Categories: CampingGuides & hacks

Just Roughin’ It’s Guide to Backpacking

Whenever you are backpacking, the fun begins when prepping for your big adventure. Your days up to the trip are filled with research, such as how to pack for backpacking or what kind of gear to purchase. Whether you are as excited about packing, we’ve put together the ultimate packing list for your next backpacking trip. This will inspire you to make the most of your limited backpacking space.


Madison Kotack at Desert Mountain Majesty

Perhaps the most important item in your backpacking kit is shelter. If you want to pack super light and you will be in mild weather conditions, go with a hammock and mosquito net set-up. This allows you to sleep off the ground, while protecting you from flying bugs and falling debris, such as twigs, during the night. If you need more wind and weather protection, you’ll want to pack a full-on tent. Waterproof, wind resistant, lightweight, and easy to set up—those are the factors you are looking for in a tent.

You’ll also need something to snuggle up and stay warm in. Consider the weight of a sleeping bag based on the weather conditions, as you want to stay warm without sweating to death. This is vital if you want to rest and rejuvenate while backpacking. For rocky trails opt for a sleeping pad, which should be ultralight and easy to compress.

Water for Days

Wherever you backpack to, the first thing you need to source is a regular supply of drinkable, portable water. There are two main options for getting clean water on the trail. One, water purification tablets, like iodine. Two, invest in a water filtration system. These bottles let you pour any water in, filtering it inside the bottle for instantly clean drinking water. Just make sure to check the number of uses per filter and consider packing an extra filter in case the first one fails you. The last thing you want is tummy trouble on a trail!

Food for Backpacking

You’ll be burning a ton more calories when backpacking compared to your normal routine, so you need to stock up. But how do you pack enough food in your pack without being overburdened?

The key is to select only foods that are shelf stable, or reconstituted on a camp stove, and nutritionally dense. You won’t want to pack junk or difficult to prepare meal options. Make sure to plan your meals for each day you will be out in the wilderness. Also include at least three extra days of food just in case you get lost or something goes array with some of your meals.

Start with ready-to-eat meal kits that don’t require any cooking. To reduce weight in your pack, think about packing ready-to-eat meal kits that don’t require any cooking. One of our favorites for ultra-light meals is the Green Belly Meal 2Go kit that offers 33 percent of your macros in a single bar that looks like granola. Three of these a day and you get 1,950 calories and all your daily nutritional needs. Plus, you don’t have to pack along a cook stove, if you are truly going ultralight as a backpacker.

Another good lightweight option that is packed with nutrition is dehydrated food meals that you can make using warm water. These are lightweight and nutritionally dense, if you want to make a warm meal using hot water at your campfire.

Light the fire

Speaking of cooking, you want to have several fire sources in your pack, these include:

  • Waterproof, stormproof matches
  • Windproof lighters
  • Flint or strike igniter
  • Fire starter material

Photo by Meagan Leake at Glacier Mountain Camp, CO

Navigate On Point

Alas, the last thing you want to do when backpacking is get lost. That’s never fun! Thanks to modern technology you have access to several mapping options. Start with a good old paper map, preferably laminated so it doesn’t rip or get waterlogged. No matter what or where you are, get a map—trust us on this one. Even with GPS you may be in an area without service or updated mapping, which would leave you in a bad place backpacking-wise.

Get a local map of the specific areas you’ll be traveling through, but also pick up a map of the larger geographical area in case you get off the grid. You should also pick up a handheld GPS device or wristwatch with GPS capabilities. Just consider how you will keep the charge going on this device.

Power Up

While we like to go backpacking to disconnect, it doesn’t hurt to have some ways to stay connected. From taking photos and using a portable LED light to keeping in contact for emergencies, you need a power source. Enter the world of portable battery packs. Weighing in at about the size of a smartphone, you can pick up a battery charger that has USB ports allowing you to charge up multiple devices at once. Alternatively, take control of the sun’s rays with a solar charger. Working with the same concept as a battery charger that requires an electrical source for charging up, a solar powered battery pack works on solar energy alone.

Commit to Cleanliness

Brittany Stepp at Kickapoo Camping, OH

Start with a lightweight, portable shower head that can convert any plastic water bottle into a rain-esque washing experience. These portable setups include a straw-like tubing that affixes to a screw-on shower head made of lightweight plastic. Add your own water bottle and some biodegradable soap, and voila! Best of all, the shower doubles as a washing station for dishes, hands, and whatever else needs a drenching rinse. Also pack in some wipes along with small trash bags to carry your dirty wipes out.


Long gone are the days when lighting for backpackers included super heavy, battery-filled flashlights. Fortunately, you can leave those D batteries at home! Thanks to LED technology and USB ports you can invest in lightweight portable lighting that runs off your portable battery or solar powered chargers. Fold up lanterns and rope lights offer plenty of lighting without weighing you down.

Sun Protection

While lighting is a necessity, you can overdo it when it comes to the natural light of the sun. While you’re out hiking it is important to remember to protect your eyes. UV radiation can cause serious vision damage including photokinesis, which are sunburned eyes, along with sun burns and sun poisoning. Choose to protect your eyes and skin with these sun protectors:

  • UV blocking clothing
  • Spray-on sunblock so you don’t have to take the extra step of washing your hands as required with rub-on sunblock
  • UV blocking sun hat
  • If you are staying on a high-altitude trail consider packing a lightweight sun blocking tarp for a shelter situation. Using an UV blocking tarp-type material you can pop up a pup tent and shelter during the hottest hours of the day.

First Aid

Whether you are concerned with UV radiation, you have a traumatic injury, or you are simply feeling under the weather, first aid is fantastic. This is one aspect of packing where you want to be thorough. At the same time, only pack as many items for first aid as is necessary for the time frame and environment you’ll be backpacking in.

For example, for a weekend adventure you won’t need a supply of 30 bandages and pain medication for a week. Cut out the bulk and take only as much as you would use in the worst-case scenario. You can purchase a pre-packed first aid kit or build your own using:

  • Pain medication, i.e., ibuprofen and acetaminophen
  • Medication for nausea, indigestion, and diarrhea
  • Moleskin patches pre-cut in various sizes to protect skin from blisters
  • GlacierGel to protect blistering or burned skin
  • A variety of bandages and gauze pads
  • Skin glue for sealing minor cuts and stitching skin together
  • Antiseptic and anesthetic wipes
  • Antibiotic ointment
  • Powered rehydration mix
  • Pointed tweezers for tick and splinters removal

You may also want to add items to your kit based on your backpacking situation, such as some medical supplies for a pet if you have any four-legged friends.

Additions and Add-Ons

Depending on your travel destination, the weather conditions forecasted, the season, and your interests for backpacking, you’ll likely want to supplement the items on this list. That’s okay! Just use this list as a basis for building your best backpacking kit. Every backpacker is as unique as the backpacking journeys, so remember to pack accordingly.

Cover image by Lisse Lundin at Chanslor Ranch.

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