Most travellers will do at least an overnight, or sometimes multi-day hike during a trip. It could be on an organised tour where all you have to do is turn up and hike, or it could be something you’re doing independently. Either way, it’s best to be prepared, to know what to pack, and what you need to hike for a few days without spending a fortune on loads of expensive gear. This advice should help you weather you’re going for just one night or three, but I don’t class myself as an expert, this is just how I did it (sometimes by doing it the wrong way)
I’ve hiked solo for multiple days several times, and also with my parents. Here’s how I did it, I hope it helps you too!
If you’re hiking with friends, obviously you can share out a lot of things, which is great because it makes your pack lighter, and adds to the fun. One person can carry everything they need though. I know because I did it.
It’s very easy to pack too much clothing. Don’t. Everyone else hiking the trail is going to be sweaty and dirty too; no one is expecting you to look (or smell) your best. Take clothing appropriate for where your hiking, and remember, nights and altitude can make for a cold night, even if the day is really hot. Layers is key here. For a 4 day (3 night) hike I took
2x t-shirts (one for hiking and one for evenings/bed)
2x trousers (as above)
Merino wool socks (yes, I wore the same pair because I only have one, 2 would be better)
Clean underwear for each day (Ladies, a sports bra is best, I wore the same one each day)
1x warm fleece top (this doubled as my pillow)
rain gear. (ALWAYS have at least a raincoat. It’s also windproof, and therefore warming)
Thermal Layers and additional warm layers as required.
If you want to, you can rinse out your clothes at night, but in reality, you can get away without it, especially if it’s cold. Merino wool is brilliant as it keeps you warm even if it gets wet. I also always recommend wearing a t-shirt rather than vest top, as the straps of your backpack can rub.
I would always recommend hiking boots (my preferred choice) as they give you more ankle support, particularly on rough terrain. However, good trainers would also be fine, just make sure they have decent tread and are waterproof if possible. Take a pair of flip flops/ pumps to wear around camp. Pumps are better if it’s cold because you can wear socks with them.
I didn’t have anything to cook with on my first multi day hike, and regretted it. (See Miscellaneous below) A hot dinner at the end of the day, and a hot drink makes a huge difference. Don’t bother buying the expensive dehydrated meals, it’s unnecessary, and skip the instant noodles too. We can do better. Look for boil in the bag ready meals. The sauce is wet, so it’s a little more weight, but for a 3 night hike and ease of cooking, they’re convenient, and actually pretty good! Or get dried meals that only require water, such as a thick soup mix and rice or couscous to bulk it up. Canned fish and pitta was great for lunch, and powdered milk and cereal surprisingly good for breakfast. Pack only as much powdered stuff (milk, sugar) as you think you’ll need. A few apples are a nice luxury, dried fruit and nuts are great snacks, and it’s a luxury, but I took chocolate on each hike, and it was great for energy and a treat in the evenings 🙂
Emergency/ Medical Kit
The last thing you want is to be ill or hurt yourself when hiking. Plasters are obvious, and the moment you feel a warm patch on your foot slap a plaster on it to stop a blister coming. Dehydration salts are also a good idea, as is a couple of bandages, painkillers, and Imodium.
It’s advisable to take a few things in case of emergency, especially when hiking alone or if hiking of the track (Not recommended unless you are an experienced hiker). Have a whistle handy, a compass (and know how to use it) a map, and a space blanket. Admittedly, I have hiked in New Zealand without a compass or proper map, but only on well marked labelled trails. Hiking in the bush it would be too easy to get lost. Space blankets actually work amazingly well; I was evacuated from an evening swimming session in winter. We all huddled on the frosty ground, dripping wet, but thanks to a space blanket wrapped around me, only me feet and legs felt cold. Those in towels were shivering. They also keep the heat in a tent if you lay it over the floor.
In New Zealand it’s possible to hire personal Locator Beacons from Department of Conservation (DOC) Centres. This is worth looking into, especially if you are hiking on a remote trail, out of season, or solo.
This is perhaps the most important thing of all. Make sure you know where you can refill, if you need to boil the water, and always take a bit more than you need. I take 2L on a day hike on an average day (~20-25C) but I’m 5″3 (160cm) and don’t need as much as some. My dad, 6ft tall, probably needed twice that, and if it’s hotter, take more because you’ll sweat more. All that sweating means you’re losing more salt, so it’s worth taking some along to add to your meals (or use rehydration salts).
I carry my water in a camelback, but these are expensive if you don’t have one already, Just reuse water bottles, it’s good to have a couple just in case one cracks!
