Backpacking Checklist

Backpacking ChecklistBackpacking can be anything from a week-end in the hills to a through hike of the Continental Divide Trail.  In this site, we’ll keep clear of long range backpacking advice.  This is a specialty effort that requires a more dedicated and coordinated event plan. Here are some really nice sites that specialize in this high adventure:

You may not be going out that long but try not to pack a lot just because you can pick up your pack at home.  This may sound obvious, but it bears repeating; what seemed like a perfectly reasonable item walking around your back yard becomes a burden a couple thousand feet up the side of a mountain.  Do you really need that nice compact leatherette case for your toiletries?  Wouldn’t a zip lock bag do just as well?

Once I get my pack filled, I step back and consider: This will sustain me for 4 days, in relative comfort, keep me dry and warm, fed, and safe. I’ll be able to record my efforts, and get back home.  And it all fits on my back.  When I go car camping, I have a hard time getting all my gear in a 4,000 pound vehicle.  Hmmmm.

What to take falls in five categories: food, including water, shelter, pack, kitchen, and personal.  You need to eat, you need to sleep, you need to cook, you need to carry, you need to change your clothes, stay dry, treat blisters, and maybe record what you are doing.  Here are some tips to help you do all these.



When backpacking, it’s pretty easy to use up 3,000 calories a day.  That’s equal to an 18-ounce jar of peanut butter.  Whatever  you decide to take, keep an eye on your calorie total.  Peanut butter is a good place to start, but don’t limit yourself.  Many backpacker friendly foods can be found in your supermarket in dried or even freeze-dried form.  There are  many foods already in weight saving pouches that pack easily and can be carried out with ease.  Here are some of our favorites:

  • Mac and cheese.  Available with actual cheese sauce.  If you make it an early meal, no penalty, you’re just carrying the milk, and butter you’d have to carry anyhow, already mixed in the envelope.
  • Tuna – Pouches add good protein to pasta dishes.
  • Soups – Several choices are good options; cheddar cheese and broccoli, black bean chili, potato.
  • Potato flakes – Dehydrated potatoes that add food value to anything and weigh next to nothing.
  • Gravy mixes – Another cheap source of flavor and fat.  A good addition to noodles or rice, cheap and easy to prepare.
  • Instant rice – Never rely on a meal of just rice.  Good complex carbs, but you need to add protein and fat.
  • Oatmeal –  A stable in our food box.  A Maine trail guide, Bud Farwell, introduced us to peanut butter oatmeal.  Sounds sketchy but is actually quite good.  And it gets at one of the objections of oatmeal, it needs milk and sugar to be edible.  A tablespoon or 2 of peanut butter takes care of that and adds good fat and protein.


Have some means of purifying your drinking water.  It doesn’t matter what you use, as long as you use it.  I’ve met through hikers who don’t bother, and report no problems.  Still, some systems weigh just a few ounces and will provide many gallons of safe water, enough for everything but a 2,000 mile trek.


Always expect rain.  Even when there isn’t any, the dew will settle on you and your gear overnight.  It’s no fun to carry a wet sleeping bag.  Take something to keep you dry, even if it’s only a 10′ X 10′ blue-tarp.  Even a piece of 5 mil plastic sheeting is better than nothing.  Mylar backed silicon nylon tarps are great.  They come with tie-downs and are very efficient  at reflecting heat back while repelling moisture.  And they fold into incredibly small bundles.


Whatever you are comfortable with.  Most backpackers now carry internal framed bags and do splendidly with them.  Older but still reliable external framed version are available as well as soft sided models.  Your pack should have some features:

  • Well-padded shoulder straps.
  • Waist belt
  • External pockets
  • Good closure technology(good zippers).
  • Means to attach items externally.  This is usually a sleeping pad.

It doesn’t need to be waterproof.  Since the bag is full of openings anyway, waterproofing isn’t a feature you really need.  Put things in their own watertight bags, in your pack, or carry a cover and you’ll be fine.  Relying on a waterproof bag results in wet gear.  A variety of pack systems can be found here:


Cooking on the trail is a challenge all by itself.  Most places you stop will not have tables and benches, will not have convenient places for you to prepare and cook you meals. and will not have fire pits suitable for cooking.  That means you have to carry a stove of some kind.  Here are some links to several very good varieties.

Some of the items that should be in your kitchen are:

  • Mess kit-A pot and lid with lifter
  • Utensils-fork, spoon knife
  • Seasonings
  • Towels
  • Dish soap
  • Plate or bowl to eat on

Personal Items

  • Lighting – head lamps are wonderful.  We never take ours off.  During the day, or when we bunk down for the night, they go around our neck .  We never loose them that way and their always ready for use.  Always take spare batteries, of course.  And be able to change the batteries.  Some head lamps  take special tools and steady hands to change the batteries, both of which may be in short supply in the dark, in the rain.
  • Maps – Know where you’re going and be able to find your way back.  A compass or GPS is necessary.  With a GPS, of course, you have the whole battery thing again.
  • Hygiene stuff – Toilet paper, tooth paste, tooth brush, soap
  • Clothing – always carry rain gear.  A rain jacket can double as a wind shirt when you’ve stopped.  Always carry a complete change of clothes, including underwear and socks.  Synthetic and wool blends are better than cotton except during warn periods.  Cotton has a reputation for contributing to hypothermia when it gets wet.  This cooling tendency is good at 90, but can be a  problem below 50 degrees.  Rain pants can help in early morning walking through green trails.  The night’s dew will persist and soak you quickly otherwise.
  • Head gear – A brimmed hat helps keep rain from draining down your back.  A bandana is a versatile item to carry.  It can be a sweat band, provide hair management, help cool you when wetted and draped around your neck, a handy towel for wiping down.  A billed cap is the most popular head gear.  They do offer some sun glare protection and are light weight.  Choose the kind that “button” in back for size adjustment so you can fasten it to your pack straps if you don’t want to carry it.
  • Foot gear – The most important item you carry.  Get professional advice on fitting your boots.  You’ll want good room in the toe-box, and good rock protection from the sole.  Much is being made now about low cut “sneaker” cross trainers.  We are not convinced these are an improvement over boots that reach your ankle.
  • First aid – Bug repellant.  This is reportedly the leader in flying insect repellants:  Also take injury repair items (disinfectant, bandages, elastic wrap), pain killers, sun screen (VERY important when you are on the water.), anti-diarrhea pills, antacids, lip balm, tooth paste and brush, soap, shampoo.

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