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