Our Complete Backpacking Checklist

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What gear should you pack for a backpacking trip? We share our complete backpacking checklist with all of our lightweight backpacking essentials!

Woman hiking in the Cascade Mountains with fall foliage

In the summer of 2007, I decided to go on my first backpacking trip. I bought a backpack in the wrong size for $20 on Craigslist, loaded it up with my camping gear (like, my car camping gear), and hiked up into the San Gabriel mountains near my home. It was a rough hike, to say the least, but I loved it. And, hey, everyone has to start somewhere, right?

Since then, I’ve made some big changes to my backpacking gear list. I hiked the John Muir Trail in 2012 and that really required me to think through what I was carrying and make some investments in quality items – many of which I’m still using today!

Michael and I have been backpacking together for nearly a decade, and even hiked the John Muir Trail for our honeymoon(!!) in 2019, so we’ve had a lot of time to work out the kinks in our backpacking checklist.

Our Backpacking Checklist

Use this backpacking packing list to help you get organized for your next trip. If you want a printable backpacking checklist, sign up for our email list using the form above and we will send you one for free!

Backpacking Packing List

The Basics
Backpacking pack
Tent (+ stakes & ground sheet)
Sleeping bag
Sleeping pad

Cooking System
Stove
Stove fuel
Cookset / pot
Lighter
Eating utensil
Mug / cup (optional)
Biodegradable soap + small sponge (optional)
Water filter
Water bottles / reservoir
Bear canister / food bag
Plenty of food

Clothing
Hiking top non-cotton
Hiking pants or shorts
Underwear / sports bra
Hiking socks
Hiking boots or shoes
Gaiters optional
Warm base layer top
Warm base layer pants
Insulating jacket
Rain jacket + pants
Windbreaker optional
Beanie
Gloves
Sun hat
Sunglasses
Bandana or buff optional
Camp clothes / shoes optional
Extra hair ties optional
Mosquito heat net optional

Safety & Navigation
Headlamp w/ extra batteries
First aid kit
Knife / multitool
Gear repair kit
Signal mirror
Whistle
Emergency fire starter
Backup water treatment
Compass / GPS device
Printed maps
Itinerary left w/ friend or family member

Toiletries
Toothbrush + toothpaste
Lip balm
Hand sanitizer
Trowel
TP + waste bag
Wet wipes
Quick dry towel optional
Medications

Misc. / Extras
Permit if required
Photo ID, cash, credit card
Hiking poles
Cell phone
Camera, battery, memory card
Battery bank & charger cords
Solar panel optional
Backpacking pillow optional
Ear plugs / eye mask optional
Journal + pen / pencil optional
Lightweight chair / sit pad optional
Extra trash bag & ziptop baggies

In this post, you’ll find our complete backpacking gear list. This list stays relatively the same whether we’re going on a weekend or multi-week trip, so it can be applicable for most backpacking trips.

Additionally, we offer suggestions for a mix of gear including budget items, lightweight and ultralight options, as well as the tried and true gear that makes it into our own packs.

View of the ocean from the inside of a tent

Backpacking Gear Basics

This section covers the essential backpacking gear systems: hiking, shelter, and sleeping. These tend to be the heaviest pieces of gear you’ll carry, so it’s worth it to consider their weight in addition to other features.

Backpacking Backpack

Every successful backpacking trip starts with finding the right backpack. If possible, go to a gear store like REI, have your torso sized properly, and spend time trying on a bunch of different packs to find the right one. 

When I first started backpacking, I hiked too many miles with packs that were just wrong for me. Finding the right pack made a huge difference!

Most backpackers find that a pack in the 40-65L capacity range to be versatile for nearly all trips.

There are hundreds of backpacking packs out there and finding the right pack is such an individualized experience, but here are our top picks based on our experiences (click the + to read more):

If you’re looking for a framed ultralight pack, I would highly recommend looking into the Zpack Arc Series backpacks. There are a number of variations to this pack, notably the Arc Air (50L), Arc Blast (55L), Arc Haul (62L), and Arc Scout (50L). I currently use the Scout, which is designed for women with shorter torsos (<17”). 

All the Arc backpacks feature the “Arc Frame” system which helps transfer the load onto your hips and also creates an air gap between the pack and your back to help you stay cool, load lifters, adjustable shoulder straps, and will comfortably carry up to 35 lbs of gear.

