Your Ultimate Multi-Day Backpacking Checklist
Packing for a multi-day hiking trip is like a challenging game of Tetris. You’re carrying everything you need to survive for several days on your back, and it all needs to somehow fit. You don’t want it to be so heavy that you have to stop and rest every 1/4 mile, but if you forget something you can’t just run to the nearest convenience store and grab it. You’re in the middle of nowhere with nothing but leaves to supplement the toilet paper you forgot to pack. So, we’ve compiled a backpacking checklist to help you find the happy medium between exhausted and unprepared.
Backpack: What would backpacking be without a backpack?? Hiking. It would be hiking.
Size – The length of your trip will determine how large of a backpack you need.
• Weekend: 30-50 liters
• Three to Five Nights: 50-80 Liters
• More than Five Nights: Over 70 Liters
Fit – To determine the right fit for your frame, measure your torso length. Do this by starting with your C7 and stopping at the top of your hop bones. Then use this number to check your size estimate. Keep in mind that depending on the backpack brand, the size ranges may vary.
Features – Backpacking brands are constantly adding small creature comforts to their backpacks to give them a leg up and make your trip easier and more comfortable. Keep in mind that there is generally a correlation between comfort and price. But some added features are too good to pass on. Some features that may be consider paying extra for are: lots of pockets, ventilation, padding, and a hydration reservoir. Additional pockets make the chore of finding things in your pack MUCH easier. There’s nothing worse than having to dig through your meticulously packed bag. Ventilation and padding will make carrying your pack more comfortable. Ventilation minimizes the sweatiness of your back and padding prevents sore spots. A hydration reservoir will make packing water easier and allow you to drink while you’re hiking, minimizing stop time.
Tent or hammock: Tent or hammock? This dilemma has been a topic of many backcountry debates. But at the end of the day, it really comes down to personal preference. Hammocks are easy to set up, small and light, and relatively inexpensive. While tents can be set up anywhere (regardless of tree proximity), keep out creepy crawlers and animals, and protect from bad weather.
When making the decision of which to take, consider where you’re going and the weather projections. Even if the forecast looks clear, if you’re packing a hammock, consider bringing a hammock cover or a tarp and stakes.
Sleeping Bag: The first place to start when choosing a sleeping bag is, of course, temperature. If you’re going on a winter trip, you’re going to need something heavy duty, whereas that same bag on a trip to Havasu Falls might cause you to wake up in hot sweats. Most people choose to purchase 3-season bags because of their versatility.
Sunscreen: Just don’t forget sunscreen. If you get sunburned the first day of your trip you will be miserable. If you won’t to get good sleep and not make everyone hate you with your constant complaining, pack your sunscreen and use it.
Insect Repellent: Another easy way to avoid having a miserable trip is to bring and wear insect repellent. Much like sunscreen, this essential will help you get better sleep so you can have the energy necessary for the duration of your trek.
Headlamp: When you’re out in the backcountry the stars and moon are usually amazing. Their light is the perfect nightlight, but if you’re night hiking, looking for something in your pack or must use the restroom after dark, a headlamp proves incredibly helpful. It’s also a good idea to pack extra batteries in case yours run out.
Meals: Freeze-dried meals are always a great option for backcountry hikes. But convenience has its cost. If you’re looking for a more budget-friendly option, consider dry or canned foods. In addition to cost, there are a couple things to consider when deciding on meals, here are a few.
• Calories: You are going to be hiking for miles at a time and probably burning a sizable number of calories. This is not a time for dieting. It may be tempting to pack less food and ration yourself, but you’re going to need those calories for the extra energy necessary to make it back home.
• Weight: Another benefit of freeze-dried foods its light weight. These meals are specifically designed for backcountry hiking and are incredibly light. Conversely, cans are heavy. If you have canned meals for every meal, you can imagine how heavy your pack could become.
• Water availability: Depending on where you are, water may not available wherever you go. Make sure to plan for this, either by packing extra water or making sure to stop for meals near a body of water. Also make sure you have a water purifier or filter, see below for more details on this.
• Preparation: After a long day of adventuring, you may not want to make a gourmet meal. Quick, easy meals are probably going to be your best bet. But again, the easier and more convenient a meal is, generally the more it’s going to cost. This is where meal prepping may be helpful. Check out some of our tips to make planning meals easier and more affordable that freeze-dried meals.
Utensils: Unless everything you make is finger food, it’s probably a good idea to have some utensils. You can find a variety of fork/knife/spoon camping alternatives at any sporting goods store. If you decide to pack disposable utensils, make sure to pack them back out. Don’t leave trash behind. If a fellow backpacker catches you littering, they will skewer you.
Water Purifier or Filter: Packing in all the water you’ll need for the duration of your trek is not a viable option. Unless you’re backpacking in an area where water is scarce, you’ll need some sort of water filtration system. Also, if you happen to get lost, having a water purifier could significantly increase your chances of getting back home. But there are a couple things to consider when deciding what type of system to bring. One of the most important being cooking methods. If you’re going to need water for cooking, you need more than a Life Straw or a filtration water bottle. These types of water filters both have their place, but if you’re planning on eating freeze-dried meals or cooking pasta or Ramen, you’ll need a water purifier.
Bladder: You need something to hold your water. You can also use a water bottle, but if you can put a bladder in your pack, this is the way to go.
