When planning a backpacking trip, there are a few essential things to keep in mind to make the most out of your wilderness experience. The supplies and gear you pack can make or break your adventure. This post contains tips on how to get started and plan your trip, gear suggestions, and a complete backpacking checklist.

Take it from someone who has been backpacking for 10 years, and gone on 15 wilderness backpacking trips around the world (to elevations as high as 19,341 ft). I’ve overpacked, under packed, and have done my best with subpar gear, until I slowly accumulated the equipment and knowledge I have now.

I don’t claim to know everything, and I still don’t have all THE absolute top of the line gear, but I’ve created this checklist and gear guide for other adventurous souls who want to get outdoors, and don’t know where to start. This guide allows you to learn from my years of packing mistakes and backpacking lessons all in one easy read.

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8 Things to Keep in Mind Before a Backpacking Trip
Essential Gear
Clothing
Footwear
Safety & Emergency Equipment
Hygiene & Toiletries
Camera Gear & Electronics
Backpacking Food
Backpacking Checklist

Quick Note: If you already have car camping gear (e.g. tent, sleeping bag, stove), these items probably aren’t going to be ideal for backpacking due to their size and weight. If you want to adventure off-the-beaten-path, away from cars and cities, it’s best to invest in the correct (lightweight) backpacking gear from the start.


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8 Things to Keep in Mind Before a Backpacking Trip:

backpacking packing list backpackers resting at ice lake basin
  1. Ideally, you want to keep your pack under 20% of your body weight (when it is full of gear, food and water). Weight is one of the most important factors in choosing your backpacking equipment and packing. You are literally carrying everything on your back, and each ounce adds up quickly. Remember to always check the weight of your equipment before making a purchase. Keep your pack as light as possible & don’t bring unnecessary clothes and equipment.
  2. Always pack extra food, water, and a water treatment device or tablets
  3. Be prepared with a First Aid Kit and Emergency Kit (emergencies can happen even with the best planning)
  4. Pack layers (layering your clothing is the best way to keep warm and stay insulated in cold weather), long sleeves also protect against harmful UV rays from the sun
  5. Prepare for rain, even if it’s not in the forecast (e.g. pack a rain jacket, backpack rain cover, and rain tent cover)
  6. You might need a permit for the wilderness area you are backpacking in, check and apply in advance
  7. PLEASE DON’T LITTER! Plan to pack out all your garbage, so that everyone can enjoy the view (including your toilet paper)
  8. PLEASE camp at least 200 feet from a water source (this ensures you are not contaminating freshwater)

Essential Backpacking Gear

It is important to remember that quality equipment will probably last you longer, but you don’t necessarily need the most expensive gear to go backpacking. In fact, my first pair of hiking boots were from Costco and cost $25, and I hiked down the Grand Canyon, up Mount Kilimanjaro, and through parts of the Appalachain Trail in them with no problems!

1. Backpacking Pack

When choosing a backpack it is important to try it on with weight bags in it, at an outdoor store such as Recreational Equipment Inc. (REI) to ensure that it is comfortable and fits correctly. This also allows you to get your torso measured and ensure you are getting the correct size for your body frame.

It’s also important to consider what types of trips you’ll be taking. If it varies (e.g. traveling on planes, hostel backpacking, and wilderness backpacking) you might want a more versatile pack. For a multi-day trip, it is recommended to use a pack that is 50-80 liters. For a weekend trip, you can get by with a 30-50 liter pack.

I used a 45 Liter REI pack for several years, which worked just fine. But as I started to take longer backpacking trips, I upgraded to a 65 Liter Women’s Osprey Ariel Backpack, which I love. It has 3 entry points and a top lid that comes off and converts into a daypack. The Ariel Pack is also perfect for hostel backpacking and can be used as a carry-on item on a plane (when not packed to the max), and/or for multi-day wilderness camping trips because of its genius anti-gravity system, extremely comfortable straps and waist belt.

