Backpacking Essentials: Your Ultimate Backpacking Gear Guide

May 02, 2023

PLUS a downloadable checklist!

Are you planning a backpacking trip and wondering what gear you should pack? Look no further! In this comprehensive guide, I’ll walk you through the essential items you need for an unforgettable outdoor experience. Whether you’re a seasoned backpacker or just getting started, this guide is for you. To make it even easier, I’ve created a downloadable PDF checklist to help you pack like a pro. And if you want a truly hassle-free adventure, consider booking a guided backpacking trip with Ground Up Adventures. I’ll take care of all the planning, so you can focus on enjoying the great outdoors! 


The Ultimate Backpacking Gear Guide 

The Big Three: Backpack, Shelter, and Sleep System

You may have heard this term before, the “big three”. This consists of three components: your backpack, tent, and sleep system. In this section, I will discuss these items in more detail, as well as recommend some gear that I regularly use and recommend 😊


Your backpack is the foundation of your entire trip. Choose a comfortable, durable, and appropriately sized backpack with a good suspension system, adjustable straps, and sufficient capacity to carry all of your gear. Typically a 45-65L pack is perfect for an overnight trip, depending on if you’re going with a group and how compact your gear is. Opting for lightweight backpacking options without compromising on quality will pay off in the long run. A backpacking pack is typically an investment that should last you years of adventure. 

Just because this is an important item doesn’t mean you need to buy the newest pack on the market. I got my first backpacking pack at REI outlet used 5+ years ago, and to this day it is still my favorite backpacking pack I’ve used – Gregory Maven 65L. There is nothing wrong with purchasing new gear if you’re planning on making it last, but note that it is not required to get into backpacking. 

Shop REI’s used backpacks

Shop REI’s New backpacks


Depending on your preferences and the weather conditions, you can choose from various types of shelters, such as a tent, bivy sack, or hammock. Your shelter is ideally lightweight, easy to set up, has proper storage, and provides enough protection against the elements.

Choosing what shelter works best for you really comes down to personal preference. Some campers prefer “cowboy camping”, which is using no shelter, whereas others will never sleep outside of their cozy tent. Getting out on a camping trip is one of the best ways to find out what works best for you. I personally prefer sleeping in a tent, especially if I’m solo camping. My favorite backpacking tent is my Sea to Summit Telos TR2 2-person tent, which a fantastic option for solo camping or two-person trips. Check it out here, and don’t forget that code ‘GUA15’ saves you 15% on your order, which is almost $100 off this tent!


A good night’s sleep is crucial, so invest in a quality sleeping bag and sleeping pad that suits your needs. Consider the types of conditions you will be backpacking in, as well as the temperature rating, insulation type, and weight of your sleeping bag, You should also pay close attention to the R-value, thickness, and size of your sleeping bag. Your sleep system can also contain a sleeping pillow, which I highly recommend adding to level up your night under the stars.

Finding the right sleep system that works best for you, especially if you’re a cold sleeper, can be a challenge. Because your sleep system alone can really make or break your experience in the outdoors, I’ve written an extensive blog post of what my full sleep system contains and what gear I recommend. If you’re serious about getting into backpacking, check that out next!

Read next: My Go-To Backcountry Sleep System

Clothing and Footwear: Layering & Comfort

Wearing the proper clothing and footwear can be the difference of being comfortable or being miserable on your trip. Don’t skip this one. 


It’s essential to dress in layers to help regulate your body temperature when you’re backpacking. Not only will this keep you comfortable, but it will keep you safe, too. Start with a base layer with moisture-wicking, quick-drying materials such as merino wool or synthetic fabrics. You typically will want to avoid cotton (yes, socks and undergarments too), as it retains moisture and can leave you feeling cold and damp. In some places, like in the mountains when the temperature can drop quickly, cotton can even be dangerous to wear.

Add extra layers for additional insulation as needed, such as fleece or a down jacket, and protect yourself against wind and rain with a waterproof, wind-resistant, breathable outer layer. A rain jacket should always be in your pack on a backpacking trip, even if the weather doesn’t call for rain. Lastly, a beanie and gloves can come in handy when it starts to cool down at night. 

Another luxury item that not everyone brings, but can provide a more comfortable outdoor experience, is bringing a separate set of clothing to sleep in. I like to bring a merino baselayer, a light pair of sweats and a clean pair of socks to sleep in, and that way I have clean clothing to change into in case I were to get wet, etc.

Opt for supportive, comfortable, and waterproof hiking boots, or breathable trail runners, depending on your preference and the terrain you are adventuring in. Don’t forget moisture-wicking socks! These are my favorite, tried and true. Oh, and be sure to break in your shoes before your trip. 

Backcountry Kitchen & Food 

Cooking on a backpacking trip can seem like a daunting process, but you really can make eating meals in the backcountry as simple or as complex as you’d like! There is nothing like enjoying a delicious snack or meal with views you worked hard to earn. 


A compact backpacking stove and a lightweight cooking pot or pan will make carrying your kitchen much easier, as well as mealtime in general. Don’t forget a spork and a small bottle of biodegradable soap for cleanup if you plan on cooking in your pot! I have used the same backpacking stove for most of my backpacking AND camping trips for the past 4 years, because it works great in all conditions including extreme winds and high elevations, and is super compact and lightweight – MSR Pocket Rocket Deluxe.

I have, however, bulked down on my cook pot, which I still can’t believe is so lightweight and cost me under $30 – can’t beat that! Upgrading your cook pot to something compact and lightweight will change the game for you, eliminating unnecessary weight and bulky gear in your pack. 