The Circuit and the Catalyst are two of the most popular packs among PCT thru-hikers for good reason: they are super versatile and can carry a lot of gear, despite being lightweight at 36.6oz and 46.7oz, respectively. 

The Circuit has a 68L capacity and can carry loads up to 35lb, and the Catalyst has room for 75L of gear and will carry loads up to 40lbs. 

The Catalyst was the first lightweight pack I owned and I hiked the JMT comfortably with it fully loaded. These packs are a great pick if you’re working on decreasing your load but aren’t yet at an “ultralight” base weight.

For under $200, the REI Flash 55L is a great pack at a budget-friendly price. It’s available in both men’s and women’s styles.

Over the years, Osprey’s packs have really stood out to us as solid, durable packs with great suspension and load carrying capabilities, and at a pretty reasonable price point. 

At the end of the day, these packs are heavier but often they carry heavier loads more comfortably, despite their weight. The AG (Anti-Gravity) packs have been our favorites for their airflow and suspension designs, and the Eja/Exos line has gotten attention in recent years for their lighter weight design for those with more dialed-in kits.

A backpacking tent with a mountain in the distance

Backpacking Tent

Your tent is your home away from home and there are a number of important things to keep in mind when selecting the right tent. Besides the obvious factors like floor size, weight, and price, consider ease of setup, and “liveability” (I did not fully appreciate the livability of our tent until we spent an entire week backpacking in rainy conditions on our honeymoon!)—this includes things like peak height, interior pockets, ventilation, and room for your gear.

Here are some options to consider (click the + to read more):

These are two of the lightest tents out there, which is probably why we saw so many of them out on the JMT! 

Made from Dyneema composite fabric, this ultralight tent weighs only 13.9oz for the solo version and 19oz for the two person

It’s not freestanding, and relies on trekking poles and stakes to set up properly, but that’s how it stays so light! It’s roomy and will work for taller hikers (there’s even a XL version for really tall folks), has good ventilation, and a tall bathtub floor to prevent rain from splashing in. 

However, we won’t sugarcoat it—this is a pricey tent, but if you’re looking for the best ultralight option, this tent is hard to beat.

The Copper Spur is a freestanding tent with lots of interior space. It’s double walled and can be set up fly first. It’s freestanding nature comes at a bit of a weight cost—the UL1 is just over 2 lbs and the UL2 is 2.7lbs. Both the 1 and 2 person versions have “awnings” that can be set up using trekking poles to provide some shade or light weather protection for hanging out. The 2 person version has two doors so you don’t have to worry about crawling over your tent mate at night.

At just under 2lbs, the Fly Creek two-person tent is a great option if you want a double walled tent and don’t mind if it’s semi-freestanding (meaning it does need to be staked out in a few spots). It can be set up fly-first which is helpful in rainy weather. It’s also $100 cheaper than the Copper Spur UL2.

At about 4lbs, the REI Passage isn’t exactly a lightweight tent, but if you’re on a budget, the price can’t be beat—only $139 for the one person version!

This freestanding tent is easy to set up, is double walled, comes with a footprint, and has a roomy vestibule and interior pockets for organizing your gear.

We’ve been using the Tarptent Double Rainbow for over a decade. It’s roomy (Michael is 6’ 5” and has room to spare), easy to set up, and has stood up to 10+ years of use. 

It’s a unique tent that makes some compromises in favor of it being lighter-weight (42oz/2.6lbs). To start, it’s single-walled, so there are some condensation issues. Additionally, it’s not free-standing on its own and has to be staked out.

You can convert it into a free-standing tent by using trekking poles if the camping surface doesn’t allow it to be staked out (like on rock or very fine sand) – though I’ve never run into a situation where I had to do this.

Sleeping Bag

The final of the “Big 3” backpacking gear items is a sleeping bag (or quilt!). At the end of a long hiking day, nothing beats cozying up in a nice, warm, fluffy sleeping bag! When buying a sleeping bag, you’ll be confronted with a lot of different temperature ratings.

The rule of thumb when it comes to temperature ratings is that the listed rating is what you can survive in, but to be comfortable you’ll want to add ~15F, particularly if you’re a colder sleeper.

A good, lightweight sleeping bag is definitely an investment, but it will last a pretty long time if treated well—we’ve had bags that have lasted for 10 years or more.

Another option for those looking to cut weight is a sleeping quilt, or hybrid quilt/bag. This design eliminates the down on the bottom of the bag, which gets compressed under your body weight and loses a lot of its insulating property anyway.

