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.
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.
Read Next: The Best Backpacking Packs for Women
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.
Read Next: The Best Backpacking Tents
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.
Read Next: The Best Sleeping Pads for Backpacking
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.
Read Next: The Best Sleeping Bags for Backpacking
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.
Read Next: The Best Trekking Poles
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!).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Read Next: The Best Backpacking Water Filters
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Read Next: The Best Lightweight Down Jackets
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.
Read Next for more budget-friendly picks: The Best Rain Jackets for Women
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.
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.
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.
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.
Sports bras are my go-to even when I’m not hiking, and these days I’m personally loving the 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.
Read Next: The Best Women’s Hiking Underwear
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.
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.
Read Next: The Best Women’s Hiking Boots
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.
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.
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.