Basic Backpacking Checklist

Backpacking, Hiking, and Camping Gear Checklist

More and more people from all walks of life and all cultures are heading outdoors: Backpacking, Hiking, Camping, Glamping, Boating, Skiing, Mountaineering. For the beginner outdoor enthusiast, we suggest backpacking as your entry point.

Backpacking is a fun adventure. Backpacking blended with hiking and camping is an experience you will seek to have over and over again – if you are adequately prepared. When backpacking in backcountry environments it is imperative that you have the proper size backpack that can carry all of life’s essentials for the duration of you adventure. You must choose those essentials with care.

Preparation tips for your first backpacking trip:

  1. Choose an easy destination: Short overnight hikes close to home are best.
  2. Acquire essential gear and clothing: Borrow and scrounge gear to save money.
  3. Plan your meals: Just-add-water meals can be found on Deep Outside Gear or you can find easy to cook options (just add hot water) at regular grocery stores. Pack a load of snacks for trail fuel as well.

Prepare for your trip: Make sure you are in good enough physical condition to hike the distance to your destination and back with a fully loaded backpack. Check to see if you will need permits to camp and secure them before departure. And remember – leave Mother Nature just as you found it. We will publish the Leave No Trace principles in a later article.  

While planning your trip seek out a friend who is an experienced backpacker. This person can show you the ropes. You can of course learn everything you need to know from this and other articles and take off for your adventure on you own. Being a safety first company, however, we advise you to go with a friend or family member your first time. It is safer and more enjoyable.

  1. Thoughtfully Choose your Backpacking/Hiking Route and Camping Destination



Build up to harder hiking routes. For beginners, erring on the side of easily doable is key. Similar to starting to run long distance - if you take off at a fast pace and try to run 5 miles, it’s going to be a miserable experience and more than likely you will be reluctant to do it again.  

The following tips will help when you decide where to go backpacking for the first time:

  • Talk with experienced backpackers or visit backpacking websites and blogs for relevant information.  There are hundreds of backpacking blogs ( can also find Hiking Guidebooks at your local outdoor stores.
  • Pick some place close to your home. You don’t want to spend the day driving to your destination only to arrive late, hike to your camping destination, and have to pitch your camp in the dark.
  • Plan for hiking just a few miles roundtrip: Adjust the distance you plan to hike based on your fitness and considering the weight of a fully packed backpack. Plan to hike a shorter distance than you would on a typical day hike.  
  • Gage the elevation: Mileage or distance is one part of the equation. The other is elevation. Choose a trial with less elevation gain than you would with a lighter backpack.
  • Choose a quasi-popular trail and frequented campsite: It’s safer to have hikers and campers close enough to give you a hand if you run into difficulties.
  • Pitch camp near water: Camping near lakes or large rivers is a good place to start. Springs and streams dry up so be sure to double check with park rangers or local land managers before setting out.
  • Consider making your first trip without Bozwell or Fido: Though they can both be great fun and add a level of security, their presence can complicate matters.
  • Plan a summer trip: Unless your destination is in a heat or fire danger zone, try to go in mid-summer to maximize daylight hours and the odds of comfortable backpacking and camping conditions. Always check weather forecasts. Cancel or turn back if a storm moves in.


                                          SHOP WEATHER STATIONS


  • Consider “walk-in” campgrounds: Some state and national parks have campgrounds that are within a mile or so of a car campground. Staying in one of them is an excellent way to transition into backpacking.


2. Acquire Essential Backpacking Gear and Clothing

Keep your initial investment low by borrowing or renting the more costly gear: tent, sleeping bag and pad. Because your personal gear (boots, backpack, etc.) must fit well, you should purchase your own.


Backpacking gear to bring with you.

When planning what to pack remember you have to carry your packed gear. Because you have to carry and fit it all into your pack, backpacking gear should be lightweight and compact. The following are essential items you'll need for any backpacking trip. Remember that if you are backpacking with a friend, you’ll split some gear between you:

Tent: If there are two of you backpacking, plan to share a tent. A two-person tent weighs less and is more economical than two one-person tents. Search for a three seasons tent (spring, summer and fall) rather than a four-season tent.

