Wondering what to pack for your first backpacking trip? This basic packing list for beginner backpackers has the essential gear to make your first backpacking trip a success.
Hiking and backpacking are two of my favorite things in the world. While I’ve always enjoyed hiking it took me a bit longer to get into backpacking. I resisted backpacking for a long time simply because I didn’t understand how it worked. I thought that backpacking involved carrying all of my car camping gear on my back- it sounded awful! When I finally understood that backpacking required new gear I tried to purchase everything as cheaply as possible. I wasn’t concerned about how heavy my pack was because I was only going out for one night at a time.
I traded my large 6-person tent for a smaller 2-person Coleman tent, I bought a synthetic 20-degree mummy bag, and I borrowed a backpack, stove, and water filter. The rest of my gear I cobbled together from what I already had available. I used an inflatable swimming pool floaty for my sleeping pad, I brought a spoon and fork from my cutlery drawer, and a small flashlight (I didn’t know about headlamps yet!). It wasn’t until I started backpacking on a regular basis that I began upgrading my gear.
But, it still took a while before I felt confident in my gear choices. The amount of gear that I thought I needed to be a “real backpacker” was overwhelming and expensive, and finding the gear that worked for me took a lot of trial and error. I bought a lot of gear that I ended up not using because I found that cheaper “hacks” worked just as well, or better than, the expensive, carefully engineered ultra-lightweight equipment. More importantly, I learned what equipment was worth the investment (tent, sleeping bag, and backpack), what equipment can be shared (water filter, stove), and what equipment can be hacked, multi-purposed, or bought inexpensively (sleeping pad, cutlery and kitchen essentials, and water bottles).
The items on my packing list are the items that I now confidently carry with me every time I backpack. They are my go-to items that I’m a bit lost without. (Want this list as an easy download? Scroll to the bottom of this post and sign up to receive my Essential Packing List for Beginning Backpackers.)
- First aid kid
- Insect repellent
- Navigation essentials (I always bring a paper map, compass, gps)
- Emergency Beacon (I use the InReach SE)
- Large lawn and garden size trash bag to use as a bag liner in case it rains
- Tent, bivvy sack, or alternate shelter (My personal tent is the Big Agnes Fly Creek)
- Sleeping bag with an EN tested temperature rating that meets the predicted nighttime low temperatures. (You don’t need to purchase multiple bags, you can always unzip a warmer bag or add a liner to a lighter bag. I prefer down sleeping bags because they are lighter and pack smaller than synthetic bags.)
- Sleeping pad (I love my Klymit Insulated Static V inflatable pad)
- Bathroom bag with toilet paper, trowel, sanitary products, and hand sanitizer or sanitizing wipes.
- Basic toiletries (toothbrush, toothpaste, contact solution)
- Bathing kit: bandanna, Dr. Bronners travel size soap, gallon-size Ziploc freezer bag. (Check out my trail hygiene post for more details)
- Glasses (if you plan to wear contact lens)
- Headlamp and backup batteries
- Comfortable camp shoes or sandals (optional)
- Warm hat
- Appropriate number of meals (breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks) for your trip.
- Stove (If you are just going to boil water the MSR Windburner and the JetBoil are great. If you want to prepare fresh meals the MSR PocketRocket meal kit has everything you need for two people. Decide how you want to cook and then purchase a stove that meets your needs.)
- Fuel (most isobutane canisters are compatible with multiple models of stoves)
- Water filter (I love my Sawyer Squeeze, but a few drops of bleach also work)
- Water bottles or water bladder (anything works here, but a SmartWater bottle is cheap and it fits perfectly with a Sawyer Squeeze)
- Bowl/cup (I usually bring one of these Ziploc twist n’loc containers)
- Long-handled utensils (or a spork and a small pocket knife)
- Gallon-size Ziploc bag for trash
Here’s what I have in my bag whether I’m backpacking for one day or 10 days.
- Rain protection: I pack a light rain jacket and rain pants because these can function as an additional warm layer if the temperatures drop unexpectedly, but a sturdy poncho works well too.
- Hiking clothes: A high performance shirt that wicks sweat (I love Target’s athletic shirts!), and a pair of hiking pants or leggings.
- Lightweight fleece for hiking out of camp on chilly mornings (I have a Columbia pullover fleece with a large front pocket and a hood that I love!).
- Down or synthetic puffy jacket to wear around camp at night. (The weight of this jacket varies on the season. I have a massive 800-fill down jacket that I bring along for winter camping and a lightweight down sweater that comes with me on summer adventures.)
- One set of camp/sleep clothes: I prefer long johns because they are comfortable and they keep me warm at night.
- 3 pairs of wool socks. (Two pairs of socks are my hiking socks, and one pair are my dedicated sleep socks. I wash my hiking socks at the end of each day, and I try to keep my sleep socks as clean as possible!)
- 2 pairs of underwear. (I wash my underwear at the end of each day so I always have a clean pair.)
- Hiking boots or sturdy footwear with good tread.
What do you have on your gear list? Have you developed any hacks to multi-purpose or replace expensive gear? Join our private Facebook group for women who are new to backpacking or backcountry adventures and share your gear list or learn more about backpacking and backcountry adventures. Come say hello!