A Complete Backcountry Packing List
A comprehensive guide for back-packing
Whether settled at home or traveling around the world, I am quick to jump on opportunities that allow me to spend time in the backcountry.
One night or one month doesn’t matter so much… I cherish opportunities to walk into the wilderness with everything I could possibly need hugging the small of my back.
Packing for these trips has become second nature to me, and something I really look forward to.
In spite of the numerous times I’ve hastily crammed everything I need into my pack, I still continually come across wonderful people with equally wonderful ideas for packing items that positively change my outdoor experiences.
While hiking in New Zealand, a friend left me with a quote that I’ll never forget: “Backpacking is spending a small fortune to live like a homeless person”. While partially true, having a home on my back is something I cherish.
I keep this list continually updated, so I encourage you to leave a comment with any of your favorite backpacking essentials.
Without further ado, here is a list of everything I may consider bringing with me when I’m prepping for a trip:
*Note: the items on this list appear in no particular order of importance. I have no affiliation with any of the products or companies represented beyond having purchased and used them.
Depending on the length of trip, the size obviously varies. For 1–2 day-ers, you can easily make do with something as small as a 40 liter pack or less.
My personal backpack of choice is a beautiful 80L Kelty Coyote that I’ve come to love. It has a lot more space than I need, but I don’t really fill it up most of the time. It’s very reasonably priced, durable, and most importantly has an awesome system for adjusting to my wacky skinny/tall body proportions.
My biggest piece of advice in choosing a backpack is the fitting. When you’re trekking for a long time, its important that its comfortable for your physical (and mental) wellbeing. Here’s an awesome guide on how to find the right fit.
A sleeping pad
Sleeping pads are awesome, even for regular travel. When you’re finding a spot to hunker down for the night, they can be the make or break between a good sleep and a night-long skirmish with rocks up your backside.
I prefer blowup pads for portability, and can personally attest to Klymats being great (minus their squeakiness which has frustrated even my most patient of friends).
There is an overwhelming number of great tents from which you can choose. My key criteria are: affordability, durability, ease of set-up, and weight. The tent I have meets all these conditions, and I’d recommend it to anyone.
With that said, a good friend of mine has been using a $20 Walmart tent for the better part of a decade and has no complaints.
One thing to make sure you have is a footprint and/or tarp for wet weather. Its nice to not wake up drenched : )
An absolute blessing for any long-distance hikers.
A thermos/water bottle
I like carrying a more accessible bottle for quick fill-ups. This often tends to be a thermos so that I can keep hot water with me on the go, and save any left over tea/coffee that I may have from the mornings.
There are some great collapsible bottles for extra storage/portability that are worth exploring.
Social group games
Particularly for longer trips, I always make sure to bring a pack of cards with me. People always have hilarious iterations of the same games, fun new ways to entertain groups, and a number of other things that, for me, necessitate carrying a small pack.
Travel board games are a thing!
Backpacking for any extended length of time, especially in foreign countries, necessitate carrying some form of mobile filtration for when you need water in a fix.
Options include: water purification tablets, pump and/or gravity water filters (I can personally attest to the Sawyer brand being quite good), or if you want to get fancy opt for a UV light filter like the SteriPen (note that these should only be used with clear water).
Here is a list that I found to have a relatively objective, informative list of some of the best water filters on the market.
If you, like me, are a light sleeper with snorer’s for friends, these are worth the small investment.
If you’re keen on getting fancy, a travel hammock affords you the opportunity to create a sanctuary for relaxation in some of the best spots (between trees, over rivers, on summits, etc.)
Here are some of the best backpacking hammocks I’ve stumbled across.
Seriously worth spending more than you ever thought you would spend on a pair of socks if you are serious about hiking in the fall/winter seasons and/or at high altitudes. Here are some of the best.
Slip on shoes
For those glorious moments at the end of each day when you slip off your awful smelling shoes. I recommend something light and easy to carry, like Crocs.
A good pair of boots is a solid investment. I tend to use them as long as possible, and Keen have been some of the most durable/comfortable that I’ve hiked in. Many of their products also have good warranties and excellent spacing for your toes, which are two things that I look for when I’m overwhelmed by the selection available at large retailers.
I’ve been trekking with minimalist and/or no shoes for some time. Though it takes some getting used to, feeling the texture of the ground helps me be more present while I hike.
I really like Merrell’s Vapor Gloves, but must warn you that they are notoriously succeptible to holes and are not very durable. Vibram’s Five Finger selection are, in my opinion, of better quality, but I haven’t experimented too much.
Especially for windier, high altitude regions, carrying some protection against the cold is something your nose will thank you for.
I’ve been using the same stove for years. It’s gross, and I love it.
The main considerations here are similar to everything else: cost and portability. Most stoves are durable enough, you just have to ask yourself if you want to make 5 course meals, or heat up water for simple oatmeal. Tradeoffs with both!
Fpoonife! …or whatever you want to call it
A backpacker’s lifeblood.
I would recommend anyone spending time, alone or with a group, carries a knife with them. Get whatever size or brand suits your need to feel like a badass.
Preferably something organic.
I love to read, especially on mountain tops, and a nifty device that sits comfortably in my back pocket is far more practical than carrying a 1000 page book. I love reading paperbacks, but always elect for practicality when trekking.
….is getting so much better. I spent several months in New Zealand it was all I drank. Take my word for it.
Preferably one that doubles as a bowl…less to carry ; )
My go-to’s: oatmeal, nuts, fruits, homemade trail mix, freeze dried food (the one brand I’ve found that actually fills me up is Mountain House, which can be purchased at most outdoor stores like REI), avocados, nut butters, etc.
General rule of thumb for me: opt for calorically dense food that doesn’t weigh too much.
Baby food! My friend Derek bestowed this blessing on me. It’s virtually impossible to get your share of vegetables in otherwise, and they become sooo refreshing.
Whiskey or beer
(if you’re willing to handle the extra weight), otherwise a flask suffices for those wonderful summit sips
A head lamp
I love that mine is rechargeable via USB, and that’s what I would suggest purchasing.
I’ve only ever used Anker, and have been more than satisfied with quality and durability.
Keep your bum clean! Preferably with some biodegradable paper.
For digging your very own toilet!
A travel pillow
(I improvise and stuff clothes into the bag of my sleeping bag)
A sleeping bag
And a sleeping bag liner…
(I don’t have a 0 degree bag, and instead bought a sleeping bag liner so that I can use the same bag in the winter and the summer)
Essentials for me include: Advil, antiseptic ointment, duct tape, band aids, electrolyte tablets/powder, firestarter/matches/lighter, generally accepted first aid items
(especially if you’re in bear country)
On that note: a bear can
(I’ve had my food stolen by a bear, and while it was an awesome experience it’s not something I wish to repeat)
for setting up fires
Christmas lights (if I’m really getting fancy)