How to Pack for a Day Hike in Colorado

The variety of terrain and difficulty found on day hikes requires the skill of adequately packing. 

How to pack for a day hike is a skill that many have been working towards mastering for years and that all hikers need to know the basics of. Before you head out into the backcountry, your pre-trip will always require you to take a look at all of your hiking essentials. 

Day hikes in Colorado Springs can be laid back or some of the more strenuous hikes out there. To take these hikes on safely, you need to pack efficiently and effectively. While optimism and a positive mental attitude should be the first thing you pack, you can’t forget that emergencies do happen. If they happen to you, what’s inside your day pack will often determine how the situation plays out. 

If you’re new to hiking or have never hiked in Colorado before, we recommend booking a hike with a guide. Guided hiking tours will help you feel confident in a new environment and help lower risk while hiking in the mountains.

10 Essentials to pack for a day hike

The Ten Essentials are a great place to start when learning how to pack for a day hike. These were created over 80 years ago and have been modified as our technology and knowledge advance.

To begin, we’ll take a quick look at each of the ten essentials.

1. Navigation

Before you head out, you’ll need to know where you’re going and how to get there.

A map and compass are an excellent pick for navigational aids, but you can up your technology game and bring along any satellite navigation and communication devices. 

2. Sun Protection

The sun will quickly ruin your day hike and potentially lead to more serious problems if you’re unprepared.

If you adequately protect yourself with the proper layers, hats, and sunscreen, you are much less likely to experience heatstroke, dehydration, or any other sun-related illnesses. Even on cloudy days and in the winter, the UV rays can still reach you, so always be prepared!

3. Insulation

If you’re packing for a long day hike or even packing to prepare for potential hazards, extra layers will be key to keeping you safe and comfortable.

The weather flips like a switch in some environments, especially in the mountains. With the proper jackets, hats, and rain shells, you can be ready to take on anything mother nature throws at you. 

4. Illumination

Any day hike can turn into an overnighter if you lose the trail or get turned around unexpectedly (especially if you neglect navigation).

Pack a headlamp or flashlight with spare batteries, so you don’t need to shuffle your way through the dark. 

5. First-Aid

There’s no need for a complicated first aid kid unless you are a professional, but it’s important to have a basic kit ready for any injuries you or other hikers may have.

Remember, not all kits are made for all environments. Buy a basic kit and make changes to it to fit your experience level and the needs of your group. 

6. Fire

Being ready for anything means being prepared to keep yourself warm, cook food, and treat water when in the backcountry.

Fire starting supplies such as waterproof matches, a lighter, or a Ferro rod are great options to help get a fire anywhere. Pick what you are the most comfortable with and pack a spare.

7. Repair kit and tools

Packing a repair kit can seem like overpacking when you’re planning on just going out for the day, but it can be one of the most important things you bring along.

You will find more uses for duct tape and a knife than you ever thought imaginable when you need it out there. 

8. Nutrition

Every day of our lives appears to be driven by, “what meal will we have next?”

When you go out into the backcountry, this question is asked even more frequently as your body works harder than normal to bring you from place to place. Even if you bring out just a few calorie-dense snacks on your day hike, you’ll be grateful. The best practice is to bring at least an extra day’s worth of calories.

9. Hydration

No matter if you’re out in the dead of winter or on one of the guided hiking tours in Colorado Springs during the hottest day of the year, water is always your best friend.

Water keeps you warm in the winter and cools in the summer. Almost every ailment you start experiencing in the backcountry comes with the initial treatment recommendation of “drink some water.” Unsurprisingly, it usually works. 

10. Emergency Shelter

Going out means going out ready for your trip plans to change drastically. In most cases, you’ll never end up spending a night out that was unplanned.

However, if you ever find yourself in that situation, an emergency shelter will be a lifesaver. This can be a small bivy (like a one-person waterproof cocoon) or simply a tarp to protect yourself from the elements. 

More about comfort, less about survival

The Right Pack

The right backpack for day hiking is going to be a complete game-changer when you’re out hiking. A comfortable bag with enough space and support will turn a miserable experience into a walk in the park. For starters, I recommend buying a 30-40 liter pack if you are focused on day hikes.

40-liter packs can be used for short overnight trips but aren’t overkill for just a day. 

Do some research on different packs that give you the back support you need. Certain brands like Osprey will form-fit each pack to your back. This can be helpful, especially if you have a history of back problems. 

Don’t let not having the perfect day hiking pack stop you though! Start with the bag you have and upgrade when you’re ready.

