My 3-Day Backpacking Checklist (with PDF)

Packing for a backpacking trip always feels a little stressful. It’s a careful balance between overpacking and underpacking. Bring too much, and your pack will be uncomfortably heavy. Bring too little, and you could end up cold, hungry and miserable. I know because I experienced both situations when I first started backpacking 20 years ago.

Since then, I’ve backpacked more than a thousand miles which has given me lots of opportunities to dial in my backpacking checklist so it has everything I need to be safe and comfortable and nothing more.

This comprehensive backpacking checklist list has all of the essentials you need for a 3-day (or longer) backpacking trip, including your shelter, sleeping system, clothing, safety gear, cooking equipment, and other basic necessities.

I recommend saving this post and printing off the checklist so you can easily refer back to it while you’re packing. That way you can make sure you don’t forget anything!

Backpacking Gear Essentials

These are the essential pieces of gear that should always be on your backpacking checklist for every single trip you plan.

  • Backpacking Pack: For a 3-5 day trip, the average backpacker will need a pack that is 50-60 liters. This is big enough to fit all of your backpacking essentials, as well as a bear canister if needed. Out of all the backpacks I’ve tried, I find the Deuter Aircontact Packs to be the most supportive and comfortable. They are very adjustable so you can get the perfect fit and have tons of pockets for easy access and organization.
  • Tent: I love my Zpacks tent. It’s one of the lightest, yet roomiest tents on the market. The Zpacks Duplex (2-person) weighs 17.9 ounces and the Zpacks Triplex (3-person) weighs a mere 21.4 ounces, which is pounds less than most other tents! Ryan and I use the Triplex because it gives us a little extra space to spread out with our dogs. Instead of tent poles, you use your trekking poles and guy line tension to give the tent structure. That may sound intimidating, but I promise once you set it up a couple of times, it feels very easy. In my experience, it’s incredibly durable and can stand up to pretty horrible weather. Read my detailed Zpacks review for more info.
  • Tent Stakes: Stakes are an easy item to forget, and I always pack a couple extras just in case. I use the Zpacks Sonic Stakes which are lightweight, have great holding power, and aren’t too expensive.
  • Sleeping Bag: A few years bag, I switched to a backpacking quilt, and I’ll never go back to a traditional sleeping bag. The Enlightened Equipment Revelation Quit is very warm, incredibly light, and it’s way more comfy for those of us who shift around a lot in their sleep at night. The 850-fill down, 10-degree regular size only weighs 25.95 ounces, while the 30-degree weighs 19.18 oz. You can cinch the footbox completely closed, and it comes with straps that you use to attach the quilt to your sleeping pad, creating a cocoon-like environment. The quilt doesn’t have a sewn in hood, but if you need one, you can buy a hood separately.
  • Sleeping Pad: The NEMO Tensor All-Season Ultralight Insulated Sleeping Pad is 3.5 inches thick, and extremely light, packing down to the size of a Nalgene. The regular size weighs 1 lb, and it offers excellent insulation against the cold ground.
  • Trekking Poles: I’d argue that trekking poles are an essential piece of gear on your backpacking checklist (especially if you are using the Zpacks tent I recommended). On those uphill climbs, trekking poles help take the weight off your hips and legs by utilizing your arm strength. On the downhill, they help ease the pressure on your knees. And on those stream crossings, these puppies have saved me more times than I can count by helping me balance. The Black Diamond Distance Z Trekking Poles are the poles I use.
  • Rain Cover for your Pack: Backpacks sometimes come with a rain cover, but if not, you’ll want to buy a rain cover separately to protect your gear in a downpour. You can also line the inside of your pack with a compacter bag as a budget-friendly solution.
Ultralight Zpacks tent set up at remote campground in the forest with sun shining through the trees
Using my Zpacks Triplex on a 5-day backpacking trip in Sequoia National Park

Cooking Gear

I tend to keep my cooking setup simple when backpacking. I mainly boil water for coffee or tea and oats in the morning and for backpacking meals in the evening.

