3-Day Backpacking Checklist

If it’s your first time backpacking or if you’re wanting to get your backpacking gear dialed for your next trip, you’ve come to the right place. This 3-day backpacking checklist (tailored for women) covers all the basic essentials you’ll need to be comfortable on a weekend-long backpacking trip – nothing more, nothing less. I encourage you to adjust based on your own needs – but I also encourage you to try and stick to the essentials. You may be surprised at how little you need.

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 packing list 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 many years. I’m still using much of the same gear that I first started backpacking with over a decade ago, but with a few upgrades here and there in an effort to lighten my backpack.

COVID-19 Caveat: Before planning any trips, please do your research and follow any local guidelines, both for where you live and the place you plan to visit.

Start planning your next backpacking trip and make sure you have everything you need with this 3-day backpacking checklist.

This backpacking checklist is sponsored by REI Co-op.


Backpacking Checklist Essentials: The Big Gear Items

These are the essential pieces of gear that should always be on your backpacking checklist for every single trip you plan.

Backpacking Pack

I’ve tried many backpacking backpacks, and funny enough, the least expensive one I’ve owned has also been my favorite. At 3 lbs. 14 oz., the Deuter ACT Lite 60 + 10 SL Women’s Pack weighs 2 pounds less than my old Gregory backpack, and it seamlessly molds to my body. Deuter’s Lite series packs can adjust for a variety of torso lengths and also comes in a men’s model. The 60 +10 SL pack is plenty big for a multi-day trip, in fact, this is the pack I took on my 22-day John Muir Trail hike, a 10-day backpacking trip in Alaska, and a more recent Trans Catalina Trail backpacking trip. For a weekend backpacking trip, you could also get away with the smaller 45 + 10 SL version, but a smaller pack size won’t be as versatile.

This complete backpacking checklist covers all the essential lightweight gear you'll need including sleep systems, cookware, toiletries, and clothing.

Backpacking Tent

The REI Quarter Dome SL 2 backpacking tent is a great lightweight option, especially for the price. In some cases, it’s hundreds of dollars cheaper than its competitors while coming in very close in weight. It has two large doors and vestibules so you and your tent partner can easily get in and out and have your own space to stash your gear – something I consider essential for a two-person backpacking tent. It’s spacious for a tent this lightweight and has handy features like interior organization pockets and vents to allow for airflow even with the fly on. If you’d like more details, you can read my complete review of this tent here. This tent comes in a 1-person version as well in case you’re camping solo and want to go as small and lightweight as possible.

Get my detailed 3-day backpacking checklist that has all of the gear you need for a successful backpacking trip including a tent, sleeping gear, clothing, toiletries, and more.

Sleeping Pad

I just got the women’s Sea to Summit Comfort Lite Sleeping Pad last year and am loving it. It’s lightweight, packs up small, and still manages to be warm and comfortable. It’s also easy to inflate and comes with a pump integrated into the stuff sack, and it’s made out of durable ripstop nylon. There’s a unisex version too in case you want something a little bigger.

Get my detailed 3-day backpacking checklist that has all of the gear you need for a successful backpacking trip including a tent, sleeping gear, clothing, toiletries, and more.

Sleeping Bag

The REI Co-op Joule 21 is my pick for a warm and lightweight 3-season bag. This is the sleeping bag I took on the John Muir Trail and many other backpacking trips. At just over 2 pounds, it offers an amazing warmth to weight ratio. Made with water repellent down and waterproof fabric at the feet, head and sides, it’s a great option for cold, damp conditions, yet still breathable. The men’s version of this bag is called the REI Co-op Igneo 25.

REI Joule Sleeping Bag // An essential piece of gear that makes our 3-day backpacking checklist

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. The Black Diamond Distance Carbon Z Trekking Poles are Black Diamond’s lightest foldable poles made of carbon fiber and come in 4 sizes to meet your height.

