Header Notice

Winter is here! Check out the winter wonderlands at these 5 amazing winter destinations in Montana

What To Take On A Backpacking Trip


Modified: December 28, 2023

by Halli Shell



Embarking on a backpacking trip is an exciting adventure that allows you to connect with nature, challenge yourself physically, and explore new destinations. However, to ensure a successful and enjoyable experience, it’s crucial to pack the right gear and essentials. From staying comfortable during long hikes to preparing meals in the wilderness, each item you bring plays a significant role in your journey.


In this article, we’ll cover the essential gear and items you should take on a backpacking trip. Whether you’re a seasoned hiker or a beginner, this guide will help you prioritize your packing list and ensure you have everything you need for a safe and memorable adventure.


Before diving into the specific items, it’s worth noting that weight and packability are key considerations when backpacking. You’ll want to strike a balance between packing light and being prepared for different scenarios. While it’s important to have the necessary gear, minimizing unnecessary weight will make your trek more enjoyable.


Now, let’s explore the essential items you should have for your backpacking trip:


Essential Gear

When it comes to backpacking, having the right gear is vital for a successful adventure. Here are some essential items to consider:


1. Backpack: Choose a sturdy and comfortable backpack with adequate storage capacity. Look for features such as adjustable straps, a padded hip belt, and multiple compartments for easy organization.


2. Sleeping Bag: Invest in a high-quality sleeping bag that suits the climate of your destination. Consider factors such as temperature rating, insulation type, and weight when making your selection.


3. Tent: A reliable and lightweight tent is essential for overnight trips. Look for one that is easy to set up, has good ventilation, and offers protection against the elements.


4. Hiking Boots: Invest in a pair of comfortable and supportive hiking boots that are suitable for the terrain you’ll be traversing. Make sure they are broken in before your trip to avoid blisters and discomfort.


5. Trekking Poles: Trekking poles can provide stability and reduce strain on your knees during steep descents and challenging terrains. Look for lightweight, adjustable poles that are durable and collapsible for easy packing.


6. Headlamp: A headlamp is essential for navigating in the dark or during early morning hikes. Look for one with adjustable brightness levels and long battery life.


7. Water Filter: A reliable water filter is crucial for safe hydration in the wilderness. Look for filters that remove bacteria, parasites, and sediment from natural water sources.


8. Multi-tool: A versatile multi-tool can come in handy for various tasks, such as repairing gear and opening food packages. Look for one with a knife, screwdriver, pliers, and other essential tools.


9. Backpacking Stove: If you plan on cooking your meals, a lightweight and efficient backpacking stove is a must-have. Look for one that is compact, easy to use, and compatible with lightweight fuel canisters.


10. Backpack Rain Cover: Protect your gear from unexpected rain showers by investing in a waterproof rain cover that fits your backpack.


These are just a few essential items to get you started. Depending on the length and location of your trip, you might need additional gear such as a GPS device, a portable charger, or a bear canister to store your food securely. Remember to do thorough research and tailor your gear list to your specific needs.


Clothing and Footwear

Having appropriate clothing and footwear is crucial for staying comfortable and protected during your backpacking trip. Here are some essentials to consider:


1. Moisture-Wicking Layers: Opt for moisture-wicking, breathable fabrics that help regulate your body temperature and keep you dry. Pack a combination of lightweight and mid-weight base layers, depending on the climate and season.


2. Insulating Layers: Bring insulating layers such as fleece jackets or down vests to provide warmth during cooler temperatures. Layering allows you to adjust your clothing according to the weather conditions.


3. Rain Jacket and Pants: Pack a lightweight and waterproof rain jacket and pants to stay dry during rainy weather. Look for materials that are both waterproof and breathable to prevent moisture buildup inside the clothing.


4. Hiking Pants or Shorts: Choose comfortable and durable pants or shorts that allow for ease of movement. Look for options with quick-drying fabric and multiple pockets for convenience.


