Backpacking pack list: Essential Gear for Beginners

Being prepared and comfortable on a backpacking trip makes all the difference in getting to enjoy your expereince. This is the essential gear you need, and that we carry with us, on a backpacking trip.

Backpacking Essentials

Backpacking Packs

Harris Saddle to Lake Mackenzie: How to Backpack the Routeburn Track

Having a good backpack is essential when backpacking. If you’re walking for miles on end in difficult terrain with an uncomfortable backpack, you’ll wish you weren’t there. Trust me, we know the struggle of having a bad backpack. Anyway, so we do have 3 good backpacks.

Kelty Salida 4 Tent and REI Half Dome 4 Plus Tent

Observation Beach, How to backpack Abel Tasman: 3-4 day Abel Tasman Backpacking Itinerary
Practically a private beach at Observation Beach

Since there are 7 of us, we usually pack 2 4-person tents if we are all going backpacking. That being said, we have 2 really rad tents.

The Salida is awesome because it’s super light and when backpacking, every ounce makes a difference. The Kelty Salida is considered one of the best budget friendly tents on the market.

Our other great tent is the REI Half Dome 4. This tent is also very light and I like the large door openings which makes it pleasant to hang out in. While we have the 4, I highly recommend the 4 plus to make it more comfortable to be in. 

Klymit Sleeping Pads

We have 7 different brands of sleeping pads (for each member of our family) so we have a good idea of what a good and bad sleeping pad of looks like. The Klymit sleeping pads are our absolute favorites.

Klymit sleeping pads are extremely comfortable and don’t feel like you’re just laying on the ground. The worst thing about some sleeping pads we have is how much air is required to inflate them and we like that Klymit sleeping pads don’t take long to blow up. They’re also affordable compared to a lot of sleeping pads. 

We like the Static V2 because it’s very lightweight to carry in a backpack but also has a lot of cushioning. If you’re going to be camping in cold weather, we recommend the Insulated Static V2 Lite for extra warmth.

3-Season Sleeping Bags

Having a warm sleeping is essential. There’s not much worse than being cold and shivering while tent camping.  Once again, we have 7 different brands of sleeping bags and out of all them, these are our favorites:

Black Diamond Headlamp + Luci Lantern

Black Diamond Cosmo, Backpacking Pack List: The Best + Most Important Gear Essentials

Our primary use of a headlamp and/or lantern is really just if you have to go to bathroom in the woods in the middle of the night (hey, it’s scary.) It also eases our mind a lot knowing we have some lighting in case we get lost, have to hike back in the dark, or some other emergency like that.

We actually have had to hike the last 3 miles of an 18-miler in the dark because we had intended on backpacking and camping 9 miles in, but just decided to hike back instead.  Long story….watch it on YouTube.

The Black Diamond Cosmo is a really bright light and is long lasting unlike some headlamps.  The Luci Lux is great because it’s collapsable and is better for around your campsite at night.

On the Trail Essentials

Trail food + backpacking meals (duh)

This one is self explanatory.

ECOLunchboxes Blue Water Bento 3-in-1

ECOLunchbox Blue Water Bento 3-in-1, Backpacking Pack List: The Best + Most Important Gear Essentials

These lunch boxes make packing trail food so much easier. We use our ECOLunchboxes to separate our trail snacks form our meal food.

We use the Blue Water Bento 3-in-1 lunchboxes because they pack more efficiently than regular food packaging, they are lightweight unlike most Tupperware, and they seal up really well.

We usually pack nuts, cookies, crackers, etc and by packing them in our Bentos, our food doesn’t get smushed and broken by other stuff in our packs. 

Bentos are completely seal proof so you can even pack hummus, soup, our premade backpacking dinners in never worry about spillage. 

HydroFlask Water Bottles

HydroFlask, Backpacking Pack List: The Best + Most Important Gear Essentials

While we’re hiking, we carry regular water bottles in the side pouches of our backpacks for quick access. You really can’t go wrong with a HydroFlask. Keeps your drink hot and cold, water tight, no plastic-y taste, and they come on cool colors (😉).

