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Backpacking Checklist

Heading out on a backpacking trip? Here is a checklist that will hopefully help you decide what to bring with you. Remember that a lot of these items are not-essential...many are "creature-comforts" that backpackers like to bring with them when they camp in the wilderness or at a remote hut or cabin.

Each backpacking trip is very different based on location and the current weather conditions. Some items that are marked "optional" are actually required in specific areas and/or under certain weather conditions. You must plan ahead, know where you are going, and understand what you are getting yourself into. Backpacking can be an extremely safe sport, but it requires good wits, strong skills, and advance planning.


checkmark FOOD/SNACKS (generally plan on 3,000-5,000 calories per day; I recommend putting all food/snacks into a zip-lock bag, lightweight pouch (i.e. Eagle bags), bear bag or canister, or a waterproof stuff sack to help stay organized; until you have a lot of experience under your belt, I recommend bringing more food than you think you'll need) REQUIRED
checkmark WATER (expect to drink 3-5 liters per person per day, but you do not necessarily need to carry this much water when you start hiking if you know where reliable water sources are and you are (a) planning on bringing a water filter, (b) plan on boiling the water or (c) bringing water purification tablets) REQUIRED
checkmark GATORADE/POWERADE (or any other electrolyte-type drink; I recommend that you bring the powder form so that you don't have to bring a zillion sports bottles with you) OPTIONAL

checkmark HIKING SHOES or BOOTS (most people prefer high-top hiking boots but some swear by using trail running or hiking shoes since they expect their shoes to get wet anyway and don't want the additional weight that boots carry; I recommend boots or shoes that have "Gore-Tex" and are therefore waterproof; my favorite brand of boots is Oboz) REQUIRED
checkmark BACKPACK (I recommend the Arc'teryx, North Face, REI, Gregory and Osprey brands, but there are dozens of other brands; for trips that are between one night and one week in duration, I recommend an internal-frame backpack that is between 35 and 50 liters in size (i.e. "50L"). Some will find a 60L or 62L backpack helpful, but these bags are generally quite heavy and are usually unnecessary (you probably are packing too much). A pack that is larger than 62L is usually overkill and almost certainly means that you have overpacked, unless you are backpacking in winter or going on an extended expedition where a variety of gear and clothing is needed; make sure to try a fully-loaded backpack on in-store to make sure that the fitting is proper) REQUIRED
checkmark BACKPACK COVER or LINER (I recommend Sea-to-Summit pack covers because they are very lightweight and pack small; some backpacks are already waterproof and a cover or liner will not be absolutely needed (but it may save weight since no water will collect on your pack or cover); some backpackers will just put a pack liner (typically just a trash bag) inside their bag instead of using a cover) REQUIRED
checkmark TENT, TARP-TENT or HAMMOCK (I recommend the REI, MSR, Mountain Hardwear and Big Agnes tent brands; some backpackers love tarp-tents because they are extremely lightweight; hammocks are becoming increasingly popular, but you'll probably need an underquilt if its going to be chilly at night) REQUIRED
checkmark SLEEPING BAG (I recommend bringing a sleeping bag that is rated 10 degrees below the lowest expected temperature on your trip; I recommend the Marmot, REI, North Face, Western Mountaineering and Mountain Hardwear brands; I prefer down (650 fill or better) over synthetic sleeping bags, but you have to be very careful not to get the down sleeping bag wet; the best down sleeping bags are 800-900 fill quality, especially those by Western Mountaineering) REQUIRED
checkmark SLEEPING PAD (I recommend the Therm-a-Rest brand, especially the "Pro-Lite" series; I think that most people will find a 20x72-inch or 20x66-inch sleeping pad ideal; the closed-cell sleeping pads are bulkier but lighter than the inflating pads, so many ultralight backpackers will choose closed-cell pads) REQUIRED
checkmark HEADLAMP & BATTERIES (headlamps are far more useful than traditional flashlights; I recommend the Petzl and Black Diamond brands; beware of using lithium batteries in older headlamps; it is a good idea to carry a lightweight backup headlamp in case your primary headlamp fails (this happens more often than it should); it is also a good idea to bring a spare set of batteries) REQUIRED
checkmark GUIDEBOOKS (I recommend photocopying only the pages you need to bring with you instead of carrying the entire book) REQUIRED
checkmark TRAIL MAP (it is a good idea to give a backup copy of the trail map to each person in your group in case you get separated; if trail map is not waterproof, you will want to bring a waterproof cover or case for it) REQUIRED
checkmark WATER BOTTLES or WATER BLADDER (I recommend Camelbak water bladders and/or Nalgene bottles; remember to bring a bottle that is capable with your water filter; water bottles are more practical than bladders for supplying water needed for boiling/cooking; ultralight backpackers will skip using Nalgene bottles and just bring used Gatorade or bottled-water plastic bottles because they are lighter) REQUIRED
checkmark WATER FILTER or PURIFICATION TABLETS (it is a good idea to test your filter in your kitchen sink each time before you take it on an adventure; some people will boil water or use iodine tablets instead of a filter because they are much lighter; some people will skip the tablets and filter and just boil water instead; I like water filters because they are fast and the water tastes better than when tablets are used) REQUIRED
checkmark TRASH BAG (for cleaning up camp, creating pack covers, and/or storing wet clothes) OPTIONAL
checkmark STUFF SACK (for keeping used/wet clothing separate in your backpack; look for siliconized nylon sacks; I like Outdoor Research and REI brand stuff sacks) OPTIONAL
checkmark PILLOW (Therm-a-Rest makes excellent down and other pillows specifically designed for camping and backpacking; you can also use a stuff-able pillow case and use clothes in lieu of a pillow, but many find this uncomfortable) OPTIONAL
checkmark TREKKING POLES (I highly recommend using trekking poles due to the extra weight you'll be carrying in your backpack; trekking poles are also used with many tarp tents) OPTIONAL
checkmark SUNGLASSES (very helpful if traveling above treeline or prolonged travel on snowy slopes where snow-blindness can be an issue) OPTIONAL
checkmark CAMP SHOES, DOWN BOOTIES, SANDALS, or CROCS (I love getting out of my hiking boots and into one of these when I arrive in camp or at a backcountry hut) OPTIONAL
checkmark SMALL DAYPACK (some hikers like to bring a very lightweight and small day pack so that they can leave their bulky backpack behind when doing side trips; I like the small Camelbak packs that only hold water and a few small snacks) OPTIONAL
checkmark GAITERS (some hikers swear by gaiters for several reasons, including the fact that they provide extra insulation, keep snow and mud out of boots, protect your legs and pants from crampons, and provide leg protection when bushwhacking; gaiters come in two different sizes, include a low or size version and a mid or tall size version) OPTIONAL
checkmark TENT FOOTPRINT, TARP, or GROUND CLOTH (some backpackers like to use a tent footprint or tarp because it helps protect the fabric of the tent and it can also provide some additional protection from water getting inside the tent from both rain and morning dew) OPTIONAL
checkmark CAMP CHAIR (Therma-a-Rest makes a lightweight inflatable camp chair that makes for some very comfortable sitting when you arrive in camp) OPTIONAL