Keep it basic, especially if you don’t have washing facilities. For a few days it’s fine. You can wash in lakes/ rivers if they’re around. I have swum in a lake in my hiking underwear, and I wasn’t the only one. If you’re brave/ alone, go skinny dipping, just don’t swim out of your depth or in a strong current. This is what I took and how I kept clean(ish) on my hikes.
Toothbrush and toothpaste
Face wipes (used to freshen up all over after a hike, although washing just my face and hands in water made a big difference, even if it was cold)
toilet paper (because there might not be any)
Comb (I have long hair and mostly kept it in a plait when hiking for ease)
Soap (Make sure it’s environmentally friendly if you’re washing in lakes and rivers, or just don’t bother and stick to face wipes and water)
Bug Spray (if necessary)
Are you staying in a hut? Are you camping? what is provided and what do you need to take? Lightweight is best, you can probably hire a lot of this gear or buy it second hand for cheap/ borrow of a generous backpacker. Here’s what I took.
Sleeping Bag (suitable for the night temperature. Liners are optional but may keep you warmer/ your bag cleaner
Stove and gas (know how to use it and pack it carefully)
Whistle (just in case)
Spork/utensils (It’s embarrassing when you forget and have to beg some of another hiker. Yes I have done this. Twice!
Pans/plates/ mug (My pans were also my plates)
Spare zip lock bags (to keep everything dry. Also good for rubbish.)
Suitable light weight tent
Mallet (optional, rocks ma be handy depending on where you’re going, and mallets are heavy so only take if absolutely necessary)
Pack of Cards
Book (for passing the time. I took my e-reader which lights up at night. Perfect!)
Candles (If it gets dark really early!)
Make sure you get a pack that fits. I’m short so I have to get a ladies backpack with a shorter back, have a good look around for one and decide what pockets you would like. Personally I like a bottom pocket (great for sleeping bag and raincoat/ fleece, main pocket (for most stuff) and side pockets for the things you want handy, like your torch, penknife, camera, first aid kit, etc. I also really like a pack with a hip strap, most of the weight should be on your hips not your shoulders, it makes it easier to carry the weight and lowers your point of gravity, giving you better stability and balance for tough terrain. Try and get a pack with a rain cover too.
Pack your clothes in dry bags, and try to keep everything else in waterproof bags to. They don’t need to be fancy, I use a collection of zip lock bags and Tupperware boxes for the majority of stuff. I pack the heavier, bulkier stuff in first and put smaller things around it, but really small things (like my penknife and lighter) live in a small purse which goes in my top pocket, so I can easily find whatever I want, and know where everything goes. This comes with practise too. Don’t make your pack top-heavy, it will seem heavier as the weight will be on your shoulders, and affect your balance.
Do you want to arrive, tired and hungry from a day hiking, to a filthy hut? No, neither do the people after you, so take your boots off outside (there will usually be a sheltered area and sometimes even an enclosed porch for this) Find a bed. In New Zealand the etiquette is that mattresses which are laid down are taken, those which are leaning against the side are free, (this depends a bit on the style of the hut too).Just to make sure, I always unroll my sleeping bag in my spot. It’s polite not to leave a gap between groups, especially if you arrive early. This is so you don’t split up anyone arriving later.
Leave the table/ bed/ kitchen space clean after yourself because someone else is going to use it after you. This is all part of the’ leave things as you would like to find them’ motto, and it is often first time overnight hikers who don’t appreciate the importance of doing this. Pack out all of your rubbish, there are no bins in most huts, and the fireplace/ stove is not a bin.
If there is a guest book, fill it out. This is so there is a record of who was were just in case anything happens, but also a record of the frequency of which a hut is used, an important consideration when deciding which hut should be upgraded. They’re also fun to flick through.
Be polite and friendly. Part of staying in huts is a sense of camaraderie from having all hiked to spend a night away from home, so embrace the casual friendliness. Respect those who go to bed before you, be quite in the bedroom areas, and be careful where you shine your torch at night. The same applies if you are an early riser.
Pace yourself. Don’t get burnt out early from carrying a too heavy pack. Hiking poles (or a good stick) help drastically by reducing the weight you are carrying, and they also add stability on rough terrain. I really wished I’d had some on my first hike; my knees were pretty painful by the end.
Stop regularly for a drink and bite to eat. This will keep you energised and help to stop yourself from getting burnt out. If you are hiking in a group, walk at the pace of the slowest person, and make sure they get time to rest too. Start early, give yourself plenty of time, and enjoy it!
Have you done an overnight hike? what would your top tip for first timers be?