Backpacking Gear List

View of stream through meadow with alpenglow on mountains in background.
Obsidian Trail Oregon

I created a backpacking gear list that I've used for myself and family members to help us get ready for multi-day backpacking trips. Until now, I've only needed to hand it out to my kids or to a family member or two. Recently my son and his friends have started backpacking on their own and I've been helping more friends wanting to get into backpacking themselves. Because I'm sharing the list more and always have a bunch of personal commentary and notes to share, I took the time to publish the list here and to add more detailed notes.

The list and comments are my own personal opinions based on many years of backpacking experience. I mostly backpack in the Pacific Northwest and my choices reflect that. This is not the end-all-be-all list for you. It is a reasonable starting point.

I strive for a balance between comfort, functionality, weight, and price. I like to think of it as a value sweet spot. The list is not full of ultralight, high-performance, no budget dream gear. I continue to use the gear on this list. Do your own research and test equipment yourself to see if it fits your needs and make your own list. I'll make some recommendations about upgrades and additional gear I may get in the near future as well.

General Guidance

There are some bits of information, features and guidance that are applicable list wide.

Plan Ahead

Choose a route that is within your skill level. Pay attention to daily distances, elevation changes, and access to water. Look at recent trip reports or reports from the same time the previous year. Get maps. Digital maps are fine if you have battery backup, but a general area paper map is good to have as backup. Consider alternate routes, bail-out points and key decision points. Download digital maps for off-line use.

Be sure to tell someone your route and expected departure and return times. Let them know if you have multiple route choices and leave them with a paper map of the route.

Acquire parking and camping permits.

Check the weather and make notes about the forecast for each day.

Make checklists. Make a personal gear checklist. Make a checklist for logistics (shopping, travel plans, notifications, permits, software, firmware, and app updates).

No Cotton Clothing

It may be comfortable at home, but it's not good out on the trail. Synthetic or wool clothing is essential for safety and comfort.

You're Not Going to Need It

Not everything on this list is required or needed on every trip. Check weather conditions, terrain, trip length, hiking speed, the skills of your companions, your need for comfort and then adjust your gear choices accordingly. Be prepared but try not to pack your fears. You don't need backups of most things – even the essentials.

Common areas for overpacking are clothing and "survival" or "just-in-case" gear. You will only need one of each clothing item other than underwear and socks. You won't need a backup pocketknife or multi-tool.

Don't bring deodorant, makeup, or anything with a strong perfume or scent.

Where to Buy Gear

I buy most of my gear from REI. If you're not an REI member, you're not getting the best deals. REI prices are great, and membership gets you 10% back at the end of the year. I also buy from Amazon, Garage Grown Gear, and Outdoor Vitals.

Gear List

This list includes the gear I carry on a typical one- to four-night backpacking trip where I travel about 5-15 miles per day. Some of the recommendations also work for day hikes. Always carry the 10 Essentials.

Recommended gear with a + indicates I personally own the item or have significant hands-on experience with it. Recommended gear with a ~ indicates gear that is recommended by other backpackers I trust and would spend my own money on it.

I have created a Google Sheet of the list you can print and use to track your gear as you pack or use it as a base to create your own list.


The primary feature of a backpack is that it fits you well. Go to a store that will let you load it up with weight, adjust it properly for your body, and let you walk around with it for a while. Try many packs. Start with a name brand pack that is 50 to 60 liters.

+ Osprey Aether Plus 60 Pack
+ Granite Gear Crown3 60
~ Waymark Gear EVLV ULTRA or other frameless ultralight pack
~ REI Flash 55

Lightweight Day Pack

I like to carry a packable day pack for side day trips or to take up a mountain summit. The backpack I use has a detachable brain that converts to a daypack. If your backpack doesn't have that feature, a packable 15 to 20 liter pack is a good size for carrying a jacket, a day's worth of snacks, water, personal first aid kit, and other essentials. A large waist pack can also be a good option.