Headlamp

I recently got the BioLite Headlamp 200 and it’s my new go-to headlamp for backpacking. It’s ultralight, low profile, and very bright with four lighting modes including red light so you won’t blind your basecamp buddies or compromise your night vision. I also love that it’s battery free and USB chargeable (just be sure to charge before you head out!).

Biolite headlamp 200 // An essential piece of gear that makes our 3-day backpacking checklist

Communication Device

I like to carry a tracking device with me that I can use to send a help signal in case of an emergency. The Garmin inReach Mini allows for two-way custom texting and also has GPS that you can use for navigating. The Mini is much smaller and lighter than the regular Garmin inReach so I prefer it for hiking and backpacking when every ounce matters.

Garmin inReach mini satellite communication device // An essential piece of gear that makes our 3-day backpacking checklist

First Aid Kit

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 travel-sized 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.

Adventure Medical First Aid Kit // An essential piece of gear that makes our 3-day backpacking checklist

Backpacking Kitchen Gear

Next on our backpacking checklist is your camp kitchen gear. I tend to keep my cooking setup simple when backpacking. I mainly boil water for coffee or tea and oats in the morning and for backpacking meals in the evening.

Backpacking Stove & Fuel

The Jetboil Flash Cooking System is the most efficient backpacking stove I’ve found, especially if you are only boiling water. Together the stove and pot only weigh 13.1 oz. For a 3-day trip, one 230-gram fuel canister should be enough if you are using your stove for coffee, breakfast, and dinner.

Get my detailed 3-day backpacking checklist that has all of the gear you need for a successful backpacking trip including a tent, sleeping gear, clothing, toiletries, and more.

Water Bottles or Hydration Reservoir

I prefer these lightweight Platypus Soft Bottles that can be rolled up when they are empty compared to a hard water bottle like a Nalgene for backpacking. Depending on water availability, I will bring up to three of these on my backpacking trips. I also tend to use these in instead of a hydration pack since it can be a pain to pull out of my backpacking pack each time it needs to be refilled. But if you like to backpack with a hydration reservoir for easy water access while you hike, the Osprey Hydraulics Reservoir is one of my favorites.

Get my detailed 3-day backpacking checklist that has all of the gear you need for a successful backpacking trip including a tent, sleeping gear, clothing, toiletries, and more.

Backpacking Water Filter

The Platypus GravityWorks Water Filter System is absolutely the easiest way to filter your water in the backcountry in my opinion. This system relies on gravity to push water through, eliminating the need to pump by hand or manually squeeze water through a filter – meaning you can save your energy for the hike. At 11.5 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. For more details on how it works, read my complete review here. I’ll also mention that it’s always good to carry a backup in case your water filter fails. These Katadyn Micropur Purification Tablets are great because they are super small and you can just throw a few in your first aid kit.

Platypus GravityWorks Water Filter System // An essential piece of gear that makes our 3-day backpacking checklist

Lightweight Camping Mug

You’ll need something for that morning coffee and evening tea. The GSI Outdoors Infinity Backpacker Mug is lightweight and will keep your beverage warm in the coldest of conditions with its insulated wrap and sip lid.

GSI Backpacker Mug // An essential piece of gear that makes our 3-day backpacking checklist

Eating Utensil

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.

Snow Peak Titanium Spork // An essential piece of gear that makes our 3-day backpacking checklist

Knife

Some people like to carry a multi-tool, but personally I’ve always been able to get by with a simple, small knife. This Gerber Mini Paraframe Knife can cut paracord or be used to prepare food and only weighs 1.4 ounces.

Gerber Mini Paraframe Knife

Bear Canister

You may or may not need a bear canister 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 but be sure to check before heading out. If you are on a short trip and only carrying food for yourself, the Solo Bear Vault is a good inexpensive option. Or for a duo or longer trips, go for the larger version.

BearVault Food Container // An essential piece of gear that makes our 3-day backpacking checklist

Backpacking Toiletries

My beauty routine while backpacking is pretty limited and is focused purely on hygiene, and that’s reflected in this backpacking checklist. No deodorant, no makeup, no hair brush, etc.