5. Socks: Invest in high-quality hiking socks that provide cushioning, moisture-wicking properties, and blister prevention. Bring enough pairs to ensure you have clean and dry socks throughout your trip.


6. Hiking Boots or Shoes: Select footwear that offers ankle support, traction, and comfort for long hikes. Ensure your boots or shoes are broken in before your trip to avoid discomfort and blisters.


7. Hat and Sunglasses: Protect yourself from the sun by wearing a wide-brimmed hat to shield your face and neck. Sunglasses with UV protection are also essential to protect your eyes from harmful rays.


8. Gloves: Depending on the weather, pack a pair of lightweight gloves to keep your hands warm during colder temperatures or to protect them while dealing with rough terrain.


Remember to also consider the specific needs of your trip. If you’re hiking in colder climates, pack thermal layers and a heavier, insulated jacket. For hot and sunny destinations, lightweight and breathable clothing is essential to stay cool. Don’t forget to check the weather forecast of your destination before your trip to make sure you’re adequately prepared.


Shelter and Sleeping

Having a comfortable shelter and proper sleeping equipment is essential for a good night’s rest during your backpacking trip. Here are the key items to consider for shelter and sleeping:


1. Tent: Invest in a lightweight, durable, and weather-resistant tent that suits the size of your party. Look for features like easy setup, good ventilation, and a rainfly to protect you from the elements.


2. Sleeping Bag: Choose a sleeping bag that is appropriate for the expected temperature range of your trip. Consider factors such as insulation type (down or synthetic), weight, and packability.


3. Sleeping Pad: Enhance your sleeping comfort by using a sleeping pad. Look for pads that provide adequate insulation from the ground and are lightweight and compact for easy packing.


4. Pillow: While not essential, bringing a small camping pillow can significantly improve your comfort and quality of sleep. Look for inflatable or compressible options to save space.


5. Groundsheet: To protect the floor of your tent from moisture, debris, and potential punctures, consider bringing a groundsheet or a footprint specifically designed for your tent model.


6. Hammock (optional): Backpacking hammocks are a lightweight and comfortable alternative to traditional tents. If suitable for your trip, consider bringing a hammock, straps, and a bug net for hanging between trees.


When selecting your shelter and sleeping equipment, keep in mind the weather conditions, terrain, and duration of your trip. Lightweight and compact options are preferred for backpacking to minimize weight and maximize space in your backpack.


It is also important to familiarize yourself with pitching and securing your tent before your trip. Practice setting it up to ensure a smooth process and avoid any surprises in the wilderness.


By investing in quality shelter and sleeping equipment, you’ll be able to rest comfortably and wake up refreshed, ready for a day of backpacking adventures.


Hydration and Water

Staying hydrated is crucial during a backpacking trip, as it helps maintain your energy levels and overall well-being. Here are some essential tips for staying hydrated and managing water during your adventure:


1. Water Bottles or Hydration Bladder: Carry reusable water bottles or a hydration bladder with a tube for easy access to water while hiking. Aim to carry enough water to stay hydrated between water sources.


2. Water Treatment: Depending on your destination, it’s important to have a reliable water treatment system. This can include water filters, purifiers, or chemical treatment options such as water purification tablets.


3. Water Sources: Research and plan your route to identify reliable water sources along the way. Natural water sources such as streams, rivers, and lakes can provide a refreshing and replenishing supply of water, but be sure to treat the water before consuming it.


4. Water Storage: Bring lightweight and collapsible water storage containers for carrying larger quantities of water from a water source back to your campsite. These can be used for cooking, cleaning, and drinking as needed.


5. Electrolyte Supplements: In addition to regular water intake, consider bringing electrolyte supplements or sports drink mix to replenish electrolytes lost through sweating. This is especially important if you’re hiking in hot or humid conditions.


6. Hydration Schedule: Create a hydration schedule to ensure you’re drinking water consistently throughout the day, even if you don’t feel thirsty. This helps prevent dehydration and keeps your body functioning optimally.