My mom thru-hiked the 800-mile Arizona Trail with an ultra-lightweight Osprey Eja 58 Pack and she highly recommends that pack for thru hikes and backpacking in general.

My fiancé uses a Mammut Trion pack, he really loves it for being able to easily and safely store and separate his camera gear. Plus, it’s a great rock climbing gear bag. It also allows easy access to all your gear from the back rather than just the front or the top.

Women’s Osprey Ariel Anti Gravity 65L Pack

Weight: 4 lbs. 13.6 oz.

Check the price: REI | Amazon

Women’s Ultralight Osprey Eja 58 Pack

Weight: 2 lbs. 10 oz. (but can be reduced to 2 lbs. 3.4 oz.)

Check the price: REI | Amazon

Men’s Mammut Trion 50L Pack

Weight: 3 lbs. 7 oz.

Check the price: REI | Amazon


2. Backpacking Tent

When choosing a backpacing tent, you want to think about weight, compactness, and simplicity. You don’t want a tent that is difficult to set up, because you might need to quickly set up camp due to inclement weather. You also want something that isn’t going to take up all the space in your pack. But most importantly, you want a lightweight tent that isn’t going to weigh you down, ideally your tent should weigh under 5 pounds (for 2 person tents) and 4 pounds (for 1 person tents).

You also want to make sure you pair your tent with a cover/rain fly, this is important for staying dry and insulating you by retaining heat while you sleep.

I have always used a 2-person tent even when I backpack solo because I like having the extra space for my gear inside and space to change etc, and I usually end up sharing my tent with a friend or boyfriend anyway. So unless you plan to do a completely solo trip, I recommend investing in a 2-person tent, and then you can split up the tent in both your packs to distribute the weight between the two of you.

Finally, it is a good idea to bring a tent footprint. Most tents make a footprint that corresponds with your tent to keep the bottom of your tent clean and dry, and to ensure that water doesn’t seep in if it starts to rain. Tent footprints also lengthen the life of your tent by preventing damage like rips from sharp objects on the ground.

Kelty Salida 2P

Great lightweight budget tent: Kelty Salida (4 lbs. 9 oz.) |Cost: $

Check the price: REI | Amazon

Nemo Hornet Elite 2

Ultra-lightweight tent: Nemo Hornet Elite 2 (2 lbs. 3 oz.) | Cost: $$$

Check the price: REI


3. Sleeping Bag

Your backpacking sleeping bag should take into consideration the climates you plan to camp in and what time of year you’ll be camping. If you’re unsure it’s best to get a 3-season bag that is at least rated from 0 to 30 degrees Fahrenheit (meaning it can withstand and keep you warm in freezing cold temperatures).

It’s also important to note the length depending on your height. If you are short like me, it’s best to get a short bag, because there is no need to carry extra fabric and weight. Also, I recommend materials that are water-resistant (synthetic down fillings are better in this regard).

I currently alternate between the Big Agnes Sun Beam 15 and the REI Co-op Magma 15. I like the design of the Big Agnes bag better, and it’s more compact, but I feel like the Magma keeps me warmer and it’s lighter.

Women’s Big Agnes Sun Beam 15

  • Temperature Rating: 15 degrees (F)
  • Fill: 100% recycled ECO synthetic fibers
  • Weight (regular size): 3 lbs. 1 oz.

Check the price: REI

Women’s REI Co-op Magma 15

  • Temperature Rating: 17 degrees (F)
  • Fill: 850-fill-power goose down (RDS certified and bluesign® approved)
  • Weight (regular size): 2 lbs. 4 oz.

Check the price: REI


4. Sleeping Pad

A sleeping pad is extremely important for comfort and ensuring that you get a good night’s sleep while camping. You should consider if you want a compact and inflatable pad or a larger lightweight accordion style foam pad.

inflatable sleeping pad
Inflatable Pad
foam sleeping pad
Foam Pad

I’ve always used inflatable pads, but a lot of people prefer foam sleeping pads (these are typically larger and therefore stored outside of your backpack). Pros to foam pads are that they are less expensive, lighter, and they are also good for using as a cushion when resting and/or eating. Some people even like to combine foam and inflatable pads for extra comfort.

