Planning a backpacking adventure and you don’t know what to pack? I’m going to share with you my backpacking gear list that has everything you need to pack when backpacking. Let me start with the caveat that we are not “ultra light” backpackers. While weight is of course a consideration when we choose what to include in our backpacking gear list, for us it is not the number one consideration. And this is true for a number of reasons. First, ultra light gear is expensive! And since we are usually backpacking with kids, we have a lot of hikers to buy gear for! Multiply the cost of pricey items times 6, and our gear could easily out-cost our car. Durability is also a key decision maker for what’s included in our backpacking gear list and super lightweight gear is often not as durable as gear that weighs a bit more. And lastly, I follow the principle that a little extra comfort (within reason) is usually worth the weight. So our packs weights are average sized, but we stay comfortable on the trail with the added bonus of a little extra money in our pockets.
Our backpacking gear list (click HERE for the printable version) is what we actually pack when going backpacking, but feel free to substitute with gear you already own or would rather use. So use this list as a guideline for packing, not as an absolute. I hope you find it helpful!
Backpacking Gear List – What You Need to Pack For Backpacking
Backpack- Between the six of us, we have 6 different packs. Every one of our packs was bought online at REI Outlet based on price and reviews. REI also has a great resource to help you choose the backpack perfect for your needs here. You may also want to pack a lightweight Daypack for summit hikes or day hikes from camp. Everyone should have a pack cover, and before leaving home, I line each pack with a thick heavy duty trash bag to make sure everything inside our packs will stay dry.
Hiking Poles- We are just now jumping on the hiking pole bandwagon, and I still think of these as optional even though those who use them regularly swear by them. I bought ours at steep discount at Sierra Trading Post online so now include them on my backpacking gear list.
Tent– We’ve used various tents over the years, but our current set up is a Big Agnes Copper Spur 4 Person Tent with a Big Agnes Copper Spur Footprint for the kids and a ALPS Mountaineering Zephyr 3-Person Tent with Zephyr 3 Tent Floor Saver for Dave and I (and of course, Luna.) Durable, fairly lightweight, and good in all kinds of weather, we are happy and content with our tents. Check out our earlier post about choosing a backpacking tent for more information about which tent to take backpacking.
Sleeping Bag- All of our sleeping bags have been bought online from one of three places- REI Outlet, Sierra Trading Post or Campsaver, so check them out for great deals. We all use synthetic down sleeping bags for two reasons- they are better in wet conditions and they are MUCH cheaper. But down sleeping bags are warmer and pack more compactly, so choose whichever one works for you. To help you decide, check out this post from REI. If the weather is going to be especially cool, you may want to pack a sleeping bag liner which adds warmth with the added bonus of keeping your bag clean. A liner also works great as a lightweight option to use on its own if you will be camping in high temperatures.
Sleeping Pad- Once again, durability and cost were the deciding factors in purchasing our very basic sleeping pads. We all use either a Therm-A-Rest RidgeRest Classic, a Therm-a-Rest Z Lite or a Rothco Foam Sleeping Pad. Inflatable pads are very comfortable and pretty affordable, but the are not as durable as our foam pads and with four rowdy kids and a dog, durable is at the top of our list of needs. Naomi and I also use an inflatable pillow, because we are spoiled like that. Actually, we got these as gifts. Before we had them, we used our clothes bags as pillows like everyone else in the family.
Navigation- Always pack a map to take with you. Do not rely solely on GPS or cell phone coverage. Take a map and know how to read it. I keep ours in a ziploc bag in the top zipper component of my pack, but you could also use a Map Case for this purpose. In addition, learn how to read a Map Compass (here is an excellent tutorial) and take one with you.
First Aid- We used to carry a larger kit when the kids were little and more prone to scrapes and such, but now carry a mid sized kit that is a good balance between weight and convenience. To our first aid kit, I add a bottle of water treatment tablets as a backup, insect repellent, sunscreen, and lip balm.
Clothing- The clothing you pack will largely be dependent on the weather. Make sure to include rain gear! I tend to be an optimist and assume the weather will be great, and I’ve learned the hard way to be better prepared. I now always bring a rain jacket and a down jacket if there is any chance of cool temperatures. I bought both online for a steal at Campsaver’s Shed and their outlet often has great deals too. In cool weather, pack gloves. I also suggest that you bring a pair of camp shoes. NOTHING feels better than pulling off your hiking shoes and slipping on a pair of flip flops or Crocs. Try not to pack too much. Depending on the weather, I generally wear one pair of underwear, sports bra, shorts/pants, socks and one shirt and have another complete outfit in my pack along with a long sleeve pullover, a rain jacket and a lightweight set of bed clothes. Everyone has a handkerchief and a hat. Check out this helpful article to help you plan what to pack. One item that I have found to be indispensable is a Mosquito Head Net and this always makes the backpacking gear list. You will obviously also need hiking shoes. We all use trail runners to hike in, but there are numerous different types of hiking boots to choose from depending on your needs.