Stove and Fuel: If you want warm food or are doing any actual cooking, you’re going to need a stove. Most stoves are propane-powered, and you’ll need to make sure to pack enough fuel. There are several brands that make stoves specifically for backpacking and depending on how much money you’d like to spend, can be light weight and make cooking a breeze. One of our favorites is Jet Boil, it can boil water in under two minutes.
Pot/Bowl: Some stoves come with a pot that then can be used as a bowl. This minimizes weight and dish washing. But if your stove isn’t this fancy, you’re going to need a pot and possibly a bowl. Again, consider weight, but most sportsman stories have a variety of compact bowls and pots.
Footwear: Choosing a pair of hiking boots is one of the more important decisions you’ll make in preparation for you trek. A good pair of boots that fit well and keep you comfortable make all the difference. Because you’re constantly on your feet, the possibility of blisters is incredibly real. If you have a new pair, consider breaking them in before multi-day hiking by taking them on a few shorter day hikes. Also, keep some moleskin and blister crème in your first aid kit just in case your shoes aren’t fitting as well as you expected, or your feet get wet and struggle to recoup.
Shirts, Pants, Jackets, The Works: What type of clothing you bring depends on where you’re hiking. Look at the weather forecast in the area you’re hiking and ask the other members of your hiking party what they’re planning to wear. Also, if you know someone else who has visited your destination around the same time of year, ask them about their experience and what they packed.
Hiking Socks: Like footwear, a good pair of hiking socks can be the difference between blisters and bliss. Find a pair that fits well and is thick enough that it doesn’t allow your foot and shoes to rub against each other. If it usually gets colder at night in the backcountry you’re hiking in, consider bringing an extra pair of socks.
Hat, Sunglasses, Gloves, Etc: Glove and a hat might be a good idea to sleep with if it’s going to be colder at night. You want good sleep, so pack whatever you need to get that. And during the day, you may want to bring sunglasses and/or a baseball cap to protect from the sun and make it easier to see the gorgeous terrain around you.
Toothbrush and Toothpaste: Just because you’re in the wilderness, doesn’t mean you can’t practice proper dental hygiene. Make sure you filter any water used to brush your teeth.
Toilet Paper: Don’t forget the toilet paper. This might not be something you’d originally think about, but this is obviously something you really don’t want to forget. Also, some backpackers pack out their toilet paper. If you’re going to do this, remember to bring along a plastic bag.
Baby Wipes: For menstruating women and people who just like to be clean, baby wipes are a great option. They give you the cleanliness you need to feel good and enjoy your journey. But remember that most baby wipes aren’t biodegradable and should be packed out. So, make sure to bring a bag to keep your used ones in.
Towel: If you plan on washing yourself off at all, make sure to bring a towel. Or if you’re going to do some moonlight skinny dipping.
Feminine Hygiene Products: While it’s unfortunate that your menstruation cycle and backpacking trip decided to fall on the same weekend, you can make it work. Make sure to bring pain medication if you’re prone to cramping, extra caffeine and the necessary hygiene products. Menstrual cups or tampons are your best options. If you’re comfortable inserting a menstrual cup, it should be your go-to because it doesn’t involve packing extra supplies and includes zero waste. But if you aren’t a pro at inserting a menstrual cup, on the trail is not the place to start. In this case, bring tampons. But remember, you’ll have to pack them out.
Fire Starter, Lighter, or Matches: Your knowledge of survival skills and level of patience will determine what type of fire starting device you’ll bring. If you’re new to the backcountry game, you might want to bring a lighter or match and some fire starter. You don’t want to be without a warm fire at night and you don’t want to have to depend on the wind’s cooperation. If you’re using a flint and steel to light your fire it may require some extra patience. So if you’re not sure about your ability to start a fire that way, bring a back-up-lighter, just in case.
Map, Compass, etc: Bring something to use for navigation. Sometimes trails aren’t maintained as well as we’d like and it’s incredibly important to have a back-up plan. If you have a map, you can guess where the trail is a little easier. Also, watch for cairns (seen above) to help you stay on course. Today they have so many GPS navigation options, but they can get pretty pricey. At the very least, make sure you have a compass and a whistle, just in case you happen to stray.
First Aid Kit: Nature is unpredictable! You never know what’s going to happen while you’re on a trip and as any good boy scout would say, BE PREPARED! It’s also a good idea to take a class or watch a myriad of YouTube videos about how to administer emergency first aid. Knowing what to do and what not to do could be the difference between life and death. Or at the very least, the difference between a happy trek and a miserable one.
Rope: You have no idea how useful a rope is until you’re without one. At some point in your journey, it’s likely that you’ll need a rope. If you’re in bear country, you will probably need a rope to hang your backpacks from a tree. If it starts to rain and you’re in a hammock, you may need a rope to create a make-shift tarp shelter. A rope has a million uses and you never know when you’ll need it.
Small Knife or Multi-Tool: A multi-tool is everything you’ll ever need, but if you have a knife, it will probably suffice.
Camera Gear: If you plan on documenting your journey with amazing shots, make sure to bring your camera gear. The worst feeling is when you see that gorgeous sunset and realize you don’t have anything to shoot it with. It will add some extra weight to your pack, but those amazing shots might just be worth it.
Bear canister (depending on where you’re camping): Depending on the region you’re trekking in, you may need a bear canister. Make sure to check for bear warnings in your region and follow the guidelines they set.
Depending on where you’re trekking, this backpacking checklist may not be everything you need for your journey. Research your trail and find others who have gone before you for additional information about what you need to pack and what you don’t.
Did we forget anything? Share the backpacking gear you can’t live without in the comments below!