Backpacking Checklist: Don’t Forget These Must-Have Items

Double check your kit before you hit the trail with this handy checklist

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Whether you’re preparing for your first backpacking trip or packing the night before your once-in-a-lifetime, it’s important to remember the essentials with a backpacking checklist. I’ve been backpacking for decades, and have based the below checklist off of what I always review before heading into the backcountry. Download a copy for yourself so that you can adjust and annotate it to fit your needs. 

Backpacking Checklist

See also: Camping Checklist: Our Top Gear and Pack Lists

Backpacking Checklists for Kids, Dogs, and Reluctant Backpackers

Whether you’re bringing your kids, your dog, or your significant other for the first time, here are the camping or backpacking checklists you need to make it a success.

Gear Recommendations for Your Backpacking Checklist

When you’re ready to round out your backpacking gear list with some best-in-class options, we’ve done the testing to get you started.

Man hiking on trail.
Your backpack should feel more like your friend than a burden you have to carry. Laura Lancaster


See the in-depth reviews: Best Ultralight Backpacks, Gregory Baltoro and Deva Review 



See the in-depth reviews: Best Backpacking Tents, Best Ultralight Tents, Best Budget Backpacking Tents, Best 4-Season Tents

Tent Stakes

See the in-depth review: Best Tent Stakes

Sleep Systems

Sleeping Bags or Quilts

See the in-depth reviews: Best Backpacking Quilts, Best Sleeping Bags

See also: How to Choose a Sleeping Bag

Sleeping Pads

See the in-depth reviews: Best Backpacking Sleeping Pads, Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Xlite

See also: Inflatable Versus Closed-Cell Foam


See the in-depth reviews: Best Backpacking Pillows

Backpacking Clothing

Clothing is a critical part of any backpacking checklist.

Hiking Shirt

See the in-depth review: Best Hiking Shirts

Hiking Pants

See the in-depth review: Best Hiking Pants

Hiking Underwear

See the in-depth review: Best Hiking Underwear for Women

Hiking Socks

See the in-depth reviews: Best Hiking Socks, Best Wool Socks 

Hiking Shoes

  • Hybrid: Danner Trail 2650 Campo GTX
  • Maximalist: Hoka Speedgoat
  • Minimalist: Altra Lone Peak
  • Budget: Merrell Moab

See the in-depth reviews: Best Trail Running Shoes, Best Hiking Shoes, Best Waterproof Hiking Shoes, Best Women’s Hiking Shoes, Waterproof Hiking Shoes for Women, Men’s Hiking Shoes, Best Hiking Boots, Hiking Boots for Men, Hiking Boots for Women, Best Thru-Hiking Shoes 

Base Layers

See the in-depth reviews:Best Thermal Underwear for Men, Best Thermal Underwear for Women 

Insulation Top

See the in-depth review: Best Puffer Jackets

Rain Jacket

See the in-depth review: Best Backpacking Rain Jackets

Cooking and Water Treatment


See the in-depth reviews: Best Backpacking Stoves, MSR PocketRocket 2


See the in-depth review: Best Camping Lighters

Water filter

See the in-depth review: backpacking water filters


Satellite messenger

See the in-depth review: Best Personal Locator Beacons and Satellite Messengers 


See the in-depth review: Best Headlamps


See the in-depth review: Best Camping Knives


Personalize your backpacking checklist with these pieces of gear.

Trekking Poles

See the in-depth review: Best Trekking Poles

Power Bank 

See the in-depth reviews: Best Power Banks, Best Power Banks for Camping


See the in-depth review: Best Hiking Sunglasses

Woman hikes on a trail.
There a wide variety of options for wilderness camping. Laura Lancaster


Q: What should backpackers carry?

Backpackers should plan to carry shelter, a sleep system (including a sleeping bag and a sleeping pad), appropriate clothing for the temperatures they expect to see, and food and water (or water treatment). Our checklist (above) includes other items that can help ensure your safety in the great outdoors including sunscreen, a headlamp, and a personal locator beacon. If you are backpacking for the first time, consider consulting with someone more experienced or heading out on a shorter distance trip until you are comfortable with the kit you are taking with you.

Q: What should I pack for a 3 week backpacking trip?

