The Ultimate Backpacking Gear list
Having a backpacking gear list on hand as you’re packing is incredibly helpful. There won’t be stores down the road when you realize you’ve forgotten something in the backcountry!
To avoid getting stuck in the middle of nowhere without something important, I have lists for backpacking, camping, and general travel. This way I’m not trying to think of what I need the night before my trip as I pack.
Read on for my complete backpacking gear list – including a free downloadable list! Also, if you’re interested, check out my gear reviews for additional info on buying gear. Or click any of my affiliate links below for great deals if you’re looking to grab some new gear!
In this article:
Basic Backpacking Gear List Considerations
List of Misc. Gear Items for Your Backpacking Checklist
Food Ideas for Backpacking
How Much Should I Pack for My Backpacking Trip?
How Do I Pack My Backpack?
Backpacking Gear List: Basic Considerations
In this section, I’ll talk through some high level considerations to help you get started (especially for beginners), followed by an actual gear list for backpacking so that it’s easily scannable and you can check items off as you go. Happy backpacking!
When considering what clothing to pack from your backpacking gear list, much of what you’ll need will depend on the weather where you’re going, as well as the duration. For backpacking, it really is all about weight, so bring less than you think you need, but do take into consideration that if you get stuck in weather and you only bring the bare minimum, you may be stuck without a change of dry clothing. Pack smart enough that you have back-ups (ie/2 pairs of hiking pants for a 4 day trip), but you probably don’t need 4 shirts for a 4 day trip.
If you’re just starting out, don’t spend a huge chunk on gear until you know what you like. I bought my first backpack from REI Outlet for like $60 and it’s lasted me many miles. Weight and waterproofing matter – my sleeping bag is down and water-resistant, and very light. My Therm-a-Rest Sleeping Pad packs down small and light. Those few ounces really do make a difference when you’re climbing uphill, especially when you weigh it against the beers you have in your pack 😉
A first aid kit should not be passed up, even for a short trip. Always bring sunblock and especially at altitude, don’t forget your sunglasses. Things like cards and a book/kindle are great too for when you’re kicking back and relaxing at camp.
Depending on the length of your trip, you’ll obviously need breakfast, lunch and dinner, and then snacks for along the way. It’s important to keep calories coming in as you’re trekking to keep your energy up, especially at altitude (and especially when you feel like you don’t want to eat). Healthy is good, but don’t bring something you won’t eat. You’re already going to be tired and your body will be stressed, so don’t bring something you’re going to have to force down. If you like oreos, bring some of those, along with your protein bars. You’ll be grateful for the treat!
Backpacking Gear List: Clothing
❏ Fleece pants2
❏ Moisture wicking tank top or t-shirt
❏ Thin base layer
❏ Down jacket3
❏ Moisture wicking sports bras5
❏ Sock liners6
❏ Baseball hat
❏ Camp shoes7
❏ Clothing for the ride home8
❏ Hair thingies9
1Convertible hiking pants are a great solution if you’re going to be in weather that will require both warm and cold gear – instead of bringing pants and shorts, your pants and just turn into shorts!
2Fleece pants are much better than cotton for cold weather and sleeping. Cotton doesn’t absorb moisture the way fleece does, so you can end up with a rash. I bought a pair of fleece pants from Marshalls for like $25 and they were a life saver throughout my Everest trek!
3For cold nights, a good down jacket is a great thing to have. They pack down pretty small, but you do have to watch it in any inclement weather because wet down sucks!
4To keep weight down, I once read a recommendation for women to bring panty liners rather than having to schlep around a ton of underwear for longer trips. I did this on Everest and it worked great!
5Cause ladies, who wants underwire in the backcountry? Plus, moisture wicking…
6Sock liners are great because they’re thinner and lighter than hiking socks. You wear these under your hiking socks so that you really only have to change the liners each day.
7You can do remove these from your gear list for backpacking if you choose, but if you have light flip-flops (with open toes so you can wear them with socks) or something similar, it’s nice to have these around camp, especially for longer trips where you’ve had enough of your hiking boots
8The last thing you want when you get back to your car is to have to sit in your nasty hiking clothes for an entire car ride, so this is a great nice-to-have that a lot of people forget without a gear list for backpacking. It feels amazing to get back, wipe down with some wipes, and get into fresh clothes, so don’t forget to leave a bag of clothes at your car/bear bin!
