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Packing List - Hiking

Feb 26, 2019

One thing that makes any hike easier is knowing what to take. Having enough gear will get you through some tough situations, but having too much gear on your back makes the hike harder at all times. You can camp comfortably, or you can hike comfortably. It's hard to do both.

A lot of emphasis is, somewhat rightly, put on pack weight. A lighter pack is easier to carry, both due to less effort needed to push the weight up a hill, and also due to less stress on your back, knees, feet, etc. Half the time, when someone’s feet are getting killed by the trail, they don’t need new shoes. They need a lighter pack!

While having the most high-tech ultralight gear is nice, reducing the number of things you bring will have an even greater effect than reducing the weight of each item. On top of the weight savings, less stuff also means less volume, saving you space in your pack and making it easier to pack up in the morning or to find things in your pack during the day. You might even be able to switch to a smaller pack, saving you even more weight.

Every hike and every hiker are different, but here’s a good starting point.

 

“Big Three”

Warm, dry conditions

  • 40 F sleeping bag/quilt
  • Inflatable or foam sleeping pad
  • 1-person tent
  • 50 L backpack

Cold, wet conditions

  • 30 F sleeping bag/quilt
  • Sleeping bag liner
  • Inflatable sleeping pad
  • 1-person tent
  • 60 L backpack

While it typically consists of more than three items, the “Big Three” refers to your pack, shelter, and sleeping system. Nearly half the weight of your pack will come from these few items. If you’re interested in saving weight, this is where to splurge on ultralight gear.

Even some warm, dry areas can get down to nearly freezing at night, but a 40 F bag will be warm enough at least 90% of the time, and it’ll weigh less than a warmer bag 100% of the time. There will probably be only a few nights that you’ll wish you had a warmer bag, and there’s no law against wearing all the clothes you have while inside your sleeping bag.

If you're going hiking somewhere cold and wet (like the Appalachian Trail), we recommend a slightly warmer bag, plus a sleeping bag liner, which will add roughly another 10 F to your sleeping bag. A bag that's 10 degrees warmer will add less weight than a liner, but the ability to layer your sleep system is well worth an extra ounce or two. After all, it’s not going to be below freezing every night. Also, even the warmest sleeping bag won’t keep you warm while you’re taking down your tent in the morning. Instead of sleeping in a thicker bag, sleep in thicker clothes, because they keep working even after you get out of the bag.

We at PackJournal like inflatable pads, due to the added warmth and the much smaller size when deflated, but foam pads have their advantages. If you’re on a budget, or you’re worried about springing a leak, you might prefer a foam pad. Foam also makes for a good butt pad when sitting down to take a break during the day. In cold conditions, the added warmth of an inflatable pad is almost a necessity.

We like tents over hammocks since they can be used even when there’s not a tree around. For hikes in warm/dry areas, you might consider using the fly and footprint only, leaving the body of the tent at home. This will usually cut the weight of the tent in half, at the expense of letting in cold air and/or bugs at night.

If you stick to this packing list, 50 L should be enough for warm conditions, unless you plan to routinely go five or more days without resupplying. A larger pack not only weighs more on its own, but also encourages you to pack more than you need, since you have a lot of extra room. If you’re hiking somewhere cold and wet, you’ll probably need the extra space in a 60 L pack to hold the extra layer of clothing and sleeping insulation.

 

Clothing

Warm, dry conditions

  • Short-sleeve running shirt
  • Long-sleeve “warm” shirt (wool or something)
  • Waterproof/breathable jacket
  • Hiking/athletic shorts
  • 2 pair athletic underwear
  • 2 pair hiking/athletic socks
  • Trail running shoes
  • Bandana
  • Sunglasses

Cold, wet conditions

  • Short-sleeve running shirt
  • Fleece/down pullover
  • Waterproof/breathable jacket
  • Hiking/athletic shorts
  • 3/4 length rain pants
  • Tights
  • 2 pair athletic underwear
  • 2 pair hiking/athletic socks
  • Trail running shoes
  • Beanie
  • Water-resistant gloves/mittens
  • Bandana
  • Sunglasses

This may not seem like enough clothing to some (no full-length pants?), but for staying warm, you have a secret weapon: hiking. As long as you’re moving, you’ll feel a lot warmer. Since your legs are doing most of the work, they’ll almost never feel cold.

Two pairs each of socks and underwear are enough, provided you rinse ‘n wring the pair you’re not wearing, daily.

Some folks still prefer hiking shoes/boots, but a sturdy pair of trail runners will give you almost as much support, more flexibility, more breathability, and they’re much lighter in weight. If you want extra support, try using supportive insoles. Best of all, you can carry the stock insoles in your pack and swap them out when you finish hiking for the day. Switching from stiffer, supportive insoles to flexible, cushioned ones makes it feel like you put on a whole new pair of shoes.

If you don’t want cataracts by the time you’re 50, bring sunglasses. Preferably polarized.

A bandana has many uses, as a headscarf, head band, neck warmer, handkerchief, towel, dish pad, bandage, the list goes on. They’re cheap, weigh next-to-nothing, and take up almost no space. Bring one.

 

Food/water

  • Spoon/spork
  • Plasticware bowl with screw-top lid
  • Odor-proof bag/canister
  • 1 L water bottle(s)
  • Squeeze water filter

A spoon is usually all the silverware you need; you’re not going to be eating fork-and-knife food on the trail.

A plasticware bowl with a leakproof screw-top lid is invaluable. Almost everything you eat on the trail is either finger food or best eaten in a bowl. Being able to seal your bowl for hours at a time allows you to prepare food by cold soaking, and in a pinch, your bowl can serve as a backup water container.

