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What to Pack for a Backpacking Trip

what-to-pack-for-a-backpacking-trip

A List of Necessary Gear and Its Weight

Whether backpacking for a couple of days, a week, or a number of months, the goal in choosing gear is to pack everything that is essential for a successful journey while keeping the weight of the backpack as low as possible.

You can carry less weight on your back by purchasing lightweight gear. But the real secret to a light pack is to bring only those items that are truly necessary. Other than items such as those in the first-aid kit and rain gear, the rule of thumb is that if you don't use it every day, don't bring it. After paring your gear down to the bare minimum, you can then evaluate whether or not to add an "indulgence" item or two.

With this in mind, here is a list of what I bring on a typical backpacking trip. This is for moderate weather conditions on trails that do not require technical climbing or special gear. Obviously, if you need to bring something like crampons in order to dig your boots into ice, you would add such gear to your list of required equipment.

The weights listed are for my personal gear and will presumably vary from yours.

The Backpack

Total Weight: 49.5 ounces (3.09 pounds)

The nature of the pack itself sets the stage for the rest of the gear and how it will be carried. Backpacks themselves can easily weigh 6-8 pounds. Many backpacking manufacturers and salespeople justify this weight by pointing out the excellent ergonomic design, which makes it feel not all that bad. And many travelers choose larger packs out of fear that they will not be able to carry everything they need in a smaller pack. But the heavier and larger the backpack is, the more miserable you will be carrying it all day long, day after day after day.

My recommendation is to find a fairly small pack, perhaps 2,500-4,500 cubic inches in capacity, that has a good hip belt to help balance the weight. Having a smaller, lighter pack encourages packing less gear, thereby reducing weight both in terms of the pack itself and the equipment carried. A smaller pack can be "expanded" by lashing equipment, such as the sleeping pad and sandals, to the outside of the pack. The pack should weigh less than five pounds; there are some commercially available ultra-lightweight packs that are between one and two pounds. To protect the pack and its contents from rain, it is a good idea to also have a backpack cover.

A smaller backpack means carrying less gear.

Less gear means a lighter pack.

A lighter pack means an easier hike!

Choose your pack wisely!

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    These are my articles related to hiking, backpacking, and other outdoor activities. I am an experienced backpacker and thru-hiker, and now enjoy hiking and camping with my children.
Backpacking tent

Backpacking tent

The Tent: Home, Sweet Home

Total Weight: 58 ounces (3.63 pounds)

Most people carry either a tent or a tarp. Even if you are backpacking on a trail that has shelters for backpackers, it is a good idea to have another option in case there is no room in the shelter when you arrive.

Tarps are far lighter than tents but are more difficult and time-consuming to put up and take down. They are, however, extremely versatile and can be put up in a wide variety of configurations to meet the needs of the weather conditions and geography of the campsite. Their excellent ventilation can make tarps more comfortable than tents, and they dry quickly when wet. Tarps can weigh less than two pounds.

Tents are considerably heavier but are very easy to set up after a long day of hiking. When choosing a tent, look for something that weighs less than 5 pounds, including the fly, groundcloth and carrying cases. The tent is the heaviest piece of equipment to go into the backpack, so its weight will greatly affect the weight of the entire pack.

Backpacking Tents

The Bed

Total Weight: 49 - 54.5 ounces (3.06 - 3.41 pounds)

The bedding consists of a sleeping bag, sleeping pad, and bag liner (if necessary for colder weather). Some people choose to use a fleece blanket instead of a sleeping bag.

The sleeping bag should ideally weigh less than three pounds and be able to compress down to a small size to be stored in the backpack. There are compression sacks that can be used to really cram the sleeping bag down into a tiny package, though compression sacks weigh more than regular stuff sacks. For backpacking, it is important to have a hooded sleeping bag to stay warm on chilly nights. Mummy bags, which narrow at the feet, help to keep the backpacker warm while shaving off a bit of weight compared to rectangular sleeping bags. Synthetic bags are starting to rival down bags in weight and compressibility. Down bags have a lot of trouble when they get wet, since their ability to insulate heat becomes severely compromised.

