What to Pack
Everyone will have varied packing lists, of course, but here are 10 things to include among your luggage essentials.
Binoculars. Many of the parks are a bird-watcher's dream. A pair of binos will help you spot feathered friends as well as large mammals. 10 [x] (power) is a good combination for magnification, field of view, and steadiness. If the magnification is higher, the field of view is smaller, and your hand movements will prevent you from seeing well, unless you use a tripod.
Clothes for both warm and cold weather. Days can often be warm while nights turn chilly, so dress in layers. In cold or wet-weather hiking, synthetics such as fleece and wood are the way to go. In these fabrics, your feet will stay much drier and toastier than with a cotton-blend variety.
Comfortable shoes or sturdy hiking boots. Be sure to break them in first. Also consider ankle support, which helps for unnpaved trails.
Digital camera. It lets you see right away how your picture will appear. Be sure it has plenty of memory.
Insect repellant. If you're hiking near water and camping at night, a good bug spray can help keep your trip from being a swatting marathon. The level of DEET indicates the longevity of its effectiveness.
Journal. When your jaw drops at the sight of a glorious vista, and your head clears from all the fresh air, you may find some thoughts of inspiration longing to be penned. Consider a weatherproof one (sporting goods stores should have them).
Long pants and shirts. When hiking, especially in higher altitudes and areas with poison ivy, it's wise to wear long pants and shirts to minimize exposed skin.
Skin moisturizer and lip balm. At many parks you'll be in higher altitudes and drier climates.
Snacks and water. National parks by their nature are remote, and some are very lacking in services. Bring plenty of healthy snacks with you, as well as water.
Sunglasses, sunscreen, and hat. The higher elevation means the sun gets to you more quickly, so protect your skin, eyes, and scalp. Look for those marked UV Protection and Polarized.
For extended hiking trips, pick up a good topographical map. Also invest in a hiking stick if you have bad knees. If you're hiking in the backcountry, also pack a water filter.