The Ultimate 3-5 Day Backpacking Packing List for 2019 (PLUS Backpacking Checklist PDF)
Every single time I get ready for a backpacking trip I HAVE to look at my printed out backpacking packing list to make sure I didn’t leave anything behind. You’d think that after years of practice I’d be good at just packing from memory, but you’d be surprised how often my mind fails me (👋over-active mind here!) Even though I’ve been backpacking for over 6 years now I never seem to fail to leave something off my backpacking checklist when I’m laying things out to get ready. So I just don’t risk it, and I recommend that you do the same! Always get in the habit of reviewing your backpacking gear checklist before you officially head out on a trip! I personally like to do this at least a few days in advance in case I need to go to the store to grab some extra things (like batteries, snacks, wipes… you know…)
So you’re going to get 2 core things from this post my friend:
First, I’ve created a backpacking checklist pdf that you can download and print out for your reference. It follows everything I cover in this post but in a nice condensed checklist sort of way, and it’s the ultimate backpacking gear list if I do say so myself. I used to have this gear list written on a back of some notebook paper, but thanks to this blog, I made it nice, pretty and organized. Because you’re worth it 😉.
Second, The rest of this blog post will take each of my backpacking gear list items and will break it down into the gear that I personally recommend and love using myself. So basically, this post is a look at my backpacking gear closet… my backpacking must haves so-to-speak. If you ever find yourself thinking, “What gear would Allison of She Dreams of Alpine bring backpacking?" (and I’m just going to pretend that you think that all the time), then this post is the post for you friend! It’s also totally OK if you are thinking, “I don’t know who this She Dreams of Alpine chick is, but I would like someone to give me overnight backpacking list gear recommendations!” I’ve got you covered too.
DOWNLOAD THIS EXACT BACKPACKING CHECKLIST pdf BELOW
Before you go through the post to get a glimpse at the gear I recommend for each category of backpacking items, I recommend that you download and print off my backpacking checklist for quick reference for your future backpacking trips. Just keep it close to your gear, and then you’ll always have it handy to review when packing for a trip. My backpacking checklist below is a full detailed list of what you should consider bringing with you on any backpacking trip (particularly trips in the 3-5 day range). However, I also gave you a few extras, My download includes not only a backpacking packing list, but also a tip-sheet on layering outdoors, and 25+ backpacking food ideas!
ALSO DON’T FORGET! Leave No Trace (LNT): I also want to make a quick plug here to always leave no trace when backpacking. This is well-known knowledge to my backpacking enthusiast friends here, but many of you may also be newer to backpacking and may not know the best practices when backpacking outdoors. The big thing to remember and practice with LNT is to always be sure that whatever you pack in with you that you ALWAYS PACK OUT. You bring toilet paper with you (yes), you pack your dirty toilet paper out with you (use a ziplock!). There are also some other key rules about where to camp, and where to leave your human waste, so be sure to check out the LNT website for more details if you don’t know the 7 principles.
NEW TO BACKPACKING?
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Alright, let’s get on with the backpacking checklist shall we?
My Complete Backpacking Packing List
Let’s dive in on what to pack for backpacking. The list below is broken down into the same categories as my backpacking checklist PDF. This gear list is most applicable to 3 day backpacking trips and up to 5 day backpacking trips (however, obviously 2 day would work here too). This list isn’t fully optimized for really long thru-hiking trips though, that takes a BIT more planning and coordinating, and your gear strategy will be a bit different. However, most of the gear items will still apply. This backpacking gear list usually brings me in at around 25-30 lbs with the gear that I own.
The backpacking Essentials
The backpacking essentials are some of the core items (and often the heaviest items) you’ll have in your backpack. When starting out you might feel like you can’t afford all the bits and pieces, but I want to say it’s ok to start with cheaper gear and work your way to a more optimized (and light-weight) kit as you grow as a backpacker. Just keep in mind that splurging a bit for these pieces will make the biggest overall dent in your backpacking pack weight. It’s pretty incredible how lightweight gear has gotten actually! And friends, its worth it. PLUS, all the stuff I have spent more money on has lasted me 10x times longer than the cheaper items. But just start where you are, don’t stress out too much. I just want you to keep that in mind!
1) Backpacking Backpack [Recommended Brand: Deuter 45+] (40-50L): Deuter's 45+ Liter backpacks make great first time backpacking backpacks. This was the first backpack I used when I started backpacking, and I still use it often to this day. It's very comfortable, has plenty of pockets and makes packing really simple!