Lip Balm

The mountains can suck the moisture right out of those beautiful lips leaving them cracked and dry. Plus, your lips are just as vulnerable to sunburn as your face, so SPF is key. All Good SPF 15 Lip Balm has natural, organic ingredients and will keep your lips hydrated and protected.

All Good Lip Balm

Sunscreen

At high elevations, you can burn way quicker than you think, and all those hours hiking in the sun add up. This Sun Bum comes in a small tube, is water-resistant, and provides SPF 50. 

Toothpaste & Toothbrush

It’s all about those travel-size toiletries when backpacking. This Dr Bronner’s Travel Toothpaste comes in a 1 oz size and is all-natural, fair trade certified, and the packaging is completely recyclable.

Dr Bronners Toothpaste

Poop Kit – Trowel, Toilet Paper, & Ziploc Bag

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 bring it with you. Also, when you go #2, you need to pack out your dirty toilet paper in order to maintain campsite and trail conditions for future campers. There’s nothing grosser than finding a bunch of used dirty TP when you’re camping. I like to bring a ziploc bag for my TP and then I store that in a small (not-see-through) stuff sack.

GSI Outdoors Trowel // An essential for going #2 and leaving no trace when backpacking

Pee Rag / Quick Dry Towel

A lightweight quick dry towel is always handy. I personally bring one of these to use as a pee rag. When going to the bathroom, I drip dry and then pat myself off with this in order to keep my lady parts clean. Then I use my water bottle to rinse off the towel 200 feet from any water sources (as recommended by Leave No Trace) and hang it from my pack to dry.

Maybe you don’t need a pee rag, but these still come in handy for drying your hands or face or doing dishes. They also come in bigger sizes if you think you’ll be doing some swimming or sun bathing on your trip.

REI Quick Dry Towel

Hand Sanitizer

A travel-size hand sanitizer is a must for before eating and after going to the bathroom. We prefer hand sanitizer to soap because it’s easier to follow Leave No Trace. If you choose a biodegradable soap, like this one by Dr Bronners, be sure to abide by Leave No Trace and rinse 200 feet away from water sources.

Wet Wipes

For a shorter trip you might be able to get away without these, especially if you’re using the pee rag method and you want to save weight in your pack. However, if you want a little refresh, these Sea to Summit Wilderness Wipes are soft and gentle on both your skin and the environment. They’re unscented (better for not attracting wildlife) and even come in an extra large size in case you want to wipe your whole body down after a hot sweaty day on the trail. Be sure to pack out in your ziplock trash baggie to dispose of properly.

Sea to Summit Wilderness Wipes

Backpacking Clothing

How much clothing should be on your backpacking checklist? The absolute minimum you need to be comfortable. You’ll appreciate it when you start to feel the weight of your pack after a couple hours of hiking. You really only need 1 hiking outfit and 1 set of dry, warm clothes to change into when you get to camp and for sleeping. The only thing I bring extra of is underwear and socks and maybe an extra shirt I can swap out depending on how many days I’m backpacking.

Pro tip: Avoid cotton which retains moisture, takes a long time to dry, and tends to harbor smells. Instead, opt for quick-dry materials that wick sweat and resist odors.

Insulated Jacket

A lightweight, packable, insulated jacket is key for when the temps drop in the evenings, whether natural down or synthetic. I prefer something with a hood so I can keep my head warm when its windy or extra cold, so I pack my Arc’teryx LT Atom Hoody.

Arcteryx Atom LT Hoody is a great insulating layer for backpacking

Rain Jacket

Check the weather before you set out. Even if it’s looking like nothing but sun, I like to bring a lightweight rain jacket and the Arc’teryx Beta AR Rain Jacket is my top pick. It is definitely pricey but once you invest in a piece like this, you’ll have it forever. If there is any chance of showers, I throw in a pair of rain pants too.

