After years of honing our backpacking gear to perfect the balance of weight, comfort, and preparedness, these are the items you’ll find in our backpacks. We gravitate towards lightweight gear because we find it much more enjoyable to hike with light packs, but we do carry a few luxury items that are worth the weight to us.
We’ve organized the Ultimate Backpacking Checklist categorically to make it easier for you to gather your backpacking gear for your next trip. We also provide a free downloadable checklist. Print it out and have a hard copy with you as you navigate through your bins of gear.
New to backpacking or need to brush up on a few things? You might enjoy these CleverHiker guides and videos:
Ultimate Backpacking Checklist
Stove + fuel
Cookpot + lid
Biodegradable soap (optional)
Spice kit (optional)
Book or Kindle (optional)
Crossword puzzles (optional)
Cribbage or dice (optional)
Notebook + pen (optional)
Always be prepared and know how to use your map and compass, even if you plan to use GPS.
Waterproof map bag/ Ziploc
GPS phone app with maps downloaded or GPS
Satellite Messenger/PLB (optional - for remote locations)
Download driving directions for offline use (we use maps.me app)
Photos of guidebook pages
Check current weather before trip
Call ranger station pre-trip for trail conditions + regulations
Band-aids of various sizes
Lip balm with SPF
Toilet paper/wipes + sealable bag (to pack it out)
OTC meds. + vitamins
Contact lenses + supplies/glasses
Eye drops (optional)
Small comb (optional)
Hair ties (optional)
Nail clipper (optional)
Pre trip: Clip nails, cut hair, shave, etc.
Extra day’s supply of food (for emergencies)
Food bag/Ursack (waterproof if hanging a bear bag)
50’ nylon cord + small carabiner for bear bag hanging (or) Bear canister (where required)
Liquor in plastic bottle or flask (optional)
Wine in plastic bag or platy bottle (optional)
OPTIONAL EQUIPMENT FOR SNOWY & ICY TRIPS
Pad attachment straps (optional)
Pump sack (optional)
Pillow or stuff sack
TOOLS & ACCESSORIES
Trekking poles (optional)
Lightweight hammock (optional)
Z-seat pad (optional)
Phone (turn on low power/airplane mode)
Bear spray (optional - only for grizzly country)
Camera + waterproof case or Ziploc
Extra camera battery (optional)
Headlamp (check batteries pre-trip)
Extra batteries for long trips
Power bank + charging cords (optional)
Wall plug w/ multiple USB ports (optional, for thru-hikes)
Assorted Ziploc bags
Cash, ID, credit card, insurance card
Duct/Tenacious Tape (for repairs)
Sleeping pad patch kit
Super glue (optional)
Needle + thread (optional)
Small Sharpie (optional)
Small backup lighter
Backup water treatment pills (Chlorine Dioxide)
Collapsible water containers (optional, for carrying lots of water in dry locations)
Water treatment (filter, uv purifier, etc.)
Pre-filter for water treatment, ex: pantyhose (optional)
All applicable clothing items should be lightweight, moisture-wicking and quick-drying (no cotton).
Fleece jacket (optional for cold trips)
Rain pants (optional for wet trips)
Fleece pants (optional)
Rain mittens (optional)
Running shorts or skirt
Long-sleeve shirt (sun + bugs)
1-2 Pair underwear
2-4 Pair socks
Baselayer bottom (optional)
Baselayer top (optional)
Sunglasses + case
Bandana or Buff
Head Net (optional, for mosquitos)
Treat clothing with Permethrin pre-trip (bug repellent)
Camp shoes/sandals (optional)
PACK IN CAR
Parking pass for car
Clean clothes + shoes to change into
Gallon of water for trailhead shower
Camp towel to dry off
Water + snacks
LIGHTENING YOUR LOAD - Start by weeding out things you don’t need. Be careful with every choice you make, a few ounces here and there can add a lot of weight in the end. A lightweight backpacking checklist, like the one here, will help you to focus on essential items. Next, focus on lightening your heaviest gear: shelter, backpack, and sleeping bag. Switching your traditional big three out for lightweight options is the best opportunity for weight savings, especially when you're starting out. If you invest in a lightweight shelter, backpack, and sleeping bag, you can easily cut 10 or more pounds and be well on your way to having an ultralight backpacking setup.
CLOTHING FOR BACKPACKING -The clothing you pack will change slightly depending on the conditions you expect to encounter on specific trips, but the fundamentals remain the same. Clothing made with quick-drying fabrics that wick moisture away from your skin are best to help your body thermoregulate and stay comfortable in both hot and cold environments. Nylon, polyester, wool, bamboo, silk, and synthetic blends are all good options. Avoid cotton - it absorbs moisture and takes a long time to dry, which can cause a variety of problems including blisters and chafing. Choose items that can be worn together in layers. Fleece and goose-down have the best warmth-to-weight ratio and make the best insulation materials for backpackers. Rain gear should be lightweight, breathable, and waterproof.
BACKPACKING FOOD - Good food is really important for any backpacking trip, so it’s well worth the effort to put together a simple meal plan before your trip. Keeping food weight down is a critical backpacking skill that usually takes experience to master. A good place to start is our Guide to Lightweight Backpacking Food. Most seasoned backpackers opt for lightweight, calorically-dense foods that are very easy to prepare. Packaged freeze-dried meals and snack foods can be great, but keep in mind, they tend to be very high in sodium/sugar, which can take their toll, if eaten in excess.
Another approach is to prepare your own backpacking meals, using a food dehydrator to dry meats, fruits, veggies, and sauces. Combining them with spices and quick-cooking or easily rehydrated dried goods such as pasta, couscous, instant potatoes, instant refried beans, and minute rice is a great way to customize your own highly-nutritious meals. This method takes more time and effort, and you must be more willing to carry more weight, but making your meals can be more cost-effective and healthier for long trips. Our approach is usually a mix of both methods. For more specifics about food, check out our Best Lightweight Backpacking Food guide, where we outline our general backpacking food strategy and suggest some of our favorite meals.
CleverHiker Backpacking Video Series
If you’re new to backpacking, or have been hiking with outdated equipment, we highly recommend watching our two professionally-filmed video series (below), where we’ll teach you everything you need to know to start backpacking -the skills and the gear.
Essential Trail Skills - 20 HD tutorial videos to teach the most critical skills for backpackers of all levels, such as: Leave No Trace, Backpacking Trip Planning, How to Find and Fit the Right Backpack, How to Pack a Lightweight Backpack, and much more.
Lightweight Backpacking Basics - One of the main reasons to minimize your pack weight is to maximum your freedom on the trail. Backpacking with a lighter pack will reduce stress on your body, give you more free time on the trail, and allow you to hike farther with less effort. In this 10-episode series, you’ll learn all about the gear that will allow you to hike lighter to make the hiking the most enjoyable part of your trip.
If you enjoyed this review, you'll probably like the CleverHiker Gear Guide as well. Here are some popular resources to check out.
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