Longer trips can be logistically complicated because of the additional weight you will need to carry. While overnight backpackers might plan to bring a separate out for each day they are out on the trail, for longer trips it can be more expedient to bring along a biodegradable soap and lightweight clothes line so that you can do your laundry as you go. Some backpackers may even appreciate bringing along one of the best camping showers. While bringing along a personal locator beacon is a smart idea on any backpacking trip, it’s extremely important on longer trips where you may have fewer check-in points along the way. When planning out your food strategy, especially if have limited resupply options long the way, consider carefully how much fuel you will need and whether you would benefit from going cook-free for any part of your journey. 

Q: What don’t you need for backpacking?

It’s common for first-time or inexperienced backpackers to carry more weight than they need. There are a number of reasons for this, from not appreciating how numerous small items can compound to add a lot of extra weight to their kit, to bringing superfluous items (like tools or unnecessary articles of clothing) just in case. The above checklist covers everything you need for backpacking, in most conditions. Anything beyond that list can be considered “extra” and should be limited in scope. 

Q: What is a typical backpacker outfit?

Most typical backpackers wear a synthetic or merino wool T-shirt, running shorts, and trail running or hiking shoes. In environments where ticks (and Lyme disease) are a concern, backpackers typically wear longer pants for protection. In extremely hot-weather and/or exposed environments some backpackers will wear lightweight long pants and long-sleeve shirts. 

Q: What is a zero in backpacking?

A zero in backpacking refers to taking a day off at a trail town (or occasionally on trail), hiking zero miles along your route in a day. 

Q: What are the heaviest backpacking items?

The heaviest backpacking items are called “the Big 3,” and refer to your backpacking backpack, your tent, and your sleep system (sleeping bag and pad).

Q: How much weight should a beginner backpacker carry?

Beginner backpackers should aim to carry no more than 25 to 35 pounds total, depending on their personal size and weight (since larger individuals will need larger gear and typically eat more food). 

Q: Is a 40-liter backpack enough for 3 days? 

A 40-liter backpack is enough for three days of backpacking, if it can hold all of your gear. If you are a first-time or beginner backpacker, you likely have a bulkier sleeping bag and tent than someone who has been backpacking for a long time and has invested in more space-efficient, lighter weight gear. If you are purchasing a backpack for the first time, then a 40-liter backpack can help ensure you don’t overpack your gear. However, if you are looking at upgrading your kit and are unsure as to whether your kit will fit into a 40-liter pack, it may be better to look at upgrading your tent or sleep system first. 

Q: Do you wear deodorant backpacking?

While there is the occasional backpacker who wears deodorant, the vast majority do not. 

Q: How much water should I bring backpacking?

How much water you should bring backpacking depends on a few factors. The first, and most important, is the availability of water along your trek. If no water is available, you will need to carry enough water for your trek. Conversely, if water is available every few miles, you should instead carry one of the best backpacking water filters and plan to collect water as you hike. Frequently, the reality is something in between; there is some water available, but not enough that you can simply stop a stream every time your bottle runs dry. In those instances, you should evaluate how far you plan to hike in a day, and the longest distance is between water sources. Most people will need to drink about a gallon of water in a day (more in hotter environments), plus water for cooking or cleaning. Plan to carry sufficient water capacity (around 4 to 8 liters) in the form of water bottles or water reservoirs along with a backpacking water filter.

Q: How can I purify my water naturally?

While there are bushcraft techniques for purifying water in the backcountry, these are rarely practical for backpackers, who will be moving from camp to camp each day. The exception to this is boiling water for one minute. If you plan to go this route, plan to bring plenty of fuel, if it is not available naturally in your environment. 

Q: Is 40 pounds heavy for backpacking?

Forty pounds is heavy for backpacking. Most backpackers should expect to carry between 25 and 30 pounds for an overnight, with heavier loads occurring for longer distances or in unusual circumstances (such as winter backpacking or backpack hunting).

See also: How to Pack a Backpack

Why Trust Outdoor Life?

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Advertising does not influence our gear reviews and it never will. While we always focus our coverage on standout products—because we want our readers to be aware of the latest and greatest gear—we also cover the flaws and quirks of any given product.

Final Thoughts on the Backpacking Checklist

Having the right gear on a backpacking trip can make or break your hike. We’ve compiled a backpacking checklist of our favorite picks, based on decades of experience. Keep this checklist handy and you’ll never forget a piece of your kit again.