March 19, 2021 10 min read

After picking the ideal date and finding the perfect backpacking trail, you're super pumped and literally counting down the days until your next trip. As the anticipation builds and the happy vibes get more intense, you know you need to start packing for the adventure. But what items should you include in your overnight backpacking checklist?

Put simply, the items you carry for your overnight adventure will depend on:

  • The features of the terrain you're planning to explore
  • The duration of your trip
  • The time of the year or expected weather
  • The weight you can comfortably carry
  • Your personal needs and preferences

Be sure to consider all of these factors when you begin to plan your checklist. Further, if you are new to backpacking, you may find it tricky to strike the right balance between what is important and what is unnecessary. This checklist will help you stick to the essentials.

Remember, the trails will be full of twists, climbs, and surprises, and you don't want to discover you forgot a crucial item like a waterproof jacket when you're in a remote stretch and heavy clouds begin to gather above you. It's important to make a list of everything you'll need.

To help you skim through this post quickly, we've categorized our overnight backpacking checklist into six groups:

  • Kitchen and food
  • Clothing essentials
  • Camping gear
  • Trekking and navigation equipment
  • Emergency kit
  • Personal hygiene

We've further separated each group into three sections:

  • Must have items: The important things you need to carry
  • Nice to have items: Comfort items that aren't really necessary
  • Pro tips: Expert advice to improve your backpacking experience

Let's get started.

Kitchen and Food Checklist

Must-Have Items

Food

You'll need to replenish your energy levels with nutritious food after an exhausting trek. Be careful, though, to watch the weight of the food you pack. Try to bring smaller items like energy bars, an apple, and nuts to fuel you as you hike. For main meals, pack lightweight, calorie-dense, and easy-to-make foods like trail mix, oatmeal, pasta, powdered potatoes, instant refried beans, and a sauce. If you love hot drinks, carry some instant coffee or chocolate packets.

Water

You'll need enough water to hydrate, prepare meals, and wash up. Since you can't afford to solely rely on water sources you come across along the trail, it's critical to bring your own. As a rule of thumb, carry 1 liter of water for every two hours of trekking. Use a water bottle for drinking water and a hydration bladder as a reservoir.

Water Filter

To drastically cut down your weight load, bring along a water filter or purifier to treat and drink water from backcountry streams and lakes.

Backpacking Stove and Fuel

Find an ultralight backpacking stove system that weighs no more than 13 or so ounces. Although the latest stoves consume less fuel and boil faster, you'll still need to carry enough fuel if you want to enjoy hot meals throughout your trip. Also, remember to bring waterproof matches and a firestarter.

Cooking Pot, Dishes, Mug, and Utensils

Instead of packing your cooking gear separately, which will take up more space, go for a compact cook set where everything fits together. The plate, mug, and spork should snuggly fit into the pot.

camping food

Nice To Have Items

Extra Day’s Supply of Food

It never hurts to bring additional food. It will come in handy when an emergency such as bad weather forces you to extend your stay in the wild.

Beer

After a long day traversing the wilderness, a sip of beer can be rewarding—if you're someone who drinks.

Pro-Tips

  • To make sure you bring the right amount of food, aim to carry the recommended 1.5 to 1.75 pounds of food per day.
  • If you want something that closely resembles homemade meals, use a food dehydrator to dry meat, veggies, and sauces before you head on the trail. Then you can then prepare them with your favorite spices.
  • Pack food in an animal-proof container to keep bears and rodents away from it.

Clothing Checklist

Must-Have Items

Down or Synthetic Jacket

For chilly mornings and evenings, you'll need to pack a lightweight, insulated jacket with a hood to keep you warm. Down jackets are more packable, while synthetic ones insulate better when you get yourself wet.

Top and Bottom Base Layers

When you need to get out of your sweaty clothes and stay warm throughout the night, base layers come in handy. Go for wool-based, moisture-wicking layers.

Mid Layer

Choose a thin but insulating fabric like a wool shirt. A long sleeve will better protect you from the sun, bugs, and low-hanging branches.

Hiking Pants

You need tough pants that will protect you from bushwhacking while still keeping you comfortable. Ideally, they should be durable, breathable, and a bit stretchable. If you can find one with waterproof fabric, even better.

Quick-Dry Underwear

Not much to add here, we just recommend you get yourself moisture-wicking, breathable, and quick-drying underwear to add to your checklist for overnight backpacking.

Rain Jacket

Regardless of what the forecast says, you really can't afford to on an overnight backpacking trip without a waterproof shell. Get a rain jacket that has wind-proof properties.