Backpacking sleeping bags and quilts to consider (click the + to read more):

The REI Magma is a great all-around sleeping bag that comes in two temperature ratings (15F and 30F) in men’s and women’s configurations. The men’s 15F comes in just under 2 lbs and the women’s 15F just over 2 lbs, so they are fairly lightweight for the warmth they provide (the 30F bags are both under 1.5lbs).

Zpacks’ Classic sleeping bag is actually a bag/quilt hybrid. It has a great warmth-to-weight ratio and comes in 30F, 20F, and 10F temperature ratings. It features 900 fill power water resistant down and a 3/4 length zipper to save a little weight while also staying snug while you sleep. These are true ultralight bags with weights of .75lb-1.5lb depending on temperature rating and length.

The Marmot Trestles Elite Eco is a great synthetic bag that’s not too heavy and is budget friendly, too! The major downside to synthetic bags is they are not as compressible as down, so these are not ideal for lower volume packs. But if you’re looking to avoid animal products this bag is a good place to start.

Down bags can get pricey, but the Kelty Cosmic 20 does a good job balancing price, weight, and warmth. The men’s version is under $200 and the women’s is just over. Both versions use water resistant 550 fill power down. It’s worth noting that while the women’s version is nearly a pound heavier, it also has a 10F warmer comfort & lower limit tested temperature rating.

This down quilt is an absolute steal! The Hammock Gear Burrow is $100+ cheaper than the competition but only a few ounces heavier.

Michael and I both use the Enlightened Equipment Revelation Quilt. It’s light, compressible, and pretty versatile–in warmer weather it can unzip all the way to allow some of the heat to escape so we don’t overheat. There is no women’s version and the temperature rating is definitely on the “lower limit” end of the spectrum, so I’d advise getting a bag at least 10F warmer than you think you need if you’re a cold sleeper.

Sleeping Pad

Your sleeping pad serves two purposes: it provides cushioning, and it insulates you from the ground. The insulating power of sleeping pads is measured in “R-Value”. Here is a rough estimate of what R-value to look for based on nightly lows:

Down to 50F: R-2 or less
Down to 32F: R 2-4
Down to 20F: R 4-5.4
Below 20F: R 5.5+

Backpacking sleeping pads to consider (click the + to read more):

After trying multiple sleeping pads, the Nemo Tensor is the pad we keep coming back to. It’s lightweight at 15oz, super comfortable, easy to inflate, packs down small, and it’s quiet.

For a warmth to weight ratio, it’s hard to beat the women’s version of the Thermarest Neoair Xlite—for only 12oz, you get a R 5.4 pad.

If you’re a taller guy, this pad won’t serve as a full length pad since it’s only 66 inches (5’ 5”) long, but you could opt to hang your feet off the end (use your pack to pad them) or go for the men’s version, which still gives you a solid R 4.2 value.

This pad is fairly comfortable but our main beef is that it’s loud & crinkly. As active, light sleepers this is a deal breaker for us personally. If you (and your campmates!) are sound sleepers or use ear plugs, this might not be as big of a deal for you.

With a full 4 inches of cushion, the Ether Light XT is a great pad for side sleepers. It’s lightweight at 17.3oz, packs down small, and is quiet.

For just under $70 for the regular length, the Thermarest Trail Scout is our budget pick. It weighs a pound and a half, offers R 3.1, and is self inflating.

However, this pad is only 1” thick, so it’s not a great choice for side sleepers who will want extra padding for their hips and shoulders.

When sleeping well is more important than packing light, look no further than the Comfort Plus SI pad. This is arguably the most comfortable sleeping pad we’ve used in the backcountry. It’s 3 inches thick, quiet to sleep on, and the stretchy fabric that it’s covered is a nice break from the plasticy feel of other pads.

However, be ready for a compromise: in exchange for a great night’s sleep, this pad is the heaviest on our list at 2lbs 2oz for the regular mummy, or 2lbs 12oz for the wider, rectangle version. It’s also much bulkier when packed down since it’s made with open celled foam.

Camp Pillow [optional]

A pillow is totally optional and is entirely a personal preference. We use this lightweight Cocoon Pillow and the Sea to Summit Aeros Ultralight pillow. Or, you can just put your extra clothes in a stuff sack and call it a night!

Hiking Poles

We consider hiking poles to be part of our essential backpacking gear, but really they are optional. Poles will help you on the uphills and take the pressure off your knees on the downhills, so we think they are well worth the weight!

