The Ultimate Backpacking Checklist Every Hiker Should Have
What you’re going to take with you is a delicate and important part of prepping for your backpacking trip. It’s incredibly easy to be on your way only to remember that you left that one critical thing behind. I certainly know I hate it when that happens.
To help reduce the chances of you making that fatal error, we’re going to provide a backpacking checklist for your use. All you need, really, is a little organization - good for the mind, body, and soul. Our backpacking checklist will be your go-to guide for perfect packing order.
Table of Contents
- What Goes Into a Backpacking Checklist?
- The Necessities of Backpacking
- 1. Hiking Backpack
- 2. Sleeping Bag
- 3. Shelter
- 4. Food
- 5. A Multitool
- 6. First Aid Supplies
- 7. Hand Sanitizer
- 8. Lights
- 9. Fire Starters
- 10. Hydration
- 11. Sun Protection
- 12. Navigation
- 13. Change of Clothes
- 14. Toiletries
- 15. Insect Repellant
- 16. Whistle
- 17. Sleep Masks and Earplugs
- 18. Survival Knife
- 19. Rope
- 20. Itineraries
- Always Look Out for Your Safety First
What Goes Into a Backpacking Checklist?
For the most part, we’re going to be providing the essentials of what you’ll need while backpacking. While the title may say backpacking, that goes far beyond just a walkabout on the mountain. If you’re only planning for a daylong excursion, then you can pack lightly. For a multi-day trip, however, you’re going to need to be a little more prepared.
Will you still need shelter? Absolutely, that’s a given. Will you need a large tent to bring with you? Probably not, even if you’re backpacking with other people. As comfortable as large tents are, they’re also heavy and will weigh you down.
Weight is the biggest issue here, really. The more you pack, the harder it will be to walk and move. Considering it’s a backpacking trip, that’s going to be a pain once you get going. Your scripture is to pack light. You may not even need to take everything on this list if you think it’ll only slow you down.
The Necessities of Backpacking
That’s the most you can hope for is bringing only necessities. If you bring anything you wind up not needing, then it’ll only be dead weight. Therefore, our list is going to comprise of the most essentials you’ll need for a backpacking checklist.
1. Hiking Backpack
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Alright, this one’s obvious, but we did say we’d be listing ALL the essentials. That includes a backpack. While you’re here, why don’t you take a look at the backpack you already have? If it’s looking worn, raggedy, and starting to lose its padding, it may be time to get a new one.
There are plenty of excellent choices on the market to pick from, especially anything from Teton Sports.
2. Sleeping Bag
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Sleeping on the ground isn’t comfortable, and nights can get pretty cold. A good sleeping bag will afford you some protection from both of these.
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There are all kinds of selections you can choose from when it comes to shelter. We’d recommend getting a one-person tent, or at max two, so you aren’t lugging around shelter that’s too heavy. Everyone carrying their own weight makes it easier on the pack as a whole.
We recommend tents such as the 1.5 to 1.75 pounds of food or the Snugpak Ionosphere. They’re lightweight, compact, and easy to carry. Always make sure to check how heavy each tent is before you make any final decisions.
Unless you plan on hunting for your own food, which we don’t recommend, you need to pack some to take with you. How much you pack will be dependent on how many days you spend backpacking. As a rule of thumb, you should pack between 1.5 to 1.75 pounds of food per day.
However, though you may only need that much, always pack extra. There are always possible unforeseen circumstances that delay your return to civilization. If that should happen and you only packed the minimum, you’re going to go hungry for a day. That’s dangerous.
Extra energy snacks are also great to have while you’re moving. This includes chewable gels, nutrient bars, and drink mixes to keep your energy high. So long as you’re moving, you want to stave off exhaustion as much as you can.
Included with food will be other food preparation and preservation equipment. You’ll need a camping stove, a pot to cook and boil water with, utensils, and fuel. Make sure to bring a bear bag or canister to prevent unwanted animals from wandering in on your campsite in search for your food.
5. A Multitool
Whether you call it a multitool or a Swiss Army Knife, you need one of these handy tools with you for any number of reasons. They’re extremely small and lightweight, enough so they won’t really add any excess baggage to the journey.
Be sure to bring some duct tape with you as well. If your tent or sleeping bag gets a hole, you’ll want it for a patch job until you get back home.
6. First Aid Supplies
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If you get injured, the longer you wait before treating it will only make the injury worse. In the meantime, before heading back into civilization, a first aid kit can mean repairing an open wound, preventing infection, or setting a broken bone. For the most part, here are the basics of what you’ll need for a proper first aid kit.
These should cover most minor emergencies until you can reach a medical professional. Having a pen or pencil on hand to write down all the emergency information is also important to keep any medical personnel informed.
7. Hand Sanitizer
Whether you’re addressing an injury, walking back from the bathroom, or preparing food, cleaning your hands is a must. You may not have immediate access to clean water, and you don’t want to waste what you have. Hand sanitizer is an excellent dry way to sanitize your hands for any circumstance.
Flashlights, lamps, and headlamps are helpful for navigating in the dark and to make camp. Make sure to pack an extra set of batteries in case one of your available light sources goes dead.
9. Fire Starters
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Whether it be matches, a lighter, or butane torch, you need an effective way of starting a campfire. True, you can go old-fashioned and whittle a spark out of sticks, but that’s more trouble than it’s worth usually. Making sure you can reliably start a fire is essential when setting up camp.
