Any unforgettable backcountry adventure starts with a mindful backpacking checklist. From clothing items and daypacks, to essential gear and anything in between, it might feel a bit overwhelming for a beginner backpacker before hitting the trail.
Allow this checklist to be your reminder of items essential for your safety and comfort. If you're well-prepared - carrying everything you need and nothing you don't - there are fewer things to worry about your well-being in the wild, even when the elements are not in your favour!
The Ten Essentials - Most Basic Backpacking Checklist
Navigation & Communication
It’s easy to get lost in the dense backcountry settings. That’s why navigation and communication tools are always among the ten essentials for wanderlust backpackers.
If you plan to count on GPS devices and smartphones only, remember that they can get broken, malfunction, or run out of juice.
It makes sense to know multiple techniques for outdoor navigation so you can drive your own adventure with more ease. A topographic map and a compass (plus your skills to read/use them) can help you get back on your track soon if you get lost.
Also, in remote backpacking trails where cell service doesn't work, you can communicate with a Stateline messenger in case of emergencies.
With a good headlamp, you never get caught in the dark during your trip. This device has been a staple overnight backpacking checklist item as it keeps you hand-free for doing night camping chores or holding the trekking poles.
Always double-check its function before heading out, and most importantly, add some extra lithium batteries to your backpacking gear list, too.
The higher the climb, the better protection you’ll need against the sun’s rays. Photo By Christelle Hayek on Unsplash
Skin disorders and painful sunburn are real possibilities for any backpacker who loves the outdoors. Consider generously wearing a broad-spectrum sunscreen before heading out.
For extended outdoor activities, do your skin a favour and go for nothing smaller than a SPF 30. The sunscreen should be able to block both destructive UVA and UVB rays.
Climbing up higher elevation also means that your body is exposed to even stronger UV radiation. If you plan for some high-altitude sports activities, a stronger formula, for example, 50 SPF or more, would work better to shield yourself from the elements.
To minimise the footprint in your backpack, choose smart clothing as a form of sun protection. Pants and long-sleeved shirts with good UPF ratings can do the job well. Also, don’t forget other backpack hiking list essentials like sunglasses and SPF-rated lip balm.
Emergency & First-aid
Cuts, scratches and injuries are commonplace when you’re exploring the wilderness. Therefore, never underestimate the use of emergency and first-aid kit in your packing list for multi-day hike.
Whether you’re building your first-aid kit or buying a pre-made one, try to avoid overpacking it. Normally, an overnight backpacking list will need:
- Gauze pads
- Blister pads
- Antiseptic wipes
- Duck tape
- Sewing needles
Knife Plus Repair kit
We don’t call a knife one of the backpacking essentials, but a survival essential to bring along into the wilderness.
More than just chopping onions and slicing cheddar, you can use it to fix your gear and first aid. A repair kit is equally indispensable on your backpacking trip list. Think about tape strips, zip ties, a multi-tool (with pliers, screwdrivers, scissors, and bottle opener in one), paracord, etc.
Calculate at least an unexpected night out in the woods. That’s when the knowledge and the ability to start a fire will help you survive a freezing, miserable night.
The most common fire tool is waterproof matches (placed in a waterproof case). The next thing is a firestarter - the stuff that helps you ignite a flame in a second, come rain or shine.
Whether you’re using candles, dry tinder, heat nuggets, or priming paste, remember that the knowledge to use them is just as important as the tools themselves.
Pro tip: We don’t advise stuffing the matchcases and lighters in your backpack. Instead, carry it in your pocket for instant access even when you’re separated from your backpack.
A multi-day hike packing list will never be completed without the right emergency shelter. The most common types of shelters you might see on any backpacking trip checklist are tents, tarps, and hammocks.
Tents are always our top choice, as they offer the most resting space and protection. Tarps are very much like a minimalistic version of tents, minus the floors and protection from bugs. But they are more lightweight as you can make use of your trekking poles to set them up.
Hammocks are also lightweight options, especially suitable for warm, tropical weather. But they ask for two robust trees for anchoring and provide no protection when you’re camping in the rain.
Never forget to save some room for a space blanket - it’ll ward you off the elements when you’re stranded or injured.
Food that is nutrient-dense and energy-high is a go-to for seasoned backpackers. Think of trail mix, granola bars, nuts, or jerky - or any no-cooked items that hold up well in your backpack.
As a rule of thumb, an average hiker normally needs 1½ to 2½ lbs. of food for a day. Normally for longer treks, especially on a winter hiking gear checklist, we always recommend bringing one day's worth of extra food just in case of emergencies.
Pro tip: For backpacking trails in a bear country, you may want to bring bear canisters to keep your food away from the animals.
It's equally essential to pack enough water to stay hydrated the entire trek. The good rule of thumb is to drink at least one litre of water every two hours, so plan accordingly for the duration of your trip.
Also take these factors into account when calculating how much water you should pack: altitude, temperature, humidity and level of exertion. The higher these factors, the more litre of water your body will need.
In addition, plan carefully on how you will carry your water as you might want to add some more items to the backpacking supply list.
The simplest way is to stash the water bottle in the mesh pocket of your rucksack. However, a hydration reservoir is also a common choice for hikers and backpackers. A hydration belt, meanwhile, offers extra convenience if you're committed to trail running.
The unexpected often happens in the great outdoors, so extra clothes are a no-brainer in your backpacking essentials checklist.
