So what exactly should you consider backpacking essentials? After spending years backpacking around the world, and spending countless days outside we break down the top backpacking essentials you should consider buying for your next trip.
Figuring out what to pack for a backpacking trip can be daunting. There are so many things to consider including location, time of year, and duration of trip.
You definitely don’t want to forget any backpacking essentials so put together this epic backpacking checklist for you.
Don’t worry we are answering your ultimate question of what backpacking gear should I take backpacking, with exactly what we use on our day to day adventures. Alight, let’s get started with this backpacking packing list.
Backpacking Checklist: The Essentials
Hiking Backpack with Raincover
The most important thing you need on your backpacking checklist is a hiking backpack. A proper hiking backpack supports the weight of your load and should hold everything you need for a trip in the great outdoors. A good hiking backpack should be comfortable, have a nice design, proper material, and be the correct volume and weight for your trip. We break down all the best hiking backpacks here.
Our new favorite hiking backpack is made by Gregory. The Gregory Baltoro Gregory backpack is a workhorse designed to be used and abused. The Baltoro/Deva is designed to carry a heavy load without breaking your back on the trail. It has a superior suspension system with plush padding and a great organization. If you’ll be on extended thru-hike trips and don’t mind sacrificing a pound or two, this is your ideal hiking backpack.
If you’re not going on an overnight backpacking adventure a daypack should be more than enough to hold your belongings. My daypack usually consists of a shell jacket, down jacket, hiking poles, bear spray, snacks, water, gloves, chapstick, a buff, first aid kit, navigation, and an emergency blanket.
I love Camelbak daypacks. They are sturdy and fit well on my back with a proper suspension system. This is the Women’s Sequoia 22. The pack has a stretch overflow pocket, trekking pole attachments. and air support back panel, dual-wing belt, and is built for smaller torsos (I am short.) Their packs are lightweight and sit on the back so well. Cameron has the Fourteener, which is equally amazing. This is one of those 10 essentials for hiking you need.
MSR Hubba Hubba Tent
You’ll need a tent if you’re camping in the backcountry. Since you’re backpacking you will need something ultralight. Our go-to is our MSR Hubba Hubba 2 backpacking person ten.
The Hubba Hubba is a top seller for MSR. It’s ultralight and has a super-fast setup system. This tent is waterproof and ultra-durable for any mountain adventure. It’s a great size for two people and there is even extra space to move around.
NeoAir Uber Lite
You’ll want a sleeping pad under you while you sleep. Not only is it more comfortable, but it provides insolation that you’ll need to stay warm. The ground gets very cold in the wilderness, even if it’s summer. Without a sleeping pad under you, your body will take in all that cold.
We travel with the new NeoAir Uber Lite. It’s good for backpacking since it only weighs 8oz and you can blow it up in under two minutes.
A pillow is a backpacking essential for a good night’s sleep in the mountains. Therm-A-Rest makes durable pillows from upcycled foam. These pillows are soft and expand large enough for a comfortable rest.
Vesper Therm-A-Rest Down Quilt
Don’t go into the backcountry without a sleeping bag. Even in the summer, it gets cold at night and you’ll need a proper sleeping bag to provide you with the warmth you need. We personally have the new Vesper 20F/-6C Quilt. This is an awesome comfortable sleeping bag featuring 900-fill Nikwax Hydrophobic Down. It’s ultra-light and good for overnight backpacking trips.
While I like having a water bottle on my hikes I like having a water bladder even more. A bladder keeps me drinking regularly since I never have to stop hiking and take out my bottle. It’s always readily available when you need it. A bladder is always always always on my hiking gear list.
You should consume at least two liters a water a day while hiking in the mountains, often this means you either carry two bottles of water. The better option for carrying that much water on your treks is to carry a water bladder. A water bladder additionally allows you to carry extra water if needed.
It’s not always safe to drink water from rivers and streams. We previously used the Lifestraw Go for all those times during our travels when the water is questionable.
However, over time we became annoyed with the water bottle as the filter aged and clogged. Plus the Lifestraw leaks when it is on its side. We now switched to the Grayl Ultralight Purifier. It’s a simple design that is effective and does not leak making it a hiking essential.
