The Ultimate Backpacking Checklist (Updated For 2023)

Backpacking is equally memorable, thrilling, and intimidating. It can be daunting to pack for your backpacking excursion because you won’t be able to stock up once you start your journey in most cases. Understandably, many people struggle with what to pack for backpacking.

A backpack, tent, sleeping bag, camping stove, food, and cooler are the most important items to pack for backpacking. Make sure to bring electrolyte packets or sports drinks to avoid dehydration and pack a refillable water bottle for backpacking. Pack water purification tablets if you aren’t sure about how much potable water you will encounter along the way.

Cookware and dry snacks are also important to make sure you don’t starve while backpacking. Follow along as we explore what to pack for backpacking and highlight some unnecessary items you should leave at home.

What Should You Pack for Backpacking?

Backpacking Backpack

It wouldn’t be called backpacking if you didn’t need a backpack to do it. However, you need to make sure you get a backpack made especially for backpacking. The key difference is that backpacking backpacks are typically compact but feature plenty of room for storage.

They are also well-padded which makes them quite comfortable, even when you fill them with backpacking essentials. Between the padded straps and tall design, you can wear a backpacking backpack for hours without getting uncomfortable because of the ergonomic layout.

Tent

A tent is just as essential as a backpack when backpacking. Ideally, you should pack a 30 to 35-square-foot backpack when backpacking with two people. A two-person tent is quite comfortable for one person as well, and it gives you room to put your backpack and other belongings in the tent.

However, if you aren’t sure what to pack for backpacking alone, a 15 to 20-square-foot tent is enough for one person. A single-person tent will also conserve space and reduce the weight on your back if you have a lot in your backpack.

Image by Ben Frieden from Pixabay

Sleeping Bag

What would backpacking be without a sleeping bag? Pairing the right sleeping bag with a sleeping bag can ensure a healthy night of sleep. Look for sleeping bags made of nylon or polyester so you can stay comfortable overnight without sacrificing warmth.

However, a sleeping bag may be unnecessary if you plan to stay in hostels and hotels after long days of backpacking. Either way, it won’t hurt to bring a sleeping bag, pillow, and mattress pad if there are no rooms available or you hike longer than you expected.

Sleeping Pads

Sleeping pads, or mattress pads, are essential to pack for backpacking. You never know what condition the ground will be in when backpacking. Because of that, it never hurts to pack at least one sleeping pad to place on the ground beneath your sleeping bag.

Some backpackers stack two sleeping pads on top of one another. It’s also essential to pack two mattress pads if two people will sleep in your tent. They typically weigh less than 16 ounces, so they won’t add much weight to your backpack. You can also typically attach them to an outer strap on your backpack, so they won’t waste any space inside.

Portable Camping Stove

Portable camping stoves are essential to pack for backpacking if you plan to camp overnight. This will give you the chance to cook some quick campsite meals so you have enough energy before you head out to hike again. Simple camping stoves start at $20, but more advanced models cost up to $300.

However, it’s best to pack a small camping stove for backpacking that can fit in your backpack or a compact carrying case. Make sure to bring charcoal and lighter fluid unless you pack an electric camping stove.

Camping Cookware

Camping cookware is necessary if you pack a portable stove for backpacking. However, you should only bring cookware that you know you will use. Small pots, pans, and silverware that don’t take up much space ensure you can cook quick campsite meals without taking up too much space.

Food

Your portable camping stove and cookware will be useless without food. Cold foods like eggs, avocados, bacon, sausage, and even imitation crab provide plenty of nutrients while backpacking. Fruits like apples, oranges, and pears are great healthy snacks as well.

It also helps to pack dry snacks like Cliff Bars, granola bars, and nuts for backpacking. That way, you won’t have to prepare them throughout the day when you get hungry and need electrolytes.

Cooler

You must pack a cooler for backpacking if you plan to bring food that you would typically refrigerate. Failing to do so will cause your food to spoil, and that is quite dangerous. Camping coolers are typically bigger because they’re meant to stay at your campsite while you hike.

Backpacking coolers are much more compact and can fit in your backpack. Otherwise, you can simply use the exterior straps to hold your cooler while backpacking.

Refillable Water Bottle

Without at least one refillable water bottle, you will endanger yourself while backpacking. Ideally, you should pack and fill several refillable water bottles for backpacking so you have enough to last at least one day. Many backpackers plan their trips accordingly to encounter several water refill stations throughout their backpacking trips.

However, you can’t always guarantee that you’ll find water refill stations that are currently in service. It’s best to bring as many full water bottles as possible in case you must change your backpacking route.

Water Purification Tablets

Many seasoned backpackers bring water purification tablets on their trips. That’s because they give you the peace of mind to drink water that may otherwise be harmful without consequence. Water purification tablets typically contain iodine, chlorine, and chlorine dioxide.

You must simply place the tablet in your water and wait 30 minutes for it to dissolve and purify the water. However, it’s important to follow the directions on the labels of the tablets you pack to make sure you use them correctly.

Electrolyte Packets

It’s typically cheaper to pack electrolyte tablets than to bring several sports drinks when backpacking. You can essentially use electrolyte tablets to turn water into a sports drink. Brands like Liquid IV make packets and powders that contain potassium, sodium, sugar, and several B vitamins. These are all essential to replenish your system after sweating all day while backpacking.

Compass

Getting lost is the last thing you want when backpacking. That’s why you should pack a compass for backpacking to ensure you can always tell the direction. Both electric and analog compasses can point you in the right direction to make sure you don’t get lost on the trails.

What to Not Bring While Backpacking

Jewelry

There’s no reason to pack too much jewelry for backpacking. You will likely sweat a lot and get dirty, and damaging nice jewelry is the last thing you want to do. Leave your jewelry at home before backpacking unless it holds deep sentimentality for you. Otherwise, simply place your sentimental jewelry in a compartment in your backpack so you don’t lose or damage it.

Perfume and Cologne

Perfume and cologne can work wonders to mask odors when you exert energy. However, the sweet aromas they often produce can also attract bugs. If you must bring perfume and cologne, look for something with natural ingredients that aren’t sweet, such as lavender, basil, and eucalyptus.

Too Many Electronics

There’s no reason to pack any unnecessary electronics for backpacking. You should bring your phone and even a hiking GPS, but you should never pack a laptop or tablet. The heat can damage the battery and internal components within your electronic devices, and it’s not worth the trouble.

Plastic

It may be tempting to pack lots of single-use plastics for backpacking, but they do more harm than good. Not only will plastic water bottles and cookware take up extra space in your backpack, but they are bad for the environment. However, it may be necessary to pack a few water bottles if you only have one refillable bottle and want to ensure you stay hydrated.

So, What Do You Need to Bring Backpacking?

You must pack a backpack, tent, sleeping bag, portable stove, cookware, and food for backpacking. Pack a cooler to store cold food and electrolyte packets to replenish the electrolytes you lose through sweat. It also helps to bring a sleeping pad to lay under your sleeping bag and water purification tablets if you expect to encounter impure water.

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