2) Sleeping Pad [Recommended Brand: Therm-a-Rest] (inflatable or foam): if you've read any of my other posts, you know that the Therm-A-Rest NeoAir XTherm sleeping pad is my favorite sleeping pad. It's light weight and easy to pack. It's super comfortable (no body parts touch the ground), and it's warm! You could alternatively bring a foam pad as well.
3) Sleeping Bag [Recommended Brand: Big Agnes] (15-25 degree F): I always recommend getting a down sleeping bag if you are going to be a "serious" backpacker. If that's you, I recommend getting a 0 to 15 degree rated bag. If you will be doing more high altitude hiking, just splurge on the zero degree bag, it will be worth it. We love the Big Agnes Brand down bags, but don’t be afraid to shop around! The key here is to look for a down bag. They are warmer, weigh less, and compress down more. Check out steep and cheap for good deals!
4) Backpacking Pillow (Optional!): Personally... I never bring one! I just like to stuff the jackets and extra clothing I’m not wearing into the hood of my sleeping bag and call it a day! This works for me and saves weight in my backpack. However, if you’d really like some extra support you can go for an inflatable pillow or a compressible pillow like the Therm-a-Rest compressible Travel pillow, but I recommend trying to go without one and see how you like it!
5) Tent (or Bivvy) [Recommended Brand: Big Agnes] (go for 1-2 person): Tents can be expensive, but they are also one of the biggest items we carry as backpackers, so work your way up to affording a lighter weight tent if you can. I recommend not getting anything bigger than a 2 person tent. I have both a 2 person and a 1 person tent (I LOVE my 1 person tent!), and my favorite brand for backpacking tents is Big Agnes.
Looking for more information about the backpacking essentials? Check out these resources on my site:
backpacking navigational gear
Navigational gear is one of the top backpacking necessities in my opinion. I think every single person who hits the trails should be responsible for themselves and know how to navigate outdoors. Here’s a look at the navigation backpacking gear I personally love and recommend.
6) Map of the Trail/Area You are Backpacking [I love the National Geographic Trail Maps ] I always recommend bringing a map of some sort on your backpacking trip. Either you can find one online that describes the area you will be hiking in, or you can create one online on places like CalTOPO or even GAIA.
7) My recommendations on GPS Devices! I think this this is absolutely essential for every backpacking trip! Don’t forget to bring extra batteries for your device as well!
7a) GAIA GPS Phone App: At a bare minimum, consider getting a premium subscription to GAIA GPS App. This App allows you to download maps in advance and take them offline into the backcountry. You can record your tracks, upload tracks from online to follow (like the one I have above), and so much more with this phone app, and GAIA is offering a special discount to those who subscribe online through my link above, 20% off their normal prices. But even if you don’t use my link... please, at a minimum get a GPS phone app to help you navigate outdoors!
7b) Handheld GPS: If you hike often or go backpacking, then I highly recommend you investing in a handheld GPS. I own a Garmin 64st and LOVE this device. I take this thing with me everywhere I go. Seriously.
7c) Handheld GPS with Satellite Communicator: However, if you have a little bit more money to spend, and if I were starting over, I’d get the Garmin inReach Explorer+ which provides not only GPS tracking capabilities, but also an SOS satellite search and rescue communicator. I own the Garmin inReach mini now and I pair it with my Garmin 64st, but you can save weight by getting this all-in-one solution.
8) Compass [Recommended Brand: Suunto] It’s always good to bring a compass with you on any hiking or backpacking trip. I’ve personally rarely had to use mine, but I consider it my “3rd” line of navigation defense. (it’s always good to have redundancy in your safety systems). If you don’t know how to use a compass, also consider doing some training to learn how to use it in the backcountry!
I separate water out here as a category because water equals life. So, its pretty important. That’s why you MUST make sure you have the right backpacking gear to meet your water needs (and water treatment needs) on the trail.
9) Water Filter [Recommended Brand: Katadyn]: There are two main water filters I recommend, and I own both. I like the Katadyn Hiker Pro Microfilter and I like the SteriPen. I use the Hiker Pro more often when I backpack, but when I want something small to bring with me on hikes I will throw the SteriPen in my pack. You could also opt for a Sawyer Squeeze, which is more affordable! There are pros and cons of each of the different options.
10) Water Reservoir [Recommended Brand: Camelbak] (3 Liters): Camelbaks are awesome for backpacking! They are the easiest way to stay hydrated, and I typically always bring one with me (unless I know its going to be too cold because your straw will freeze up in freezing temperatures). I recommend getting one that has at least a 3-liter reservoir.
