This title is not a strange, unintentional riddle told deep under a mountain. I really am going to tell you about what I pack for a day hike with the family. While one might be tempted to think that a list like this is a no brainer, there is an art and a science to being prepared without over-packing. Maybe that’s a bit melodramatic. But the old saying goes, “It’s better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it.” You want to plan for eventualities without weighing yourself down.
The Very Basics
The most basic essentials are first aid and water. You should never be on the trail without at least a small amount of first aid even if that is a few sanitizing swabs and band-aids. The longer you plan to be out and the more family members you bring on an outing will be cause for adjustment. If you are out for an all-day hike, you will likely want a quality kit with supplies for minor cuts and scrapes, insect stings, and blisters. Pre-made, store bought kits really are your friend in this situation because they are designed to be compact and lightweight.
We also make it a general rule that everyone carries their own water. For a whole day hike a good estimate for how much water you need is each person’s body weight in ounces. So a fifty pound kid will need fifty ounces of water. If it is a very hot day or there will not be much shade where you are going, plan a little more. We recently attended an outdoor event on a hot, sunny day. In three hours our family of five consumed 100 ounces of water!
If you are out all day, you will of course need to eat. The food you bring is completely according to your taste. You can get freeze dried hiking food or just make some PBJ for everyone. I tend toward the simpler; the better. Trail mix, granola bars, and sandwiches are usually what you would find in my backpack. Just remember to carry out your wrappers and other trash.
When I was little, I could be outside in our backyard and pool for an entire, cloudless summer day and come in with a lovely amber glow that supermodels would kill for. Perhaps the aging process has caught up to me or all that early exposure destined me to my current relationship with the sun. Now it takes less than an hour to get a rosy sheen. This lures me into a false sense of security that it’s not that bad. But even after getting in the shade or retreading indoors, the sheen continues to develop into a shade that is the envy of cooked lobsters. So long supermodel; hello crustacean.
For these reasons, I now must be the mom chasing all the kids with the bottle of sunscreen and making sure that I get a good coating myself. This year I initially bought the spray on sunscreen. While it is quicker than the lotion type, there are a few things that I don’t like. First, they are running out very quickly even though the price is about the same for the lotion. Second, the spray is meant to be convenient and keep your hands clean. However, you cannot spray it directly on your face. You have to spray your hand and then rub it onto your face. This defeats one of the main purposes for buying the spray bottle. When my supply runs out, I am going to switch back to a sunscreen lotion which will likely last us the rest of the season.
The other thing you need to protect yourself against is insect bites. We particularly need to be concerned with ticks and mosquitoes here in the northeast USA. I have tried different brands and even some homemade repellents. I have found that basic brands like Skin So Soft and OFF! work just fine for us. I also found my homemade oil repellents to be comparable. I will add that Sawyer insect repellant was recently recommended to us. The great thing about this product is that you spray your clothes and gear instead of your skin. If you are camping overnight or hiking in thick woods, this product would likely be preferable. I look forward to giving it a try.
Protectants should be carried with you for reapplication as needed. Reapply at the intervals suggested on the product label.
The simple, bare necessities can prepare you to have a lovely family day hike. You can use a small day pack to carry water, first aid, snacks, sunscreen, and insect repellant. See our post Trail Re-mix at trailfamily.blog for some great snack recipes!
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