There is nothing more freeing than wandering off into the great outdoors with everything you need to survive strapped to your back. As far as what those items are will depend on things like your skill level, your experience, the duration of your trip, the weather conditions you will encounter, etc. So, while there will always be a core set of items that you pack, every trip will require a few things that are unique to that trip. Additionally, you likely are not going Backpacking every month. So, keeping a Backpacking Checklist handy to make sure you have not forgotten anything can provide you extra peace of mind.
Why do I need a Backpacking Checklist?
There is no worse feeling than getting to your first campsite, unpacking everything, setting up, and realizing you forgot a crucial item. Having the necessary supplies and equipment can make a difference in your overall enjoyment and experience while Backpacking and checklists are a great tool to help with your organization. To help you relax under the stars, we have put together a fairly extensive Backpacking Checklist. You can add or remove items to build out a custom list that will suit your individual needs.
What are the different types of Backpacking?
If you are looking for a list that outlines the various types of Backpacking, then feel free to follow the link below and check out the list we have put together. Some of them you may or may not have heard of, and others you may just know by a different name. While our list is certainly not definitive, we feel it is a good guide and starting place to help Backpackers (and future Backpackers) understand the full breadth of Backpacking scenes and settings that are available to them.
Could I possibly need anything other than what is listed here?
That is certainly a possibility. We have tried to put together a comprehensive list that will cover anything you could potentially need regardless of the environment or conditions. However, we cannot predict everything. There may also be a piece of gear that you use that we have not come across before. We are constantly learning just like you, and we promise to keep this list as up-to-date and relevant as possible. If you have something that always finds its way into your pack that you cannot find listed below, then please Contact us so that we can add it for future readers.
Table of Contents
This list outlines the various categories of items that you may or may not need when preparing for a Backpacking trip. You obviously do not need everything on this list. Every trip will have its own challenges and require its own items. However, hopefully, this list contains everything that you could potentially need. If you do end up needing something that is not on this list feel free to Contact us and let us know so that we can update this list for others in the future.
Backpacking Checklist Categories:
- Backpacking Basics
- Backpack & Storage
- Shelter & Sleep
- Backcountry Kitchen
- Food & Water
- Clothing & Footwear
- Emergency & First-Aid
- Health & Hygiene
- Tools & Repair Items
- Personal Items
- Additional Items
- Bag in the Car
This is what we like to think of as the TLDR Backpacking Checklist. You will see all the items here listed again in the other sections down below, but most of these will go into more detail. However, if you just need a quick, peace-of-mind check, then this section is a good reference. For more information about some of these items, continue down to the other sections or navigate directly to one of them using the Table of Contents.
- Hiking boots or shoes
- Sleeping bag
- Sleeping pad
- Stove and fuel
- Kitchen supplies
- Food (with one extra day’s worth)
- Water bottles
- Water treatment supplies (primary and backup)
- Weather appropriate clothing (plus extra)
- Emergency and hygiene supplies
- Small repair kit
- Sun protection
- First-aid kit
- Knife or multi-tool
- Fire Starter
Backpack & Storage
This section is fairly obvious. If you are going Backpacking, then you have to take a backpack. Although, the duration of your trip could play a factor in the size of your pack. You always want to make sure you pack for the occasion and not just pack items because you can. Additionally, you need to determine if you are going to be in bear country. If you are, then you need to determine if you are going to go the bear canister route or the bear back and hanging kit route. There are pros and cons to each. The choice you ultimately make will ultimately depend on your situation.
- Backpack with rain cover (40L-75L capacity)
- Various size stuff sacks (waterproof or regular)
- Large Ziploc bag for trash
- Bear canister or bear bag (i.e. Ursack)
- Bear bag hanging kit (50 feet of nylon cord and a carabiner)
Nice to haves:
Shelter & Sleep
There are many combinations of items that you can go with to build out this portion of your pack. Some people prefer to go extremely minimal by using a tarp and guylines, whereas others would be lost without their very comfortable tent. Then, there is the even more extreme individual that just prefers a bivy sack. That is just the shelter though.
