The Definitive Backpacking Gear Checklist

what to bring backpacking gear blog

So you want to go backpacking? Excellent! Let me be the first to welcome you to this lifelong addiction to the great outdoors and hiking off the beaten path.  

Looking for the list itself? Skip down to the bottom for the checklist or download here

Determining What To Pack 

Have you felt overwhelmed while walking the aisles at your local sport store? It's amazing how much gear is out there and can be intimidating if you're just getting started. When there's so many options, where do you even begin?!

When getting ready for a trip, your goal should be to minimize pack weight while always having the essentials to be self-reliant in the backcountry. 

You will never find "the list" that will tell you exactly what to pack from A to Z as your pack's contents will largely depend on the terrain, weather, and your personal preferences. That being said, there are certain philosophies concerning gear to help you get started: 

  • Pack with intent. Before anything goes into my pack, it must have a clear purpose. Sounds silly, but it's true! Challenge yourself to identify each items importance and then see if there is overlap in your gear. Can another piece perform the same function? If yes, critically evaluate whether you need both. But caution! While there's a growing ultralight trend in the backpacking world with internet bragging rights on how light your pack can become, know that there's nothing wrong with "luxury" items either that will make the trip more enjoyable. I always bring a book or writing notebook as well as a dedicated bottle for shower water. Over the years, I've found the items I'm willing to cart up and down mountains (you might be surprised at what you are or are not willing to carry after 100 miles!) and filled a tote or two with gear I thought I would need but actually never used. 
  • See what other people do. People love sharing their gear list and what did or did not work. I've picked up many tricks on how to repurpose gear to keep my pack lighter (my favorite so far is to reuse your camp wool socks as makeshift gloves if the weather drops unexpectedly!) Find what works and copy their setup and adjust over time to customize your backpacking style. If you don't have friends who backpack or you aren't much into social media groups, spend some time at your local outfitter shop talking to their team.  
  • Know before you go. I can't stress this one enough. Test out new gear before having to depend on it miles into the woods. "Know before you go" is a motto I repeat often to friends and family. Bought a new tent? Know how to set it up without needing instructions. Borrowing a stove? Be familiar with how it lights and how much fuel it burns before depending on it for dinner. Invest an hour before your trip familiarizing yourself with anything unknown; I hate to sound melodramatic, but this could literally save your life or save thousands on a SAR call.  

Things to leave at home 

While you might feel you need these items, chances are you'll never use them and they'll be extra weight to lug around! 

  • Guns and ammo 
  • Firewood 
  • Excess cooking supplies 
  • Excess clothing 

what to bring backpacking gear blog

Okay, so what to bring? 

The Big Three 

When hikers talk about having the right (comfortable, safe) setup or reducing pack weight, the conversation inevitably ends up at the Big Three - your backpack, your shelter system, and your sleeping system.  

Because these are must have items and will take up approx. 75% of the volume of what you carry, you can easily save some pounds (yes, literal pounds, not ounces!!!) here with lighter gear. They are also the pieces that if treated and cared for properly will last you many years and adventures. My Kelty external frame is over 10 years old and my sleeping bag is a hand-me-down from my father!  

There's no blog on the internet that can advise on what backpack to purchase as this is 100% dependent upon your body type and the trips you will take. Some general points to consider are: 

  • Volume – will you be packing for overnight weekends or need a backpack for long, exended trips 
  • Frame style – internal or external 
  • Detachable Brain – some backpacks have one and some do not 
  • Back mesh and hip straps – different brands have different styles and amount of padding  

Your sleeping system will consist of a sleeping bag and a secondary layer (or more) to keep your body from directly touching the ground. If you’ve ever forgotten your sleeping pad and spent a night with freezing contact against the cold earth, you know exactly why a good secondary layer is important! I personally use a sleeping bag that is rated to freezing temperatures, even in the summer, as I would rather have the ability to unzip or sleep on top than deal with a frigid night if (...when) temperatures dip unexpectedly, especially if you are at altitude. Some prefer a lighter sleeping bag and packing a silk liner to help regulate hot and cold temperatures.  

As far as your secondary layer goes, this is again personal preference based on your sleeping style. As a stomach sleeper, I love my Therm-a-Rest ProLite sleeping pad. It packs up super small, is fast to inflate, and most importantly, is quiet! I toss and turn a lot during the night and crinkly sleeping pads keep me up! I have a (non blow up) pillow that is over a decade old and still going strong. I’ve seen blowup pillows obtain pinpricks on trips, and I also prefer the feel of a real pillow, even if it’s more bulky. Again, personal preference!

