Hiking gear list: what to pack for day hikes in the backcountry

Hiking gear list: what to pack when hiking in the backcountry?

What to pack hiking backcountry trails? This is my trail-tested favorite hiking gear list for remote hikes in the North Georgia mountains. 

I love almost nothing more than hiking Georgia’s trails in search of stunning overlooks, splashing waterfalls and beautiful forest landscapes. Atlanta’s close proximity to the southern Appalachians makes it easy to access fantastic backcountry hikes within a few hours drive of the city.

What to pack hiking? My packing philosophy for a day hike is simple: I try to balance weight with safety. Here’s my hiking gear list for longer trails in the Georgia backcountry – on day hikes like the Appalachian Trail in Georgia and the Jacks River Trail through Georgia’s remote Cohutta Wilderness.

Many of my favorite Georgia backcountry trails are remote, so I pack assuming

  1. I won’t have mobile phone service
  2. I might be the only one on the trail
  3. in an emergency, I might be spending the night in the forest

Sure, snake bites / sprained ankles / black bear encounters are relatively rare, but I don’t like to take chances, and like to pack prepared for the worst.

Out for a local hike?

Check out my hiking gear list for local hikes in the Atlanta area, like hikes at Sweetwater Creek and in the Chattahoocee National Recreation area, in my hiking gear list for local day hikes.


My favorite backpacks combine light weight, comfortable wear and convenient gear organization. For warm-weather hikes, I love the Osprey Stratos 24 and women’s Osprey Sirrus 24 backpacks. The packs feature a curved aluminum frame and a perforated back panel to maximize airflow between the pack and my back. And an integrated rain cover keeps the pack dry in case of summer showers. Read more on these maximum-airflow packs in my Osprey Stratos 24 and Sirrus 24 reviews.


Hiking gear list for day hikes in the backcountry

Extra Layers

Layers rock: with a clothing layering system, it’s easy to stay warm (or cool) and dry on the trail. And since weather forecasts never seem to be accurate, I like to be prepared for anything.

Rain Jacket

One of my favorite waterproof jackets is the Marmot Minimalist Rain Jacket. Gore-Tex construction and taped seams make the jacket extremely dry but ultra-breathable. And breathability is a big factor when I’m hiking – I want a jacket that sheds rain but breathes, so it’s not a sauna inside my coat. It’s lightweight, and it stuffs down to a small size when I’m not wearing it so it doesn’t consume excess room in my backpack.

Clothing Layers

I love Patagonia’s Capilene shirts: they’re warm when I need them to be and breath when I’m hot, so I can wear the same shirt all day from cool mornings to warm afternoons. And they’re nicely fitted, so they’re easy to layer. In winter, I layer fleece over a Capilene shirt and under a jacket.


Hiking gear list for day hikes in the backcountry


Trail conditions change every day. Trails are re-routed, a heavy rain washes out the trail, trail blazes fade. Knowing where I’ve been and where I’m headed is important to me.


I track the trail with a Garmin 600 GPS. I can view my location on topographic maps, follow trails and view my elevation – and track useful info like the time left to sunset and my average speed. The Garmin Oregon 600 works offline – so I can view maps, trails, waypoints and my route even when I don’t have mobile phone service.

Compass & Trail Map

As much as I love my Garmin GPS, electronics can fail and batteries drain. I always carry a Suunto A-10 compass and a printed trail map to help me navigate in an emergency.


Hiking gear list for day hikes in the backcountry

Health & Safety

I keep these essentials in my backpack for when the unexpected happens.

First Aid Kit

I love the convenience and light weight of the Adventure Medical Ultralight Watertight First Aid Kit. It’s got the medical essentials I might need on a 1-2 day trip in the backcountry, and is encased in a waterproof pouch to keep everything dry.

Health Essentials

I always pack sunscreen, insect repellant, hand sanitizer and insect bite treatment when I’m on the trail. I love the Sawyer Stay-Put System 1 Sunscreen: it’s sweat-proof, non-greasy and stays comfortable on the trail.


Sometimes hikes take a little longer than expected, and twilight is fading before I get back to the trailhead. My Princeton Tec headlamp is small, lightweight, doesn’t take up much room in my backpack, and keeps my hands free if I’m unexpectedly hiking after dark.

Safety Gear

I always pack a knife, a bundle of strong lightweight rope, a knife, matches, and an emergency blanket for hikes in the backcountry, in case I need them. A small roll of duct tape is handy for temporary on-trail gear repair, shoe repair or pretty much anything that needs stuck together. And I keep a whistle clipped to my backpack in case of emergency.

I hike with a Chums Smokey Paracord Bracelet: it’s a double-purpose piece of safety gear that can be used as a firestarter and a length of high-strength, lightweight parachute cord.


Hiking gear list for day hikes in the backcountry

Fuel & Water

I always pack extra water and extra high-calorie food when I head out on a long day hike. Trail mix, bananas, and dried fruit are routine snacks in my backpack. Big Sur Bars are delicious, incredibly tasty and calorie-packed: read my full Big Sur Bar review for more details. And to stay hydrated on the trail, I pack GU Brew Electrolyte Tablets: they drop into a water bottle or hydration pack and dissolve to create a flavorful, electrolyte-fortified drink.

Hydration Pack

I was always a fan of Nalgene water bottles until I converted over to the Osprey Hydraulics 3 Liter Reservoir. It fits my favorite Osprey backpacks well, it’s durable, it’s easy to fill and it makes on-the-trail hydration efficient and quick.

Water treatment

I usually pack a full day’s water in my backpack for day hikes, but like to carry water treatment gear just in case. When I’m in the backcountry, I use a Sawyer Mini Filter to filter water from springs and streams: compact, lightweight and simple to use (read my Sawyer Mini Filter Review for more details). And as a backup, I pack Potable Aqua Iodine Tablets for water treatment.

Dry & Organized

In case of showers, I stash several Sea to Summit Lightweight Dry Bags in my backpack to keep my camera gear and clothing dry.

To keep spare batteries dry, I pack them in a E-Case waterproof case.

And to keep my small gear from falling to the bottom of my backpack, I love Eagle Creek Specter bags. They’re extremely lightweight but durable zippered bags in a variety of sizes and colors, and help to keep my gear organized in my pack. They also make transferring gear between my backpacks easy.


Hiking gear list for day hikes in the backcountry

Dog Hiking Gear

And since I almost always hike with my dog, Jake, I always carry a leash, a collapsable water dish, and extra water, food and snacks for my four-legged adventurer.

Ruffwear Ruffwear Bivy Bowl, Slackline Leash, & Top Rope Collar

I love Ruffwear dog gear: it’s thoughtfully designed and durable, and equally functional on the trail as it is stylish around town. The Ruffwear Bivy Bowl is a lightweight, collapsable water bowl that’s great for backcountry trail use as well as walks on the the Atlanta BeltLine. And my favorite on-trail leash and collar combo is a Ruffwear Slackline Leash paired with a Ruffwear Top Rope Collar: the Slackline Leash is adjustable in length leash and features a swivel clip to prevent tangles, and the Top Rope Collar makes clip-in easy (which is great for a high-energy pup like Jake).

Ruffwear Singletrak Pack

On longer hikes, Jake wears carries his water in a Ruffwear Singletrak Hydration Dog Pack, a low-profile dog backpack that lets Jake maneuver easily on tight trails (read more in our Ruffwear Singletrak review).

TurboPUP trail bars

I pack TurboPUP bars to keep Jake fueled on the trail. TurboPUP are a grain-free trail bar for dogs that are made in Oregon and sourced from quality ingredients for convenient, on-trail snacks and meals.



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