Self-inflating mattresses are relatively comfortable but are also much heavier than foam mattresses. If damaged, self-inflating mattresses are fairy useless. Some people choose -length mattresses in order to reduce weight. Your backpack can be placed under your legs overnight if that is more comfortable than having your legs rest on the ground.

Sleeping Bags

Sleeping Pads

The reason we carry all this stuff on our backs is so we can see amazing views like this!

The reason we carry all this stuff on our backs is so we can see amazing views like this!

The Medicine Cabinet - Total Weight: 13.5 ounces (0.84 pound)

These are the first-aid items I carry in a red stuff sack.

  • Stuff Sack: 0.25 ounce
  • Band-Aids: 0.25 ounce
  • 2 Gauze Pads: 0.25 ounce
  • Moleskin: 0.25 ounce
  • Corn Removers: 0.00 ounce
  • Foot Powder: 1.00 ounce
  • 12 Alcohol Wipes (mostly for foot care): 0.50 ounce
  • Ibuprofen: 0.25 ounce
  • Antibiotic Ointment: 0.50 ounce
  • Hydrocortisone: .0.50 ounce
  • Tick Remover Tool: 0.25 ounce
  • Iodine (for emergency water treatment): 1.00 ounce
  • Duct Tape (for medical and other uses): 1.00 ounce
  • Emergency Handbook (instruction booklet): 1.00 ounce
  • Ace Bandage: 1.00 ounce
  • Sunblock: 2.00 ounces
  • Bug Spray: 2.00 ounces
  • Toothbrush and Paste (could be carried in food bag instead): 1.50 ounces

The Kitchen - Total Weight: 29.25 ounces (1.83 pounds)

These are items used for food storage, preparation, and clean-up.

  • Water Filter (I pack the filter in an outside mesh pocket on my backpack, not in the food bag): 12.0 ounces
  • Stove (I use an Esbit stove): 1.50 ounces
  • Fuel Tablets: 2.50 ounces
  • Lighter: 0.25 ounce
  • Windscreen (for the stove): 1.75 ounces
  • Cookpot (0.9-liter, titanium): 6.0 ounces
  • Spoon or Spork: 0.25 ounce
  • Pot Scraper: 0.25 ounce
  • Breakfast/Lunch/Dinner/Snack Stuff Sacks: 3.00 ounces
  • Hanging Foodbag: 0.75 ounce
  • Bearbag Rope: 1.00 ounce

Cookpot

Backpacking Stove

The Clothes Closet - Total Weight: 28.25 - 58 ounces (1.77 - 3.63 pounds)

The entire "closet" is crammed into a stuff sack!

Remember that "cotton kills." Choose synthetic materials that can dry quickly and insulate heat even when wet.

  • Stuff Sack: 0.5 ounce
  • Shorts: 2.5 ounces
  • 2 Pairs Socks: 6.0 ounces
  • 1 Pair Sock Liners: 1.25 ounces
  • 2 Pairs Underwear (nylon, with cotton crotch): 1.0 ounce
  • Longsleeve Shirt (2 in cold weather): 5.5 ounces each
  • Longjohns (2 in cold weather): 4.0 ounces each
  • Gortex Jacket: 7.5 ounces
  • Fleece Sweater (cool or cold weather): 11.0 ounces
  • Fleece Hat (cool or cold weather): 1.25 ounces
  • Gloves (cold weather only): 2.0 ounces
  • Rain Pants (cold weather only): 6.0 ounces

The Bathroom - Total weight: 7.5 ounces (0.47 pound)

Supplies for taking care of business are in a stuff sack with extra plastic zip bags to prevent contamination and odor. I also place a paper bag inside a plastic bag so I don't have to look at any used toilet paper!