Camp Cooking + Eating

BioLite Camp Stove 2 Bundle

If we know we will be camping somewhere where we can light a fire, we love carrying our BioLite stove because it’s so much lighter and simpler than carrying propane.

The other rad thing about BioLite is that you can charge your phone at the same time as you cook.

However, there are times in the summer when we can’t bring the BioLite due to fire bans.  In this case, we use butane canisters along with lighweight MSR burners (see below). 

MSR Pocket Rocket Stovetop and Butane Canister

While the PocketRocket may be a bit tippy when using large pots and pans, this camp stove has gotten us through tent camping in Norway, Ireland, Germany, Hawaii, New Zealand, and the US.

This really is a fantastic product.  It’s lightweight, lasts forever, and is small to pack so it’s fantastic for backpacking. 

JetBoil Flash Coffee Press + GSI Outdoors Java Mill Coffee Grinder

If you somehow don’t need or want coffee when backpacking, I envy you. But if you’re a good ol black coffee lover like us, we never backpack without our JetBoil.

And of course, you can’t have French Pressed coffee without a camping coffee grinder (unless you pre-grind your coffee).

Backpacking Pack List Freebie

HydroFlask 10 oz Tumblers

We’re serious coffee snobs (#sorrynotsorry) and we really don’t like that aluminum taste in coffee cups. That’s why we pack HydroFlask 10 oz Tumblers.

While these tumblers are designed for wine (and we still do use them for wine), we like these for our coffee better than HydroFlask Coffee Mugs.  There’s just something satisfying about drinking coffee out of this size of a cup, you know what I mean?

The HydroFlask tumblers don’t have that aluminum taste like most camp mugs. This is really one of those extra, unessentials but it’s one of those things that makes my backpacking trip more enjoyable. 

Sea to Summit Alpha Light Spork

Sporks usually suck to eat with. The spoon doesn’t work but the fork also doesn’t work, so what’s the point?! Buttt…we finally found sporks that mostly work. 

Sea to Summit Delta Plate and Collapsable Bowl

Depending on what our backpacking meal is, we only bring one or the other.

HydroBlu Go Flow 10L Gravity Bag with Water Filter

While we have risked the cleanliness of natural flowing water in the past, after a few stomach bugs we decided to start backpacking with a water filter.

The Gravity Bag is great for backcountry camping because it carries so much water. It makes it so once we pitch camp we can walk over to a stream, river lake, or waterfall and fill enough water for the whole night and morning.

We also have HydroBlu Clear Flows which are water bottles with filters inside them and these are better for filtering water while hiking but they’re not as good for filtering large quantities of water. 

Health + Safety

Navigation (GPS or PLB)

You can go old school with an actual paper map but it’s unlikely you’ll be able to get your hands on one of those these days. Instead you can use a GPS device or a personal locater beacon like the Garmin inReach Mini. You can actually use your smartphone as an offline GPS. Just click here to find out how to use your smartphone as a reliable GPS while hiking.

Lighter or Matches for Cooking

This might actually the worst, most common thing people forget when backpacking. Forgetting a fire source is saying goodbye to warm food, coffee, and a campfire AKA goodbye comfort.

A Tad Bit of Kindling

While it’s quite possible to start a fire without kindling, make your life easier and just bring a little bit of scrap paper.

CoffeeWick Fire Starters

You could stuff in a big ol wad of scrap paper to get your fire started or you can simply pack Coffee Wick fire starters. These fire starters burn for 30 minutes, are lightweight, and are environmentally friendly.

Campfire, Backpacking Pack List: The Best + Most Important Gear Essentials
Coffee Wick kindling will start a fire like this in no time

Counter Assault Bear Canister and Bear Spray

We only pack this if we’re backpacking in bear country. We pack a lot of food when we’re backpacking so we use the 11 liter Counter Assualt. It’s a bit bulky but it’s better than being hungry (and ya know, being attacked by a bear).

You should always have bear spray in bear country.  And don’t just buy it and forget to bring it like us.  Trust me, seeing a bear 20 feet away and not having bear spray is a scary thing.

Backpacker Emergency Kit + Ultimate Survival Technologies Featherlite First Aid

While backpacking is a super safe outdoor activity, it’s always good to be prepared. Nature is unpredictable and having an emergency kit will make it so you can rest easy knowing that worst case scenario, you’ll be good.