checkmark SHIRTS (must be naturally quick-drying/wicking; I recommend the Patagonia, Under-Armor, REI, and North Face brands, but there are dozens of other brands; some hikers like to bring a mix of long and short-sleeve shirts; long-sleeve shirts are good for reducing bug bites; long-sleeve merino wool shirts are loved by many backpackers; Patagonia Capilene is also extremely well-regarded) REQUIRED
checkmark SOCKS (bring several pairs of synthetic or wool socks; avoid cotton socks (except for in camp); I like REI and SmartWool brand wool socks; I like to carry 3 pairs of socks even if I am only backpacking for 2 nights) REQUIRED
checkmark HIKING PANTS OR SHORTS (must be naturally quick-drying/wicking; convertible nylon pants are favored by many since they can be used as shorts; I recommend the REI and North Face brands; I typically only take one pair of pants and a lightweight pair of shorts on a backpacking trip) REQUIRED
checkmark WATERPROOF JACKET (I recommend the Arc'teryx, North Face, REI, and Marmot brands, but there are dozens of other brands; I love jackets that contain the "Gore-Tex Pro-Shell" waterproof fabric; an excellent waterproof jacket that will last you 10 years will typically run you $200-$500) REQUIRED
checkmark CAMP CLOTHING (it is very highly recommended that you bring a change of clothes to sleep in; the change of clothes can be the next days' hiking clothes, but I love changing into comfortable and dry cotton clothing at the end of the long day of backpacking; I recommend bringing a long sleeve t-shirt and lightweight fleece pants; sandals can also be used to cross rivers and to play in swimming holes) REQUIRED
checkmark UNDERWEAR (I highly recommend naturally quick-drying/wicking briefs, bras and underwear; however, some backpackers go freestyle and do not wear underwear) OPTIONAL
checkmark WATERPROOF HIKING PANTS (a lot of hikers like using these in the rain, but many say they are unnecessary since you can just change into your (dry) camp clothes when you get there; I recommend the REI and Marmot brands waterproof pants) OPTIONAL
checkmark FLEECE/SOFTSHELL/DOWN JACKET (helpful if it is going to be below 50 or 55 degrees during the day or at night) OPTIONAL
checkmark BANDANA OR FACE TOWEL (for wiping off sweat and many other uses) OPTIONAL
checkmark TOWEL (I recommend the lightweight and packable towels offered by REI and MSR) OPTIONAL
checkmark HAT (some hikers like to bring a wide-brimmed hat to keep the sun off their head; these hats are also required if you want to use a bug net; I recommend the REI and Outdoor Research brands) OPTIONAL
checkmark WINTER HAT (I recommend naturally quick-drying or wool hats; avoid cotton and hats that are not woven tightly; a favorite hat is the Mountain Hardwear Dome Perignon) OPTIONAL
checkmark WINTER GLOVES OR MITTENS (I love Outdoor Research and North Face mittens; I recommend mittens if temperature will be below 20 degrees; gloves are great from 20 to 45 or 50 degrees; most backpackers will agree that neither gloves nor mittens are needed if temperature is completely expected to stay above 45 or 50 degrees) OPTIONAL