  • Stuff Sack: 1.00 ounce
  • Toilet Paper (cardboard roll removed): 0.50 ounce
  • Baby Wipes (unscented!): 1.50 ounces
  • Hand Sanitizer: 1.50 ounces
  • Tampons: 2.00 ounces
  • Trash Bag (to pack out toilet trash): 1.00 ounce

Other Gear - Total Weight: 24.5 ounces (1.53 pounds)

  • Flashlight & 2AA Batteries & Extra Bulb: 4.0 ounces
  • Tevas (sandals): 13.5 ounces
  • Pocket Knife: 1.0 ounce
  • Maps & Guidebooks: 0.5 ounce
  • Emergency Whistle: 0.25 ounce
  • Bandanna: 0.75 ounce

Food and Water

Approximate Weight of Food for One Day: 20.5 - 32 ounces (1.28 - 2 pounds)

Approximate Weight of Food for Five Days: 102.5 - 160 ounces (6.41 - 10 pounds)

This weight decreases daily as food is eaten!

2 liters of water: 64 ounces (4 pounds)

While I start off with two liters of water, I'm rarely carrying the full two liters, since I take frequent drinks in order to stay hydrated.

A lighter pack makes for a better hike!

Pack what you need to be safe and adequately prepared, but no more!

So, What's It All Weigh?

The grand totals

My backpack with all my gear, without food and water, weighs 259.5 - 294.75 ounces (16.22 - 18.42 pounds). The range in weight reflects the difference between warmer and colder weather gear.

My backpack, fully-loaded with food for one day and two liters of water, weighs 344 - 390.75 ounces (21.5 - 24.42 pounds). This range in weight is due to variation in both gear and daily food weight.

With a five-day supply of food and two liters of water, the grand total comes to 426 - 518.75 ounces (26.63 - 32.42 pounds).

In addition to the above weight on my back, there are items that I am wearing or carrying - Total Weight: 71.25 ounces (4.45 pounds)

  • Hiking Shorts: 6.0 ounces
  • Short-sleeve Shirt: 5.0 ounces
  • Socks: 3.0 ounces
  • Sock Liners: 1.25 ounces
  • Bra: 1.25 ounces
  • Underwear: 0.5 ounce
  • Bandanna: 0.75 ounce
  • Boots: 31.0 ounces
  • Gaiters: 3.5 ounces
  • Hiking Poles: 19.0 ounces

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2012 Valerie Bloom

I hope you found this information helpful!

Valerie Bloom (author) from Pennsylvania, USA on July 18, 2013:

@CampingmanNW: Thank you!

CampingmanNW on July 18, 2013:

I am always interested in hearing about the outdoors. Your backpacking sounds like you have it down to a science. Thanks for a fun read. and congrats on the Purple Star award

Valerie Bloom (author) from Pennsylvania, USA on June 17, 2013:

@KTPT13: That's great! I remember how overwhelming it felt when I first began to learn about backpacking, so I try to offer truly helpful and sensible information to others!

KTPT13 on June 17, 2013:

I've been interested in backpacking for awhile and the info in this lens will be very helpful.

OrganicMom247 on August 03, 2012:

Thank you for sharing all these helpful tips.

WriterJanis2 on June 27, 2012:

Really good suggestions. Blessed!

Valerie Bloom (author) from Pennsylvania, USA on June 24, 2012:

@PlethoraReader: Thanks for your comment! Emergency equipment can be a tricky balance.

Certainly, I suggest taking items that will be helpful in "more likely" emergencies. However, if someone takes along too many "just-in-case" items, the increased pack weight may actually cause injuries.

These decisions should be based on the hiker's specific needs (e.g., prone to twisting ankles, allergic to bee stings, etc.) as well as the trail and weather conditions (e.g., weather-related dangers, how isolated the hiker may be, difficulty of terrain, etc.).

If you're hiking with others not too far from civilization, you might not need as many emergency supplies as a solo hiker in a sparsely populated area.