I’ve used these trekking poles for over 10 years and they have really stood the test of time.

These poles will only set you back $50-$75 (depending on color) but they are solid, lightweight (just under a pound for a set), and have cork handle grips. One thing that we think makes these poles unique and versatile on up-and-down terrain is that under the cork handle, there is EVA foam so you can make quick, short term adjustments to your grip height without needing to adjust the poles themselves (good on a short unexpected incline, for example).

Three people cooking next to a backpacking tent with a mountain in the distance

Backpacking Kitchen

In addition to the cooking gear below, you’re obviously going to want to pack enough food! Check out some of our best backpacking meal ideas here.

Backpacking Stove

Your cooking system is going to be very dependent on your food strategy, the number of nights you’re out for, and the number of people you’re cooking for. You can read all about the best backpacking stoves here.

Living in the West where there is a near-constant threat of wildfire and many restrictions that follow, we are usually limited to self-contained canister stoves, which are reflected in our picks below (click the + to read more):

The JetBoil MiniMo is fuel-efficient, so we don’t have to worry about running out of fuel as quickly. It boils water lightning fast when we’re just cooking freeze-dried backpacking meals, but it also provides enough simmer control that we can cook our own dehydrated food. If you only boil water, check out the Jetboil Flash, and if you are a solo hiker, check out the JetBoil MicroMo.

The Soto Windmaster is an efficient canister stove with a quick boil time, even in windy or colder conditions. It’s a lightweight 3 oz and has a lot of deluxe features like a fuel regulator and integrated ignition. Whatsmore, the 4-prong pot stand provides a super stable base to place larger pots.

You can usually find the AOTU stove for under $15. This stove is user friendly, fairly lightweight (3.3oz), and has decent fuel efficiency and wind performance. If you are new to backpacking or on a tight budget, this stove is a great value.

This is the lightest canister stove out there at .89oz and it’s budget friendly, too (not usually the case in the ultralight world!). It comes with some tradeoffs, namely it requires a narrow pot for stability, and it’s kind of garbage in the wind, so you’ll want to bring a windscreen or be OK finding a sheltered spot in the field (we usually make one using a large rock and our bear canister).

Cooking pot

If you opt for a stove instead of an integrated system, you’ll need to pack a cook pot! For solo hikers, 650-750mL tends to be a good size, and for couples aim for a pot in the 1.2L+ range.

This is a solid lightweight pot with enough volume for two people to cook in. It’s 6.3oz and a little more compact than the MSR pot below, which is why we switched to it last season.

It’s a perfect pot for our style of cooking, which is to bring our DIY backpacking meals to a boil for a few minutes and then take it off the heat to cook in our pot cozy, so we don’t have to worry about the food sticking or scorching since this is not a non-stick pot.

If you like to cook on your backpacking trips, you can’t go wrong with MSR’s ceramic coated pot. It’s light at 7.3 oz, the handle is removable for storage, and the ceramic coating makes cleanup a breeze. You’ll want to make sure you use non-metal cooking/eating utensils to protect the coating, but we’ve found it’s pretty durable with no flaking or scratching after several years of use.

It doesn’t really get lighter than titanium, and TOAKS makes pots in a variety of sizes so you can get exactly what you need and nothing more!

Fuel

Lighter

Even if your backpacking stove has an auto-ignite switch, don’t rely on it 100%. Pack a lighter in the event it craps out.

Eating Utensil

We like to use a utensil that has a true spoon shape (not a spork) because it allows us to scrape down the last bits of food from our pot, making it much easier to wash it out. These Humangear GoBites utensils have served us well over the years, and they also have a fork end. This MSR folding spoon is also a good option and is a bit longer for reaching into freeze dried meal bags.

Mug [optional]

If you’re morning coffee (or tea) drinkers like us, you’ll probably want to pack along a dedicated mug.

This GSI mug is lightweight at 3.5 oz – making it even lighter than our old titanium insulated mugs and they are a fraction of the price! Sure, this mug won’t keep your coffee hot for hours, but we find it’s perfect for backpacking mornings. Bonus, the cup has measures on the side, so you can use it for measuring out water for your breakfasts and dinners.

Knife

It’s always good to carry a small knife or multi-tool. I found that the only part of the multi-tool I ever used was the knife, so we ditched it in favor of our lighter Opinel knife.

