Backpacking Gear Checklist
Backpacking through the wilderness is one of the most fulfilling outdoor activities that you can do. But, without the right gear in your pack, a great journey can quickly become a frustration-filled trek. It’s important to consider all aspects of your trip as you pack your gear, including the weather forecast, the length of the trip, and the trail’s terrain. As a rule of thumb, the longer your hike will be, the more you’ll need to pack. But, it’s important to know what items are absolute essentials. When backpacking, proper preparation is critically important.
The Gear Checklist
Below you will find a comprehensive list of all the gear you may want to bring on your next backpacking outing. You may not need everything on this list, but you should review each item and determine your exact needs.
Your backpack should have between 30 and 50 liters of carrying capacity. The longer your trip will be, the larger your pack should be. For day hikes, day packs and hydration packs are a great alternative to larger hiking backpacks.
- Rain cover for your backpack
- Headlamp or flashlight (with extra batteries)
- Trekking poles
- Packable lantern
- Bear spray
- Ziploc bag for trash
Anytime you are in the wilderness, having some form of safe shelter is vitally important.
Getting 7-8 hours of high-quality sleep is very important when backpacking. Sleep deprivation can be very dangerous, especially in wilderness survival situations.
Some people enjoy cooking as part of their camping experience. Others would rather spend time hiking than cooking. Consider how much cooking you want to do as you go through this list of cooking supplies.
- Backpacking stove
- Mess kit
- Eating Utensils
- Biodegradable dish soap
- Quick-dry towel(s)
- Collapsible water container
- Bear proof food container
You should plan on bringing snack foods and meal foods. High-calorie, high-protein snacks like almonds, beef jerky, and protein bars are ideal for eating on the trail. Your meals should consist of items that can be cooked with limited prep and kitchen supplies.
- Energy foods (Food Bars, Protein Bars, etc.)
- High-protein meals
- Dehydrated/Non-perishable foods
- Extra day’s food
- Breakfast meals
Staying hydrated is critically important on the trail. When planning your water supply needs, determine if there is a source of water near your trail. It is also important to drink water before you feel thirsty. As a rule of thumb, you should be drinking a half-liter of water per hour of activity.
- Water bottles and/or a water reservoir
- Water purification/filters
- Pre-filter for drinking water
- Collapsable water container
- Small hydration pack
The weather forecast is going to determine what type of clothing you should bring. But, be prepared for unexpected changes in weather. When deciding on footwear, you should look at the terrain of the area you’ll be hiking.
- Moisture-wicking t-shirt and underwear
- Quick-drying pants/shorts
- Long-sleeve shirt (for protection against sun and bugs)
- Lightweight fleece or jacket
- Boots or shoes (depending on the terrain)
- Extra clothes
- Insulated jacket or vest
- Gloves or mittens
- Warm hat
Although modern GPS systems are generally very reliable, it is important to pack back-up methods of navigation. Familiarize yourself with these methods before beginning your trip.
It is important to be prepared if you are in an emergency survival situation. These items will keep you safe if such a situation does occur.
- First-aid kit
- Lighter, matches, and other fire-starting equipment
- Emergency shelter (tarps, pup tents)
- Itineraries (We suggest leaving one with a friend and leaving another under your car seat)
- Emergency beacon or flair
- Sleeping pad patch kit
- Super glue (optional
- Needle + thread
- Small Sharpie
- Backup water treatment pills (Chlorine Dioxide)
Although ‘roughing it’ is part of the camping experience for many, maintaining basic hygiene on the trail is an important part of safe backpacking.
- Hand sanitizer
- Toothbrush and toothpaste
- Sanitation trowel
- Toilet paper/wipes and sealable bag
- Menstrual products
- Prescription medications
- Prescription glasses
- Sun protection (sunglasses, sunscreen, SPF-rated lip balm, hat)
- Insect repellent
- Urinary products
- Additional blister treatment supplies
It’s important to pack a basic toolkit to fix any equipment malfunctions.
- Duct tape
Below are some additional odds-and-ends that some campers may find useful (or entertaining) to bring with them.
- Playing cards/board games
- Compact telescopes
- Journal, pens, and pencils (preferably waterproof)
- Digital camera
- Small waist pack or daypack
The National Parks Service has published a list of the “Ten Essentials” for backpacking and wilderness exploring. The Ten Essentials is a collection of first aid and emergency items that will help you deal with unexpected events (including minor injuries, weather changes, and delays). Depending on where you’re camping, you may or may not need all of the Ten Essentials, but it is a good idea to review this list before packing. Consider pairing this list with the above checklist.
- Navigation (maps, GPS, compass)
- Sun protection (sunscreen, hat, sunglasses)
- Insulation (jackets)
- Lighting (flashlights, lamps, lanterns)
- First Aid Kit (bandages, gauze, disinfectant, medicines)
- Fire (matches, lighters)
- Repair Kit (basic tools)
- Nutrition and Extra Food (snacks and meals)
- Hydration (water and water purification)
- Emergency Shelter (tarps or lightweight backup tents)
Pack Appropriate Food -- Food can take up a lot of weight and space in your pack, so it’s important to carefully consider what kinds of foods you want to bring. We suggest healthy, calorie-dense foods like nuts, seeds, and animal proteins. Avoid sugary and excessively salty foods -- they taste great, but these types of foods can take a toll on your performance. Many backpackers make mealplans before packing. Structuring your meals can be very helpful in portioning and packing your food.
Keep It Light -- Eliminating a few ounces here and there can save a lot of weight in your pack. While it’s important to be well-prepared, you should not carry things that you don’t need. Additionally, look for lightweight alternatives wherever possible. By switching to a lightweight shelter and sleeping bag, for example, you can save a lot of weight in your backpacking setup.
Pay Attention to Fabrics -- Depending on where you’re backpacking, you’ll need to pack different clothing. But, try to find fabrics that help your body thermoregulate in both hot and cold conditions. If backpacking in cold conditions, pay careful attention to your clothes’ warmth-to-weight ratio. While you want to be as warm as possible, avoid heavyweight fabrics like cotton and duck canvas.