While not as popular, some choose a cot over a sleeping pad. If you’re interested in a comparison of sleeping pads vs cots for backpacking, check out this detailed blog! 

And finally, your shelter system. This again will depend on your terrain and conditions. I upgraded to an REI Half Dome 3 person tent a few years back and I love it! This tent goes up fast and easy even with one person. I prefer more space in a tent (restless sleeper!), and I appreciate elbow room as my pillow stealing German Shepherd comes along often. The debate on which tent to purchase is endless, and that’s without throwing in the hammock advocates. Some general points to consider are: 

  • Terrain – will you be camping at high altitude (cold & windy) 
  • Space – bigger tents generally breathe easier, but can be colder, less stable, and heavier  
  • Vestibule – will you store your gear on a tree, inside the tent, or outside 
  • Weight – tents can get heavy quickly, especially when they are built for alpine conditions  

The Ten Essentials 

Having the right gear can be the difference between a long, cold night out in the woods or a fun, memorable experience! In drastic cases where things go wrong, it can also be the difference between being prepared to navigate yourself out of a situation or surviving long enough to be rescued. Every backpacker should equip himself or herself with the necessary gear to have a fun, safe experience each and every time. You can read more on the 10 Essentials at The Mountaineers 

  1. Navigation & extra batteries 
  2. Headlamp & extra batteries 
  3. Sun protection (hat, sunglasses, lip balm, lotion, sun-protective clothes, and sunscreen) 
  4. First aid kit 
  5. Knife 
  6. Fire (matches, lighter and tinder as water proof container as well as stove) 
  7. Shelter 
  8. Extra food (beyond minimum expectation for trip duration) 
  9. Extra water (beyond minimum expectation for trip duration or filter/water purification tablets) 
  10. Extra clothes (always have a dry set to change into) 

Everything Else 

And then there’s everything else! Before you know it, you’ll be staring at a mini mountain of gear in your living room and wondering how the hell you’ll carry all of it up a mountain, let alone enjoy the experience. Remember our three tips from above: 1) Pack with intent; 2) See what others do; 3) Know before you go.  

The Definitive Backpacking Gear List: 

This is a comprehensive list of items! Not all items on the list are 100% necessary and you may find items you like to bring that aren’t on our list. This is meant as a general guideline and starting point. Have fun out there!  

  • Copy of ID in waterproof bag, license plate number, and any money/credit cards if necessary  
  • Backpack & waterproof rain cover 
  • Sleeping bag and/or liner 
  • Sleeping pad or cot, and/or pillow 
  • Tent or hammock  
  • Tarp (optional) 
  • Rope 
  • Carabiners  
  • Trekking poles 
  • Boots and a set of extra laces
  • Water shoes and/or camp shoes (usually are the same) 
  • Navigation system (map, compass, GPS, satellite messenger system) plus waterproof or in water resistant container backup map 
  • Headlamp 
  • Sun protection 
  • First aid kit and insect repellent, medication, soap, hair ties/brush/comb 
  • Toothbrush/toothpaste 
  • Contact solution/glasses/set of spare contacts 
  • Bug nets (if backpacking near swamps or deep backcountry) 
  • Knife 
  • Trowel 
  • Toilet Paper, Baby Wipes, Pads/Tampons 
  • Trash container/dedicated bags 
  • Bear canister (if in bear country) 
  • Bear spray (if in bear country) 
  • Fire and cook system and more then minimum amount of fuel 
  • High caloric freeze dried food and snacks 
  • Chocolate and candy 
  • Water bladder + repair kit 
  • Water filter or purification system 
  • Spork, mug or thermos, bowl 
  • Water, electrolytes, coffee, tea, etc 
  • Solar charger or extra batteries for GPS, Headlamp, etc 
  • Playing cards/book/writing paper 
  • Base layers (wool socks, underwear, bra, tank top, long wool pants, long wool sleeve shirt) plus one clean set for camp or emergency use 
  • Activity layer (wool socks, hiking pants, shorts, skirt/dress, shirt) 
  • Warmth layer (fleece, puffy jacket or vest, soft shell, warm insulated jacket) 
  • Rain layer (rain jacket and pants) 
  • Gaters 
  • Gloves & Neck Gaiter  
  • Hat/Additional Neck Gaiters 
  • Orange bandanas/identifiers if hunting season  

You can download our gear checklist as well!

The best way to enjoy the wilderness is by being prepared! Know before you go and have the time of your life!  

Happy trails!  

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Fuel your wild side with Bushka's delicious freeze dried meals. Nutritionally dense to fuel even your most rugged adventures. Whether you're backpacking, hunting, rafting, or just enjoying the great outdoors, make great food part of those memories!





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