The Ultimate Backpacking Checklist for all of your Backpacking Essentials
As always, we recommend finding used gear first if you can—it’s better for the environment, and kinder on your wallet— but if you are unable to, we have provided links to our favorite backpacking gear. Please note: we receive a small commission from qualifying purchases on any links not associated with our website directly. We only recommend gear that we love and would have in our own store if we were a larger business.
Backpack: You will want to choose the best backpacking backpack for yourself depending on how long of a trip you plan to do. The general guidelines are as follows:
- A weekend backcountry trip (1-3 nights): 30-50 liters
- Multiple days (3-5 nights): 50-80 liters
- Extended trips (5 or more nights): 70+ liters
We think the best backpacking backpack for a shorter trip is the Deuter Aircontact Lite 45+10 SL. These lightweight, ventilated, durable backpacks fit everything you need for a backcountry adventure and were designed specifically for women. We love the easy access to reach your essentials both from the top and bottom.
Hiking Boots: We believe your footwear is one of the most important pieces of gear for backpacking. A good pair of shoes specifically designed for hiking will go a long way to provide you comfort, prevent injury, and help you reach your physical goals.
When you’re looking at footwear, we recommend going to visit your local outdoor store and trying several brands on. Each brand offers different features, and are designed for different foot types (narrow or wide feet, high arches or flat feet, heavy or low cushion, etc.) Whatever you decide on, we strongly encourage you to think about waterproof footwear. This will keep your feet dry on the trails and prevent blisters and other injuries to your foot.
Our personal favorite hiking boots are almost anything made by KEEN. The KEEN Women's TARGHEE II MID Waterproof Hiking Boot are great to give you more ankle support and comfort.
Backpacking Tents: your tent is your home in the backcountry. It protects you from the elements and offers you much needed comfort while you rest. Finding the best backpacking tent that is resilient against weather, well-ventilated and durable is essential. The following are our two favorite backpacking tents:
- Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL- Ultralight Backpacking Tent: it’s incredibly lightweight, durable, has excellent ventilation, and is easy to assemble. Please note: if you’re using the 2-person version, you may find it a bit cramped for two people unless you’re both petite, and may want to consider opting for the 3-person version.
- The North Face Stormbreak 2 Tent: it’s very spacious, budget-friendly, durable, and has excellent ventilation and internal organization. This tent is a tad heavy, and the tent stakes of this model aren’t as strong as we’d like, so we would advise replacing the stakes with stronger one.
Sleeping Bag: a good night’s sleep in the backcountry will go a long way. Check the coldest temperatures where you plan to go camping. Remember that even in the summer, many places drop as much as 40-50 degrees in the evenings.
Choose a sleeping bag that has a low enough temperature rating, and if you run cold, consider a sleeping bag with an even lower temperature rating (think 15 degrees lower). We love the Nemo Disco Insulated Down Sleeping Bag (15 & 30 Degree): it’s spacious, comfortable, and moderately priced. We believe the extra weight is worth a better night’s sleep!
Sleeping Pad: sleeping pads don’t just serve as a bed away from home—an insulated sleeping pad will ensure the cold ground won’t draw precious warmth away from your body. We like the Klymit Static V because they are designed with deep welds, which trap heat underneath your body, helping to keep you warm and comfortable all throughout the night.
We can’t emphasize the importance of sun protection enough. It’s both for your safety in the field and long term, along with your comfort. You’ll need:
- Head protection: a hat or BUFF headwear are our preferences.
- Sunscreen: it’s important to have sunscreen that’s rated SPF 30 or higher both for your body and your lips. We like Raw Elements products because they’re made from certified all-natural ingredients and are environmentally friendly using recyclable/reusable tins.
- Sunglasses: protect your eyes from harmful UV rays. We love Sunski sunglasses because, aside from being ridiculously comfortable, they’re lightweight frames are made from recycled materials.
Food and Water
Nutrition is always important, but it’s especially important while backpacking. Not only does it give your body the fuel it needs for all of your adventuring, a full belly with lots of healthy proteins and fats has a significant impact on your mood. You’ll need:
Backpacking stove, fuel, and cookware: we love the Optimus Crux stove and fuel canister. It’s a lightweight and really dependable backpacking stove, while also being exceptionally compact with folding burner heads, allowing you to attach it underneath your fuel canister with the strap-on stuff bag that's included. It has a 3000 watt burner, and distributes heat evenly and quickly (boil 1 L of water in about 3 minutes, which is fantastic when you’re really hungry!) so you can quickly make that delicious outdoor meal you earned.
We cook our meals in the Optimus Terra Xpress HE: it’s large enough to make a real meal while still being lightweight. It also has a non-stick coat for easy cleaning and a built-in strainer so none of your precious food accidentally gets spilled.
