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Yosemite Camping, Hiking, Backpacking-Be Smart. Prepare. Make a checklist.

Updated on July 29, 2013
Yosemite in Touloumne Canyon
Yosemite in Touloumne Canyon

Hiking is one of the best ways to see the wonders of Yosemite. Eight hundred miles of trails can take you from valleys to mountain tops, from streams and rivers to lakes and waterfalls. Finding your way on wide expanse of giant granite guided by cairns that were prepared by previous hikers is most exciting.

There is one caveat to this enjoyment and that is safety. Yosemite is there for us to enjoy and explore but foremost in our minds is that we must do so responsibly. We are responsible for our own safety and for the safety of others. Because hiking trips are planned ahead, many times months or even years in advance, there is the tendency in many to ignore unexpected circumstances that can jeopardize safety. Do not ignore these unexpected circumstances and alter your plans.

Important Current Information on Yosemite

Check the weather and formal predictions and estimate its effects on the trail and the planned hike. Check current news events.

Call the Park Rangers and get their advice and heed their warnings. Check the park’s website: Cancel or postpone the hike if you must.

Read. Research. Ask.

Information, especially from hikers who have been on the trail we want to take, is extremely helpful in successfully completing a hike.There are numerous books on Yosemite’s trails. Blogs written by experienced hikers abound on the Internet. Read the advice of Friends of Search and Rescue at Yosemite on Compile a list of telephone numbers that are needed in specific circumstances like when one is lost or when one is injured.

How To Prepare for a Hike

As much as spontaneous hiking is exhilarating, especially when everything has gone well, we must acknowledge that everything went well because of good decisions made during the hike. Good decisions are made because of acquired knowledge. It behooves everyone to learn as much as one can about Yosemite and hiking.

Which trails can I physically do? Can I hike two miles or can I do fifty? Can I carry a 40 lb. backpack? Should I make arrangements for my provisions to be available when needed? Will the trail lead me to higher elevations? How high? A short hike to the top of Vernal Falls can be difficult for those with weak knees, weak hearts or weak lungs. Higher elevations will require a day or two of acclimatization and should be included in the schedule.

Did I physically condition my body to undertake a long hike with variations in elevation? Did I physically condition my body for a long hike carrying a 40 lb. backpack? In addition to physical fitness, less experienced hikers or hikers who have not hiked in a long time may want to go on practice hikes carrying weight in a backpack and wearing hiking boots over trails that ascent and decend. After a few practice hikes, several questions can be answered. Should I make plans to do a shorter hike and carry fewer items? Should I review my equipment and look for lighter alternatives? Trails can be smooth and dry, can be slippery and wet, and can be rough and rocky. Even 2-mile hikes might require hiking boots. Hiking in wintry conditions will have specific requirements.

How do I get there? How much time will it take me to hike the trail and get back or set up camp? How will I get to the trailhead and from the trailhead? Is there transportation from the trailhead to civilization or should I arrange for someone to come and pick me up?

Where will the trail lead me? In addition to choosing a destination, we must know as much as we can about the trail. We need a topographical map and must know how to read it. We must know how to use a compass. How will I get across a mountain? Where can I cross a stream? How do I go around a lake? The best trail to take will always be the main trails. This cannot be stressed enough. If we are unable to reach our destination when we are expected, being on the main trail will help rescuers find us easily. The main trail will almost always keep us away from falling or slipping into a deep gorge, a ravine or fast moving river. Do not be tempted to veer away from the main trail to take photographs or follow an animal. Do not take shortcuts in switchbacks.

What do I need to bring? Take seriously the popular adage: Plan for the expected; prepare for the unexpected - even for a short one-day hike. Write a long list of things to do and things to bring.

Schedule things-to-do making sure that there will be enough time to accomplish everything on the list.

Be meticulous. Trim the list to your specific requirements but don’t scrimp to the point you don’t have enough or do not have something that is not good enough. Pack well. The list can be long but the right equipment and smart packing is what successful backpackers do all the time.

