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The Ultimate Backpacking & Hiking Packing List

Trail leading out to a beautiful sunset

Packing for Hiking and Backpacking 

I always used to laugh at my dad when he would pack up the car for a family camping trip. Any time we would go anywhere that required enough gear to pack the car, he seemed to be giddy with excitement when it came to playing Tetris with our belongings. 

Once I started going outback hiking, I started to understand why he got so excited. There is something really satisfying about having everything neat and tidy, and something even more exciting about your kit being streamlined, only containing the absolute essentials. 

I am notorious for being an over packer, so it’s quite a challenge for me to narrow it down to just one outfit, to chuck that extra moisturizer, and by golly is it ever hard to just pick one book to bring! Over the years I’ve gotten much better, and I think I’ve got my backpacking packing list on lock.

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Which is why I wanted share it with you all! Each time I go hiking in the outback it’s a learning lesson, and I get a better understanding of what I didn’t need, and what I wish I had thought to bring. So get that pen and pencil and start creating your own list! 

Are you headed out on a road trip? We’ve also got the Ultimate Road Trip Packing List here!

Are you going on a long camping trip? We’ve got you covered with the Ultimate Camping Packing List here!

Why go Backpacking? 

Two Osprey backpacks sitting next to mountain range view

The first time I did an overnight hiking trip, it was in the Carmanah old growth forest on Vancouver Island, just outside of Port Renfrew. You understand just how remote you’re going to be when you realize that you’ve been driving down a logging road for over an hour and haven’t seen a single other vehicle.

There is something scary, exhilarating, and enticing about hiking in the outback. In the Carmanah old growth everything is on a giant scale. There were banana slugs the size of literal bananas, the ancient spruce trees seemed to be wearing fuzzy pants made of moss, and the 3 sisters spruces were so tall it was hard to comprehend. 

There are certain things in this world that can only be seen if you trying really hard to get there, and that’s why I think backpacking is so special. Some people hike to get to their destination the quickest, whereas I like to take my time so that I don’t miss anything along the way. 

Hiking in the outback is not easy feat, and it is not for the faint of heart. If you’re anything like me, you’re terrified of bears. If you’re scared of heights, of bugs, of wolves, or anything else that can be found in the woods, you best be prepared to face those fears. This is one of the best things about going on a longer hike.

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I think that’s why getting out there is so fun. Some of the scariest things that have happened in my life end up being my favorite stories to tell. Hiking and backpacking give you an opportunity to prove something to yourself, and there aren’t too many things that do that in your day to day life. 

Things to Keep in Mind Before you Go…

There are all sorts of different hikes out there. You can do a hike just outside of a suburban neighborhood for 45 minutes or you can do the Juan de Fuca trail that takes almost 5 days. Choose your own adventure, but it is important to be as safe as you possibly can with whatever type of hike you’re doing. 

Group of hikers going up a hill at sunset

Did you tell someone where you’re going? 

This detail is more for those folks who are planning on getting really out there. I’m sure you don’t really want someone to make a documentary some day about an adventure you took that went super duper wrong, so it’s best to keep yourself safe.

One of the best ways to do this is to tell someone where you’re going and how long you’re planning on being gone. With longer journeys, oftentimes you’re not going to have a lick of service. At that point it’s up to search and rescue to keep tabs on you. 

At a lot of more outback locations, there will be a sign-in and sign-out sheet at the trailhead. Don’t skip this step! Rangers are constantly checking those to make sure that everybody who went in has come out on the other end. 

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Who are you going with? 

If you aren’t going by yourself, it’s a great idea to have a discussion with who you’re going to be hiking with if you’ve never gone on this type of adventure together before. People have different expectations of what they want from a trip and the best way for everyone to leave the trip feeling happy is by communicating!

It’s also important to know how skilled and experienced the person is, what they are nervous about for this type of trip, and how well they can handle stressful situations. It’s always better to travel with someone who makes you feel safe and stays calm. 

This is not to say that those who are inexperienced shouldn’t go on these trips, but communicating about all of the potential unknowns and preparing as best you can for those unexpected happenings is a helpful exercise to do before an exciting trip. 

How’s your health? 

This may be an obvious one, but it’s super duper important that you’re feeling in good health before you head out on your adventure! Ideally you don’t have any lingering injuries, no head colds or open wounds, and nothing that can be seen as a hinderance. 

The best way to have a good time and to stay out of a dangerous situation is by making sure you are at your fittest! 

