The Ultimate Backpacking Checklist is a comprehensive guide to ensuring you are completely prepared for (almost) every scenario on your backpacking trip. I say almost since I’m trying to keep your backpack light and this checklist realistic – therefore, I’ve left out car and glamping related items such as battery operated blenders, pie grillers, and folding chairs. The thing with backpacking gear that shocks a lot of people is that it tends to be expensive – this said, you’re paying for the research and development as well as the materials that go into creating the most rugged and lightweight gear for your trip. As you invest in better quality equipment, your bag gets lighter allowing for your trips to become longer and as they say, you get what you pay for. This list covers the gear that should be on your checklist for 3-season camping, excluding winter. Of course, some of the gear below is dependant on the weather and the season so I’ll leave that to your own judgment.
who is this list for?
Beginning Backpackers: The Ultimate Backpacking Checklist can be used by you, the beginning backpacker to shop quality, tried and true items to help you get started on the right foot while collecting your backpacking gear.
Experienced Backpackers: I believe experienced backpackers could also find The Ultimate Backpacking Checklist helpful to use as a guide while packing for the next adventure and/or to upgrade gear. I too am always hunting for the best new gear.
– – – Backpacking Essentials – – –
Why are these the essentials for The Ultimate Backpacking Checklist? Because these are the items I bring with me on every single backpacking trip. They carry my gear, keep me warm and give me shelter…this gear is essential to any backpacking trip.
Backpack: Gregory Baltoro 65L Pack
This is a FANTASTIC backpack that has served me well over the years. This Gregory Baltoro 65L Pack comes with a Gregory Lifetime Guarantee for as long as the original owner has it. I previously owned another Gregory Pack and the seams on the shoulder straps popped open – there were no questions asked and they overnighted replacement straps and their apologies…it’s worth the extra few dollars for this type of consumer commitment.
Tent: Marmot Tungsten 2P Tent
I have found myself in absolute downpours and hailstorms in my Marmot Tungsten 2P Tent and have always awoken to myself and my gear bone dry. There is nothing worse than a wet tent – I’ve been there and it’s no fun. This is your shelter and you may find yourself at the mercy of the elements far from home, so I recommend investing in a quality tent.
Sleeping Pad: Nemo Astro Sleeping Pad
This is one item I thought I could get away without – but I was mistaken. I honestly looked at sleeping pads like a luxury item and it definitely does assist with a good nights sleep, which you need so you can keep trekking the next morning. But the truth is that it’s very functional for other reasons – it absorbs pebbles and sticks you missed when setting down your tent and most importantly, sleeping pads provide an insulating layer between your body and the cold hard ground. If you put your sleeping bag directly on the ground, the cold will go right through your bag and chill you to your core. If you can swing it, you won’t be disappointed in the Nemo Astro Sleeping Pad but if a good sleeping pad isn’t in the budget, at the very minimum bring some cardboard along (seriously).
Sleeping Bag: Marmot Never Winter Sleeping Bag
Sleeping bags are another big-ticket item and one of the main reasons is the weight. You can pick up a $30 Coleman sleeping bag at your local big box store but it’s going to be super heavy and bulky. Backpacking can get expensive but the goal is to carry everything you need with you while not being bogged down by weight. The Marmot Never Winter Sleeping Bag squeezes down really small in its compression sack and weighs just under 2lbs.
Headlamp: Black Diamond Storm Headlamp
I’ll admit it…I used to make fun of a few friends who used headlamps until I tried one myself (I hope they don’t read this). When you are in the woods, there is no better way to go about setting up camp or cooking dinner while having the benefit of using both hands. The days of holding a flashlight in my mouth are officially over. This Black Diamond Storm Headlamp boasts 350 lumens with an 85-meter range.
First Aid Kit: Adventure Ultralight Medical Kit
A first aid kit is a must have – it’s not really something most people think of until they need it and it can be the difference between an enjoyable experience and a total nightmare. I recommend purchasing an Adventure ultralight and Watertight Medical Kit, it comes packed full of the first aid basics and you can add items you need to it as time goes on – you’ll be thankful you have this when the time comes.
