My Backpacking Packing Checklist
Figuring out what to bring with you on a backpacking trip can be one of the most confusing parts of backpacking. You don’t want to miss bringing something important, and there are so many different gear options.
When I was getting started with backpacking, I remember walking into an REI and being overwhelmed. What sleeping bag do I get? Do I need all of these accessories? What do I actually need with me? How heavy is my bag going to be?
After years of backpacking everything from weekend hikes to thru-hikes, I’ve compiled a list of my backpacking packing list filled with the actual gear that I use. This will help you make sure you’re not missing anything and helps you figure out what gear you need.
This packing list is regularly updated with my current gear. Overall my pack weight is usually 25-35 pounds depending on how many days of food I carry and how much water.
When shopping for a backpacking pack, I recommend getting something in the 50-65L range. I use this for shorter trips and thru-hikes. If you get something bigger than 65L, you’re going to be tempted to bring more things that just adds to the weight. Packs in the 70L range or bigger are typically used for mountaineering because you have more gear with you. As for getting a pack that’s smaller than 50L, unless you have all ultralight gear, it doesn’t make sense to get a small or ultralight pack because nothing will fit. Get all ultralight gear first, then transition to an ultralight pack.
It has anti-gravity technology in the back support so the weight of the pack sits on my hips instead of on my shoulders. I have scoliosis so I have trouble with packs that sit on my shoulders, it just adds to my existing back pain. When I was looking for a backpacking pack, this was something I was really looking to avoid.
Selecting a backpack is a very personal choice, what works for one person might not work for someone else. We all have our pain points and what we feel is comfortable. It’s best to go into a store to get fitted for the right size and to try different packs on with weight and see what feels best.
When you try on the bag, add 30-45lbs to it to get a better feel for how it will really feel on you while on the trail. If it hurts and is uncomfortable now, keep looking. The last thing you want is to be uncomfortable on the trail.
Check to make sure your pack comes with a rain cover, if not, get one. I have this one for my Osprey Aura.
This is a 2 person, ultralight tent. It weighs 2lbs and it’s freestanding, meaning it can stand and hold it’s shape without being staked into the ground. Tents are one of the easiest ways to reduce your pack weight, so when buying a tent for backpacking, try to go as light as possible. If you don’t need a 4 person tent, don’t get a 4 person tent.
It’s a spoon-shaped bag which is perfect for side sleepers, it features gills to help keep you cool, it weighs 2lbs 15oz and is rated for 15 degrees. The NEMO Riff 15 is a pound lighter if you’re looking for a 30-degree bag.
When looking at the degree rating, keep in mind what kind of conditions will you be camping in and if you sleep hot or cold. Also when looking for a new sleeping bag consider which shape you would be comfortable in. Your sleep system is very important because it determines if you’re going to have a good day on the trail or a bad one. Don’t forget to also factor in the weight of your sleeping bag, this is another item that’s easy to reduce the overall weight of your pack.
This sleeping pad is 3 inches thick and the regular size is 15 ounces. I have the regular wide since I’m a side sleeper and often end up off the sleeping pad, which is just a little heavier than the regular. It’s insulated for 10 to 20°F. Combined with the 15 degree sleeping bag, it can handle pretty chilly temperatures.
It comes with a pump sack which you lightly blow into and use it to inflate the pad in 4 to 5 breaths. Which helps a lot if you’re using it at higher altitudes.
I’m a side sleeper and I haven’t had any issues with my hips hurting from this pad, or any issues of it sounding like a potato chip bag.
This pillow compresses to be really tiny and the regular size one only weighs 2.1oz
This stove option is probably one of the more popular options among backpackers. It’s lightweight, small, and very easy to use. You need to use an iso propane tank with it and you’re all set for boiling water to rehydrate meals, making backcountry eggs, brewing coffee, and so forth.
I used to use the Sea to Summit X-Pot Kettle which is a great pot and it’s compressible, lightweight, and easily packs up. But I switched to the MSR pot because I wanted to be able to cook inside of the pot without worrying about ripping it and having something that’s easy to clean. For long backpacking trips, I repackage all of my freeze-dried meals into zip locks so I like to cook directly in the pot.
