There are many ways to explore nature, and hiking is one of our favorites. Hiking is the ultimate adaptive activity — you can spend six rigorous days exploring the backcountry or go for a relaxed day hike to your favorite picnic spot.
Camping is a beloved way to get one step closer to the natural world. Getting to set up shop at a campsite and live with nature for a few days is an experience that everyone should have at some point in their life.
But one of our all-time favorites is backpacking is taking a trip where all of your possessions fit in a single backpack that you carry. You can go on a complete nature backpacking trip, or stop in cities and stay at hostels, and go for a few days or a few months. Backpacking is open to interpretation; it only needs to last for more than one day to meet the classic definition.
No matter what kind of backpacking trip you are going on, you will need to make sure your backpack has the essentials for your trip. Backpacking can be intense, and with such little room, hikers need to bring what really counts.
Here are five essentials that you need to pack for your backpacking trip.
1. Overnight Camping Gear
The first section of items you need to pack for your backpacking trip is camping gear. Any backpacking trip that will have you out in the wilderness or outside for a night requires at least basic camping gear.
This backpacking gear category depends on how much you want to “rough it.” For example, some might want a sleeping bag or sleeping pad. Others are happy to make a DIY bed out of the natural materials they find.
Bring along a backpacking tent if you so choose and whatever toiletries you need. This can include toilet paper, a toothbrush, and toothpaste. Adventures should always operate under “leave no trace behind,” so opt for biodegradable soap and sun protection.
You have limited storage space while backpacking, so be wary of over-packing.
2. Backpacking Food and Water
Unless you are planning to forage and hunt for your food and water, then you need to bring it yourself.
If you want to bring anything perishable or that you might want to keep cold, you could benefit from bringing a cooler. A soft-sided cooler might be best for backpacking adventures.
Our Patriot Coolers Backpack Cooler or Can Softpack Coolers are ideal for short trips, where size and weight have to be balanced with insulation and protection. The padded shoulder straps make lugging around your necessities easy and comfortable.
Our Softpack coolers feature closed-cell insulation, which helps to keep your food and drinks cold for the long haul. Patriot Coolers' softshell cooler offerings are sweat-free, preventing condensation.
You should be sure to pack enough food and water for your trip. Opt for nutrient-dense foods, like protein bars and jerky. Hydration cannot be overstated: Stainless steel water bottles are a gear list must-have. What are your water filtering capabilities? Will you boil water or rely on water treatment pills like iodine?
3. Camping Kitchen Setup
Longer trips often call for a camp kitchen. Cooked foods are critical for supporting energy and stamina. Your options include a backpacking stove or a fire starter. The ultimate utensil is the spork; it’s basically the multi-tool of the kitchen.
For the best backpacking meal experience, check local guidebooks to see if you are backpacking in an area with bears. If you don’t have bear-resistant hard coolers, bring a bear canister to keep your food away from bears.
4. Athletic/Outdoor Clothing
You must also make room to wear/pack your athletic and outdoor clothing for your trip. The longer your trip is, the more clothing you need. Having extra clothing in your stuff sack can make an emergency situation less stressful.
Make sure you are wearing and packing clothes that are appropriate for the weather and provide you with some protection from the sun. Sweat and moisture-wicking materials are preferable.
Bring an ultralight t-shirt and a long-sleeve shirt as well. Consider the weather: a down jacket and beanie might be necessary. Think about what rain cover you will need — a rain jacket or rain pants could be key.
In terms of hiking gear, hiking boots are an obvious “yes please,” but can differ based on the traction, water resistance, and activity level. Some may opt for trekking poles. Always break in your boots before heading out: Blisters can ruin your entire trip.
The same goes for your socks. Thick, high-quality hiking socks are essential for any backpacking trip.
5. An Emergency Kit
The final thing you must bring with you every time is an emergency kit. An emergency kit is critical in case of an injury, or you get lost or stuck and need help.
An emergency kit needs to include everything you might need in a worst-case situation. This should function as a first aid kit. Your first aid kit should include antiseptic wipes, bandages, ibuprofen, an antihistamine, tweezers, finger splints, sunscreen, eye drops, a knife, a safety razor, a medical waste bag, and hand sanitizer.
Your emergency kit should also contain emergency water, food, a flashlight, a flare, a radio, an emergency blanket, and anything else you might think is necessary. Any prescription medications you take should also be included in your emergency kit and first-aid kit.
Outdoor Adventure Packing List
Backpacking is a great way to experience nature closely while combining hiking with camping for a fun and enjoyable time. But backpacking also requires meticulous planning and packing to keep everyone safe, as you can only bring what you can carry on your back.
Start with packing all of your camping gear essentials if you are going to be spending an evening in the great outdoors. This should include your backpack, tent, sleeping pad, and other essentials.
You should then bring enough food and water for your trip. Focus on nutrient-dense food and compact foods that expand when they cook (like oats). You should bring a cooler, particularly soft-shell coolers that are the ideal combination of lightweight and portable, with the insulation needed to keep your food and drinks ice cold.
You should then pack your camping kitchen. Bring enough fuel and cookware and dining ware to cook and eat with everyone. You also need to pack the proper outdoor gear and clothing to stay safe and comfortable.
Finally, you have to pack an emergency kit and first-aid kit for your backpacking trip. These will help to keep you safe during your trip and help you in a worst-case situation.
Once you’ve got all of that packed up, you’re ready to go! And if you still have any room, feel free to bring along any extras you think we missed!