My day pack – what I have prepacked

A recent online discussion brought a surprising fact to me: That quite a few day hikers don’t carry a headlamp and are surprised that other people take one.

Why carry a headlamp when day hiking? Because sometimes you zig when you should zag, the terrain might be more complicated than anticipated, or you or a trip partner might become injured. As a real-life example, a friend injured his knee on a Grand Canyon hike with his family. The walk went into the dark, and he had no headlamp. Other friends found out and hiked down with headlamps to assist.

And that is just one example.

Out of that discussion, I mentioned I always have gear pre-packed in my day pack. Over the years, I realized that I hate swapping in and out gear from my backpacking kit and sometimes forget gear because of this swapping.

So I have some critical gear and clothing prepacked. As I guide with day tours here in  Moab, making sure I don’t forget any essential pieces of my kit ends up being especially noteworthy.

The gear I pre-pack is not my primary gear, but it is by no means sub-standard. It just might be a little heavier, perhaps more durable for variable conditions (wetter, off-trail bushwhacking, scrambling) vs. gear I can swap in and out when backpacking,  stripped-down somewhat or only older but still functional.  But in the end, I have equipment and clothing to be comfortable in most three-season+ day-use conditions that don’t involve deep winter travel.  For deep winter, I am typically on skis, and that is a different kit.  Since moving to Utah, however, I’ll day hike or even backpack when there are icy and cold conditions, and my Hillsound Trail Crampon Ultra spikes (14 oz.)  “live” in my daypack for those months.

So, here’s my “go-to” kit that I always have pre-packed in my day pack with notes of when I swap in and out certain gear. This list does not include items I do not have in the pack but tend to always use (shoes, pants, shirt, sun hat, basic knife kit, etc.)

TL;DR – With an always staged basic personal kit, I am comfortable in three-season+ day-use hiking conditions with gear and clothing weighing just over 3 lbs.

In Canyonlands. PCO Joan.


My day pack is, alas, the no longer made Gossamer Gear Type II Utility Pack.  A pack sized large enough for whatever I need for day-use hiking, day tours, and even trail work. Durable, well-designed, and ample hip belt pockets for snacks. Joan “Utah-ized” the packs, so the water bottle pockets are now as equally durable.

I removed the foam but lined the pack with a trash compactor bag. At 16 oz, on the heavier side for a day pack compared to light backpacks, my day use gear tends to get a workout.  However, compared to similar packs in this class, on the lighter side. And after almost five years of constant use, I think it is safe to say this pack is standing the test of time.  Looking for a currently available alternative? The REI Flash 22 receives consistently good reviews (if with no always useful hip belt pockets )


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For pre-packed clothing, I always have a simple kit in my day pack. This kit consists of a light fleece beanie and weighs 1 oz, wool liners, and household chore gloves that come in at 4 oz total, an old fleece I used to use for “office wear” (9 oz).  I feel a fleece makes for a more versatile piece of gear versus a puffy for day use. Additionally, my Montbell Trekker (10 oz.) lives in the day pack and makes for a good all-purpose rain jacket. I’ll very occasionally swap this jacket into my backpacking kit if I expect consistent rainy and cold backpacking.

In Cedar Mesa in October 2018. PCO Joan.

I realize not everyone can have a jacket for “just in case” use living in the day pack. Just remember to swap in your jacket (I tend to forget pre-coffee!) or purchase an inexpensive but decent quality jacket that serves a similar role. The Red Ledge Thunderlight is heavier at ~14 oz., but only $40. And consistently receives excellent reviews as a bargain piece of all-purpose rain gear that can handle on-trail, off-trail, and some light bushwhacking or scrambling. At sub-$70 and 12oz  (size depending) is the Free Reign Parka with pit-zips by Red Ledge, too.

I tend to hike in pants, so not as concerned about rain here in Utah, but I have a pair of Montbell Trekker rain pants (from the Japanese site only)  at 7.5 oz for a US large. The pants get worn for more consistent cold and rainy conditions and can handle rougher terrain. After my GDT hike, I purchased a pair.  As before. Red Ledge provides a good budget alternative.

Tip: The Montbell Japan site often has goodies not available in the US or offer models different from their US counterparts. Because of the Yen to the US Dollar exchange rate, even with S&H, the prices are excellent. The Trekker pants cost me 10,400 Yen…or $95 shipped! You might have to size up to consider the Japanese sizing.

For my personal first aid, repair, and all-around kit, I have a Ziploc that contains a basic compass (1 oz), first aid items and a repair kit with Ibuprofen, Band-aides, larger 2×2 adhesive bandages, a lighter with duct tape wrapped around it, some safety pins, about 3ft of bank line, a pen and some paper (4 oz).  I’ve forgotten my similar backpacking compass before, and while I did not run into any issues, I did lament I did not have it at the Ancestral Pueblo dwellings. The rock images or entrances to the buildings often align along with cardinal directions; taking a quick compass bearing almost always confirms my hunch. 

