Are you passionate about hiking day trips in the great outdoors, but want to step it up to overnight backpacking? The transition into backpacking is exciting, but it can be a big transition. A proper backpacking checklist is essential in preparing for you trip. You have to carry your shelter, food, and everything you plan on wearing and using all in a single pack. Before heading out on my first overnight trip, I was overwhelmed by the vast and never ending amount of items I found on other backpacking checklists.
Below is a concise and comprehensive backpacking checklist with absolute essential items for overnight trips. When deciding on certain types of gear, important factors to consider are also included in the list. This guide is built with shorter trips in mind, but can easily be used for longer backpacking trips. Items such as food and clothing may have to be scaled to larger amounts.
And a quick tip: don’t make the same mistake I did on my first overnight backpacking trip! Not only did I forget my bag of spare clothes, but my friend and I also forgot tent poles as well. Needless to say, if you ever find yourself without tent poles but do have nylon cord, it can be cut open and the individual strings can be looped through all different parts of the tent cover to make a makeshift gem (check out the end for a picture).
BACKPACKING CHECKLIST ARTICLE CONTENTS
- Basic Items
- Safety, Emergency, Navigation
- Camp Kitchen
- Food & Water
- Personal Items
- Backpacking Optional Extras
- Quick Tips
- PDF Download
DON’T HAVE TIME TO READ NOW? SAVE THIS POST FOR LATER!
BACKPACKING CHECKLIST DETAILS
- Should be between 35-55 Liters. This is dependent on the season and how minimalist of packer you are.
- Osprey, Kelty, and Gregory all great brands. I personally use the Osprey Kyte 46L – it opens from the top, bottom, and side, and also has many different pockets for storage.
- Features to pay attention to: compartments + pockets, how the bag opens (top-only, side zip, etc.), torso length, weight, comfortableness of straps, general feel of the pack.
- Hiking Boots
- Boots with ankle support are extremely helpful, especially on hikes that require scrambling. Know what your ankles will be able to tolerate on the hike you’re going on!
- Great brand options include Keen, Merrell, Salomon, and Oboz. I personally wear the Sawtooth II Mid Waterproof – they provide great support and are very comfortable once broken in. If you’re interested in these, it’s important to note that they did take a good bit of time to break in, and had some really bad blisters at the beginning.
- Tip: No matter how broken-in your shoes are, always have a good amount of blister tape. It can come in handy in more ways than one!
- Backpacking Tent
- Features to pay attention to: compact, lightweight, and durable.
- Don’t forget to bring a footprint (or tarp) to place underneath the tent.
- Sleeping Bag
- Features to pay attention to: weight, temperature rating (what seasons it can be used in), how compact it packs, and type of insulation.
- Head Lamp
- Make sure batteries are new, or that you bring a backup.
- OPTIONAL: Trekking poles, Blow-up Pillow (I usually double my backpack as a pillow instead), Blow-up Sleeping Mat
SAFETY, EMERGENCY, AND NAVIGATION
- 1st Aid Kit
- Including: assorted bandages, hand sanitizer, gauze, ibuprofen (or other pain relief), butterfly bandage, tweezers, anti-sting treatment, antiseptic wipes, antibacterial ointment).
- Check to see if your pack has this directly on the strap itself.
- Multi-Tool and/or Pocket Knife
- Blister Tape
- I cannot stress the importance of having a good role of blister tape – it can be used for blisters, taping any rips or holes, and more. Especially if you’re still partially breaking in a new pair of boots, blister tape will quickly become your best friend!
- Lighter, Waterproof matches, Fire starter
- Ziploc Bag (Gallon-sized)
- Very versatile – can be used for trash, wet items, etc.
- Map of Area
- OPTIONAL: Satellite phone, GPS device, Bear Spray
- Your backpacking checklist will vary depending on the area you’re in.
- Toothbrush + Toothpaste
- Bug Spray
- Usually 1 bottle can be shared amongst a group of people
- It may not feel like you’re burning when the sun is hitting down on you, but at elevated heights, the sun can be stronger than you realize!
- Baby Wipes
- Lip Balm (with SPF preferably)
- Feminine Care Items (if necessary)
- Small bag of Tissues
Always be prepared for a worst-case weather scenario, but be mindful to not overpack as well. It’s an art – not an exact science!