Multi-Tool: Leatherman Wave Multi-tool
A Leatherman Wave Multi-tool is an all around, solid investment. The Leatherman Wave is a little on the heavy side compared to a typical pocket knife but in this particular model, you get 17 tools packed into a small device that fits in your palm. For me, the weight is worth the effort to lug around. You have pliers, 2 knives, a Phillips and flat head screwdriver, scissors, a wood file, bottle opener and a ruler, among other things. I have used my Leatherman plenty of times in the backcountry and won’t leave home without it.
– – – Backpacking Kitchen gear – – –
This is your kitchen away from home that provides you with hot meals and drinks on a cold morning. Kitchen gear is an essential component toThe Ultimate Backpacking Checklist but doesn’t have to be heavy or take up much room in your pack. Years of research and development have made these items compact, lightweight and durable.
Camp Stove: Etekcity Ultralight Backpacking Stove
This tiny little stove is an absolute steal and the reviews back this claim up. The bigger backpacking gear companies make similar products but this one comes in at 65% cheaper than other models. I’ve been using the Etekcity Ultralight Backpacking Stove for a year now and could not be a bigger fan.
Camp Stove Fuel: JetBoil Fuel Canister
Of course with the stove above, you’ll need fuel. There are slightly cheaper options than the Jetboil Fuel Canister but this fuel performs very well in cold weather and provides consistent, even pressure. It also conveniently fits directly into most 1-1.5L cooking pots for easy storage.
Pots: TOAKS Titanium 550ml Pot
A 550ml pot is a perfect size for cooking meals or boiling water for 1-2 people. 550ml translates to just over 2.32 cups in size and this particular pot has measurements inside so you don’t have to guess when cooking. Not only is the TOAKS Titanium 550ml Pot strong and lightweight, it has a built-in handle on the side and a locking built-in handle on the ventilated lid. The only downfall to this pot is that the handles get hot so you need something to grab it with such as a bandana or a (clean?) sock.
The TOAKS Titanium Camping Cup is incredibly lightweight and durable. It also comes with a mesh storage container that doubles as a washcloth for doing dishes. I have used this cup for 1.5 years and it still looks brand new. The only downfall of this cup is that when you are drinking a hot beverage, it’s sometimes difficult to put your lips to the cup or hold it anywhere besides the provided handles. TOAKS actually makes a Titanium Double Wall Cup, which if I were to make this purchase again, I would go with that one because I believe it would be the perfect camping cup.
Eating Utensil: TOAKS Titanium Ultralight Spork
I don’t want to mislead anyone into believing that I’m highly regarded as a spork expert in some circles but I do recommend the TOAKS Titanium Ultralight Spork. Your average paperclip weighs 0.5 grams and this spork comes in at 1.1 grams…mind-blown? It seriously feels like you’re holding nothing – unless the wind blows, then there is a little drag but when you’re carrying everything you need on your back, you’ll be pleased with this spork taking the place of both a spoon and a fork, each of which is likely heavier than this combo utensil.
Camp Knife: SOG Trident Mini Tactical Knife
The SOG Trident Mini Tactical Knife is lightweight and really sharp! It has a no-slip grip, a partially serrated edge, and is able to cut string and paracord without releasing the blade. Now, if we’re being honest, I actually found this in the basement of a house I purchased – I use this knife almost entirely for cutting food-related items, so I washed it really well thinking that it may have been a murder weapon. I always backpack with this knife and my Leatherman since they serve different purposes for me but I realize some people may think two knives is overkill.
Water Proof Fire Starter: Gerber Bear Grylls Fire Starter
So, I was a bit hesitant to purchase this product with Bear Grylls’s face smeared all over it. Although I have no intention of sleeping in a deer carcass overnight (Bear Grylls TV show reference) Gerber makes some pretty legit outdoor products at a reasonable price point. I’ve been using the Gerber Bear Grylls Fire Starter for over 2 years and have been happy with it. Plus, it comes with a built-in whistle, waterproof storage for fire starting tinder, and SOS instructions if you really get yourself into a situation.
Water Purifier: MSR MiniWorks Water Filter
True Story…I was pumping water out of a fast-moving stream into my water bottle. I sat on the bank and chugged half of it before refilling my bottle and continuing my journey upstream. As I came around a large rock structure I saw 25-30 cows standing in the stream peeing. In light of recent water chugging events downstream, I wasn’t super happy about the situation and thought for sure I would get sick, but I didn’t. The point is, the MSR MiniWorks Water Filter really works and I highly recommend it. If you use iodine tablets and light pens to kill the bacteria, that’s fine, but there are still going to be floaties – the MSR MiniWorks Water Filter (it says that it works right in the title) – purifies water by removing the bacteria AND the floaties…think about it.
