What to Bring Backpacking: The Ultimate Packing List

Whether you know it or not, if you’re reading these words it means the idea of thru-hiking has either fully settled into your brain or it’s just beginning. I know, because I was in your shoes not long ago. It began as a slight interest in how thru-hikers hike thousands of miles in a single season and evolved into stepping off down a trail of my own.

Thru-hiking is all about being efficient with everything you do. From gear, to food, to your body, it’s a long game and in order to stay in it, you need to be sure that you have everything you need and nothing you don’t.

FULL DISCLOSURE: Some of the items listed below have links to Amazon. By Land participates in the Amazon Associates program where we’ll earn a commission on qualifying purchases from these links at no extra cost to you.

It’s important to understand why this list is so unique. Thru-hiking is a totally different beast. While it’s important to be comfortable, it’s more important to be as light as possible when you’re trying to cover so many miles in a single day. Everything comes down to personal preference and what you’re willing to bring or not bring.

Each and every bit of gear in your pack should be used and when possible, have more than one use. Ounces add up to pounds and the more pounds you carry on your body, the more your body will break down and put you at risk of injury.

With that said, here’s your streamlined thru-hiking packing list!

As always, if you have any questions at all, please don’t hesitate to reach out.




Osprey Atmos AG 50 (Mens) or the Osprey Aura AG 50 (Womens): This backpack has fans all over and for good reason. The suspension system is second to none and Osprey has one of the best warranties you’ll find.



This tent is perfect for both you and a friend without cramping anyones style. Sierra Designs is known for the livability of their tents and ease of use.

Sleeping Bag


Unlike a mummy bag that can be restricting to sleep in, this sleeping bag promotes comfort by allowing you to move freely and tuck yourself in like you might at home in your own bed.

Sleeping Pad


Klymit Insulated Static V Sleeping Pad: I’ve owned a couple of pads and had the opportunity to hike over 2000 miles of the PCT with this one. It’s light, comfortable, and durable.

Ground Cloth

Tyvek liners used in construction offer a cheap and functional alternative to ground sheets. It’s water proof and durable which means it protects you and your gear from punctures and wet weather.

I was not fully sold on this until I realized the full potential of Tyvek. It can double as an emergency shelter and even a blanket if you need it too. Don’t spend money on a branded ground sheet when you can buy an entire roll of this for $60.

Cook System

Jetboil Flash 1L: The Jetboil Flash comes with an integrated ignition and it includes everything you need to warm up that dinner. It boils water extremely fast, is fuel efficient, and is simple to use.



Sleep is HUGE when backpacking. Even short trips can be miserable if you’re not sleeping well. For me and many others, a lightweight inflatable pillow is a must have.

Pack Liner

Instead of a pack cover, try simply lining the inside of your pack with a pack liner. It’s a superior way to ensure your gear remains dry when the weather moves in and you’re on the trail.



Clothing is a personal choice so just use this as a stepping off point. I like to layer my clothes and have come to appreciate a pieces that are Merino wool blends.

Whatever you choose, just AVOID anything cotton. It doesn’t have to be Merino, but just stay away from the likes of cotton.

Long Sleeve

Stepping up from a short sleeved shirt, is a long sleeved hoody of some kind. Depending on temps, I will either go up in weight or down in weight (warmth).

Personally, I like Hoodies of all kinds. It’s a nice bonus to have when you’re out there.

Insulation Layer

Pategonia Micro Puff: A lightweight insulation layer that is provides a synthetic insulation option. It will pack down as small as a down insulation piece, but will retain warmth when wet.

Rain Shell

Unless you know it’s going to downpour, you don’t need to go crazy here. A lightweight shell that will shed water for you is really all you need. This jacket from Outdoor Research has great reviews and is crazy lightweight.

As the weather gets worse in the year, step up the game on rain gear.

Pants or Shorts

If you’re not comfortable wearing a pair of exercise shorts on the trail, just pick up a pair of these PrAna pants. They’re durable, light, and cost effective.


