The Great Smoky Mountains: What to Bring on a Day’s Hike
So you’ve decided you’re finally going to take that long day hike in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. You’ve seen the awe-inspiring pictures and even have a trek mapped out—let’s say the view of Cades Cove from the top of Gregory Bald (the azaleas are fantastic in June!). But what do you bring on your trip? After encountering unprepared hikers all over the USA, I wanted to share my personal list of essential supplies for a long summer day hike (6-8+ hours, 10 miles).
Backpack & Footwear
This is the foundation for a good hike. If you want to be comfortable on your hike, I’d suggest getting a quality backpack and footwear. Quality doesn’t necessarily have to mean expensive but make sure you get one that fits and feels comfortable. Most sporting good stores (REI for example) will be able to fit you for a pack. At the very least make sure your pack has a sternum strap and hip belts. A cheap backpack without these won’t carry the weight comfortably all day.
As for footwear, I tend to switch between boots and trail runners (aggressively treaded sneakers made for running hiking trails). I would suggest trying lots of different pairs from a store with a good return policy. You’ll be shocked at how much of a difference quality footwear will have on your hiking experience. Take care of your feet with comfortable footwear and synthetic (NOT cotton!!) socks and your feet will thank you.
BONUS: Trekking poles also make the hike up a mountain a lot easier. They may not seem like it, but they really help with the downhill and take a significant strain off your knees and back.
Water & Food
For the love of everything that is good in this world, please bring enough water. I carried 3 liters of water in the Smokies hiking up and back down Gregory Bald. It was 96 degrees, and I drink a lot more water than is typical. Most people could make do with 2 liters of water minimum. An 8 oz. bottle of water will not be enough.
Food is your fuel. On a day hike, I try to balance high-energy and convenient individually packaged food. Plan to bring around a pound to a pound and a half per day. Great hiking food ideas are tortillas, individual peanut butter servings, honey packets, trail mix, peanuts, candies, SPAM, individual packets of tuna, salmon, peanut M&Ms and granola bars. I try my best to snack consistently throughout the day to avoid having a “sugar crash.” Keeping that constant calorie intake in small bits keeps my energy up and avoids the post-lunch stupor.
Note: Bringing a reliable filter (like the Sawyer Squeeze) could significantly cut how much water you have to carry. Check to ensure that reliable water sources are nearby.
Map & Compass
These are two essential items every hiker should have on a trip. The map should always be involved in your trip planning, but also practice using the compass. Basic navigation with these tools will be fine for most trails.
Tip: Put the map in a Ziploc bag for easy waterproofing.
First Aid Kit
These are easily available for purchase at any big box store, or you can save some money and make your own. Ensure that you have a kit that is large enough for the number of people in your hiking party. Items for blister care (e.g., moleskin, medical tape, duct tape, etc.) are crucial to include in your kit.
Headlamp or Flashlight
I know you’re probably thinking, “This is going to be day hiking! I don’t intend on being out there that late.” And that’s the problem. I’ve run into many day hikers who didn’t think it would take them that long and became night hikers.
- I always, ALWAYS carry an extra pair of synthetic socks.
- Sunglasses and hat
- Sunscreen, bug spray, and head net
- A Bic lighter and pocket knife
- Rain jacket
- Toilet paper or wipes
I hope this was helpful to you. Like most things, this list is a personal one. You should tweak or add what you’d like. Backpacking and hiking are the best therapy there is for me, and it costs little to get started. Get out there and do your hike!
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