This basic kit covers necessary repairs in the field – be it myself or gear. 🙂

Additionally, I pre-pack a headlamp. I have a budget alternative to the popular Nitecore NU25 – an STCT USB Rechargeable Headlight.  About half the lumens of the NU25, but half the price. Truthfully, most people don’t need the lumens capacity most modern headlamps have, meaning in an emergency, 145 lumens should be just fine esp. for the non-technical climbing pursuits I favor. 

I used this headlamp until this past August as my primary one. Overall, I like it. I don’t need to purchase batteries. The light holds a charge well, has the red light setting I enjoy, and at 2.5 oz light enough to keep in my pack. If I was more ambitious, I could shave an ounce and swap out the factory headband. But I’m not.

I have a stuff sack with my guide items I’ll throw into my backpack (my backpack has a similar personal kit to the above) or day guiding. 

The guide kit includes safety shears, Lueko tape, Tylenol for those allergic to Vitamin I, nitrile exam gloves,  an irrigator for cleaning abrasions, Immodium AD, triple antibiotic, a roll of gauze, and electrolyte “energy” gels or chews. I’ve used all these items at one point. Additionally, I carry emergency ponchos and Wag Bags for the clients for day hiking in the desert.  I’ve never had to give out a Wag Bag, but I’ve used the ponchos for clients who do not expect precip in the desert.

This guide kit weighs in at a hefty 25oz (or 15 oz minus the poncho and wag bags that I do not take for backpacking guiding), but when I am responsible for people, the extra weight is a necessity.  I swap in this always packed stuff sack as needed…and never forget it!

Rounding out my gear, I tend to have two liters of water capacity for most of my day hikes, typically a Power-aid bottle and a 1-liter Platypus at 2 oz total.  For a colder weather hike, I’ll sometimes pack a Thermos, but that is not pre-staged.

Altogether, my basic personal kit comes in at just over the three-pounds total.   Enough to make sure I am warm and dry in most three-season+ conditions.  As mentioned, I’ll swap in various items as conditions or purposes warrant.

In the Abajo Mountains. As Joan said:  “Talking with his hands, as usual.” PCO Joan.

For the spreadsheet inclined, here are some handy-dandy tables:

Gossamer Gear Type II Utility Pack with trash compactor liner 16 Gossamer Gear no longer makes a version of this pack. The REI Flash 22 makes for a similar version.
Generic 100 wt Fleece 9 An old “office fleece”; other options are probably lighter.
Lightweight fleece beanie 1 Nothing special except it is light, inexpensive, and breathes well!
Household “chore” gloves and wool liner gloves 4 A versatile and inexpensive combo for cool to somewhat cold conditions for wet or dry weather.
Montbell Rain Trekker jacket 10 Excellent all-around versatile rain jacket for three-season+ hiking, consistent rain, scrambling, or bushwhacking. The Red Ledge Thunderlight makes a good budget alternative.
First-aid and repair kit; personal use 4 Band-aids, 3 feet bank line, gauze pads, safety pins, pen, paper, and a lighter with duct tape.
STCT USB Rechargeable Headlight. (gets branded differently) 2.5 $17, 145 lumens, USB rechargeable. As mentioned, maybe I’ll get ambitious, and I could shave an ounce and swap out the factory headband.
Suunto A-10 Compass 1 A basic compass is always packed, so I don’t forget it.
Hydration 2 A drink bottle and a Platy does the trick for me overall
Total weight in oz for my basic pre-packed kit: 50.5 oz / 3 lbs 1.5 oz Well, I guess I should purchase a different fleece, lighten the headlamp, magically place the compass in my pocket,  and not list an additional bottle for bragging rights to get under 3 lbs total. 😉

And other items I’ll swap in and out depending on what I am doing, time of the year, or the type of day hike:

Montbell Trekker Rain Pants 7.5 For consistent cold and rainy conditions. Again, Red Ledge makes a budget alternative.
Hillsound Trail Crampon Ultra Spikes 14 Useful and needed for icy hiking during Colorado Plateau winters
Guide Kit 25 See above for more details. The Wag Bags and emergency ponchos are 10 oz of this total.
Bullet-style Thermos 18 Hot coffee, chai, or mocha makes the weight penalty worth it during a cold day of hiking.


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Lyle Gordon
4 years ago

Good advice, I always carry my headlamp, has come in very handy a few times. One particular moment was my first visit to Pinnacles national park, a guy in front of me was stopped and asked if I had a flashlight as there was a cave ahead. I popped out my headlamp and we both safely traversed the quite interesting cave.

4 years ago

Agree. I always have a smaller version of my overnight backpack ready to go. All I check are food and water, because nothing co-exists with the big pack.

For that matter, with only a couple additional exceptions, my big pack is always ready to go too.