  • Backpacking Stove/Pot: The Jetboil Flash Cooking System is the most efficient backpacking stove I’ve used. It takes just over 3 minutes to boil water. The Jetboil includes the stove and an integrated pot and weighs 13.1 oz. The Jetboil is best if you only plan to boil water. If you like to cook from scratch, I recommend the MSR Pocket Rocket and the TOAKS Titanium Pot.
  • Fuel: For a 3-5 day trip for 2 people, one 8 oz fuel canister should be enough if you are boiling water for coffee, breakfast, and dinner.
  • Water Filter: While there are lighter options, like the Sawyer Squeeze, the Platypus GravityWorks Water Filter System is absolutely the easiest way to filter your water in the backcountry. You just hang up the bag and let gravity push the water through, eliminating the need to manually pump or squeeze water through a filter. At 11.5 ounces, it’s still very light and you can quickly and effortlessly filter water for your whole group. I also always carry some purification tablets in my first aid kit, just in case.
  • Water Bottles: I like to have the ability to pack 3 liters of water. That way I can carry enough to last if there is a long distance between water sources. It’s also nice to have enough to cook with and drink at camp without having to constantly be filtering water. These lightweight Platypus Soft Bottles weigh practically nothing and can be rolled up when they are empty. While I normally day hike with a hydration reservoir in my pack, I prefer water bottles when backpacking. A hydration reservoir is much harder to refill because you have to take all of your gear out of your pack to access it.
  • Mug: You’ll need something for that morning coffee and evening tea. The GSI Outdoors Infinity Backpacker Mug is lightweight and will keep your beverage warm with its insulated wrap and sip lid. It even has a lightweight fabric strap as a handle.
  • Eating Utensil: If you’re eating backpacker meals, this TOAKS Long-Handled Spoon is the only utensil you need, and it weighs shockingly little at 0.65 ounces! It also has a long handle and can easily reach the bottom of that Mountain House bag.
  • Bear Canister: Bear canisters are required by law in California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains, spots in Alaska, Washington, Idaho, Wyoming, and others. Even if they aren’t required, I often like to use a bear canister to keep other types of critters from getting my food. If you are on a short trip and only carrying food for yourself, the Bear Vault 450 is a good inexpensive option. Or for 2 people or longer trips, go for the larger version. Also in some places, they may be available for rent at rangers stations or local outdoors stores, but be sure to check before heading out.
  • Lighter: Even if your stove has an ignition switch, you should always bring a lighter as a backup.
  • Knife/Multi-tool: Depending on what you want to cook, you may need a small knife. Alternatively, a lightweight multi-tool with a knife can also come in handy for both cooking and in-the-field gear repairs.
  • Bowl (Optional): If you are relying on backpacker meals, you can eat right out of the pouch or the pot. If you are a bigger group where you are dishing out food, pack a small bowl. I like these foldable bowls since they take up zero room and weigh nothing, and you can lick them clean when you’re done.
  • Food: See my post about lightweight backpacking food for ideas that are easy and don’t require a lot of cleanup.
Male backpacker sitting on ground with gravity fed water filter hung from tree behind him
Using the Platypus GravityWorks filter in the backcountry of Sequoia National Park

Safety Gear

There are a few safety gear essentials that should be on your backpacking packing list, no matter where you are headed.

  • Emergency Communication Device: I consider an emergency communication device a must on my backpacking checklist. The Garmin inReach Mini 2 tracks your location with GPS, allows for two-way texting, and has an SOS function that you can use to call for help.
  • Headlamp: The Black Diamond SPOT Rechargeable Headlamp is ultralight, waterproof, and has battery that should last on a 3-5 day trip as long as you aren’t using it on high beam the entire time.
  • First-Aid Kit: This ultralight, waterproof medical kit comes with the minimum supplies that you will need to address minor wounds, as well as travel-sized packs of some handy medications. In addition to what comes in this kit, you should supplement it with some extra blister band-aids and any medications that are specific to the hikers in your group.
Kristen smiling for photo on high alpine trail in Sequoia National Park in California wearing backpacking gear and Wallaroo sun hat
If you’re heading out of cell phone range, you’ll want to bring a GPS communication device like the Garmin inReach Mini (I’m carrying a larger, previous Garmin model in this photo)

Toiletries

My beauty routine while backpacking is pretty limited and is focused purely on hygiene, and that is reflected in this backpacking checklist. No deodorant, no makeup, etc.