The Right Shoes

Nobody wears flip-flops to the prom, and nobody should wear high heels out on the trail. The right shoes for you will be shoes that are comfortable, sturdy, broken in, and give you good ankle support. After those basics, you can begin looking at the different styles of rubber, traction designs, and waterproof construction.

Wearing the right shoes helps to avoid blisters, which means you won’t need to break into your first aid kit. The more preventative measures you can take to save on supplies will leave you even more prepared for your next day hike. 

How to Pack for a Day Hike

Now that we’ve hit the basics of what you need to pack, it’s important to talk about the process of packing.

The ABCs

The ABCs are a valuable tool for packing a backpack so that it fits comfortably and makes hiking easier. While most people will only use this method with multi-day trips, it’s helpful to consider when you are doing day hikes as well. Like I mentioned earlier, some day hikes in Colorado Springs can push you to your limit. Packing a comfortable bag will take a lot of strain off your back and make these hikes more enjoyable.

Accessibility- When you’re packing, make sure things you’ll need while hiking are packed on top or in an external pocket that you can easily get to. This includes things like rain gear, snacks, and especially a headlamp. Looking for a headlamp without a headlamp can be the most frustrating thing you’ll do all year long. 

Balance- Having a bag that pulls you to one side will end with a cranked back and one leg that takes on a lot more stress throughout the day. The key is to make your pack well-balanced to maximize comfort. The weight should be evenly distributed from side to side, and you want the majority of the weight to be in the bottom third of your bag. 

Compression- Here’s what can save you after packing a long list of essentials to bring on any day hike. Gear that compresses down into a small pouch is the best gear for hiking. After all, you don’t need to buy an 80-liter pack to go out for the day. Invest in a few compression bags to squeeze everything down into a small space. 

Know your Environment

You need to know what kind of a hike you are headed into and what that environment may throw at you. This means looking at the current weather forecast, the weather trends for your location, and reviews of the hike from recent days. 

You can gather information from apps (like AllTrails), with hikers going out onto these trails every day. If one person notices a dried-up river where most hikers rely on water, you wouldn’t know this without their comment. Utilize social platforms to gather as much information as you can before heading out. 

This information will help you greatly when packing your bag. It will tell you if you need extra socks because everything is muddy and wet or if you need to bring a down jacket for when you get up above 11,000 feet of elevation.

If you’re uncertain about reading this information and transferring it into packing, don’t hesitate to reach out for guided trips in Colorado Springs. These are fantastic resources when first learning how to be comfortable in the backcountry. 

Hiking Pikes Peak in Colorado Springs

There are countless reasons to visit Colorado, and the plethora of world-class outdoor recreational activities is near the top of that list. Whether you are drawn to the skiing, fat biking, ice climbing of the winter season or the hiking, climbing, and fishing of the summer, The Centennial State has something for everyone.

No matter where they are coming from, many visitors to Colorado have the dream of standing on top of one of the state’s fourteeners – the fifty-eight mountain summits standing over 14,000 feet above sea level. Towering just twelve miles west of downtown Colorado Springs is Pikes Peak, one of the most sought after these peaks.

If you plan to visit Pikes Peak, reaching its summit should make your must-do list. Lucky for you, there are a variety of ways to do so. The Manitou and Pikes Peak Railway is the world’s highest cog railroad and will bring you right to the summit. Alternatively, you could also drive your vehicle to the top using the Pikes Peak Highway.  

However, for the more ambitious, there truly is no better way to enjoy this beautiful mountain than with a Pikes Peak hike. To hike Pikes Peak is to deeply immerse yourself in nature and embrace the challenge of earning a fourteener summit under your own power. If this sounds like a worthy endeavor, you have a couple of options available to you, and this guide to hiking Pikes Peak is here to help. 

Photo by Joe Dudeck on Unsplash

Pikes Peak hike on the Crags Trail

Length: 14.5 miles round trip

Trail Difficulty: Moderate

Elevation Gain: 4,400 feet

Best Seasons: June to October

Map: The Crags Trail

Directions: Take US 24 west from Colorado Springs to Divide, where you turn south on Colorado Hwy 67 for approximately 4 miles. After passing Mueller State Park, turn left on Forest Service Road 383. 

The Crags Trail is the easier hike to the summit of Pikes Peak, covering a shorter distance and less elevation than the Barr Trail described below. Despite being easier, it sees less foot traffic and generally offers hikers a little more solitude on the trail. The views from the trail of the Continental Divide, once above the treeline, cannot be beaten. 

