Download a PDF of The Checklist
We distill the entire article below into a concise checklist PDF. Just click the link above then print it out or save it to your phone for your next backpacking trip.
How to Use This List
- Start with the Must Bring Items, you actually need all this gear.
- Next, move onto Clothing and Footwear Essentials.
- See if you need any Optional Items (but highly recommended). You can probably get away without them, but they may make your trip more pleasant.
- Next see the list Optional Items (that are either luxuries or for specific applications). You probably don't need these but they might be useful.
- Finally, if you are obsessed with having the lightest pack possible, see the Ultralight section at the bottom.
1. Must Bring Items
- Backpack — See our Best Backpacking Backpacks and Best Women's Backpacking Backpacks reviews. Our men's favorite is the Osprey Atmos 65 AG but we also like the Gregory Baltoro 65 for longer trips and the Osprey Volt 75 if you are on a budget. If you want to go light, consider the Osprey Exos 58. Our favorite women's backpack is the Osprey Aura AG 50.
- Backpack Cover — Most manufacturers sell covers to fit their packs but covering your bag with a trash bag or trash compactor bag works just as well.
- First Aid Kit — You can build you own or buy an already-filled kit. Either way, we very highly recommend carrying one with you at all times in the backcountry. Futhermore, you should get to know the contents of your first aid kit, and know how to use them.
- Food — See The Best Backpacking Food and The Best Camping Food reviews. Our favorite energy bar is the Probar Meal.
- Headlamp — See our Headlamp Review. The Black Diamond ReVolt and Coast HL7 offer the best combination of weight and performance. Take the Petzl e+LITE as a lightweight backup. Carry extra batteries or an external battery if your headlamp charges by USB.
- Lighter and/or Matches — For starting fires and in case the built in igniter on your stove fails
- Map and compass — Make sure you know how to use both and that all members of your team have them.
- Mug and Spoon/Spork — See our Spork Review. Our favorite is the Snow Peak Titanium Spork and our favorite mug is the Olicamp Space Saver Cup. This is all you need if you are using a system like the Jetboil Flash with just-add-water food. If cooking, you also need a light cook set like the G4Free Outdoor Camping Set.
- Permits — You generally need to reserve a permit months in advance (online or by phone). Some areas may also have walk-in permits you can get the morning of your trip.
- Pocket knife — See our Pocket Knife Review. Our favorite is the Benchmade Mini-Barrage 585. Also see How to Sharpen a Pocket Knife and How to Clean a Pocket Knife.
- Sleeping bag — See our Backpacking Sleeping Bag Review and Women's Sleeping Bag Review. Our favorite is the Western Mountaineering Ultralite 20 for men or the Rab Neutrino 400 - Women's for women but we also like the Kelty Cosmic Down 20 or the The North Face Cat's Meow 20 - Women's which are a third of the price.
- Sleeping pad — See our men's Sleeping Pad Review and Women's Sleeping Pad Review. Our favorite pad for men is the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Xtherm. Our favorite women's sleeping pad is the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite - Women's.
- Sun protection — (hat, sunscreen, lip balm, sunglasses). See our Sun Hat Review. Our favorite is the Sunday Afternoons Adventure Hat.
- Stove — See our Backpacking Stove Review. Our favorite is the MSR Windburner for boiling water fast but the MSR MicroRocket is much less expensive and easier to cook with. If you are just boiling water for 1-2 people, use the Jetboil Flash.
- Tent — See our Backpacking Tent Review. Our favorite is the Hilleberg Anjan 2 but the REI Half Dome 2 Plus is awesome and a third of the cost.
- Water Bottle or Hydration Bladder — See our Water Bottle Review and Hydration Bladder Review. Our favorite bottle is the Klean Kanteen Classic 27 and our favorite bladder is the Geigerrig Hydration Engine.
- Water Treatment — See our Backpacking Water Filter Review. Our favorite is the Platypus GravityWorks but we also like the Sawyer Mini because it's a great value and is lightweight.
2. Clothing and Footwear Essentials
See our Introduction to Layered Clothing Systems and How to Layer Clothing for Each Season for an overview and detail on how to layer for different activities and weather conditions.
Warm Weather Essentials(Low temperatures above freezing)
- Hiking Pants — See our men's Hiking Pants Review and Women's Hiking Pants Review reviews. Our men's favorite: the Prana Stretch Zion Convertible Pants. Our women's favorite: the Marmot Lobo's Convertible Pant - Women's.
- Hiking Shoes or Boots — See our Best Hiking Shoe Review and Best Hiking Boots for Men Review. Our favorite hiking boot for men is the Vasque St. Elias GTX and our favorite hiking shoe for men is the The North Face Ultra 109 GTX. Also see our Best Women's Hiking Shoe Review and Best Women's Hiking Boots Review. Our favorite women's hiking boot is the Lowa Renegade GTX Mid - Women's and hiking shoe, the Salomon Ellipse GTX - Women's.
- Hiking Socks — See our Hiking Socks Review. Our favorite is the SmartWool PhD Outdoor Medium Crew Socks.