- 1 Spare pair of Undergarments other than what you start with (
- Underwear, Socks (synthetic or wool), Sports bra
- Depending on how willing you are to embrace being dirty, don’t genuinely need an additional set of top and bottom
- Bucket Hats / Wide Brim Hats / Sun Hats are the way to go to ensure your neck doesn’t burn
- Lightweight Down Jacket or Fleece
- Make sure to look for something compact
- I personally recommend the REI Women’s 650 Down Jacket – it’s super lightweight, compact, and many color options
- A men’s version is also available
- Lightweight Long Sleeve Shirt
- Great for sun protection and bugs
- Under Armour has plenty of lightweight options like the UA Locker 2.0 Long Sleeve
- Lightweight Camp Shoes
- Open-toed shoes to wear around the campsite or streams are a necessity
- Tevas, flip flops, Crocs, or sandals are great options
- Rain Gear – Jacket and Pants
- Check the weather forecast before heading out to see if it’s necessary
- I would recommend bringing a coat regardless because the forecast can always quickly change
- OPTIONAL: Gloves, Warm hat, Bandana / buff, Swim wear
- Make sure you’re prepared for all types of weather
- Bear Canister or Bear Bag + 50′ Nylon Cord
- Do your research on what the situation with bears is where you plan on going hiking
- Bear canisters like this one keep all smells from food and toiletries inside
- Be sure to leave food at LEAST 100 yards from your campsite
- Bear bag options can range from legitimately made bear bags, to sleeping bag slips, to shoe bags that have a loop
- Eating Utensils
- A reusable spork is a great option
- Collapsible Bowl
- Tin Mug or Collapsible Cup
- OPTIONAL: Mini camping stove if you plan on cooking meals (don’t forget the fuel), Collapsible Bowl
FOOD & WATER
You may feel the need to bring everything in site, but make sure to not overpack on this. It can add plenty of unnecessary extra weight. Some trails will have lodges open that sell meals and snacks. On a 3-day trip, bringing a camping stove can add a lot of unnecessary weight and space in your backpack.
- Food ideas without a stove: trail mix, peanut butter sandwiches, granola bars, dried fruits, bagels, hard cheeses, instant coffee
- Choose foods that are lightweight, nutrient dense, and shelf-stable
- My favorite go-to is the Indian Madras Lentil packs. Normally, you can microwave them for optimal taste but they’re already precooked and taste amazing after a long day on the trail!
- A great way to ensure optimal performance and keep up with the pounding you’re putting on your body
- There are plenty of tablet brands in the market – Nuun is a popular and great option
- Water Bottle(s)
- See if there’s water-refilling stations along the route and what rangers recommend bringing
- Nalgene bottles are a classic and great budget-friendly option
- OPTIONAL: Water Bladder / Hydration Reservoir
- It usually depends on your personal preference to use one of these vs. water bottles
- Keep in mind they require good maintenance and upkeep, and are usually brand specific to the backpack you have
- OPTIONAL: Water Filter
- Research the hike ahead of time to see if this is necessary
- A water filter could be brought instead of multiple water bottles
BACKPACKING PERSONAL ITEMS
- Car Keys
- Permit (if necessary)
- Cash / Credit Card
BACKPACKING OPTIONAL EXTRAS
- Camera – to capture the beautiful sites and remember the memories along the way
- Don’t forget backup batteries and SIM card
- Activities to pass the time: playing cards, books, journaling
- External Battery
- Day Pack
- Carabiner Clips
- You can never go wrong with having a few of these hanging on your pack for miscellaneous items
BACKPACKING CHECKLIST QUICK NOTES
Budgeting Tip: if you’re not fully ready to invest in quality camping equipment, some co-ops (like REI in the United States) offer rental opportunities. It’s definitely worth putting some time into this. They can also recommend you unique area specific items that you should add to your backpacking checklist.
Friends and family are also great potential resources for spare equipment. You never know what they have, or if people they know have gear available for use.
Hopefully this packing list serves as a great guide to get you packed and ready for your next adventure outdoors! Be sure to download the PDF version to have handy the next time you pack up for a trip.
PRINTABLE BACKPACKING CHECKLIST FOR LATER USE: 2-3 DAY BACKPACKING CHECKLIST
Let me know if you use this list, and if there’s anything else that should be added. And remember, Always Embrace The Adventure!
Checkout my tent contraption we made without tent poles from my first backpacking trip!!
ARE YOU PLANNING YOUR OWN HIKING ROAD TRIP THROUGH NEW ENGLAND?
There’s plenty of articles and resources on the site to help you best prepare for your own adventure! Check out the 1-2 Weeks Ultimate New England Hiking Road Trip Guide to get a comprehensive look at the region, or read some article highlights below:
Want to make your own epic road trip adventure but don’t know where to start? Check out these
8 Simple Steps to Planning a Hiking Road Trip that will bring you from a basic concept all the way to your final checks before heading out.