Bear Canister

If you’re backpacking in bear country, it’s smart to use a bear canister (and in many places it’s required!). We use the BV500 (there’s also a smaller version). I have been able to pack 6-8 days of food for myself or 3-4 days for the two of us into it.

BearVaults are super durable and approved by nearly all agencies in the US, but they are on the heavy side. If you backpack in areas that allow it, an Ursack might be a better choice (while the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee approved the Ursack in 2014, many places still do not allow them).

You can read more about how and when to use a bear canister here.

Water Treatment

You never know what is in the water sources you come across in the backcountry, so make sure you have a reliable way to filter water.

Here are our favorite water filters (click the + to read more):

It’s not the lightest filter at 11.5 oz but gosh is it EASY to use! The GravityWorks filters water 1.75L/min with essentially zero effort, and it’s easy to maintain on the trail.

You simply fill the bag, then hang it so the “dirty water” bag is hung above the “clean water” bag. Gravity takes care of the rest. 

This is a great system for small groups or if you hike in areas where you might not set up camp right by water sources.

If you’re a solo backpacker or want to save some weight, there is also a 2-liter version.

The Katadyn BeFree is our pick for an ultralight squeeze style filter, and is the filter we currently use on our backpacking trips. It’s simple to use: just fill the soft flask and screw on the filter. Then you can drink right from the flask or squeeze filtered water into your pot or into another bottle.

Steripen UV purifiers use a battery powered UV lamp to kill harmful protozoa, bacteria, cysts, and viruses in your water. Simply fill your bottle and then submerge the lamp as directed. Since this isn’t a physical filter, you’ll want to pre-filter silty water with a bandana.

The Steripen comes in two models that we’ve tried: the Ultra, which has a USB rechargeable integrated battery, and the Adventurer Opti which uses lithium batteries.

Water Bottles

These soft-sided bottles are great because they collapse when you don’t need them and they are super lightweight. We always bring at least one hard-sided water bottle (like a Smartwater bottle) in case the soft-sided bottles get holes in them. You could also opt for one of those water bladders with the drinking hose for easy sipping.

Megan drying a backpacking pot with a mountain in the distance

Dishwashing kit [optional]

If you cook in your pot, you may want to pack a small dishwashing kit. Here is what’s in ours:

✔︎ Biodegradable Soap

We like the unscented Dr. Bronner’s biodegradable soap for washing dishes. Please read up on the proper way to use soap in the backcountry, and for the love of god don’t use it IN any water sources.

✔︎ Small Piece of Sponge

✔︎ Quick-Drying Dish Towel

The REI Multi Towel Mini is super light (optional, dishes can always air dry!)

Toiletries

Toothbrush & Toothpaste

We use folding travel toothbrushes. They take up less space and guard the bristles from touching anything else in your toiletry bag.

Travel-size toothpaste tubes are perfect for backpacking trips (no point in dragging a full tube out on the trail!). Personally, we have switched to these toothpaste tablets when backpacking—they weigh next to nothing and take up almost zero space.

Sunscreen

An absolute must for faces, necks, and hands. We try to reduce the amount of sunscreen we need by covering up (long sleeves and pants), but a small travel container of sunscreen is critical.

Lip Balm

Between the sun and the wind, it’s so easy for lips to get chapped on the trail. So we always make sure to pack some lip balm with SPF.

Hand Sanitizer

Let’s be honest, cleanliness becomes a relative term on a backpacking trip. But before we prepare our food and after we go to the bathroom, a quick spritz of hand sanitizer goes a long way to cover our bases.

Wet Wipes

We budget 2-3 of these wipes per day to clean off all the sweat and grime. The ingredients of these wipes are literally just water and grapefruit seed extract, so we find they don’t leave a weird residue feeling behind.

Bathroom Kit

✔︎ Trowel

This trowel is cheap, durable, light (3.1 oz), and is faster at digging a cathole than using a stick. If you want to spend an extra $15 to save weight and some space, check out The Tent Lab’s trowels.

✔︎ Toilet Paper + Trash Bag

If you’re following Leave No Trace principles (and we hope you are!), you’ll know that packing out all your trash is important–and that goes for your used toilet paper, too. I use a ziplock bag that I “black out” with painter’s tape.

If you’re looking for TP alternatives, you’re in luck! There are a number of products designed with backpackers in mind that will help you cut down on the trash you have to pack out.

