Ultimate Backpacking Checklist

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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:

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Ultimate Backpacking Checklist

CHECK OUT OUR FREE PRINTABLE CHECKLIST

SHELTER

BACKPACK & STORAGE

CAMP KITCHEN

ENTERTAINMENT

  • Book or Kindle (optional)

  • Crossword puzzles (optional)

  • Cribbage or dice (optional)

  • Notebook + pen (optional)

  • Headphones (optional)

NAVIGATION EQUIPMENT

Always be prepared and know how to use your map and compass, even if you plan to use GPS.

FIRST AID

  • Band-aids of various sizes

  • Antibiotic ointment

  • Gauze pads

  • Medical tape

  • Latex gloves

  • Tweezers

  • Safety pins

  • Moleskin

  • Antihistamines

  • Antidiarrheal

PERSONAL TOILETRIES

FOOD

  • Provisions - commonly between 2,500-3,500 calories per day (meals, snacks)

  • 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

SLEEP SYSTEM

TOOLS & ACCESSORIES

EMERGENCY KIT

HYDRATION

CLOTHING

All applicable clothing items should be lightweight, moisture-wicking and quick-drying (no cotton).

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

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Backpacking Tips

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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More Information

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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