The key to backcountry backpacking is layering multi-functional clothing. This includes the base layer, mid layer, and outer layer. The base layer keeps your body dry, the mid layer keeps your body warm when it's cold and cool when it's hot, and the outer layer shields you from elements like snow and rain.
Socks are silent space killers, but they are quintessential on any backpacking packing list. Pack at least two pairs as there is nothing worse than wet feet while travelling.
We also consider footwear an essential on any camping and hiking checklist. It all comes down to the terrain to determine what kind of footwear you should bring.
While hiking shoes or trail runners are comfortable enough for smooth trails, a pair of boots will give your feet more support to navigate on rocky, more demanding trails.
Other Hiking Checklist
Whether it’s for a quick hike or a week-long adventure, you need to make sure you have the right gear.
If you’re making an overnight hike pack list, a backpack of 30-50 litres is the way to go. This will give enough space for 1 to 3 days’ worth of clothing and gear. For 3-5 nights in the wild, 50-80 litres will do the job.
For a 7 day backpacking checklist (or for more extended trips), you’ll need a 70-litre backpack or bigger to pack all your hiking backpack necessities.
Your backpack is one of the most important hiking list essentials. While it’s quite a personal item, a good backpack is one with the right balance of comfort, weight, and storage. Also pay attention to the waterproof feature of backpacks, as it's expected to hike with you through lots of rain and snow!
Even when you want to pack as much light as possible, don’t leave these hiking check list staples at home.
- Travel-sized toothpaste tubes + toothbrushes
- Hand sanitiser
- Toilet paper, wipes
- Sealable bags to pack the toilet wipes out
- Digging Trower
- Pack-out bags and menstrual items
- Bug Repellent
Health & Comfort
Items for comfort are quite personal, so you can come up with your own list for the most enjoyable trip. For example, there are people bitten by mosquitos on their last trip who feel that bug spray is an item that they can live without.
Bringing your makeup might not be an overkill, as long as you feel comfy with your good images in the photos (just don't overpack anything from your dressing table).
Here's a short list of items that many people think are optional on their backpacking equipment checklist but extra helpful in their adventure:
- Backpacking chair
- Sleeping bag liner
- Instant coffee/coffee cup.
Always travel with these most important ID documents. Photo by Charlotte Noelle on Unsplash
If the only paperwork on your hiking trip packing list is a map, think twice. While venturing out into the backcountry, never leave these must-have documents at home:
- Driver licences
- Insurance documents
- Credit cards
- Printouts of plane tickets
- Hotel, hostel, or any accommodation reservation confirmations
- Any service confirmations that you’ve prepaid
Pro tip: Scan or take pictures of these documents and send them to your email. This gives effortless access to the documents in case your luggage is lost or stolen.
These extra items are optional on your camping hiking checklist but can make your adventure more enjoyable.
- Day pack
- Trekking poles
- Some good books
- Night-sky identifier
- Bear safety gear (in regions with bears)
- Communication devices like two-way radios or phones
- Camp shoes
Personalising your checklist
Based on the hiking length
Things you need to hike with depends on the hiking distance. The longer the distance you’ll cover, the longer your hiking backpack packing list. Compared to short-distance (like a 2-hour hike), longer mileage calls for extra food, extra clothes, and hence, a larger and heavier backpack.
Longer hiking distance also calls for extra preparation for emergencies. This means that packing extra stuff like lighters/matches, emergency shelter, and blister treatment will give you more peace of mind.
These trips possibly take you far away from reliable water sources, so some kind of water treatment on your backpacking equipment list, like a purifier or filter, can help you along the road.
It's tempting to overpack for a multiday hike (as this gives you more sense of security). However, the rule of thumb is never let your loaded backpack exceed 20 per cent of your body weight.
Based on the weather
Always check the weather forecast before heading out, so you’ll know what you should pack. In hot and sunny weather, it’s all about layering up carefully to protect yourself away from the ultraviolet rays.
Insulated jackets or fleece, mittens, hats, and gloves are indispensable in colder places. In rainy seasons, your clothing compartment requires a rain jacket and a pair of water-resistant trousers.
When taking rain, snow, and muddy conditions into account, it is wise to pack a contingency pair of gaiters to prevent your foot from getting wet.
Backpacking in winter or snowy conditions also requires extra planning. The weather possibly calls for heavier tents and sleeping bags to ward off the cold. Your body also burns energy faster, meaning you’re likely to get a heavier and bigger backpack.
Based on group size
Photo By Eric Sanman on Pexels
The group size also matters. If you're on a group hiking, many things can be put into the shared backpacking plan. This includes food supply, cookware, shelter and navigation.
Different tent sizes are available to cater to different group sizes. You can get a tent size to accommodate 2 - 18 backpackers. Choose the dimension that best suits your group, and split the essential items among members.
You'll only need to make sure that your team already carry these backpacking essential items:
- Rain fly
More planning and discussion with your members can help you get a more lightweight backpacking checklist as the weight is thoughtfully split between everyone.
Journey Ready: Gear Up with our Backpacking Checklist!
Backpacking and hiking are fun and safe if you know what to pack and carefully plan things out. We hope our wilderness backpacking checklist has covered almost all you need for the trail.
Remember that there's no comprehensive backpacking checklist that exists, as what works for the others doesn't mean they all work with you. Yet, we hope this list will give you some inspiration and help you be more prepared for your exploration!