11) Sturdy Water Bottle [Recommended Brand: Nalgene]: Also consider bringing a Nalgene or water bottle for backup. I've had friends who had their Camelbaks start leaking part way into a backpacking trip (although, it's never happened to me personally), so I will usually pack an empty Nalgene as backup. Then, if a leak develops in my Camelbak, I can at least transfer water to the Nalgene and still be OK. Sometimes I even like to keep plain water in my Camelbak, and then I put electrolyte water in my Nalgene.
backpacking kitchen essentials
Another key piece of your backpack camping checklist are the kitchen essentials you might need.
Note: if you decide to go stoveless on your backpacking trip (which is becoming more and more popular these days), you won’t need to bring some of the backpacking gear items below with you.
12) Camping Stove [Recommended Brand: MSR] (Optional, You could go stoveless depending on what foods you bring): I love the MSR Reactor Stove System. I bought this after my Jet Boil broke down, and I like it a lot more. It works great at high altitude and takes only about 30 seconds to bring water to a boil. If you bring a stove, make sure to bring a lighter with you as well. Also, the MSR Pocket Rocket 2 is another (more affordable) backpacking stove option that I love.
13) A Small Lighter: (like a bic lighter)
14) Spork: I like these Light My Fire Sporks because you get a spoon and fork all in one. Your bases are covered.
15) Small Pocket Knife [Recommended Brand: Trango ] I love my little Trango Piranha knife. It’s super small, super light weight, and really sharp! Plus it also doubles as my bear can opener because the bottom of the knife is the perfect shape for opening up my bear canister.
16) Collapsible bowl (Optional): If you are sharing your cooking gear with another backpacking partner, then be sure to pack a bowl, and I really like the collapsible bowl options out there. However, when I am not sharing my stove, I usually just eat straight out of my MSR Reactor stove pot.
17) Small Towel (Microfiber): It will also be useful to have a small towel to wipe things down with after cooking, especially if you are sharing stoves with other people.
18) Enough Food & Snacks for your trip (I.e. Good-to-Go Meals, bars, etc): This should be slightly obvious, but make sure to pack enough food for the appropriate number of days you will be backpacking. I like to pack cliff bars, complete cookies, and lara bars for quick snacks. Good To-Go Dehydrated Dinners are some of my favorite dehydrate meals to bring on backpacking trips as well. The ingredients are great, and they are super delicious. My favorites are the Thai Curry and the Herbed Mushroom Risotto!
backpacking safety & emergency gear
When you are wondering what to pack for backpacking, safety and emergency gear should be at the top of your list. Here’s a look at what I always bring with me.
19) Headlamp [Recommended Brand: Petzl]: (PLUS extra batteries!) I pretty much don’t go anywhere without a headlamp. I have a Petzl headlamp, and it has been going strong for over 3 years now. It's also always good to pack an extra set of batteries too whenever you hike or backpack.
20) Sunscreen & Lipbalm [Recommended Brand: Joshua Tree]: This should be a no-brainer, but always wear and bring sunscreen for a hike. I really like Neutrogena brand. Just like sunscreen, it is also important to bring lip balm that has sunscreen in it on your hike. My favorite lip balm is the either the Joshua Tree brand.
21) Sunglasses [Recommended Brand: Goodr]: My favorite pair for most outdoor activities are Goodr Sunglasses. I originally bought these glasses last year when I got into trail running. I couldn't find a pair of glasses that were comfortable and would stay on my face when I was running. These finally did the trick, and now I love wearing them hiking too! They come in a bunch of great color options and the best part... they are only $25! If you want something more classic Native Eyewear is also another good choice because they have a great lifetime warranty.
22) SOS Satellite Device [Recommended Brand: Garmin] (highly recommend!) I mentioned the Garmin in Reach+ Explorer above in the navigation section (it’s both a GPS and Satellite SOS device), but I’ve linked to a second option here and that is the inReach Mini, and this is what I own (because I already had the Garmin 64st GPS before I bought a satellite device). I honestly think this is a super important piece of gear you should really work to own yourself one day. Having this could potentially save your life one day, and that is worth it my friend. Also, it’s really nice to be able to shoot my family messages like “Hello I’m at camp now,” or “Starting my day” even when I’m deep in the backcountry. There are a lot of brands out there, but I really love my Garmin devices, so that’s what I’m going to recommend here, but do your research! It’s a big purchase!