Water Container: CamelBak Bladder
The CamelBak Bladder completely changed the water storage game for backpackers. Gone are the days where you pull a muscle while reaching back for a water bottle that is baking in the sun and throwing off your balance. Now you simply pick the hose up off your chest which leads to your water bladder that is perfectly centered in your bag. Thank you, CamelBak!
Stuff Sack: Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil Stuff Sack
My kitchen gear used to be floating all around my bag and I would dig through clothes and toiletries looking for the stove or the lighter…that is until I discovered Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil Stuff Sacks. Now I have a designated stuff sack for any and all kitchen related gear. Now I pull the whole kit out and I know exactly where everything is. The stuff sack was a real game changer and I highly recommend getting one.
– – – Backpacking Clothing – – –
When creating The Ultimate Backpacking Checklist I thought long and hard about the most important items of clothing I bring with me on every backpacking trip. The following articles of clothing have been worn through the best and worst elements and have kept me safe, comfortable and warm. These items have been on countless adventures and are my go-to items for any backpacking adventure.
Base Layer: Smartwool 250 Zip Top & Smartwool 250 Bottom
These items need to be on every single backpacking trip you go on. They are lightweight, they don’t feel like wool (I hate wool), they take up almost no space in your bag and they are incredibly warm. When it comes to staying warm in the evenings or while sleeping, there is no better method than layering. This Smartwool 250 Zip Top & Smartwool 250 Bottom baselayer fits snug against your skin so you can throw other layers on above it in complete comfort. I still have and use the original set that I purchased in 2009 and they are still going strong. I cannot stress enough how great of an investment these are. If you’re hiking a mountain and you know it’s going to get colder as the elevation increases, bring your Smartwool and thank me later!
Jacket: Patagonia Nano Puff Jacket
This is the ideal backpacking jacket – it’s warm, comfortable, lightweight, it blocks most of the wind and the entire jacket will stuff into its own pocket for easy storage when you’re not wearing it. I have also stuffed the Patagonia Nano Puff Jacket into a shirt for use as a comfortable pillow…this really is the perfect backpacking jacket.
Boxers (3): ExOfficio Men’s Give-N-Go Boxers
These boxer briefs are incredibly breathable, moisture wicking, odor-resistant and quick-drying which means you can give them a quick wash and they’ll be ready to go within a couple hours. I bought a couple pairs of ExOfficio Men’s Give-N-Go Boxers for a backpacking trip and have slowly converted my entire boxer inventory to strictly ExOfficio.
Socks (2): Darn Tough Hiker Micro Crew Cushion Socks
I cannot say enough about Darn Tough socks, a Vermont based company! Not only are they incredibly comfortable and durable, Darn Tough provides an unconditional lifetime guarantee for all of their socks…what more could you ask for? I definitely recommend purchasing a couple pairs of Darn Tough Hiker Micro Crew Cushion Socks for your next hiking adventure.
Not only are these pants stylish (kidding) they are incredibly lightweight, they have plenty of pockets and can instantly zip into shorts. The Columbia Men’s Silver Ridge Convertible Pants have wicking technology to keep you cool during your hike and have SPF 50 technology to keep your farmers tan intact.
Shirts (3): Outdoor Research Men’s Ignitor Tee
These shirts from Outdoor Research are a little on the pricier side but they are lightweight, cool, moisture wicking and have an anti-odor component. Not all shirts are created equal but most shirts with moisture wicking will get you similar results to this Outdoor Research Men’s Ignitor Tee.
Balaclava: BUFF Multifunctional Headwear
A balaclava is not completely necessary most of the time but if it gets cold, dusty or you’re sweating a lot you’ll be very thankful for it. It also provides a tremendous amount of UV protection so you can completely avoid being labeled a red neck by wearing the BUFF Multifunctional Headwear on the trail. It also comes in handy for grabbing pots while cooking! So, there are many uses for a balaclava and it doesn’t take up much space, so you might as well pick one up.