Pack lightweight, calorie-dense, and non-perishable foods. Dehydrated backpacking meals have become very popular for their convenience and mess-free cooking, as well as simpler options like instant noodles, energy bars, and trail mix. Be sure to bring plenty of carbs to fuel your muscles and brain, protein to replenish your body give you energy, as well as fats to keep you going.

Plan all of your meals and snacks in advance to make sure you have enough nutrition for the duration of your trip, as well as bringing an extra day’s worth just in case. I had a friend who lost all of his food due to rodents on the last night of our backpacking trip, and the fact that I had extra food with me made it no big deal. 


Bring a hydration system like water bottles or a hydration bladder, as well as a water filter or purifier to ensure you have access to clean drinking water. Be sure to check your route ahead of time so you know where you need to stop for water. There are a ton of water filtration systems out there, and depending on who you talk to they will each recommend something different. I think water purification should be simple and accessible. Some products range up past $80, but are still likely to break or have issues in the backcountry. I’m a big fan of the simplicity of the Sawyer Squeeze, and for $40, it will filter over 3.5 MILLION gallons of water in its lifetime with proper care. 

Navigation & Safety Essentials 

A good backpacker takes responsibility for their OWN safety. Be prepared and know how to navigate. 


Bring a map and compass, and know how to use them. Even if you’re using a GPS device or smartphone, always carry a map and compass as a backup. Learn how to use them, and familiarize yourself with your route before heading out.

A GPS Device such as a Garmin, or smartphone with offline maps downloaded, can be a great help in navigating the trail and tracking your progress. Just make sure you have backup batteries or a portable charger to keep your device running! 


Having a reliable light source such as a headlamp or flashlight is crucial for navigating in the dark, setting up camp, or handling emergencies. I really like having one with a red light so I don’t disrupt nearby campers. Don’t forget to charge it before you go or pack extra batteries.


Bring a hat, sunglasses, sunscreen, and bug spray for sun and insect protection. A sunshirt also works fantastic for keeping you cooler in the heat of the day. 


Your kit should be tailored to the length of your trip and group size, but at least include basic supplies like adhesive bandages, gauze pads, antiseptic wipes, tweezers, pain relievers, and any personal medication you may need. Consider taking a wilderness first aid course to be better prepared for emergencies.


A multitool or pocketknife can come in handy for various tasks like cutting rope, opening packages, and even minor gear repairs. In addition, it can be helpful to have some sort of repair tape such as tenacious tape or even duct tape.


Bring waterproof matches, a lighter, or a firestarter like a ferro rod to start a fire for cooking or warmth in emergency situations.


Items like an emergency whistle and signal mirror can be essential for attracting attention in case you get lost or need help. If you have a mirror compass, you can just use that. In addition, having bear spray or pepper spray and knowing how, as well as when to use them can help make you feel more confident and prepared on the trail. 

    Enjoying your read? Learn more about the great outdoors and Ground Up Adventures by following along on my social media channels!

    Camp Hygiene 

    This could be its own separate blog, but good camp hygiene is important and can go a long way in making you feel more comfortable and in routine.  


    Bring Don’t forget your toothbrush and make sure your toothpaste is biodegradable. In addition, face/body wipes can be great to help you wake up in the morning. Lastly, bring a Kula cloth/toilet paper, a trowel, and hand sanitizer for when duty calls. Ladies, having some menstrual products in your toiletry kit just in case can be really helpful.

    That’s it! These are the essentials you should bring on your next backpacking trip. And of course, every trip is unique, so feel free to customize this list based on your personal needs and preferences. Just remember, the key to. a successful backpacking adventure is being prepared. Don’t forget to download my free Backpacking Essentials Checklist to make packing a breeze.

    If you’re looking for a truly memorable and hassle-free adventure, consider booking a guided backpacking trip with Ground Up Adventures. I will take care of all the planning, allowing you to fully immerse yourself in the beauty of the great outdoors. Visit my website to learn more about my offerings and book your next adventure today! 



    Remember, when all else fails, keep on trekking! 🥾 

    *Please note that some links above are affiliate links, which means I earn a small commission on any purchase you make – at no additional cost to you. If you use any of these links, thank you for your support in advance!


    Read next: Scaling New Heights: A Beginner’s Guide to Climbing a Mountain

    Hi there! I’m Shelby, a
    Colorado hiking guide!

    I’m here to inspire you to climb your mountain from the ground UP.
    I’m an avid hiker and backpacker, and also love camping, fishing, and anything else I can do outdoors, even if it means going alone! I believe nature is the best teacher of all, and I find joy sharing this knowledge so you can feel empowered on your own adventures! 

    Related Articles

    How Hiking Elevates Your Mental and Physical Well-Being

    How Hiking Elevates Your Mental and Physical Well-Being

    Discover the profound mental and physical benefits of hiking. Learn how hitting the trails can boost your well-being, and get wellness tips to enhance your hiking experience. Step into the great outdoors for a healthier you.

    Stay Up to Date With The Latest News & Updates

    Book a Guided Hike

    Explore what the Rocky Mountains have to offer and expand your outdoor education along the way with a guided hike with Ground Up Adventures.

    Join the Adventure Squad!

    Subscribe to my newsletter for monthly for hiking tips, adventure stories, and outdoor news. 

    Follow Us

    Find more free resources and educational content on my socials!

    © 2023 Ground Up Adventures