checkmark COOKING UTENSILS (I recommend Light My Fire brand sporks that have a spoon, fork and knife all combined into one lightweight unit; you'll also want a scrub pad and pot grabber/handler) OPTIONAL
checkmark BOWLS/PLATES (REI and other gear shops sell lightweight plastic units) OPTIONAL
checkmark CUPS (I recommend Lexan cups) OPTIONAL

checkmark TOILET PAPER (many backpackers also carry a small trowel for digging poo-holes) REQUIRED
checkmark HAND SANITIZER (small travel-sized containers are sold at Wal-Mart, Target, etc.) OPTIONAL
checkmark BABY WIPES (because you probably won't be able to shower) OPTIONAL
checkmark TOOTHBRUSH/TOOTHPASTE (small travel-sized containers are sold at Wal-Mart, Target, etc.) OPTIONAL
checkmark EARPLUGS (very helpful if staying in a loud hut, lean-to, or popular campsite) OPTIONAL
checkmark BUG SPRAY (useful from mid-May to mid-July in many areas of the US; 30% "Deet" products work OK, but 100% Deet products work much better; keep in mind that Deet is likely to be dangerous to humans, so 30% Deet products may be the safer choice; some bug spray's use permethrin, but this chemical is very dangerous to cats, including remnants left over on your clothes) OPTIONAL
checkmark BUG/HEAD NET (useful from mid-May to mid-July in many areas of the US; must use with a wide-brimmed hat) OPTIONAL
checkmark DEODORANT (small travel-sized containers are sold at Wal-Mart, Target, etc.) OPTIONAL
checkmark SUN-TAN LOTION ( SPF 30+ with UVA and UVB protection is recommended; small travel-sized containers are sold at Wal-Mart, Target, etc.) OPTIONAL
checkmark BIO-DEGRADEABLE SOAP (for cleaning yourself and your camp kitchen; many hikers won't bother with using soap and will just get happily dirty for a few days and shower when they get home; some hikers will argue that "bio-degradable" soap is still bad for the environment and should not be used at all) OPTIONAL

checkmark MATCHES OR LIGHTER (make sure to get the strike-anywhere type matches; some people love using FireSteel ( to start fires) REQUIRED
checkmark SAFETY WHISTLE (it can be a wise idea to have everyone in the group have their own whistle in case of emergencies) REQUIRED
checkmark MEDICAL KIT (include at least ibuprofen, band-aids, and neosporin; also consider Tylenol, Excedrin, hydro-cortisone cream (prevents chafing), Vaseline (prevents blisters on feet) moleskin (for blister pain management), adhesive bandages (taking care of injuries), and lip balm or chapstick) REQUIRED
checkmark KNIFE, RAZOR-BLADE OR MULTI-TOOL (for a million different uses; razor-blades are much smaller and lighter than knives or multi-tools, so ultralight backpackers love them) REQUIRED
checkmark MONEY (for purchases at a Hut or in case you get lost and have to hitch a ride; some campsites charge a fee that is collected at the site) OPTIONAL
checkmark COMPASS (although not absolutely required for every backpacking trip, carry a compass and knowing how to use it is generally a good idea; REI offers seminars on how to use a compass, which can be surprisingly complicated; books can also be purchased to help you learn how to use one) OPTIONAL
checkmark DUCT TAPE OR SUPERGLUE (for many different uses; you can buy mini-sized duct tape at REI and other gear shops; some people wrap duct tape around their trekking poles) OPTIONAL
checkmark ROPE OR NYLON CORD (I recommend 50 feet of rope or cord; for storing backpack in tree away from bears, hanging clothing, and tying down tents in windy weather) REQUIRED
checkmark FIRST-AID HANDBOOK (most people will not carry this, but you never know when it will come in handy) OPTIONAL
checkmark GPS (make sure to always bring a compass and trail map in addition to a GPS as electronics can and do fail often) OPTIONAL
checkmark PHONE (to call in the event of an emergency; however, do not call unless it is an absolute dire emergency as rescue personnel are typically made up of volunteers) OPTIONAL
checkmark BEAR CANISTER (required in some parts of the United States, and recommended in others; also protects food from squirrels and marmots) OPTIONAL
checkmark WATCH (helpful to help you realize how many more hours there are until it turns dark; some watches also have other useful features, such as a barometer, altimeter and/or compass) OPTIONAL
checkmark FOOT TRACTION (I recommend Microspikes, Hillsounds or Stabilicers if you will be doing any hiking on snow or ice; crampons should also be considered if hiking on steep terrain or above treeline) OPTIONAL
checkmark BEAR SPRAY (highly recommended in Alaska, Montana, Idaho, Wyoming and other places that have grizzly bears; generally not required in black bear country, but you never know when you may need it) OPTIONAL

