Essential Backpacking Gear List: The Gear You Need in 2021

Even seasoned hikers use a checklist to make sure they have everything that they need on the trail. Whether you are new or old-hat, these backpacking gear lists are designed to help you make sure you have not forgotten something important before you set off on your next backpacking adventure. 

I encourage you to keep a list written down and revisit it after your trip to add or subtract items as needed for the kind of hiking you do. Over time you will develop a custom checklist that is optimal for your individual needs. 

I will start with a core essential list that includes things you will need for any hiking trip that includes sleeping in the wilderness followed by lists specific to the kinds of weather you expect to encounter so that you can customize according to your plans: 

Backpacking Gear List: The core essentials

Regardless of how long your trip will be, and the terrain you plan on traveling, there are some basic items you should have for any overnight trip. I call these the “core essentials” since no matter where you are going, you will want to be sure you have these items in your backpack: 

  • Water reservoir and/or bottles
  • Water filter or treatment tablets
  • Lantern or flashlight
  • Extra batteries
  • Food – always pack an extra day worth of food
  • Sleeping bag
  • Sleeping pad
  • Shelter
  • Poncho (large enough to fit over your pack as well)
  • Map or a guidebook
  • Pen or pencil
  • Compass
  • Drink mix packets for electrolytes
  • Extra socks
  • 2 large garbage bags (or use them as pack liners)
  • Permits and licenses 
  • First aid kit
  • Knife
  • Lighter or matches, waterproof container
  • Fire kit for an emergency
  • Sunscreen 
  • Whistle
  • Reading or prescription glasses
  • Sunglasses
  • Jacket
  • Identification
  • Prescription medications
  • Cash and credit cards

Safety additions to consider

If you are going on a longer trip, or plan on hiking in rough terrain, you may want to consider some additional safety items to bring along in case of an emergency:

Optional fun additions

We all go into the wilderness for different reasons. Make a little room in your backpack for at least one luxury item that will add to the fun at camp or help you build memories. It’s a good idea to check with your hiking buddies on this to make sure you don’t end up with 4 sets of playing cards. 

Backpacking Gear List: Longer trips

For longer trips, there are additional core essential items you are likely to need over the course of a few days and longer:

  • Lip balm
  • Fuel
  • Duct tape
  • Cook stove
  • Bug spray
  • Multi-tool
  • Repair kits: stove, zipper, inflatable mattress
  • Tarp
  • Nylon rope, at least 50 feet
  • Trekking poles
  • Eating utensils, bowl, cup
  • Bear canister – critical in grizzly country
  • Toiletries: biodegradable soap, toothbrush, toothpaste, sanitary products
  • Toilet paper
  • Quick dry towel
  • Sandals for camp

Backpacking Gear List: Cold weather hiking

Cold weather hiking brings its own challenges and being prepared means bringing special gear. In addition, even if you are not expecting precipitation such as snow or freezing rain, you should be prepared for it even for shorter trips. Consider if the following items make sense for the weather you might encounter:

  • Ice axe
  • Snow shovel
  • Heat packs
  • Insulated, waterproof boots
  • Synthetic thermal long underwear
  • Insulated gloves
  • Thermal fleece hat, neck-warmer
  • Insulated parka

Warm weather hiking

If you plan to be hiking in the warmer weather of summer, there may be some additional items you may want to consider adding to your list: 

  • Swimsuit
  • Water shoes
  • Bandanas or sweat bands
  • Lightweight brimmed hat
  • Extra shorts

Clothing tips

Whether you are planning on hiking in warm or cold weather, you need to have a good plan for what clothes to pack. This is one of the most important decisions you will make, particularly for longer trips. 

Plan on layering that is appropriate for the weather conditions you expect considering the range of conditions for that time of year and terrain.

Overtime you will likely find that specifically designed clothes made for hiking are worth the investment if you hike regularly. The high-tech fabrics available now can be pricey, but they provide comfort for all conditions without adding much weight to your pack. 

Moisture-wicking, UV-blocking, breathable water-resistant, quick-dry and bug repellant options are all available. If you build out your clothing choices to plan for layering, you can have all of these bases covered. 

More is not better. There is a balance between having clothes and the weight you will be carrying. Avoid:

  • Heavy cotton sweaters – the weight to warmth ratio of cotton is very poor. 
  • Cotton anything – cotton tends to absorb moisture, and take a while to dry. There are better fabrics for wicking and cooling. 
  • Wire bras – make sure you find a good synthetic sports bra with wide straps (no connectors where your pack straps will lay), with moisture wicking, and a good fit with plenty of support.

More clothing tips for your backpacking gear list:

  • Plan layers for your torso, your legs and your feet – again, this is a weather appropriate decision. You want at least one change for each, plus sleeping clothes that stay clean. 
  • Even in warm weather, plan on layering for some warmth protection. Often the mountains or outdoor areas get cooler in the evening than urban areas and you will want a light jacket that is breathable waterproof at the very least in every pack.
  • For cold weather hiking, I definitely recommend you invest in a high-end lightweight insulated parka designed by a reputable outfitter company. This is a critical piece of gear and the weight-warmth ratio is so important with this item. 
  • Socks: Plan on packing one pair that you keep just for camp so you go to bed in clean socks that have not been hiked in. Wool/synthetic blends are for superior wicking and insulation. Consider testing socks out in your hiking boots prior to your trip. 
  • Boots: Do some research on the best hiking boots for the time of year and conditions you will be hiking in. Break them in before hitting the trail. You want the lightest boots that will meet your needs. Extra ounces make a big difference within a few short miles. 


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