~ REI Stuff Travel Pack

Warm Gloves

I like to carry a lightweight pair of cross-country ski gloves or grippy glove liners for cool evenings / mornings. I'll skip them if mornings will be above 45 degrees.

Warm Hat

A fleece or synthetic knit hat for evenings / mornings sitting around camp. I'll sleep in it on very cold nights.

Sun Hat

A wide brim hat or baseball cap. A wide brim hat is also useful with a bug net. If you choose a baseball cap, consider pairing it with a sun hoodie to keep the sun off your ears and neck.

+ Sunday Afternoons Charter Escape Hat
+ Outdoor Research Trail Mix Bucket Hat
+ REI Packable Cap


I hike with a bandana to keep sweat out of my eyes, even with a hat. I also use it to dip into streams on a hot day and cleanup after hiking all day.

Mini Towel

In addition to the bandana, I also carry a small 12" x 12 " micro-fleece towel to use as a potholder, dry condensation off the tent, cleanup spills, etc. It also helps keep my stove, pot, and fuel canister from rattling in my pack.

Medium-Weight Base Layer

Medium weight synthetic top and bottoms are great for sitting around camp and sleeping. I like to change into them at night after cleanup for comfort and coziness.

Sun Hoodie

I've moved away from light synthetic t-shirts to sun hoodies to provide more sun protection and reduce the amount of sunscreen I use. I pair them with a baseball cap for hikes up mountains with windy summits.

+ REI Sahara Shade Hoodie

Long-Sleeved Shirt

If you hike in short-sleeved shirts, having a long-sleeved shirt provides additional flexibility for both cool and windy conditions in addition to protecting your arms in very sunny conditions.

+ Columbia Silver Ridge Long Sleeve Shirt
~ Columbia PFG Tamiami II Long-Sleeve Shirt

Puffy Jacket

A down, synthetic fill, or packable fleece jacket will keep you warm. I use a packable synthetic fill jacket because most of my hiking and backpacking takes place in the Pacific Northwest and staying warm while wet is a concern. A down jacket is also good if you pair it with a good rain jacket and can avoid sweating in it.

~ Enlightened Equipment Outcast Jacket
~ Outdoor Vitals Vario Jacket

Hiking Long Pants

Choose a pair of long pants that will keep you comfortable in cool conditions and provide protection from terrain like rocks, tall grass, and dense brush. Zip-off legs are not necessary if you also have a pair of shorts.

Hiking Shorts

Just about any pair of shorts will work as long as they're not cotton. Adequate pockets and durable materials are useful.


Quick drying material and excellent fit and comfort are essential for backpacking underwear. Bring a second pair so you can rinse and dry a pair if needed. Resist the temptation to get by with cotton underwear.

+ ExOfficio Give-N-Go 2.0 Boxer Briefs

Merino Wool Socks

Wool socks work the best for me. I find they are the best for wicking moisture and keeping my feet cool on warm days and keeping them warm on cold days. Some people like synthetic socks, but I find that they're not as good. Two pairs are all you'll need even on longer trips. Never wear cotton socks.

+ Darn Tough
+ Smartwool
~ Icebreaker

Rain Jacket

A quality lightweight packable and breathable rain jacket is a must have piece of equipment. It will keep you dry when it rains and keep the wind off you on summits or other exposed areas. I keep it handy and throw it on when I stop for breaks to keep the chill off.

+ Patagonia Torrentshell 3L Jacket
~ Enlightened Equipment Visp Jacket
~ Outdoor Research Helium Rain Jacket

Rain Skirt, Pants, or Gaiters

Depending on the amount of rain I expect, I'll choose either a rain skirt or high boot gaiters. I like using a rain skirt because it's light weight, easy to put on and take off over boots, and keeps me cooler on strenuous hikes. It's not great in the wind, however. Gaiters are great for dewy mornings, soggy underbrush and snow.