Make sure you compare the lengths of the sleeping pad you want (most come in short, regular, and long). If you are shorter, getting the right length means you can carry less weight and save space in your pack. I am currently using the Therm-a-Rest ProLite Sleeping Pad, but before I popped a big hole in my Big Agnes Air Core Ultra sleeping pad , I found it very comfortable and preferred it (it’s just not as durable as the Therm-a-rest and you might need to patch holes after a lot of use).

Therm-a-rest ProLite

Weight (regular size): 1 lb. 2 oz.

Check the price: REI | Amazon

Big Agnes Insulated Air Core Ultra

Weight (petite size): 1 lb. 4 oz.

Check the price: REI | Amazon


5. Backpacking Stove

backpacking in the grand canyon and cooking on the esbit stove

All my backpacker friends have different opinions about stoves, but I swear by my JetBoil Flash Cooking System. It boils 2 cups of water in 100 seconds and is extremely fuel efficient. It has an easy ignitor button, and color change heat indicator to show you when your water is boiling. You can also use the insulated cooking cup to eat or drink directly out of. It is basically an all in one, stove, pot, cup, bowl, and lighter.

My mom uses the lightweight Esbit Fuel Stove & Cookset though, and swears by that! She just adds a little reflectix layer around it, to keep her water insulated and it allows her to use it as a cup when the contents inside are hot.

JetBoil Flash

Weight: 13.1 ounces

Liquid Capacity: 1 liter (33.8 fluid ounces)

Fuel Type: Isobutane-propane canister

Check the price: REI | Amazon

Esbit Stove

Weight: 7 ounces

Liquid Capacity: 0.59 liters (20 fluid ounces)

Fuel Type: Esbit Fuel Tablets

Check the price: REI | Amazon

Keep in mind that if you have a Jet Boil or another stove that uses propane or butane canisters for fuel, that you can’t bring the fuel on an airplane with you. Also, if you don’t get a stove with a cook set, keep in mind that you’ll need to purchase a pot/cup for cooking and eating out of.

Even if you buy a stove with an ignitor, it’s a good idea to bring some backup stormproof matches.

You’ll also need a compact eating utensil, I recommend a lightweight titanium spork.


6. Backpacking Water Reservoir

You’ll need a water reservoir/bladder or some form of container to store your drinking and cooking water in. Which kind you choose is a matter of personal preference, and I prefer to bring a few options with me (one for drinking while hiking, and one for storing cooking water and filtering water in).

There are a lot of factors for how much water you’ll need to carry (e.g. weather, distance, trail difficulty, water source availability), but a general rule is that on a moderate hike in moderate weather, you’ll need to drink .5 liters/hour. You need an additional liter for every 1,000ft of elevation gain. You’ll also need water for preparing your meals. Dehydrated food takes .5 – 1 liters per pouch.

I personally like to be able to carry 3-5 liters of water at any given time when I’m backpacking (I carry 5 liters if there are not a lot of natural water sources on the trail to refill my water supply).

Water Bladders with a straw, and top refill opening, like the Platypus Big Zip, are a great way to store drinking/cooking water and also give you the convenience of not having to stop hiking to take a drink. They come in various sizes and brands, but top-opening reservoirs make it especially easy to refill and treat your water. Collapsible water containers without straws are a less convenient but more lightweight option. The Platypus collapsible bottle also comes with a top screw cap opening that fits common straw water filters. Finally, there is always the trusty Nalgene bottle.

