BACKPACKING CHECKLIST: 3-SEASON GEAR LIST
Backpacking and hiking have undergone somewhat of a resurgence over the past decade, with more and more people keen to experience the outdoors and reconnect with nature. One of the main stumbling blocks for most beginners, however, is the wide selection of gear marketed to them as essential for their safety/enjoyment/comfort (delete where applicable).
So what is essential? What is necessary? What should you bring?
We have pulled together our list of items that we think are important to at least mention, and give our reasons as to whether such a piece of kit should be in your pack everytime or only in certain situations. We have also given a few recommendations here and there of products that we have used out on the trail and loved.
Lastly, if you aren’t much of a reader, you can jump straight to our printable checklist HERE.
Looking for a Backpacking Check List?
You're in the right place! In this guide we will be covering the following:
Backpacking gear has come along way over the last few decades. Gone are the 45 lbs external frame gear racks that towered over their owners head, to be replace with more compact and lightweight items thanks to modern technology and materials.
Knowing exactly what you need, whats superfluous and what is just downright useless is a complex topic to navigate. To help you out we’ve put together the following gear list for backpacking to give you an idea of what we pack for the trail, and give you our reasons why.
The backpacking gear list spreadsheet above can also be accessed (and printed/downloaded) by following this LINK HERE.
We will start out with the “Big" 4. The “Big" 4 is the term often given to the four largest/heaviest items of your gear. These will also likely make the biggest dent to your wallet, so when planning your budget it’s also a good place to start. The “Big 4” consists of:
Starting with shelter, there are several paths that can be traveled, with the traditional and most common being your standard backpacking tent. We’ve used or borrowed several models and we find the Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2 to be our favorite.
Alternatively, if you are a solo backpacker, you could try the increasingly popular trend of switching to hammock camping. Setup is a bit more involved than a traditional tent, but with practice it’ll become second nature.
Lastly, and only recommended for more experienced backpackers is taking some nylon cord and a couple of tarps and build your own shelter. This requires some more advanced knowledge (such as knots for camping), and will leave you more exposed to the elements but can significantly lighten your load.
We would always recommend choosing a backpacking sleeping bag that is rated to at least 100F colder than you will expect to experience out on the trail.
While it is possible to forgo a backpacking sleeping pad, we would not recommend it. Getting a decent night's rest is essential to be able to hit the trail again and again, day after day. Similar to the sleeping bag, choose a pad that is suited to the expected weather conditions. Our personal favorite is the Therm-a-rest NeoAir XLite.
The last of the big 4, and we would contend one of the last pieces of kit you should consider buying is your backpacking backpack. Our reasoning? We hypothesize that many backpackers will subconsciously (or consciously) fill a bag if there is still room.
We feel a better approach is to assemble the majority of your gear, then, make a determination on what size of pack you will need. We would also encourage serious backpackers to own several packs to cater for different types of trip (weekend vs several weeks, summer vs winter).
Following hotly on the heels of your four biggest pieces of kit, you should pay attention to the hiking & backpacking “10 essentials”. The history of these ‘essentials for backpacking’ can be traced back to the Mountaineers Club who around 80 years ago devised a list of items that would help you to survive a night or more, outside.
A testament to the original essential backpacking gear list it remained untouched until the early 2000s when it had a makeover to help reflect the change in times (and principally in technology). Let’s go through these backpacking necessities and discuss what to bring.
Starting with Navigation, you should always bring a map & compass, and just as importantly, be able to proficiently use them.
In addition to the map and compass, a GPS and/or altimeter can be good navigational companions. Although, don’t bring just a GPS and skimp on the map. Gadgets fail and batteries die, so having a paper map as backup is a must.
When it comes to hydration, you need something to transport the wet stuff. This can take the form of water bottles such as Nalgenes, collapsible water reservoirs or hydration bladders. Personally, I’m a big fan of the Geigerrig Hydration Engine but I know Chris loves his Platypus collapsible bottles.
Sourcing water on the trail means sterilizing and/or filtering it to get rid of nasty bugs and silt/dirt. As such, you have a decent system to sterilize your water such as the small, lightweight SteriPEN Ultra. We would also recommend taking some backup iodine tablets just in case.
To put it simply, food. You are going need a lot of calories on the trail.
Put together a backpacking meal plan for each day of your trip (plus one emergency days supply), then either purchase freeze dried camping food or prepare your own. When it comes to trail meals, we recommend that they are calorie dense and simple to prepare at camp.
