What to Pack for a Backpacking Trip
A List of Necessary Gear and Its Weight
Whether backpacking for a couple of days, a week, or a number of months, the goal in choosing gear is to pack everything that is essential for a successful journey while keeping the weight of the backpack as low as possible.
You can carry less weight on your back by purchasing lightweight gear. But the real secret to a light pack is to bring only those items that are truly necessary. Other than items such as those in the first-aid kit and rain gear, the rule of thumb is that if you don't use it every day, don't bring it. After paring your gear down to the bare minimum, you can then evaluate whether or not to add an "indulgence" item or two.
With this in mind, here is a list of what I bring on a typical backpacking trip. This is for moderate weather conditions on trails that do not require technical climbing or special gear. Obviously, if you need to bring something like crampons in order to dig your boots into ice, you would add such gear to your list of required equipment.
The weights listed are for my personal gear and will presumably vary from yours.
Total Weight: 49.5 ounces (3.09 pounds)
The nature of the pack itself sets the stage for the rest of the gear and how it will be carried. Backpacks themselves can easily weigh 6-8 pounds. Many backpacking manufacturers and salespeople justify this weight by pointing out the excellent ergonomic design, which makes it feel not all that bad. And many travelers choose larger packs out of fear that they will not be able to carry everything they need in a smaller pack. But the heavier and larger the backpack is, the more miserable you will be carrying it all day long, day after day after day.
My recommendation is to find a fairly small pack, perhaps 2,500-4,500 cubic inches in capacity, that has a good hip belt to help balance the weight. Having a smaller, lighter pack encourages packing less gear, thereby reducing weight both in terms of the pack itself and the equipment carried. A smaller pack can be "expanded" by lashing equipment, such as the sleeping pad and sandals, to the outside of the pack. The pack should weigh less than five pounds; there are some commercially available ultra-lightweight packs that are between one and two pounds. To protect the pack and its contents from rain, it is a good idea to also have a backpack cover.
A smaller backpack means carrying less gear.
Less gear means a lighter pack.
A lighter pack means an easier hike!
Choose your pack wisely!
There are many styles of backpacks available. I recommend a pack that feels comfortable on you and is sturdy. It should be large enough to just barely fit your gear and food. Any extra space invites carrying extra items with extra weight! There are models specifically made for women.
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The Tent: Home, Sweet Home
Total Weight: 58 ounces (3.63 pounds)
Most people carry either a tent or a tarp. Even if you are backpacking on a trail that has shelters for backpackers, it is a good idea to have another option in case there is no room in the shelter when you arrive.
Tarps are far lighter than tents but are more difficult and time-consuming to put up and take down. They are, however, extremely versatile and can be put up in a wide variety of configurations to meet the needs of the weather conditions and geography of the campsite. Their excellent ventilation can make tarps more comfortable than tents, and they dry quickly when wet. Tarps can weigh less than two pounds.
Tents are considerably heavier but are very easy to set up after a long day of hiking. When choosing a tent, look for something that weighs less than 5 pounds, including the fly, groundcloth and carrying cases. The tent is the heaviest piece of equipment to go into the backpack, so its weight will greatly affect the weight of the entire pack.
Your backpacking tent should be easy to set up and take down. A 2-person tent will comfortably fit one person plus gear. If two people are in the tent, there is very little room for gear.
Total Weight: 49 - 54.5 ounces (3.06 - 3.41 pounds)
The bedding consists of a sleeping bag, sleeping pad, and bag liner (if necessary for colder weather). Some people choose to use a fleece blanket instead of a sleeping bag.
The sleeping bag should ideally weigh less than three pounds and be able to compress down to a small size to be stored in the backpack. There are compression sacks that can be used to really cram the sleeping bag down into a tiny package, though compression sacks weigh more than regular stuff sacks. For backpacking, it is important to have a hooded sleeping bag to stay warm on chilly nights. Mummy bags, which narrow at the feet, help to keep the backpacker warm while shaving off a bit of weight compared to rectangular sleeping bags. Synthetic bags are starting to rival down bags in weight and compressibility. Down bags have a lot of trouble when they get wet, since their ability to insulate heat becomes severely compromised.
Self-inflating mattresses are relatively comfortable but are also much heavier than foam mattresses. If damaged, self-inflating mattresses are fairy useless. Some people choose -length mattresses in order to reduce weight. Your backpack can be placed under your legs overnight if that is more comfortable than having your legs rest on the ground.
3-season sleeping bags are usually rated to 20-35 degrees and should have a built-in hood. The tapered design makes the bag lighter and helps to keep feet warm in cooler weather. There are bags made specifically for women.
This style of pad rolls up quickly and easily and is lightweight. I use the small (3/4) size, which is lighter. I usually placed by backpack under my lower legs, since the pad isn't that long.
The Medicine Cabinet - Total Weight: 13.5 ounces (0.84 pound)
These are the first-aid items I carry in a red stuff sack.
