Backpacking Packing List Basics: 4 Things You Need to Bring

Hitting the trail with nothing but a pack on your back is an outdoor enthusiasts’ dream – but what should you put in the pack? The answer certainly depends on your journey, but some basics should be in every backpacker’s arsenal.

We break down the backpacker’s essentials and how to adjust them for specific adventures below.

A Great Backpack

Your backpack is the most critical piece of equipment you’ll bring on your journey. However, not all backpacks are created equal, and getting the right backpack is essential to a successful trip. The backpacking experts at Salomon offer the following tips on choosing the right backpack: 

  • Size: for a hike that lasts less than three days, Salomon’s experts recommend a pack of 35 liters or less, but for anything longer, they suggest something larger – 35 liters or more.
  • Where and when: terrain and weather should play a massive part in your backpack choices. Choose a backpack that’s larger if you’re encountering colder weather, and if you’re hiking in a warm climate, consider something more lightweight. However, just because you’re walking in the desert doesn’t mean that unexpected weather won’t pop up, and this is especially true if you’re hiking in the mountains or near the coast. So be sure to pack a change of clothes, a windproof jacket and waterproof clothing.
  • Fit: an excellent fit for your backpack is essential. There are backpacks for all body types, so don’t settle for whatever is around – a terrible blister is not something you want to have after the first day of a three-day hike.


Appropriate navigation devices are an essential part of your backpacking list. However, if you’re hiking in the wilderness, don’t just rely on Google Maps on your iPhone – cell phone service could be spotty, and you could end up in a dangerous situation with no way to contact anyone. 

While most old-school backpackers insist that you need to learn to read a physical map, there are plenty of modern essentials that will do the trick. The experts at Advnture suggest the following when it comes to selecting GPS equipment:

  • Consider the specifications: how large is the GPS device, and how much does it weigh? These might seem silly questions, but they’ll make a huge difference, especially if you’re hiking several days through the backcountry.
  • Ease of use: does the GPS device use buttons or a touch screen? Is the system intuitive? Can you use it efficiently? These questions might sound like semantics, but they make a huge difference, especially in cold climates where you’d have to remove gloves to use the device.
  • Battery life: when considering this variable, think of the types of hikes that you’ll be going on. Most navigation devices last for 20-40 hours, but if you’re going away for several days, you’ll need to buy something with more longevity.
  • Features: many navigation devices have extra features – digital cameras, geocaching capabilities, barometers, two-way messaging, and even wireless data transfer. For longer trips, we recommend choosing a navigation system with two-way messaging.

Appropriate Shelter

Choosing a suitable shelter is essential for any multi-day hike. If you’re spending time in the woods, for example, the right shelter will be different from that for windswept mountainsides. The experts at Gear Aid have broken down their best tips for selecting appropriate protection below:

  • Tarp: a tarp provides minimal protection but is lightweight and easy to carry. You’ll need the tarp itself, a cord, and something to stabilize the shelter. Tarps are an excellent option for mild climates and short trips but not recommended for longer treks in hazardous terrain.
  • Tent: not all tents are created equal, and you’ll want to do some serious research when planning a tent for your backpacking trip. Make sure to choose something appropriate for the weather and terrain you’ll encounter. Also, when choosing a tent size, be sure to count your gear as an extra person – no one wants to wake up with their face smashed against the side of the tent! 

First-Aid Kit

Anything can happen in the wilderness, so preparing for all eventualities is essential. A first-aid kit is an absolute must for your backpacking list. At a minimum, a first aid kit should include basics such as:

  • Antibacterial wipes and ointment
  • Bandages
  • Gauze pads in assorted sizes
  • Medical tape
  • Moleskin or another blister-prevention tool
  • Pain killers
  • Butterfly bandages
  • Tweezers

However, the most comprehensive kits contain splints, liquid bandages, tourniquets, and other trauma items. In addition, the outdoor experts at TacMed Solutions have an extensive range of first aid kits, appropriate for everything from a walk in the park to a three-month trek across the Appalachian Mountains.

When it comes to backpacking, preparation is vital. By following this list and including these items, you’ll be ready for anything you face. Happy hiking!

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