A Complete 3-Day Backpacking Checklist
The last complete backpacking checklist I published on here was my John Muir Trail gear list….and that was two years ago. I’m happy to report much of the gear on that list I’m still using today (because it’s awesome). However as gear companies keep coming out with lighter gear that is able to withstand wear and tear, I have made a few upgrades in an effort to lighten my backpack.
In this backpacking checklist, I share every item I bring on a 3-day weekend backpacking trip in the spring, summer, and fall seasons. I hope that this comprehensive backpacking checklist will help simplify your planning, help you figure out what you can trim out, and if you are new to backpacking give you some good recommendations for gear to invest in that will last you years.
— Backpacking Essentials —
These are the pieces of backpacking gear that come with me on every single backpacking trip.
The Ozonic 50 pack by Mountain Hardwear is a rugged, completely waterproof unisex backpack. I’ve used it for two seasons now and have been very happy with the way it fits. It has some basic pockets for organization, and 50 liters is plenty big for a 3-day trip (weight: 3 lb 13 oz).
I also recently got a Hyperlite Pack 3400 Southwest Pack that I’m really excited to try out. Hyperlite is known for making waterproof, highly durable ultralight backpacking gear. The pack has minimal features resulting in a completely weatherproof pack that weighs only 2 pounds. Stay tuned for a full review.
The Super Mega UL2 is a lightweight, freestanding (uses poles) tent that is a cinch to set up and relatively durable compared to other tents of comparable weight. It’s a tight squeeze for 2, but for a weekend trip, it’s a great choice (Note: This model has recently been replaced by the new Mountain Hardwear Ghost UL2 Tent (weight: 2 lbs 8 oz).
SLEEPING PAD: NEMO Equipment Inc. Tensor Sleeping Pad
I just picked up this NEMO Tensor Sleeping Pad this summer. It’s the lightest pad I’ve ever owned and way comfier than some of the other ultralight pads I’ve tried. I really like its rectangular design which helps prevent you from sliding off in the middle of the night (weight: 13.5 oz).
After some very cold camping in the desert this spring, I decided to upgrade to a warmer sleeping bag. The Western Mountaineering Versalite 10 Degree Down Sleeping Bag was the warmest I could find for its mere 2 pounds. And even with its 850 down (hello plush), if you use a compression sack to store your bag in your pack, the sleeping bag takes up very little room. I admit it was a bit of a splurge, but I expect if I properly care for this bag, it will last me a decade.
HEADLAMP: Black Diamond ReVolt Headlamp
The Black Diamond ReVolt Headlamp has multiple settings, including ultra bright and red night vision – which comes in handy when you want to have a conversation without blinding your friends. It also has a locking mechanism to prevent it from accidentally turning on in your bag. You can also charge this headlamp on solar if you are using BD’s rechargeable batteries (weight: 4 oz).
TREKKING POLES: REI Carbon Composite Power Lock Trekking Poles
On those uphill climbs, trekking poles help take some of the weight off your hips and legs by utilizing your arm strength. On the downhill, they help ease the pressure on your knees. And on those stream crossings, these puppies have saved me more times than I can count by helping me balance. These REI Carbon Composite Power Lock Trekking Poles are made of carbon fiber, meaning they are super lightweight, and they are one of the least expensive carbon fiber options available. Another great feature is they are collapsible, so if you don’t want use them, you can stow them in the side pocket of your backpack (weight: 14.8 oz).
Communication Device: SPOT Gen3 GPS Transponder
I like to carry a tracking device with me that I can use to send a help signal in case of an emergency. The SPOT is super simple and gives me piece of mind. Watch my video below to learn more about how it works.
You should always have a first aid kit when you are hiking in the backcountry. This ultralight, waterproof medical kit comes with the minimum supplies that you will need to address minor wounds, as well as some travel packs of some handy medications. In addition to what comes in this kit, you should supplement it with some extra blister band aids and any medications that are specific to the hikers in your group.
