It can take some time to perfect your backpacking checklist and to figure out what to bring into the woods. Before you start chucking pounds of unnecessary items into your backpack, consider these factors and questions:

  1. The length of your trek.
  2. How remote is your location?
  3. Are you staying at established campgrounds or wild camping?
  4. What’s the weather going to be?
  5. What time of year is it?
  6. How many nights are you away?

It’s never fun to forget an essential item, especially when you’re in the thick of the wild and stumbling through remote land for several days. But it’s also annoying when your bag is packed to the brim with heavy, unnecessary items. This is where our ultimate, ultralight backpacking checklist can help ease your packing woes. Read on for advice on what to pack!

Platinum setup in Glacier National Park
Platinum setup in Glacier National Park

Essential Backpacking Gear

Your backpacking checklist needs to have the following items:

  • Tent
  • Backpack
  • Comfortable hiking boots
  • Sleeping bag
  • Sleeping pad
  • Food
  • Water bottle
  • Water filter
  • Kitchen supplies
  • Stove
  • Fuel
  • Clothing suitable for the weather
  • Emergency and repair kits
  • Supplies for hygiene
  • Headlamp or flashlight

But it’s necessary to find the right gear to make your trek a little more comfortable, which starts with packing a myriad of lightweight, practical supplies and personal items. Don’t know what to look for when shopping for these essential items? We’ve got this info covered!

Tent surprising amount of space
Tent surprising amount of space

Finding the Right Backpack

You can’t write a backpacking checklist without a backpack. A backpack holds your clothes, tent, sleeping bag, and the list goes on, making it essential to find a backpack that suits your style of adventure.

Here are some things to ask yourself and to consider when you’re looking for the right backpack:

  • How much internal storage space do I need?
  • Will the size of the backpack allow me to wear the straps properly, limiting my chances of feeling uncomfortable as I trek? Knowing the length of your torso can help figure out what size of backpack to get. Check out this size chart for some guidance.
  • The length of your trek will also determine what type of backpack to get. For example, 30-50 Litres will suit a weekend expedition.
  • Look for padding on the belt strap, back, and shoulder straps.
  • Lightweight backpacks are often made of nylon or Dyneema Composite Fabric.
  • Try to find a bag with a suspension system.

Check out this link to find the best backpacking packs in your area.

Setting up the tent for an afternoon rest
Setting up the tent for an afternoon rest

Backpacking Gear for Sleeping

Let’s face it: you need the essential backpacking gear for sleeping to ensure peaceful nights of rest. Some of you can rough it, but surviving the night without the right gear amid a rainstorm or cold winds can be tough.

Do consider a lightweight, compact tent when you’re stocking up on items on your backpacking checklist. It may be small, but it will ease the weight of your backpack. If you’re adventuring with another person, try to make do with a one-door tent since two doors can add more weight. Keep in mind that most tents are designed to survive three seasons (excluding winter).

When it comes to sleeping bags, you need to think about several things:

  • Insulation type
  • Shape
  • Temperature rating
  • Size

You don’t want to pack a sleeping bag designed for summer weather on an early spring backpacking trip. If it’s hot, opt for a sleeping bag that can keep you satisfied at 0°C and up. Planning to hike during three seasons? Go for one that can keep you warm in -15°C to -1°C weather. Camping in the thick of winter? Be sure to pack one that suits -15°C and below.

Backcountry campers tend to flock towards mummy sleeping bags, which may induce a tinge of claustrophobia, but they provide the necessary warmth for camping at higher elevations and during colder weather. Plus, they are super light and compact.

Another item that’s been all the rage in the ultralight backpacking community lately? Duvets. These zipper-free blankets are an ideal choice for summer camping. Plus, they add a little more flair and style to your camping experience without compromising on practicality.

You may think that sleeping pads aren’t a huge necessity, but not only will they provide an extra layer of comfort, but they work to insulate you from the cold ground below your tent’s ultra-thin fabric. You can choose from three different types: closed-cell foam, self-inflating, inflatable insulated. The type you choose depends on your journey! Here’s more info on each:

  • Closed-cell foam: budget-friendly, light, last long, but can take up more space than necessary.
  • Self-inflating: moderately priced, decently comfy, slightly heavier, and bulkier than inflatable insulated sleeping pads.
  • Inflatable insulated: comfortable, provide decent insulation, lightweight, compact, but can be quite expensive.

You will also want to bring either a pillowcase or a pillow. Either stuff some clothes into a pillowcase or pack a light, compact pillow.

Beautiful Skyline Valley
Beautiful Skyline Valley

Backpacking Essentials for Food, Drink, and Cooking

One of the first things you need to do when you’re going through your backpacking checklist? Draw up a meal plan, so you can see how much fuel you need to bring. Factor in the wind, elevation, and temperature when calculating how much fuel to carry.

Food

When you’re packing your food, don’t sacrifice your tastebuds for bland meals that you’ll hate. You need to replenish and energize your body, especially after trekking all day. Bring on-the-go snacks (ones you actually like) and easy-to-make meals.

Bring an array of food from packaged (mac n’ cheese) to instant rice to spices to nuts to granola bars.

Water

When it comes to hydration, be sure to bring some sort of water filter as well as a water bottle. You’ll need it to get clean water from the river. You can always boil it, but you’ll likely need to hydrate as you trek and not just at your campsite.

