Backpacking Checklist

How To Pack for a Multi-Day Backpacking Trip

Making the jump from day hiking to backpacking can be intimidating. You know you have to carry everything you need—shelter, clothes, food, water, accessories—but the devil is in the details. Carry too much and your pack is painfully heavy, carry too little and you could end up cold or hungry or both. Backpackers get passionate about finding the right balance, with minimalist fastpackers arguing that less is more and comfort-loving campers insisting that more is more. Our advice: Err on the side of comfort and safety while you learn your personal preferences, then pare down your packing list as you get more experienced. Use this checklist to get started. 

  • Backpack: A 50-60L backpack is a great size for a weekend backpacking trip. If you’re going out on a longer trip or are an avid photographer or need extra gear for kids or cold weather, then it’s better to bring a larger pack in the 60-75L range. Gear-intensive expeditions could require a pack that’s even bigger.
  • Tent/Shelter: Thanks to lightweight materials and innovative designs, it’s possible to get a tent that’s light, spacious, and protective. Consider the conditions you expect and the number of people in your party, and pack a shelter to match. For moderate conditions (without bugs), minimalist tarps provide affordable, ultralight shelter.
  • Sleeping Bag: A good night’s sleep in the backcountry pays dividends the next day, so don’t compromise on your sleep system. Check the forecast for your destination, and pack a bag that’s 10 degrees warmer than the coldest temperature you expect to encounter. Use a compression sack to reduce bulk.
  • Sleeping Pad: Sleeping pads have a dual purpose: comfort against the hard ground and insulation from the cold. Pad insulation is measured by R-value; the higher the R-value the warmer it is. Cushion is measured by inches; the thicker the softer. You can find pads that are air-only (light but not warm), insulated air (almost as light, warmer), and solid foam (called closed cell foam, these pads are leakproof but not as cushioned). If your pad is inflatable, bring a repair kit in case of a leak.
  • Stove: Spring through fall, most backpackers use canister stoves. They’re compatible with screw-on fuel canisters (filled with compressed gas) that make them easy to light, adjust, and pack. Liquid-fuel stoves that run on white gas burn hot and are great for winter and long trips when you can’t resupply (liquid fuel will be much lighter than the number of fuel canisters you’d have to bring to do the same amount of cooking). But they’re more finicky to operate and can lead to fuel spills.
  • Fuel: This is a question that routinely comes up for all backpackers, regardless of experience. The number of people in your group, the type of food you’ll cook, how much tea and coffee you like, the weather—all of these things affect how much fuel you’ll need. Estimate the number of liters of water you’ll boil each day and use that as a guide (stove manufacturers provide details on how much gas you need for each liter, just remember that such estimates are for ideal conditions).
  • Lighter: Always pack at least two sources of flame. Keep lighters dry; you can also bring waterproof matches, just double the number you think you’ll need.
  • Mug/cup/bowl/utensils: Going light? Some folks just bring a small bowl or cup and use it for everything (morning coffee, then oatmeal), but others prefer to bring a designated drink mug and a separate bowl or plate for meals. Collapsible bowls are great because they take up less space. 
  • Cookware: Simple menu? A single 1-liter pot will suffice for 1-2 people. Go bigger for larger groups or more complex meal plans. You’ll also want a bigger pot (as much as 3 liters) if you’ll be melting snow for water. Integrated stoves come as complete systems, which boost fuel and packing efficiency.
  • Biodegradable soap and sponge: You’ll want this for both personal hygiene and keeping dishes clean. Important: Even with biodegradable soap, don’t use it within 200 feet of a water source, like lakes and streams, and definitely don’t dump soapy water directly into a water source.
  • Headlamp: You don’t need anything complicated for simple chores and reading after dark, but consider a bigger, brighter model if you plan on nighttime adventures. Extra batteries are a must; for added security, carry them in an extra headlamp.
  • Power Source: Most backpackers these days will need to recharge phones and gadgets if they’re out for multiple days. A battery pack or solar panel are both good choices, depending on length of trip and weather.
  • Water Treatment: The latest water treatment options are light, affordable, and easy to use. Filters and ultraviolet light devices are fast and don’t change the taste of water, but on long trips it’s smart to bring chemical treatment as backup, in case your primary treatment breaks. 
  • Food: Not a calorie counter? This is a good time to start. A backpacker can easily burn 2,500-4,500 calories a day (the amount increases in cold temps or on long days with a heavy pack), so plan your meals with that in mind. Bring snacks that you’re actually excited to eat: jerky, trail mix, bars, candy, chocolate.
  • Hat: A basic ball cap or bucket hat will do for sun protection; add a warm hat in cooler weather.
  • Sunglasses: In sunny weather, bring sunglasses that are rated to block 99% to 100% of UVA and UVB rays, and 75% to 90% of visible light. Are you hiking on snow or at higher altitudes? UV levels increase exponentially as you ascend, and the snow also reflects radiation, so you’ll want darker glacier glasses. Look for glacier glasses that block around up to 95% of visible light, and use the side shields to prevent light and wind from coming in.
  • Sunscreen: Sunscreen in the 30-50 SPF range is best. Re-apply at every break or every few hours. SPF lip balm will feel like a luxury to lips on their way to sunburn. Also a good bet: clothes that block UV rays, like a lightweight sun hoodie.
  • Clothes: A good strategy here is to bring one clothing system for hiking and one for sleeping. Yes, you’ll wear the same shirt for days in a row; embrace the funk. Choose fabrics that are moisture-wicking, like synthetics or merino wool. Pack enough extra layers—like a fleece, windshirt or rain jacket, and warmer puffy jacket—for the conditions. Pack two to three pairs of socks, and gloves if the conditions warrant. Gaiters are also a good idea in rain or deep snow. 
  • Hiking Shoes: For some this means a pair of trail running shoes. For others it’s leather boots with deep lugs on the sole and lots of support. It’s best to favor stability and protection when backpacking. Not wearing your shoes to the trailhead? Remember to put them in the car.   
  • Toiletries: The bare minimum: a toothbrush, toothpaste, hand sanitizer, and toilet paper. In most locations you can dispose of human waste in a cat hole: Bring a trowel for digging a six-inch hole and a baggie for packing out used toilet paper. In some very popular or sensitive places, you might be required to pack out waste in a WAG bag.
  • First Aid Kit: You can buy a ready-made kit or assemble one yourself. The key items: blister care (like moleskin), gauze, pain meds, bandages, tape, wrap, and disinfectant. Adjust amounts according to group size. A clotting sponge (looks just like gauze) is handy, as it weighs little and stops bleeding fast.
  • Repair Kit: At minimum you want duct tape and a knife or multitool. Add zip ties, cord, ski straps, and wire if you want a more complete toolkit.
  • Navigation: Always carry a paper map and compass (and know how to use them), even if you’ll be using a GPS unit or navigation app. Remember to download maps for offline use. Nowadays, it’s easy to use your phone to record a track as you hike just in case you need to retrace your steps. If you’re relying on your phone, bring a way to recharge.
  • Trekking Poles: These are optional, but consider them highly recommended. They improve balance, reduce impact on your knees, and save energy.
  • Bear safety: Depending on your destination, bear spray and/or a bear canister might be required. Always check with rangers and plan accordingly. 
  • Emergency communication: Do you feel more comfortable having a way to communicate, either for emergencies or just to let family know you’re fine? Personal locator beacons and satellite messengers are a great way to stay in touch.
  • Other things to consider: A few more items might make your packing list, depending on your preferences. Consider a pillow, camp shoes, book, camera, games, journal, and a lightweight camp chair. 

 

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.