Shop Backpacking Tents 

Backpack: If you rent or borrow a backpack, load it up with about 30 pounds of gear or whatever is laying around and take it for a spin. Make sure it fits your body comfortably and take it out on a long test hike.  If it’s comfortable on the hips and in the shoulders and doesn’t hurt your back, it’s probably fine for your first backpacking trip. If you decide to purchase your own backpack, have the salesclerk measure your torso so they can properly fit you. Do not buy an ultralight pack for your first time out. Ultralight packs have less padding and a less supportive structure. If you’re determined to minimize weight, look first at ultralight tents, sleeping bags and sleeping pads.

Shop Backpacking Packs 

Sleeping bag: If you decide to purchase your own sleeping bag, Google the pros and cons of down fill versus synthetic fill, especially in terms of the weather conditions you’re likely to encounter. For the first sleeping bag, synthetic is a good choice. Synthetic bags are versatile and generally more affordable than down.

Sleeping pad: You do not want to experience discomfort when trying to sleep. Cushioning and insulation are imperative for a restful warm night’s sleep outside. If you purchase your own sleeping pad, consider the pros and cons of each type:

  • closed-cell foam pads
  • insulated air pads
  • self-inflating pads.

If you prefer to sleep on a super-firm surface, choose a closed-cell pad. It is less expensive and costs less. A self-inflating sleeping pad is a good compromise between comfort and value.

Camp Stove: A single-burner camp stove that weighs less than a pound is adequate for your first backpacking adventure. If you purchase a camp stove, consider fuel types first: 

  • Gas Fuel
  • Liquid Fuel
  • Solid Fuel Tablets
  • Twigs
  • Alcohol

and then choose a stove. Many beginners choose a gas-canister stove because they are less expensive and easy to use. Be sure to pack a full canister or bottle of the right type of fuel for your stove.

Shop Backpacking Stoves 

Water Treatment: Water sources can hide microscopic things you’d wish you had not drunk. The rule of thumb is to treat all water while you are out in the wild. You can pack a water filter, but you can also pack tablets or drops that you add to your bottle to purify water. It is an ultralight and simple option for your first trip.

Shop Water Treatment 

Kitchen supplies: Stay mindful of the weight increase and pack only essential pots, pans, plates, cups, and utensils so that you can cook and eat each of your planned meals. Pack a small sponge and some biodegradable soap for washing dishes (well away from camp and water sources). A tiny towel also helps.

Shop Camp Cookware 


What Clothes to Bring Backpacking

Do not concern yourself with expensive “hiking clothes” at this point. Fitness outfits, clothing that wicks moisture, and quick-drying fabrics like nylon and polyester will work just fine. Moisture-wicking fabric pulls sweat away from skin to keep you dryer. Wet or even damp cotton takes a long time to dry. In the interim you will feel clammy and cold, or worse, experience hypothermia. Misery upon misery.

Group your backpacking clothing into layers:

Base Layers are worn next to your skin (think Long Johns). Remember that it can be nice and warm during the day only to have temperatures drop in the evening.  

Hiking Layers (e.g., Nylon pants that can be rolled up or zipped off): T-shirts, sun skirts, sun hats.  

Insulation: Puffy jacket or vest, lightweight fleece pullover, warm hat, gloves.  

Rainwear: Definitely bring a waterproof/breathable jacket; if the weather forecast calls for real rainy conditions, carry along rain pants. Note that rainwear also prevents mosquito bites.

Layering is sound practice. Layering lets you quickly adapt to changing conditions (e.g., taking a jacket off when it gets warm and putting it back on when temperatures start to drop. Layering also enables you to put together an adaptable clothing defense against storms that move in suddenly, bringing cold and rainy weather.

You could use a pair of non-cotton athletic tights or yoga pants for hiking pants. We advise against it because tights/yoga pants do not offer pockets for quick access nor will they protect you against brush stags or rock abrasions.  They make a much better base layer.

Click the link below to learn more about how to choose backpacking clothes by watching Clever Hiker’s video:  Backpacking Clothing 101


What Shoes to Bring Backpacking

Your feet are crucial to a successful backpacking trip. Hence, footwear is your most important item. Some backpackers prefer supportive over-the-ankle boots, while others prefer lightweight trail running shoes. If concerned about protecting your ankle with more support, purchase a pair of over-the-ankle hiking boots.

Before you set out on your adventure, make sure your shoes or boots are broken-in. Wear wool or synthetic socks (no cotton socks) and bring an ultralight pair of shoes or water sandals for wearing around camp (also good for crossing creeks).