In addition, to breakfast, lunch and dinner, pack calorie dense snacks to munch on the go.
Unless you are a naturalist, I would expect you would have considered clothing an essential also. When it comes to clothing in the outdoors it is best to , we’ll go into more detail on the type of clothes to pack below.
Pro Tip: Daily Meals
Pack each days meals + snacks + beverage powders into its own zip lock bag, saving you from digging around your pack every time it’s mealtime.
Unsurprisingly, shelter makes it onto this list but hopefully you have already picked out and packed your tent/hammock. That being said, an emergency blanket (like those at the end of marathons) isn’t a bad idea for emergencies.
It may be cold, and gray but if you are out all day you can still be susceptible to sunburn. Especially at higher elevations. Protect yourself with decent sunscreen, such as Sun Bum Factor 30.
A good hot weather hat and a pair of sunglasses, along with a good long-sleeved top should complete your sun protection.
There is a military saying “two is one, one is none” which in our world translates to carry a redundancy that’ll work if your first one doesn’t. As such, bring matches/lighter (in a waterproof container) but we would recommend also taking an additional emergency fire starter.
When the sun begins to dip below the horizon you’ll need someway to be able to see around camp, whether that is with a headlamp, a flashlight or a backpacking lantern. Personally, I would recommend taking a headlamp, such as the Black Diamond Storm, leaving your hands free to tackle whatever task is at hand.
This really shouldn’t need any explanation, just make sure you pack one that is fully stocked. You can either purchase a ready made one such as the Medical Kit 0.7 (or check out our guide to the best first aid kits) or building a first aid kit yourself.
If you are out on the trail for a while, things will break, tear or fray. As such you’ll need some tools to help mend items or at least hold them together till you can get to town.
This category can cover a fairly wide variety of tools/kits, but we would suggest at an absolute minimum to pack a good camping knife/multi-tool and some duct tape. After that you can add additional items, such as patch repair kits, tent pole repair splints, folding camp saw and cord.
Unless you are a naturalist, I would expect you would have considered clothing an essential also. When it comes to clothing in the outdoors it is best to apply a layering system, we’ll go into more detail on the type of clothes to pack below.
Once past your ‘ten essentials’ & your ‘big 4’, there are still plenty more gear decisions to be made. So let's take a look at what else you may (or may not) want to bring with you on the trail.
What you plan to eat throughout your trip, will have a direct impact on your cooking system. For example, I do know people who will eat nothing but cold oats and wraps just so they don’t need to carry the weight of a stove plus fuel. However, this does get boring so we would recommend the following:
The key to the clothing you pack is to minimise the amount of clothes you need with you, while maximising your protection from the elements. Knowledgeable outdoors folks use a layering system to combine complimentary clothing to do just that. Such a system is comprised of three (sometimes four in really bad weather) layers:
By removing, or adding a layer you can adequately control your body temperature (and comfort) while not weighing yourself down with lots of extra clothing.
For those warmer weather trips, we would pack the following:
If the weather is likely to be a little fresher then we would pack the following in addition to the above:
For some time now, there has been a raging argument in the outdoors community about whether hiking boots are better than hiking shoes, or even trail runners. We take the pragmatic view - it depends. Firstly, on personal preference and secondly, on the type and length of hike. However, you will need some form of footwear, so here are our recommendations:
On the organization front some of us are better than others, and others simply don’t care a jot about such things. There are of course several things that you’ll be hard pressed to have a successful trip without, including:
Pro Tip: Bring Pocket Guidebooks
Backpacking through the countryside doesn’t have to entail coming home dirty and smelling like death. A few items can make your trip much cleaner, and sanitary. We would recommend taking the following:
If the above list hasn’t put you (or your wallet) off your trip yet, there are some additional items that we would classify as anywhere between optional, depending on your own proclivities - to recommended but you can get by without. These would include:
Lastly, while travelling light (or minimalist backpacking) may make the going easier it shouldn’t stop yourself from taking along one or two “luxury” items that will make your trip more enjoyable. Remember that you are doing this for fun, not to count ounces! To give you some examples:
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In an age when everyone seems to be locked to their small blue screens, I am vehemently passionate about getting more people outside to enjoy the wonder of nature. I grew up with the outdoors on my doorstep, and when I headed off to university I picked a degree in geology that allowed me to spend a lot of time outside on field trips! Over the last 30 years, I have camped or hiked through the wilderness on 5 continents. I hope my posts are informative for both the grizzled veteran and the complete novice alike.