Packing List: Backpacking

Trail Food
Thru-hikers never stop talking about food. We relive our finest food indulges at every turn, and plan in detail what food is to be eaten at the next town. After eating dehydrated meals and dried fruit for a week or more, sitting down in a restaurant to a hot meal is a near-religious experience. Soda, burgers, beer, ice cream, fries, chips, pretty much anything within arm's reach is inhaled with little recourse. Even half-eaten meals on a neighboring table draw a thru-hikers gaze. How can they just throw out those fries? Road crossings with known ice cream parlors or restaurants nearby are quickly hitchhiked, which trail magic can proffer free food in coolers which then leads to some truly odd concoctions. My hiking buddy once inhaled a mixture of Cheetos and tuna with an ear-to-ear grin and moans of delight. Weeks later I watched him eat a banana with a nutty bar and peanut butter on a flour tortilla. TG
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More than perhaps any other outdoor activity, backpacking rewards the efficient packer and punishes the overpacker. After all, you will have to live with—and carry—every decision you make. This list is focused on a three-season, three- to five-day outing, but when packing always plan against the highest high and the lowest low temperatures you'll encounter. It'll protect you from spending a miserably cold night out in the woods, give you a bit more of that oh-so-precious pack space, and save your back.

It's also good to compartmentalize when packing by putting similar items in individual bags. Keeping all your food in one place will save you from leaving an errant energy bar behind when prepping your bear bag (to say nothing of preventing a bear mauling), and putting things like flashlights, matches, and your multi-tool together will help you quickly locate what you need. Also, let things do double duty. For example, a sleeping bag stuff sack or tent sack can make the perfect bear bag.

The Basics
Backpack (3,000 to 5,000 cubic inches)
Sleeping bag (rated to 20 to 50F)
Sleeping pad
Two-person tent/tarp

Eating and Drinking
2 one-liter water bottles
Water purification (filter, iodine, or bleach)
Stove and fuel
Wind screen (to protect the stove flame, constructed out of aluminum foil)
Pot/pan with lid
Waterproof matches and lighter
Cup or mug
Lightweight bowl and spoon
Multi-tool or utility knife
Scraper for cleaning pot

Clothing
Trail-running shoes or hiking boots (broken in and waterproofed)
Sandals and fleece socks or lightweight camp shoes
Wool socks
Sock liners*
Synthetic long-underwear bottoms and tops
Synthetic shorts or convertible pants
Underwear
Synthetic/wicking t-shirt
Rain/wind jacket and pants
Wool or fleece jacket (or vest if warmer)
Wool or fleece hat*
Wool/fleece gloves or mittens*
Bandanna
Gaiters*

Accessories
Directions, trail map, or guidebook
Headlamp
Toilet paper in Ziploc bag
Plastic potty trowel
Extra Ziploc/trash bags
Lip balm
Sunscreen
Hand sanitizer
Toothbrush and toothpaste
First-aid kit (Band-Aids/bandages, Aspirin, antiseptic wipes, poison ivy treatment such as CORTAID® Treatment Kit, moleskin, tweezers)
Pack rain cover or garbage bag
Bear-bagging cord

Optional Items
Trekking poles
Sun/rain hat
Sunglasses
Journal and pen
Camera, extra memory cards
Ground cloth
Duct tape
Watch
Whistle
Small strainer (for filtering food particles while cleaning dishes)

Special Considerations
Women: bring a few tampons even if you don't expect to need them; backpacking can do weird things to your cycle.
Contact lens wearers: bring solution and back-up glasses


*Indicates optional/depending on climate and geography


Published: 7 Jun 2006 | Last Updated: 2 Sep 2011
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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