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Backpacking 101: What Goes in the Pack

Backpacking is a bit of a strange concept when you really break it down. You purchase a bunch of expensive, ultra light-weight gear, stuff it to the brim with food, more gear, and the minimal clothes necessary and then you put it on your back (or your hips, I should say) and walk. Just walk. There's nothing terribly glorious or even comfortable about backpacking but I that's really where the appeal lies. You're dirty, either hot or freezing, sore and all kinds of other general complaints and yet you find yourself in a beautiful remote environment in which everything negative falls away. Even the mosquitos no longer seem to matter (and this is big, coming from someone who was practically made to be eaten by mosquitos). Backpacking truly gives more than it takes, you work hard during the day but the views, the peace, the quiet, the sense of being somewhere in the world to which you can't just drive is beyond unbeatable. Not to mention the dehydrated food that tastes like a 5 star meal out in the wilderness.

But enough of the reflection - the point? Backpacking is incredible and if you ever have the opportunity or the means to do so, don't pass it up. If you're looking to plan your first trip or just curious about it, check out this basic list of items you should absolutely have in your backpack before you head out into the wild. (In an attempt to keep this post short I won't get into the details of each item and the varieties therein, I will simply list them)

The Basics:

  • Backpack

  • Sleeping Bag

  • Sleeping Pad

  • Tent or Tarp

  • First Aid Kit - In my basic weekend kit I have bandaids, gauze, medical tape, butterfly closures, an ace bandage, antiseptic, ibuprofen, allergy medicine, tweezers, scissors, and a variety of wraps, pads, wipes, etc.

  • Backpack rain cover


  • Backpacking Stove and Fuel

  • Fire - Cigarette lighter, matches in a waterproof case, fire starter kit, etc.

  • WATER! - Be sure to pack lightweight bottles like Nalgene or reused plastic bottles

  • Water purification - Aquamira (drops), Lifestraw, Iodine tablets, Steripen, etc.

  • Food - Backpacking meals, homemade trail mix, dried fruit, jerky, cheese (hard cheeses are good without refrigeration), instant coffee, oatmeal, protein bars, etc.

  • Pot and Utensil - can double for cooking and eating

  • Bandana - for cleaning/general purpose


  • Your hiking outfit - depending on weather choose either hiking pants or shorts, a synthetic top, wool socks and hiking boots

  • Base layer - long underwear top and bottom

  • Fleece layer - at least a fleece jacket of some sort

  • Light Jacket - collapsible down jackets work great for an extra evening layer

  • Rain jacket

  • 1 extra pair of hiking socks

  • Warm hat & gloves

  • Anything else is at your discretion and depends on the weather


  • Bug spray - look for travel sized

  • Sunscreen

  • Hat - wide brimmed or ball cap

  • Sunglasses

  • Basic hygiene - toothbrush/paste is basically all I carry

  • Any medications - allergy, daily, inhalers, etc.

  • Knife or multi-tool

  • Chapstick

  • Compass

  • Map or downloaded maps on phone

  • Trekking poles (optional)

  • Camp chair (think Crazy Creek or lightweight pole chair - optional)

While a lot of what goes in your pack will be personal preference, this list should cover at least the basics so you have some general guidelines with which to begin packing. I would encourage you to research the items thoroughly before purchasing/packing as there are so many varieties of just about everything and every slight difference will impact your trip in some way.

Finally, if I could leave you with one last super important word of advice, it would be to prepare for your return to the trailhead just as much as you prepare for your actual trip

(okay maybe not as much but at least prepare a little). What I mean is, when you finally return to your vehicle you will likely be tired, hot or cold, maybe wet, likely hungry and so much more. To minimize these feelings and congratulate your return here's a few things I recommend packing in your car:

  • A cooler with cold refreshments (interpret as you please)

  • Good snacks (I'm talking chips, hostess snacks, something indulgent and delicious)

  • A change of clothes - include a big sweatshirt

  • Towels to sit on or dry off with

  • Extra water (trust me, fresh water after backpacking just hits different)

With this, I leave you. Whether you're an olympic-level backpacker or just getting started, I hope this has helped in some way and if not, thank you for reading it anyway. Enjoy the backcountry!

As always, Happy Trekking,


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