  • Lip Balm: The mountains can suck the moisture right out of those beautiful lips leaving them cracked and dry. Plus, your lips are just as vulnerable to sunburn as your face, so SPF is key. I’ve been using Jack Black SPF 25 lip balm for years. It’s very effective!
  • Sunscreen: I like to cover my arms and neck with sun protective clothing, but I still use sunscreen on my face and other uncovered skin. I like Babo Botanicals Sunscreen because it’s EWG certified and free of nasty chemicals.
  • Toothbrush and Toothpaste: I recently started packing Toothpaste Tablets on backpacking trips. I throw the number of tablets I need in a small bag, which weighs less than a travel-sized toothpaste tube. You just chew for a few seconds before brushing, and they work great!
  • Poop Kit: Your poop kit should consist of a lightweight trowel for digging a 6-8″ cathole, toilet paper, and a small ziplock for packing out dirty toilet paper. Please pack out your toilet paper! It’s really gross to find used toilet paper from other backpackers, and animals like to dig it up. I typically like to put the ziplock with the dirty TP in a small, non-see-through sack just so I don’t have to look at it. For tips on how to Leave No Trace, read my post on How to Poop Outside.
  • Pee Rag: Ladies, listen up! The antimicrobial Kula Cloth is a life-changing backpacking invention. Instead wiping with TP each time you pee and packing out the dirty TP OR not wiping at all, which can result in odors and discomfort, just wipe with the reusable Kula cloth pee rag! After using it, you rinse it off and hang it on the outside of your pack to dry. Then when you get home, you can throw it in the washing machine, and it’s good as new.
  • Hand Sanitizer: A small bottle of hand sanitizer is essential for cleaning your hands after going to the bathroom and before handling food.
  • Bug spray: If the mosquitos are out, you’ll want to apply buy spray to uncovered areas. Bug spray is also effective against ticks if you are backpacking in areas where ticks are common.
  • Body Wipes (Optional): If you can’t stand the idea of not bathing for a few days, you can pack a few body wipes to clean yourself. Rather than bringing the whole package, you can take the number you need and put them in a ziplock.
  • Portable Bidet (Optional): A new backpacking trend is to pack a portable bidet. It helps cut down on toilet paper use and keeps things a lot cleaner when you’re going days without a shower.
  • Small hairbrush (Optional): If you have long hair, wearing it in braids can help avoid tangles. However, a small brush is nice to keep things from getting too knotted up.
Backpacking trowel resting on tree stump
The BoglerCo Trowel is ultra lightweight at just 0.48 oz and is made from aircraft grade aluminum

Clothing

The specific clothing you pack is going to depend on the climate. The backpacking clothing checklist here assumes you are spending 3-5 days in the mountains during the normal summer/fall hiking season.

The idea is to bring the absolute minimum you need to be comfortable. You really only need 1 hiking outfit and 1 set of dry, warm clothes to change into when you get to camp and for sleeping.

