What Gear Do I Need to Go Backpacking?

What is Backpacking?

Backpacking, simply put, is a hike where you’ll spend at least one night outdoors. It’s a popular hobby, and steadily growing. Will you join us?

What to Take Backpacking

If you’re a day hiker already, you’ll be familiar with most of this gear. If you’re totally new, that’s ok too. The gear you need to go backpacking is made up mostly of clothing, shelter, food/cooking, and safety items. I created a free packing list to help you keep track of your gear and make packing easier. You can find that here

10 Essentials

The 10 essentials are things that are meant to help you survive an emergency situation. These items can help prevent hypothermia, clean and cover wounds, and provide you with shelter, among other things. 

Even on a day hike, it’s recommended to always have the 10 essentials with you. It’s even more important as a backpacker to be prepared to spend one or more nights in the wild. 

The art of reading a  map and compass are somewhat of a lost skill in these days of GPS. But GPS and other devices can die, break, or otherwise become unusable. Always carry a map and compass in addition to your chosen GPS, and know how to use them. 

If you don’t know how to use them, don’t worry. It’s not as hard as sounds and after you try it a few times, it becomes easier and easier. REI has an awesome video lesson on using a compass. 

The Suunto A-30 is the compass I normally carry, and very similar to the one in REI’s video, which was helpful during the instruction. It’s for use in the northern hemisphere.


You need lighting. Whether you choose a flashlight or headlamp, make sure you bring a set of extra batteries. 

Headlamps are generally more preferable as they let you be hands free. Flashlights work just as well. 

Sun Protection

Even in the winter, sunburn happens and we all know it’s not fun. Pack some sunblock, a hat, UV blocking clothing, whatever you need to keep the sun’s harmful rays from ruining your adventure. 

First Aid

  • A basic first aid kit can be a trip saver. At the very least, yor first aid kit should contain 
  • Alcohol/antiseptic wipes
  • Antibacterial ointment
  • Band-aids
  • Gauze pads
  • Tape (I wrap strips of  duct tape around a water bottle and can use that if needed)
  • Blister treatment or moleskin (not a necessity, but definitely useful and nice to have if needed)
  • Ibuprofen/Pain Reliever
  • Diarrhea Medication
  • Antihistamine
  • Tweezers
  • Butterfly Bandage Strips


This one is pretty self explanatory. A knife or multi tool can be used in many ways while backpacking, from cooking to fixing a piece of your gear. 

Any knife, as long as it can cut, will work just fine. 


This includes everything you need to start a fire for cooking, warmth, or an emergency signal. Matches (go with storm proof), lighter, tinder/fire starter or a stove and appropriate fuel. 


This doesn’t have to be a tent, even though that’s what you’re likely to bring when you’re backpacking. A bivvy sack will work as well and is small and packable. The bivvy is nice to take as shelter if you’ll be hammock camping. 

Extra Food

In addition to the food you plan to consume on your backpacking trip, 1-2 days worth of extra food is recommended. This makes sure you’re covered in the event of being lost/stranded/on the trail longer than planned. 

Extra Water

This is the same as food. Bring enough extra water or the gear you need to filter/treat enough water for 1 to 2 extra days. 

Extra Clothes

An extra set of warm layers is essential to preventing hypothermia if you were to become lost or stranded. These can be a warm base or mid layer (not as bulky as some outer layers), outerwear, or a mix. The point is just to be able to stay warm and dry. 

Camp Kitchen

My camp kitchen is simple and light, but still contains everything I need to make and eat meals for 2 people.  If you plan to cook on your backpacking trip, these items can make it easier and more enjoyable. 

Food. Pre-packaged dehydrated meals or taking on the role of backcountry chef requires some food items. But you already knew that. 

Stove and fuel. I bought my stove when I was just beginning to hike, and it’s still my favorite today. It’s the Etekcity Ultralight Portable Camp Stove. For under $20, I didn’t expect it to last long, but it’s still going strong. I highly recommend this stove for beginners because it’s budget friendly and in my experience, it is very reliable.

Cookware set. These sometimes include double duty items, such as a pan that doubles as a plate or bowl. Mine is like that. It saves me from toting collapsible bowls or cups to eat from. 

Spork/eating utensil. You don’t even need to buy a “special” one. Plastic silverware will work just fine. Just remember to pack it out with you when you leave.

Cup (sometimes included in the cookware sets)

These items will make preparing meals painless. 

Sleeping While Backpacking

In addition to shelter and clothing to sleep in, you don’t need much to camp in the wild! Some items are just for comfort and you may not need or want to bring them. 

Sleeping Bag

Sleeping Pad

Inflatable Pillow– I’ve never used one of these. I’ve stuffed a sack with the clothing I wasn’t wearing and used that as a pillow. I know some who would never leave their pillow behind, and others who have tried them and hated them. If it’s something you want to try out, there’s some good options that won’t break the bank. 

This pillow from Wise Owl Outfitters is $10 and comes in many colors/patterns. 

It doesn’t take much at all to start backpacking. Of course, your packing list will change as you discover what you like and don’t like gear-wise. You may find that you don’t need a whole cookware set because you don’t mind eating straight from the pan you cooked it in, or a pillow/sleeping pad because you’re comfy enough in your bag.  As long as you have the 10 essentials, the rest is negotiable and can be tailored to fit your needs and desires.

Don’t forget to grab your free packing list!