Arc'teryx Beta AR Rain Jacket // An essential clothing item that makes our 3-day backpacking checklist

Top Base Layer

A warm, wool base layer is handy for changing into when you’re ready to get out of your sweaty hiking clothes and get warm at camp. It can be cozy to sleep in too. I like the Icebreaker 200 Oasis Half Zip because it’s super soft, odor-resistant, and because Icebreaker has strong animal welfare standards.

Icebreaker Oasis Half Zip // An essential clothing item that makes our 3-day backpacking checklist

Hiking Pants

I like to hike in leggings (if it’s too cool for shorts that is). These Prana High Waisted Leggings are comfy for hiking and can double as pajamas or comfy pants at camp.

Get my detailed 3-day backpacking checklist that has all of the gear you need for a successful backpacking trip including a tent, sleeping gear, clothing, toiletries, and more.

Moisture Wicking T-Shirt

I always hike in a non-cotton, quick-dry, moisture-wicking t-shirt, and most often its the Patagonia Cool Capilene T-Shirt. As I get older, I prefer long-sleeves because it provides more protection from the sun. This shirt in particular is lightweight, so even with the long sleeves I stay nice and cool.

Get my detailed 3-day backpacking checklist that has all of the gear you need for a successful backpacking trip including a tent, sleeping gear, clothing, toiletries, and more.

Hiking Shorts

I like to hike in spandex shorts when the weather’s nice, but lately I’ve been liking these REI Co-op Active Pursuits Shorts. They’re comfortable and stretchy and offer a little more breathability than spandex.

REI Active Pursuits Hiking Shorts // An essential clothing item that makes our 3-day backpacking checklist

Sports Bra

Sports bras are my go-to even when I’m not hiking, and these days I’m personally loving the Nike Swoosh Sports Bra.

Nike Swoosh Sports Bra

Quick Dry Undies

I’ve tried MANY pairs of outdoor, quick-dry type underwear, and these REI Co-op Active Hipsters are my new favorite. While these underwear may not be the sexiest, they are moisture wicking and dry quickly, stay put, and panty lines don’t show. I like to bring a couple pairs for a multi-day backpacking trip.

Hiking Socks

I alternated between 2 pairs of Darn Tough Hiking Socks on my John Muir Trail hike. That was years ago, and I still wear these socks hiking. They are extremely durable and stay put while you’re hiking so you don’t end up with nasty blisters.

Darn Tough Hiking Socks are the best socks for backpacking

Hiking Boots

I’ve always been a big fan of Oboz and recently upgraded from their regular Bridger BDry Hiking Boots to the Bridger Premium BDry Hiking Boots. They are waterproof with a stiff sole, so you get plenty of support on those steeper, rockier slopes.

Oboz Bridger Premium Hiking Boots // An essential item that makes our 3-day backpacking checklist

Camp Sandals

It’s always nice to take those hiking boots off when you get to camp to let your feet breathe, and for that reason, a pair of camp sandals are a must on my backpacking checklist. These Teva Universal Trail Sandals are lightweight (1 pound for the pair) and provide structure and grip for walking around camp. They have padding around the ankle and anywhere there is a buckle to prevent rubbing, and they are one of the most comfortable pair of sandals I’ve ever owned. Plus, they are made from recycled water bottles, so it’s a win-win! See my full review here.

Teva Universal Trail Sandals // An essential item that makes our 3-day backpacking checklist

Accessories

You’ll definitely want a hat and sunglasses when backpacking to protect you from the sun. I often backpack in a trucker style hat. I also highly recommend a Buff – a versatile piece that you can wear around your neck for sun protection, around your face and ears if it’s windy, and even as a headband. If it’s going to be cold, you’ll also want to bring gloves and a beanie.

Get my detailed 3-day backpacking checklist that has all of the gear you need for a successful backpacking trip including a tent, sleeping gear, clothing, toiletries, and more.

For additional clothing suggestions, check out our What to Wear Hiking guide.

