There is no excitement quite like the excitement of packing for a backpacking trip.
Whether you’re gearing up for your first trip or you’re a seasoned backpacker, ensuring you’ve packed all of the essentials is key to having an epic trip.
After years of backpacking trips, forgetting things, upgrading gear, and deciding not to bring certain items altogether, I’ve compiled a complete list of backpacking essentials.
In this gear guide, I cover everything you need from backpack and tent recommendations, cookware and clothing favorites, safety non-negotiables, and more.
In addition to the gear I personally own and love, I’ve also included great budget-friendly alternatives.
Table of Contents
The Ultimate Backpacking Essentials List and Gear Guide
Backpacking Essentials for Beginners
Accumulating all of the necessary gear for your first backpacking trip can be extremely intimidating. Keep in mind that the gear I use today was not the gear I started with.
You do not have to spend hundreds of dollars buying all of the nicest and top-rated gear when you’re first starting out.
Use your first couple of trips to discover what you liked and didn’t like, what you wish you had and realized you didn’t need. You will learn so much more about the gear you want by actually backpacking than you ever will by just reading product specs and details.
Backpacking Gear Costs
The hefty price tag of backpacking essentials can be daunting. When it comes to gear, you’re paying for two things: weight and features.
The more you pay, the lighter the gear will be and the more features it will have. The good news is that this means that great gear can be found at a lower price, while only sacrificing feature add-ons and carrying weight.
With that being said, the weight of your pack is critical and absolutely something worth splurging on once you’ve established what you like and are financially able and willing to invest in the sport.
Rental and Used Gear
A great alternative to purchasing new gear is searching for used or rental options.
As I mentioned earlier, people are often upgrading and selling gear. Ask your friends or family if they have any gear they’d be willing to lend you or part with. If you don’t personally know any friends or family members who backpack, Facebook Marketplace is an awesome resource for finding locally used gear.
Be sure to also check your local outdoor stores to see if they have a buy-back and sell program where you can score lightly used gear at a discounted rate.
Perhaps the most important question when it comes to backpacking is, “How much should my backpack weigh?”
The loose rule of thumb is that your backpack should weigh around 20% of your total body weight. Example: If you weigh 150 lbs your pack should weigh 30 lbs.
While this is a general guideline, it’s pretty accurate in my experience. Nothing ruins a backpacking trip like lugging around a monstrously heavy pack.
Factors such as your own strength and experience, as well as the trail difficulty and season in which you are backpacking, will also be determining factors when it comes to appropriate pack weight.
Backpacking Essentials: A Complete Gear List
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Backpack, Tent, and Sleep Set-Up
A good backpack, tent, and sleep system are critical backpacking essentials.
When choosing a pack, things to keep in mind are size, compartments, and comfort. Personally, I also prefer a U-zip, J-zip, or side-zip feature over a traditional top-load-only system.
I have used Osprey and Gregory packs over the years and have loved them both.
When selecting a tent, keep in mind size, features, and weight. Now that Cole and I have used a two-door tent I will never go back to a one-door setup. Inside gear pockets also help tremendously with tent organization.
Lastly, when deciding on a sleeping bag take note of the temperature rating of the bag and compression capabilities. I recommend a 0 – 15-degree bag.
Due note that you will always pay more for down sleeping bags because down is lighter, has a higher warmth-to-weight ratio, and has a greater compression range than synthetic fill.
Below are the backpacking essentials I personally recommend and currently use.
Please note, that all recommendations are based on three-season backpacking (i.e. does not account for heavy snow or extremely harsh temperatures or wind conditions).
Items with asterisks are considered optional.
Additional Budget-Friendly Recommendations
As I mentioned earlier, you do not have to purchase your dream gear set-up from the get-go. Below are some budget-friendly alternatives I recommend if you’re just getting started.
Lastly, a great one-stop-shop is the REI Backpacking Bundle which includes your tent, sleeping bag, and sleeping pad for a steal of a price.
Water, Stove, and Utensils
Purchasing gear that allows you to carry enough water, have access to clean water, and cook meals at camp is key when putting together your backpacking essentials list.
Gear, First-Aid, and Safety
Safety should always be a top priority when heading into the backcountry. Do not skimp on these items when trying to shave weight.
- Offline Map (We use AllTrails Pro)
- Lighter or Matches
- Bug Face Net*
Apparel, Accessories, and Footwear
It has taken me years to create my backpacking essentials list of clothes that are lightweight, comfortable, and easy to clean in the backcountry.
When it comes to clothes and footwear, it’s going to come down to personal preference. Go in-store, try things on, and walk around in different shoes until you find something that feels right.
I’ve linked below Items I currently use and love, but as I mentioned above everyone is different and you have to find what works for you.
Clothes and Footwear
- 2 Atheltic Shorts (REI Swiftland 5″) and (REI Active Pursuits 4.5″) -OR- Pants (Stio Pinedale Pant) and (Stio CFS Board Pant)
- 2 Sports Bras (REI Take Your Time Bra)
- 3 Pairs of Socks (Darn Tough Socks)
- Camp Warm Layer (REI Sahara Shade Hoodie)
- Camp Bottom Warm Layer
Toiletries and Personal Products
My biggest piece of advice when it comes to toiletries in the backcountry is to remember that you do not have to follow your full self-care routines when camping. Part of the fun of backpacking is “roughing it.”