  • Kula Cloth: This is an antimicrobial pee cloth that can be used in place of toilet paper for #1. If the idea of a pee cloth is new to you, here are the answers to your first few questions: Yes, it’s sanitary when used properly, and no, it doesn’t stink. You can read allll about it on the Kula Cloth website.
  • Bidet: A great TP alternative that gained attention last year is the bidet–and this TUSHY travel version is a great option for backpackers. We met a gal on the JMT who used this one and couldn’t say enough good things about the experience. It’s essentially a soft bottle that can be filled with water, then squeezed to create a gently pressurized spray to clean up after you use your cathole.

Trash Bag for Food & Misc Waste

Technically, you could have one trash bag for everything, but I like to keep opening and closing my TP bag to a minimum, so I bring a separate one for storing my used food packaging.

Health and Safety

Headlamp

BioLite’s 200 headlamp has a minimalist headband design, which distributes the weight in a way that’s super comfortable. The light tilts, dims, and has a red light setting. Additionally, it’s USB charged so there’s no battery pack which helps make it one of the lightest headlamps we’ve found – it’s only 50 grams!

You can get up to 40 hours of use (on low) out of a charge, so you will need a solar panel or battery bank with a micro-USB port to charge it on longer trips.

First Aid Kit

You can make a DIY first aid kit, or buy a pre-packaged one like this.

Our current kit is a bit Frankensteined, but generally speaking, our basic kit includes things like band-aids of various sizes, 2nd skin/blister bandaids/moleskin, butterfly bandages/wound closure strips, gauze, tape, elastic bandage, antibiotic ointment, antiseptic towelettes, tweezers, safety pins, ibuprofen, Imodium, and antihistamine.

Backup Water Treatment

In the event something happens to our water filter, we keep these Micropur tablets in our first aid kit.

Gear Repair Kit

Usually sleeping pad patches, spare stove O-ring, duct tape, a sewing needle, and nylon thread.

Firestarter/Matches

Small Mirror

Whistle

Paper Maps

While we usually use a GPS app on our phones (see below) for navigation while hiking, we still bring paper maps. If your phone runs out of juice, gets water damaged, or drops and the screen cracks, you don’t want to be stuck without a way to navigate. Maps are stored in a ziplock bag along with any required permits.

Compass

This Suunto A-10 Compass is a solid, lightweight option. Your map and compass will only help you if you know how to use them, so you might want to check out a navigation class at your local REI.

GPS

While there are plenty of expensive hand-held GPS devices out there, we have been happy over the years just using our iPhones and Gaia GPS! The premium version will set you back a few bucks (save 20% by using our link) but allows you to download maps before your backpacking trip so you can use them offline, and you can create and print paper maps for your route as well.

SOS/Satellite Device

We carry a Garmin In-Reach Mini which works outside of cell service, meaning we can text with our family or friends via satellite (for weather updates, wildfire info, or just to say “we’re having a blast!”), call for SOS help if needed, and acts as a GPS with tracking. It’s only 3.5oz, but it a pricey item and it requires a subscription to use all the satellite functions. However, it’s been worth it for peace of mind for us and our families.

Megan adjusting her backpacking backpack

Backpacking Clothing

Insulated Jacket

For cool mornings and cold nights, a warm insulated jacket is essential. We look for jackets that can be compressed and packed down small so they don’t take up a ton of room in our packs.

Base Layer Tops & Bottoms

Base layers can help you regulate your body temperature in camp and on the trail as the temperature fluctuates throughout the day. We opt for Patagonia Capilene base layers on warmer trips or Smartwool base layers if it’s going to be colder.

Quick Dry Shirt

Look for something that’s moisture-wicking and breathable. Avoid cotton as it holds onto moisture—opt for quick drying material instead. Patagonia’s Capilene Cool Lightweight Shirt is a great place to start!

Long Sleeve Sun Shirt [optional]

When hiking at higher elevations and on exposed trails, we like to pack a lightweight UPF rated long sleeve shirt for additional sun protection.

Rain Jacket / Windbreaker 

A lightweight rain jacket will be worth its weight in gold if you encounter rain on your backpacking trip! We’ll pack these regardless of the forecast since the weather in the mountains can be unpredictable, and it doubles as a wind-resistant layer.

Hiking Pants / Shorts

Look for breathable, quick drying materials. UPF sun protection is always a big plus! Here are a few of our favorites:

Quick Dry Underwear

We each pack 2-3 pairs of breathable, quick-drying, moisture-wicking hiking underwear. These get rotated daily and on longer trips, we’ll rinse them with water and some biodegradable soap.