+ Outdoor Research Rocky Mountain High Gaiters

Hiking Boots

I generally like backpacking in mid-height boots. The mid-height keeps most trail dirt out of them and protects my ankles from sharp rocks on scrambles and scree fields. I also like to get them about a half size longer than my street shoes to prevent blisters on the ends of my toes or losing toenails.

Many backpackers, especially through hikers, choose trail runners over boots. They're lightweight and can be more comfortable. They'll pair them with lightweight gaiters to keep trail debris out of their shoes.

Some people also bring flip-flops or lightweight sandals for relaxing in camp. I don't bother. I just loosen my boot laces to let my feet breathe. I will often bring a pair of sneakers and leave them in the car for the ride home.

Water Shoes or Sandals

I rarely bring water shoes unless I know I'm going to have difficult stream crossings. Water sandals can double as something comfortable to wear in camp.

Sleeping Bag

Down sleeping bags are the way to go unless you have an allergy or will be in especially wet conditions. For three-season use, a bag rated for 20 degrees will be comfortable to just below freezing w/ your mid-layer and a hat. Choose a bag with a lower rating if you sleep cold. If you plan on winter trips, you'll want to invest in a second cold weather sleeping bag. Quilts are a popular option for keeping your pack light.

Sleeping Pad

Get a quality inflatable sleeping pad that has a minimum R3 rating. For the best comfort get a 25-inch-wide pad. Mummy or narrow pads are too easy to slip off. Closed cell pads don't provide enough insulation or comfort. A closed cell pad for snow or winter camping can extend the comfort range of your inflatable sleeping pad when used together. They will also protect your inflatable pad if you camp in areas with thorns or sharp rocks.

1/8th-inch-thick high-density foam pads are becoming popular with users of frameless packs and are versatile additions to inflatable pad users. They are very light weight and can be used as a large sit pad, stretching / yoga mat, extra protection from punctures, soft pack frame, etc.

+ NEMO Tensor Trail Ultralight Insulated Sleeping Pad (Wide)
+ Therm-a-Rest Z Lite Sol Sleeping Pad
~ Outdoor Vitals or Gossamer Gear 1/8th inch closed cell foam pad
~ Outdoor Vitals Oblivion Sleeping Pad
~ REI Helix Insulated Air Sleeping Pad

Inflatable Pillow

An inflatable pillow is essential gear for me. It's just not comfortable sleeping on a stuff sack of miscellaneous clothing. A good night's sleep helps you recover and recharge for a new day of adventure.

+ TREKOLOGY Ultralight Inflatable Camping Pillow
~ NEMO Fillo Elite Pillow


Another piece of important gear is a reliable watch. I have used a solar powered Casio Pathfinder in the past. I now use an Apple watch with navigation and fitness tracking apps. Recharging it every night means carrying extra adapters and battery power, but it's worth it for the extra functionality. It's not essential and I may go a different route on longer trips in the future.

Headlamp and Batteries

Headlamps are better than flashlights because they can be used hands-free. I recommend getting one with an internal USB rechargeable battery. Charge it up before you go. If you get a headlamp with standard batteries, make sure they are fresh or take a spare set if they are questionable. The USB rechargeable batteries can be recharged in the field from your USB power bank.

+ Nitecore NU25

Cell Phone

A cell phone is one of the most useful tools you can bring. In addition to providing communications when in service areas, it's also a navigation and tracking tool, camera, cook timer, reference guide, and e-book.

USB Battery Bank

Despite wanting to disconnect from the modern world electronic devices have become useful tools in the back country. Having adequate backup power is necessary to keep them functioning. 10,000 mAh is enough for three days of moderate phone use. Choose a power bank with at least two USB-A ports to charge multiple devices at the same time. Be sure to fully charge the power bank and all your devices before hitting the trail.

Anker 10,000 mAh Battery Bank

Charging Cables

Be sure to have a cable for each type of electronic device. I carry an iPhone, Apple Watch, micro-USB, and USB-C cables. Hopefully with my next phone upgrade I can eliminate one of the cables. Having multiple cables rather than using adapters enables you to charge more than one device at a time, depending on your USB Battery bank.