Hiking and Backpacking Checklist

Reference for Individuals and Groups



____ ____ Is the backpack the right size for me?

____ ____ Is the hipbelt in good condition and attached properly?

____ ____ Pack cover, large – waterproof

____ ____ 1-gallon Ziplock bags (to pack clothes)


____ ____ Sleeping bag with stuff sack

____ ____ Sleep clothes – worn only in sleeping bag (t-shirt and gym shorts)

____ ____ Straps to hold sleeping bag to backpack (if external frame)

____ ____ Sleeping pad (closed foam or Thermarest style)

Clothing-Extended Hikes (5 or more days)

A-Hiking Clothes (Day)

____ ____ Hiking boots – well broken in and well sealed

____ ____ Lightweight sneakers for camp

____ ____ Sandals or water socks if crossing creeks and rivers

____ ____ 2 pairs - wool hiking socks

____ ____ 3 pairs - sock liners

____ ____ 3 changes of underwear (unless using shorts with mesh) (high-tech

underwear preferred, not cotton)

____ ____ 2 hiking lightweight shorts, or long pants with zip off legs

____ ____ 2 short-sleeve shirts (Lightweight Polypropylene)

____ ____ 1 long-sleeve shirt (Lightweight Polypropylene)

____ ____ 1 hat-flexible with brim

B-For Cool Evenings

____ ____ 1 long-sleeve shirt (wool or acrylic)

____ ____ 1 pair of long pants (or the legs if you have zip-off shorts)

____ ____ 1 pair long insulated underwear for cold evenings

____ ____ 1 sweatshirt, light coat, or polyfleece (no cotton)

____ ____ 1 stocking cap (wool or polyfleece)

____ ____ 1 pair gloves or mittens for cold, wet, windy conditions

____ ____ 1 Rain Suit (Lightweight, Breathable, Weatherproof with hood)


____ ____ Bowl (Lightweight-acrylic or metal)

____ ____ Cup (Lightweight-acrylic or metal)

____ ____ Spoon and fork (Lightweight-acrylic)

____ ____ 2 to 3 one-quart water bottles (Nalgene)

Essentials: (Some of these items are included in the lists above.)

____ ____ Pocketknife

____ ____ First Aid Kit (with personal medications)

____ ____ Extra Clothing

____ ____ Rain Gear

____ ____ Water Bottle

____ ____ Flashlight -Small with extra batteries

____ ____ Trail Food (for emergencies)

____ ____ Matches and Fire Starters in waterproof container

____ ____ Sun Protection/Sunscreen

____ ____ Lip Balm

____ ____ Compass and map of area

____ ____ Whistle

____ ____ Duct Tape (Small Quantity)

____ ____ MoleSkin (for blisters)

____ ____ Insect Repellent

____ ____ Space Blanket

____ ____ Small Shovel for digging hole

____ ____ Toilet Paper

____ ____ Sanitizing Gel (Purel)


____ ____ Daypack

____ ____ Small Towel (Lightweight)

____ ____ Bandanna

____ ____ Money

____ ____ Soap (Biodegradable)

____ ____ Toothbrush

________ Toothpaste

____ ____ Sunglasses

____ ____ Trekking Poles

____ ____ Ziploc bags for personal items to be put in bear bag

____ ____ Camera and film

____ ____ Watch (Inexpensive)

____ ____ Fishing equipment

____ ____ Rubber bands

____ ____ Foot Powder

____ ____ Notepad/Journal, Pencil

____ ____ Camp Chair (Lightweight)

Group Equipment

____ ____ Tent

____ ____ Tent fly, poles, stakes

____ ____ Ground cloth for tent

____ ____ Backpacking Stove

____ ____ Fuel for stove

____ ____ Matches/Lighter

____ ____ Hot Pot Tongs

____ ____ Cooking Pot

____ ____ Scrub pad

____ ____ Dish towel

____ ____ Food

____ ____ Spices

____ ____ Dishwashing Soap (Biodegradable)

____ ____ Lantern

____ ____ Water Filter/Purifier

____ ____ 150-foot Nylon Rope

____ ____ Bear Canister

____ ____ Sewing Kit

____ ____ Collapsible water containers

____ ____ First-Aid Kit, large

____ ____ Trash Bags

____ ____ Fishing License

____ ____ Adventure Pass

____ ____ 2-Way Radios

____ ____ GPS

Do Not Bring The Following:

1. Bluejeans (take days to dry out if wet)

2. Aerosol or glass containers

Hikes that will take several days will require more equipment like a lightweight tent, an efficient sleeping bag, a pad, cooking apparatus, water filters, food, bear canister, emergency equipment. Backpacks must fit well, must be light, and must distribute weight efficiently. Don’t forget your backpack’s rain-cover.

