Are you planning a multiple-day backpacking trip? Whether it’s your first extended camping experience or not, you may be wondering what to pack. If you’ve backpacked before and made the mistake of bringing too much, then you’re probably looking for tips to pack lighter next time.
It’s important to remember all the important things without overpacking and being stuck with a heavy pack. Finding that balance can be difficult and there’s no magic formula because everyone’s needs are different.
But there are some good tips and guidelines to follow to make sure you don’t forget anything while still having a great time on your trip. So let’s break things down into categories to make it a little easier to digest.
Backpacks, Bags & Accessories
Arguably the most important item on the list, you just can’t go backpacking without a backpack. It’s also key that it fits your body well and be comfortable because it will be quite heavy, especially in the beginning.
Select a pack that is large enough to hold everything you want to bring along. Don’t go too big though or you might be tempted to overpack because you have extra space. For a 3-day trip, a 60-80 liter bag should be enough. Make sure it has a hip belt to evenly distribute the weight across your body. It should also ventilate your back to prevent overheating as you hike.
If you’ll be expecting rain, get a waterproof cover to put over your backpack. Make sure it is durable enough and fits completely over your backpack when it is full.
A dry bag may also be necessary when camping in wetter conditions. This small bag will keep anything you put inside it safe from moisture, making it perfect for electronics or other valuables.
Look for a dry bag that has a roll-top closure and make sure the seams are sealed tightly so no water can enter.
If you plan to hike into the woods, set up camp in one place, and stay there for several days, then bringing a smaller daypack might be helpful. This means you can leave the bigger backpack at your campsite and go off on shorter hikes.
Get one that is very lightweight yet durable. It shouldn’t add a lot to your primary backpack but should hold all the essentials when you head out for the day.
Lots of pockets are also a plus so you can easily reach for things like your phone, water bottle, chapstick, or sunscreen without having to stop and remove the pack. This pack is completely optional but could make your life much easier if you plan to do a lot of short hikes during your trip.
As one of the ten essentials, shelter is necessary for any camping trip, no matter the duration. A tent will protect you from the cold and rain while also providing privacy and a sense of security. For backpacking, look for a lightweight tent that is well made and easy to assemble. The tent should also have a rain flap and vestibule to store your gear and keep it dry.
If it will be cold on your trip, be sure to check out this handy article.
A sleeping bag will keep you warm at night and you shouldn’t camp without one if nighttime temperatures will be cool. Choose a lightweight option that is rated for the time of year when you’ll be camping.
Opt for an additional liner if you want extra warmth without the added weight of a higher-rated sleeping bag.
We wrote this great article on why you need a sleeping bag liner, be sure to check it out.
While the sleeping bag keeps you warm, a sleeping pad will also insulate while making the ground more comfortable to sleep on. Most pads are very lightweight so they’re easy to bring along when backpacking.
Choose either an inflated pad or a closed-cell foam pad that can be folded and attached to your backpack. Your choice will depend on how cold it will be at night as well as how much weight you want to carry.
If weather permits, a good alternative to a sleeping bag is a hammock. Although you can’t comfortably camp very cold in them without bringing a lot of extra gear, they are a good option for the summer.
Bring a light sleeping bag to put inside if you want some extra warmth. Hammocks are great because they are very lightweight and you can camp almost anywhere without needing flat terrain for a tent.
At the bare minimum, you should always have a tarp with you when camping. It can be used underneath the tent as a protective layer or hung above for weather protection.
If you opt not to take a tent, a tarp can be hung to make a shelter or lean-to. It can also be used in an emergency to create a stretcher or used as a poncho to wear in the rain.
A pillow isn’t a backpacking essential because it will take up a lot of room in your pack. A rolled-up t-shirt or coat will do the same job so it’s probably best to leave single-use items behind. However, if you can’t sleep well without one, then consider adding it so your trip is more enjoyable.
First Aid & Medications
First Aid Kit
A small first-aid kit with all the essentials should be enough to cover your medical or emergency needs on a short trip. A basic kit should include bandages, antiseptic wipes or gel, adhesive tape, and gauze dressing pads. It should also contain tweezers for removing splinters, wooden sticks to use as a finger splint, and pain relievers.
Having some kind of cream for bites or stings is also a good idea when camping. Scissors may also be necessary for cutting up tape and bandages or cutting clothes away from an injured area.
Don’t know what you need in a first aid kit? We wrote a great article that will be a great help to you.
If you’re taking any kind of medication, make sure to pack it as well. Always bring more than you think you will need in case your trip is unexpectedly extended.
You should always have a paper map of the area where you will be hiking and camping. Choose a map that is coated so it will be more durable and won’t get damaged if it becomes wet. It will also be easier to wipe clean if it gets dirty.
Along with your map, a compass is an essential navigation tool. Make sure you know how to use it first by practicing it before your trip. It’s useless to pack it if you can’t use it to find your way.
A GPS device is not an absolute essential if you have a map and compass. However, depending on where you’ll be backpacking, you might want to consider it. Make sure to bring extra batteries too.
If you’ll be hiking up mountains, an altimeter could be useful. Some watches have them built in to make it easier to calculate your elevation.
Food & Cooking Gear
You will need approximately 1.5 to 1.75 pounds of food each day. You can opt for freeze-dried meals or things like nuts, seeds, jerky, and granola bars. Try to get the most calories in the least amount of weight while still having a variety of delicious and nutritious meals to choose from.
To stay hydrated, bring a water bottle and refill it as often as you can. You can opt for a bottle or use a bladder inside your backpack. Plastic bottles that can be rolled up for easy storage when empty are a good option for backpacking too.
