10 Backpacking Essentials To Pack For Your Next Trip

When planning what essentials to pack for a backpack trip, there are several factors that need to be considered when purchasing equipment for your time in the wilderness. The most important things to keep in mind are how long you will be out for, and how weight and cost play a role in purchasing your gear. With that in mind we can discuss the 10 most important items for your travels.

I am lucky enough to live in SW Colorado, so my backyard is basically a myriad of 14,000 foot peaks just waiting to be climbed. In the past couple years, I've made it my goal to climb all.of.them. I grew up with adventurous parents, so exploring the wilderness is something that is in my blood. My hiking, climbing, boating, skiing -- you name it -- adventures over the past three decades have brought me a ton of life experiences, happiness, and trial and error. This trial and error has resulted in lots of learning about the best gear to have with you. Here are my top 10 things you must bring with you on a backpack, which I've supplemented with my favorite brands.

1. The first thing you will need is a solid backpack to hold all of your gear. Size and weight need to be factored in. If you are going out for a longer trip, finding something larger, such as this Osprey 70+ liter pack, will be more beneficial to hold more food and clothing etc. For a shorter trip, a backpack around 50 liters, like this one, may be more desirable to save unnecessary weight. 

2. The second item is a sleeping bag. Knowing what degrees sleeping bag best suits your needs is essential. Taking a heavier 0 degrees bag is a must for colder weather, like if you’re camping in the high country. However, you’ll find it unnecessary for trips where temperatures will be higher at night. On the flip side finding yourself in freezing temperatures without a warm enough bag could be catastrophic. 

3. The third item you will need is a proper sleeping pad. There are many types of pads ranging from foam to inflatable. Understanding what your needs are will play a large roll in what you end up purchasing. Some people prefer to have inflatable pads that cover your entire body and provide substantial padding, while others who are trying to save as much weight as possible may go as far as to cut a foam pad in half to cover only the torso when sleeping. In my opinion I find sleep to be an important factor that plays a large role in how my trip turns out. I would rather get a better night sleep and carry a little more weight, but that decision is entirely up to you. The most comfortable inflatable sleeping pad, for me, is this Therm-a-Rest Prolite Ultralight Self-Inflating Backpacking Pad. However, if weight is your number one focus for your backpack, I recommend cutting this REDCAMP Closed Cell Foam Camping Sleeping Pad in half and using for your trip. At $29.99 from Amazon, you can essentially get sleeping pads for you and your camping buddy for under $30.

4. Finding a proper sleeping situation is another crucial item on your list for any overnight trip. I prefer to take a lightweight two-person tent because it allows me the space for another person as well as space for me to put my gear if I am on a solo trip. Again, finding the right size and weight depends on what you are trying to get out of the trip – but having a tent, hammock, or rain tarp to keep you dry and unexposed to the elements is a must. My favorite backpacking tent is this Big Agnus Copper Spur HV UL Backpacking Tent, and when you order it on Amazon, you even get free shipping (and 8 color/size options for your camping trip!). If I’m doing a lighter trip, or hiking to an area where I want to sleep right under the stars, I bring my Everest Double Camping Hammock – it even has a built in mosquito net to keep the bugs out. It’s  also reversible, available in three colors, and super lightweight. It’s easy to set up and provides the ultimate experience of sleeping under the stars.

5. The fifth thing I would like to discuss is appropriate clothing. Being prepared for whatever type of weather you will be encountering on your trip is super important. I make sure that whenever I leave for any overnight trip, I have proper clothes to keep me warm – whether this is a simple long sleeve non cotton shirt, or a heavy down jacket with sweat pants. Being able to stay at a comfortable temperature is ideal. I also make sure to pack rain protection for myself and my pack to ensure everything stays dry for the duration of my travels. This is important because finding yourself with wet clothing can become a hypothermia risk in certain situations. My favorite rain jacket is this Black Diamond Stormline Stretch Rain Jacket. If you’re venturing into a super wet or heavy rain area, these Marmot Precip Lightweight Waterproof Full-Zip pants are for sure the way to go. The final thing I pack is sun protection. I prefer wear lightweight non cotton shirts, long pants, sunglasses (these are my favorite sunglasses!) and a protective hat (and I regularly apply sunscreen). A final note on clothing: bring extra socks!! I cannot stress this enough. Keeping your feet warm and dry (from water and sweat) is absolutely essential for staying warm, comfortable, and dry on your backpacking trip. My favorite socks are these Smartwool Unisex Hiking Liner socks, and they come in a 3 pack! They’re also eligible for Amazon Prime, so even if you’re heading out this week, you still have time to order them.

6. Another essential item that you will need to sort out is appropriate footwear. I prefer lightweight Gortex running shoes that keep my feet dry, but also allow for moisture to escape (if you’re like me, check out these Salomon Men's XA Pro 3D CS Waterproof Trail Runner Shoes – they check all the boxes for me). This is entirely personal preference. Many people like the stability that above the ankle hiking boots provide, while some prefer to keep things lightweight. That being said, I always bring a pair of sandals that I can use for stream crossings and to have at camp after a long day when all I want to do is get out of my hiking shoes (you can’t go wrong with these Chaco sandals).

I have broken the next two items into two groups although they both deal with food. 

7. Always make sure include is kitchenware. I like to keep things light weight. I always bring with me my compactable Jetboil stove as well as cutlery. You can pick up a multitude of different brands that essentially do the same thing, but I find that I prefer to have a hot meal after a long day over bringing food that doesn't need to be cooked. Along with my stove, planning out meals and snacks for each day out will be important. I try and make sure that I have enough calories to last me through the day, as well as several snacks that I can eat on the fly. I like to also bring one thing that I really look forward to each day –  a lot of times it is some hot chocolate for the evening when arriving at camp, or to sip with friends on top of whatever peak or pass you make it to that day. 

 Finally, having an appropriate container to protect your food from bears and other animals will ensure you don't have any unwanted dinner guests sharing your 5 star cuisine. You can purchase bear containers or rope and pulley sacks that will keep your food from paws’ reach

Another backpacking essential is a water container such as a bladder (like this affordable, lightweight one) or water bottle. Make sure that you know the environment you will be hiking through, because this will play a role in the container size and quantity you will be bringing. Once you have this figured out, having something you can use to purify water on on your trip is a must. There are many different items ranging from a Life Strawiodine tablets, purification pumps and UV lights (like this one I love) that ensure the water you are drinking is fresh from bacteria that can ruin your trip. Finding what works best for you is important because they each have their positives and negatives (such as weight and accessibility). 

Finally I make sure I have a separate bag for my bathroom supplies and camp essentials. I keep with me a toothbrush, toothpaste and floss, as well as a knife, headlamp (this Black Diamond Revolt Head Lamp is my favorite), sunscreen and first aid supplies. This first aid kit has almost 300 first aid supplies, and is eligible for Amazon Prime for quick, free delivery. Also, do yourself a favor and bring a lighter. Even if you don't need it, at least you'll have it. They're lightweight, easy to store, and come in super handy when you can't quite get that fire lit.

Keeping things light weight and compact is the name of the game here. This list covers the most important backpacking essentials, with recommendations for my favorite tried-and-true products that have kept me warm, hydrated, and nourished through all of my backpacking adventures.

Cheers to the next peak!

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