So…You’re going backpacking! Yay! Here’s a list to help make packing easy.

Basic mid-weight, durable, practical, and multipurpose gear. Recommended for spring, summer, or fall backpacking.  (25ºF – 95ºF)

Multisport Gear: many items on this list overlap with your Whitewater Rafting, Backcountry Skiing, Hut Trips, and Bike Packing Trips.  It’s worth getting good, high quality stuff to last for many adventures.

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Me and all my backpacking gear. May in the Southern Sierras 2015

1. Sunny Weather Outfit

  • Sun Shirt long sleeved and collared to keep the sun off. Bonus points for pearl snaps
  •  Shorts for hiking or swimming. quick dry
  •  Hiking pants works better than sunscreen and keeps your legs from getting scratched
  •   Sunhat  Backcountry Babes Visor!
  •   Lip Balm w/SPF.
  •  Sunscreen travel sized.
  • Hiking Shoes be sure to break these in before you go out.  Pack blister ampoules, athletic tape, moleskin, and duct tape. If you feel any rubbing at all, stop right away to dress your hotspots before they become blisters.  Somehow, you might get blisters in boots that you have hiked in before with no problems.  The heat, weight, and long days of backpacking make for blisters! (And we call this fun?)
  • Hiking Socks wool, 2 or 3 pair
  •  Sports Bra I found the unstinkable fabric from Athleta is actually unstinkable.  It is awesome.
  •  Sunglasses don’t skimp, your eyes are important! Get a high quality pair like Smith Optics
  • Sun gloves keeps you from needing sunscreen on your hands.
  • Trekking poles they can add years to the life of your knees. If adjustable, make sure they flick lock into place. I don’t recommend the twist kind because they often collapse throughout the day. I use my backcountry ski poles because I don’t like to accumulate too much gear. Ski poles are heavier than lightweight trekking poles, but they keep my triceps strong 😉
  • Backpack: 60 Liters = 5 days; 70 Liters = 10 days
  • Backpack Rain Cover like a raincoat for your pack.
  • Water: Carrying capacity at least 2 liters, more in dry areas.  A hydration system with a hose is nice, Nalgene bottles work fine, and even 32oz gatorade bottles will work.  Also worth checking out stainless steel options to avoid the whole plastic toxin leaching thing.  You will be drinking great mountain water…enjoy!
  • Water Purification: My favorite is the CamelBak All-Clear water purifier.  It uses UV light and has a rechargeable USB battery.  I used it on a 3-week trip, shared it with a co-leader, and the battery lasted about 16 days. Impressively awesome.  Other folks like Aqua-mira chlorine drops. I’ve heard good things about the Sawyer filter. For big groups, I like a dromedary bag with some kind of gravity filter.


2. Staying Warm at Camp

  • Down Jacket
  • Patagonia R1 Hoodie or some kind of expedition weight base layer top. A cashmere thrift store sweater works great too.
  • Wool long sleeved shirt or some kind of midweight base layer top
  • lightweight base layer a thin wool shirt to wear underneath your midweight and expedition weight layers in the evening. It’s nice to have something that hasn’t been hiked in all day to change into.
  • Wool Buff works as a neck warmer or hat
  • Wool Long Underwear aka midweight base layer bottoms
  • Fleece Pants aka expedition weight base layer bottoms. I just got some Patagonia DAS puffy pants… I think I’ll never be cold again.
  • Down Booties As you might have noticed, I really don’t like to be cold, so I always bring these.  You can pad around camp in these in the evenings and sleep with them on really cold nights
  • Wool Socks pack these in your sleeping bag so you have “sacred socks,” one warm, dry set for when you sleep, even if your other socks are all crusty and/or wet from hiking 🙂
  •  Warm Hat Pistil Designs for style points
  • Warm Gloves I personally only use my sun gloves.  However, many people like to have warm gloves at night or early mornings, especially for holding trekking poles.
  •  Raincoat acts as a windbreaker, too, for a final outer layer to stay warmer. I have found that  only Gor-Tex actually works as a waterproof material in heavy rain. Consider anything else a windbreaker.