Osprey 3L Bladder (with straw)

Weight: 7.8 ounces

Liquid Capacity: 3 liters

Check the price: REI

Platypus Collapsible Water Container

Weight: 1.3 ounces

Liquid Capacity: 2 liters

Check the price: REI

42 Oz Nalgene Bottle

Weight: 5.5 ounces

Liquid Capacity: 1.42 liters

Check the price: REI


7. Water Treatment

Water treatment is very important, especially for hikes longer than 2 days. Water is heavy, 1 liter weighs 2.2 pounds (1 kg). So typically if you carry about 3 liters in your pack, you’ll need to refill from a natural source within a day. Rivers and creeks contain various parasites and bacteria, so you need to treat the water you refill your reservoir or bottle with.

There are a lot of water treatment options such as:

Note: I always bring purifying tablets incase my other method of water filtration breaks.

My Favorite Water Filters

1L Katadyn Collapsible Water Filter Bottle

Weight: 2.3 ounces

Check the price: REI

Also available in a 3L Bottle

Sawyer Squeeze Mini

Weight: 2 ounces

Check the price: REI | Amazon

Steripen UV Water Purifier

Weight: 4.94 ounces (w/ batteries)

Check the price: REI


8. Bear Safety

If you are hiking anywhere where there are bears, during bear season, it is important to take precautions. There are various bear safety items such as bear spray, a bear bell, and bear food containers.

Always check with local park or forest service offices about the specific instructions for backpacking in bear territory. Typically, you need to place all your food and food wrappers/garbage, lotions, toothpaste, etc. in a bear-proof container or bag, and place it 100 yards downwind from your campsite. Otherwise, you need to place it in an odor barrier bag and hang it (using nylon chord) on a tree branch away from your sleeping spot. DO NOT SLEEP WITH FOOD OR OTHER PRODUCTS WITH ODORS INSIDE YOUR TENT IN BEAR TERRITORY.

Garcia Bear Resistant Container

Weight: 2 pounds 12 ounces

Capacity: 10 liters

Check the price: REI

Ursack Major XL Bear Sack

Weight: 8.8 ounces

Capacity: 15 liters

*Made of bulletproof fabric

Check the price: REI


Backpacking Clothing

backpacking the grand canyon

In general, you want to make sure that you pack enough layers to stay warm in whichever climate you intend to hike in.

Base Layers

Your base layers can help regulate your body temperature while you’re hiking and sleeping.

You’ll want to pack Moisture Wicking/ Quick Drying Base Layers. These act as thermals (if it gets cold), and can double as sleepwear.

Natural materials like wool are good if it’s cold, or synthetics like polyester are a good choice if it’s warmer (just avoid cotton).

Quick Dry Hiking Clothes (Shirts & Bottoms)

Moisture-wicking and quick-dry materials are always recommended for your hiking layers too.

Long sleeve shirts and pants with sun protection also allow you to skip sunscreen, and protect you against insects.

My Favorite Women’s Hiking Shirts
My Favorite Women’s Hiking Bottoms

Rain Jacket/ Wind Breaker

You ALWAYS want to pack a lightweight rain jacket, because the weather can be extremely unpredictable. Your rain jacket can also double as a windbreaker. I am currently using and am obsessed with the Patagonia Rainshadow jacket. It’s waterproof, super lightweight, breathable, and compact, while still maintaining durability and it’s made from 100% recycled materials. My partner recommends the Arc’teryx Alpa FL Rain Jacket for men.

Women’s Patagonia Rainshadow Jacket

Check the Price: Patagonia

Men’s Arc’teryx Alpa FL Rain Jacket

Check the price: Amazon

Socks

Socks made out of moisture-wicking materials like wool are ideal. My mom, who is prone to blisters, swears by these WRIGHTSOCK Double Layered Cool Mesh socks. My favorite hiking socks are below.

Darn Tough Coolmax Micro Crew Cushioned Socks

Check the price: REI

Smart Wool Hike Lite Ankle Socks

Check the price: REI

Underwear

Don’t forget to pack at least 2 pairs of underwear, one to wear, and one to change into. Ideally, you want a pair of quick-dry underwear that are comfortable and give you full coverage. I like to wear black underwear, since this doubles as my bathing suit if I jump into a lake or a stream.