Most importantly it is a purifier, not a filter. The Grayl water bottle system purifies water vs. filters which removes viruses and virtually removes all threat of waterborne illnesses. The only drawback is it costs double the Lifestraw Go.
Backpacking Essentials: Accessories
A towel should be on everyone’s backpacking checklist who plans to spend the night outside. Not only are they good for rinsing off at night, but also for those times you want to take a dip in an alpine lake!
If you’re going into the backcountry during the spring or fall you should definitely plan on packing gaiters. Gaiters protect your legs from getting snow in them. There is definitely snow year-round in some parts of the world. Make sure to do your research to determine if they’ll be snow where you’re at.
We both have gaiters from Outdoor Research and love them. OR makes all sorts of great backpacking gear.
It’s a good idea to bring a small mat to sit on during breaks if you’re in the mountains. The stone and ground can often be much colder than the air so it conducts heat and will make you cold.
A pad can serve a lot of purposes to like backrest, pillow, cooking surface, or a place to change your clothes. We bring the Z Seat on many of our backpacking trips and appreciate the comfort when we want to just relax and enjoy the view. They are light though so make sure they don’t blow away. It’s best to keep them inside your pack, instead of the outside on a windy day.
Any hiker should have a headlamp in their pack. They are helpful if you are hiking before sunrise or after sunset, and for strolling around camp.
Traditional outdoor headlamps have used disposable batteries such as AAs or AAAs. Batteries require a lot of minerals and resources. A great sustainable gift for hikers is a headlamp that is rechargeable via USB, such as the BioLite.
If you combine this with the solar panel above a backpacker could be off the grid for ages without need for extra batteries and everyone likes a lighter pack!
If you have plans to take part in a long day or multi-day hikes a pair of hiking poles are a great way to save your knees and prevent injuries. If you’re on a full day of hiking in the mountains you’ll gain and descend a lot of elevation. So, it’s easy for your legs to get tired and a pair of hiking poles will pay off. Although I don’t always need hiking poles, they are always in my pack. I almost ALWAYS end up using at least one while I’m descending a mountain.
Black Diamond is a company dedicated to mountain sports and has worked hard to craft wonderful products. I personally use the Black Diamond FLZ Hiking Poles, but there are some other great poles out there produced by companies like REI and MSR. “Z” poles are fantastic as they’re lightweight and can be stashed inside a backpack should you not need them.
Unless I am hiking in leggings I need a belt to secure my pants. The newest one I just got is a Jelt Belt. Jelt is a women-owned social enterprise that produces belts made from 100% recycled plastic bottles with an innovative patented flat buckle that won’t show a bump under tops or tees.
Both Cameron and I have a few of these bad boys and they are SO much better than regularly clunky belts.
I have a pair of Outdoor Research gloves in my hiking pack at all times. They are great for when you are scrambling and I always end up using them at some point on my hike or any backpacking trip. I never want to come back with bloody hands and they protect against that.
I always have a baseball cap in my bag in case the sun gets too intense. I’ve been out too many times without one and my forehead gets too toasty for my liking – even with sunscreen. A baseball cap protects against that and I highly recommend having one in your bag. This should be on any backpacking packing list.
It gets cold at night when backpacking. A warm hat can make or break your comfort. No one likes a cold head and ears so stick one in your backpack just in case. It can also be crucial to saving precious body heat if you find yourself in cold
Smith Lowdown 2.0
Make sure to protect your eyes from the sun since you’ll likely spend a lot of time hiking in the sun at elevation. There are a lot of options for sunglasses and everyone should own at least a pair. It’s best to make sure they do have UV protection for the health of your eyes. Sunglasses are particularly important if you plan to visit any glaciers or high alpine passes as sun reflection from the snow is damaging to your eyes.
We made our first investment in quality polarized sunglasses with a pair of SMITH Optics Lowdown 2. Truthfully, not everyone needs to invest $150 in a pair of sunglasses; however, we love ours and will never buy cheap ones again. Polarized glasses are great at enhancing vision in bright environments and removing glare from windshields and the water.
I bring a Buff on every trip in case my ears get cold or I want to have one to cover my face, which happens more often than you may think. We have a collection of buff headbands and bring them everywhere. They’re great for a multitude of reasons such as sun/wind protection, a scarf, headband, or an ear warmer.
