How to Pack a Camping Backpack: A Complete List of What You Need

It’s time to pack up your camping backpack and hit the open road for a day, a weekend, or even an entire week! But how do you know what to bring? This guide will help you figure out how much weight should be in your pack.

Our Backpacking Checklist:

We’ve put together a complete backpacking gear list to help you as you prepare for your next adventure. We focus on packing light, functional Clothing, and outdoor equipment that will keep us ready for anything our natural surroundings might throw at us. This list of backpack packing items is applicable to solo or couple backpackers because it includes everything you need for a camping trip!

Camping can be a fun and healthy adventure; however, it is vital to have the appropriate equipment. This backpack pack list contains both new and old gear as we don’t purchase outdoor products every year. Although this guide is our latest, it is based on a collection of equipment we’ve been refining for over 10 years. Our goal in showing real-world examples is to give you a place to start.

Backpacking Gear Basics:

There are many different types of backpacking equipment, and how much you should bring will vary depending on how long your trip is. The below list contains the essential items for camping, including clothing and food provisions.

Backpacking Backpack:

Your backpack should always have the heaviest items, like your sleeping bag and tent. If you are camping on a trail or in an established campground with access to water, we recommend bringing 20-30 liters of water (lighter weight) for each day that you plan to be away from civilization.

When selecting your pack, make sure that it is the appropriate size for how much gear you are bringing on your trip. A general rule of thumb is to get a pack that will hold about 30-40% more than how much gear you think you’ll need, just in case. Check out REI’s backpack buying guide and our best backpacks list if required.

Backpacking Tent

A great lightweight backpacking tent for the price is the REI Quarter Dome SL2. The two large doors and vestibules help you quickly get in and out as well as have your own space to store sleeping bags, food, gear, etc. – crucial when using a 2-person backpacking tent. This tent is spacious for a compact and lightweight model, with convenient features like large interior pockets and vents. If you feel like learning more about this tent, check out my full review here. You can also find it in a 1-person rendition if you plan on traveling solo or are looking for the most lightweight option possible.

Sleeping Bag

We always pack warm sleeping bags, even though we are three-season backpackers. Nothing is worse than shivering during a camping trip in the backcountry (we both learned this lesson the hard way: one time, we froze while camping in late fall in Utah). When the temperature rating on your sleeping bag is calculated, it’s important to remember that you should add 15 degrees Fahrenheit when deciding which sleep sack you need. A quality sleeping bag can last a long time, but for those who want to save money, it is possible to buy a less expensive pack at first.

Sleeping Pad

There are countless types of sleeping pads on the market, and how much you want to spend will depend on your needs. There are three main categories: closed-cell foam, self-inflating air mattresses, and inflatable camping mattresses. We’ve done a lot of research in this area (read our post about how to choose the best sleeping pad) and have found that the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite is a great all-around choice. This inflatable air mattress can be inflated with your mouth in about 30 seconds, its compact size makes for easy packing, and its lightweight design (under 20 ounces!) will keep you from feeling weighed down.

A closed-cell foam pad is a good choice for those who want to save money, but there are many drawbacks. They do not provide insulation from the ground and can get an air mattress that will last longer than how long you plan on being out in the wilderness. The self-inflating pads work well if you don’t need much cushioning, and the inflatable models are a good choice if you have many camping beds to set up.

Camp Pillow

A pillow is a personal preference when camping; Michael carries this lightweight Cocoon Pillow and hasn’t looked back. I use extra clothes to pack into my sleeping bag stuff sack at night and call it a day.

Hiking Poles

Trekking poles provide a more effortless, more comfortable uphill stride. They also help make the rugged down-hills a little less jarring on your knees and can be handy in stream crossings to assist with stability. Black Diamond is known for its affordable, quality gear, and the Distance Carbon Z trekking poles are just one product that clearly represents that reputation.

Backpacking Kitchen

If you’re looking to save weight, a camping kitchen is an excellent idea. When we backpacked in Glacier National Park in Montana last summer, our lightweight stove setup consisted of only the MSR Pocket Rocket and titanium cook set. We cooked some great dinners on it!

Backpacking Stove/Cook System

The weight of your stove and how much fuel it needs to carry will depend on how often you use a furnace. For us, the MSR Pocket Rocket is our go-to backpacking stove. It’s compact and lightweight with an easy pump operating system that makes for fast work when cooking up meals in just minutes!

Fuel: MSR or Jetboil Isobutane/Propane Fuel

When camping, it is essential to have cooking equipment. To be safe while camping, we will take a 3.5oz, 8oz, or 16 oz canister, depending on the length of our trip.

When using this fuel, we have had no issues when the canister reaches a certain point in its fuel level. We recommend MSR and JetBoil for their efficacy regardless of your specific needs.

Lighter

A lighter is an essential camping item for those who want a hot meal on the trail. Bear Grylls taught us how to use one in under ten seconds (you should check out his YouTube video if you haven’t seen it yet).

There are many different types of lighters, but we recommend this windproof refillable Zippo model because its durable metal construction can withstand even the harshest conditions!