Bringing materials, such as petroleum jelly and emergency kindling, to help start the fire is recommended. However, you should still be able to start one without extra aid, unless the forest is unusually damp.
Humans can go 40 days without eating food and live. Without water, they can live for three. Making sure you’re properly hydrated throughout the entirety of your backpacking excursion is vital for maintaining your health and strength.
As a reminder, dipping your water bottle into any nearby creek isn’t a great idea. While you may end up being fine, you’re exposing yourself to a variety of contaminants that can make you ill. There are many filtration water bottles on the market that filter out anything harmful. In an emergency, you can also use zinc oxide tablets.
11. Sun Protection
You may be under the boughs of the forest all day, but that doesn’t mean you’re protected from UV radiation. You’ll need to make sure you prepare countermeasures so you don’t end up damaging your skin. Products such as sunscreen, sunglasses, and chapstick are excellent ways to protect yourself.
While you’ll probably end up bringing your phone with you, you can’t rely on it to find your way around the wilderness. Electronic devices are prone to failure, either by damage or running out of juice.
Instead, bring a compass, map, and altimeter watch with you to ensure you have a bearing on your surroundings. Cell phones are great for emergencies, and you can bring charging batteries and solar panels to keep them charged, but that’s extra baggage you don’t need.
For emergencies, a GPS device can help you get a firm grasp on where you are. They run on batteries, but chances are you won’t constantly be using them, so they should last the whole trip. Again, this isn’t a device to rely on, as there are areas across the world where GPS doesn’t function.
13. Change of Clothes
While you can end up wearing the one set of clothes you have the whole three days, as you probably should, there are other articles you should pack. For instance, an extra pair or two of socks is a necessity to protect your feet. Your other clothes will be fine, but if you’re going to be walking around for three days, then you need more socks. Extra underwear is also a good idea.
Depending on the climate, there are other things to bring as well. A raincoat or poncho in case of a downpour is recommended, as well as a ground cloth and plastic sheeting to keep your equipment dry. A fleece hat, rain gloves, and glove liners are good to keep your hands warm. A brimmed hat is also recommended, both for sun and rain protection.
For sleeping, you may want to consider bringing a sleeping pad to prevent direct contact with the ground. A quilt, especially in the colder months, is encouraged to keep yourself warm at night.
Hygiene is still important. While you’ll probably be able to get away without shampoo, your teeth are a different matter. Toothbrushes and toothpaste don’t take up a lot of room or weight anyway. Bring that as well as deodorant to maintain a sufficient level of hygiene for the whole trip.
If you have any necessary personal medication, pack those either with the first aid kit or with your toiletries.
15. Insect Repellant
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Bugs are always going to be an issue. To ward off the onslaught of flies, mosquitoes, and ticks, bug spray is a requirement on any backpacking checklist. Not only will you be able to protect yourself, spraying down your tent will provide protection overnight as well.
Whistles are excellent modes of communication, whether it is to keep track of each other or to announce an emergency. Voices can only travel so far, and whistles travel farther. This is a much-needed mode of protection, especially if you get lost in the woods.
There are many varieties of hiking backpacks that come with whistles built-in to the front clasp. If you happen to have one of those, then you won’t need to worry about packing one.
17. Sleep Masks and Earplugs
It might get a little hard to sleep at night. Bringing a sleep mask helps keep out extra light and lets you sleep in a little bit longer if you want the rest. However, more important than that are the earplugs. The wilderness can get loud. If you don’t want to lose any sleep, wear earplugs to bed to block out unwanted noise.
18. Survival Knife
This may fall under the realm of having a multitool or Swiss Army Knife, but you might need something with a little more oomph. The knives on multitools tend to be on the smaller side, and sometimes you a big knife is what you’re looking for.
Survival knives typically come with more than just the knife, as well. They come with emergency supplies, such as minor dressings for injuries, a compass, or fishing line with a hook. While you should already be fairly prepared, having a little bit extra can mean a world of difference when you need it. The more utility, the better.
A rope has many utilities, making it invaluable to bring with you. If you need to secure, string, or climb something, then you should be ready for that. The various applications for rope will help ensure your safety, especially in the treacherous wilds.
While you may be content with purchasing a regular 50-foot rope, there are other useful products that you can look into. Paracord bracelets are excellent options, as they can comfortably fit over your wrist for unobtrusive packing.
Finally, make sure someone knows where you’re going. Create an itinerary, then make a copy of it. That first copy needs to make its way into the hands of someone you trust. That may be a parent, a friend, or another authority figure. As long as someone who's not with your backpacking group knows your schedule and when you should be back, you’ll be alright.
The second itinerary copy should be left in your vehicle. Keep it in plain sight, so authority figures who find your vehicle will have a provided idea of where you may be.
Always Look Out for Your Safety First
It cannot be said enough how important it is to ensure you’re going to be safe while backpacking. Every backpacking checklist is designed to give you the best chance at survival, even if you’re going to be gone for a few days. Nature can be dangerous and unpredictable.
We’re not trying to scare you! We just need you to know that there’s a very good reason why backpacking checklists are so exhaustive. Every measure needs to be accounted for. However, so long as you keep good track of your belongings, what you’re bringing with you, and where you are, you’ll have a great time.