23) Emergency Rain Gear: This includes a multitude of things like a rain jacket, possibly an emergency poncho, a pack cover (or you could bring some trash bags), things like that. You definitely AT MINIMUM want to bring an emergency poncho and some trash bags! But if you are in an area that rains a lot, you may want to bring even more rain gear.
24) Backpacking First Aid Kit: Another backpacking essential item is to have is a small first aid kit to throw in your bag that has some basic first aid essentials in it, like the Lifeline Trail Light Day Hiker First Aid Kit.
25) Emergency Fire Starter: I like the Light My Fire fire starter, but you could also get some storm proof matches.
26) A Bit of Duct Tape: You never know what may need mending on the trail. You can wrap a small amount of duct tape around your trekking poles to keep handy for emergencies.
27) Bear Safety Equipment: If you plan to backpack in bear county be sure to bring the proper bear food storage (like a bear can), and potentially some bear spray (though some areas don’t allow it). The important thing here is to understand the local rules and recommendations of the area you are going backpacking. For instance, the parks that maintain a big portion of the Sierra Nevada in California require that you have a bear canister when staying overnight in the backcountry, but they do not allow bear spray. Know your area before you go.
These are the items we often forget when packing for our backpacking trip, but they are still super important!
28) Trekking Poles [Recommended Brand: Black Diamond] (snap lock, not twist lock): I love the black diamond trail pro shock trekking poles. Michael and I both have these. They have a set for women (blue) and men (red). I've owned a pair of cheaper trekking poles in the past and they break fairly easily. These are almost indestructible. I've been using the same pair for almost 5 years now, and still going strong.
29) Bug Spray or Wipes: If you have warmer weather, it’s always safe to just bring some of this just in case. I prefer the wipes for hiking and backpacking because it is lighter and easier to pack.
30) Outdoor Camera Gear [Read About Our Favorite Outdoor Adventure Photography Gear Here]: Don't forget to pack a camera or a phone to capture your backpacking trip! You can read our post on the Outdoor Adventure Photography Gear we use if you want details on the cameras we recommend for outdoor photography, but also you can't go wrong these days with your phone camera either. Your choice!
31) Small External Battery (and Cord): (if needed!) If you plan to use your phone a lot during your backpacking trip, it might be worth packing a backup battery and charging cord. Especially if you are going to use it as a camera AND GPS.
32) A Photo ID, A Bit of Cash, & a Credit Card: I always bring a small zip lock bag and keep my photo ID, a credit card, and about $20 of cash with me on every backpacking trip. I’ve never needed it, but sometimes I think, what if an emergency happened and I had to exit a different trailhead than I expected to. At least this way I could pay someone to help me get to town. Also, maybe consider writing a few emergency numbers down on a sticky note to bring with you... because if your anything like me, you probably don’t have them memorized. Back when I was a kid we used to have every number memorized... but alas, those days are over, we’ve become very reliant on our phones (which could die on us in the backcountry).
33) Printed Out Permit: Make sure to print out anything you need in advance, like your permit for instance (if your backpacking trail requires one). You might also want to consider printing out any special trail details needed or weather forecasts.
Another essential piece to your must have backpacking gear is your backcountry toiletry kit! I usually like to put my “kit” of toiletry backpacking items inside of a lightweight stuff sack for easy grab-and-go when needed.
34) A Lightweight Backpacking Trowel: Your human waste needs to be buried (at least 6-8 inches deep!), and the easiest way to do this is with a backpacking trowel! I love the Deuce of Spades trowel, its super lightweight and durable!
35) A Pee Rag [Recommended Brand: Kula Kloth]: (optional) We’ve already discussed in the LNT section how you can’t leave your toilet paper behind, so why waste more by using it to go number 1? Use a pee rag instead. There are a few products out there that anti-microbial fabric (Kula Cloth is a personal fave). Simply do your business then use the cloth instead of toilet paper. Then attach the cloth to the bag and let it dry in the sun. The sun and anti-microbial fabric work together to keep the cloth clean.
36) Biodegradable Wipes or Toilet Paper: So my personal go-tocombo is usually the Kula Kolth for going number 1, and biodegradable wipes for the rest, but you can bring toilet paper here instead as well. (but don’t forget to pack them out!). Bonus of bringing the wipes is that I can also use a clean wipe to wipe my body down in the mornings to feel a bit more fresh.
37) Ziplock Bags: (to carry out your waste)
38) Hand Sanitizer: To keep those hands clean of course! Just because we are dirtier when we go backpacking doesn’t mean we want to get sick and spread germs.
