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Whether it’s one night at a nearby state park, a week-long backcountry trek, or a much larger endeavor on one of the country’s scenic long-distance thru-hikes like the Appalachian Trail or the Pacific Crest Trail, proper planning and appropriate packing make for a successful backpacking trip.
This can seem like a daunting task, especially when staring at a closet full of bins or the aisles of a gear store, but with a little practice, a comprehensive list, and good prep-work—don’t stress procrastinators, you’ve got this—it can quickly become muscle memory. While hiking prep lands solely on you, we’re here to help with a complete backpacking checklist to ease the process.
How to Use This Backpacking Checklist
This checklist incorporates the longstanding “Ten Essentials,” a list of gear considered crucial to have in case of an emergency, compiled in the 1930s by The Mountaineers, a Seattle-based outdoors group. The Ten Essentials provides a great framework for any backpacking checklist no matter what kind of trip you're taking. Although it looked different back then, many of the same principles still apply; today, it has evolved into a categorical list of gear that helps new and experienced hikers dial in their backpacking essentials.
The Ten Essentials
3. Sun protection
4. First aid
8. Extra food
9. Extra water
10. Extra clothes
Using the Ten Essentials as a starting point, we handpicked the best backpacking gear for each category based on our team's decades of combined testing and research, plus other items to ensure you have everything you need to get out and adventure safely.
Pack for Your Trip
Before diving in, it’s important to remember that while the Ten Essentials and this checklist as a whole offer a great framework—they are just that, a framework. Use your best judgment to decide what you’ll need and what you don’t according to the trip that you’re taking. Hike your own hike, as the thru-hiking maxim goes, and tweak the packing list to suit your specific needs and the needs of your trip so it aligns with things like weather, climate, distance, and location, among others.
Lightweight Backpacking vs Ultralight Backpacking
Although this packing list looks long, these are just the basics for a light load that doesn't sacrifice comfort, preparedness, and safety. However, lightweight backpacking doesn’t necessarily mean ultralight backpacking; if that's something that’s important to you, go for ultralight gear to shave off every ounce possible.
Leave No Trace
Finally, remember to always tread lightly and follow the seven principles of Leave No Trace to do your part in respecting and maintaining the good condition of these trails and wild places. Don’t worry, we’ve included gear to help you do that too.
Now that we’re on the same page, the following gear list represents a few of the finer options from well-regarded brands, suitable for most any backpacking trip or outdoor adventure. Read on, click around, then log off and get out there.
Field Mag's Ultimate Backpacking Checklist
Unlike lighter daypacks used for a day hike, it’s important to have a rain cover during overnight hiking trips to make sure everything stays dry in case of rain. If the backpack doesn’t come with a rain cover, it’s a good idea to buy one and take it with you. Trekking poles are another great piece of backpacking gear that can provide stability on slippery surfaces and save sore knees while hiking. Both are optional.
Shelter & Sleeping Gear
if you're worried about maxing out the credit card on these big ticket backpacking gear items, rest assured that a well-made tent and sleeping bag are meant to last years. By investing in quality gear that suits your specific needs, you’ll sleep better (literally) and ultimately save money that would otherwise be spent replacing cheaper gear down the road. Make sure everything fits in your pack by doing a dry run before the trip, and always cinch the straps on the stuff sacks for the smallest size possible (more room for trail snacks!).
- Backpacking Tent: Sea to Summit Alto TR2 or NEMO Dagger Osmo
- Sleeping Pad: Therm-a-Rest Z-Lite Sol or Sea to Summit Ether Light XT Insulated Air Sleeping Pad
- Sleeping Bag: Mountain Hardwear Bishop Pass Sleeping Bag or NEMO Forte Endless Promise
- Backpacking Pillow (optional): Therm-a-Rest Compressible Pillow
Food & Camp Kitchen Gear
Bringing along enough sustenance, the right cookware, plus plenty of water is key to a successful backpacking trip. Luckily, backpacking food is tastier than ever, so you’ll eat well on the trail without skimping on flavor or precious space in the pack. For longer trips, scope out water sources for refilling ahead of time and bring a purifier or other preferred method of water treatment to stay healthy and hydrated.
- Backpacking Stove & Fuel: MSR PocketRocket Deluxe Stove or JetBoil MiniMo Cooking System
- Backpacking Meals: Good-to-Go Weekender Pack or Backpacker’s Pantry Meals
- Cookware Set: Sea to Summit Alpha Cookset or GSI Outdoors Pinnacle Cookset
- Utensils: Gerber ComplEAT Tool or Sea to Summit Titanium Spoon, Fork & Knife Set
- Camp Mug: Snow Peak Titanium Mug or MIIR Camp Cup
- Hydration: 32oz Nalgene or Gregory 3D Hydro Hydration Reservoir 3L
- Water Filter: LifeStraw Peak Squeeze Water Filter System or Platypus Gravity Works Water Filter
Clothing & Footwear
Outdoorsy types recommend quick-drying, moisture-wicking base layers because they pull sweat and moisture away from the body. That's not just good for comfort but safety too, helping to avoid dangerous fluctuations in the body’s core temperature. Be extra prepared and stash a pair of rain pants, gaiters, long-sleeve shirts for colder temps, or even a pair of leggings in your pack for camp. Pro-tip: Never take brand new hiking shoes out on a multi-day trek; break them in by walking around the neighborhood or shorter trails to avoid dreaded blisters.
- Hiking baselayers: Patagonia Capilene T-Shirt or Paka Everyday Baselayer
- Hiking pants or shorts: Fjällräven Keb Trousers or Patagonia Baggies
- Rain jacket: Mountain Hardwear Stretch Ozonic or Arc’teryx Beta AR
- Down jacket or fleece: Patagonia Nano Puff or Houdini Power Houdi
- Hiking socks: Darn Tough Crew Socks or REI Co-op Merino Wool Socks
- Hiking underwear: ExOfficio Bikini Underwear or Lululemon Always in Motion Briefs
- Hiking Boots: Danner Mountain 600 Boots or Hoka Anacapa Boots
Extra Clothing & Layers
- Hat: Outdoor Research Sun Hat or Autumn Headwear Beanie
- Gloves: Smartwool Liner Gloves
- Buff: Buff CoolNet UV
- Sandals/camp shoes: The North Face ThermoBall Traction Mules or Chaco Lowdown
Personal Items & Toiletries
Disposing of your waste properly is one of the main tenets of Leave No Trace to make sure you have a minimal impact on the environment. And yes, that means all of it! Many of the items below are included with this in mind. Need further instruction on all the dirty details, check out Leave No Trace’s website to learn more.
- Toothbrush: Aurelle Toob Brush and Alpine Provisions Toothpaste Tabs
- Biodegradable soap: Dr. Bronner's Castile Soap or Sea to Summit Wilderness Wipes
- Sunscreen: Badger Sport SPR 40 Sunscreen
- Sunglasses: Goodr Sunglasses
- Bug repellent: Ben's Insect Repellent
- Lip balm: Sun Bum SPF Lip Balm
- Quick-dry towel: REI Co-op Multi Towel Lite
- First-aid kit: Adventure Medical Kit
- Trowel: TheTentLab The Deuce #2 and Wag Bags
- Hand sanitizer: Dr. Bronner's Hand Sanitizer