I personally love these sandals but some may argue they are too heavy for backpacking. I agree with this claim but I have rather high arches and these sandals support said arch, thus allowing me to walk long distances with them. If you’re bringing sandals along strictly to have something to change into at camp, once you’ve taken your boots off, I would go with a sandal that is lighter than the Chaco Men’s Flip Ecotread Athletic Sandal.
Hiking Boots: Vasque Men’s Breeze III GTX Hiking Boots
The moment I put these boots on, I knew they were coming home with me. The Vasque Men’s Breeze III GTX Hiking Boots were instantly comfortable, plus they have a thick sole with Vibram Grip to promote stability and ruggedness so you don’t feel every stone and branch under your feet. My feet tend to run (no pun intended) hot but these boots are well ventilated while the Gore-Tex membrane keeps your feet dry.
Compression Sacks: Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil Compression Sack
These are admittedly not clothes but they do hold clothes very well! I used to always dig around for clothing scattered about my bag, unfolding and wrinkling items in the process but now I use compression sacks (not to be confused with stuff sacks mentioned in the Backpacking Kitchen Gear section). I typically have a compression sack for my clean clothes to keep them orderly and the Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil Compression Sacks work very well.
– – – Backpacking Toiletries – – –
What would The Ultimate Backpacking Checklist be without some basic toiletries? These items don’t necessarily go overlooked but there are no trace methods that can be implored to keep the backpacking environment clean and sanitary so it can be enjoyed by others for years to come.
Cathole Trowel: GSI Outdoors Cathole Trowel Shovel
Micro Towel: WildHorn Outfitters Microlite Travel Towel Bundle
You basically have two options while backpacking…you can air dry or you can pick up a micro towel. Air drying is fine unless the sun is going down and the air is getting cooler. Micro towels are small, lightweight, and dry quickly so there is really no reason to go backpacking without one. I purchased the WildHorn Outfitters Microlite Travel Towel Bundle because I wanted a few extras for car camping and such but any micro towel will serve you well.
Anti-Chafing: BodyGlide Original Anti-Chafe Balm
I lived without this stuff for way too long – it’s not super cheap but if you have ever found yourself in a chafing scenario, you are not going to care. I bought BodyGlide Original Anti-Chafe Balm for my most recent trip and will never go hiking without it again.
Sanitary Wipes: DUDE Shower Body Wipes
You are likely going to find yourself in a situation where you cannot shower, so these wipes are the next best thing. After a long day of hiking in the sun, having access to DUDE Shower Body Wipes to freshen you up before you lie down for a well-earned night’s sleep will increase your comfort level exponentially.
Insect Repellent: REPEL Sportsmen Mosquito Repellent Wipes, 15 Count
The truth is the 1-3oz travel size bug spray doesn’t cut it and you don’t want to carry around a large quantity of spray while trying to keep your bag weight down. REPEL Sportsmen Mosquito Repellent Wipes are cheaper, lighter and easier to use than any spray while being just as effective.
Storage Bottles: GoToob 1.24oz – 3 Pack Assorted Colors
These little squeeze bottles come in different sizes but I’m a firm believer that if I have space, I’ll use it. Therefore, for a 4-day trip, I personally believe the smaller GoToob 1.25 oz bottles are ideal. They hold the next 3 items on my list during my backpacking trips.
This soap is certified organic and vegan and contains no synthetic detergents or preservatives. No soap is ideal to introduce to most backwood, backpacking environments but you have to stay clean and wash away the day’s nastiness and Dr. Bronner Peppermint Soap is about as good as it gets. If you don’t want to use the GoToobs, this soap also comes in a travel size but I use it at home too, so it’s easy to fill a GoToob and go.
Sunscreen: Banana Boat Sunscreen 30 SPF
DON’T forget sunscreen…and definitely don’t forget to apply it. Since backpacking often involves long days in the woods with intermittent sunlight streaming through the trees, you may think to yourself, “Meh, I don’t need it.” Don’t be that guy or gal…getting sunburned while backpacking and camping sucks and will likely put a damper on your adventure. I like Banana Boat Sunscreen Lotion 30 SP because it goes on easy, isn’t terribly greasy and comes in travel sized bottles in the event you don’t want to transfer it into a GoToob.