A small Victorinox Swiss Army Classic SD is all anyone really needs on a backpacking trip. You don't need a multi-tool or a big fixed-blade knife. I carry a single blade folding knife to cut salami and cheese and carve the odd tent stake. You don't need an axe even if you camp in an area that permits fires.

+ Spiderco Delica
+ Opinel No.08
+ Victorinox Swiss Army Classic SD
~ Benchmade Mini Bugout Grivory
~ Benchmade Mini Griptilian

Trekking Poles

Even though trekking poles are not one of the 10 essentials, I never backpack without them. In addition to providing stability on rough terrain, they help save your knees on downhills and act as outriggers while crossing streams. I deep a foot or so of duct tape wrapped around one for repairs.

Recommended Gear
+ REI Traverse
+ Cascade Mountain Tech Trekking Poles (Costco, Amazon)

Chair or Sit Pad

A one-pound backpacking chair is a luxury item I'm choosing to take with me more and more. It's great to be able to relax and sit off the ground while cooking and hanging out at camp. It's really nice if the ground is wet or snowy.

+ REI Flexlite Air
+ Therm-a-Rest Z-Seat Pad
~ Helinox Chair Zero

Garbage Bag

I use a tall kitchen bag or compactor bag as a pack liner if there's a possibility of rain. I also carry a pack cover if it's going to rain a lot to keep the pack from getting soaked.

One Gallon Zip-Lock Bag

Used as a garbage bag, a zip-lock bag seals in liquids and smells. Always store waste items and other scented items in your bear bag or canister.


Eye protection should be another essential item.


A simple backpacking stove is all you need. You don't need a heavy Jetboil or MSR WindBurner stove for general backpacking.

+ BRS 3000 (Amazon)
+ MSR Pocket Rocket II (Better in wind, faster, heavier, more $$ than BRS 3000)
~ SOTO Windaster Stove (Great in wind)

Stove Base

A fold-up stove base that attaches to your fuel canister is handy to keep your stove from falling over on uneven surfaces. It's definitely not required, but I've tipped over enough pots of hot water to cause me to bring one on every trip.


You have to have a way to light your stove. I bring two mini-bic lighters and keep one in my stove kit and one in my first aid kit. Even an empty lighter will ignite a stove. A ferro rod and steel is another backup option. I don't like waterproof matches because they can be difficult to light and often break when you try to strike them.

Stove Fuel

I bring one full 110-gram isobutane canister per backpacking trip. According to MSR, in "average" temperature non-windy conditions most stoves use about 28 grams of fuel for 2 liters of water. Using these numbers, you can boil about 7.8 liters per canister. More than enough for 10 meals and 5 cups of coffee.

I have an adapter that enables me to transfer the contents of partially used canisters to another canister so I can inexpensively consolidate and refuel canisters.

Insulated Mug

Cold coffee sucks. My backpacking mug has a lid that prevents spills and keeps coffee warmer longer.

+ GSI Outdoors Infinity Backpacker Mug

700 mL Pot

Technically a 650 mL pot is big enough to boil water for most backpacking meals but isn't quite big enough to pack a fuel canister and the MSR Pocket Rocket stove in it. Smaller stoves like the BRS 3000 will fit in a 650 mL pot with fuel canister. Water boils faster in a titanium pot vs stainless steel.

Long-Handle Spoon

A long-handle spoon is the only utensil (other than a pocketknife) you need. Sporks are not good as a spoon and not good as a fork. A long handle makes it easier to get to the bottom of freeze-dried meal bags.

+ TOAKS Titanium Long Handle Spoon with Polished Bowl
+ GoBites Duo Travel Spoon and Fork

Cook-in Koozie

I'm not really sure what the official name of these things are, but they're used to keep your freeze-dried meal hot while it rehydrates. I made a DYI version that was easy and works great. I wouldn't buy one.