It’s best to take either chemical water treatments—they are easy, light, cheap, and do the trick, but can have a long wait time. Or a LifeStraw, which allows you to suck water directly from the stream, but this product may work better as a backup. The Sawyer Squeeze is also an amazing compact option for backpacking. However, the squeezing isn’t so fun, and the squeeze bags aren’t super durable, so it’s recommended to bring back-up squeeze bags.

Cooking gear

The cooking essentials needed on your backpacking checklist commonly include:

  • Stove—consider either using a PocketRocket Deluxe or PocketRocket 2. If you aren’t into those, give the WindBurner a try. It’s great for minimalist hikers.
  • Cutlery—choose a titanium spoon over any other cutlery. Keep in mind that you’ll likely have a swiss army knife along with you as well.
  • Pot—try out the Titan™Kettle! It’s super lightweight and can hold 0.85 litres. Check out our  Ultralight MSR Titan Kettle review.
  • Fuel—if you’re using a gas stove and on a long trip, look for an 8OZ canister.
  • Rag—you need to clean your pots and cutlery, right?
  • Lighters—these are always a camping necessity.
  • Cup or a mug.
  • Bowl(s)—the number will depend on if you’re travelling with a group or alone.
Night 2 campground on the Big Elbow Loop
Night 2 campground on the Big Elbow Loop

Necessary Backpacking Clothing Items

These essential items should be found on your backpacking checklist:

  • Clothes
  • Hiking boots/shoes

Clothes

You need clothes to keep you comfy as you hike, to repel rain, to change into when the temperature dips. Here’s a list of clothing items to consider bringing:

  • Moisture-wicking shirts and underwear
  • Quick-dry shorts or pants
  • Lightweight long sleeve shirt and jacket
  • Socks
  • Buff
  • Gloves, rain jacket, toque, insulated jacket—if it’s cold or rainy

Hiking shoes or boots

When it comes to shopping for hiking boots, it boils down to your personal preferences. Do you prefer lightweight running shoes? Or do you prefer heavyweight, but stable hiking boots that can protect you from twisting your ankle? There’s also the happy medium: trail runners or hiking shoes. Take a look at the difference between the various styles to figure out which pair of shoes or boots will suit you and your adventure best:

  1. Running shoes: lightweight, but you may feel the brunt of rough terrain, and they don’t offer a lot of support. And they aren’t waterproof. These are great for chilled out hikes.
  2. Trail runners: can survive tough terrain, can be waterproof, and can protect you from feeling the pain of ramming into rocks.
  3. Hiking shoes: these protect your ankles more so than trail runners and are usually waterproof. They may provide less flexibility than runners, but they’ll definitely protect your feet.
  4. Fabric hiking boots: these are super durable and offer excellent ankle protection. However, fabric hiking boots may not work best on scree.
  5. Leather hiking boots: these are the best boots for long backpacking treks, especially if you’re meandering through super rough terrain. They may be heavy, but they will provide comfort as you hike long distances with a backpack.

For advice on brands to buy and more info, check out our article on how to choose the right pair of hiking shoes.

Sunrise at Rae Lake
Sunrise at Rae Lake

Personal, Miscellaneous Items Needed

It’s super important to bring personal items to ensure a comfortable, safe trip into the woods. Essential backpacking gear for personal, miscellaneous items include:

  • Bear spray. This one is crucial! It’s also important to brush up on bear safety tips before you head to the woods. Read our article on bear safety (which also explains what to do if a bear attacks) for detailed information.
  • Rechargeable headlamp
  • Battery pack
  • First aid kit. For more information on what to bring in your first aid kit, check out our article on what to bring to elevate your backcountry safety.
  • Repair kit
  • Whistle
  • Toilet paper
  • Toothbrush, toothpaste
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Sunscreen
  • Bug repellent (go for Natrapel)
  • Eco-friendly soap. We highly recommend a multi-purpose soap that can clean your body, hair, dishes, and clothes!
  • Phone (for camera+GPS purposes). You can also bring a small scale map instead of a phone if you prefer not to bring one along.

For more advice on which clothes to buy, check out our article discussing the essential summer hiking gear.

Setup in Tombstone Lake Backcountry Campground
Setup in Tombstone Lake Backcountry Campground

Non-Essentials to Consider Bringing

If you still have some room in your bag and want to pack in a few more items, you may want to look into bringing these non-essentials on your journey:

  • Cards for games
  • Book
  • Journal
  • Pen or pencil
  • Sandals for walking around the campsite—we suggest wearing Birkenstock Eva
  • Gaiters in case it’s snowy or muddy out
  • Camera
  • Compass
Filtering water with the Platypus GravityWorks
Filtering water with the Platypus GravityWorks

Packing Tips

Now that you’ve got the rundown on what to pack, how should you go about putting everything into your bag?

One of our main tidbits of advice?

Start light.

That’s right. Pack as little as possible. Remember our list of essential gear? Begin with those items. More often than not people start with too much stuff, making it tough to abandon certain items. It’s easy to get attached to the idea of carrying what you’ve already gathered.

It also helps to place heavier items in the middle of your backpack, closest to you, rather than at the top or the bottom—doing this makes it easier on your back as you trek.

Backpacking Checklist PDF

Feel free to print our backpacking checklist pdf. You don’t want to forget to bring necessary supplies into the woods!

Well, there you have it—the ultimate, ultralight backpacking checklist. Did we miss any of your essential items? Let’s talk in the comments below.