Does it really have to be ten? We’re not so sure. We’ve certainly seen a lot of lists that include things we would never take backpacking. Like what, you might ask? Well, since you asked…
A lot of these lists include a big heavy knife. Why? The explanation is that you need the knife to chop kindling for a fire, ward off bears, and maybe look more masculine on the trail or something. We find that tiny pocket knife does just fine to cut our salami and cheese for lunch. We don’t make fires, don’t whittle down trees for fun, and don’t imagine using a knife to ward off any wildlife except for the occasional dead trout.
What about a multi-tool? What is it going to fix? The sleeping bag? The tent? We’ve used our sewing kit to fix all sorts of things on the trail, and we’ve never found ourselves wishing we had a pair of pliers or a screwdriver. And it weighs a lot. Leave it at home.
We don’t take a cellphone on the trail, because where we hike, there is never any cellphone coverage. We do usually leave one in the car at the trailhead…but we usually have to drive at least an hour before we find any cellphone coverage.
What DO we take on a day hike? Let’s make the list, and see if we get to ten items;
1. Water. Always enough to get to our next water source. That's our water filter in the black bag above.
2. A first aid kit. The basics (we’re not going to be doing any surgery on a day hike—we would go get help instead) but it does include band-aids, painkillers, an elastic bandage, a roll of gauze, some antibiotic cream, and a sewing kit.
3. A map and compass. We like to know where we are going, where we’ve been, and where we are. So should you.
4. Snacks. Because low blood sugar is a bad thing, and makes for lousy hiking.
5. A bandana. You cannot imagine all the uses it has.
6. A jacket of some kind, just to keep us warm and possibly dry. So that if we have to leave someone for a couple of hours to get help, that person won’t freeze.
7. A mylar emergency blanket/shelter—helps keep you warm, dry, and can be used as a reflector to signal.
9. A small pocketknife and nail clippers---because your toenails can cause you grief on the trail.
10. Some kind of flashlight—just in case it all goes to hell, and you are still walking after dark.
11. Sunscreen/bug lotion. Obvious. Don’t forget it.
12. Matches. Just in case it all goes to hell, and you decide to stay put until daybreak.
OK—that’s twelve. Let’s see…what are we missing? Bug nets for our heads, camera, binoculars, foam pad for sitting, an extra chocolate bar as a surprise, a Sudoku book—no, wait, that’s the firestarter…
Look, the main thing is to not get stuck out there with no hope and no help. Always take a little more than you think you'll need, because it doesn't weigh much, and when you do need it, it will make a HUGE difference.