Toss a pair of running tights in your pack for an extra layer of warmth for those cooler nights. If you’re a shorts wearer, they work great for those cooler mornings on the trail.

Bring thicker ones for colder weather and thinner ones for warmer weather.


ExOfficio Give n’ Go Boxers: These things are amazing. They breathe, reduce stank, and cut down on chaffing.

I’ll personally never wear anything else (for now).


Darn Tough Socks: Wear a hole in these and you can return them to any store selling them and get a brand new pair. Mind blown…

Two pairs of socks should cover you for days on end. One set gets sweaty, swap them out for the dry pair and attach the wet ones to your pack while you hike. Wash, rinse, repeat to avoid blisters.


For the time being, these are king of long trails. They’re zero drop which allows your foot to strike more naturally and they don’t cramp your toes, which prevents blisters.

Shoes are also personal, but if you want to try something that hundreds of thru hikers use, give these a shot.


Any old watch cap will work, but just make sure it’s not made of cotton. I like to stick with Merino Wool as opposed to other materials due to the fact it will keep you warm even if it’s wet.

And it won’t stink either when you’ve been out for a few days.


Keeping the sun out of your eyes and off your noggin is important. If your bald, it keeps the sweat out of your eyes. Get one that’s breathable.

Neck Gaiter

So many options, styles, and prices out there so go have fun finding one you like! Neck gaiters come in handy for cool mornings and evenings or to keep the sun off the face.


Fingerless Wool Gloves: I spent money on gloves of all types and by far the most effective, both in cost and comfort, in all seasons and weather conditions (minus extreme temps) have been a simple set of fingerless wool gloves.


If you’re wearing shorts and low top shoes, you might consider a pair of gaiters. They don’t need to be fancy to get the job done, but you’ll want to make sure they secure around the base of your shoe so nothing gets in.

These have a durable strap that goes under the shoe, others use velcro and a hook to attach. Find what works for you and go with it.

Gaiters might not be a “must have,” but they sure do make your feel more comfortable.

Camp Shoes

Look…I know they’re ugly, but I’ve gone without or tried other options and it’s just not the same. When I get to camp, I like to air my feet out and I like to have something to wear during stream crossings.

Crocs offer a lightweight, durable, and comfortable way to enjoy camp at the end of the day. And yeah…they’re ugly, but I own it!

Food and Water

Water Filter


Sawyer Squeeze: This filter is lightweight and easy to use. Attach it to a threaded water bottle to drink directly from it. It’ll last for as long as you take care of it and simplifies filtering water in the backcountry.

Water Carry

For those longer water carries or campsites that aren’t near a water source, you’ll need something to put your water in. I like to have the ability to carry at least 3 liters of water on me.

Using a collapsable water bottle is a great way to increase how much water you can carry without taking up space or adding too much weight. Be it an extra 1, 2, or 3 liters, Platypus has all the options you’ll need (and you can attach your SAWYER Squeeze filter to it).


Food is personal so I’ll just point you in the direction of a brand that is fairly prices, tastes good, and isn’t a main brand like Mountain House.

Backpacking meals are a ball of wax requires trial and error, but the main thing is that you bring with you calories to power up hills and to repair your body when you’re done for the day.

*Consult your doctor if you have special nutritional needs


The Sea to Summit Long Handled Spoon - Trust me, having a longer handled spoon for those bits of food at the bottom of your meal will be worth it.

Food Bag

Toss all of your food into this thing, roll it up, and call it a day. Make sure it’s large enough to hold all of your food for the trip (20-30L should do). It makes sorting through everything much easier and saves you time in the long run.

You can find a simple roll top bag at a local outdoor store so you don’t NEED this one, but it IS waterproof which means it' will reduce food smells and such. The reason you want a roll top is so that as your food is eaten, the bag gets smaller and smaller. This keeps your food from flopping around all over the place while it’s in there.

