Ultimate backpacking checklist for first-timers


So you’ve decided to take on a backpacking trip. A real one, not the kind where you jump from hostel to hostel in capital cities. The kind where you carry your life on your back and adventure into the ‘unknown’.

The last thing you want is to be lugging around an extreme amount of weight and unnecessary things. For first-timers, packing for such a trip can be a daunting task and its easy to get things wrong. We’re here to help. We’ve compiled the ultimate backpacking checklist so that you have everything you need and nothing you don’t. Before you get started packing, make sure you have the best backpack to fit it all in.

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

Clothing backpacking packing list

Clothing choices depend on the weather and climate conditions of your destinations.

Of course, hiking boots or good walking shoes are non-negotiable. Additionally, thick pairs of socks are important to protect you from blisters and chaffing.

Stick to quick-drying and breathable materials such as nylon, silk and bamboo. While cotton seems like a good idea for hot climates, it takes too long to dry.

You have no space to pack that pretty dress or nice shirt “just in case.” Be ruthless and don’t pack more than two sets of clothes if you can help it. You’re not packing for a cruise, after all.

For cold weather conditions, fleece and goose-down are both warm and lightweight. Leave all your dense knitwear behind.

Quick Checklist

  • Hiking boots/shoes

  • Thick hiking socks and warm camp socks

  • Long-sleeved shirt to protect from sun and insects

  • Hiking pants/shorts or leggings

  • Quick-drying T-shirts

  • Beanie and buff

  • Lightweight and breathable rain jacket

  • Sun hat

  • Sandals for camp

Cold weather add-ons

  • Baselayers

  • Down Jacket

  • Fleece

  • Beanie

  • Thick socks

  • Warm gloves

Kitchen backpacking supplies

Let’s assume for the sake of the ultimate backpacking checklist that you’ll be making your own food. A cooking stove and one gas canister for every four days of your trip are essential backpacking gear items.

Quick Checklist

  • Portable stove

  • Cooker gas/fuel

  • Fork, spoon and knife. Or spork

  • Pot/pan set

  • Plate and bowl

  • Drinking cup and mug

  • Biodegradable soap

  • A thermos for tea or coffee on the road

  • Collapsable water containers

  • Spice kit (optional)

    Image by Sage Friedman from Unsplash

Food backpacking list

This is the most difficult backpacking essential checklist. First-time backpackers often get it wrong, loading their bags with heavy food items.

A good start is to make a meal plan for the total number of trip days, or the days you’ll need food. Pack a few meals extra in case but don’t go overboard. Look for high-calorie, nutrient-rich meals that don’t take up too much space.

You’re going to be burning a lot of energy so try to provision between 2500 to 3500 calories per day. Lucky for you, the quality of food has drastically improved and there are some great brands out there.

Food Checklist

  • Energy bars and drinks

  • Rehydrates

  • Trail mix

  • Dehydrated/freeze-dry meals

  • Food bag – for keeping food and leftover separate

  • High-fat foods: peanut butter, chocolate etc

  • Small packets of salt, pepper and spices

  • Some fresh fruit

  • Water provisions if there is no freshwater between towns. Two litres of drinking water per day and an extra litre of cooking and hygiene

Backpacking gear list

There are a few gadgets and items which are of absolute necessity for any backpacking trip. And some that are unique to your trip or you, such as hiking poles.

You may be trekking in Nepal which has a wide range of rustic accommodation along the way. Or camping in Mongolia, in which case a lightweight and durable tent is fundamental.

The items below are the sort of things you’ll wish you had brought if you don’t. Prepare all your backpacking gear so that you’re not cursing when you stub your toe in the dark.

Checklist for camping

  • Tent with rain cover

  • Sleeping mat

  • Weather appropriate sleeping bag

  • Pillow (optional)

Backpacking equipment checklist

  • Headlamp

  • Powerbank

  • Multi adapter

  • Maps and compass

  • Knife or multitool

  • Matches or lighter

  • Firestarters

  • Assorted ziplock bags for storage and garbage

  • Water bottles

    Image by Jack Sloop on Unsplash

Hygiene and toiletries backpacking list

This is a short and sweet list because toiletries are bulky and mostly unnecessary. Don’t start cringing yet, we’ve designed this checklist to keep you (kinda) clean. Hopefully, you’ll have access to a shower or freshwater along the road. In which case, that’s already enough to take care of most of your hygiene needs.

Leave your makeup, fancy face creams and products behind. Unless your perfume doubles as a fire starter, it doesn’t make the cut.

Quick checklist

  • Toothbrush and toothpaste

  • Hand sanitizer (optional)

  • Bar of soap

  • Wet wipes

  • Suncream

  • Insect repellent

  • Microfibre/quick-dry towel

Backpacking essentials for emergencies

Hope for the best but prepare for the worst. We’ve heard it a million times and although it’s nauseatingly cliched, it’s true.

An injury, ripped tent or allergic reaction is a sure-fire way to ruin a trip. But it’s easily avoidable if you prepare for it. Thankfully, you can pack a whole lot of emergency gear without taking up too much space. You can buy a first-aid and repair kit, or prepare your own.

Build your own first-aid kit

  • Band-aids

  • Gauze

  • Medical tape

  • Disinfectant

  • Antibiotic cream

  • Painkillers (ie: ibuprofen)

  • Moleskin or blister pads

  • Tweezers

  • Antihistamines

  • Antidiarrheal

Build your own repair kit

  • Whistle

  • Sewing kit

  • Backup lighter

  • Superglue

  • Tent patch kit

  • Duct tape

  • Utility rope/chord

  • Zip ties

    Image by Image by Joshua Woroniecki from Pixabay

Overnight backpacking list for personal items

You probably have your own non-negotiable list of must-have items. And if there’s enough space after all the essentials, go ahead and add them.

Minimise space by leaving your books behind and bringing a kindle. If you’re going in a group, a pack of cards is compact and offers endless possibilities.

Packed and ready to go

This is the ultimate backpacking checklist to ensure that your trip is as comfortable as can be. But there’s still room for some minor tweaks depending on the style of the trip and your own personal requirements.

Through experience and a lot of ‘I should’ve brought that’ moments, you’ll become a master of packing.

Matt Davison
Matt has done marketing for travel and tourism for over a decade. His first love is SEO, with entrepreneurship hotter on its heels than a girlfriend. When he is not looking up flights back to his next destination, you can find him in the garden, making excuses to walk Rusty, strategizing with the team and tinkering on sites until the early morning.