There are a few other odds and ends you will need:
- Mess kit so you actually have a way to consume your food.
- Camper mug (this is optional, as you can always use your water bottle if you opt out of hot chocolate, cider, or tea).
- Sponge and biodegradable soap to clean your dishes.
- Bear Canister or a bag to store your food in (check to see if your trail has ample trees at your camping elevation if you’re going to use a bag, otherwise you’ll need a canister. Some trails actually require canisters).
Food: Think of meals and snacks that are high in fat and protein, since they burn slower than meals that are high in carbohydrates. You’ll also need to make sure you bring at least a day's extra worth of food, just in case something happens on the trail.
For snacking, we love this variety pack of protein bars: they’re perfect right before bed, in the morning, and throughout the day. For dinner, our customer bestsellers are Pasta Roma, Mexican Style Veggie Bowl (which is Gluten Free for those with dietary restrictions), and Pork Jambalaya (which is also Gluten Free). They’re all cram a lot of calories into each meal and are really lightweight.
Water: hydration is key when backpacking. Making sure you have enough water and are consuming it regularly is so important. You’ll notice quickly that your body is more prone to dehydration when you’re constantly on the move, so please remember to replenish regularly. We always have at least two water bottles with us along with a water filter.
Kleen Kanteen water bottles are definitely on the heavier side, but they’re also made with steel and are more environmentally friendly than a plastic bottle. They’re also incredibly durable.
For water purification, we’re in love with the BeFree water filter: it’s the easiest and most effective way to get water free of bacteria, cysts, and sediment. It’s also crazy lightweight and collapsible which makes it great for storing.
We also recommend carrying electrolyte tablets. With all of the extra water you’re consuming and calories you’re burning, sometimes your electrolytes can become unbalanced. In those moments, having something like Nuun Enhanced Drink Tablets can really come in handy.
Lighter/matches: while you need a fire source to start your stove, having a way to make a fire due to unexpected events is equally important. We recommend bringing waterproof matches or a windproof lighter in your pack along with a small fire starter (in case natural resources are limited). While we hope you’ll never need to make an emergency fire to prevent hypothermia or use it as a signal if you get lost, it’s always best to prepare for the unexpected and have some peace of mind.
The key to dressing for backpacking is to dress in layers. There are three steps to layering:
- Step 1: base layers, like the ones in our trail wardrobe collection. Ideally you want base layers made from wool because it’s moisture wicking, keeping your skin nice and dry, although some people feel comfortable in other materials depending on the climate. Look for the weight of the wool: lower numbers (in the 100s) are ideal for hotter weather, while higher numbers (in the 200s) are great for cold weather.
- Step 2: mid layers help keep you insulated from the cold and retain your body heat. Think fleeces, vests, and puffy jackets.
- Step 3: outer layers, like wind shells or rain coats, protect you from the wind and keep moisture out.
When you layer well, you can add and remove your layers as you hike or perform camp duties. This allows you to stay warm or cool, but not overheat and sweat a ton. You’ll also need:
- Underwear: these Smartwool undies are amazing for odor control and wicking away sweat. They also dry really well if you want to wash them in a lake or river.
- Sports Bra
- Shirt(s): both long sleeve and short is generally recommended
- Shorts & pants
- Wool socks (micro, mini, or mid-crew depending on your sock height preference)
- Gloves (weather depending, but usually good to have anyways)
Most of us use our phones for just about everything. The GPS on your phone is a fantastic tool to use when you’re hiking. While it’s great to have, make sure you also bring a map along with your compass, and know how to read it. Sometimes weather conditions change unexpectedly, or you find yourself off the trail accidentally, or you get turned around after checking out that epic view; a topographic map and compass will help you navigate safely back to the main path.
These are the items you hope you’ll never need, but will be so grateful for if an unexpected event should arise. You can read more about the Ten Essentials here. Here’s what you’ll need for backpacking:
- First Aid Kit: no matter how short of a trip you’re going on, you should always bring a first aid kit that will have enough supplies for yourself and your other party members. We also recommend a tourniquet and making sure you know how to use it.
- Headlamp: In case you are hiking later than intended, or you need to light your way around your campsite, you should always have a headlamp with you, as well as additional batteries.
- Multi-Tool or knife: use it for first aid, to repair your broken gear, meal time, etc. You can get one as simple and lightweight as you want, or as multifunctional as you need. Just remember to take it out of your pack if you’re going through security! We love this Leatherman—it has a number of different pliers, wire cutters, knife, saw, hammer, bottle and can openers, a diamond-coated sharpener, fire starter, whistle, etc.