checkmark CAMERA (with memory card and battery; you can also bring lenses and filters, but they add a lot of weight; many will prefer a point-and-shoot digital camera over a DSLR, but DSLR's take photographs that are of a much higher quality; some backpackers will forgo a camera altogether and just use their smart-phone to take pictures) OPTIONAL
checkmark ALCOHOL (I recommend wine and hard-alcohol instead of beer since even just a few beer cans will be very heavy to carry; don't forget a can/beer/wine opener; keep in mind that alcohol consumption should be kept to a minimum for safety's sake and the risk of dehydration) OPTIONAL
checkmark PLASTIC WINE GLASSES (GSI Outdoors makes two-piece wine glasses that are lightweight) OPTIONAL
checkmark PLAYING CARDS (smaller-sized playing cards can be purchased to save some weight and space) OPTIONAL
checkmark BOOK/MAGAZINE/KINDLE (to read while in camp; most will probably not end up reading while in camp so you may want to forget bringing this) OPTIONAL
checkmark PENCIL/PEN/PAPER (for keeping track of card games, writing in a journal, taking notes, and/or leaving notes for rescuers in the event of an emergency; bring ballpoint pens since they won't leak) OPTIONAL
checkmark IPOD/MINI-SPEAKERS (for listening to music at very low volume while in camp, but only if you are 100% certain that no other people around you can hear the music; some people also like to backpack while listening to headphones, but the sight of headphones actually may upset some fellow nature lovers on the trail) OPTIONAL
checkmark MINITRIPOD (to take pictures of yourself (if hiking solo) or your entire group so nobody is left out of the picture; I like the Joby Gorillapods, but they are heavy) OPTIONAL
checkmark MINIATURE LANTERN (several companies make miniature lanterns that run on batteries; I like these for setting up camp or playing games in the tent after dark) OPTIONAL
checkmark BINOCULARS (highly recommended in open areas that are popular with wildlife) OPTIONAL

checkmark Don't leave anything valuable in your car. Break-ins are far too common at hiking trailheads, unfortunately.
checkmark Bring a change of clothes for your vehicle so that you can change into something comfy and dry when you are done with your hike. A towel can also be helpful if it rained the last day of your hike.
checkmark Always tell someone where you are going, including any potential side trips you may or may not end up taking. It is a good idea to put your itinerary in your vehicle so that rescuers could see it; however, do not put this in plan sight as thieves could take advantage of this.
checkmark Use or to find a great post-hike restaurant.
checkmark I think (a) jerky; (b) mixed nuts; (c) dried fruit; (D) energy bars; & (E) prepackaged meals are the ultimate backpacking foods.
checkmark Make sure to fully charge your smartphone and/or camera the night before your hike.
checkmark If you want the best possible experience, let the slowest person in your party or group set the pace.
checkmark I believe that 5-8 miles per day is a good goal for beginner and intermediate backpackers. Don't aim for 10+ miles per day until you have accumulated some solid backpacking experience.
checkmark Pre-pack everything in your backpack a few nights before your hike to make sure it all fits and that the weight is manageable. You can purchase a precise digital scale to help you remove heavy items if necessary.
checkmark Don't forget to bring some sort of caffeine if you think you will be suffering dearly without it.
checkmark While backpacking, eat and drink frequently. Don't make any major decisions (like considering quitting a trip early) on an empty stomach.
checkmark As soon as you return from each backpacking trip, write in a journal about your experience and make a list of what you wish you did and did not bring. This will help you pack smarter and more efficiently next time.

Here is my Backpacking Checklist in EXCEL format.
Here is my Backpacking Checklist in PDF format.

~ here is a packing list to help you with that!

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