- Long Underwear Top — See our Long Underwear Review. Our favorite is the Smartwool NTS Mid 250 Crew for men and the Arc'teryx Rho LT Zip - Women's for women.
- Light Down Jacket or Insulated Jacket — See our men's Down Jacket Review and Insulated Jacket Review. Our favorites are the Mountain Hardwear Hooded Ghost Whisperer and the Rab Xenon X. Our favorite down jacket for women is the Mountain Hardwear Hooded Ghost Whisperer - Women's. See also our Women's Insulated Jacket Review and our Women's Down Jacket Review.
- Rain Jacket — See our men's Rain Jacket Review and our Women's Rain Jacket Review. Our favorite for men is the Marmot Essence. Our favorite women's rain jacket is the Outdoor Research Aspire - Women's.
- Underwear — We have not noticed a huge difference in various synthetic underwear models. But one of the fastest drying, most popular and highly rated ones is the ExOfficio GiveNGo Boxer Brief.
Cold Weather Essentials(Low temperatures above freezing)
- Balaclava — In cold weather these are essential. Our favorite is the Smartwool NTS Mid 250 Balaclava.
- Hardshell — See our men's Hardshell Jacket Review and our Women's Hardshell Jacket Review. Our favorite is the Arc'teryx Alpha FL but a heavier duty rain jacket like the Marmot Minimalist Jacket may save you money and weight. Our favorite women's hardshell is the Arc'teryx Theta AR - Women's.
- Long Underwear — See our Long Underwear Review. A great value for long underwear bottoms is the ColdPruf Basic.
- Warmer Down Jacket or Insulated Jacket — See our Down Jacket Review and Insulated Jacket Review. Our favorites for men are the Arc'teryx Thorium SV and the MontBell Frost Smoke Parka. Our favorites for women are the Rab Microlight Alpine Jacket - Women's and the MontBell Frost Smoke Down Parka - Women's.
3. Optional Items (but highly recommended)
- Cord — For fixing broken shoe laces, gaiters, pole grips etc. We like the Kelty TripTease LightLine.
- Gaiters — For keeping dirt out of your hiking shoes and boots. We like the Salomon Trail Gaiters.
- Light Fleece Jacket — See our Fleece Jacket Review and Women's Fleece Jacket Review. We usually only bring a superlight fleece like the Patagonia R1 or the Patagonia R1 Hoody - Women's. Heavier fleeces are much heavier than insulated jackets and down jackets for how warm they are.
- Handheld GPS — See our Handheld GPS Review. Our favorite: Garmin Oregon 600. You might also consider using an app on your smartphone but keep in mind you need to download maps in advance and store them on your phone while you have an internet connection.
- Rain Pants — Our favorite lightweight pants are the Outdoor Research Helium Pants. Rain pants are only optional in relatively dry areas with predictable weather like the Southwest desert or Sierra Nevada. For rainy areas, they may be mandatory.
- Satellite Messenger or Personal Locator Beacon — See our Satellite Messenger Review.
- Trekking Poles — See our Trekking Pole Review. Our favorite is the Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork and the best value is the Black Diamond Trail Back.
4. Optional Items (that are either luxuries or for specific applications)
- Camp Shoes — Shoes or booties that weigh only a few ounces and have no sole or a very soft and light sole. Here is a favorite Columbia Packed Out Slipper.
- Wind Jacket — See our Wind Jacket Review. We generally prefer an ultralight rain jacket like the Outdoor Research Helium 2 because wind jackets are only a little lighter than ultralight rain jackets and not waterproof.
5. Ultralight Gear List
Keep in mind that many of the options above are already very light. The ultralight gear listed below shaves even more weight in two ways; 1. by using dramatically more expensive materials like titanium, 900+ fill down, and cuben fiber, and 2. by using minimalist design principles such as tarp shelters which have no walls or a floor and quilts which have no zippers or hoods.
While many OGL Reviewers love ultralight backpacking, we also acknowledge the gear comes at a higher cost and requires learning new skills and habits that many backpackers, especially casual backpackers, may not want to pay for, or experience.
- Bivy Sack — If you are going solo, this saves you weight and set up time. See our Bivy Sack Review and Buying Advice.
- Hammock — Only for certain climates and sleeping situations. See our Hammock Review and Buying Advice.
- Minimalist First Aid Kit — Some backpackers feel you only need some Advil to manage pain and duct tape for blisters, to cover minor cuts, and to create a splint to get you back to the trailhead for real medical attention.
- Sleeping Bags and Quilts — See our Ultralight Sleeping Bag Review.
- Stuff sack — All sleeping bags come with them, but you might want to upgrade to a compression stuff sack to save space. See The Best Sleeping Bag Stuff Sacks.
- Tent Accessories — Most tents come with a ground cover, tent stakes, and tensioning cord. But if you're trying to go ultralight or just want the best quality, you may consider an upgrade described at the bottom of our Ultralight Tent Review. See also Modular Accessories for Floorless Tents.
- Ultralight Tents and Tarp Shelters — These ultralight alternatives to an traditional tent save pounds but are rarely free-standing or enclosed. See our Ultralight Tent Buying Advice to see if they are right for you.