Eating Utensil: Morsel XL Spoon

We don’t always eat with our hands, so it is essential to have an eating utensil. The Morsel XL spoon is a versatile and durable option that will make your camping cuisine much more enjoyable!

Mug: GSI Infinity Camp Mug

If you enjoy drinking a morning cup of coffee or tea, be sure to pack the cups in your camping backpack.

This GSI mug is lighter at 3.5 oz – making it lighter than our old titanium insulated cups and a fraction of the price! We find this mug perfect for backpacking mornings, though it doesn’t keep your coffee hot for hours. The mug comes with servings marked on the side, which are helpful for making breakfasts and dinners.

Knife: Opinel #8

Every good camper should carry a small knife or multipurpose tool in their backpack. When you are asked to choose between two things, I’d recommend bringing a lighter and slim blade like an Opinel knife. Keep your old multi-tool as it has many more uses!

Bear Canister: BearVault BV500

The majority of backpacking sites I have visited require bear canisters, so we opt to carry the BV500. It has been able to hold 7-8 days of food for myself, or 4 days’ worth when camping with my loved one—but depending on a person’s dietary preferences and how many breakfasts they eat, there may be something closer to 12 days worth in the container.

The Boy’s Bear 4.5″ is ideal for weekend backpackers because they are very durable and approved by nearly all agencies in the United States. They are on the heavy side but worth the weight if you’re backpacking on a regular basis. If it is permitted, racks might be a better choice. Ursacks were approved by the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee in 2014, but many parks still forbid them.

Water Treatment: Platypus Gravity Works 4L Filter

We recommend the Platypus Gravity Works because it’s easy to use and lightweight. The process of filling up your camp water is as simple as finding a stream or lake to use, then flipping over the bag until all of the clean drinkable water has been filtered out! It can filter about four liters per hour, so I would suggest using this while hiking in order to conserve gas – but don’t rely on gravity filters alone for all your drinking needs when camping (see #12).

Water Bottles:

These collapsible bottles are so lightweight you can easily store them when not in use, and being collapsible means, they’re less likely to get punctured. We also always pack a hard-sided bottle in case the soft-sided ones break. Alternatively, you could fill up a hydration bladder with the drinking hose for easy sipping on the go!

Biodegradable Soap: Dr. Bronner Unscented or Campsuds

If your camping strategy is strictly relying on freeze-dried meals in bags, you might be able to skip carrying soap. We alternate between nature-friendly meals and freeze-dried food on our adventures, so it’s essential for us to have some unscented, biodegradable soap with us in case we need to wash a pot. Please read about the proper way to use soap in a backcountry setting, and for the love of God, do not use it IN any water sources.

Small Piece of Sponge

You might think that you can skip the sponge, but how do you expect to clean your pots? We recommend a small piece of cloth or sponge because it is lightweight and easy to wash.

3Quick-Drying Dish Towel: REI Multi Towel Mini

Whether you prefer a dish towel or bandana, this is essential for quick drying your dishes. The mini size of the REI multi-towel allows it to dry out quicker than other brands and can even be used as a lightweight backpacking pillow!

Backpacking Toiletries

When it comes to backpacking, my beauty standards are limited. I focus on hygiene and the basics, and that is reflected in this list. Eliminate items you would not need for a camping trip.

Toothbrush

We use folding travel toothbrushes, which take up less space and protect the bristles from being damaged by any other items in your toiletry bag.

Toothpaste

Backpacking trips don’t require full-sized toothpaste tubes, so travel-size ones can efficiently complete a camping backpack.

Sunscreen

Sunscreen is an essential item, whether you camp in a place with much less sun to sites with a higher UV index. Super-streamy and SPF 45 are sunscreen brands that will protect your sunburn while also being lightweight.

Lip Balm

Between heat, wind, and sun exposure on the trail, lips can get dry and chapped. So we’re always sure to pack lip balm with SPF for protection.

Hand Sanitizer

Let’s face it; cleanliness becomes a relative term on backpacking trips. After we go to the bathroom, it is essential that we use a quick spritz of hand sanitizer to cover our bases.

Wet Wipes

Must keep clean somehow. Wet wipes are lightweight, compact, and great for quick how-do-you-dos without water or soap!

Wet Wipes: it is an essential item to carry with you when camping in the wilderness because toilet paper cannot always be found. We recommend a small pack of wet wipes, which is easy to store and can provide relief if nature calls unexpectedly.

Trowel

You never know how deep the ground can be, so a trowel is an essential item to have in your camping backpack. It will help you find that perfect spot for digging and saving precious space in your pack!

Toilet Paper

This is an essential item for campers because, as mentioned above, toilet paper can sometimes be challenging to find. I recommend packing a small roll so that you have it when you really need it!

Trash Bag for Food & Misc Waste

While you technically could pack all your trash in one bag, I prefer to maintain a separation of my various garbage bags to avoid any unnecessary opening and closing.

Health and Safety

First Aid Kit

A first aid kit is an essential camping item for any outdoor activity. It should include bandages, pain relief medication, insect repellant, and antihistamines to cover all of your bases while on the trail or in unfamiliar territory.