9Ladies, don’t get stuck in the middle of nowhere with your hair annoyingly all over the place and no tie to put it up!
Backpacking Gear List: Gear
❏ Tent or bivy, and footprint for rain/snow
❏ Hiking poles10
❏ Water bladder
❏ Nalgene or Hydro Flask12
❏ Drinking cup15
❏ Gaiters, if hiking in rain/snow
10Hiking poles aren’t really necessary – I have some friends that simply don’t like using them, but I love them.
12Even if you have the bladder for your backpack, it’s nice to have a Nalgene to drink from when you’re sitting around. It’s also great if you sleep cold – just fill it with boiling water before bed and put it in your sleeping bag for a natural heat source.
13Also not necessary for your backpacking checklist, but nice to have. We all depend on our phones these days, but if your phone dies or breaks, you’re stuck without a concept of time (which, could be nice, but especially if you’re hiking in the winter and fighting daylight, it’s helpful to know what time it is so that you don’t end up hiking in the dark).
14I’ve used this water pump on long trips – they’re nice because they clear everything out, but when you have a big group and 5-6 liters per person to fill a few times a day…oy, you get a workout. A SteriPen is nice, but if the water isn’t clear, you’ll need a filter. A friend used it on our Everest trip and was fine except for this one town that didn’t have the cleanest water, and he got sick. If you’re in the mountains and the water looks pretty clear, you should be fine, but if not…be weary. Use extra protection. Iodine pills are also good as a backup, but make sure you read the instructions for how many to use and how long to let them sit before drinking the water. I bought this one purifier from Sawyer products and it worked fine, until the bag that comes with it started leaking at the seal. When I contacted them about it, they basically blamed me and told me I was squeezing too hard. Sorry, you make products for the outdoors and they can’t withstand my little hands?? Your product is crap. Thanks for playing. I won’t buy from you ever again.
15I have a nice silicone cup that compacts down and is great for some hot cider and whiskey
16I bought this bowl/pot from REI a while back and it’s great because you can cook the food directly in it, and then eat from it with its nifty holder so that you don’t burn your hands. However, I love all things sea-to-summit and these collapsible bowls are awesome. You just have to be careful of them with any critters because they will definitely chew through them if there is any remnant of food!
18Had a gift certificate and essentially paid $5 for this backpacking stove, and it’s one of the best purchases I’ve made. There’s nothing to keep the wind out, but if you bring a little foil it works great. The stove packs down nice and small and is super easy to set up! The Jetboil is also great for boiling water, but I don’t cook in it.
19You’ll need to consider your group size and how many stoves you’ll have. If you have one stove for the whole group, get one of the bigger fuel canisters. If you have 2-3 stoves in the group, get the smaller fuel canisters.
20These are great to have and super secure – even I have trouble getting it open sometimes. I did read recently about a bear who got smart and learned to roll these off a cliff so they would break open at the bottom, and she’d have herself a feast. So, ya know…maybe just put some rocks around it or something. But otherwise, it’s great!
List of Miscellaneous Gear Items for Your Backpacking Checklist
❏ Easy-dry rag / towel
❏ Toilet paper21
❏ Baby wipes21
❏ Mole skin
❏ Toothbrush / toothpaste
❏ First aid kit
❏ Solar Charger22
❏ Bug spray23
❏ Bag for garbage / ziploc bags21
❏ Kindle / Book
❏ Spare batteries for headlamp
❏ Fire source24
❏ Compass and map25
❏ Bear spray26
21Please pack your paper and garbage out!!!
22Definitely not necessary, but nice to have. I do like to disconnect from the world, but it’s still nice to have my phone for photos and music if we want – especially for longer trips!
23Not needed in the colder months of course, but in the summer…especially by a lake…bring the Deet. The natural stuff does not work, I promise you. And, studies have shown that Deet is only harmful if ingested, but if only applied on the skin, it has a slower absorption rate, so as long as you’re not using it every day all day, you’re fine. Seriously. Higher chance of dying in a car accident on the way to work than dying from Deet (my opinion, no fact, because nothing has been proven..but seriously…).