Women’s Patagonia Barely Hipster Underwear

Check the price: REI | Patagonia

Sports Bra

You’ll want to make sure you choose a comfortable sports bra that won’t irritate your skin or move around with the weight of your backpack. Your sports bra can also double as a swimsuit. The Patagonia Barely sports bra, is my go to backpacking bra.

Patagonia Barely Sports Bra

Check the price: Patagonia

Sun Hat

You’ll want a hat with good sun protection (all around your face and neck). My favorite hiking hat is the Sahara Cape Cap, because it’s compact, adjustable, you can tuck in the cape when you’re not using it, and it offers UPF 50+ sun protection.

Additional Clothing For Cold Weather Trips

I recommend adding all of the following cold weather items, if you plan to backpack in colder weather/ high elevations. But honestly, I usually pack at least a compact down jacket, beanie, and gloves, regardless of the weather forecast, because as I mentioned before, weather is unpredictable. And even places like the desert can get cold at night.

Compact Down Jacket

Check the prices: REI | Patagonia | Amazon

Polar Buff (multifunctional scarf and headwear)

Check the price: REI | Amazon

Fleece Jacket

Check the price: REI | Patagonia


Backpacking Footwear

You’ll need a durable pair of Hiking Boots/ Trail Shoes with good traction, and you’ll need to test them out and wear them in a bit before your trip.

I prefer boots with ankle support, but most long distance thru hikers wear and recommend “trail shoes”. My mom really liked how her Altra Trail Shoes held up on the Arizona Trail. I am currently using my Columbia Trail Shoes (in warmer weather) and my Vasque Waterproof boots (in colder weather).

If you do chose trail shoes rather than hiking boots, I highly recommend using hiking poles to ensure that you have some more stability while hiking. I’ve been using my Leki Micro Vario Cor-Tec Poles for a few years and I love them!

Leki Lightweight Collapsible Trekking Poles

Weight: 1 pound 3.2 ounces

Check the price: REI

I also recommend packing hiking sandals. These can be good for crossing rivers/streams, and using as “slippers” around your campsite.

Teva Water Sandal

Safety & Emergency Gear

There are a number of safety supplies that are important to include in your packing list. I’ve included some of the bigger safety and emergency gear items below, but you can also go to the “Safety, Health, Emergency, & Repair Supplies” checklist section for a more comprehensive packing list.

SOS/Navigation/ GPS Satellite Device

Having some form of satellite GPS tracker and SOS tool if your backpacking solo is essential in my opinion. I have used the SPOT 3 Satellite GPS Messenger, which was very handy and more affordable but offered limited services compared to other satellite devices. Now my partner and I have the Garmin In Reach Explorer+ which is a GPS tracker, navigation tool, 2-way satellite messenger and SOS device all in one. It allows you to check the weather, send text messages, view maps, allow someone to track your journey, and has a button for getting help in an emergency (all these features are accessible “offline” and out of cell range).

Headlamp

A headlamp is a safety necessity because you might have to hike or go to the bathroom in the middle of the night, but it also just makes finding things in your tent much more convenient in the dark. I use the Black Diamond Storm 400 headlamp. It provides up to 400 lumens of light, with multiple light settings, and it’s waterproof.

Lightweight Multitool

Check the prices & options: REI

Lightweight First-Aid Kit

Check the options & Prices: REI

Multi-Purpose Compass/Whistle/ Magnifying Glass

Check the price: REI

Watertight Fire Starter Kit

Check the price: REI

Topographic Weatherproof Map

You’ll want to make sure you have a Topographic Map (that is waterproof and tear-resistant) for the trail you are doing. You can typically get them from major trails at REI.


Hygiene & Toiletries

You’ll want to bring a small travel-sized toothbrush and toothpaste. Short travel toothbrushes with refillable toothpaste containers are perfect for backpacking. You can also bring toothpaste tablets, which are smaller and more compact than liquid toothpaste and you can fit them in a refillable tube or a separate container.