Next, you move into sleeping accommodations. You always want to have some sort of sleeping pad to insulate your body from the ground and keep it from taking all your body heat. However, there are multiple variations of sleeping pads (inflatable, roll up, self-inflating, fold-out foam pads, etc.). Finally, you need to decide if you want to use a sleeping bag or just a quilt. Sleeping bags are obviously the most popular, but if you know how to properly wrap yourself in a quilt you can sleep just as warm and comfortable. If you do go with a sleeping bag, you then need to make the choice of synthetic or down stuffing. Furthermore, you need to make sure it is rated to handle the temperatures you will be facing during your trip.
As you can see, there are lots of considerations and combinations to take into account when checking the boxes for this section. However, make sure you take the time to do your research because ensuring that you get a good night’s sleep will certainly pay dividends when dealing with the compounded beating your body takes over multiple days.
- Backpacking tent
- Footprint/Tarp for tent
- Rainfly for tent
- Tent poles
- Guylines with tarp
- Sleeping bag or quilt/blanket
- Sleeping pad
Nice to haves:
This is an item that can become very elaborate or be incredibly minimal. There are some backpackers that cannot fathom eating a meal that has not been perfectly seasoned using their spice kit. Whereas there are others that will cook their meal by boiling water in a mug over the fire and then pour that into their ramen and sausage in a Ziploc bag. This is definitely one area where your skill level will either add a lot of weight or cut out a decent amount.
While you likely will not want to take much more than what is listed here, we have put together a fairly comprehensive list of items to complete any Campsite Kitchen. Feel free to follow the link below to view the full list.
- Backpacking stove
- Cooking pot with lid
- Pot grabber
- Dishes and/or bowls
- Eating utensil(s) (spoon/fork/spork)
- Mug and/or cup
- Biodegradable soap
- Small quick-drying towel or handkerchief
Nice to haves:
Food & Water
When it comes to food you need to make sure you have enough, plus a little extra. On average you will want to carry about two pounds worth for each day. This includes meals, snacks, and any energy gels, chews, etc. Additionally, you will want to make sure you research foods that will provide you with a calorie-rich diet. You will likely be burning close to 4000 calories per day while hiking. So, you will need to make sure you are replacing these calories for your body.
Once upon a time, the first time I went backpacking I made the mistake of taking a couple of packs of tuna for my lunch each day. Although tuna is very high in protein, it has hardly any calories to it. When I got back I did what I should have done before we left and added up my calorie intake per day. Sadly enough it only added up to about 1750 calories. My body was constantly having to work overtime to convert my body fat into energy and I constantly felt drained. The moral of the story is to make sure you do your research on calorie-dense backpacking foods and aim to intake 2500-3500 calories each day.
Next, when trying to figure out how much water you should take, that ultimately depends on the area your trip will take you through. If the area you are going to has recently gotten a lot of rain, then you will likely have no trouble finding plenty of water sources. This means you can likely get away with carrying as little as 2L of water. Alternatively, if you are going somewhere in which you know water is going to be scarce, then you will need to carry as much water as you comfortably can. Doing your research to figure out all of your water sources can prove to be very valuable considering 1L of water weighs approximately 2.2lbs.
- Water bottles and/or bladder (need to carry 2L-6L depending on the climate)
- Water filter, purifier, or chemical treatment
- Pre-filter for water treatment
- Backup water treatment (in case the first one fails/breaks)
- Planned provisions (estimated between 2500-3500 calories)
- Meals and snacks (approximately 2lbs per day)
- Energy food and drinks (bars, gels, chews, trail mix, drink mix)
- Extra day’s supplies of food
Nice to haves:
- Collapsible water containers
- Liquor (in plastic bottle or flask)
- Wine (in plastic bag or platy bottle)
Clothing & Footwear
When picking your clothing just remember that you are always better off having too much than not enough. Make sure you pack the right gear to match against the type of conditions you are going to be facing. If there is going to be rain, then pack a rain suit and gaiters. If there is going to be snow, then make sure you pack all your layers.
