Outdoor Life

What to bring backpacking

By Ryan Walters
Info Guru, Catalogs.com

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hiker in Arches National Park, Utah
What to bring backpacking depends on whether you’ll be gone a day, a weekend or a week.
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A good rule is to pack to what you think you will need. Remember, if you don't need it, it's just extra weight you have to carry

Here are some suggestions for gear, food and clothing you might need when you are going backpacking. Obviously, the amount of clothing, food and water is determined by the length of your planned hike. But for a typical 2-3 day hike, the following list is a good guideline per person.

All the equipment that you will need is readily available from discount stores, one of the many online catalogers or local outdoors stores.
  • Backpack - Make sure you have a decent one and it fits properly. The size depends upon on how much you plan to bring with you, including extras such as cameras, etc and your body size. Remember that the pack will be much heavier filled than it is in the store, so choose a lightweight frame. Find a backpack with multiple points of support (shoulders, back, waist) rather than one that just hangs off your shoulders. Make sure the pack does not press on your spine or hip bones.

  • Sleeping Bag - even if it seems warm outdoors, the temperature can drop considerably in the evening hours, so bring a warm one. There are super-thin, super light bags available now – a great choice to keep the weight down without sacrificing warmth.

  • Foam or Inflatable Sleeping Pad (to insulate you from the ground) - they're not very expensive and you can pick one up at most discount stores and outdoor stores

  • One pair of lightweight hiking boots. Make sure they fit well, and break them in completely BEFORE you start your trip!

  • Extra pair of running shoes/moccasins to wear around camp. These are a great choice if you tend to get blisters and need to get your boots off for a while.

  • 2-3 pairs of lightweight/polypropylene/synthetic liner socks (these help prevent blisters as the friction will be between the socks and not your feet.)

  • 2-3 pairs of wool hiking socks to keep your feet warm, dry, and comfortable. DO NOT BRING COTTON SOCKS as they do not dry quickly and there is nothing worse than having cold, wet feet!

  • 2 sets of underwear Choose silk if possible, as it is light, dries quickly and folds compactly.

  • One pair long pants, loose fitting, made of a silk or synthetic blend. NO blue jeans or cotton sweat pants, as these are bulky and do not dry quickly.

  • One pair lightweight polypropylene long underwear bottoms

  • Nylon pants or rain pants and at least a long rain jacket or poncho This is very important even if it hasn't rained in weeks or you're hiking in the desert!

  • 2 T-shirts

  • Lightweight polypropylene shirt

  • Wool sweater or fleece jacket - depending on weather

  • Two 1-quart bottles or canteens of water (MUST HAVE!!)

  • Water purification supplies - Whether you choose tablets or a ceramic purification unit, make sure you have some way to make water safe for cooking and drinking. A case of girardia is enough to spoil any hiking trip!

  • Mess Kit (or whatever you plan to eat and cook with) plus a Brillo or similar scrubbing pad, and a biodegradable liquid soap that can clean both dishes and clothes.

  • Flashlight with new alkaline batteries and spare batteries (Alkaline last longer)

  • Toilet kit - personal care items in small sizes. Choose biodegradable soaps, shampoos and such to avoid contaminating streams and lakes.

  • First aid kit – be sure to include bandages and moleskins for blisters, antibiotic cream, a wrap for sprains, basic medications, anti-itch cream, and a good first aid book.


  • Emergency supplies – whistle, mirror, cell phone with extra battery or solar charger, space blanket, two or three high-calorie food bars, collapsible cup, and a small flashlight. Put your emergency supplies in a separate plastic zipper bag so you can access them quickly, and grab them if you needed to leave the rest of your gear behind quickly.

  • Folding pocket knife - make sure it's sharp

  • Heavy duty garbage bags (don't bring the whole box because it is extra weight.... just get a few and stick them in your pack. Perfect for emergency shelter, a makeshift raincoat or clean water collection if your water supply runs low.

  • 1-2 man tent - (these are the lightest)

  • Map - Make sure it's a current one. Choose a topographic map if at all possible, and then learn how to read it before you go. It's also better if it's plastic coated. Everyone in the group should have a map with main points and trails marked on it in case you become separated

  • A good compass—just in case you need one!

  • Mosquito Net – you never know what little annoying insects might find their way into your tent

  • Rope -For clothesline, repairs, emergencies, and hanging food up high (if in bear country)

  • Backpacking stove, fuel and waterproof matches

  • Food - Food items that are easy to carry and are non perishable include specially made freeze-dried camping foods (available online or in any outdoors store), cereal and powdered milk, instant coffee. tea bags, peanut butter in a tube, trail mix, dried apples, beef jerky, instant rice and instant soup and whatever else appeals to you and is easy to transport. Carry food in zipper bags rather than boxes or cans whenever possible to reduce weight and size. Make sure you'll have access to enough water to re-hydrate your instant or dried food…freeze dried stew is not an appetizing choice without the water!

  • Sunglasses

  • Notebook and pen/pencil (optional)

  • Digital camera or traditional camera and film (optional)
    Make on-the-go snacks easier by using a fanny pack - it will allow you to easily access, maps, snacks, and other small things while you're walking without having to remove your backpack.

    The choice of what to bring backpacking should be a combination of safety, weight and size. Be sure not to skimp on water, maps and shelter to keep your hiking experience safe and enjoyable.

    Pack everything into the best backpack you can afford, with clothing and other soft items against your back, and heavy items near the bottom of the pack. Use a list to guide you for your first few hikes. Once you've gained experienced on the trail, you'll develop your own idea of what to bring backpacking to make your time in the backcountry a wonderful get-away.

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