Your Backpacking Essentials and Gear List for Exploring More
Updated February 21, 2024
Whether you’re planning your first backpacking trip or you’re a backpacking pro, planning for this type of adventure always seems to be a bit tedious…and somehow way heavier than expected. We have compiled a list of must haves for any backpacking trip and a printable checklist for you to use when planning.
The most obvious but important piece of a backpacking trip is the actual backpack! Getting a pack that fits your body correctly is crucial for limiting pain and allowing you to go long distances with a lot of weight on your shoulders. Be sure to try it on in-person. If price is a limitation, check our your local used gear store to see if you can purchase a backpack that's pre-loved.
Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. We built this company on this core belief -- that women should not have to resort to "tactical dehydration," and sacrifice privacy, safety, comfort, or confidence, in order to stay well-hydrated and at peak physical performance outside. Backpacking is no joke. You need to know exactly how much water to bring and whether or not there are refill sources available along the route. You need to know if you should bring a water filtration system or if you’ll have to carry all of your water. Generally, you should drink .5 liters of water for every hour of hiking, and depending on how intense the terrain is, you should drink even more. Test out your filtration system before you leave and be sure to have your water ready and packed when getting to the trail head. Check out our videos here and here for more info on hydration preparation!
Whether you use a paper map or have one downloaded to your phone (be sure to have offline access for when you don’t have service), it’s important to research your route and understand what current trail conditions are, including the weather report. (If it's a paper map, be sure you have a waterproof sleeve.) Bring a compass, and if you're really going out there, bring a GPS device such as a Garmin, and a communication device that will work regardless of remoteness, like an inReach.
Depending on what time of year you’re going backpacking, bringing various types of gear to protect you from rain is crucial to keeping your things dry. Bring a pack cover, line your backpack and sleeping bag with trash bags, and always be prepared for the weather to change. Check out our guide, "How to Layer for Your Autumn Adventure." We wrote it for autumn, but the information is applicable for year-round conditions, especially if you're at elevation, where you'll likely experience all the seasons!
Tents aren't necessarily essential; some people opt for tarps, which are lightweight-to-boot, easy to setup, and way more affordable. That said, tents certainly tend to be the most popular option for protection from weather. We always recommend testing out your tent on a smaller trip, before taking it backpacking to know if it’s a good fit. Quality tents have a long lifespan, so definitely try to buy used if you can.
Raise your hand if you love sleeping outside. Now raise your hand if you've ever had a perfectly dreamy outdoor night thwarted by shivering in your ill-prepared sleeping bag. The worst! Be sure you know your sleeping bag's temperature rating, and crosscheck it with the weather report for your trip. Also, check your zippers! Not being able to zip your sleeping bag when you're ready for bed is a special kind of frustration.
If you've ever felt the discomfort of sleeping on rocky terrain with a subpar sleeping pad, we don't have to tell you how important pads are. In addition to protecting you from uneven surfaces, they also act as insulators from the cold ground. There are a variety to choose from—air pads, foam pads, or self-inflating pads. Ultimately, the choice is yours based on weight and weather conditions. Whichever you choose—just be sure it's ready for the job. Inflate it or unroll it before you leave and give it a solid inspection for your adventure.
Your mom was right—sunscreen is important. Many backpacking trips take place at high elevations where the sun's rays are even stronger than you might realize, even if the air feels cooler. Packing sunscreen and reapplying it will protect you from uncomfortable burns. Moreover, sunburn can lead to fatigue, which isn't ideal when you're exerting yourself in the mountains. We recommend supplementing your sun protection with a lightweight, long-sleeve sun shirt, so you can stay cool and confident that you won't get burned, even if you forget to reapply sunscreen.
Being hangry on the trail can ruin the ability to appreciate the stunning views, and it can also zap your energy. You’re burning major energy while backpacking, so you need to pack proper snacks and high-calorie meals. Trail experts and enthusiasts have gotten outdoor meals down to a science, so be sure to check out their recipes featuring calorie-dense meals and snacks. We also have some stellar trail mix recipes you can try out here! On average, you'll want 1.5 pounds of food per day, but maybe more depending on the difficulty of terrain.
Stove & Fuel
Arguably the most important part of your backing trip, especially if you're a coffee fiend like us. Some of our favorite moments are boiling the water and steeping our brew at sunrise. Plus, you'll need it for all your tasty backpacking meals. Bring a small backpacking stove, fuel, and pan. Don't forget to bring a compact silverware + dish setup!
SO IMPORTANT. We are huge advocates of Leave No Trace, and that means taking care of the land we recreate on. Part of planning your trip means checking the best practices for your waste management. Some terrain is too dry for our favorite mycelium PACT outdoors bathroom kit and cat holes, which makes Wag Bags the best solution for your poop. Have a designated storage bag for your necessary bathroom needs; a trowel for digging a hole or a wag bag that you'll pack out, antiseptic wipes or spray for your hands, and some form of toilet paper (we highly recommend a Kula cloth as a fun and more sustainable solution for going #1) or travel bidet. For peeing outside, follow these guidelines and definitely don't forget your Go There Pants and Shorts.
First Aid Kit
It must be said: always be prepared with a small First Aid Kit. You never think it's important, until you don't have it.
Depending on the season, elevation, and length of your trip, you want to have at least two sets of clothing and layers that are moisture wicking and you’ll want to avoid cotton. Here’s a good place to start:
- Base layer top and bottom
- At least 2 pairs of wool socks
- Rain shell
- Gnara Go There Pants
- Hiking boots or trail shoe
- Water sandal
- Moisture-wicking underwear (no cotton!)
Why Go There Pants?
Our Go There Pants are a three-season solution for long days on the trail. From the DWR coating to keep you dry to the patented GoFly zipper for easily going to the bathroom (without having to remove your pack!) to the capris snap that allows for easy water crossings to the ankle cinch that is key for keeping out leaves and ticks, these pants will truly change the way you hike. Heck, they'll even change your life.
Nice to have:
For the backpacking trips that leave you with a little extra space in your pack and time in your itinerary, we have a list of non-essentials but nice-to-haves.
We hope you find this list of Backpacking Essentials helpful and informative. Most of all, we hope you have an incredible adventure, full of starry nights, hot meals, and lifelong memories. For more How To's and What to Bring's, check out our Instagram.