3. Plan Your Backpacking Food

For an overnight backpacking trip, plan for dinner, breakfast, and a couple of lunches. Freeze-dried backpacking food is your lightest and easiest option (just add boiling water) for entrees, but it’s also pricey. Save money by going to the grocery store instead. You won’t have a cooler, so perishable things like fresh eggs can’t be on the menu.

Avoid canned food (too heavy) and try to accurately project how much you’ll eat because an excessive amount food adds weight and bulk to your pack. You need some extra food, though—enough for an added day in the wilds. Here are some specific meal-planning tips for your first backpacking trip:

Dinner: Look for all-in-one meals such as packaged noodle or rice entrees. Boxed meals can be removed and placed in a plastic bag for easier packing.

Lunches and snacks: Bring high-calorie, high-protein energy bars and trail mix to munch on during the day because backpacking burns a lot of metabolic fuel. Keep thing simple by making lunch a trailside affair with ample snacks and a longer rest. Other backpacking lunch options include bagels, jerky, dried fruit, and nuts.

Breakfast: This can range from a cooked entrée (pancakes anyone?) to hot oatmeal from a mix to two or three breakfast bars. You have to weigh the advantages of starting your day warmed up and fueled up versus hitting the trail earlier. If you can’t go without your caffeinated beverage, your simplest option is an instant coffee mix or tea bags.

Wildlife Precautions: On the trail follow common-sense measures like keeping a respectful distance away from animals and taking care not to come between large mammals and their young. At night, secure all food and scented personal products well away from camp. Often this is done by putting everything in a spare stuff sack and then using some nylon cord to hang it from a high a tree branch. You can also use a bear canister to secure things, even if the main concern is rodents stealing your food.

Basic Backpacking Checklist

We’ve talked about major items above, but that’s not all you need to carry. There’s no convenience store nearby, so you need a way to be sure you have all essential gear in your pack. Use the checklist below to be sure you have everything for your trip, then use it again to check off items as you load your backpack:


❒ Backpacking Tent          ❒ Backpack          ❒ Rain Cover     ❒ Sleeping Bag

❒ Sleeping Pad                ❒ Stuff Sack          ❒ Headlamp       ❒ Navigation

❒ Water Filter or Purifier  ❒ First Aid Kit        ❒ Repair Kit        ❒ Fire starter

❒ Knife or multitool          ❒ Water Bottles or Reservoir             ❒ Extra batteries

❒Strips of duct tape (for emergency repairs)

FOOTWEAR AND CLOTHING (all quick-drying fabrics; no cotton)

❒ Hiking Boots or Shoes ❒ Hiking Socks       ❒ Hiking Pants   ❒ T-shirt

❒ Long-Underwear top & bottom              ❒ Baselayers

❒ Down or Synthetic Jacket               ❒ Rain jacket and pants

❒ Hiking Shirt(s) long sleeve or pullover

❒ Sandals (optional for around camp or crossing streams)


❒ Small towel    ❒ Meals & Snacks   ❒Backpacking Stove, Fuel, and Lighter     

❒ Extra food (one day’s worth)

❒ Cookware, bowls, and utensils

❒ Stuff sack or large plastic bag (for stowing food at night)

❒ 50’ of nylon cord (to hang food from a tree branch)


❒ Personal Hygiene Items     ❒ Pack Towel or Handkerchief      ❒ Whistle

❒ Sunscreen and Lip Balm      ❒ Insect Repellant            ❒ Book or Kindle

❒ Bear Spray (if necessary)  ❒ Toilet paper     ❒ Personal Tracking Device

❒ Trowel for burying waste   ❒ Hand sanitizer       ❒ Menstrual products

❒ Plastic bags (for used products) ❒ Toothbrush & biodegradable toothpaste


❒ Trekking Poles                  ❒ Camera                                      ❒ Sunglasses

❒ Beanie and Gloves            ❒ Backpacking Chair                    ❒ Compass

❒ Permits (if required)   ❒ Route description/guidebook

❒ Cellphone (with battery strategy & waterproof case)

❒ Whistle (repeat a series of 3 blasts if you get lost)

❒ Keys, license, credit card, cash

❒ Trip itinerary (leave it with a friend or relative).

Tip: Grab your checklist when you get home from your trip. As you unpack, make notes about what worked well and what didn’t work so well. After a few trips doing this, you’ll have a checklist that’s customized for you.