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What to Pack for Your First Backpacking Trip | Backpacking for Beginners

Updated: May 6

Backpacking for the first time can be an intimidating experience. For many, it's the most remote they'll have ever been overnight. You may be worrying that you'll forget something crucial at home and get stuck in a sticky predicament.


Fortunately, you'll be more than prepared with just a little planning!


When it comes to packing for a backpacking trip, you'll always be balancing bringing everything you need and minimizing the weight of your pack. You want to make sure you have all the essentials for a safe and comfortable trip, but that you're not carrying unnecessary items.


For a bunch of tips on minimizing the weight of your backpack without needing to splurge on ultralight gear, check out this article.


Note: I've included some affiliate links in this article, which means I may get a small commission at no additional cost to you. Thanks for your support!


A backpacking pot on a stove with a campsite and string lights in the background.
Nothing like hot coffee on a chilly morning at camp!

What to Pack for Backpacking

Let's get an overview of the whole list first, then break it down into chunks for a closer look. Where applicable I've linked my pick for each item, but you can also see my entire gear list here if you're interested.


Click any of the category headers to jump to that section below.




  • Skincare (think simple & sample size!)

  • Sunscreen

  • Makeup wipes

  • Bathroom kit

    • Toilet paper

    • Wet wipes

    • Trowel

    • Kula cloth

    • Feminine hygiene products

    • Sealable bag

  • Hand sanitizer

  • Packable towel

  • First aid kit

  • Bug spray

  • Small laundry bag



  • Printed map

  • Compass

  • Knife/multi-tool

  • Gear patch kit

  • Matches/lighter

  • Emergency blanket

  • Whistle




 

The Big Three


Within backpacking (especially ultralight) circles, you may here the phrase "the big three" tossed around. This refers to the three main components of your backpacking gear that make up the majority of the weight:

  1. Shelter (tent, bivvy sack, hammock, etc. -- I definitely recommend a tent for beginners)

  2. Sleep system (usually a sleeping bag or quilt and a sleeping pad)

  3. Backpack


Pro tip: Choose your backpack after you've decided on your shelter and sleep system. This allows you to account for the amount of space you'll need to carry the rest of your gear. In general, 60-70L is a good starting volume!


These are the first items you should pin down when you're getting your gear list in order. Technically, you could start backpacking once you have these pieces in place. The rest is all about additional comfort, safety, and extras depending on what you'd like to have and where you'll be going. We'll talk about that next.


Camp Kitchen


Your camp kitchen is one of the next heaviest parts of your total gear list. Most people opt to keep meals pretty simple while backpacking to minimize the need for special gear.


I recommend starting with foods you can eat without much processing. That means bringing items that you can either eat exactly as they are (apples, protein bars, nuts, jerky) or that only require rehydrating (instant noodles, mashed potatoes, and oatmeal).


With those restrictions on your food, the items you'll need for your kitchen will be:


Start simple and see what works for you. If more gourmet meals are a luxury you'd like to bring into the backcountry, you can try that on later trips!


Your water system will depend on your preferences and what the water sources are like along the trail you'll be hiking. Generally, there are three types of water purification you can use:

  1. Physical filters

  2. Chemical purification

  3. UV purification


There's a lot to consider between these options, which could be an entire article on its own. If you'd like more information, REI has a great guide on the different types. Scroll ~1/3 of the way down for a handy table.


Included in your camp kitchen, you'll need to consider how you'll keep critters out of your food. It may be required to bring a bear canister, so check local regulations to be sure! If you're not bringing a bear can, you can opt for food bags instead. These are more lightweight and easier to pack. You will just need to hang the bag off a sturdy branch to keep it away from any hungry creatures.


Toiletries

  • Skincare (think simple & sample size!)

  • Sunscreen

  • Makeup wipes

  • Bathroom kit

    • Toilet paper

    • Wet wipes

    • Trowel

    • Kula cloth

    • Feminine hygiene products

    • Sealable bag

  • Hand sanitizer

  • Packable towel

  • First aid kit

  • Bug spray

  • Small laundry bag


Next, you'll want to put together a kit of toiletries for your trip. As much as possible, try to find sample or travel sized items to save on space and weight.


Pro tip: Save your empties from eye creams and lip balms that come in tiny tubs. Refill with your favorite moisturizer for a DIY travel size container.


Remember to pack out your TP! A common backpacker method is to bring a simple Ziploc bag covered in duct tape (to block visibility).


Electronics


This section may vary greatly depending on what you want to bring. The only items I would deem as necessary are:


The GPS device can be your phone, especially if you're staying on a well-trafficked trail or one you're already familiar with.


Having a headlamp and backup batteries is super important in case you end up hiking in the dark. Better to have the extra weight than get lost or potentially injured!


*The headlamp I've linked is awesome for people just starting out with backpacking and is very reasonably priced. I will say it's not the most powerful beam. I'm planning to try out a new one soon and will update my gear guide when I have one I can recommend more highly!


Safety

  • Printed map

  • Compass

  • Knife/multi-tool

  • Gear patch kit

  • Matches/lighter

  • Emergency blanket

  • Whistle


Put together an adventure safety kit in a small pouch and throw it in your backpack anytime you go out. I have one that comes with me anytime I'm camping, backpacking, or going on a long hike. Even if you don't end up needing any of these items, you might save someone else's day by being able to share!


Most inflatable gear items, such as sleeping pads, will come with a small repair kit. I like to always keep at least one on hand in case of accidental rips. If you don't have one, duct tape works perfectly well in a pinch.


Pro tip: A trick I saw is to keep a length of duct tape wrapped around your water bottle or some other object you always keep with you. That way you'll always have some nearby!


Personal/Luxury Items


This is the most fun and customizable section. None of these items (except maybe medication) are necessary for a successful backpacking trip, but you'll quickly learn which ones add enough value for you that they're worth bringing.


🐦‍⬛ If you're super interested in bird-watching, consider bringing a lightweight pair of binoculars.


😌 If lounging by your camp is more your speed, bring a hammock.


📝 If jotting down your inner thoughts is a must, bring a notebook and pen.


I've even seen people bring tiny watercolor paint sets as a fun way to pass the time and document their surroundings.


My choices of personal/luxury items are:

  • Camp chair

  • Inflatable pillow

  • Hammock

  • Kindle


BTW, this hammock is a total steal! The large size easily fits two people, its nice and sturdy, comes with the straps, and is relatively lightweight. I have gotten so much use out of mine over the last five years.


 

Backpacking will show you that you really don't need much to get by. You can get out in nature by carrying just the essentials on your back. You may find that things you thought you needed are never taken out of your backpack and can be left at home on future trips!


If you're curious about how to lighten your load without needing to shell out for that crazy expensive ultralight gear, check out this article next.


Have fun experimenting with your backpacking gear list and I hope to see you out there.


Happy adventuring,

A

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