One recommendation that I will make is to carry an extra pair of shoes to wear around camp if you can. Ideally, either flip-flops or Chacos strapped to the outside of your pack. At the end of a day of hiking, the last thing you are going to want to do is to leave your hiking boots/shoes on. Additionally, I recommend packing a set of clothes that you change into and wear around camp. Even though changing into this extra set of clothes and shoes will not make you feel clean necessarily, you will certainly feel better. I can assure you of that.
- Moisture-wicking underwear (1-2 pair)
- Wool or synthetic socks (2-4 pair)
- Moisture-wicking t-shirt
- Quick-drying hiking pants/shorts
- Running shorts or skirt
- Long-sleeve shirt (for sun and/or bugs)
- Lightweight fleece or jacket
- Hiking boots or shoes suited for the terrain
- Trail running shoes or boots
- Extra layers (beyond the minimum expectation)
- Rainwear (rain jacket and rain pants)
- Long underwear (long johns)
- Down jacket and/or vest
- Fleece jacket and/or vest
- Fleece pants
- Warm gloves
- Fleece or knit hat (beanie/boggin)
- Ball cap/Sun hat
- Small pack towel
Nice to haves:
- Baselayer bottom
- Baselayer top
- Camp shoes/sandals (or as backup shoes)
- Rain mittens
- Head net (for mosquitoes)
- Bandana or buff
- Gaiters (for rain and/or snow)
Before you set out on your trip, you should always spec out your route. Not only so you can leave it with your emergency contact, but also so you can have an idea of where you want to camp each night and where water sources are. Additionally, if you have an idea of various landmarks and where switchbacks are along the way, you will be able to have a better idea of where you are going.
Always try to do your due diligence for a trip and have as many tools as you can to ensure you stay on the right path. I personally try to have a printed map of the area I plan to be in and then I have a Garmin Fenix series watch that I am able to use to cross-reference the map and track the distance that I have traveled. This has proven to work quite well to help me know where I am at all times.
- Topographical map
- Waterproof map bag (or Hefty/Ziploc bag)
- Guidebook/Route description
- GPS (phone/watch/dedicated device)
- Check the weather before the trip
- Call ranger station before trip to check trail conditions and regulations
Nice to haves:
Emergency & First-Aid
For a quick reference, we have listed some of the First-Aid Supplies that you need while Backpacking. However, for the full list of items that we recommend please feel free to check out our comprehensive list of First-Aid Supplies by following the link below.
- Band-aids of various sizes
- Anti-biotic ointment
- Gauze pads
- Medical tape
- Latex-free gloves
- Safety pins
- Moleskin (blister prevention)
- Blister treatment supplies
- Lighter, matches, or fire starter (in a waterproof container)
- Two trip itineraries (one for you and the other left with your emergency contact)
- Personal and emergency contact info on your person
Nice to haves:
Alternatively, if you’re considering going with a pre-built, pre-packaged First-Aid kit, we have taken the time to put together a list of First-Aid kits that are suitable for any adventure outdoors. Check out our post about “How to Choose the Best First-Aid Kit for Your Trip.”
Health & Hygiene
Just because you venture out into the wilderness, that does not mean you turn into Bigfoot or a neanderthal. Make sure you take the items that you need to take care of yourself. However, one takeaway is that if you are going to an area that could potentially have bears, the general recommendation is to not wear deodorant. It smells sweet to a bear and they come investigating thinking that it could be food. If you are curious how well a bear can smell, they do not just smell food from far away. A bear can smell that Yoo-Hoo that got busted in the bottom of your cooler three years ago from far away. Basically, they can smell really well. So, if you are going to be in bear country, embrace the special aroma that backpacking offers. Alternatively, just smell a lot more flowers usual.