7. Know the Signs of Dehydration: Familiarize yourself with the signs of dehydration, such as fatigue, dizziness, dry mouth, and dark urine. If you experience any of these symptoms, take a break, rehydrate, and rest.


Remember, water sources might not always be readily available or reliable, so it’s important to plan and manage your water supply carefully. By staying hydrated, you’ll be better equipped to handle the physical demands of backpacking and enjoy your journey to the fullest.


Food and Cooking

Proper nutrition is essential during a backpacking trip to fuel your body and maintain energy levels. This section covers food and cooking essentials to consider for your adventure:


1. Meal Planning: Before your trip, plan your meals to ensure you have enough food for the duration of your trek. Consider the number of meals, snacks, and their caloric value based on the intensity of your activities.


2. Lightweight and Nutrient-Dense Foods: Opt for lightweight, non-perishable foods that are rich in nutrients and easy to prepare. Examples include dried fruits, nuts, trail mix, energy bars, instant oatmeal, and dehydrated meals.


3. Cooking Equipment: Depending on your preference, bring a lightweight cooking stove, fuel canisters, and cookware for preparing hot meals. Compact camping stoves and lightweight pots/pans are ideal for backpacking.


4. Utensils and Dishware: Bring a set of utensils, such as a spoon, fork, and knife, as well as a lightweight and collapsible bowl or plate for eating your meals.


5. Water for Cooking: Plan to carry extra water specifically for cooking purposes. This ensures you have enough water for rehydrating and preparing meals without depleting your drinking water supply.


6. Leave-No-Trace Principles: Practice Leave-No-Trace principles when cooking in the wilderness. Pack out any food scraps and avoid leaving a trace of your presence in the environment.


7. Bear Safety: In areas with bear activity, take necessary precautions to store your food securely. Invest in bear-resistant containers or use bear bags, which involve hanging your food and cooking equipment away from your sleeping area.


8. Snacks and Hydration: Pack a variety of lightweight snacks such as energy bars, nuts, and dried fruit for quick energy throughout the day. Remember to hydrate regularly and drink water during meals and snack breaks.


Consider any dietary restrictions or allergies when planning your meals and snacks. While it’s important to have nourishing and tasty food, also remember to keep your backpack weight in mind and choose foods that are lightweight and easy to carry. Bon appétit!


Navigation and Maps

Proper navigation is essential for a safe and successful backpacking trip. Here are some key considerations for navigating the wilderness:


1. Topographic Maps: Obtain detailed topographic maps of the area you’ll be exploring. These maps provide valuable information such as elevation, terrain features, water sources, and points of interest. Familiarize yourself with map symbols and legends to interpret the information correctly.


2. Compass: Bring a reliable compass and learn how to use it. A compass is an invaluable tool for orienting yourself, taking bearings, and navigating in unfamiliar terrain.


3. GPS Device: Consider carrying a handheld GPS device or using a GPS app on your smartphone. These tools can provide precise location information, track your route, and help you navigate more accurately.


4. Trail Guides and Guidebooks: Consult trail guides and guidebooks specific to your destination for additional information on trails, landmarks, and potential hazards. These resources often provide helpful insights and tips from experienced hikers.


5. Trail Markings: Pay attention to trail markers, blazes, or cairns along your path. These markers help you stay on the designated route, especially in areas with intersecting trails or limited visibility.


6. Landmarks and Natural Features: Look for distinctive landmarks, such as mountains, rivers, or distinctive rock formations, to confirm your location and track your progress on the map.


7. GPS Apps and Offline Maps: Download GPS apps and offline maps before your trip to have access to navigation tools even when you’re out of cellular range. These apps can provide real-time tracking and offline maps for easy reference.


8. Safety in Numbers: If you’re not confident in your navigation skills, consider hiking with a group or joining guided tours led by experienced outdoor enthusiasts or local guides.


