Backpacking season is upon us. As you've been hiking away, you will naturally evolve and want to try backpacking, which opens up a treasure trove of opportunities!
Hiking vs Backpacking
Let's start off with the basics - what's the difference between hiking and backpacking?
A backpacker, as opposed to a trekker or hiker, carries most of their equipment on their back. Thus, the quantity of equipment a backpacker brings is essential to how long the backpacker can stay outdoors on the hike, which could be multiple days.
When starting out backpacking, it's hard to know what gear is appropriate, everything in your pack should really be lightweight and easily packable for convenience. That's why we've created this backpacking gear checklist to help you get started!
Backpacking trips fully embrace the idea of simplicity while being outdoors and surrounded by nature.
First things first, read our article for the Hiking & Backpacking Ten Essentials. These are MUST have's when you get started backpacking, so please read first. To quickly list them off, here's what you need:
- Backpack & Extra Clothing
- Sun Protection
- First Aid & Emergency Items
- Light & Illumination
- Knife & Gear Repair Supplies
- Food & Cooking Gear
Finding The Right Backpack
How do you know what backpack is right for you?
First, look into the the quality of your backpack. Loose threads or broken stitching can lead to backpack failure which will greatly impair your trip and can be a waste of money long term.
A backpack's frame is also important to how well you can carry your backpack without feeling dragged down by the weight.
How long with you be backpacking for? There are different size backpacks depending on how much backpacking gear you plan to bring with you. Your items must fit and many backpacks have different places to keep items depending on priority and need. More important items should go in places where you can easily reach them at a moment's notice such as your survival tools.
Beyond the Ten Essentials: Other Gear To Consider When Backpacking
For backpackers hiking in environments that require specific tools or that plan to do some extended outdoor camping, consider the following items:
- Tent, tarp or bivy sack (with stakes, guylines)
- Tent-pole repair sleeve
- Footprint (if desired for tent)
- Sleeping bag
- Stuff sack or compression sack
- Sleeping pad - Thermarest
- Pillow or stuffable pillow case
- Whistle (plus signaling mirror)
- Multifunction watch with altimeter
- Trekking poles
- Ice axe
- Energy food (bars, gels, chews, trail mix)
- Energy beverages or drink mixes
- Cookset (with pot grabber)
- Dishes or bowls
- Cups (measuring cups)
- Bear canister (or hang bags for food)
- Nylon cord (50' for hanging food)
- Backup water treatment
- Collapsible sink or container
- Packable lantern
Clothing For Backpacking: Cool Weather
Hikers can easily underestimate exactly how cold it can be at night especially if there is a chilly wind. Packing clothes with long sleeves and heat-insulating material can make all the difference during the hike.
- Wicking long-sleeve T-shirt
- Wicking long underwear (good sleepwear)
- Beanie, cap, skullcap, balaclava or headband
- Gloves or mittens
- Rainwear (jacket, pants)
- Fleece jacket or vest
Clothing For Backpacking: Warm Weather
Your hiking clothes should be light and easily dry in the warm weather if you plan on washing or going for a swim. Also, one easy way to protect your skin from the sun is wearing a long sleeve shirt.
- Wicking T-shirt (synthetic or wool)
- Wicking underwear
- Quick-drying pants or shorts
- Long-sleeve shirt (for sun, bugs)
- Sun-shielding hat
- Bandana or Buff
Footwear For Backpacking
The footwear you choose can make all the difference on a long backpacking trip. Footwear should be able to easily grip the terrain and be fully secure on your foot to make sure that you won't slip.
If you plan on hiking in terrain that is often muddy or swampy, make sure to bring footwear with extra inches in ankle height to protect your feet and legs from getting wet.
- Hiking boots or hiking shoes suited to terrain
- Socks (synthetic or wool) plus spares
- Sandals (for fording, in camp)
Assorted Personal Items For Backpacking
Backpackers should also bring toiletries and personal items in case of emergency or an unforeseen situation happening while on the trail. Sanitation is even more important than ever!
- Camera or helmet cam
- Extra memory cards
- Route description or guidebook
- Field guide(s); star identifier
- Outdoor journal and pen or pencil
- Credit card; small amount of cash
- Earplugs and eye shade
- Toilet paper
- Sanitation trowel
- Menstrual and urinary products
- Hand sanitizer
- Insect repellent
- Bear spray
- Toothbrush and/or toiletry kit
- Biodegradable soap (and shower bag)
- Wet Wipes
- Quick-dry towel
- Cell phone / satellite communicator / 2-way radios
- Personal locator beacon
- Post-hike snacks, water, towel, clothing change
- Trip itinerary left with friend and under car seat
Closing Tips For Backpacking Outdoors
If your hike lasts for longer than a few days, make sure to properly account for enough food, supplies, water filtration, and equipment to last you the entire length of your hike.
Don't overpack! Check the distance and grade of the area that you plan to hike in, keeping in mind that anything you bring along with you during the hike will be carried on your back.
Lastly, always respect the environment, leave the animals and places as you found them using our 7 Leave No Trace Principles.
We hope this gear checklist will help you enjoy your next backpacking adventure! If you're ready to get started you should check out our Ultimate Backpacking Guide For Beginners in The Backcountry.
Tell us about your last trip in the comments below and any other items you think are essential.
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