Wet Wipes

I keep a few of these on hand in a zip-lock baggie to freshen up after a sweaty day on the trail. I'll wash with water and my bandana to get the bulk of the dust and sweat off my body. I'll put them in the zip-lock trash bag after use.

Hand Sanitizer

Use after going to the bathroom and before eating. A travel size is all you need.


Self-explanatory. I use a folding one that keeps the head covered and clean.


I use a small travel sized tube. Toothpaste tablets are popular because you can bring exactly as much as you need for your trip. I'll probably try them out when my tube runs out.

Dental Floss

Needed for good dental hygiene. Also, there's nothing more frustrating than having a shred of jerky stuck in your teeth for days.

Ear Plugs

I snore. Other people snore too. I bring an extra pair for my travel companion because I'm not a monster. Also, sometimes the wind can keep you up all night.

Lip Balm

Sun and wind protection for your lips.


45 SPF. The sun is a menace and sunburn with your pack on is miserable.

Bug Repellent

Picaridin is better than DEET for backpackers because it won't cause synthetic clothing to deteriorate. I find it smells better, but some people don't like it.

+ Sawyer Picaridin Insect Repellent

Head Bug Net

Bug repellent isn't perfect and there's nothing more annoying than mosquitos buzzing your ears and face. They work best with a wide brim hat under them.

Personal First Aid Kit

Another essential item is a first aid kit. There's no need to go overboard. You don't need a trauma kit. You'll adjust it for yourself over time, but the basics are band aids, ibuprofen and acetaminophen, Micropore tape, antiseptic cream, and a tick remover. I'll carry a little more if I'm backpacking with my family or leading a group of less experienced backpackers.

Micropore tape is great for covering hotspots and blisters. It sticks to skin when wet and doesn't cause extra friction and is very thin. Don't use moleskin for blister treatment. It's too thick, doesn't stick well, and often causes more blisters and pain.

Poop Trowel

Pooping in the woods a fact of life. Doing it correctly keeps precious water resources clean and keeps unsightly messes from ruining everyone's enjoyment of nature. I prefer a sturdy titanium one with a serrated edge to cut through hard ground and roots. Watch a how-to video on YouTube and make sure your cat hole is at least 6 inches deep and wide. Aluminum trowels like the Deuce of Spades are OK, but I find they don't perform well in ground with lots of rocks and roots. Great name though.

+ Vargo Titanium Dig Dig Tool (or copy from Amazon)
~ BoglerCo Ultralight Backpacking Trowel


Don't forget it but don't bring the whole role. Water bottle bidets are becoming popular because they leave you cleaner. They can be confusing for us Americans so practice at home before you go. I'm converting from TP so I leave less of a trace.

Tent, Poles, and Stakes

Most backpackers will choose a one- or two-person tent. I use a trekking pole tent to save some weight. Double wall tents are good for conditions with lots of moisture. Single wall tents are lighter. Practice setting up your tent before your first trip.

Tents made w Dyneema fabric are the lightest you can find. Also, Dyneema tents don’t get soaked in the rain and won’t sag when temperatures cool off at night. The downside is that Dyneema tents are very expensive.

+ Outdoor Vitals Fortius 2P Trekking Pole Tent
~ Nemo Dragonfly
~ Durston Gear X-Mid Pro 2+
~ Mountain Hardware Strato UL 2

Ground Cover

A ground cover protects the bottom of your tent from debris and from getting wet from rain or ground moisture. No need to buy one specific for your tent. You can make them from Tyvek, PolyCryo (door / window insulation shrink film), or polyethylene sheet (plastic drop cloth).

Food and Snacks

This is personal choice. I choose freeze-dried meals for breakfast and dinner and various sandwich and snack items for lunch.

Bear Bag Kit or Canister

Hanging a bear bag is a royal pain in the butt. Especially in the Pacific Northwest and in higher altitudes. Trees here don’t have big sturdy long branches. Save yourself a lot of time and frustration and use an approved bear canister. They're better at protecting your food and scented items from small critters too.