Water Treatment System
It will be impossible to carry all the water you’ll need so having a system to treat water is key. You can opt for a filter but always make sure to have a back-up method in case there is a problem with your primary one.
Unless you plan to eat all your food as is, you will need a stove to boil water and heat food. A portable camping stove and small canister with enough fuel for the trip will be enough for your cooking needs.
Get a small pot that works easily with your stove and can double as a cup and bowl.
Spoon or Spork
When it comes to utensils, don’t worry about bringing every single kind. Instead, a spoon should be enough but, if you think you want more versatility, then a spork is also a good option. Make sure the handle is long enough to fit any dishes or bags of food you’ll be eating from.
After cooking and eating, you’ll need to clean your dishes so they’re ready for the next day. Make sure your soap is biodegradable and toss in a sponge or use a towel or bandana to scrub any debris.
For warmer weather, pack or wear a t-shirt that is made from a quick-drying fabric and will wick moisture away from your body.
Pants or Shorts
Depending on the temperature and your preference, choose pants that are lightweight and comfortable. They should be made from quick-dry fabric as well so you can wash and wear them again.
Wicking underwear is also important and it should dry quickly so you can use the same pair multiple times without having to pack extras.
Socks should be very comfortable and be appropriate for whatever footwear you decide on. They should also dry pretty fast so you can wash them each night and wear them again the next day.
For colder weather, you’ll need a long-sleeve base layer to keep your upper body warm. It should be breathable and dry quickly in case you sweat through it.
Leggings are a base layer for your lower body and should be very comfortable. You’ll wear them underneath your pants so they should also be breathable.
A fleece jacket for cool evenings around the campsite will be perfect for keeping you warm without overheating.
Get a hat that is comfortable and fits well. You can also opt for a buff that can be used as a hat or balaclava.
Gloves will not only protect your hands but keep them warm and dry. Choose a pair depending on the temperature or opt for several pairs for different weather.
Even if rain isn’t in the forecast, make sure to bring a raincoat at a minimum. It should have a breathable liner and hood.
Waterproof rain pants are key for wetter hikes and can be worn over your leggings or regular pants if necessary.
Hiking Boots or Shoes
Depending on the roughness of the terrain, you’ll need boots or shoes. Make sure they are broken in and comfortable while still providing enough ankle support.
Some people like to wear sandals while hiking while others opt for boots and just bring a pair of sandals to wear at camp.
Gaiters cover the gap between your leg and shoe so dirt, rocks, and other debris don’t get into your shoes. Only pack these if you’ll be hiking in places with a lot of underbrush or other obstructions that could be problematic.
Toiletries & Personal Items
It’s easy to lose track of time when you’re out in the wilderness. A watch is important to know what time the sun rises or sets or to keep track of how long you’ve been hiking.
An invaluable accessory when it comes to hiking very early or late at night. It is also useful for setting up camp, cooking in the evening, or using the bathroom in the middle of the night.
While essential for rocky or steep terrain, trekking poles can also make a good walking stick or serve multiple purposes in an emergency.
Multi-Tool or Knife
Some kind of sharp instrument is key because you never know when you might need it. Pack one and have it just in case.
A small towel will come in handy in multiple situations. Whether it’s drying off after rain, bathing in a river, or drying your cooking gear, it will be invaluable. Opt for a lightweight and fast-drying one to make your life easier.
Oral hygiene is important, even in the backcountry. But leave your battery-powered brush at home and choose one that’s lightweight and easy to pack.
Make sure to get a toothpaste that’s both good for your teeth and also easy on the environment.
Pack a small bag with your essentials. This could include a comb, deodorant, wipes, hand sanitizer, lip balm, earplugs, sleep mask, and any other items you may need.
The sun shines year-round so it’s best to protect your skin. If you’ll be hiking at higher elevations, this becomes essential because the sun’s rays are stronger there.
Just because you’re camping doesn’t mean you have to smell bad! Pack an eco-friendly soap and keep yourself fresh and clean even on the trail.
Protect your eyes from the bright sun or the glare off of snow.
Using the bathroom when camping doesn’t have to be a hassle. Pack yourself a small kit that you can take with you whenever nature calls. Include toilet paper, plenty of bags for packing out trash, and a trowel to help you comply with Leave No Trace.
Bugs can easily ruin any camping trip so come prepared with a spray or lotion to repel them.
You’ll have plenty of downtime so bring something to read while relaxing at camp. It could be your favorite book or an eReader filled with an entire library.
Phone and Headphones
You may not have a cell signal but, if you do, then a phone is important in an emergency. It’s also a great way to pass the time by listening to music, podcasts, audiobooks, or playing games.
Journal and Pen or Pencil
A sojourn into nature is the perfect time for self-reflection and meditation. Jot down your thoughts in a journal or document your adventures to look back on later.
If you love spotting birds and other wildlife, then a small pair of binoculars will add a lot. You’ll be able to see some amazing things up close and personal.
Documents & Safety Gear
Matches and Firestarter
Even if you plan to primarily use a cookstove, it’s always best to have a backup for an emergency in case you need to make a fire.
Print out any permits or campsite reservations and attach them to your backpack or tent as required.
Keep some form of identification with you at all times. You never know when you might need it.
Leave a copy of your itinerary with a friend or the rangers nearby. It will be helpful in case of an emergency.
Personal Locator Beacon
If you’re traveling deep into the wilderness, taking along a rescue beacon could make all the difference in how long it takes to be rescued.
This small bracelet is made from a durable parachute cord wrapped tightly and can be used in many survival situations.
If you’ll be in bear country, don’t forget the bear spray or a canister to store your food. Some places require bear canisters for all campers so make sure to check the regulations in advance.
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