We always have one in our suitcase or hiking backpack no matter the destination and consider it one top travel and hiking accessories. I imagine most people have one or two of these by now, but if you don’t it’s time to invest in at least one good one.
Inflatable Solar Lantern
Packable lanterns are great to have at night inside your tent. They pack up light and are a great addition to any backpacking checklist. The ones that are solar powered are ideal.
Backpacking Essentials: Food
Snacks are an essential part of your backpacking checklist. Pack some high-calorie snacks for your hike on the trail. Popular options are dried fruit, energy gels, bars, or balls, jerky, nuts, or even a Snickers. Hiking at elevation can burn a lot of calories so it’s important to maintain your glucose levels.
It’s advised to eat as much as 200-300 calories per hour of exercise. If it’s a long day on the mountain you can always bring a packed lunch with a sandwich and high calorie like dried fruits. (I’m pretty much a kid and still love a peanut butter and jelly sandwich).
If you’re on a long multiday hike where you are carrying everything on your back with you will need to bring lightweight food with you.
Mountain House makes high-quality, freeze-dried meals that actually taste good. You just add water and you’ll have a quick hot mail for the trail.
They also come in great in a backpacking emergency situation, making them a backpacking essential. A few bags of this could save your life!
Backpacking Essentials: Backcountry Kitchen
MSR PocketRocket Deluxe
This is the latest burner from MSR who has been designing these burners for ages, and the Deluxe is their best one yet. It’s not the lightest burner on the market, but at only three ounces, it’s pretty close. It’s a significant update to the old RocketPocket 2 with new recessed burner holes, regulator, a piezoelectric lighter, and pot supports. The result is a burner that is easier to light, burns consistently, and handles wind very well that feels nothing like its predecessor.
In use the burner is exceptional, and it’s easy to deliver a consistent temperature whether boiling water or simmering to cook food on a pan. Most impressive is the sheer amount of heat the burner throws our boiling water faster than any other cooker we’ve used. It also comes with a small stuff sack that fits well inside your cook kit.
Other than the typical drawbacks to canister burners, the PocketRocket Deluxe didn’t always light on the first ignition click (nit-picking here) and could stand to be a little more fuel-efficient. Altogether, it’s likely the best backpacking stove, and I love it to use it when we’re hiking in the mountains as it handles wind surprisingly well.
Utensils, Plates, and Cups
Look for lightweight plates, utensils, and cups so you can enjoy your nights in the backcountry. Don’t pack more than you think you’ll need though – this stuff gets heavy.
The idea of going a day without coffee is sacrilege. There are a number of options for making coffee while backpacking so it’s tough to choose the best one. Our personal favorite is a small drip coffee maker from GSI, called the Ultralight.
It’s easy to clean, makes the perfect coffee, and doesn’t even weight a full ounce. A lot of people rave about the Aeropress, but we’re not fans of all the parts and the fact it’s a lot heavier than drip coffee options — we’d say it’s better for car camping.
The traditional way of hanging food over a tree in a nylon sack is not always effective. Many people have lost food in this method which can be a serious drag on multiday trips. The alternative is to use a bear canister which is an airtight container meant to remove any scent of food.
We have one bear canister and have used it on shorter treks around the Canadian Rockies, especially with the high population of bears in the area. There is a downside due to the weight, bulkiness, and inefficiency of stuffing food in a hard container.
To abide by Leave No Trace principles you should always wash yourself and dishes with biodegradable soap at least 200 feet away from a water source. Then pour wastewater into a cat hole 6 to 8 inches deep. A few drops of this goas a long way.
Backpacking Essentials: Clothing
Both Cameron and I have Fjallraven’s well known Keb pants and they are ideal for backpacking and hiking. If I got these as a hiking gift I would be downright ecstatic. Fjallraven’s Keb pants are a mountaineering staple, but they are heavyweight and not excellent for quick dry properties yet extremely durable in the backcountry. I’ve been asked numerous times on Instagram and in person what brand my pants are, and I feel confident recommending them to anyone. They are seriously SO GOOD and a great hiking gift for men and women.