Water is most important including energy drinks that will replenish lost electrolytes. There are water sources near the most accessible trails. Bring filtration equipment if necessary but still carry a few water bottles.

Bring trail snacks, carbohydrate laden bars for extra energy, and easy to prepare food for overnight camping. Be aware that bears live in Yosemite. Bears are attracted by the the smell and sight of food. Bring special canisters available primarily to protect us and the bears.

Keep compass and topographical map safe from effects of constant use and wet conditions.

Make sure to have fresh batteries for a headlamp and/or flashlight and a cell phone for emergency calls. Bring a signal mirror to attract rescuers. A first-aid kit must include necessary medicines. A watch will make us aware of how much daylight is left to get back or set up camp. Pen and paper is necessary to send or leave notes and messages. We need to bring fire starters especially if the weather is cold and surroundings are wet. These items must be packed in a waterproof container.

There is the possibility of getting wet and temperatures plummeting. A poncho is adequate for waterfall sprays but a waterproof jacket and pants would keep you dry. Overnight temperatures can be very cold and there are clothing technically engineered and designed for extreme temperature. In addition, bring a beanie, a hat or cap, and gloves.

Prevent the contents of your backpack from getting wet. In addition to putting the backpack's rain-cover from the time you start out, put clothes and sleeping bag in a waterproof container like a plastic bag.

There is one situation, however, when we must risk the backpack getting wet. Whenever we have to cross water, we must unbuckle our backpack so that we can easily escape from its weight if we do fall in the water.

Bring hiking poles. Bring a knife. Bring a shovel. Bring rope. Is there enough fuel for light and cooking?

Check equipment and practice operating them making sure they work and that we know how to use them.

Lastly, I would like to leave a few reminders for everyone.

Please Obey Park Signs, Rules and Regulations. The Park, benefiting from years of experience, has literature and signs posted for visitors to enjoy their stay. Be on the lookout for signs especially danger signs. Remember to never cross fast moving water- a stream, a river, a waterfall. Do not step on wet rocks near a river especially if all you want is a photograph. Do not feed wild animals and back away from potentially dangerous wild animals. Again, a photograph will not be worth it.

Hike with a buddy or a few friends.

Let people who are not hiking with you know where you will hike and when to expect you back.

After you have read this article, please make a comprehensive checklist that includes preparation, planning, and contingencies for your particular trip. Be smart and prepare.

Leave no trace and leave what you find behind. Enjoy Yosemite!


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    • irvinetraveller profile image

      irvinetraveller 15 months ago from California

      Thanks, Iammattdoran, a true traveller, for reading the hub and your comment. Hope you make it to Yosemite. It still would be as you remember it.

    • Iammattdoran profile image

      Matt Doran 15 months ago from Manchester, UK

      Useful hub. Yosemite is somewhere I'd like to hike in. I visited with my parents as part of a California trip when I was 11 but I'd love to go back now.

    • irvinetraveller profile image

      irvinetraveller 6 years ago from California

      Thank you stephhicks68 and Outband Dan for taking the time to let me know that you liked the article. I hope you can make the trip to Yosemite soon. I am sure you will come prepared.

    • stephhicks68 profile image

      Stephanie Hicks 6 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      I have always wanted to hike in Yosemite, and we would love to plan a trip to the National Park. Excellent tips for anyone planning excursions like this. Rated up!

    • Outbound Dan profile image

      Dan Human 6 years ago from Niagara Falls, NY

      Fantastic resource, I hope to make out to Yosemite sometime in the future. Thanks for posting!