- Insect repellent: aside from insects being a nuisance, they also can carry diseases. When you can, long sleeves and pants will help, but make sure you also have some kind of insect repellent for those really tough days.
- Fire Starter: there may not always be dry materials readily available to create a fire with during an emergency, so bringing a fire starter is essential for your safety.
- Whistle: in case of an emergency, you may not be able to use your voice for long periods of time to attract help. A whistle takes minimal effort to produce a loud sound. Many multi-tools or fire starters will have whistles already attached to them.
Hygiene & Health
Doing your business in nature takes a little more planning. The golden rule is to pack out whatever you pack in. That’s why we actually curated an entire Feminine Hygiene Kit with environmentally friendly and reusable options so you won’t have as much to pack out. These are our favorite environmentally friendly items:
- Stasher Go-Bag: a great reusable bag that we like to hold all of our toiletries in. It has a clip so you can store it on the outside of your pack if you’re needing the space.
- Antimicrobial Pee Cloth: one of our favorite outdoor inventions ever, the Kula Cloth is a reusable pee rag. When you’re done peeing, let the sun’s UV rays take care of the bacteria.
- Menstrual Cup: this is the best solution for when you’re having your period while backpacking. It’s reusable so not only are you reducing your carbon footprint, but you also don’t have to pack out pads or tampons.
- Backcountry Trowel: for digging your catholes even in the toughest terrain.
- Hand Sanitizer: if water isn’t readily available, but you still need to sanitize your hands, having some environmentally friendly hand sanitizer is helpful.
- Biodegradable Soap: great for washing your hands and your dishes alike, while reducing your impact in the beautiful place you’re exploring.
- Toothbrush and toothpaste tablets: remember to follow Leave No Trace practices when you brush your teeth.
- Hairbrush (optional): if you need it. Think of small and lightweight options.
- Backcountry towel (optional): if you enjoy swimming in alpine lakes or rivers, or just wiping off sweat, a lightweight, quick dry towel is a great add-on if you have the space.
- Prescription medications: don’t forget any medications you may need. Regardless of known allergies we HIGHLY recommend that you bring some Benadryl or other antihistamine (most first aid kits have them, but make sure yours does!) It is possible that you may encounter a bug bite or something environmental that causes a severe allergic reaction, and it could save your life.
- Glasses/contacts/contact solution: if you wear contacts, bring an extra pair and your glasses as well, just in case.
Sometimes in the hustle and bustle of packing your backpacking backpack, we forget these important items:
- Permits (if required): many backpacking trails require that you register when you arrive or reserve a permit in advance. We like sticking ours in a Stasher bag to keep it from getting damaged along with any other small items.
- Cell phone: even if you don’t have reception, a 911 call will often still go through, so bring your phone even if you don’t plan on using it for anything else.
- Keys: getting back to a locked car after an amazing trip would be super frustrating!
- ID and insurance card: in an emergency, this could really help rescuers.
- Small repair kit: sometimes gear tears. A quick repair might be necessary until you are able to go home and tend to it more thoroughly.
- Duct tape: while not required, duct tape really comes in handy sometimes for repairs. We wouldn’t recommend bringing a heavy roll, but enough to make some quick repairs.
- Book/Kindle (optional): especially when fires are not an option, having some kind of reading material is really nice at the end of the day.
- Cards (optional): if you’re stuck in your tent on a rainy day, it’s definitely nice to have something to do with the rest of your group!
Backpacking Checklist & Resources
For those who like printable checklists, here is the Alpine Sisters downloadable free backpacking checklist. We always use one before heading out for a trip, and never check off an item until it’s actually placed in your backpack (yes, we have forgotten items before when we’ve skipped this step!)
If this is a lot for you, and you’re still looking for resources on how to get started with backpacking, there is an incredible membership-based community called Send Femme that was designed “to educate and empower women and gender minorities to confidently pursue and send male dominated sports.”
Aside from being a part of an incredible group of women who are excited about the outdoors, the three co-founders wrote an incredible manual, called The Send Guide. It’s a beginners guide to get you started on backpacking, trail running, climbing, mountaineering, snow sports, nutrition, and even next steps to get you out there. It’s so full of amazing information—we highly recommend it for anyone who needs additional information and motivation to get out there.
Women Who Explore
If you are looking for a group to backpack or adventure with, check out Women Who Explore. They have created “a safe space for all voices, all bodies, all skill levels, all journeys,” and lead some incredible trips. They have a huge community on Instagram where you can get inspired and pumped for your next adventure.
We hope this has you excited and ready to plan your next backpacking trip! If you ever have any questions, please feel free to contact us, and we will be happy to answer any questions you may have.
Happy trails friends!
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