Hiking Boots or Shoes

Proper footwear is one of the top backpacking essentials. The boots or shoes you pick should be a good fit for the terrain you plan to visit. Move away from stiff and heavy shoe models and look for something that offers agility, flexibility, and comfort. Wear boots with ankle support if you're heading to uneven or rough terrain. If you know the route well, you can should be fine to wear trail running shoes.

Hiking Socks

A hiking shoe needs to be accompanied by comfortable socks. Pack two pairs of hiking-specific socks made of wool. Find a design that will cushion your feet, offer temperature regulation, and has odor-resistant properties.

Hat

A hat will protect you from the harsh sun and keep your head warm when the temperatures dip. 

hiking shoes and hammock

Nice To Have Items

Sunglasses

They'll reduce glare when the sun is shining too bright and protect your eyes when you're hiking a windy and dusty trail.

Gloves

Gloves will keep you warm on chilly nights and mornings.

Camp Sandals

When you're done hiking for the day, it's nice to have something light to wear at the camp. Sandals will give your feet a breather and also come in handy when crossing streams.

Gaiters

They'll protect your feet against rain, mud, heavy underbrush, and debris.

Pro-Tips

  • If you've just bought some new hiking kicks, make sure you break into them before your trip by wearing them around the house and neighborhood.
  • Whether you like low-cut shoes or high-top boots, choose something that's waterproof.
  • Pack some extra pants, preferably the insulated type. They'll come in handy if your pants get soggy or when relaxing around the camp.

Camping Gear Checklist

Must-Have Items

Backpack

Everything in your multiple-day backpacker checklist has to be carried somehow, and that means a backpack. For an overnight wilderness adventure, you'll want a backpack of around 50-70 liters. Find one that is super lightweight, comfortable, weather-resistant, and offers great organization. And remember to accompany it with a rain cover.

Sleeping Shelter(Tent or Hammock)

Your shelter is your refuge when sleeping in the wild, protecting you from the elements, bugs, and animals. If you want something that won't weigh you down, consider a durable, high-performance, lightweight backpacking tent. Thanks to gear advancements, you can now find super lightweight tents that gift you the extra space to store personal items, maneuver inside and sleep comfortably.

Sleeping Bag

After a tough trek, you deserve to sleep in comfort and wake up refreshed. And only a quality backpacking sleeping bag can guarantee that. Get a down sleeping bag that's ultra-light, compressible, and easy to pack. It will offer great comfort and last longer than other materials. Or, if you prefer a hammock camping experience, get a hammock-compatible down sleeping bag that's light to pack, yet warm and cozy to sleep in.

Sleeping Pad

A sleeping pad not only cushions but also insulates your body from the cold ground, if you plan to sleep in a tent Ideally, get a lightweight inflatable version made of durable material.

Headlamp

You don't want to fumble around in the dark looking for essentials. A headlamp is a critical piece of gear that should always be part of your overnight backpacking gear. You'll use it when cooking, setting up camp, or adventuring at night.

Nice To Have Items

Tarp

If you are hammock camping, you might want to bring a tarp. An ultralight tarp will give you some extra cover from the rain and wind during the night and protect you from the scorching sun when you’re napping.

Extra Batteries

An extra pack of batteries for your headlamp or other gear will come in handy in case the current ones unexpectedly run out of juice.

Pro-Tips

  • If you've never set up a tent before, practice at home before the trip, and arrive at the campsite early to get things ready before dark.
  • To quickly warm your sleeping bag, fill a water bottle with hot water and place it inside the bag just before bedtime.
compas

Trekking and Navigation Equipment Checklist

Must-Have Items

Trekking Poles

Trust me, when you're carrying a heavy bag for hours and going through multiple climbs and descents, your knees, feet, and hips take quite a beating. Using trekking poles relieves some of this pressure and redistributes it to your arms. So, don't forget to add it to your backpackers' checklist.

GPS

A GPS device will interpret the landscape around you, making sure that you don’t get lost. And when you can't figure out where you are, it will help you find your way with ease.

Water Proof Map and Compass

Although GPS is the go-to navigation tool for many backpackers, it can't substitute an old fashion map and compass. Some areas of your hike may leave you with poor connectivity or none at all. A paper map won't fail you in those moments on the trail.

Multi-Tool

Carry a lightweight multi-tool that has a small knife, saw, file, and pliers.

Permits, Documents, and Cash

Some parks require a wilderness permit for overnight backpacking. Also, don't forget to pack your identification documents and some cash.

Nice To Have Items

Backpacking Watch

To avoid carrying lots of gadgets, you can get a backpacking watch that can handle the elements, has a tracking feature, measures elevation, and weather conditions. If you decide to set a specific amount of time for each activity, a watch will help you stay organized.