Remember to continually track your progress on the map, mark important waypoints, and double-check your navigation decisions. Familiarize yourself with the route before your trip to avoid getting lost or taking unintended detours. Being confident in your navigation skills will enhance your overall backpacking experience and keep you safe throughout your journey.


First Aid Kit

A well-stocked first aid kit is a crucial item for any backpacking trip. It allows you to address minor injuries and manage unexpected situations. Here are some essentials to include in your backpacking first aid kit:


1. Bandages and Dressings: Pack a variety of adhesive bandages in different sizes, sterile gauze pads, and adhesive tape for treating cuts, scrapes, and blisters.


2. Antiseptic Wipes and Solutions: Include antiseptic wipes or solutions to clean wounds and prevent infection. Alcohol swabs, hydrogen peroxide, and iodine solutions are effective options.


3. Pain Relievers: Carry pain relievers such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen to alleviate common discomforts like headaches, muscle aches, or minor injuries.


4. Blister Treatment: Include blister treatment items such as moleskin, blister cushions, or adhesive bandages specifically designed for blisters. These will help prevent further irritation and provide relief.


5. Tweezers and Scissors: Bring a pair of tweezers for removing splinters or ticks, and small scissors for cutting tape, gauze, or clothing if necessary.


6. Personal Medication: If you have any prescription medications, carry an ample supply and keep them easily accessible in your first aid kit.


7. Emergency Contact Information: Include a copy of emergency contact numbers, your personal health information, and any specific medical conditions or allergies you have.


8. CPR Face Mask: Consider including a CPR face mask in your kit for providing rescue breaths while performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).


9. Safety Pins and Splints: Safety pins can be useful for securing bandages or creating slings, while splints can aid in stabilizing fractures or sprains before seeking professional medical help.


10. First Aid Manual: Include a compact first aid manual or reference guide to refresh your memory on basic treatments and provide guidance in emergency situations.


It’s important to familiarize yourself with the contents of your first aid kit and know how to use them effectively. A basic understanding of first aid and basic life-saving techniques like CPR can be valuable in case of emergencies. Regularly inspect and replenish your kit, especially after each trip, to ensure it stays up-to-date and well-stocked.


Remember, a first aid kit does not substitute professional medical care. In the event of a severe injury or medical emergency, seek immediate medical assistance by dialing emergency services or contacting local authorities.


Personal Care

When preparing for a backpacking trip, it’s important to consider your personal care needs. Taking care of yourself in the wilderness not only ensures your comfort but also helps you maintain good hygiene and overall well-being. Here are some personal care items to include in your backpack:


1. Toilet Paper: Pack a sufficient amount of toilet paper in a waterproof bag or carry a compact travel-sized roll. Consider carrying a small trowel for proper waste disposal.


2. Hand Sanitizer: Bring a travel-sized bottle of hand sanitizer to keep your hands clean and reduce the risk of spreading germs.


3. Biodegradable Soap: Choose a biodegradable soap for washing dishes and yourself. It’s important to use soap at least 200 feet away from water sources to minimize environmental impact.


4. Toothbrush and Toothpaste: Maintain good oral hygiene by packing a travel-sized toothbrush and toothpaste. Look for lightweight options available in travel-friendly packaging.


5. Travel-Sized Shampoo and Soap: If you plan on washing in natural water sources, bring travel-sized bottles of biodegradable shampoo and soap for bathing. Use them sparingly and remember to rinse away from water sources.


6. Sunscreen: Protect your skin from harmful UV rays by applying a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a high SPF rating. Remember to reapply regularly, especially if you’re sweating or exposed to water.


7. Lip Balm: Bring a tube of lip balm with SPF to keep your lips hydrated and protected from the sun and wind.


8. Insect Repellent: Depending on your destination and the time of year, bring an insect repellent to ward off mosquitoes, ticks, and other biting insects. Choose a product containing ingredients such as DEET, picaridin, or oil of lemon eucalyptus.


