Hiking deers leap in killington, vermont

How to Leave No Trace on a Day Hike

Nothing beats the experience of a backpacking trip and sleeping under the stars. However, sometimes this can be daunting if you're new to the outdoor hiking space. Start small and choose shorter day hikes to build your confidence. No need to rush into it! 

Did you know that 85% of hikes are day hikes in areas within driving distance from home? With 47 million day hikers in the United States, this number is projected to grow to 74 million by 2050!!!

Day hikes can range from a leisurely walk in a town park to a more strenuous all-day hike in the mountains. With so many day hikers enjoying the trails, it's crucial to minimize our environmental impact.

Want to do a Day Hike, but what is this Leave No Trace?

Leaving no trace is all about enjoying nature without leaving any impact behind. When you go hiking, It’s basically a way to make sure the beautiful places you love to hike stay just as beautiful for everyone else and for future visits. Think of it as being a good guest in nature’s home!

Here are some easy tips to help you prepare for your day hike and ensure you Leave No Trace.

10 Tips Essential Leave No Trace Tips for Your Day Hike

Tip 1: Know Before You Go

Before you head out on your day hike, do some research on your destination. Knowing what to expect can make your hike more enjoyable and help you prepare appropriately. Consider the following:

  • Trail Length and Elevation: Understand the difficulty of the trail you are planning to hike. Knowing the distance and elevation gain can help you gauge how much time and energy you will need.

  • Trail Conditions and Closures: Check online resources, local ranger stations, or hiking forums for updates on trail conditions. Some trails might be closed due to weather or maintenance.

  • Facilities: Find out if there are bathroom facilities available along the trail. This can influence what you need to bring with you.

  • Weather Forecast: Always check the weather forecast for the day of your hike. Weather can change quickly, especially in mountainous areas, so be prepared for all conditions.

By researching these aspects, you can avoid unpleasant surprises and make sure you are well-prepared for your day hike.

White rocks hike in Vermont

Tip 2: Prepare Your Day Hike Pack

Once you've gathered all the necessary information about your day hike, it's time to prepare your gear. Here’s what you should generally include in your hiking pack for a day hike: 

  • Food and Water: Bring enough food to keep your energy levels up and plenty of water to stay hydrated. Consider bringing a portable water filter if you plan to refill from natural sources.

  • Clothing: Dress in layers to adapt to changing weather conditions. Include a rain jacket, hat, and gloves if necessary. Also, bring sun protection like sunscreen and sunglasses.

  • Navigation Tools: While apps like AllTrails are handy, a hardcopy map and compass are essential backups in case your electronics fail.

  • First Aid Kit: A basic first aid kit should include bandages, antiseptic wipes, tweezers, and any personal medications.

  • Emergency Supplies: Include a whistle, flashlight, and a fire-starting kit in case you find yourself in an unexpected situation.

For a comprehensive list, check out this link to the 10 Essential Items you should always pack on a day hike.

Tip 3: Bring a Map...Yes, Even for a Day Hike

Navigating the trail is crucial to ensure you don't stray off course. While app-based maps like AllTrails are excellent for real-time navigation, it's always smart to carry a hardcopy map and a compass as backups. Although rare nowadays, your phone can fail, but a paper map will always be reliable.

Tip 4: Pack Hygiene Supplies

If there are no bathroom facilities available, you'll need to carry in and carry out your hygiene supplies. Here’s what to pack on a day hike:

  • Toilet Paper and Wipes: Opt for biodegradable products and bring a small bag to carry out used items.

  • Period Care Products: Pack necessary items and a sealable bag to carry out used products.

  • Dog Waste Bags: If you're hiking with your dog, bring bags to carry out their waste. Always keep your dog on a leash to protect wildlife and other hikers.

YourYuckies ’ baggies are a sustainable solution that helps you manage and organize your clan and dirty hygiene needs all in one plant-based baggie!

Carry in and carry out YourYuckies bag in backpack

Tip 5: Leave No Trace Principles

Even on the shortest day hike, to protect the natural beauty of hiking trails and ensure they remain enjoyable for everyone, don't forget to follow the Leave No Trace principles:

  • Plan Ahead and Prepare: This includes knowing the regulations and special concerns for the area you'll visit on your day hike and/or multi-day trek.

  • Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces: Stick to established trails and campsites to avoid damaging vegetation.

  • Dispose of Waste Properly: Pack out all trash, leftover food, and litter.

  • Leave What You Find: Preserve the past by examining, but not touching, cultural or historic structures and artifacts.

  • Minimize Campfire Impact: Use a lightweight stove for cooking and enjoy a candle lantern for light.

  • Respect Wildlife: Observe wildlife from a distance and never feed animals.

  • Be Considerate of Other Visitors: Respect other hikers and protect the quality of their experience.

For more detailed guidelines, visit the Leave No Trace website for more details on outdoor ethics. These principles apply not just to day hikes and multi-day adventures, but to any outdoor activity.

Tip 6: Stick to Marked Trails

One of the most important aspects of minimizing your impact is staying on designated trails. Venturing off-trail can cause soil erosion, damage plant life, and disturb wildlife habitats. Following marked paths ensures the natural environment remains undisturbed and beautiful for future visitors.

Day hiking woman in the woods
Staying on the trail on a day hike

Tip 7: Take Only Memories, Leave Only Footprints

As tempting as it may be to take a souvenir from your day hike, it’s important to leave natural objects where you find them. This includes rocks, plants, and other natural features. Taking these items can disrupt the ecosystem and diminish the experience for others. Instead, take photos and cherish the memories.

Tip 8: Educate Yourself and Others

Part of responsible hiking is spreading awareness. Educate yourself about the environmental issues and conservation efforts related to the areas you hike, whether it be a day hike or multi-day trek. Share this knowledge with fellow hikers, friends, and family. By raising awareness, we can collectively reduce our impact and protect our natural spaces.

Tip 9: Volunteer for Trail Maintenance

When you are on your day hike, you may wonder "Wow, how do all these trails stay in tip-top shape? 

Consider giving back by volunteering for trail maintenance projects. Many organizations and parks offer opportunities for volunteers to help with trail repair, litter clean-up, and other conservation efforts. This not only helps preserve the trails but also deepens your connection and appreciation for the natural environment.

Two women helping with trail maintence
Eating with reusable gear on day hike

Tip 10: Use Reusable Gear

Opt for reusable and sustainable gear to reduce waste on your day hike. Use a refillable water bottle instead of disposable plastic bottles, pack your snacks in reusable containers, and use cloth instead of paper towels. Making small changes in your hiking habits can significantly reduce your environmental footprint.

Concluding Our Dive into Tips for Day Hikes

With so many hiking areas close to home, more and more people are taking advantage of day hiking to enjoy nature. By preparing properly and following Leave No Trace principles, we can all contribute to preserving the environment for future generations. So, next time you have some free time, get out there, explore, and leave only footprints. 

day hiking in spring time

Last Thoughts About Day Hiking for Newbies

Day hikes are a fantastic way to enjoy nature and get some exercise, and it’s the perfect place to start if you are new to the world of hiking.

Start small and choose shorter day hikes, and easier trails to build your confidence. Remember, there’s no rush—go at your own pace and take breaks as needed. The great outdoors is an inclusive space for everyone, no matter your experience level or fitness. Enjoy the journey and embrace the beauty around you!

Happy Trails!

Dani and Becca 

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