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Backpacking Pack List: Gear Essentials For Beginners

Backpacking pack list: Essential Gear for Beginners

We’ve backpacked all over the world. In Europe, we backpacked the Tour du Mont Blanc in 2019. In 2020, we backpacked the Kalalau Trail in Kauai. In New Zealand in 2018, our entire family backpacked for 4 days and 3 nights in Abel Tasman. Plus every summer we find the best backpacking trips in the US, such as one of our favorites, Cirque of the Towers.

Backpacking can take you to some of the most incredibly scenic destinations, however, being prepared and comfortable on a backpacking trip makes all the difference in getting to enjoy your experience. This is the essential gear you need, and that we carry with us, on a backpacking trip.

This blog has been updated for 2023.

Backpacking Backpacks

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. It’s not fun!

I am currently on the search for a new backpack but the girls have hiked hundreds of miles with these 2 backpacks and love them.

Backpacking Tents

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 an REI Half Dome 4-person tent and an REI Half Dome 3-person tent if we are all going backpacking. But that is really heavy to carry!

REI also has a 2-person Half Dome tent that would be great if there weren’t so many of us!

All of REI’s Half Dome tents are lightweight, easy to set up, have large door openings on both sides, and when you take the rain tarp off you get a ton of fresh air flowing in. Plus, this makes for a great tent on a warm starry night.

For 1 or 2 people the REI Passage 1 and Passage 2 Tents are also light, easy to set up, durable, and affordable.

REI also has this Backpacking Bundle that comes with an REI 2-person half dome tent plus a sleep pad and sleeping bag. It’s an incredible deal!

When shopping for a backpacking tent, take into account the trail weight and packed size. Also, if you know the type of environment and temperatures where you will be using it- alpine, desert, etc- it will help so you know if you need a 3-season (which is not suitable for winter or extreme cold) or 4-season tent.

Shop REI’s Huge Selection of Backpacking Tents Here

Col de Balme camping and refuge, Tour du mont blanc
A simply stunning sunrise seen from Col de Balme, France

Backpacking Sleeping Pads

We have tried out many different brands of sleeping pads over the years and have an entire blog reviewing our different sleeping pads.

My personal favorite is REI’s Camp Bed, but it’s way too big to take backpacking and I only use it when I am car camping.

best sleep pads REI camp bed
REI camp bed

For a one night trip I use the smaller and lighter Sea to Summit Comfort Light sleep pad. It is self inflating which means you only need a few breaths to finish inflating it. It is still extremely comfortable and you don’t feel like you’re just laying on the ground.

best sleep pad Sea to Summit
Sea to Summit

If you want the absolute lightest option, we have been very happy with the Nemo Tensor. It costs a little more but is super lightweight and takes up almost no space.

best backpacking sleep pad
best backpacking sleep pad

Last, and in many ways the most comfortable and most reliable sleep pad has been the REI Kindercamp sleep pad. It is self inflating and fairly compact. It’s a kids sleep pad, but honestly, Victor fights over it with the kids all the time.

best sleep pad Kinder camp
KinderCamp

Backpacking Sleeping Bag

Having a warm sleeping bag can be a game changer. There’s not much worse than being cold and shivering while tent camping.  Our absolute favorite sleeping bag is Mountain Hardware’s Bishop Pass.

Camping Blanket

If you are backpacking somewhere warm, you might prefer packing a camping blanket like this.

Backpacking Headlamps

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

Having a good headlamp for when you have to go to the bathroom in the woods in the middle of the night (hey, it’s scary) is very important. It also eases our mind knowing we have some powerful lights in case we have to hike back in the dark (which actually happened and you can watch it on YouTube here.

We’ve tried and tested many headlamps, like the Black Diamond pictured above, but now, our go-to brand that we love the most is BioLite 330 headlamp. It is extremely bright and comfortable if you have to hike with it for long periods of time. I like that is rechargeable so I don’t have to worry about finding batteries.

We also love, and always hike with, the Luci Light by MPowerd. These lights are very bright, easy to hang in your tent, collapsible so they are easy to pack, and create a great ambiance around your campsite at night. We have the ones with charging devices on them so that we can keep our phones powered as long as there is sunshine.

Camping Hawaii Malaekahana Oahu, Ultimate Guide to Visiting Hawaii on a Budget
camping in Hawaii only requires a minimal amount of gear but one thing is essential, a waterproof shelter

Backpacking Water Filters

For big hikes and backpacking trips we carry HydroBlu Clear Flow Water Bottles. These are water bottles with filters inside them.

While I don’t love that this water bottle is plastic, it has saved us on so many hiking adventures. It’s so much faster to just unscrew the top, fill from a fast moving stream, and then just suck water up the straw. This allows us to keep hiking and not worry about tablets or finding a tree to hang our gravity bag from.

Hydro blu water filter

On backpacking trips we do also carry the HydroBlu Go Flow Gravity Bag but we typically just use this to make meals once we set up camp.

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.