Smartphone

You may bring your phone to the wilderness and use it as GPS or take pictures, but remember it's not made for the harsh terrain—it can easily break or die. Bring it as a backup navigation option and learn how to protect it in the wild.

Camera

If you want to capture some beautiful sunset pictures, it won't hurt to bring a camera. Although you might have to shake some weight off your bag to accommodate it. The same goes for binoculars.

Pro-Tips 

  • A GPS is never a substitute for a map and compass, so you'll need to learn how to navigate with a paper map. It could save your life.
  • If you download a hiking trail app, make sure it works offline effectively before you head out.
  • Always study the route in advance and ask other backpackers about trail conditions.
hiking map

Emergency Kit Checklist

Must-Have Items

First Aid Kit

Whether it's a one-day or multiple-day backpacking trip, it's always smart to pack a first aid kit. It should be ultralight and contain basic medication, bandages, antibiotic ointment, tweezers, and surgical tape for cuts and blisters.

Whistle

When you want to send a distress signal, a good whistle blow can travel nearly one and a half miles away. While most backpacks come with a whistle in the sternum strap, not all have one. Check yours to confirm it has it.

Duct Tape

To fix broken items when you're away from civilization, turn to duct tape. It's an incredible backpacking aid that you can use to patch holes in your gear, build survival tools, or temporarily wrap a sprained ankle.

Handkerchief

A handkerchief or bandana has many uses in the outdoors. From drying off sweat and cooling off, to treating cuts, swatting away bugs, and cleaning items.

Nice To Have Items

Needle and Thread

When your jacket gets ripped on the trail or your tent gets a bad tear, you might need a needle and threat to temporarily repair the damage. Alternatively, carry some super glue.

Backup Lighter

In case your matches get wet, a backup lighter will save the day.

Pen and Journal

If you like manually recording your adventures, pack your journal and pen.

Pro-Tips

  • Check-in advance whether the trail has reliable cell service. If it doesn't, pack a personal locator that can send out emergency messages.
  • Before you set off, contact a trusted family member or friend and tell them about your upcoming trip.
  • To send a distress call using a whistle when you're injured or lost let out three loud blasts, each lasting three seconds, and repeat after a minute.
  • Another way to signal distress is to start a fire and add wet wood and green leaves to the flames to create thick smoke.
  • To further upgrade your survival smarts, it doesn't hurt to read a guide on how to deal with backpacking emergencies.
first aid kit

Personal Hygiene Checklist

Must-Have Items

Toothbrush and Toothpaste

Don't neglect your oral hygiene when backpacking. Pack a toothbrush and buy a small-size toothpaste.

Toilet Paper and Sanitary Products

You can't carry enough toilet paper when going on an overnight trip. Just make sure you remove the cardboard center core to cut weight and make it more packable.

Biodegradable Soap

Buy a multi-purpose biodegradable soap for washing your body, dishes, and clothes.

Insect Repellent

Biting, buzzing, and crawling insects can really take the fun out of your adventure. So, get a strong repellent to ward off mosquitoes, ticks, flies, ants, and spiders.

Sunscreen

Protect yourself from sunburns and skin disorders by packing lightweight sunscreen.

Prescription Medication

If you are under medication, don't forget to include it in your backpackers' checklist.

Nice To Have Items

Trowel

When you don't want to leave traces of your presence all over the trail, pack a trowel to dig and cover catholes each time you need to go.

Hand Sanitizer

If you think you'll come into contact with other backpackers, carry hand sanitizer. It's also helpful when you want to wash your hands before eating without leaving a soapy trace.

Quick-Dry Towel

Comes in handy when you need to dry off after washing or swimming. It also doubles as a mat when you don't want your gear to get dirty.

Pro-Tips

  • Even if you use biodegradable soap, use it at least 200 meters away from water sources. The same applies to everything labeled biodegradable.
  • Stick to unscented hygiene products to avoid attracting wildlife.
  • If you arrive at your campsite early, take a swim at a nearby river or lake to naturally wash off the dirt and keep your body fresh.

Get Ready to Go With Your Ultimate Overnight Backpacking Checklist

Whether you are a seasoned backpacker or a beginner, this checklist includes all essentials you'll need to stay safe, warm, and comfortable throughout the trip. You can further tailor it depending on the weather, terrain, and duration. Ultimately, the best way to ensure you have every item on your checklist is to lay out everything on the floor and start checking your list.

Are you psyched up for your overnight backpacking adventure? What other items do you like to bring along that we haven't mentioned? Or do you have any questions about backpacking? Let us know in the comments section below.


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