Trash Bag


These zip-lok bags are odorless and durable. They’re a great options for tossing wrappers in and discarded food. They won’t cause a stink which means you won’t have critters coming to find you at night.

Pack your trash in, and pack it out. Don’t be the jerk who leaves trash behind because they didn’t think ahead.

First aid and hygiene

First Aid


You don’t need to perform surgery out there, so don’t go crazy. Just make sure you have what you need to dress a wound and get home safely.

Blister Prevention


At the very first sign of a hotspot, take your shoe off and slap some of this tape over it. Don’t wait until the next break or put it off until the end of the day. Blisters suck and can be miserable, so just take care of them right away.


Colgate Whisps: Dealing with toothpaste and a brush in the backcountry sucks. These work just as well, saves you space, and isn’t messy.

Bath Wipes

I’ve tried a lot of wipes in my day and these are top notch. One can clean an entire body with these and not feel gross when it’s over.

Hand Sanitizer

Need I say more? Buy in bulk and use often.



If you have any medications, make sure you don’t forget them. Bringing a little extra anti inflammatory to take throughout the day will really help out.

Ibuprofen is great to help take the inflammation down while on trail and before you hit the sack. talk to your doctor before taking any medications


Primary Navigation


Gaia GPS: Believe it or not, your smartphone is a great way to navigate the backcountry if you have the proper apps loaded. I’ve used Gaia for years when hiking trails and even hunting. Download maps for use offline when you’re on the trail.

Use this link for 20% off your membership.

Compass (secondary navigation)


Unless you’re extremely familiar with where you’re going, make sure you bring a paper map and a compass with you so you can get your bearing if all else fails. Contact your local Forest Service Office for information on where you can attain maps for the area you’re headed into.

Trekking Poles

There will come a time when you realize why trekking poles are so awesome. Until then, you’ll feel goofy and dorky, but there’s a reason why nearly all long distance hikers use them. They conserve energy and protect your knees.

Head Lamp


It’s important to have a light that is hands free. Keep it close and always know where it’s at. I’ve used Petzl for years and this one happens to charge via USB.

Organizational Bag

Use an organizational bag for all those extra items you don’t need throughout the day or for snacks. I have have a large one for random things I don’t need access to until the end of the day, a small one for hygiene items, and a medium sized one for my food that I use during the day.

I personally use bags from the brand KUIU, which you can find here. But if you’re set on using something you can order from Amazon, these will work great too.

Seat Pad

It sounds like it’s not necessary, but it’s a blessing when you’re taking a break on rocks or wet ground. One of my personal favorites I never leave home without.


It’s important to protect your eyes from the sun. Be it gas station glasses or fancy ones, just have them on you. Make sure they protect the side of your eyes as well for bright days or when you’re walking over snow.

Power Bank

Cord Third Power Bank: You don’t need solar power to keep your things charged. Get your self one of these and charge your phone and whatever else on the go.

Charging Cable

Just…make sure you have one of these so you can use that power bank.

Small Multitool

This little guy is worth every ounce.


Don’t go crazy, but having a little extra cordage on you can really pay off sometimes. Use it to hang up wet clothes, a food bag, or replace tie-down points.

Fire Starter

It’s always important to ensure you have a method to start a fire if needed.

Duct Tape

I bet if you look hard enough, you probably have a roll hanging out in the garage. Make a few wraps of it around your trekking poles so it’s on hand and ready to go when you need it. It can repair all kinds of things.

Tenacious Tape

This stuff is great for making actual repairs to tents, bags, jackets, and whatever else. Take a large square of this with you on each outing and you’ll be glad you have it in the event you rip something.


Sony RX100: If you’re wanting something that isn’t a DSLR or your phone, you might consider one of the most popular point and shoots out there.

Camera Tripod

Not totally necessary if you have a friend, but if you must have one, it’s good to go with a lightweight option.