9. Personal Medications: If you have any personal medications or hygiene products, make sure to include them in your pack in the appropriate quantities.


10. Personal Hygiene: Include personal hygiene items such as wet wipes, menstrual products, a travel-sized brush or comb, and any other necessities for your personal care needs.


Remember to practice Leave-No-Trace principles when taking care of personal hygiene in the wilderness. Use designated bathroom areas and dispose of waste properly. Avoid using scented products that may attract wildlife, and always respect the natural environment.


By packing the necessary personal care items, you’ll be able to maintain hygiene and comfort throughout your backpacking journey.


Miscellaneous Items

In addition to the essential gear, there are several miscellaneous items that can enhance your backpacking experience and provide convenience during your trip. Here are some miscellaneous items to consider including in your backpack:


1. Duct Tape: Carry a small roll of duct tape. It can be used for emergency gear repairs, securing items, or creating makeshift solutions in unexpected situations.


2. Repair Kit: Pack a basic repair kit including sewing needles, thread, safety pins, and a small multitool. This can come in handy for fixing gear, clothing, or equipment.


3. Extra Ziplock Bags: Bring a few extra ziplock bags in various sizes. They can be used for organizing and waterproofing small items, protecting electronics, or storing trash.


4. Extra Batteries: If you’re carrying electronic devices such as a headlamp or GPS, pack spare batteries to avoid running out of power during your trip.


5. Lightweight Cord or Paracord: Carry a length of lightweight cord or paracord. It can serve multiple purposes, such as setting up a clothesline, securing gear, or creating a makeshift shelter.


6. Pocket Knife: Consider bringing a small pocket knife with essential tools like a blade, scissors, and a bottle opener. Ensure it is legal and follows all safety guidelines.


7. Camera or Smartphone: Capture memories of your backpacking trip by bringing a camera or smartphone. However, remember to preserve battery life and protect your devices from moisture and impacts.


8. Portable Power Bank: If you’re relying on electronic devices for navigation or communication, investing in a portable power bank allows you to recharge your devices while on the go.


9. Deck of Cards or Travel Game: Bring a lightweight deck of cards or a compact travel game for entertainment during downtime at camp or during inclement weather.


10. Cash and Identification: Carry some cash and a form of identification in a waterproof pouch. While you may not need it often, it’s essential to have them in case of emergencies or unexpected needs.


Remember, the choice of miscellaneous items may vary depending on personal preferences and the specific requirements of your trip. Consider the duration, location, and nature of your backpacking adventure to determine which items will add value to your experience.


By carrying these miscellaneous items, you’ll be better prepared for unexpected situations and have the necessary tools to maximize comfort and convenience during your backpacking trip.



Properly preparing for a backpacking trip ensures that you have a safe, enjoyable, and memorable adventure in the wilderness. By packing the essential gear and items outlined in this guide, you’ll be well-equipped to handle the challenges and embrace the beauty of the great outdoors.


From the right clothing and footwear to navigation tools, personal care items, and a well-stocked first aid kit, each item serves a purpose in optimizing your comfort and safety during your backpacking journey.


Remember to consider the specific needs of your trip, such as the terrain, climate, and duration of your adventure. Lightweight and compact gear is crucial for minimizing the weight of your backpack, allowing you to move freely and comfortably on the trails.


Prioritize safety in your packing choices, especially when it comes to navigation, first aid, and personal care items. Be prepared for emergencies and unexpected situations, but also be responsible with your impact on the environment, practicing Leave-No-Trace principles.


Lastly, embrace the experience of disconnecting from the hustle and bustle of daily life, and enjoy the beauty of nature. Let every step and every moment in the wilderness be a reminder of the wonders that our planet has to offer.


So, pack your bags, double-check your gear, and embark on your backpacking adventure. With the right essentials and a spirit of adventure, you’re well on your way to creating incredible memories that will last a lifetime.