They keep me warm throughout most of my hikes and are windproof. When I am too hot at the base of the mountain, I am able to unzip the sides for airflow. These are, without a doubt, my favorite women’s pants to hike within the mountains.
If the person you are giving a hiking gift too lives in a warmer climate a pair of hiking shorts are definitely appreciated.
I have the Fjallraven High Coast Trail Shorts and they are just as comfortable as the Kebs! They are an essential backpacking clothing item to have.
I have six Outdoor Research Echo shirts and rotate them on all my hikes. They are lightweight and moisture-wicking. Seriously, you don’t want to be stuck with a cotton shirt while hiking. Cotton traps all your sweat and then when you get cold it becomes a problem.
Outdoor Research shirts provide full coverage with their long sleeve collections, but you won’t get hot under the sun. These shirts are built with UPF sun protection, AirVent™ moisture management, and ActiveFresh™ odor control technology.
I don’t travel without a rain jacket and I don’t hike without a rain jacket. They are so easy and light to pack up there is no reason to not have one in your day bag. You should always be prepared for a chance of rain when you are hiking. Getting wet and rained on while on a mountain sucks, and it can also be extremely dangerous in cold temperatures. Seriously, a rain jacket should be on every hiking packing list and they make great gifts.
My hiking rain jacket has come in handy so many times. Many places where it wasn’t supposed to rain and completely unexpected. The Arc’teryx is waterproof, windproof, and breathable and made with Goretex Pro. It’s not just good for traveling and rainstorms but is a protective shell against all levels of weather. I can even wear it in the winter as a waterproof shell over my down jacket. A rainjacket should be on everyone’s backpacking checklist.
A mid layer is essential on any hiking trip. A mid layer serves as the layer between a base layer and shell jacket. It’s there if you need it in cool temperatures, but can easily be removed when you get hot.
I prefer a mid layer with a hood, but it’s not completely necessary. My main mid layer in the summer is from Outdoor Research. The refuge Hybrid Jacket is extremely comfortable, Water-Resistant, Wind-Resistant, Lightweight, quick-drying, and breathable.
In the winter I usually hike with my Patagonia down fleece mid layer as it’s a bit warmer.
If warmth is more important to you than weight, you may want to think about the Feathered Friends Helios Vest. This hardcore down vest features 4.8 ounces of 850-fill down, Lycra armholes and hem, as well as an insulated draft tube behind the zipper. This means that frigid air has no chance of making it through this beast of a vest.
While it may not be best for climates with a light chill, it is perfect for the extreme cold when you still want the mobility of a vest over a jacket. It is slightly heavier than most down vests, weighing in at approximately 11 ounces, but when arctic weather hits, you will be more than pleased with your investment, and willing to carry the few extra ounces! You can see our favorite down vests here.
I ALWAYS have a down jacket with me on every single hike I go on. They are essential to backpacking and wilderness travel. It’s a just in case jacket that I usually end up wearing when I reach the summit, and it gets cold and windy.
Down jackets pack up light and small so there is no reason NOT to have one in your bag. Seriously it could save your life in a bad situation. We wrote a whole post on our favorites. They make great gifts for hikers are will no doubt be appreciated.
We’ve tried a few different brands, but recently settled on Kora as our favorite pair of thermals. It may be best for us as we need something technical when we snowboard or climb mountains to wick away moisture from our bodies.
Kora makes high-performance technical clothing out of quality Yak Wool from the Himalayas — warning they are high priced. However, their technical abilities have far outpassed traditional wool or synthetic materials we’ve used.
Socks…not the most exhilarating hiking gift on this list, but one that is extra important when outside. We’ve learned to love our feet with a good pair of merino wool hiking socks. Wool socks stay fresh for several days as they have natural antimicrobial properties.
We travel with a couple pairs of the Darn Tough Merino socks and our feet have never felt cold or wet. As a bonus, they’re produced in Vermont!
Smartwool also makes hiking specific socks that are perfect for long days in the mountains. Consider good socks a backpacing must have.
Hiking leggings make a great gift for the female hiker in your life. When I don’t feel like wearing heavy-duty hiking pants I will wear hiking leggings. Leggings are great for any backpacking packing list as they are lightweight and pack up super small. They are comfortable to hike in as they are stretchy and breathable.
