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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 last year. Earlier this year, we backpacked the Kalalau Trail in Kauai. In New Zealand, our entire family backpacked for 4 days and 3 nights in Abel Tasman.

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 summer 2021.

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. It’s not fun!

I backpack with Patagonia’s Crag Daddy, however, they no longer sell this item. It’s technically a rock climbing pack but it’s so comfortable that I use it for backpacking too. The girls have hiked hundreds of miles with these 2 backpacks and love them.

REI Half Dome Tents for Backpacking

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. I love ALL the REI Half Dome tents and will soon be investing in REI’s Backpacking Bundle that comes with an REI 2-person half dome tent plus a sleep pad and sleeping bag. It’s an incredible deal!

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.

Shop all of REI’s Half Dome Tents here

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

Backpacking Sleeping Pads

We have tried out many different brands of sleeping pads over the years and have a good idea of what a good and bad sleeping pads looks like. 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, Instead, I settle for the more packable 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.

We also use the REI’s Flash 3-Season. It’s very lightweight and comfortable. Plus, it’s held up for over 5 years.

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.

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.

3-Season Sleeping Bags

Having a warm sleeping is essential. There’s not much worse than being cold and shivering while tent camping.  Our absolute favorites sleeping bag is the Cat’s Meow by The North Face.

Lighting Up the Wilderness

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. We have two of the one’s that have charging devices on them so that we can keep our phones powered as long as there is sunshine. These lights are also very bright is great because it’s collapsable and provides great light for around your campsite at night or to hang in your tent.

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

On the Trail Essentials

Trail Food + Backpacking Meals

Honestly, we are huge food snobs so we have never tried dehydrated meals. Instead, we carry our own whole foods and make salads, stews, and sandwiches in the backcountry.

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).

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. 

Backpacking Fitness

Get in the best shape of your life, summit epic peaks with ease, and recover faster with our Fit To Hike course. Victor has been a strength coach for 30 years and has designed a program that is sport specific for hikers and will make you feel amazing for all your hiking adventures.

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.


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.

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


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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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.


Monday 15th of April 2019

I'm obsessed with hydro flask.

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