Hydro blu water filter

Backpacking Camp Stoves & Meals

On some backpacking trips, especially when we want to pack light, we just bring our Jet Boil Flash Java Kit & IsoPro butane. It has a Jet Boil container to boil water quickly and then add in our dehydrated meal.

Honestly, we are huge food snobs so we carry our own whole foods and make salads, stews, and sandwiches in the backcountry.

If you aren’t crazy like us, then carrying out dehydrated meals like Pad Thai Chicken, Kathmandu Curry, or Blueberry Peach Crisp from Backpacker’s Kitchen is our recommended choice.

In order to cook more food we often carry out 1 or 2 Pocket Rockets and a cookset like this.

Plus, I don’t want my coffee to taste like chili, so I use my Jet Boil only for boiling water.

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. We love that it is lightweight and packs down so small. It’s fantastic for backpacking!

We always carry a knife like this and don’t forget to pack a few cooking utensils and a spork. Now is a good time to also throw in waterproof matches, trash bag, ziplock baggies, paper towels, toilet paper, and baby wipes.

Coffee

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 Flash Java Kit.

We personally can’t have French Pressed coffee without it being freshly ground so we always carry this GSI coffee grinder.

Depending on your preference and itinerary, you may want to pack a Hydroflask coffee mug, a 20 oz Hydroflask for the trail, or a collapsible mug to save space.

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Many times on our trips the words, ‘I don’t know what we would’ve done without the Jet Boil’ have been spoken.  Whether we’re in the mountains or by the sea, in a motorhome or in a tent we don’t go a day without using our water boiler/coffee press.

Snacks

If you are packing out your own healthy snacks, we love using 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, our famous trail cookies, crackers, chips 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. 

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

Alcohol

Wine lovers will want to pack out wine and a wine tumbler. Beer fanatics might want to fill up this growler with their favorite brew. And cocktail lovers may want to pack this mini cocktail box.

Backpacking Campfire

If you plan on having a campfire on your backpacking trip, make your life easier by also packing CoffeeWick 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

Backpacking Navigation & Safety

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. You can use your smartphone as an offline GPS but if you are heading deep into the backcountry and are worried about getting lost, we recommend carrying this personal locator beacon.

While backpacking is a super safe outdoor activity, it’s always good to be prepared with a first aid kit.

If you’re backpacking in bear country, you need to carry bear spray and pack your food in a bear canister.

Clothing & Personal Items

Pants & Leggings

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 Hylete leggings because of their form-fit, flat, low waistband and cute styles.

Our Kuhl pants have been everywhere with us and are truly one of our favorite hiking pants!

My personal favorite, the women’s  Splash Roll Up’s are one of my top picks. They’re stylish, comfortable, and durable and have been on adventures with us for 26 countries, which goes to show truly how long-lasting they are!

The women’s Trekkr pants are another top choice, due to their slimmer fit and cinched capri-fit. Kuhl has a style for every hiker with skinny, straight, and relaxed fits for both men and women. “Fueled by independence,” Kuhl combines a mountain mindset with effectively designed, stylish apparel for active people. Shop now at Kuhl.com.

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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.

Base layers are totally optional and it all depends how cold it is where you’re backpacking. I’ve backpacked all over the world in these Smartwool Merion base layer top and Smartwool Merino base layer bottoms and love how comfy they are to sleep in. I also use them for skiing so I really have gotten my money’s worth with them.

Shirts

Defy the Norm Apparel Series

For shirts while backpacking, you’re gonna want anything that’s either lightweight and loose or tight fitting and wicking.  Check out our entire line of swag here and DEFY THE NORM with us!

Sun Layer

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.

Puffy Jacket

We never hit the trail without our Patagonia Nano Puff or Down Sweater 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.  

Things to do Badlands South Dakota
Rockin the Patagonia Down Jackets in Badlands, SD

You should always pack a rain jacket just in case. 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.

Best Shoes For Backpacking

La Sportiva’s Bushidos are the absolute best trail shoes. We all own them and they are our go to shoe for all our adventures. They are comfortable, flexible, and versatile.  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.

Backpacking Socks

I don’t like sleeping in dirty socks so while I tend to just hike in whatever socks I have (typically the Costco pack), I love having comfy warm socks to sleep in. If it’s really cold then these Darn Tough Socks are great. They keep your feet dry (aka less smelly) and are super warm. Personally, we love all of our Stance socks the most. Whether it’s for hiking, skiing, or just hanging out, Stance socks are not only comfy, they look cool and having the L and R on the toe satisfies my O.C.D. nature. 😜

Backpacking Sun Protection

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.

We have pretty dark complexion so we just use layering shirts. You may want to throw in Sun Bum sunscreen because it doesn’t have bad chemicals and it’s reef safe.

Pooping while Backpacking

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.

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

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Backpacking pack list: Essential Gear for Beginners

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Mark Betts

Tuesday 4th of May 2021

WOW What a great list :-) As a backpacker you have really good sense of design :) hehe, and what a great page of information. It's gonna take me a while to look through it all more closely.

Haley

Monday 15th of April 2019

I'm obsessed with hydro flask.

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Monday 3rd of September 2018

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