The Ultimate Hiking Packing List

Laid out gear for a hiking camping trip

Now, I’ve divided this section into 2 different categories. of hiking gear to bring. You may have been able to tell from everything I just said that I usually go for more intense, remote, and difficult hikes. But not all hikes have to be like that! Some hikes are shorter and don’t require a camping kit so that you can stay over night.

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The following section is designed for those folks who are just planning on doing a more casual hike – though casual doesn’t always mean less difficult, there are some steep and short slopes out there! – and will only require to pack things needed for that day. This is called day hiking!

1. A Well Fitted Backpack – this is probably the most important thing that you’re going to bring. It’s so so so helpful to have a hiking backpack that has a strap that goes across your hips. This way a lot of the load in the backpack is delivered to your hips, and your shoulders, neck, and back won’t get as tired. 

Though most of the time, your regular backpack will be just fine, having a comfy one is way better. This is especially the case for me since I have to bring extra gear for my dog. Water is heavy man! Legs are stronger than anything else, so get a proper backpack to help lighten the load. 

2. Weather Appropriate Apparel – though the weather network may say one thing, it’s always best to be prepared for any type of weather. I once went on a hike where at the base it was 85 degrees Fahrenheit, and at the bottom it was 32. I was not at all prepared. This is especially the case if you’re hiking in the alpine. 

I always like to wear the right hiking boots (I like ones with a ton of tread and ankle support), some hiking pants that can zip off into shorts if need be, and I’ll layer on top. I’ll usually wear a down or fleece layer, and bring a rain jacket and other rain gear in my backpack. It’s always nice to bring extra hiking socks, too. 

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A hiking wool sock is usually going to be made from merino wool, and people swear by it. Merino hiking socks are great because they are lightweight, breathe easily, and they stay warm even if they’re wet. (And apparently they don’t stink!)

The extras that you put on your day hiking packing list will be dependant on what time of year you’re going as well. For example, if you’re headed out for a fall hike in the desert, a hiking essential is going to be a beanie and some gloves. Once the sun goes down, things get pretty chilly pretty fast! 

3. Sun Protection – it will make a day hike way more enjoyable if you feel protected by the sun and you aren’t squinting all the time. I have an awesome oilskin hat that I always wear hiking, I’ll apply sunscreen and wear sunglasses as well. 

4. First Aid Kit – this one is a must! Who knows what could happen out there! They’ve got super nifty little travel first aid kits available for purchase, so they’ll fit nice and neat in that hiking backpack of yours.

This is important for both your day pack or your overnight pack. A first aid kit will be for the day pack, but getting a specific adventure medical kit is a great idea for longer hikes.

5. Multitool & Pocket Knife – though I honestly rarely use a multitool on a short hike, it always feel better to have it than to not. They don’t take up much space, and they could be life saving! 

6. Headlamp – even if you’re not planning on hiking past nightfall, you should always always always bring a headlamp with you. I once had to do a 400 foot rappel down the side of a mountain with no light, and needless to say I rarely leave my house without a headlamp anymore. 

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Man walking with full camp kit into the wilderness

7. Navigation Tools – whether it be a compass, an offline map (this isn’t ideal, since phones lose power), or a paper map (can anyone even read these anymore?) it’s always a good idea to have a tool that can help you get un-lost. Though many trails have trail markers, again, you never know what’s going to happen out there! 

8. Whistle – whistles are great to have for 3 reasons. Number one, if you’re lost and trying to notify a rescuer, a whistle will be very helpful. Number two, if you’ve lost your hiking partner and they’re trying to find their way back to you. And number three, whistles are good to deter black bears from coming near, as they don’t like loud noises. 

9. Satellite Radio – this item is designated for folks who are planning on going way way way out there. A satellite radio can save your life if you’re in a sticky situation and you’re in an area that’s very far away from phone service. A satellite radio can tap in to rangers’ radios.

10. Water & Water Treatment Device – I like to bring more than enough water for me and my dog, so this means 2 large water bottles. I always like to bring an extra water treatment device as well, just in case. 

They’ve got all sorts of different kinds.  You can get a water filtration bag, there are water filtration straws, there are filters that you just stick in your water bottle. Whatever you choose, an emergency water treatment device is absolutely an essential item. 