Is there anything not on this backpacking checklist that is a must for you on backpacking trips? Or do you have any questions about what to bring backpacking? Let us know in the comments below.

Written by Kristen Bor

Hey there! My name is Kristen, and this is my outdoor blog. I discovered the power of the outdoors in my 20s, at the time I needed it most. Now 15 years later, prioritizing that critical connection with nature continues to improve my life. My goal at Bearfoot Theory is to empower you with the tools and advice you need to responsibly get outside.

46 comments on “3-Day Backpacking Checklist

  1. Pretty nice list! I need to have a look at the Nemo sleeping pad, my Thermarest is annoying me so much recently.. Need something light and rectangular.

  2. I’m totally with you re: trying to find a comfortable and convenient way to carry photography gear. Have you tried the Peak Design capture clip? I’ve used it for day hikes and have liked it so far but am not sure how it will work for weekend backpacking trips. Of course, even with the clip you’d need some decent bag for protection if you’re going through rough terrain or if the elements don’t cooperate. I like your approach with the sling though. 🙂

  3. Check out Cotton Carrier’s Strapshot camera holster for your DSLR. It wraps around your backpack shoulder strap and provides a secure place to hang your camera with a 1/4 turn quick release and safety tether. I use it and have the full chest harness.
    (I’m not at all associated with them, just find their gear really convenient.)
    Thanks for the good read.

    1. I also use the cotton carrier system – a disc screws into the tripod attachment of my camera (I pack in a Sony a6000 with an 18-200mm lens) and then there’s a holster that clips/velcros on to my backpack strap on my shoulder. You keep the strap around your neck for safety (more than twice I’ve been over, the camera unhooked from the carrier and I would have dropped it without the neck strap!) and then the camera is easily accessible when you want to shoot something. The downside is no protection from dust/moisture, so on dusty trails I’m brushing off the lens a lot. But it went with me to Everest Base Camp, Kilimanjaro and numerous 2-7 day backpacking trips with a large ziplock in my bag for water protection if needed. Love this setup.

      1. I love my cotton carrier. I carry a full sized Nikon on it..have for 3 years… zero accidental disconnects… its tough for a piece of plastic too….

  4. I THINK I obtained permits for Havasu Falls for this spring (I received confirmation emails, but still have a fear something may go wrong, but I’m hoping for the best). Starting to plan and struggle with what camera equipment to bring. I have a Nikon d7100 that I love, but would like to get by with just my 35 mm/1.8 lens. Think that’s wide enough to get good waterfall shots?

  5. Amazing list! Seems to be the go-to stuff when comparing to other lists. That said, I\’d strongly suggest bringing a compass and map! On a longer trip would you change change the gear or simply bring a few more items of clothes?

    1. Thanks Sean for the added recommendation of a compass and map! For a longer trip I would just recommend having at least one change of clothes in case of weather or for added layering. I backpacked the entire PCT for 5 months with only 2 shirts and 2 pairs of bottoms, so you definitely don’t need to expand on bringing more items necessarily.

  6. A great list and this is going to be so useful to me. I go on treks very frequently and usually don’t get much time for backpacking. Thanks a lot for posting!

  7. Its always good to have a small extra knife just to be sure and ready for everything. A roadeavour knife wont add that much. only a size of a credit card. but very reliable.

  8. n NZ if I went hiking with an umbrella, I would be laughed out of the hills. It would be really good to see exactly what you take in all the small bags, as this is wear weight accumulates and my pack gets heavy. Thanks for sharing.

  9. Great list Kristen. Thanks for taking the time to put this stuff together. Your site is full of great info. I do the same stuff on a much less professional level on my youtube channel. Your site always has a few gems that even experienced hikers can find useful. Keep up the good work!

  10. Wow you hit the lottery? Most hikers couldn’t afford have your list. Anyone can go into a REI and buy the best available but a true backpacker can use whats handy and go on a trip. I am an assistant scout master for a Boy Scout troop and do trips including gas for a 3 hour trip, food for 12 and snacks for around 12 bucks each using basic gear for 3 days on the trail. Contact me and I can teach you how to hike on a tight budget.