Sports Bra

Hiking Socks

Investing in some quality wool hiking socks will help keep your feet happy on multi-day hikes. FITS, Darn Tough, or SmartWool are all solid choices. If you’re prone to getting blisters on or between your toes, I’d highly recommend trying Injinji socks.

Hiking Boots

Footwear might be one of the most important pieces of backpacking gear! It doesn’t matter how lightweight the rest of your gear is if your feet are in pain or covered in blisters.

Spend some time really feeling things out when you’re selecting hiking boots or trail shoes. We recommend REI for this purchase because of their return policy. You can actually put your shoes to the test and if after a trip, it turns out they weren’t the right fit, you can return them for a refund within a year.

Hat/Beanie

A brimmed hat is nice for keeping sun off your face during the day, and a warm beanie is a must for when the sun goes down!

Warm Gloves

A pair of warm gloves always finds their way into my pack–I personally like the REI Polartec Gloves. Michael finds that for most summer trips, a pair of merino wool glove liners are sufficient.

Sunglasses

Camp Clothes [optional]

One of the luxuries that we bring along when backpacking is a different set of clothes to wear at camp and while sleeping.

At the end of the day, we strip off all our dirty, sweaty hiking clothes, wipe down with wet wipes, and change into our clean(ish) camp clothes. We feel fresher going to bed, and since these clothes don’t carry any residual hiking sweat, we sleep warmer, too.

We each pack a shirt, bottoms, underwear, Teva camp shoes, and cushy socks.

Camera Gear and Electronics

These are optional items, but ones that always make it into our packs!

Camera

We bring a Sony a6600 mirrorless camera on our backpacking trips, which weighs just over a pound (plus lens(es)). Or, on fast and light trips we might just use our iPhones. A smaller camera like the smaller camera like the Canon G7X or the Sony RX100 are also nice, lightweight options for casual picture taking.

Peak Design Camera Clip

This handy clip attaches your camera to your backpack strap so you can have your camera easily accessible on the trail.

Battery Bank

A battery bank is optional, but if you have devices that need to stay charged, it might be worth the weight. They come in a number of mAh capacities. This 10,000mAh pack will charge your phone 2+ times.

Megan and Michael wearing backpacking packs in the mountains

We hope that this backpacking checklist will be helpful as you plan your next backpacking trip! If you’re looking to buy or upgrade gear, be sure to check out this post about where to buy discounted outdoor gear to save a bit of cash.

If you want to dig deeper, we have articles about choosing a backpacking stove, details on our backpacking kitchen, and articles about dehydrating food for backpacking and buying and packing backpacking food for your trip.

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13 Comments

  1. Regina Kuntz says:

    Someplace you mentioned travel bottles that can hold sunscreen (maybe they aren’t silicone?) but I can’t find it now. Can you please tell me where to find them?

  2. great information i will try this tips thanks for sharing

  3. I really like this checklist, it’s quite comprehensive to say the least. I’d only like to add one advice: always have one more pair of socks than you calculated necessary.
    Also, nowadays I also carry a pair of lightweight shoes to change into at the campsite.

    1. I completely agree with you about packing an extra pair of socks! I have never once thought to myself “I packed too many socks” 😉

  4. Really useful, thanks for sharing your advice and experience. It’s still too cold for me here in Ireland for camping but couple of months and I’ll be out! Great list.

  5. Iktma Mafo says:

    Great list, but would love to see more budget friendly options. $50 for camp shoes when Crocs will do? No, thanks!

    1. Thanks for the feedback! The Teva camp shoes we linked to do have multiple purposes – good for river crossings, and they are the sandals I wear around town in warmer weather too. I certainly wouldn’t shell out 50 bucks exclusively for camp shoes either 😉 But, we’ll work on including more budget-friendly options in these gear lists in the future!

    2. You know that Crocs are also $50 right?

  6. I really like this checklist, it’s quite comprehensive, to say the least. I’d only like to add one piece of advice: always have one more pair of socks than you calculated necessary.
    Also, nowadays I also carry a pair of lightweight shoes to change into at the campsite. https://bagcottage.com

    1. Absolutely agree! We carry two pairs of socks to hike in, and one pair to sleep in. Camp shoes are a must for us these days, too. I left them behind on our last backpacking trip to see if I could get away without them, and boy did I miss them at the end of the day!!