If you choose to hang a bag, bring a dry bag, 50' of slick cord, and small but sturdy carabiner. Practice hanging the bag before your first trip.

Gear Repair Kit

I bring a medium-sized needle, heavy duty thread, six feet of thin cord, a two-inch square piece of Tenacious Tape, sleeping pad repair kit, and a foot of duct tape wrapped on my trekking pole.

Water Filter

In North America, a hollow tube type filter will keep you safe from bacteria, protozoa, cysts, sediment, and microplastics. Get one with a high flow rate and that connects to water bottles with a 28 mm cap. If your filter comes with water bags, only use them to carry clean water. They are too difficult to fill with dirty water from streams. Put the filter in a baggie when you're not using it so that water doesn't leak out. Keep the filter from freezing by tucking it in the foot of your sleeping bag at night. Be sure to back flush your filter after every trip. Test and clean it before every trip.

+ Sawyer Squeeze
~ Platypus QuckDraw

Dirty Water Bag

Get one with a 28 mm cap at one end and a large opening that clips shut on the other end. These bags are much easier to fill in streams. The 28mm end attaches to the filter.

~ CNOC Vecto 28mm 2 Liter Water Container

Water Bottles

Get plain old water bottles from the grocery store that have 28 mm caps. They are lightweight, durable, easy to get in and out of pack side pocks and last for years. Nalgene bottles are too heavy and are only good if you need to store water in freezing conditions.

Water bladders are difficult to refill on the trail if you run out. You have to unpack your pack to get it out, filter water into it (can be challenging by itself), then repack everything. Also, they take up valuable space on the inside of your pack.


Cell phones are often the only camera you'll need on a backpacking trip, but if you enjoy outdoor photography or like to produce video of your adventures, a dedicated camera is worth the extra weight. Be sure to bring extra batteries and have a solution to recharge them from a USB power bank. You may want to upgrade to 20,000 mAh power bank. You may want to bring a tripod too. I made an adapter to turn my trekking poles and a stick into a tripod.

2-Way Radio

If you have kids that don't like to go your speed or want to adventure out without mom or dad, 2-way FRS or GMRS radios are handy and fun. I'm a ham radio operator and like to make contacts from mountain summits.

Book, Cards, Games

Extra things to do in camp makes the adventure more fun.

Binoculars or Monocular

Binoculars are fun for peeping mountain tops, birds, and other wildlife. They're also useful for way finding, looking for the next cairn, trail marker or faint boot path in the distance.

+ Opticron T4 Trailfinder WP 8x25 Monocular

Cork Ball

A cork massage ball can help you recover after a long day on the trail or to give you a boost mid-day.

+ Rawlogy Travel Cork Massage Ball


It's handy to know and track the temperature overnight in camp.

+ Govee Bluetooth Hygrometer Thermometer
~ ThermoWorks Zipper-Pull Thermometer

Parking Permit

Put your parking permit in your pack or double-check that it's in the vehicle you plan to take to the trailhead.

Camping Permit

Some jurisdictions require you to have pre-issued camping permits or reservations. Sometimes permits are only issued at ranger stations or wilderness centers the day you start your trip. Sometimes areas have self-issued permits at the trailhead. Be sure to check what is required before you head out.

Satellite Messenger

I don't currently own a satellite messenger and they are not absolutely necessary for two- or three-day trips, but I'm very close to buying one. I would definitely get one if I did more four-day or longer trips or if I backpacked solo. Even for short trips, I'm starting to want the peace of mind for emergencies and for keeping my family informed of my status and schedule changes. You can also get weather updates via messenger.

~ Garmin InReach Messenger
~ Garmin InReach Mini 2

Medication and Miscellaneous Gear

Be sure to bring prescription medication, epi-pen, contacts, contact solution, compact hairbrush, hair ties, and any other personal necessities.