Looking for more information about the backpacking hygiene? Check out these resources on my site:
Inside of my backpacking checklist pdf I have a Layering 101 cheatsheet that goes a little more in-depth on layering essentials. Learning to layer properly in the outdoors is an essential skill, and you’ll learn this as you go on more trips. Here are some of the basics though to consider bringing with you.
Also as you go through my clothing backpacking list below you might start to complain to me that all my recommendations are mostly Patagonia brand (which I know, is expensive). However, I love this brand, and think their clothing makes some of the best backpacking gear. Their quality is fantastic, their gear is built to last (and they will repair it!), the company has excellent values and values not only the product they are creating, but also their customers... and their gear was built with the outdoors-person in mind. So I’m a big fan. Most of my Patagonia gear is going on 7+ years strong still. So... you get a lot of value out of it.
42) Wool Socks [Recommended Brand: Darn Tough]: (at minimum 2 pairs!) Always at minimum bring 2 pairs of socks, and I highly recommend getting wool socks. Why are socks important? Having dry feet is one of the key ways to prevent getting blisters on a hike. So if you are hiking and start noticing your feet are sweaty, take some time to swap your socks, and let the sweaty pair hang off of your pack to dry. I am a big fan of the Darn Tough Wool Socks, but you could also go for Smart Wool Socks. I like them both.
43) Hiking Boots [Recommended Brand: Ahnu]: You'll be surprised to know that I don’t actually feel passionate one way or another about a particular brand of boots or hiking shoe. I go back and forth between my Ahnu hiking boots (which I love), my 5.10 Guide Tennis (better for technical trips), and trail running shoes. The important thing here is to find a solution that works best for you and that doesn’t give you a lot of hot spots. Also, if you have trouble with your ankles, you may want to go for a boot with ankle support.
44) Upper Lightweight, Breathable Base Layer [Recommended Brand: Patagonia]: The first upper layer you wear should be lighter, depending on the weather. You could wear a t-shirt or tank top, but these days I like wearing a light weight long sleeve like Patagonias Lightweight Capilene Shirts. It helps to protect me from the sun and they are super breathable.
45) Upper Mid Layer [Recommended Brand: Patagonia]: (synthetic or fleece) Mid layers are usually like a lighter but breathable jacket. My go-to mid layer is my old purple Patagonia Nano Puff. I've had mine for about 8 year now, and it has a few rips in it, but it is still going strong!
46) Upper “Heavier” Layer [Recommended Brand: Patagonia]: (down) If the weather looks like it could be extra cold, or if you know the summit temps or night time temps might turn really cold, consider packing a heavier down jack. I'm not talking mountaineering down jacket, that’s for another post, but I usually pack my thicker Patagonia Down Sweater Jacket.
47) Upper Waterproof/Wind Layer [Recommended Brand: Patagonia]: (like a hardshell) It is also smart to pack a rain coat or poncho for bad weather (even if you don’t expect bad weather you should always at minimum bring a poncho). I usually pack my Patagonia Alpine Houdini Jacket because it is super light weight, wind and rain resistant. I don’t think Patagonia sells the Alpine Houdini anymore, but they do sell the Houdini. However, if you’re backpacking in areas that rain a lot, it might be worth getting a more “Sturdy” rain jacket than the Houdini.
48) Hiking Pants: (breathable and quick drying) As nerdy looking as they may seem, a nice light weight, breathable pair of hiking pants are awesome! I usually only bring 1 pair of pants for 3-5 day backpacking trips. Sometimes I might bring a pair of shorts to wear in my sleeping bag at night that are really light weight.
49) Lower Body Thermals: (wool) If you know your trip is going to be colder, make sure to bring a pair of thermal wool pants as well.
50) Beanie: Pack a beanie to keep your head warm if it is cold out! I love the Carhartt beanies, functional and inexpensive
51) Hat: I also like to bring a hat with me on hikes to keep the sun out of my face, and usually my hair is a bit ridiculous from camping, so hats cover that up!
52) Gloves: If it is cold enough, consider bringing some gloves with you!
53) Extra Undies: And last but not least my friends, fresh undies for each day backpacking for the win! That’s my number one hygiene tip!
DON’T FORGET! DOWNLOAD A PRINTABLE VERSION OF THE ABOVE BACKPACKING PACKING LIST BELOW:
Have any other favorite essential backpacking gear items you recommend and want to share with others? Let me know what you LOVE in the comments below, and why gear you consider a must-have!
Looking for even more backpacking related tips? Check out these articles on the site!
Allison - She Dreams of Alpine