Headlamp: BioLite 200

Headlamps are a must-have for camping because they not only provide light but also keep your hands free and allow you to use both of them. I personally love my BioLite headlamp, which has an adjustable beam and a lock function on the button (so it’s less likely to be triggered while in storage). Plus, how cool is it that this one charges with just sunlight?

Backup Water Treatment: Micropur Tablets

You never know how far you’ll have to go for water, so it’s a good idea to pack these tablets. One example where a water filter can be used is during camping trips without easy access to clean water.

Gear Repair Kit

It would help if you were packing spare pad patches, an O-ring for your stove, and some duct tape. Also, bring a sewing needle and nylon thread.

Firestarter/Matches

Before anything else is packed, be sure to bring fire-starting tools. There are many types of options available, such as matches, lighter fluid, or lighters; it’s a good idea to pack both in case you run low on one thing or the other.

This is an essential item for any camping trip because if you can’t make a campfire, your food will go cold, and no one wants that (especially when we’re talking about s’mores!). There are many different ways to create fires, but I recommend picking three things: waterproof matches, extra dryer lint in case they get wet from rain, and some paper towels.

Small Mirror

A mirror is a perfect thing to bring with you on a camping trip, especially if there are other people involved. A small compact mirror could be used as a signal in an emergency and provide visibility of any dental work or cuts that may need attention.

Whistle (Built into backpack straps)

I love how this whistle is built into the straps of my backpack because it’s always close at hand when I need to call for help or scare away animals.

The idea behind a camping pack list can be complicated and confusing, but with these essential items, you’ll have all that you need! Pack your own camping bag before going on an adventure, so you’re prepared no matter where life takes you.

Navigation

Paper Maps

In addition to the usual supplies found in a backpack, maps are stored in zip-lock bags. Maps and permits can be used as an alternate means of navigation should something interfere with your phone’s usage. If you don’t have a phone or want some extra assurance, our GPS app has offline map access, so you’ll always know where you are no matter what happens!

Compass: Suunto

As a safety measure, be sure to pack maps and compasses before embarking on any hiking journey. You might want to take a navigation class at your local REI before getting out there.

Backpacking Clothing

The basic that should be on your backpacking checklist. A sleeping bag and pad, first aid kit, emergency items like an extra pair of clothes and blanket or rain gear for the purposes of camping while being lightweight.

Keep your hiking clothes at camp and change into them when you arrive to keep your backpack lighter. The only exception is bringing an extra pair of socks because it’s hard to find these in the mountains sometimes.

Insulated Jacket

There are plenty of lightweight, packable jackets with insulation for when the temps drop in the evening. I like a hood or one that covers my head, so it blocks out any wind or cold air while still cutting down on weight and bulk for packing.

Rain Jacket

An insulated jacket is imperative when the night temperatures are cold, regardless of whether it’s natural down or synthetic. I choose ones with hoods because they protect my head when it’s windy or extra cold, so I have my Arc’Teryx LT Atom Hoody packed.

Top Base Layer

Wool base layers are convenient when you’re coming in from a sweaty day of hiking and ready to

change into something cozy, but they can also be helpful for camping. Warm and odor resistant, the Icebreaker 200 Oasis Half Zip straight wool sweater is my go-to piece for outdoor activities.

Hiking Pants

I like to hike while wearing these Prana leggings (if it’s too cold for shorts). These leggings are also comfy for the evening by the campfire and can be worn as pajamas or even in the summer.

Moisture Wicking T-Shirt

I always hike in a lightweight, fast-drying t-shirt that has moisture-wicking properties. My favorite is the Patagonia Cool Capilene T-Shirt since it keeps me calm, and I enjoy the long sleeves for sun protection.

Hiking Shorts

I like to hike in these REI Co-op Active Pursuits Shorts when it’s nice outside, and they have more breathability than spandex.

Sports Bra

Even when I’m not camping, a bra is essential. For me, that means bringing along my trusty Patagonia Camp Trails Sports Bra.

Quick Dry Undies

There are many types of quick-dry underwear, and these REI Co-op Active Hipsters work best for me. They’re moisture-wicking, dry quickly, stay put minimally visible panty lines show when I wear them under my hiking clothes. I like to bring a couple of pairs on multi-day backpacking trips.

Hiking Socks

I alternated between 2 pairs of Darn Tough Hiking Socks on my John Muir Trail hike. That was years ago, and I still wear these socks hiking. They are durable and stay in place, so you don’t end up with blistery feet while hiking.

Hiking Boots

My favorite brand of outdoor gear is Oboz, and I recently upgraded to a new pair of Bridger BDry Hiking Boots after wearing out my last pair. The mid-height support your ankles, plus they are waterproof and have a stiff sole with plenty of support on those steeper slopes.

Camp Sandals

I like to bring these lightweight Teva sandals with me on backpacking trips because they take up very little room, which gives me more space for other things. They are one of the most comfortable pairs of shoes I’ve owned and prevent friction between your toes from all that hiking.

Accessories

You’ll need to wear a hat and sunglasses if you’re backpacking. A trucker-style hat provides sun protection, while the Buff allows for quick changes in weather conditions. Oh, and gloves/beanie if it’s going to be cold!

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