Moisturizer: Viva Naturals Organic Extra Virgin Coconut Oil
I realize coconut oil, like so many other items, was/is a fad but hear me out. This oil is easy to travel with and super versatile. I use this at home and while I’m backpacking as a face moisturizer prior to going to bed, it’s natural and it works really well. If you turn out to the be the guy or gal above who shunned the sunscreen, coconut oil will help soothe and begin repairing your skin. The third use I’ve found for Viva Naturals Organic Extra Virgin Coconut Oil is for cooking! It’s a great oil for making a hot breakfast in the AM or while cooking dinner as the sun sets over the water.
Toothpaste: Tom’s Whitening Toothpaste Travel Size
I like Tom’s toothpaste for backpacking because it is made of all natural ingredients, meaning there are no artificial sweeteners, preservatives, colors, flavors, or animal ingredients. This is important when visiting the backcountry since you don’t want to introduce foreign substances to the local environment. A lot of extreme leave no trace backpackers will spit in bags and pack out their used toothpaste, which I respect but I believe using Tom’s Whitening Toothpaste, spitting far away from the campsite and diluting it with water once you’re done is sufficient.
Toothbrush: Don’t forget your toothbrush!!!
– – – Backpacking Extras – – –
These are items that I’ve added to The Ultimate Backpacking Checklist because while they are not absolutely necessary, they could help to make your trip better.
This little pillow is seriously too small to leave home without – it takes 3-4 breathes to blow it up and it has a soft material where you lay your head so your face doesn’t stick to it. There is a lot to be said about a pillow that can help provide you with a solid nights sleep and for this price point, you cannot go wrong. I’ve been using the Chillax UltraLight Camping Pillow for about a year now and have been very pleased.
Sunglasses: Suncloud Voucher Polarized Sunglasses
As far as I understand, you only get one set of eyes so you best protect them! A solid pair of polarized sunglasses at a midrange price is exactly what you’ll find with the Suncloud Voucher Polarized Sunglasses. I’m on my second pair over the course of 5 years and am still extremely happy with them.
Bear Spray: Frontiersman Bear Spray
This is likely something you will not need but if you’re in bear country you’re crazy not to have it. I always carry it, have yet to use it but it definitely provides me with peace of mind. I’ve heard people say they’d carry a gun, which in my opinion is just going to upset the bear whereas macing a bear is going to leave it incapable of attacking you. I don’t go backpacking without Frontiersman Bear Spray.
Rope: Paracord 50ft
You can’t go wrong having paracord with you – it is lightweight, strong and compact! You can use it to hang food in trees to keep away from bears, hang a tarp, reinforce your tent fly in heavy winds, pull your bag up a steep incline…the uses for Paracord 50ft are literally endless.
Tick Removal Tool: Tick Twister
I did not have one of these on my last trip into the woods and sure enough, I found a tick. I had to burn it off with a lighter, which is less than ideal. Use the Tick Twister to simply remove the tick intact thus minimizing your chances of getting Lyme disease.
Backpack Cover: Joy Walker Rain Cover
One of the most important responsibilities you have while backpacking is keeping all of your gear dry which sometimes proves difficult. The Joy Walker Rain Cover will do just that at a very affordable price with different sizes to accommodate your backpack size.
Lighter: This is always good to have if you need a fire quickly.
Hand Sanitizer: Dirty hands are inevitable so hand sanitizer is nice to have.
Poncho: A cheap poncho can cover you and your bag quickly if you get caught in the rain.
Zip Lock Bags: Protect your items in the rain and use these bags to pack out your trash.
– – – That’s it – – –
This Ultimate Backpacking Checklist is not intended to overwhelm anyone with the amount of gear you need and the amount of money it costs to properly set yourself up. This is an all-encompassing list, so look through it and choose the things you need for your trip. Keep in mind it’s common to go backpacking with other people who will likely have some of the gear on this list, so you can share the burden of purchasing/carrying non-personal items. Also worth noting is that I did not purchase all of this at once, this is an evergrowing list as I add and replace items in my gear inventory. So please don’t feel overwhelmed, this is a thorough checklist but make it your own and pick and choose the items you need for YOUR trip and most importantly, enjoy your adventure!
What is a go-to item in your backpacking inventory?
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