Like socks, giving the gift of underwear may be a little strange, but trust me on this underwear. Smartwool makes high performance, quick-drying underwear that is antimicrobial and breathable. We don’t just use this for hiking, but also for traveling in general since I don’t always have access to a washer. Good hiking underwear is one of those backpacking supplies you should consider purchasing.
Backpacking Essentials: Hiking Shoes
If you know the correct size you’ll need for this gift, hiking boots can be a great item to put under the tree. Boots are important backpacking essentials. For lightweight hiking shoes see this post!
If I’m on a short backpacking trip sometimes I prefer to wear my trail runners. Trail runners are great for those days when I want to move a little faster and run down the mountain. They are much lighter than hiking boots but don’t provide the ankle support that boot does.
My favorite trail runners are the Hoka One Ones Speedgoat 4. They’ve lasted me years!
Backpacking Essentials: Emergency Supplies and Safety
A helmet should always be used if you are rock climbing, bouldering, or scrambling up places where there are lots of people or high probability of rockfall.
Seriously, it doesn’t take a big rock to fall on you in the mountains – best case scenario it will hurt, or worst case scenario – death.
You also never know when a cheeky mountain goat will kick some loose rocks down below, so a helmet is always a good call. Both of our helmets are from Black Diamond.
This is where preparation for spending a night out in the wilderness comes into effect. If you’re on a short loop around town it’s probably not necessary, but any significant hike in a national park or wilderness area presents the risk of spending the night outside.
When temperatures drop at night it presents the very dangerous threat of hypothermia or frostbite. An emergency backpacking blanket is a light and small item to keep in your pack.
We spend a lot of time in the backcountry which means we are disconnected and far from a cell phone signal. This brings a lot of risk in case of an emergency. The Garmin Inreach allows for us to have a GPS for navigation which keeps us safely on the trail.
Then should the worst ever happen we have an emergency button through Inreach that notifies search and rescue should we ping the satellite. It’s a lifesaving device, that also does nifty features like send short messages and even allow for friends and family to track your whereabouts when you’re on the trail.
If you’re in an area where bears are present you absolutely need bear spray. Bear spray is your last defense before a bear attack. We wear ours on our hips so it can be accessed in two seconds.
Remember bear spray is useless if it’s inside your backpack. If you follow proper bear precaution you hopefully will never have to use bear spray. Travel in groups, make lots of noise, and don’t store any food in your tent!
Never a bad idea to have a compass on any backpacking trip.
First Aid Kit
A first aid kit should ALWAYS be in your backpacking checklist. It is important backpacking essential and could save your life in an emergency. We go on every hike with an emergency first aid kit in our bag.
Here is what we recommend you pack in a basic first aid kit for day or multiday hiking trips.
- Ibuprofen — NSAID. Treats pain, fever, swelling.
- Tylenol — Pain reliever that does not thin blood in case of a concussion or open wound.
- Benedryl — Bites, stings, allergies, and a sleep aid.
- Pepto Bismol — Antimicrobial that helps treat stomach issues.
- Imodium — This is is used to prevent dehydration in the event of diarrhea, but should be avoided as it does cause constipation. Not necessary on a day trip.
- Antifungal Cream — Not necessary on a day trip, but it’s good for your hiking first aid kit to prevent rashes. Of course, this is best minimized with proper clothing and moisture management.
- Bandaids/Gauze — Great for cuts, blisters, or scrapes.
- Medical Tape — This is great for compression to reduce swelling, building a splint, or stabilizing a rolled ankle.
- Antibiotic Ointment — Use the disposable packets as it helps save weight with only one or two in your bag.
Having a fire starter can help you in an emergency, it’s worth having a few on you in the backcountry.
It’s a good idea to carry with your supplies to start a fire should you need one. We like to carry a disposable butane lighter, but it’s also possible to carry sturdy waterproof matches in a container. It’s also a good idea if you’re in wet conditions to carry some kindling that can be used to start.
Nothing sucks more than getting burned outside and not having any relief from the sun. Stop the burn before it happens and put on sunscreen.
A knife or multi-tool is really helpful for just about anything, and could really get you, someone, out of a bad situation. It’s a great hiking gift addition!