3. Stylish at Camp

  • Thrift Store Skirt for lounging, air drying, changing, looking fashionable
  •  Sandals: nice to give your feet a break from those hiking boots
  • Toothbrush, Toothpaste (travel sized), Floss
  •  Medication, contacts, glasses
  • Period Kit: Tampons, ibuprofen, menstrual cup, baby wipes, extra zip lock for trash.  (pack these out in a separate trash bag; don’t bury!)
  •  A very small amount of soap for washing hands. 3 oz is plenty. (Do any washing 200 feet from stream!)
  •  Clean Undies
  •  Camp Chair a crazy creek one is nice.  Put it under your inflatable pad at night to help keep you insulated and reduce the chance of getting holes in your pad.
  •  Mug for coffee or warm drinks
  • Bowl and Spoon

4. Sleeping System

  • Inflatable sleeping mat I like the Big Agnes system where your pad goes into a sleeve on your sleeping bag. You can’t roll off your pad, and you only need half as many feathers.
  •  Sleeping Bag (inside a waterproof stuff sack) Sleeping Bag Ratings: So bogus! A bag rated for 15ºF won’t actually keep you comfortable at 15ºF, it’s more appropriate for temps around 35ºF.  If it is so cold that your water bottle freezes overnight, you will want a oºF bag. I personally take Big Agnes -20 bag and haven’t been cold since.
  • Ground Tarp to go under your sleeping pad or tent, aka footprint.
  •  Tent go light here. 3-4 lbs for a 2 person tent is reasonable.
  •  Pillow Case  (I put my down jacket inside for a comfy pillow)
  •  headlamp (w/extra batteries.)

5. Bonus Points

  •  Bake chocolate chip cookies or brownies, store them in a ziplock and break them out for your friends
  • Bring a second surprise stash of chocolate to share on a special day
  • Bring a quote or reading to share with your group on a peak
  •  Bring fake tattoos, henna, or nail polish for a silly backcountry party
  •  Bring a ukulele or guitar and some song lyrics
  • camera with extra batteries, maybe in a waterproof case
  •  Post-trip change of clothes to leave in the car
  •  Journal, books, backgammon, cribbage, cards, games
  •  Hair ties, mini hair brush
  • Post Office envelope these are made of tyvek, so they are relatively waterproof and lightweight. Great for carrying maps, letters, books, and other papers
  • Credit Card, Driver’s License, and Insurance Card in the world’s thinnest Allet Wallet 
  • Cell phone great for photos and communication on your way into and out of the backcountry.

6. Group Gear

  • Food:  An entire topic in itself! Check out my friend Brian’s page Outdoor Blueprint for ideas
  • SNACKS! SNACKS! SNACKS! Expect to be very hungry.  Pack at least 2 Clif Bars per person per day. Check out Clif Bar for a range of high energy foods, including Mojo and Kit’s Organics. Also consider group trail mix, nuts, dried fruits, beef jerky, etc.
  • Stuff sack for food one per person for a little hang on a branch from rodents.  If you’re in bear country with habituated bears get a bear canister. A “bear hang” is often an ineffective technique and could become more of  a “bear piñata.” Healthy, wild black bears not used to eating human food are shy and will avoid you.   (Grizzlies are a bit of a different story.  If you are going to Grizzly Bear country…read more!) No need to be afraid though, bears are special and beautiful. We can help protect them and ourselves from human interaction by following some simple principles.
  • Stove: Jet-Boil, pocket rocket, or whisperlite stove and fuel.
  • Pots: 1 for boiling water (pasta, rice, oatmeal, etc), 1 for sautéing (onions, garlic, veggies) and maybe 1 more for sauces. A long handled titanium stirring spoon is nice, too.
  • Cook kit: cutting board, paring knife, serving spoon, can opener, spatula. More necessary for larger groups to maintain high kitchen cleanliness.  If it’s just you and a best friend, you can forget all this and just go rogue, eating out of your cooking pots and using your bear can lid as your cutting board.
  •  Coffee: Best thing since sliced bread: reusable, light, nests into your pocket rocket fuel canister: GSI ultralight java drip
  •  Knife: a small multitool with pliers and mini scissors is nice for cutting onions, spreading peanut butter and repairing gear.
  • Map and Compass
  • Repair Kit: Mc Nett’s Seam Grip glue in case of an inflatable sleeping pad hole, sticky ripstop tape in case of a tent or down jacket tear, floss and needle for sewing something up.
  • First Aid Kit and Wilderness First Aid Course so you know what to do.  Even better take Wilderness First Responder, an 80 hour backcountry first aid course.
friends looking at peak Monache Meadows Beck Meadow California PCT Pacific Crest Trail JMT john muir trail

June in the Sierra South Wilderness California Sierra Nevada, Beck Meadows looking at 12,000ft Olancha Peak. Photo by Brennan Burrows


backpacking gear packing list thermarest big agnes pistil clif bar crazy creek down booties down jacket

Me and all my stuff in a 70 liter pack, about 35 pounds of gear.


emily backpacking snow sierra nevada alpine meadow

This is June and it is 35 degrees and snowing! Brrrr…. dont skimp on the layers!


Thanks for getting out into the beautiful backcountry wilderness and being a good steward of the land.  Here’s a great summary of LNT to get your group on the same page 🙂

HAVE AN AWESOME TRIP!!  It’s all about the journey..and packing is part of the journey. Enjoy 🙂