If you need to carry a lot of water, nothing beats a large bladder in terms of capacity vs. weight of container. That said, bladders are unwieldy and have the possibility of tearing (we’ve seen it happen). If your bladder tears in the wrong place at the wrong time, that could be life-threatening. Instead, we recommend carrying plastic 1 L bottles, as many as you need. Bottles made from other materials are much heavier, more expensive, and aren’t appreciably more durable (plastic bottles are as durable as necessary). Leftover disposable bottles are nearly as good as name brand bottles, and they’re both lighter and a lot cheaper (essentially free). Make sure to bring at least one bottle that easily fits under a bathroom tap and at least one bottle with a wide mouth.

We could write a whole article on water treatment, but for now, we'll simply say squeeze filters are one of lightest, cheapest, and most reliable solutions. There's a reason they're overwhelmingly the most popular choice on the trail.

Except during mealtime, all of your food, and everything that might smell like food (like toothpaste), should be kept in some kind of odor-proof container. If you’re in bear country, you may want to carry a bear canister (in some places, this is required by law). All of your food should be inside its own sealable container (a freezer bag will do), and all of those should go inside the odor-proof container. An odor-free camp is a critter-free camp.

We at PackJournal are big fans of going stoveless. It’s not so much the stove we mind carrying, it’s the fuel. Stay tuned for an article on good eating without a stove.

 

Toiletries

  • Toothbrush
  • Toothpaste
  • Unscented camp soap
  • Loofa
  • Sunscreen
  • Lip balm

Obviously, if you need more than what’s listed here (like medication), bring it.

Camp soap, if you’re not familiar, refers to all-purpose liquid soap that can be used for nearly anything: body wash, shampoo, laundry detergent, dish soap, etc. In a pinch, it can even be used as toothpaste (a travel-size tube of toothpaste is worth it). It’s best to get unscented camp soap if you don’t want critters invading your campsite. Most camp soaps are eco-friendly, so you don’t even have to worry about spilling it on the ground or in a stream.

A loofa may seem like a greenhorn thing to bring along, until you consider its many uses. When you can’t take a proper shower, scrubbing off in a stream, even without soap, will get you impressively clean. A loofa can also be used to scrub almost anything else: dishes, stained clothes, sap on your pack, and so on. As long as you’re OK scrubbing yourself with something that’s not 100% clean (and when you’re hiking, what is?), a loofa works wonders. And they’re light, cheap, and scrunch down to take up almost no space.

 

Electronics

  • Smartphone
  • Phone case
  • Power bank
  • Charging cable

With their many uses in a small package, you’d think smartphones were designed with hiking in mind. Anything more than a smartphone, like a tablet or e-reader, is a luxury item.

Keeping your smartphone charged can be difficult, but if you keep your phone in airplane mode most of the time, it should last 3-4 days on a full charge. A reasonably-sized power bank, about the size of a deck of cards and weighing about half a pound, should be able to charge your phone about three times. That means you can go about 10 days between charges, by which time you’ll almost certainly visit a town for one reason or another and get the opportunity to recharge.

Solar panels work, but not as well as one might hope. Under ideal conditions, a solar panel the size of a magazine will provide roughly one full phone charge per day. If it’s cloudy or you’re hiking in the shade most of the time, your solar charger may not keep up with your use. A power bank weighs about the same and works more predictably.

 

Miscellaneous

  • Pocketknife
  • Wallet
  • Trekking poles
  • Cigarette lighter
  • Paper maps and compass
  • Book
  • Trowel
  • Freezer bags

The usefulness of a pocketknife is hard to understate. That said, a cheapo pocketknife with only 1-2 features will likely be enough for a thru-hike. There’s simply not much need for tools out in the woods.

Trekking poles not only help you stay more stable on tricky spots like rock gardens or stream crossings, but they take about 10% of the weight off your feet. At the end of a long day, that makes a big difference.

Go to an outdoors store and you might find many different fire-starting kits. If you find one that’s cheaper, lighter, smaller, and more reliable than a cigarette lighter, buy it. Until then, bring a cigarette lighter. You probably won’t need to start a fire, but it’s good to have in case of emergency.

Depending on where you’re going, as well as how much you like to rely on your phone, you may or may not need paper maps or a compass. One advantage paper maps have over phone apps is the much larger screen, as well as unlimited battery life.

A book is a luxury item, but for less than a pound, you have entertainment every evening for a month, possibly more. Like paper maps, they have an unlimited battery life.

In the interest of “Leave no trace,” bring a trowel. Don’t be that guy. In addition to helping you keep the wilderness pristine, many trowels double as a backup tent stake, which you should probably bring anyway. In the end, it’s virtually no additional weight.

Freezer bags are the best way of keeping your gear separate, organized, and in case of rain, dry. Bring lots of these and use them to store everything.

 

Conclusion

If you stick to this list, you should end up with a skin-out base weight of 9-10 kg (20-22 lbs), depending on the weight of the individual items you have. Considering this includes things that won’t go in your pack (like shoes and trekking poles), your pack should be light enough.

Ultralight hiking usually involves giving up something most people would consider a necessity. For example, using a tarp or bivy instead of a tent, using a backpack and/or unworn clothing as a sleeping pad, or carrying only one pair each of socks and underwear. There are certainly advantages to ultralight hiking, but this list is meant as a reasonably light setup that should work for most people.

When it comes to packing, some of the most valuable information is knowing what luxuries you can do without, which things you especially appreciate, and what discomforts you’re willing to put up with. Our best suggestion is to start with this list as a guideline, then go try it out! If you find there are certain things you missed, bring ‘em. If there’s something you barely used, ditch it. Afterward, you can pare down your packing list to include all the things that make a difference and none of the things that don’t.

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