- Stuff Sack: 0.25 ounce
- Band-Aids: 0.25 ounce
- 2 Gauze Pads: 0.25 ounce
- Moleskin: 0.25 ounce
- Corn Removers: 0.00 ounce
- Foot Powder: 1.00 ounce
- 12 Alcohol Wipes (mostly for foot care): 0.50 ounce
- Ibuprofen: 0.25 ounce
- Antibiotic Ointment: 0.50 ounce
- Hydrocortisone: .0.50 ounce
- Tick Remover Tool: 0.25 ounce
- Iodine (for emergency water treatment): 1.00 ounce
- Duct Tape (for medical and other uses): 1.00 ounce
- Emergency Handbook (instruction booklet): 1.00 ounce
- Ace Bandage: 1.00 ounce
- Sunblock: 2.00 ounces
- Bug Spray: 2.00 ounces
- Toothbrush and Paste (could be carried in food bag instead): 1.50 ounces
The Kitchen - Total Weight: 29.25 ounces (1.83 pounds)
These are items used for food storage, preparation, and clean-up.
- Water Filter (I pack the filter in an outside mesh pocket on my backpack, not in the food bag): 12.0 ounces
- Stove (I use an Esbit stove): 1.50 ounces
- Fuel Tablets: 2.50 ounces
- Lighter: 0.25 ounce
- Windscreen (for the stove): 1.75 ounces
- Cookpot (0.9-liter, titanium): 6.0 ounces
- Spoon or Spork: 0.25 ounce
- Pot Scraper: 0.25 ounce
- Breakfast/Lunch/Dinner/Snack Stuff Sacks: 3.00 ounces
- Hanging Foodbag: 0.75 ounce
- Bearbag Rope: 1.00 ounce
Titanium cookpots are sturdy and very lightweight. This model has rubber on the handles so that the pot can be picked up even after your meal has been cooking over a fire. Just eat right out of the pot!
The Clothes Closet - Total Weight: 28.25 - 58 ounces (1.77 - 3.63 pounds)
The entire "closet" is crammed into a stuff sack!
Remember that "cotton kills." Choose synthetic materials that can dry quickly and insulate heat even when wet.
- Stuff Sack: 0.5 ounce
- Running Shorts: 2.5 ounces
- 2 Pairs Socks: 6.0 ounces
- 1 Pair Sock Liners: 1.25 ounces
- 2 Pairs Underwear (nylon, with cotton crotch): 1.0 ounce
- Longsleeve Shirt (2 in cold weather): 5.5 ounces each
- Longjohns (2 in cold weather): 4.0 ounces each
- Gortex Jacket: 7.5 ounces
- Fleece Sweater (cool or cold weather): 11.0 ounces
- Fleece Hat (cool or cold weather): 1.25 ounces
- Gloves (cold weather only): 2.0 ounces
- Rain Pants (cold weather only): 6.0 ounces
The Bathroom - Total weight: 7.5 ounces (0.47 pound)
Supplies for taking care of business are in a stuff sack with extra plastic zip bags to prevent contamination and odor. I also place a paper bag inside a plastic bag so I don't have to look at any used toilet paper!
- Stuff Sack: 1.00 ounce
- Toilet Paper (cardboard roll removed): 0.50 ounce
- Baby Wipes (unscented!): 1.50 ounces
- Hand Sanitizer: 1.50 ounces
- Tampons: 2.00 ounces
- Trash Bag (to pack out toilet trash): 1.00 ounce
Other Gear - Total Weight: 24.5 ounces (1.53 pounds)
- Flashlight & 2AA Batteries & Extra Bulb: 4.0 ounces
- Tevas (sandals): 13.5 ounces
- Pocket Knife: 1.0 ounce
- Maps & Guidebooks: 0.5 ounce
- Emergency Whistle: 0.25 ounce
- Bandanna: 0.75 ounce
Books About Lightweight Backpacking - Ditch some weight, have more fun!
Food and Water
Approximate Weight of Food for One Day: 20.5 - 32 ounces (1.28 - 2 pounds)
Approximate Weight of Food for Five Days: 102.5 - 160 ounces (6.41 - 10 pounds)
This weight decreases daily as food is eaten!
2 liters of water: 64 ounces (4 pounds)
While I start off with two liters of water, I'm rarely carrying the full two liters, since I take frequent drinks in order to stay hydrated.
A lighter pack makes for a better hike!
Pack what you need to be safe and adequately prepared, but no more!
So, What's It All Weigh?
The grand totals
My backpack with all my gear, without food and water, weighs 259.5 - 294.75 ounces (16.22 - 18.42 pounds). The range in weight reflects the difference between warmer and colder weather gear.
My backpack, fully-loaded with food for one day and two liters of water, weighs 344 - 390.75 ounces (21.5 - 24.42 pounds). This range in weight is due to variation in both gear and daily food weight.
With a five-day supply of food and two liters of water, the grand total comes to 426 - 518.75 ounces (26.63 - 32.42 pounds).
In addition to the above weight on my back, there are items that I am wearing or carrying - Total Weight: 71.25 ounces (4.45 pounds)
- Hiking Shorts: 6.0 ounces
- Coolmax Shortsleeve Shirt: 5.0 ounces
- Socks: 3.0 ounces
- Sock Liners: 1.25 ounces
- Bra: 1.25 ounces
- Underwear: 0.5 ounce
- Bandanna: 0.75 ounce
- Boots: 31.0 ounces
- Gaiters: 3.5 ounces
- Hiking Poles: 19.0 ounces