So I was looking for something that’s easy to clean, lightweight and scratch resistant inside. The ceramic coating is nonstick and scratch-resistant so it’s easy to clean in the backcountry.
Just use some water, dig a cat hole, clean your pot and pour the dirty water in the cat hole 200 feet away from the water source.
Iso Propane Tank
You can’t buy this online, but make sure it’s iso propane, not just propane. I made that mistake once. MSR and JetBoil are the common ones you’ll see in REI. There are a variety of sizes depending on how many uses you’ll need. Either brand works with the MSR Pocket Rocket Stove.
There are a variety of different ones and it all depends on personal preference! I have the humangear GoBites Uno Spork. All I need on the trail is a spoon and a fork, so this solves that need. It also comes in fun colors (aqua is my favorite) and it weighs .5oz!
Matches or a lighter
You’re going to need this to be able to cook on the camp stove above.
Water Filter + Bottle/Bladder
You should treat your water before drinking or cooking with it. This will keep you from getting sick. I use a Sawyer Squeeze Water Filter System with a Smart Water bottle and filter the water through the hose and into my bladder. A Sawyer is a light option but it does take time, there are gravity water systems, pumps, water bottles, and so forth.
These are required in California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains and areas around Washington, Wyoming, and Alaska. Bear canisters can be an inconvenience, but they help protect bears, other wildlife and your food. Read more about why you need to carry a bear canister.
You’ll need to be able to see in the dark, right? Also bring extra batteries, just in case. I have the Petzel Zipka Headlamp, the band is retractable so it fits really nicely in the hip pocket of my backpack.
Some people love them, some don’t. I used to not like them until I tried backpacking with them and now I always bring them on steep trails.
It helps to have 4 points of contact, especially for water crossings and when going uphill it helps with your climb up and on the downhill, it helps take some of the pressure off of your knees. It also helps keep your hands from swelling at high altitude hikes.
When shopping for trekking poles, make sure you get the right size. The right sized poles will put your elbows at a 90 degree angle when holding your poles with the ends right by your feet.
I suggest compressible and cork handle ones like the Leki Makalu Lite Cor-Tec Trekking Poles. The compressible feature helps you be able to put them away for times when you don’t need them on the trail. The cork handles conform to the shape of your hands and they resist moisture from your sweaty hands which is perfect for summer hikes.
GPS Satellite Personal Locator
I use the Garmin inReach Explorer+ and it has been a complete game changer! I did a couple of backpacking trips before buying this, but I wish I had gotten it sooner! it’s worth every penny!
There are a couple of options on the market with different features. When it comes to the basics, they’re satellite devices that you can use in the backcountry for when you need help. There are satellite phones so you can make a call, but the difference between these and a satellite phone is when you need help, these devices have your exact coordinates to send to Search and Rescue (SAR) vs on the phone you’d need to know them.
I went with the Garmin inReach Explorer+ because not only does it have SOS, so if something happens, I push a button and I’m put in contact with an SOS team who then gets my exact coordinates, asks me what’s going on, can dispatch SAR, and walk me through what to do while I wait.
It also has two-way satellite texting so you can text family and friends back home that you’re ok, tell them about your day and whatever else you want to text about! In those messages, they’ll also get your exact coordinates. So every night I text everyone that I made it to camp for the night and they know exactly where I am.
The Garmin inReach also has preloaded topo maps so you can see exactly where you are, where the trail is, your coordinates, altitude, etc. You can also draw out your route in the online portal and sync it to the Garmin before your trip so you can navigate using the inReach. And you can use the device or an app they recommend you download. So you can text and see maps from your phone or the device and it’s all connected to the Garmin. It also has other features in addition to those above including weather forecasting.
Also, always bring a map with you. In case the device dies or breaks, you still need to know where you are.
First Aid Kit
Map and Compass
Always bring one with you and know how to read and use it. You don’t want to get lost on the trail. If you’re going in a group, make sure everyone in your group has one in case you get separated.
Protect your skin from harmful UV rays! And being sunburned sucks.
I use Arm and Hammer at home, so I take travel sized ones with me.
I have a travel sized toothbrush with a cap I bring. Just use filtered water to brush.
TP/Wipes and bag for used TP/Wipes
Pack out all trash including used TP and wipes!