** Read Next: The Best Backpacking Tents **
— Backpacking Kitchen Gear —
The Jetboil MiniMo Cooking System is the most efficient backpacking stove I’ve found, especially if you are only boiling water. Where the MiniMo shines is that it gives you greater simmering control than previous versions of the Jetboil. Together the stove and pot weigh 14 oz.
Fuel: 1-230 gram Jetboil Jetpower canister
For a 3-day trip, 1 230-gram fuel canister should be enough if you are using your stove for coffee, oatmeal, and dinner.
Water Reservoir: Platypus Big Zip LP Reservoir – 3 Liter
I prefer using a hydration bladder (versus water bottles) because it makes it easier to drink and you don’t have to stop every time you want a sip of water. The mouth piece on the Platypus Big Zip Reservoir takes a little getting used to, but it’s way easier to fill up than a CamelBack due to the wide opening on the top.
Water filter: Platypus 2L GravityWorks Filter
The Platypus GravityWorks Water Filter System is absolutely the easiest way to filter your water in the backcountry. This Platypus filter relies on gravity to push water through, eliminating the need to pump water by hand – meaning you can save your energy for the hike. At 9.5 ounces you will barely notice this thing in your bag, and what’s really cool is you can connect the hose directly into your water bottle or any standard hydration reservoir.
** Read Next: Filtering Water the Easy Way with the Platypus GravityWorks **
Water filter backup: Katadyn Micropur Purification Tablets
It’s always good to carry a backup in case your water filter fails. These Katadyn Micropur Purification Tablets tablets are great because they are super small and you can just throw a few in your first aid kit.
Camping Mug: GSI Outdoors Infinity Backpacker Mug
You need something for that morning coffee or evening whiskey hot apple cider.
Eating Utensil: Snowpeak Titanium Spork
A girl’s gotta eat. Ramen, backpacker meals, oatmeal. This Snow Peak Titanium Spork is the only utensil you need, and it weighs shockingly little at less than 1 ounce! It also has a long handle and can easily reach the bottom of that Mountain House bag.
Knife: Gerber Paraframe I Knife
Some people like to carry a multi-tool, but personally I’ve always been able to get by with a small knife. This Gerber Paraframe I Knife can cut paracord or salami and only weighs 2.6 oz.
You may or may not need one of these depending on where you are hiking. They are required by law in California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains, spots in Alaska, Washington, and Wyoming, and in some places they may be available for rent. If you are only carrying food for yourself, the Solo Bear Vault (2 lbs) is a good inexpensive option. Or for a duo, go for the larger version (2 lbs 9 oz).
— Backpacking Toiletries —
My beauty routine while backpacking is pretty limited and is focused purely on hygiene. No deodorant, no makeup, no hair brush, etc.
Lip balm: Jack Black Lip Balm
The mountains can suck the moisture right out of those beautiful lips leaving them cracked and dry. My go-to lip balm is Jack Black Intense Therapy Lip Balm with SPF 25 in the natural mint flavor. It goes on clear and also provides sun protection.
Sunscreen: Thinksport Sunscreen
At high elevations you can burn way quicker than you think. This Thinksport Sunscreen comes in a small tube, is water resistant, and provides SPF50.
In order to comply with Leave No Trace, when you go #2, you need to dig a cathole that is at least 6-8 inches deep. You may think “I don’t need a shovel…I’ll just use a rock.” I’ve made that mistake myself only to find that sometimes the dirt is super hard, you can’t dig a hole, and then panic ensues. This GSI Outdoors Cathole Sanitation Trowel is so cheap and light there is no excuse to not throw it in a ziplock and bring it with you.
Toliet paper & a plastic bag for used TP
When you go #2, you need to pack out your dirty TP. Ewww. I know. But there’s nothing grosser than finding a bunch of used dirty TP when you are camping. I like to bring a ziplock bag for my TP and then I store that in a small (not-see-through) stuff sack.