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11. Snacks – snacks! You’ve gotta have enough energy to get up that hill. It’s always a good idea to pick snacks that are small and packed with protein, snacks that aren’t messy or smelly, and ones that hydrate you at the same time. I usually bring things like carrots, trail mix, granola bars, apples, jerky, nuts and dried berries, 

12. Personal Items – you decide what extras you’d like to put on your day hike packing list. I always like to bring some toilet paper with me (remember, if you pack it in, pack it out), a book, binoculars, and sometimes a mushroom foraging book. 

The Ultimate Backpacking Packing List 

Bunch of hiking and camping gear laid out

Now, if you’re planning on going on a longer, backpacking hiking trip, kudos to you! These extra items are going to be added to your backpacking gear list along with all of the items from the previous list. Remember that the more you bring, the more energy you’re going to need to carry it, so be smart and be frugal. 

13. Camp Kitchen – I absolutely love having a streamlined camp kitchen. My whisper light stove nests into my mug which nests into my pot. Remember to always bring fire along with (matches, lighter, fire starter) and just enough for whoever is coming with you. I’ll often just scrap the dishes and eat right out of the pot that I cooked dinner in.

If you’re anything like me, one of your favorite things on the planet is drinking a cup of hot coffee in the deep wilderness. I prefer to bring just enough ground coffee for the trip, and I made it using an Aeropress coffee maker. This one is amazing because it makes incredible coffee and is the size of a mug!

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14. Tent – there ain’t nothing better than an ergonomic tent that basically throws itself together. I highly recommend investing in a high quality tent. A lot of them are super streamlined these days and only have 2 tent poles and pack down to be the size of a propane can. Amazing!

15. Sleeping Bag, Sleeping Pad & Pillow – my sleeping bag is one of my most favorite possessions of mine. It’s so cozy and packs down to such a nice size. These types that are made from down and can pack down really small are usually a little bit more pricey, but its an investment that will last you for most of your life.

If you’re doing an overnight backpacking trip, it’s always a good idea to bring your smallest sleeping mat and travel pillow. They have amazing ones on the market these days that you blow up and they fold up to be the size of a book!

16. Biodegradable Soap – if you’re planning on washing dishes or your own stinky armpits, make sure you pick a soap that is biodegradable. My personal favorite is Dr. Bronners because it is concentrated, and it’s biodegradable, so that means it’s safe to use in a river or to dump in the soil. 

17. Repellants – I always thank myself whenever I bring bug repellant, but keep in mind it may be wise to bring bear spray if you’re going to an area that is known for bear activity. Remember, being prepared makes one feel safe!

18. Towel – I always like to have a small towel with me because I tend to go swimming any opportunity that I get. They make really neat and small travel towels, but I honestly just use a yoga towel, it’s pretty much the same size and texture.

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19. Trekking Poles – for a long time I was really against using trekking poles, but that was mostly because I’d never used them. I hated the idea of having something in my hands during a hike, but it turns out that hiking poles are pretty frickin’ awesome. 

Extras for Winter Hiking

Woman walking down a snow path for a winter hike

Winter hiking is a whole other story, and there is some serious gear to bring along if that is the case. Remember, hiking in cold weather is a whoooole different ball game. It’s a different sport all together. 

These extras are going to be strictly for a winter day hike, as doing an overnight winter camping trip requires a whole other kit and caboodle that would require a whole new article all together! These items are going to be added on to the lists that we just covered in the above section.

– Crampons – crampons are not cranky tampons. Crampons are a traction device that you attach to hiking boots (though some winter hiking boots have these built in) that make it easier to hike through slush, snow, and ice. Crampons are absolutely an ESSENTIAL ITEM if you’re planning on going up steep, unprotected terrain. 

– Weather Appropriate Gear – this is going to consist of a base layer, a mid layer, and an outer layer. A base layer is going to be a well insulated, moisture wicking layer. The mid layer is usually going to be a lightweight down jacket, that is topped with the outer layer, which is going to be a rain jacket or wind proof jacket. 

Winter hiking clothes also include the appropriate pair of hiking boots. They must be warm and insulated with excellent traction, and you should absolutely not wear them for the very first time on your first long hike. They’ll need some time to be broken in, so just wear them around your house to get that process started.

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Winter gear is also going to include some super cozy hats, gloves, and socks. Wool items are going to be ideal because they stay warm even when they’re wet. Thank you sheeps!

– Snowshoes – if you’re doing more of a flat ground hike, packing some snowshoes could be a great way to make that hike a little more enjoyable. You basically float on top of the snow and it’s a great butt work out. 