I use Ursa Major. They come individually packaged so perfect for taking to the backcountry. They’re also all-natural ingredients, and the brand is entirely focused on creating natural skin care products for the outdoors.
If I’m hiking longer than a weekend then I will bring soap to wash my hair, clothes, and self. Don’t wash in the water source. Take some water and wash away from the water source, rinse into a cat hole.
You don’t want to come home with sunburned and dry lips.
It helps keep dry hands at bay.
You can wear hiking pants, shorts or leggings. I prefer hiking pants since it helps prevent chafing (like with shorts) and they breathe more than leggings! I love these Salomon Wayfarer hiking pants.
I like Patagonia’s Micro Puff Hoody. It packs up small, and the synthetic down keeps you warm even when wet. This jacket isn’t waterproof but water resistant. Or if it’s colder, I wear the Patagonia Down Jacket which is ticker and has more fill for chiller conditions.
I like the Patagonia Stretch Rainshadow Jacket. It weighs 9.5 oz, is waterproof, packs up small, and stretches so it’s not clunky when you’re still hiking and it’s raining on you.
Thermals are designed to keep you warm by wicking away moisture. They can also double as PJ’s in the backcountry.
You can wear t-shirts, tank tops, or long sleeve shirts. There are SPF protecting hiking shirts, you can wear the tank top you wear to the gym, whatever you are going to be more comfortable in. I do suggest a moisture-wicking shirt to help keep you dry. I usually wear a Salomon top.
I wear Nike Classic sports bras.
Wear moisture-wicking underwear made from synthetic or wool fabrics.
I wear Injinji midweight crew NuWool toe socks. They help prevent blisters!
Camp shoes / Water Shoes
I wear Keen Whisper Sandals. Simple, lightweight and you can use them for water crossings. I used them to hike in Havasupai so they were super comfortable for water hikes too! And your toes are covered so it reduces the risk of jamming your toe on a rock.
Hiking boots or trail runners
I wear Salomon X Ultra 3 Mid Aero Hiking Boots. Your choice in hiking boots is also a personal one. Make sure you’re comfortable, you are going to be putting miles on your feet after all. I prefer non-waterproof boots for the summer months to prevent blisters. Waterproof ones don’t breathe as well and trap moisture.
Sun/trucker hat or beanie depending on temperature. Sometimes even bring both!
Make sure they’re UV protecting! And actually wear them to protect your eyes!
You want something that will keep you warm. I have snowboarding gloves and I have standard fleece ones. Unless I’m going into winter conditions, I leave my snowboarding ones at home and bring my fleece ones.
I never miss an opportunity to jump into an alpine lake. You can also jump in with your underwear if you want to save the weight of bringing a swimsuit.
REI Co-op Multi Towel Deluxe. It’s small and easy to pack with you. It also dries quickly.
It’s just always good to have one on you.
Gotta have it for selfies, Instagram Stories (save and post later), photos, and to help navigate/look at the map that’s synced through my Garmin inReach.
A camera is far from a requirement and does add weight to your backpacking pack. I love photography and I also work as an adventure travel photographer, I always bring my camera with me. I have the Sony A7III camera. Sometimes I also bring a couple interchangeable lenses with me.
Sometimes I also bring a GoPro Max with me too. It just depends on what type of shots I’m aiming for, where I’m hiking and for how long.
On a longer trip, I’ll bring less camera gear with me to save weight. I also bring several battery packs to make sure the camera never runs out of juice.
I have the carbon fiber Peak Designs tripod. Whether I’m going solo or not, I bring a tripod with me. It comes in handy whether I’m trying to get shots of myself during the day or I’m shooting the night sky. Carbon fiber makes for a sturdier tripod and the tripod clip is the same one as my Peak Designs backpack clip. This is how I carry my camera, on my backpacking pack strap. And the plate is the same on the clip and the tripod so I don’t need to change them out to make it work, everything works together.
I hike and travel solo quite frequently and one of the most common questions I get is how I get photos of myself. Here is an entire blog post breaking it down.
I like to keep my electronics charged, so I bring a portable charger with me. I have the Anker PowerCore 20000 charger. It charges my phone around 4 times from 0 while I’m using it.
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