It’s a good idea to pack some wet wipes for cleaning your face and body after a day of accumulating sweat, sunscreen, dirt etc.

You’ll also want to pack a trowel, which is just a small lightweight shovel for digging a cathole (a hole for you to do your bathroom business in). Likewise, you’ll want to pack toilet paper, but you’ll need to pack it out with you, which is why bringing a large ziplock bag for garbage is always a good idea.

You’ll definitely want to bring hand sanitizer, so you can clean up after you go to the bathroom and before you eat. If you aren’t just bringing pre-packaged dehydrated backpacking meals for food, then you’ll want a multi-purpose soap to be able to do dishes.

If you’re a woman who might be on their period during your trip, you can pack a menstrual cup. Just dig a hole to dump the blood in and be sure to bring biodegradable unscented all-purpose soap to clean yourself and your cup.

Finally, you’ll want to bring sun protection for your whole body (but especially for your face, hands, and lips)! That means you’ll need to pack chapstick with SPF in it.


Camera Gear & Electronics

Camera gear is heavy, and the lighter it is, the more expensive it becomes. So to be honest, if you have a smartphone, you technicaly own a decent lightweight camera already. But if you want something nicer to capture the scenery you’ll be witnessing on your journey, you can check out the backpacking camera gear I always pack below.

I usually bring my GoPro and my Sony a6300 cameras when I go backpacking, since they are both small and lightweight. Sony Alpha’s mirrorless cameras are some of the most compact and lightweight DSLRs on the market.

I typically use my GoPro for filming, and my Sony for taking photos, and I carry my go GoPro on a 3-way grip, arm, tripod and my partner usually carries this lightweight Vanguard Carbon Fiber tripod for our DSLR cameras. This camera clip is also great for carrying your camera on your backpack strap while you hike for quick and easy access.

To charge my camera gear and phones, I usually bring my inflatable solar lantern/charger and a larger solar charger battery bank. Don’t forget to pack your camera and phone charging chords.


Backpacking Meals

Dry foods that are nutritious and high in calories are ideal for backpacking. For meals and snacks, think about things that don’t require refrigeration or a lot of preparation.

Breakfast: Oatmeal is a great lightweight, energy-filled and compact breakfast option.

Snacks: Trail mix (nuts and dried fruits are perfect for providing the energy your body needs for hiking). I love Kind, RXBAR and LÄRABAR because I have Celiac Disease and they are all gluten-free. I also highly recommend packing at least 1 pack of GU or energy gel per day to ensure that you are getting all the calories you need to fuel you on your hike.

My favorite snack bars

Lunch and Dinner: Pasta and instant rice are great dinner options if you’re on a budget.

If you can afford it though, freeze-dried and dehydrated meals are the most convenient, lightweight option. Brands like Good To-Go, provide nutritious, already-prepared meals that just require you to add water. They also offer Gluten-free, dairy free and vegetarian options.


Backpacking Packing Checklist:

Note: Major items (marked with a *) are discussed in detail in the Essential Gear Section

Essential Gear & Basic Supplies
Safety, Hygiene, Emergency, & Repair Supplies
Backpacking Clothing Pack List

For Cold Weather Trips- Add the Following Items:

Backpacking Footwear:

If you want to see all the specific gear I use in one convenient location, check out my adventure gear or my hiking apparel and shoes.

Remember, if you pack the proper equipment, then it frees up your mind from unnecessary stress so that you can focus on having a great time! Now, go enjoy your adventure 🙂

Get my FREE Backpacking Essentials Checklist in a printable PDF version (with check boxes for your convenience) when you sign up for my newsletter:

3 Comments

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About Author

Anna is an optimist with pessimistic tendencies who enjoys making a short story long, her coffee black, and watching Friends re-runs. These days you can catch her in her natural habitats wandering through forest roads in her van, hiking to a waterfall or glacial lake, and learning about off-grid living the hard way. You can also find her on YouTube as Anna French.

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