  11. I am so grateful to have stumble across your website. I am a beach bum. I have only done one day hikes. But, I have been invited to a three day hike in Korea. I will be doing the Jirisan Nature Reserve over three days. I have a bag and sleeping bag. That’s it. What elae do I need to prepare for this three day trek? It will be in September. Your help would be appreciated. I am an Expat teaching in Korea. I am exploring Korea through Hikes and wone tasting. I am open to suggestion.

    1. Hi Gabriela, we are so glad you found us! Will you need a tent for your trek or will they be provided? We would recommend a sleeping pad as well. If you’d like to reach out and email us at [email protected] we can provide you with additional links to great articles and packing lists on our site to help you prepare for your trip. Sounds like an incredible adventure you have ahead of you!

  12. Just what I was going to say. This is nice list of gear for anyone who has, say, a couple of thousand dollars to drop on a three-day (two-night?) backpacking trip.

    1. Hi Rolando, that really depends on how long you are going to be backpacking. For a 3-day backpacking trip, we recommend trying to keep your pack weight as minimal as possible, depending on if you need to carry water or not. A good rule of thumb is not having your pack weight more than 20% of your body weight.

  13. It is interesting that trekking poles can help manage the weight on your hips and legs by using your arms. My wife and I are going on our first backpacking trip in three months and we are trying to get everything together. We may consider going to a few camping stores near us to see what they recommend we bring too.

    1. Hi James,
      So exciting to hear you and your wife are getting into backpacking! Trekking poles are a game-changer on the trail. We have a ton of comprehensive blog posts here about backpacking that you’ll probably find helpful. I suggest you start here: https://bearfoottheory.com/backpacking-101/ Let us know where you go and if you have any questions!

  14. On my must pack list is a brightly colored bandana or two. So many uses; shade, neck warmer/cooler, dishrag, splint maker, wash rag, hunter safety gear (thus, brightly colored), and on and on. Thanks for great list, Kristen!

  15. My thoughts, exactly…Black Diamond everything! If I’m going to spend $1000, might as well be in a hotel. There are countless other, just as good, options out there. Off-Brand does not always mean that you are compromising durability and/or performance. Do yourself a favor and think logically–don’t always believe sites like this. Some great info in here, I’ll agree, but focus on being “prepared,” and not showing off at the trailhead as you unload from your Volvo.

  16. Thanks for this list, I’m planning out my first backpacking trip for myself and my husband and struggling to find a minimalist approach! I don’t want to pack everything and the kitchen sink but every blog seems to have twenty million things that are unnecessary. I’m looking forward to following your list! Any tips on seating? My husband is struggling with not being able to pack his giant camping chair.

    1. Hi Claire – we know what you mean! Taking only what you need to be safe and comfortable will help you have a better experience. If you’re suffering under the weight of your pack it’s hard to have a good time. The Helinox Chair Zero in the blog post below is a good option. It’s super lightweight and packs down small making it great for backpacking. The REI Trail Chair in the same blog post is a good option as well if you don’t mind sitting on the ground. Another option is a lightweight, folding stool (just search “camp stool” online and you should be able to find a few options). Happy hiking!

      https://bearfoottheory.com/best-camp-chairs/

  17. What is your total weight including pack for 3 days?
    Also check out Lume deodorant on line. Some folks can go 72 hours with out stink. Safe for any body part. And no I don’t work for Lume, just having great results.

    1. It varies depending on a few factors including the weather (how much warmth, rain gear, and shelter we have to pack for example) and whether a bear canister is needed which adds a little weight as well. I’d say our standard pack weight is anywhere from 15-30 lbs depending on how lightweight we’re going. And thanks for that deodorant recommendation!

  18. Hi, thanks for taking the time to write these articles and share them, much appreciated. I have shared them on my own webpage/blog with my own followers as well – spreading the love.

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