What To Pack In Your Backpack For Your Overnight Wilderness Backcountry Trip

So you’ve decided to take your first backcountry wilderness backpacking trip? You do realize this trip is away from civilization and not a simple two-day jaunt to the Holiday Inn. So you want to pack items which you feel are necessities along with some items which probably better fit into the comfort category. And you also realize you are going to have to carry these items on your back up and down the hills and mountains of the wilderness trails. So what do you bring along for the trip? What is really necessary and what is for comfort, and how much of both can you take?

Backpacking boils down to a balancing act of how much weight are you willing to carry to how much comfort do you want? Remember every extra ounce carried on your back is one extra heavy ounce at the end of the day. So the less weight you carry the easier the task. How much obviously is dependent on how long you plan on being out, how far you intend ongoing and how much weight your physical limitations can handle. There is plenty of lightweight gear in the market place today to help shed some ounces if you can afford this option. But you don’t have to be a “lightweight gear” freak to keep your pack weight down. I started backpacking in the mid 1970’s (pre-lightweight gear days) and managed my pack weight quite well.

Keep the “lightweight gear” philosophy in mind as you decide what you must have on your trip and avoid taking “everything but the kitchen sink”. As you become more experienced you will soon discover that some of the items you deemed necessary today will not even be considered in the future. For a 2-3 day trip a 60-65 liter pack will probably suffice. Longer trips may require the larger 70 liter packs and up. For a rule of thumb keep your packed weight (weight of items plus pack) to 30-40 lbs. for a 2-3 day trip. And weigh everything you are planning to carry prior to the trip to get your pack weight within this allowable weight. Too much weight makes a person more vulnerable to falls, back, leg, knee and foot problems.

Develop your personal backpacking checklist and use it to double-check yourself before every adventure, no matter how experienced you consider yourself an expert. Ten miles from the trail head is not a good time to find out you forgot fuel for your cook stove!

Basic items:

  • Pack
  • Tent (a 1 man tent weighs approx. 3 lbs and a 2 man tent weighs approx, 5 lbs)
  • Sleeping bag
  • Sleeping pad
  • Stuff sack
  • Water bottles
  • Water filter/tablets
  • Multi tool and knife
  • Flashlight and batteries
  • Map
  • compass or GPS
  • Food for each meal plus extra emergency rations
  • Stove
  • Fuel


  • Underwear
  • Socks
  • Pants and shirts
  • Head gear
  • Rain gear
  • Sunglasses
  • Boots
  • Campground sandals
  • Jacket
  • Thermal layering
  • Sleeping clothing

Personal items:

  • Sunscreen
  • Lip balm
  • Prescription medications
  • Tylenol, antacids, diarrhea meds, etc
  • Pillow
  • Walking stick
  • Toilet paper
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Insect repellent
  • Toothbrush
  • Biodegradable soap/shampoo

Safety items:

  • Extra flashlight
  • First-aid kit
  • Fire-starter
  • Water purification tablets
  • Pack cover
  • Whistle and signal mirror
  • GPS or compass
  • Emergency shelter
  • Survival knife

Additional items:

  • Plastic bags for trash
  • Repair kits for tent, stove, sleeping pad, etc.
  • Small trowel/shovel
  • Extra layers of clothing
  • Cell phone
  • Weather radio

Too much gear never used on the trip is a waste of hiking energy and too little gear needed on the trip makes for an unpleasant adventure.