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.
Table of Contents
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.
Thick hiking socks and warm camp socks
Long-sleeved shirt to protect from sun and insects
Hiking pants/shorts or leggings
Beanie and buff
Lightweight and breathable rain jacket
Sandals for camp
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.
Fork, spoon and knife. Or spork
Plate and bowl
Drinking cup and mug
A thermos for tea or coffee on the road
Collapsable water containers
Spice kit (optional)
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.
Energy bars and drinks
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
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.
Tent with rain cover
Weather appropriate sleeping bag
Maps and compass
Knife or multitool
Matches or lighter
Assorted ziplock bags for storage and garbage
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.
Toothbrush and toothpaste
Hand sanitizer (optional)
Bar of soap
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.
Painkillers (ie: ibuprofen)
Moleskin or blister pads
Tent patch kit
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.
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.