Baby Wipes: Swipes Lovin’ Wipes
These are adult baby wipes for ladies that are gentle and help you stay fresh. I bring along one wipe per day in a ziplock bag….that way I don’t have to carry the whole package.
** Read Next: The 7 Basic Guidelines of Leave No Trace **
— Camera Gear —
While I don’t expect most of you to carry all this camera gear, I frequently get asked what camera equipment is on my backpacking checklist. So here ya have it!
DSLR: Sony A7S with 16-35mm lens
This is my go-to DSLR body and lens combo for all of my landscape shots. That said, it’s probably overkill for 98% of you. Instead, I suggest the Sony a6000 and kit lens if you are starting out and want to invest in something awesome but still fairly affordable.
GoPro & Accessories: GoPro Hero 4 Black, Headstrap, 3-way mount & extra batteries
I love my GoPro Hero4 Black. It comes with me everywhere because it allows me to get unique POV shots as well as pictures of myself when I’m traveling alone. It’s also what I use for all of my video edits. Have you checked out my YouTube Channel yet?
** Read Next: GoPro Tips & Tricks for Awesome Travel Photos **
Tripod: Mefoto Daytrip Tripod
If you want to get stellar night-time shots, you’re going to need a tripod. I use the Mefoto Daytrip Tripod which is the smallest, lightest real (table-top) tripod I’ve found that can support a DSLR. If you have a point a shoot, consider a Joby.
Camera Bag: Patagonia Atom Sling Bag
I’ve still yet to find a totally comfortable solution for carrying my camera while backpacking. So far my favorite is this Patagonia Atom Sling Bag. It doesn’t have any padding, so you have to be careful but it hangs across your body making access to your camera easy. In order to make it more comfortable, I use a carabiner attached to its strap to lift it off my shoulder.
— Backpacking Clothing —
How many pairs of clothes should be on your backpacking checklist? The absolute minimum. Avoid cotton which retains moisture and smells and opt for quick dry material. The only thing I really bring extra of is underwear and socks and maybe an extra shirt depending on how many days I’m hiking.
Down Jacket (1): Patagonia Women’s Down Sweater
Rain Coat (1): North Face Venture Rain Jacket
Check the weather before you go. Even if it’s looking like nothing but sun, I like to bring a rain jacket since the weather can change so quickly in the mountains. And if there is any chance of showers, I might throw in a pair of rain pants too.
Top Base Layer (1): SmartWool Midweight Long-Sleeve Zip-T Top
Bottom Base Layer (1): Arcteryx Rho AR bottoms
These are warm enough to wear at night and breathe well enough to hike in if day time temps are chilly.
Non-Cotton Wicking Shirt (1-2): Ex Officio Sol Cool Print Tank & Nike Pro Core Fitted shirt
Shorts (1): Mountain Hardwear Mighty Activa Short
Sports Bra (1): Under Armour Women’s Mid Printed Sports Bra
Quick Dry Undies (2): Ex-Officio Give-N-Go Sport Mesh Hipkini
I’ve tried MANY pairs of outdoor type underwear, and these are my favorites.
Hiking Socks (2): Darn Tough Midweight Hiking Socks
I alternated between 2 pairs of these on my John Muir Trail hike. That was two years ago, and I’m still wearing these socks on the reg today.
Hiking Boots (1): Montrail Mid Leather OUTDRY hiking Boots
I’ve been a fan of Montrail hiking boots for about a decade. See my full review of their Mid Leather Outdry boots here.
Camp Shoes (1): Teva Hurricane Sandals
These are lightweight but still provide some structure and grip for walking around at camp at night. Plus you can wear socks with them and look super fashionable.
Ball cap / Sunglasses / Hat / Gloves (depending on temps)
** Read Next: What to Wear Hiking **
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I hope my backpacking checklist was helpful! If you have any questions about what’s on your backpacking checklist, feel free to get in touch!
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