When planning a backpacking trip, there are a few essentials to keep in mind to make the most out of your wilderness experience. The supplies you pack can make or break your adventure.
Take it from someone who has been camping for over 20 years, and backpacking for 8 of those. I’ve overpacked, underpacked, and have done my best with poor quality gear, until I slowly accumulated the equipment and knowledge I have now.
I’ve created this checklist for adventurous souls who want to get outdoors, without sacrificing comfort or quality experiences.
This guide allows you to learn from my years of packing mistakes and lessons all in one easy read.
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 onto unbeaten paths, away from cars and cities, it’s best to invest in the correct (lightweight) backpacking gear from the start.
7 Things to Keep in Mind Before a Trip:
- 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 pound and 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.
- Prevent emergencies by packing extra food, water, and a water treatment device or tablets
- Emergencies can happen even with the best planning- Be prepared with a First Aid Kit and Emergency Kit
- Layering is the best way to keep warm and stay insulated in cold weather, long sleeves also protect against harmful UV rays from the sun
- Prepare for rain, even if it’s not in the forecast (e.g. pack a rain jacket, backpack rain cover, and rain tent cover)
- You might need a permit for the wilderness area you are backpacking in, check and apply in advance
- PLEASE DON’T LITTER! Plan to pack out all your garbage, so that everyone can enjoy the view
Backpacking Essentials Checklist:
* Items are discussed further below.
- Backpacking Backpack (45-70 liter pack)*
- Backpack Rain Cover
- Backpacking Stove (and corresponding fuel)*
- Backpacking Cookset
- Collapsible Bowl/Cup (If not included with cookset)
- Backpacking Utensils
- Water Treatment*
- Water Reservoir/Bladder (3 liters or more)*
- Nalgene Water Bottle
- Backpacking Tent (Fly and Footprint also recommended)*
- Backpacking Sleeping Bag (At least rated to 32 degrees Farenheight)*
- Compression Stuff Sack
- Backpacking Sleeping Pad
- Headlamp (and extra batteries)
- Meals (Dehydrated/ Freeze-Dried Food)*
- Energy Bars/ Snacks
- Quick Dry Towel
- Biodegradable Soap (Good for cleaning dishes & body wash)
- Hand Sanitizer
- Biodegradable Toilet Paper
- Insect Repellant
- Lip Balm/Chapstick (With sun protection)
Safety, Emergency, & Repair Supplies
- First Aid Kit
- Storm Proof Matches and Emergency Fire Starter Kit
- Duct Tape (For Fixing Broken Equipment and Gear)
- Compass (Preferably with a whistle)
- Topographic Map (Waterproof and Tear-resistant)
- Emergency Reflective Blanket
- Bear Canister or Bag (Depending on region)*
- 50-foot Nylon Chord (For hanging food away from bears- Depending on region)*
Backpacking Clothing Pack List
- 2 x Moisture Wicking, Quick Drying, Sun-Protective Shirts (1 long sleeve, 1 short)
- 1 x Moisture Wicking, Quick Drying, Sun-Protective Pants (Preferably convertible into shorts)
- 1 x Set of Moisture Wicking/ Quick Drying Underwear (Top and bottoms/ doubles as sleepwear)
- 2 x Socks (Moisture Wicking – Wool)
- 1 x Rain Jacket
- 1 x Sun Hat
- 1 x Sports Bra (for Women-doubles as a swimsuit)
For Cold Weather Trips- Add the Following Items:
- Hiking Boots/Shoes (Preferably waterproof and with ankle support)
- Sandals (Good for crossing rivers/streams, and using as slippers around campsite)
Optional, but Recommended Extra Equipment:
- Ultralight Day Pack (For smaller hikes away from your campsite)
- Backpacking Pillow
- Backpacking Lantern
- Trekking Poles
- Multifunction Watch
- Instant Coffee
- GoPro Hero 5 or other durable/ waterproof camera
How to Choose Your Most Essential Backpacking Items:
It is important to remember that quality equipment will probably last you longer, but you don’t necessarily need the most expensive equipment.
1. Backpacking Backpack
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. 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 probably get by with a 30-50 liter pack.
I used a 45 Liter REI pack for several years, that worked just fine, before I upgraded to a 65 Liter Osprey Ariel Pack with 3 entry points and a top lid that converts into a daypack. The Women’s Osprey Ariel 65 bag is perfect for a carry-on item on a plane (when not packed to the max), and/or multi-day wilderness camping trips because of it’s extremely comfortable straps and waist belt.
2. Backpacking Tent
When choosing a tent- think about compactibility, weight, and simplicity. You don’t want a tent that it is difficult or takes a long time to set up, because you might need to quickly set up camp due to inclement weather. You also want to make sure your tent comes with a cover/rain fly, this is important for staying dry and insulating you by retaining heat while you sleep. If you plan to backpack with a partner, you might want to get a 2-person tent. Finally, it is a good idea to bring a footprint that corresponds with your tent to keep your tent clean and dry, and to ensure that water doesn’t seep in while you sleep if it starts to rain.
3. Backpacking Sleeping Bag
Your sleeping bag should take into consideration the climate you plan to camp in. If you’re unsure it’s best to get a 3-season bag that is rated from 0 to 30 degrees Fahrenheit. 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 consider materials that are water resistant.
4. Backpacking 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 cooking cup to eat or drink directly out of. It is basically an all in one, stove, pot, cup, bowl, and lighter. Keep in mind that if you have a Jet Boil or another stove that uses propane for fuel, that you can’t bring the fuel on an airplane with you.
5. 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).
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.
6. Backpacking Water Reservoir
Water Bladders with a straw, 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 to have a drink. They come in various sizes and brands, but top opening reservoirs like the Platypus Big Zip make it especially easy to refill and treat your water.
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:
- Ultraviolet (UV Light) Water Purifiers (Require batteries – best to bring tablets as backups)
- Pump Water Purifiers
- Water Purifying Tablets and Drops (often taste bad, recommended to combine with taste neutralizer)
- Boiling water for 5 minutes or more also kills off most germs and parasites (consider fuel usage though)
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. If you are backpacking in bear territory (check online or with local park services), you need to place all your food and food wrappers/garbage in an air-tight, 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 IN YOUR TENT IN BEAR TERRITORY.
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, printable Backpacking Essentials Checklist.