  • Shirts (2): I always hike in a lightweight, quick-dry, moisture-wicking t-shirt, and most often it’s the Patagonia Cool Capilene Long Sleeve T-Shirt. I prefer long sleeves because it minimizes the amount of sunscreen I have to apply throughout the day. I bring 2 – one for hiking and another for camp.
  • Shorts (1): These REI Co-op Active Pursuits Shorts are comfortable, stretchy and breathability than spandex.
  • Hiking Pants (1): While I like to hike in leggings, if the mosquitos are bad, they can bite you right through leggings. In that case, I like something a bit looser like the the Mountain Hardwear Dynama Ankle Pants. They are extremely light, have deep pockets, and a stretchy waistband. For men, my partner Ryan likes to backpack in the Kuhl Renegade pants.
  • Camp/Sleep Pants (1): If you can find hiking pants that are also comfortable to sleep in, then you might not need a second pair of pants. However, I like to have something a bit warmer for nighttime. Long johns are great because you can always layer them underneath your hiking pants if it’s really cold, and they are great to sleep in too.
  • Midlayer (1): The Patagonia R1 Full Zip Hoody is warm, yet breathable and can be layered over your hiking shirt if it’s a cold day or underneath a jacket at night.
  • Insulated Jacket (1): I recently tried the Enlightened Equipment Torrid Jacket (men’s here). It’s made of synthetic insulation which performs better than down in wet conditions. It’s lighter and warmer than the popular Patagonia Nanopuff and packs down very small. It’s not the most fashionable, but for a lightweight backpacking jacket, it’s hard to beat.
  • Rain Gear: Weather can change rapidly in the mountains, so it’s wise to pack rain gear, even if the forecast isn’t calling for rain. I personally use the Outdoor Research Aspire II Jacket. It’s made of GORE-TEX, has big pit zips for ventilation, and the material is soft and flexible so it’s comfortable to hike in. You should also consider bringing rain pants.
  • Sports Bra (2): I prefer a basic sports bra that doesn’t have underwire or clasps that could end up rubbing against my backpack. I’ve been wearing the Nike Swoosh Bras for years, and they are great for hiking and swimming in.
  • Underwear (2-3): You may be tempted to bring more on a short 3-day trip, but it’s not practical to bring a pair of underwear for each day on longer trips. I bring 2-3 pairs. When I change out of one, I rinse it, and hang it to the outside of my pack to dry. Here is a roundup of my favorite quick-dry women’s underwear for hiking.
  • Socks (2): I bring 2 pairs of Darn Tough Lightweight Hiking Socks on every backpacking trip. Like my underwear, I’ll swap them out and rinse them in between uses. Darn Tough are extremely durable, keep their shape, and stay in place on your feet so you avoid nasty blisters.
  • Hiking Boots (1): I’m a huge fan of Oboz Footwear and have been wearing them exclusively for almost a decade. If you like a traditional mid-ankle hiking boot, the Oboz Bridger BDry Mid is extremely popular. If you like something a bit lighter, the Sawooth, Sypes or Katabatic are great choices too. Want more recommendations? Check out my guide to the best women’s hiking boots.
  • Camp Sandals (1): For a camp sandal, you want something that is light, supportive enough to walk around in, can be worn in the water, and that you can wear socks with. I love the Teva Universal Trail Sandals. They are lightweight (1 pound for the pair) and provide structure and grip for walking around camp. Read my full Teva Sandal review for more details.
  • Sun Hat (1): I like a wide-brimmed hat because it protects more of my face from the sun. The Wallaroo Sedona Hat has been my favorite for years. It’s comfortable, provides great UPF 50 coverage, and the brim is flexible enough that it isn’t annoying when it hits my backpack. You can get 20% off any Wallaroo hat with the code “BEARFOOT20”
  • Sunglasses: These should provide UVA/UVB protection. I wear Roka Sunglasses (The Rory 2.0 are my favs). They are lightweight and don’t shift around on my face. You can also get Roka sunglasses with a prescription.
  • Buff: A Buff is a versatile piece that you can wear around your neck for sun protection or around your face and ears if it’s windy. When I’m hot, I like to dunk mine in the water which keeps me cool as I hike.
  • Beanie: Depending on how cold it will get, you may want a beanie for nighttime.
  • Gloves: If it’s going to be cold, you’ll also want to bring a pair of gloves. I like these lightweight Smartwool liner gloves. They’re touchscreen compatible and not bulky, so they work well with trekking poles. If you think you might be hiking in rain, these ultralight rain mitts can be worn over your gloves and will keep your hands dry as you hike.
  • Head net: If the mosquitos are bad, you’ll thank yourself for bringing a small insect head net to keep them off your face.
  • Swimsuit (Optional): Swimming in a sports bra and underwear is totally acceptable in the backcountry, but if you’re more comfortable you can also bring a swimsuit.
A woman smiles at the camera using trekking poles on a backpacking trip
Helpful Tip

Avoid Cotton

When backpacking, you want to avoid cotton because it retains moisture, takes a long time to dry, and tends to harbor smells. Instead, opt for quick-dry materials that wick sweat and resist odors.

Backpacking Luxury Items

Below are a few luxury items that you might consider adding to your backpacking checklist. These aren’t necessities, but they can make your time on the trail more comfortable and enjoyable.

  • Backpacking Chair: Packing a lightweight chair is definitely not essential for a backpacking trip, but it’s a nice-to-have item if you plan to spend a lot of time relaxing at camp. The Helinox Chair Zero packs down to roughly the size of 2 Nalgene water bottles and weighs only 1 pound.
  • Backpacking Pillow: As I get older, a pillow has become a must for me. It helps me sleep so much better at night, and a real pillow is far superior to the old-school method of stuffing clothing in a stuff sack. An inflatable pillow is going to be the lightest option, but I prefer the Therm-a-rest Compressible Pillow which allows me to comfortably sleep on my back or side. I also like using this pillow strap to attach my pillow to my sleeping pad so it doesn’t shift around at night.
  • Quick Dry Towel: A lightweight quick-dry towel is always handy, whether it’s for drying your hands and face, doing dishes, or going for a swim and doing some sunbathing.
  • Portable battery pack: If you want to recharge your devices, this Nitecore Gen2 Power Bank is one of the lightest, weighing 5.29 oz. It has a 10,000mAh capacity and can charge a iPhone 2 times.
  • Book: I suggest bringing a Kindle over a bulky paperback.

What’s on your backpacking checklist that I missed? Is there anything you’d add or subtract? Do you have any questions about what to bring backpacking? Let me know in the comments below.

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The post My 3-Day Backpacking Checklist (with PDF) appeared first on Bearfoot Theory.

  • June 22, 2024