We can’t hike into the mountains with a box of tools, but a Leatherman makes for a good substitute. Ever since I developed the habit of carrying one in the film industry it has stuck. I’ve tried out a few brands, but always come back the Leatherman brand name.
After using about a half dozen different versions of the Leatherman I still love one of their cheapest models. The Wingman has all of the basic necessities and spring-loaded pliers that feel great in the hand.
During peak summer the mosquitos are out to play and can really ruin a fun night around the campfire. It may be worth putting a small bottle on your hiking packing list.
Backpacking Essentials: Extras
GoPro Hero 8
We have a GoPro with us at all times in the wilderness. They are great for grabbing that quick photo or video clip in the mountains. The new GoPro Hero 8 has a stabilizer and we use it all the time on the peaks to grab stable footage. I love that it’s light and the battery lasts for a few days!
If you really want to give a big gift then consider a camera. It’s the most expensive present on this list, so it should be reserved for someone you love A LOT. 😉
We have the Fuji X-T3 and love it! This beautiful and reasonably priced camera is both weather-resistant and mirrorless. It is easily the best ASP-C camera on the market and gives a serious run at many of the full-frame cameras. After all, is a full-frame camera really a necessity? In my opinion, not at all! We love photography, posting to Instagram, and posting on this website so we always have a camera on us on any hike.
Peak Designs Clip
You can see this clip on the photo to the left. It hooks onto your hiking backpack and provides instant access to your camera. This is has been one of our favorite additions to our camera equipment and hiking outfit. The Peak Design capture clip allows for a camera to be clipped on to your backpack strap or belt. It has to be one of the best accessories we’ve ever used for carrying our camera.
The clip feels secure and robust with a straight forward design that makes switching straps easy. We’ve brought it on several hikes around the Canadian Rockies now and it has changed the way in which we photograph hikes. The access it provides to your camera is so much better than a camera strap that allows a camera to swing and banging into everything.
It’s super handy and a must for anyone who wants to carry their camera on hikes, but not have to fumble around in their bag every time they want to take a photo.
Bushnell makes great budget binoculars and has long been making great binoculars and for all price ranges. The Bushnell 10×42 H20 Waterproof Binoculars have amazing HD clarity and quality optics for less than $100. Like all Bushnell products they are durable and have an O ring that is sealed for fog-free viewing.
The nonslip rubber provides a firm grip and the center focus knob is large enough to give you easy and seamless adjustments. It’s the perfect pair of binoculars for those who are unsure if they want to invest in a pricier pair of binoculars. We break down the best compact binoculars here.
Get Cairn is a hiking subscription service I just found out about. Like subscription makeup boxes, or monthly dog presents Get Cairn delivers hiking goods right to your door monthly! It’s a great gift for outdoor lovers who want to be surprised with new outdoor goodies every month.
Last month we got a rechargeable flashlight and delicious hiking snacks, I’m eagerly awaiting our next box!
If you don’t mind the weight and want something to do at night having reading material is ideal. I love real books, but Kindles make it easy to store multiple books and they are light. It’s the perfect backpacking essential.
A lightweight hammock is ideal for when you just want to lounge by the. lake and chill out. Hammocks can also be good for sleeping in the backcountry (with a mosquito net over you) if you want to!
Campfire games are great for if you’re in a group and want to hang out around the fire! They aren’t backpacking necessities but definitely pass the time.
Backpacking Essentials: Health and Hygiene
You should care for your health and try and stay as clean as possible. These are the backpacking travel essentials I always have on me.
- SPF Lipbalm
- Menstrual products
- Hand Sanitizer
- Toothbrush and Eco-Friendly Toothpaste
- Eco-Friendly Baby Wipes
- Sealable Bag (to pack it out)
- Sanitation Trowel
How to Use this Backpacking Checklist
Obviously. you don’t need everything on this backpacking packing list all in one go. These backpacking essentials are to give you ideas and recommendations for your personal backpacking trip. We use all of these products on a regular basis, but not all at one time. We determine where we are going, the duration of our trip, the challenges of our trip, and the time of year of our backpacking trip.
What works for a day hike will be different from a three-day camping trip. What is good for climbing mountains is different than what you need on your backpacking checklist for an easy hike around a lake.
To use this backpacking gear list effectively you need to consider your needs and go from there!