Whether you are hiking one of Costa Rica’s rugged jungle trails or planning a relaxing walk in a national park, having what you need readily available can make a good day that much better. Through our years of traveling and living in Costa Rica, we have done countless day hikes around the country. In doing so, we have learned to keep some essential items in our backpack at all times. This has saved us on many occasions or at least made life easier. In this post, we’ll share a simple list of things we keep in our daypack for hiking that you might want to include too. Some of these items also might be helpful if you are just carrying your bag around town or going to the beach.
Note: We have a separate post with more general packing tips. Check out Packing for Costa Rica: The Essentials for info on the best footwear and clothing, how to prepare for the rainy season, and more.
Choosing a Daypack
Before we get into the packing details, we’ll address the daypack itself. We were looking for a new hiking daypack a couple of months ago and couldn’t believe the amount of time it took us to decide on one. The biggest question we had was what size to get. Too big and you look like you are going on a month-long trek and too small leaves you wondering where to actually fit stuff (one of our old packs is really small).
After reading a lot of reviews and comparing different sized daypacks at or under $50, we finally settled on the Osprey Daylite Backpack. So far, we are really happy with it and have taken it on about a half-dozen hikes. It’s a simple, small-to-medium-sized backpack (13 liter), ultra-lightweight, comfortable, and seems like it will hold up for a long time. One of the big selling points for us was the vented back panel since it gets so hot in Costa Rica. This is a major improvement from our old one from Eastern Mountain Sports that didn’t breathe and always left us soaked with sweat. The Osprey also has the ability to store a hydration bladder (up to 3 liters), which we don’t use ourselves but know is important to some people. Instead, we just use the two mesh side pockets for our water bottles. For a smaller pack, it holds a lot and isn’t bulky when full.
10 Daypack Essentials for Costa Rica
Here’s our list of what to keep in your daypack for hiking in Costa Rica.
1. Mini First Aid Kit
We all hope no one gets hurt on vacation but it does happen. We’ve used our mini first aid kit many times, from bandaging a small cut when snorkeling to helping patch up a motorcyclist after he went off the road and over the handlebars! Over time, we’ve added a few things to our kit too like allergy medicine, Advil for after-hiking relief, and some Nexcare Band-Aids, which are great for blisters because they are waterproof.
The sun is extremely strong in Costa Rica so you’ll want some protection on sunny trails. Sunscreen is at least twice as expensive in Costa Rica so it’s best to bring it from home. Our favorite type is Neutrogena Ultra Sheer because it is waterproof and not greasy.
3. Insect Repellent
You’re likely to encounter more mosquitoes when hiking than you would in the middle of town. Sometimes, if you are near water or even just in the humid jungle, they can be pretty bad. We always carry at least two types of repellents. For normal use, we use a lemon eucalyptus blend. Repel has a good one that we use a lot or lately Jenn has been mixing her own with coconut oil and pure lemon eucalyptus oil, which smells really nice. Another natural kind we keep in our bag is doTERRA’s Outdoor Blend. This is more potent (and expensive), but it works the best so we like it for areas with lots of bugs. Of course, Deet and Picaridin-based repellents work well too.
Read our post on Mosquitoes in Costa Rica for more info and tips to prevent bites.
4. Small Change/Cash
If you are going on a hike or day trip, you might choose to leave most of your money in the hotel safe or hidden away in a money belt. That’s great until you are dying of thirst and see someone selling cold coconut water. You may need cash to tip a parking attendant who watched your car too. Keeping a few dollars or local colones at hand is always a good idea.
5. Camera Supplies
Some important items that we always try to remember on a hike are camera accessories. We keep a few microfiber cloths and lens cleaner to wipe off dirty or water-spotted lenses. And if we are going on a longer hike, we’ll take an extra camera battery and memory chip. We also have a small gorilla tripod that grips onto tree branches or stands up on uneven surfaces that we sometimes take along.
6. Flashlight or Headlamp
Chances are that you aren’t planning to hike in the dark but you never know. If you are like us, you can’t help but explore around the next corner and sometimes lose track of time. After almost not making it back before dark in Drake Bay once, we now keep a headlamp and mini-Maglight in our bag at all times. Both are very small and don’t add much weight.
7. Light Rain Jacket or Poncho
Costa Rica is in the tropics, and while there are drier months, you never know when a pop up shower or rainstorm might hit. A foldable poncho or light rain jacket that you can take out and quickly put away can be really handy.
On the topic of rain, you always should be prepared to protect what’s in your daypack too. An inexpensive rain cover that stretches over your bag can keep most water out. But if you are traveling by boat (like to Tortuguero or Drake Bay) or doing something adventurous like waterfall rappelling, ATV tours, etc., you might want more protection. In those instances, we recommend a waterproof cell phone case or even a small dry bag that can hold multiple items like your camera. We have this 10L one that rolls up small. Additionally, it’s a good idea to carry a few plastic shopping or zipper bags to wrap things up in. These are handy for wet clothes too!
9. Field Guides
Field guides are nice to take on a hike so that you can identify the wildlife you’re seeing, but we seldom pack them because they are so heavy. Luckily, there are some laminated fold-out ones for Costa Rica like these that are lightweight and have a good variety of what you might see. They’re especially fun if you’re traveling with kids so they can figure out what they’re seeing. We’ve purchased a half-dozen of them, from butterflies and birds, to mammals, and even fruits.
10. Photocopy of Your Passport
Most people recommend carrying a copy of your passport at all times. Although you are unlikely to need it on a hike, we have been asked for ours at a couple of national parks. Before you leave home, make a quick copy of your photo page and you’ll be all set.
That’s our list of ten essential items for your daypack in Costa Rica. Of course, you’ll have to add the obvious things like water and snacks, but hopefully we’ve pointed out some items that you didn’t think of.
What’s in your daypack? Have something essential that we missed? Leave us a comment below. (Email subscribers, click here to post your comment online.)
Post Updated: June 12, 2017
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Looking for more practical information to plan your Costa Rica vacation? You might like these posts:
- Packing for Costa Rica: The Essentials – We’ve covered what to pack for hiking here, but what about things for the rest of your trip? This post has a detailed list of everything you’ll want to take.
- Simple Spanish for Visiting Costa Rica – Print out this list of common words and phrases and take it out when you need to order food, ask for directions, or greet someone.
- Driving in Costa Rica: What to Know Before You Go – Driving in a foreign country can be intimidating, but this post will take out a lot of the mystery. Tips on safety, laws, and more.