Backpacking Gear List

The balance between too much and not enough is a delicate one. One shirt or two shirts? Three or five liters of water? How many layers should I bring? The list could go on, but they all go back to the same foundation: determining how much is too much. This is something that I still wonder about when I prepare to go camping in the wilderness. However, after having experience bringing too much and too little of different items, I hope to offer several suggestions to help you avoid the same mistakes that I made.

Water #

To start, let’s talk about the liquid of life, water. To determine the quantity of water to haul in your bag you will need to know a little about the trail that you will be backpacking (quite frankly this is something that you should know about even before you start packing). If there are sources of water that you will pass while traveling then you can bring a lot less water, perhaps around two liters at a time. This will require you to have some method of filtering/purifying your water but is preferable to taking more in your pack. If there are no sources of water on your trip then you only have the option of carrying lots of water with you.

When planning how much water you need there are a few factors to take into account. First is the length of your adventure which will effect all other factors. In addition, the meals you plan will also impact the need for water. Many backpacking meals require boiling water to cook so make sure you read the instructions before you head out. The last thing to remember is that you will want to drink at least two liters a day, much more if the trail is strenuous or the day is hot.

Food #

The next most important thing to consider after hydration when packing is food. In order the thrive in the backcountry you will need fuel to keep you going. I have more details in my article on food so I won’t go too in-depth right now. Essentially, bring food that tastes good, is lightweight, and is easy to make. As far as snacks go, take high-calorie foods that won’t take up too much space. Along with the actual food, make sure that you have something to cook and eat with. A small isobutane canister that you can screw a little stove onto is what I would recommend. That’s what I use and it works wonderfully. I always bring a pot to boil water, a spork, a knife, and a cup/bowl when backpacking. These are usually all that will be needed to prepare and eat most meals.

Shelter #

After food and water, shelter is the next need to take care of. (Maslow’s hierarchy of needs anyone?) Because space is limited, choose something that isn’t too bulky and won’t weigh you down. There are tents made specifically for backpacking, but unfortunately most of these cost a small fortune. If it isn’t supposed to be rainy or windy, a simple tarp works great and won’t be hard to carry with you. If you feel the need for a tent, however, look for one under five pounds and between $100-150. This will provide you with a solid, entry-level backpacking tent.

For Sleeping #

I’ve talked about sleeping bags and pads in my Camping Gear List article, but there are a few more things specific to backpacking which are important to note. For your own sake, avoid dragging along one of those big, heavy, rectangular sleeping bags. These are comfy to be sure, but an 8+ pound sleeping bag is simply not practical. The time of year you go will determine which sleeping bag/pad combination to use. Late Spring and early Fall are my favorite times to backpack because both the daytime and nighttime temperatures are usually very comfortable.

Clothing #

The final things to pack are your clothes. For me, this is the hardest part to decide on because of how subjective it is. On my backpacking trips, I generally take an extra change of clothing for every two days. Often I will have fewer pants/shorts than other articles of clothing but clothing for two days is a good rule of thumb to follow.

After that, it is up to you to decide what else you want to bring. Try to keep your pack between 25 and 30 pounds, that’s a pretty good weight to carry. This leads us to the final question, how are you going to transport all of this stuff? Simple answer: a backpack. To be more specific, make sure you have a padded waist belt and that you know how to adjust it to fit right. Most of the weight should be on your hips, not your shoulders. A 60-liter pack should provide plenty of room for everything on shorter trips (one to three days). Plus if you decide that backpacking is one of your new favorite activities, you probably end up spending more money on smaller and lighter gear! That means your bag will have more and more room for other things as you upgrade your gear. (Side note, just because you have room for stuff doesn’t mean that you have to fill it. In fact, having lots of room after you pack everything is a sign of effective packing and planning, be proud of your extra space!).

So go out and have an adventure! Get lost in the wilderness (but not too lost so you can find your way back eventually)!