Even seasoned hikers use a checklist to ensure they have everything they need on the trail. Whether you are a novice or an experienced backpacker, these gear lists are created to ensure you haven’t overlooked any essential items before embarking on your next backpacking trip.
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 needs. I will start with a core essential list that includes things you will need for any hiking trip, including sleeping in the wilderness, followed by lists specific to the kinds of weather you expect to encounter so that you can customize them according to your plans.
Backpacking Gear List: The core essentials
Download the checklist here: Backpacking Gear Checklist: The core essentials
Regardless of how long your trip will be and the terrain you plan on traveling, you should have some essential items 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 filters or treatment tablets
- Lantern or flashlight
- Extra batteries
- Food – always pack an extra day’s worth of food
- Sleeping bag
- Sleeping pad
- Poncho (large enough to fit over your pack as well)
- Map or a guidebook
- Pen or pencil
- Drink mix packets for electrolytes
- Extra socks
- 2 large garbage bags (or use them as pack liners)
- Permits and licenses
- First aid kit
- Lighter or matches, waterproof container
- Fire kit for an emergency
- Reading or prescription glasses
- Prescription medications
- Cash and credit cards
Safety additions to consider
If you are going on a more extended 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:
- Emergency locator beacon
- Satellite phone
- GPS locator
- Altimeter (for higher elevation hiking)
- Bear Spray
- Extra prescription glasses
- 2-way radios
- Foot care kit
- Survival tips and tricks guide
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 to ensure you don’t end up with 4 sets of playing cards.
- Fishing kit
- Field guide
- Sketch supplies
- Playing cards
Backpacking Gear List for Longer Trips
For longer trips, there are additional core essential items you are likely to need for a few days and longer:
- Lip balm
- Duct tape
- Bug spray
- Repair kits: stove, zipper, inflatable mattress
- 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 for Cold weather hiking
Cold-weather hiking brings its 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:
- Water shoes
- Bandanas or sweatbands
- Lightweight brimmed hat
- Extra shorts
Whether you plan on hiking in warm or cold weather, you must have a good plan for what clothes to pack. This is one of your most important decisions, particularly for longer trips.
Plan on layering appropriate for the weather conditions you expect, considering the range of conditions for that time of year and terrain.
Over time 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 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 abysmal.
- Cotton anything – cotton tends to absorb moisture and take a while to dry. There are better fabrics for wicking and cooling.
- Wire bras – ensure you find an excellent synthetic sports bra with wide straps (no connectors where your pack straps will lay), moisture-wicking, and a good fit with plenty of support.
More clothing tips for your backpacking gear list:
- Plan layers for your torso, legs, and feet – again, this is a weather-appropriate decision. You want at least one change for each, plus clean sleeping clothes.
- 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 and waterproof at the very least in every pack.
- For cold-weather hiking, I recommend you invest in a high-end lightweight, insulated parka designed by a reputable outfitter company. This item is a critical piece of gear, and the weight-warmth ratio is so important.
- Socks: Plan on packing one pair you keep just for camp so you go to bed in clean socks that have not been hiked. Wool/synthetic blends are for superior wicking and insulation. Consider testing socks out in your hiking boots before your trip.
- Boots: Research 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.