24I recommend bringing two kinds of fire source. I once went out with matches that barely had any spark left in them so it was really tough to light the stove. Then, I bought a backcountry waterproof lighter from REI that apparently doesn’t like to light at elevation. I still need to take that back to REI.
25Most backpacking trips I do are on relatively clear paths, so I don’t worry much about bringing a map (plus, you’d be surprised how much your google maps works in the backcountry), but it’s good practice to make sure you have navigation tools on hand!
26I just recently started carrying bear spray, and I think it’s better to have it and not need it than to not have it and need it. Be bear smart, whatever your method, and be very aware of your surroundings at all times!
Food Ideas for Backpacking
I’ve recently started dehydrating my own food for backpacking which has turned out to be awesome, but there are many other options for food. Below are some things that I usually bring along on my trips!
Oatmeal is a super easy breakfast idea, but I overdid it a few years ago and can’t bring myself to eat it anymore. For a short backpacking trip (1-2 days), I’ve brought hard-boiled eggs and they stay pretty well as long as they’re in the shell. But, the easiest option is to get the already prepped meals from backcountry.com (amazon has them too), but be sure to read the instructions. For some of the egg ones, they say that you need to also cook it in a skillet. We don’t like to dirty more dishes than we need to, so we’ll sometimes put the whole bag in some low-simmer water to help the water evaporate and it’s worked out well so far.
My favorite lunch is to bring tortillas, cream cheese, and peanut butter, spread both on the tortilla, roll it up and viola!. Costco sells these individually packed cream cheeses that last longer and are super easy to use, and then we’ve started buying the individual packs of Justin’s peanut butter and they’re delicious! For short trips, a stick of salami and some hard cheese (like cheddar) hold up well and are delicious to eat on the trail.
For dinner, I usually make my own dehydrated dinners (email me if you’re interested in trying some!), but I’ve also done the pre-packaged meals from backcountry.com, and I’ve also bought these quinoa/rice mixes that are mostly cooked from Costco, along with some pre-cooked bacon and lentils from Trader Joe’s (sold separately). Just mix them all up with a little bit of water in a pot over your stove with some spices and boom, delicious high protein high fiber meal!
These are my top two favorite pre-packaged meals:
You can easily buy protein bars and gummy chews for days to get you through your trip, but a little variety is nice to have. Jerky is great, Trader Joe’s has delicious dried fruits. I have even reverted back to my childhood and I like to buy the sticks with fake cheese on the side – if I lose a year of my life because I eat fake cheese, then so be it. It’s delicious. I love it. I know, so bad. For a few short days, we’ll do some hard cheese with salami or pepperoni and crackers – very tasty on the trail!
Just make sure that you have snacks that you’ll want to eat > snacks that you think are healthy to eat because sometimes you’re not going to want to eat, and that super healthy granola bar you thought you should eat is not going to be easy for you to take down.
How Much Should I Pack for My Backpacking Trip?
To give you a sense of how much you should be packing from your backpacking gear list based on the duration of your trip, here’s a little chart with my recommendations. Again, you want to pack minimally, but just remember to consider backups if, say, you ripped your pants or they got soaked in a storm!Download FREE Backpacking Gear List
How Do I Pack My Backpack?
Aside from having a gear list for backpacking, there is actually a method to actually packing your backpack. This guy has a great video that gives some pointers, but you’ll want to play with it a bit to see what works best for you. I usually stuff my tent and poles strapped to the sides of my backpack, and my sleeping pad fits in the sleeping bag compartment at the very bottom. Some backpacks come with a rain cover, but if yours doesn’t, I highly recommend buying one! Oh, and please don’t be like the chic in Wild who waited until the morning of her trip to try packing everything in her pack. Her story was great, but oh my did I get anxiety from that part!!
Whether you’re a new backpacker, or just someone looking for an easier way to stay organized, hopefully my backpacking gear list and suggestions for things to consider, especially if you’re a beginner, has been helpful as you prepare for your trip.