Valerie Bloom (author) from Pennsylvania, USA on June 24, 2012:

@anonymous: Thanks, Tipi!

anonymous on June 23, 2012:

I got so interested in your lists that I forgot to congratulate you on front page honors!

anonymous on June 23, 2012:

What amazing detail you've gone to, excellent! The only better thing than carrying a light pack is to have someone carry it for you!

savateuse on June 23, 2012:

Very clear and informative lens!

Matthew from Silicon Valley on June 22, 2012:

Only because I do search and rescue a couple of other recommendations that don't add much weight but can make all the difference. First I would always bring two ace wraps, ey can help with knee, ankle and arm injuries and a light and very versatile. Also an emergency beacon is also very helpful.

SueJohnston on June 20, 2012:

Great information! Good planning makes all the difference in a successful backpacking trip, and you've put together a great site with lots of helpful information!

Anne from New York on June 19, 2012:

Awesome lens! I used to go backpacking often when I was younger, and am hoping to be able to start going again in the next few years when hubby and I have more time.

Bodyweight-Workouts on June 19, 2012:

I'd like to add that when backpacking, don't cheap out on a sleeping bag. Out of all the things you could cheap out on, the sleeping bag is the last thing you should cheap out on. Also, for the sleeping bag to work as designed, you should be wearing nothing but your underwear.

xXOUTDOORSXx on June 19, 2012:

great info, thanks

Valerie Bloom (author) from Pennsylvania, USA on June 19, 2012:

@LordShadow: Great timing! Enjoy your adventure!

LordShadow on June 19, 2012:

Great informational list! I was going on a backpacking trip within the next month, and I'll be sure to use this while I'm packing. Good job!

melissiaoliver on June 19, 2012:

Such an informative list! Thanks for sharing :-)

sarasentor lm on June 19, 2012:

Very interesting lens it really deserve Thumb UP.

justin-yao on June 19, 2012:

Thank you. They are very helpful.

Julia Morais on June 18, 2012:

I've never been backpacking before, and always wondered how backpakers can fit everything they need into their backpack. Great lens for the ignorant...like me. :)

wolvyz on June 18, 2012:

A must read for bag-packers.

MJ Martin aka Ruby H Rose from Washington State on June 18, 2012:

Oh yeah, very helpful, with our hiking trips to the North Cascades

Kae Yo on June 18, 2012:

Thanks. I haven't been camping or hiking in a while. This is very helpful in helping me start to get back into it. Thank you!

SteveKaye on June 18, 2012:

I am so impressed by the care that you put into planning your pack. Thank you for publishing this lens. It gave me an entirely new view of packing.

Ninche on June 18, 2012:

This is great, It is absolutely helpful!

Valerie Bloom (author) from Pennsylvania, USA on June 18, 2012:

@kindoak: I'm glad you appreciate the weights! It definitely helps to put the gear into that particular perspective in order to make informed choices about what to bring.

Nancy Tate Hellams from Pendleton, SC on June 18, 2012:

This is such a great resource for campers

kindoak on June 17, 2012:

Dude, this is a superb lens. Thanks for including info on the weight of the items which really helps getting a grip on how to pack a light sack (I always tend to stuff too much in it)

Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on June 17, 2012:

You really know your hiking needs. What a good resource for those interested to try.

Valerie Bloom (author) from Pennsylvania, USA on March 16, 2012:

@Pam Irie: Thank you so much! I'm delighted to know you enjoyed my lens!

Pam Irie from Land of Aloha on March 15, 2012:

Wow! I'm so impressed with the details of packing for a hike. You've really put some great information on this lens. (I def didn't know they made tents that lightweight). Blessings! :)

JEMArtistry on March 12, 2012:

Very good information. Thank you for sharing. :)

Valerie Bloom (author) from Pennsylvania, USA on February 27, 2012:

@davenjilli lm: Very cool! I read his first book and was blown away! Happy hiking!

davenjilli lm on February 27, 2012:

I totally agree on the light pack equals better hike. My husband has me making Ray Jardin quilts for our kids and uses a tarp that I made out of Jardin's book too.

BuckHawkcenter on February 27, 2012:

Yep, I did! Thanks for sharing.

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