- Hand sanitizer
- Toothbrush and toothpaste (or disposable travel toothbrushes)
- Toilet paper and/or wet wipes (in a waterproof bag)
- Feminine products
- Prescription medications
- Over the counter (OTC) medications
- Prescription glasses
- Contact lenses and supplies
- Eye drops
- Insect repellent
- Urinary products
- Hair ties
- Fingernail clippers
Nice to haves:
Tools & Repair Items
We highly recommend not heading out into the wilderness without at least the first three items in this list. Past that it is at the discretion of your skill level. We always take at least a phone and a Garmin watch with GPS along with us, which is why we recommend the power bank to recharge your devices.
Another item that some people may not want to take because of their ego is trekking poles. If you are a little older, trekking poles can go a long way for saving your knees and ankles and really just allow you to use your upper body strength to take some load off of your lower body. At the time of writing this, we are in our mid-30’s and we always take trekking poles. If we get into terrain that does not necessarily warrant them, then we just strap them to our pack. However, for places like the Appalachian Trail or an equally difficult trail, trekking poles are invaluable.
- Headlamp or flashlight
- Knife and/or multi-tool
- Stormproof matches and/or fire starter
- Power bank (plus charging cords)
Nice to haves:
- Trekking poles
- Sleeping pad repair kit
- Cooking stove repair kit
- Tent repair kit
- Duct tape or Tenacious tape
- Needle and thread or sewing kit
- Small Sharpie
- Wall plug with multiple USB ports
- Assorted Ziploc bags
Hopefully, you will not need any of these items while you are backpacking. However, you always need to plan for the worst, and in the worst-case scenario, you are going to need some or all of these items.
- Backpacking permits (if applicable)
- Credit card(s) and/or cash
- Personal identification
- Health insurance card
- Car keys
- Cell phone
These are items that do not necessarily fit anywhere else. However, depending on the trip and the conditions you could likely need some of the items on this list. As mentioned previously, make sure you do your due diligence before your trip and know the situation that you are walking into. That research will dictate the additional items that you need to take.
Nice to haves:
- Daypack (for day trips away from base camp)
- Z-seat pad
- Cameras or action cameras (with extra memory cards)
- Compact Binoculars
- Two-way radios
- Waterproof phone case
- Waterproof camera case
- Ice axe
Really all of these things are nice to have items. Other than a journal for the sake of remembering the trip more clearly, we have personally never needed any of these items. However, that may simply be due to the type of trips we usually take. Every person and every trip is different, and this is the list of items that we put together that were the most practical to pack out.
- Night-sky identifier (star chart)
- Outdoor journal with cover (with pen/pencil)
- Book/Reading material
- Waterproof deck of cards or games
- Crossword puzzles
- Cribbage or dice
Bag in the Car
This is for once you get back to your car after you have completed your backpacking trip. While you still will not smell great, being able to put on clean clothes, a little deodorant, and wipe yourself off will make the drive back home far more enjoyable than if you are still in any of your clothes from the trip.
- Parking pass if applicable (left in the windshield)
- Clean clothes
- Clean shoes/sandals
- Fresh hat
- Deodorant (and cologne if you are feeling extra)
- Water and snacks
Nice to haves:
If you are new to backpacking or it has been a while since your last trip, a checklist like this is a great way to make sure you have everything you need to be prepared. Alternatively, even if you are an experienced backpacker, we are only human and we all forget things. Going through and checking boxes on a checklist is a great way to make sure you have packed everything on your list. Furthermore, different items are needed depending on the duration of the trip. So, once again a checklist comes through in the clutch to make sure you have everything you need.
As we mentioned at the beginning, if there is anything that you think we may have missed, then please Contact us. We would be happy to add it to this checklist to help other backpackers in the future, as well as you the next time you use this Backpacking Checklist for reference.