– Hand-warmers – though this isn’t necessary for everyone, I like to bring along some hand-warmers. I have absolutely terrible circulation and once my fingers get cold in the winter, it’s very hard to warm them up again. This makes for a rather unenjoyable afternoon that can only be remedied by a cup of hot cocoa and a nap in front of a wood stove.

– Hypothermia Blanket – along with your regular adventure medical kit, pack along a hypothermia blanket. 

Extras for a Family Hiking Trip… 

Teddy bear next to hiking backpack in a field

I honestly can’t wait for the day when I have my own kiddies so I can bring them into the outback. Each family is going to have different desires for what type of hiking adventure that they’re looking for, but the main thing about heading out with your family is that you’re going to need space for extra….

Everything. Extra everything. Extra blankets, extra snacks, extra water, extra bug spray, extra sunscreen, and maybe even some games to bring a long the way. It’s a great idea to bring along some binoculars for some extra amusement, or maybe some mushroom and plant identification guides, to teach your young ones some plant ID. 

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With all that extra stuff, maybe it would be a good idea to invest in a donkey for the next trip…. 

Lined up hiking backpacks on a trail entry

FAQs

Where can I buy all of my hiking gear? 

My personal favorite places to shop for my outdoor, camping, and hiking gear is going to be at REI (Recreational Equipment Incorporated) or MEC (Mountain Equipment Coop) which is the Canadian equivalent. These are basically one stop shops for everything you could possibly need to camp in the most minimal way possible.

There are certain items that you could purchase from Walmart as well, like your sunscreen, socks, lighters, binoculars, etc, but the best brands and items are going to be found at outdoor gear-specific stores.

What is a good national park to hike in?

I dare you to find a national park that isn’t good to hike in! Just remember to check the websites for the appropriate times of year to go and if there are any blocked off trails due to environmental recovery. 

What’s a good brand of hiking shoe or hiking boot?

Salamon, Merrell, La Sportiva, Oboz, and Keen are all incredible brands that have high quality hiking shoes and hiking boots that are available at reasonable prices. The type of hiking shoe or hiking boot you purchase will depend on the type of weather you’re planning on adventuring in. 

What are the top 10 hiking essentials?

The top 10 hiking essentials that are the most important are always going to have to do with safety, and none of these items should ever be removed from your list or forgotten if you’re planning on going on a long adventure.

  1. Layers of Clothing
  2. Water 
  3. Headlamp/Flashlight 
  4. Compass
  5. Snacks 
  6. Sun Protection
  7. Multitool/Knife
  8. First Aid Kit 
  9. Radio 
  10. Fire Starter 
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Is the Appalachian trail a long hiking trail?

This is a pretty funny question, considering that the Appalachian trail is the longest hiking trail on the planet, with 2,910 miles and takes anywhere from 5 to 7 months to complete. 

Is it a good idea to hike in cold weather?

Knowing the weather condition that you’re going to be hiking in is very important, as this will determine what type of gear you bring. Hiking in cold weather can be super fun and magical. Hiking in the snow is super quiet and beautiful and it ends up not being too cold because you’re moving the whole time.

Where things start to get dicey is when you stop moving, because things get very cold very fast. So hiking in cold weather isn’t an issue at all as long as you know how to be prepared for it. 

What are some optional items for a hike packing list?

Optional items for a hike packing list are going to be your more personal items, like if you choose to bring a tooth brush, moisturizer, books and other entertainment items, and things like that. 

How long is the hike at Glacier National Park?

Glacier National Park has an impressive 734 miles of trails within the park. You can choose your length, altitude, and level of difficult from those trails. 

What is a good brand of hiking pack?

There are tons of good hiking pack options out there, and you don’t always need to pay a pretty penny to get one. Apparently the best hiking backpack of 2022 is the Osprey Atmos AG 65, with Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Southwest coming in second, and the Gregory Baltoro 75 coming in at third. 

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What are some good hiking clothes?

Good hiking clothes come in all shapes and sizes, and brands aren’t the most important thing in the world when it comes to this. Most of the time I just wear a pair of comfortable, lightweight pants, a tshirt, a fleece, and bring a down layer and a rain jacket with me as well. 

Certain folks will claim that getting the top of the line, light weight, water proof, sun proof, super expensive clothes are the way to go, but just us regular folks who have rent to pay will do just fine with what’s in the closet. The key is to layer!