Lighting- Everyone in your group should have a Headlamp and we also carry one Mini Lantern and Flashlight that we use for illuminating the whole tent when we want to read together or play games. Before each trip, I change our everyone’s batteries so that I know they are fresh and I also carry one extra set of batteries for use in an emergency.
Tools/Safety- We each carry a knife. Some of us use a Swiss Army Pocket Knife and some of us use a Folding Knife. In bear country, we always carry Bear Deterrent Pepper Spray with Holster and make sure it is in easy reach at all times. If necessary, we also carry a Bear Vault Bear Resistant Food Canister to hold all food, toiletries and any other scented items. Everyone also gets a Whistle to hang on our packs as well as a carabiner. Other “tools” we carry are a tent repair kit, a Small Nalgene Wide Mouth Round Container wrapped with duct tape and filled with matches and a strike and 50 feet of utility cord to hang our food bag. I also like to have a ziplock bag with a couple more freezer bags, trash bags, a few clothespins, safety pins and rubber bands.
Hygiene- To wash up, we use a Sea to Summit Folding Bucket, a handkerchief and Dr. Bronner’s Liquid Soap. To dry off, we use a a lightweight microfiber camp towel. I also carry a toothbrush for each person, a tiny container of toothpaste, a small packer of wet wipes and a small container of baby powder for quick clean ups. Easy peasy.
Camp Bathroom- All you need for this is a Folding Trowel to dig a cat hole, toilet paper (remember to pack it out!) and a small bottle of hand sanitizer. Ladies may want to pack a Diva Cup. You can check out this post to learn more.
Cooking and Eating- Some people like to save pack weight and only eat foods that require no cooking when out on the trail. Not us. Enjoying delicious meals while backpacking is one of my favorite parts of a trip! There are many cooking systems to choose from so check out Amazon, REI, Campsaver or Sierra Trading Post to learn about which cooking gear will work best for your needs. We use a MSR PocketRocket Stove that uses isobutane mixed fuel canisters along with a Fuel Can Stabilizer to prevent spills and accidental knock overs. This stove is durable, fool proof, fuel is easy to find, and also a budget choice. I love our pocket rocket. To light our stove, I carry a lighter and a backup supply of matches.
If only a couple of us are on the trail, we use a GSI Outdoors Pinnacle Dualist Outdoor Cook Set to cook and eat our meals. If the whole family is hiking, we bring along two Open Country Cooking Pots with a pot grabber, and an Open Country Nonstick Fry Pan along with 6 GSI Cascadian Bowls, 6 spoons and 6 GSI Cascadian Cups. So everyone gets one bowl, one spoon and one cup.
We tend to dehydrate at home most of our meals to eat while backpacking which is easy to do and allows us to enjoy delicious meals while camping. Check out this post for more information about that. Other things I sometimes include in our cooking gear depending on our meal plan are a Small Cutting Board and Sheathed Paring Knife, Spoon and Spatula as well as one thin kitchen towel. To spice things up, I pack salt, pepper and other herbs and spices in Nalgene Containers, of which several sizes are available. I also pack Nalgene Containers of both olive oil and clarified butter (Click here to learn how to make your own!). I take along a tiny sponge that I cut from a regular one to clean everything after eating. The same Dr. Bronner’s Liquid Soap that we use for cleaning ourselves is perfect for cleaning our dishes.
Clean Water- Our favorite method for water treatment is our SteriPEN Adventurer. Effective in treating water for both bacteria and viruses, the lightweight SteriPen (3.6 ounces), is simple to use. Sturdy and dependable, I’ve used this model for numerous trips without problem. First I prefilter collected water through a SteriPEN Filter or even a bandana, to remove as much silt and sediment as possible. Then, using a wide mouthed container, dip the SteriPEN into the water and stir until the UV light turns off. Voila! Clean, drinkable water. An extra set of batteries is important to have as well. We also use a Katadyn Base Camp Pro Water Filter at times which is great for large groups. To carry our clean water, we generally use empty gatorade bottles as they have a wide enough lip to use with a steriPEN, are cheap, easy to find and very lightweight. We also carry a small vial of Potable Aqua Water Treatment Tablets in our first aid kit to use as a backup water treatment in case our other method fails.
Additional Items- To make camping even more fun, we often carry a few luxuries. Items we sometimes carry include packs of cards, a Backpacking Fishing Pole, a Travel Magnetic Chess Set, Compact Binoculars, journals and pens, an Eagles Nest Outfitters Hammock, a small Night Sky Star Finder and even paperback books that we read together. If it is important to you, bring it. Just remember, you must want it enough to carry it on your back. It’s lovely how that redefines our priorities!
Staying Organized- Each person gets a pillow stuff sack to hold all of their clothes and use as a pillow. We have other stuff sacks and ditty bags of various sizes to hold our camp kitchen, our camp bathroom and so on. Our food is stored in waterproof sil sacks. When packing, we make sure everyone is aware of who is carrying what so that group supplies are easily located.
That’s it! This backpacking gear list includes everything we take with us when backpacking. Use it to help make a backpacking gear list for your own outside adventures.