provided the planet stays in its current alignment, you’ve got your North covered and you’re good to go.

Even if you never take them out of your pack, old-school navigation tools are an essential insurance policy. Oh, and for bonus points, keep that map stashed in a waterproof pouch. 

2. A Trusty Pair of Hiking Boots

If you’ve ever experienced the nightmare of being on a hike with a foot injury or discomfort, you probably already know all-too-well how important it is to have the right footwear.

Nothing dampens (pun intended) your adventures on the open trail faster than cold, soggy feet. Indeed, quality hiking shoes or boots will keep your feet dry and protected from those dreaded rubbing blisters. Good hiking boots will also support your ankles, set you up with excellent grip over loose terrain, and give you just the right level of padding to minimize the impact on your knees and hips. 

So, take the time to choose well-fitting, high-quality hiking footwear. Your 10 little piggies will certainly thank you.

3. The Right Nutrition and Enough Hydration

At first glance, this one might seem like a no-brainer. Of course, you need food and water when you’re living it large out in the elements. The key words though are the right nutrition and enough hydration.

In fact, the big mistake a lot of new hikers make is to only stock up on carbohydrates or (even worse) candy. This stuff is great for a quick energy burst, but even a short hike can be physically taxing, and you’ll need food with some substance. 

Protein energy bars, jerky and nuts are great hiking staples. But if you’re out on the trails for more than a few hours, you’ll also want to pack a meal equivalent. A good and hefty meat and cheese sandwich is hard to beat as an energy boost, but whatever vittles you stash, be sure it has lots of protein and enough calories to keep you feeling energized and focused right through to your last step. 

Then there’s hydration. We all know we need plenty of water, but how much is enough? The rule of thumb here is not to go by what feels like a comfortable weight in your camelback or water flask. Water is heavy, and it’s easy to underestimate how much you actually need. In a regular climate, plan to take one liter of water per person for every two hours you’ll be hiking. Add half again if your hiking conditions are hot and dry. 

If you’re feeling uncomfortable with your heavy water pack when you first strap in, you’ve probably figured it correctly!

Start with the Essentials

There’s a ton of stuff you could take with you on a hike. After doing it for a while, folks tend to develop their own hiking kit based on practical experience of what they usually need and how comfortable it feels on their shoulders. But wherever you plan to roam next, make sure these three must-haves come with you.