You’ll save yourself weight by carefully selecting what actually needs to be in your bag and what doesn’t. The face lotion? You don’t need it. Live a little.
- Trowel + Toilet Paper
- Toothbrush + Toothpaste
- Biodegradable Soap
- Bug Spray
As an adventure blogger, I may be biased but the camera and tripod will always have a spot in my backpack. Are they backpacking essentials? Technically no, but they’re a yes for me.
- Phone Charger
- Portable Battery Pack
- Sony a6000 Camera (+ extra battery)*
Leave No Trace
Lastly, I want to highlight and address the importance of Leave No Trace (LNT) while in the backcountry.
It is absolutely incredible to see so many people turning to hiking and backpacking; however, this increased foot traffic does not go unnoticed or without repercussions.
It is all of our shared responsibility to abide by LNT principles and leave the area better than we found it.
There are 7 Leave No Trace Principles:
- Plan Ahead and Prepare
- Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
- Dispose of Waste Properly
- Leave What You Find
- Minimize Campfire Impacts
- Respect Wildlife
- Be Considerate of Others
Plan Ahead and Prepare
Planning ahead is key in keeping yourself safe while backpacking and ensuring that you have a good time. Research the hike, know the weather forecast, and pack accordingly.
Planning and preparing for your trip, not only keeps you and your group safe but allows you to have fun while hiking.
Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
With the increase in foot traffic the backcountry is seeing, it’s more important than ever to stay on the trail. Do not create shortcuts or wander off-trail. Exploring off the designated trail creates erosion, damages vegetation and fragile soils, and disrupts wildlife.
Likewise, choose to set up camp in a responsible area and minimize your foot traffic around your tent site.
Dispose of Waste Properly
Always expect there to be no trashcans or waste management in the backcountry. You are solely responsible for packing out all of your trash. Leave absolutely nothing behind.
Make sure to do your research on the area you will be hiking. Some areas allow human waste (a.k.a. poop) to be buried 6 to 8 inches deep, while others require it to be packed out.
Leave What You Find
It is never permitted to remove anything from the trail, regardless of how beautiful or sentimental (rocks, flowers, etc.).
Do not rearrange a site, and if you clear an area to stake a tent, replace the cleared brush before leaving. Never leave marks on trees or construct unnecessary rock cairns.
Minimize Campfire Impacts
Always check fire danger warnings for the area and obey all signs and restrictions. No exceptions.
Use existing fire rings when possible or construct fire mounds if fires are permitted. Always ensure the fire is completely out and return the area to its natural state. Never throw plastic items into the fire.
Minimize your noise on the trail (unless you’re in bear country). Do not approach animals and do not leave any food or garbage accessible.
Make sure to research your area and check for any food storage requirements such as bear bags and bear canisters.
Be Considerate of Others
The outdoors are for everyone. Everyone deserves to enjoy their time outside. Be courteous of other hikers, practice trail etiquette, and always share the trail.
You can read more about the 7 Leave No Trace Principles here.
Backpacking Trip Recommendations
Now that you’re equipped and prepared with all of your backpacking essentials, it’s time to plan some trips.
It’s hard to rate and compare backpacking trips because each one is so different and incredible in its own right. Looking back, however, it’s clear that some have stood out among the others.
The Enchantments, WA
Perhaps my favorite backpacking trip of all time was a five-day, four-night trip spent Hiking the Enchantments near Leavenworth, Washington.
In my guide, Hiking the Enchantments, I highlight everything you need to know for either backpacking or day-hiking the Enchantments. I cover how to apply for permits, parking, shuttle services, what to expect, what to pack, and how to find the best spots along the trail.
To say the entire experience is enchanting, would be an understatement.
The Kalalau Trail, HI
There is nothing quite as magical as Backpacking the Kalalau Trail on Kaua’i, Hawai’i.
The Kalalau Trail traverses 11 miles one way across Kauaʻi’s rugged Nā Pali coastline, from Kēʻē Beach to Kalalau Valley. The Kalalau Trail, often referred to as the Nā Pali Coast Trail, is famed for being one of the most beautiful and dangerous trails in the United States.
Read more in my guide, Backpacking the Kalalau Trail, for information on what to expect when backpacking the Kalalau Trail, how to obtain a camping permit, where to camp, what to pack, and more.
Kolob Arch Via La Verkin Creek Trail, UT
For hikers looking to truly experience Zion National Park, away from tourists, planning an overnight hike is a must. Kolob Arch via La Verkin Creek Trail is a great option for hikers wanting to appreciate the beauty of Zion without the crowds.
Check out my guide, Backpacking Kolob Arch, which outlines everything you need to know in order to plan an unforgettable backpacking trip in Zion, including where to purchase overnight permits, what to expect on the trail, what to pack, and how to find Beatty Spring.
Are you gearing up for your first backpacking trip or looking to upgrade your gear? If you have any questions about gear, drop me a message in the comment section below!
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