Backpacking Gear Basics

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So you've gone camping with some friends or family, maybe at a campground with access to running water, bathrooms and car access .... and lots of other people. The sounds of music,  people talking and the hum of the electric generators powering that RV in the site next to you fills the air. Not that there's anything wrong with that kind of camping -- it's most people's introduction into the outdoors --  but maybe now you're ready to explore a bit further and enjoy the serenity of the woods without all the crowds.

But how? By backpacking! Sure, you've got to carry everything you need on your back, but wow, everything you need for a night in the woods fits on your back! It's mind-blowingly humbling to realize how little one really needs in life. Plus you get to sleep right there in nature, perhaps near a waterfall or in a place where you will wake up to beautiful sunrise views.

So what do you bring? See below for my lightweight, but not too ultra-light, list of backpacking basics for a night out under the stars. Keep in mind that depending on where your backpacking destination will be, you may need to carry specific gear or warmer clothing -- be sure to check with local resources or trail clubs to find out.

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What to carry:

Orientation and safety items:

☐ Map or guidebook of area and compass

☐ Personal first aid kit (band-aids, moleskin, ibuprofen, Benadryl…)

☐ Emergency kit (including firestarter, signal mirror, etc)

☐ Safety whistle

☐ Headlamp or flashlight

☐ Small knife 

☐ Water bottles or hydration bladder – 2L capacity recommended

☐ Water treatment – water filter or chemical treatment 

Backpacking basics:

☐ Large backpack – big enough to carry all this stuff (40L – 60L should suffice)

☐ Sleeping bag 

☐ Sleeping pad

☐ Tent and ground cloth or tarp

Camp kitchen:

☐ Food – think lightweight, calorie dense & no refrigeration required

☐ camping stove & fuel (or go stove-less)

☐ camping pot (if using stove)

☐ Spoon or spork

☐ Mug and/or bowl

☐ Ziplock to carry out trash (leave no trace!)

☐ Waterproof stuff sack for food (or keep food in ziplocks inside of stuff sack)

☐ 50 feet of nylon rope for hanging food bag at night or bear canister (required in some locations)

Toiletries and personal items:

☐ Bug spray – with deet recommended

☐ Sunscreen – SPF 30 minimum

☐ Travel sized hand-sanitizer

☐ Toilet paper &/or wet wipes – keep in ziplock bag for water protection

☐ Trowel (for proper burial)

☐ Any medications you might need 

☐ Epipen, inhaler or insulin if allergic to bees, have asthma or are diabetic

☐ Feminine products if needed

Optional items / niceties:

☐ Camera ( a must in my opinion!)

☐ Trekking poles

☐ Camp pillow

☐ Book / playing cards / kindle

☐ Extra water bottle

☐ Sleeping bag liner – silk or polyester, adds a few degrees, keeps inside of bag clean(er) 


What to wear:

☐ Hiking boots or sneakers with some tread, hiking sandals are ok too

☐ Comfortable top, short or long sleeved – synthetic materials are best 

☐ Sports bra

☐ Comfortable pants, shorts or skort – synthetic materials are best

☐ Sun protection – baseball or brimmed hat

☐ Socks – non-cotton preferred, wool/poly blend is best + extra pair for night 

☐ Extra layer – think long sleeved shirt, fleece or jacket

☐ Change of clothes to sleep in

☐ Rain jacket and rain pants or rain skirt – a must in bad weather

Optional items:

☐ Sunglasses – cuz they look cool and are helpful on super sunny days

☐ Sock liners – help prevent blisters, good for longer hikes

☐ Gaiters – ankle covers to keep dirt & debris out of shoes

☐ Bandana – handy for wiping off sweat, swatting mosquitoes, etc.

☐ Small pack-towel or facecloth (bandana will work too)

☐ Change of underwear & sports bra

☐ Camp shoes – flip-flops, sandals, crocs for time spent in camp






Melissa GoodwinComment