An emergency kit usually includes emergency fire starts, beacons of some sort, and emergency blankets.  You could make your own emergency kit at home or you can buy one. The same goes for a first aid kit.

Sun Bum Sunscreen (Chemical Free and Reef Safe)

We’re the worst about remembering sunscreen which is terrible because sunburns are no joke.  If you’re hiking on exposed mountain ridges, in snow, or in the heat of the sun, it is essential to have good sunscreen.  We buy Sun Bum sunscreen because it doesn’t have bad chemicals and it’s reef safe.

Toothpaste + Toothbrush

This one’s also self explanitory…

Trowel, Trash Bag, and TP

Some people love it, some people hate it, either way, you have to leave no trace when pooping in the woods.  Always dig a 6-8 inch hole with a trowel and throw all your used toilet paper in a trash bag.

Backpacking Pack List Freebie

Clothing

Lucy Leggings (for women)

We like to hike in leggings because they’re wicking. Leggings are basically a 2-in-1, they’re super lightweight when it’s hot yet also can be a great base layer when it’s cold.

We love our Lucy leggings because of their form fit, flat waistband,and embroidery along the sides.

Base Layer

Base layers are totally optional and it all depends how cold it is where you’re backpacking. For women I always just recommend leggings as I just mentioned and they can substitute as a base layer.

For more insulating base layers for men and women, I recommend Kuhl base layers.

Kuhl Pants

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These Kuhl pants are the ultimate pants for outdoor adventure.  Scrape-proof for rock climbing, warm for hiking, and flexible for spontaneous yoga poses.

When it’s cooler we love our Kuhl pants.  These are the ultimate cargo pants, they’re super durable but also very stylish and fitting. If it’s really cold we wear our Kuhl Pants on top of our leggings for multiple layers of insulation.

Shirts

kids hiking lambert dome yosemite

For shirts while backpacking, you’re gonna want anything that’s either lightweight and loose or tight fitting and wicking.  Here are some of our favorite shirts to hike in.

Sun Layer (Plaid Button Up or Loose Long Sleeve)

Each of us has our usual go-to for sun protection.  For me it’s a plaid button up, for others in the family it’s a loose long sleeve.  Either way the point is light and loose. While a tight, sweat wicking long sleeve would work too, we prefer looser clothing for when it’s really hot because it protects our skin but keeps is cool.

Insulation (Patagonia Nano Puff + North Face Venture 2)

We never hit the trail without our Patagonia Nano Puff jackets.  These are basically the most versatile jackets ever! They’re insulating and warm for when it gets really cold but they’re also just a great windbreaker.  

You should always pack a rain jacket. We’ve made the mistake of listening to the weather report, “Nah, we don’t need em’, it’s not supposed to rain”… only to be getting soaked while hiking on a mountainside because we didn’t have our rain jackets.

La Sportiva Bushido Trail Shoes

We’re addicted to these trail shoes. There is no better trail running shoe on the market as comfortable, flexible, and versatile as Bushidos.  Click here to see our full review of La Sportiva Bushidos and find out why they’re our #1 shoe for hiking, backpacking, and adventure.

Merino Wool Hiking Socks

Icky socks are the worst.  This is the only thing on this list that I’d actually recommend bringing multiple pairs of.  We like Merino Wool Socks because they keep your feet dryer (AKA less smelly). Plus, if you’re camping in cold weather and extra pair of clean, warm Merino wool socks will make you sleep better.

Hat and Sunglasses

We always hike with a hat because 1) We like our stylish hats, 2) They protect your face from the sun, and 3) I mean, come on, you gotta look good for the trees.  Sunglasses are especially important when hiking in glacial valleys or at high altitude.  I never would’ve though looking at the ground as you walk through snow could hurt your eyes so bad.  Avoid snow-burn and pack some sunglasses.

Hope this helped you pack for your backpacking trip!  Feel free to ask us questions in the comments section below!

Did we miss anything?  Let us know your favorite backpacking gear in the comments below!

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Backpacking pack list: Essential Gear for Beginners

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