After leaving the trailhead (about 1/10th of a mile into your hike), you will hit Fourmile Creek, where you will need to turn right and cross a bridge to get onto trail #664A. Hike through the forest for a little while before eventually hitting a series of switchbacks that will deposit you above treeline.

From here, the real climbing begins as you approach a mountain saddle at 12,750 feet and Devil’s Playground just beyond, with the route and summit finally coming into view. Cross the Pikes Peak Highway before beginning the final 2-mile slog up a boulder field to the summit. The final push requires hikers to keep a close eye out for cairns marking the path of least resistance to the top.

Parts of this route can see snow late into spring. So, the best time to hike is in early summer to late fall. The summer months offer excellent wildlife viewing, whereas fall is breathtaking in its own right with brisk mountain air and the changing colors of the leaves.  

Hike Pikes Peak on the Barr Trail

Length: 25 miles round trip

Trail Difficulty: Advanced

Elevation Gain: 7,434 feet

Best Seasons: June to October

Map: The Barr Trail

Directions: Take US 24 east into Manitou Springs and take a left at the circle to get onto Ruxton Ave. Travel on Ruxton Avenue until the very end. Then, turn right up a steep pitch and into the trailhead parking lot. Have a credit card ready to pay for parking, and arrive early to secure a parking spot. 

The most popular and most demanding route to the summit of Pikes Peak is via the Barr Trail. The trailhead sits at 6,700’ in Manitou Springs, and it takes a whopping 13 miles and nearly 7,500’ to reach the top! If you are up to the challenge, it is worth every bead of sweat.    

In the first six miles, there is almost 4,000 feet in elevation gain. The first three of those miles being the steepest. Along the way, you will see a sign denoting the Fremont Experimental Forest. Use the single-track trail and avoid the temptation to hop onto the wider path to your left. 

At just over 10,000 feet, you will reach Barr Camp and a pseudo-halfway point for the climb. If you intend to divide your trip into two days, this is a great place to spend the night. Barr Camp has hostel cabins, lean-tos, and tent camping, but it is very popular and reservations are necessary. If you intend to make this into a multi-day affair, pack the right equipment and plan accordingly.

From Barr Camp, you will enjoy a mellow stroll for a couple of miles before hitting a set of switchbacks akin to those that you encountered from the trailhead. Just above 12,000’, you will find an a-frame which is a first-come, first-served shelter for anyone to use. Soon after this checkpoint, you will encounter a sign proclaiming that there are only three more miles to the summit. At this sign, take a sharp right turn and begin the steep, high elevation switchbacks on uneven terrain until you proudly stand atop the 14,115-foot summit of Pikes Peak.

Photo by Joshua Forbes on Unsplash

Tips for your Pikes Peak Hike

Altitude

If you are visiting from a lower elevation or sea level, take Colorado altitude seriously. Allow yourself plenty of time to acclimatize before your climb. Do some warmup hikes to get your body used to the elevation, and move slowly! 

Weather

High country weather changes quickly and often, and your trip planning should account for this. Bring plenty of clothing layers that can address your needs in both very cold and very hot temperatures, as well as the common afternoon rain shower.

If there are any signs of lightning or an encroaching thunderstorm, do not push for the summit. Leave early in the morning. Depending on your pace and fitness, you’ll avoid both midday heat and afternoon storms. 

Hydration

The importance of drinking plenty of water cannot be overstated. Your body will be dealing with physical exertion and altitude, and staying hydrated is key to mitigating the potential adverse effects of both. There is no potable water on Pikes Peak, so be sure to bring a purifying system to refill your bottles along the way. 

Food

No matter how you choose to hike Pikes Peak, you will be putting in a considerable amount of effort. Your body will need the energy to keep up! High protein snacks like bars or jerky are excellent snacks, but also pack a lunch for halfway through the day. Sugary snacks are great for the quick jolt when you need them, but do not rely on sugar to get you to the top. 

Anytime you approach objectives in the mountains, it is crucial to do so with a realistic mindset. If hiking Pikes Peak seems a bit out of reach this visit, enjoy a trip to the summit on the cog railroad or Pikes Peak Highway. Everyone on top gets to enjoy the same sweeping Rocky Mountain panorama, no matter how they got there!

There are plenty of other opportunities nearby to scratch your hiking itch, including with a professional guide with our guided hiking tours in Colorado Springs. From nature walks to summit bids, we guarantee that there is a hike on Colorado’s Front Range for every adventurer. No matter where you choose to explore, the Rocky Mountains are sure to impress.