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Plan a Backpacking Trip: 8 Essentials to Lighten Your Load

Young female backpacker hikes down dirt trail in evergreen forest surrounded by high, snowless, mountain peaks

Photo by Shreya Swaika


Find a dispersed campsite near National Park land. Learn a new camping recipe, or get tips to enhance your thruhiking. Be among the first to get exclusive stories, trail reports and more from our growing team of experienced campers, backpackers, thru hikers, and fellow adventure lovers.


Thinking about backpacking, but not sure what you need to bring with you?

It can be a little intimidating at first to compile all the items required for a successful backpacking trip. There are a million different things one can pack, depending on preferences and suitability.

But there will always be those few specific items that one simply cannot depart without- keep in mind that these are only essentials. Since each of us is unique and has varying needs, you may want to add a few more items for your comfort, as you know yourself best.

Here at Pathloom, we have compiled a list of the eight most essential items you will need for your next backpacking trip.


A topographic map and a compass will be very useful when venturing into the backcountry. Knowing how to map read and use a compass is of course important, as the last thing you want is to be lost and not know how to use your navigation tools! An altimeter will enhance the accuracy of this information as you can compare your elevation to the information on the map. Remember to store your map in a waterproof case!

A good alternative to this is a GPS, as it will give you accurate information on your location, and help you navigate with pre-loaded maps. Most outdoor GPSs are designed to be water-resistant and rugged.

Another option is using an app such as Pathloom’s (upcoming) to track and navigate directly from your mobile device. Lastly, you could consider bringing an SOS device. The only time it is acceptable to not have at least one of the above items is if you are doing a very short and obvious backpacking route, on a trail which is very well maintained with constant and clear signage.


To ensure that you will have the energy to get through your backpacking trip, you will need to carry adequate food to last for the entire duration of your trip, plus an extra day. Planning for the unknown is key when entering the backcountry, and it is crucial to have extra food in case external factors such as unforeseen weather or injury forces you to extend your stay.

The extra food should be something that does not need to be cooked, such as protein bars, trail mix, or jerky (vegan jerky options are available).


Always carry at least 1L of drinkable water with you, even if it is a short hike-in. It is important to always be prepared in case plans change. When heading out into the backcountry, a means to filter water is necessary. Water filters, water purification tablets or droplets work well and provide a great backup in times of need.


Since you are embarking on a multi-day adventure, you will need a shelter in which to sleep every night. This can be anything from a tent to a bivy. There are many combinations and options available to you in this regard - depending on the climate, you can opt to take just a sleeping bag and a pre-made emergency bivy, or a tent and sleeping bag.

The decision to carry a sleeping bag and mat is entirely dependent on the weight that you are willing to carry, and the nighttime temperatures you expect.


Having a way to see where you are going around the campsite after the sun sets is essential, as the last thing you want is to have an injury because you could not see! It is also good to have a means of illumination in case you are forced to hike longer than expected, and you encounter darkness.

The most efficient and handy tool is a headlamp. It allows you to free up your hands to perform other tasks while illuminating the way ahead. Each group member should have an individual headlamp, along with spare batteries, or a rechargeable variant.


Carrying extra layers is a blessing in disguise! It can be shocking how quickly temperatures drop with the sun setting or a sudden onset of inclement weather. This is especially important if you are gaining elevation, as the temperatures drop the higher up you go.

The most essential item that should be in your backpack every trip is a rain and wind-proof, light but breathable jacket. In addition, depending on the climate in which your trip is taking place, consider packing a fleece or wool layer. Both these fabrics will provide insulation even when wet. When you combine the outer jacket with the inner insulator, it will keep you adequately warm.

If you are hiking in colder/alpine climates, it is always a good idea to have protection for your head and your hands, even in the summer. A light pair of gloves and a hat or broad headband will come in handy when you least expect it.

Remember that a backpacking trip means you will be exposed to the elements longer than on a usual hike, so being prepared for changing weather is essential.

Emergency Equipment

Heading into the wilderness requires emergency planning. Certain tools required for unexpected circumstances are an absolute must, and cannot be left behind on any trip, regardless of the location or climate.

First-aid kit – The size of the kit will depend on the size of the group and the level of risk being taken. It is vital, as it will be your only immediate option if there is an injury. It can be bought pre-packaged, or one can combine the required items and make their own. Bandages, antiseptic creams, gauze pads, blister it, painkillers, anti-inflammatory, and nitrile gloves should be included at a minimum.

Emergency fire-starter – In case the weather gets too cold or too wet, or you need a means of illumination or smoke, a fire-starting kit will be helpful. The aim here is to be able to start a fire even in wet conditions. This can be achieved through waterproof matches, a lighter, or a pre-packaged fire-starting kit.

Repair kit and tools – A repair kit containing duct tape, a knife (can range from a small knife to a hatchet), small scissors, needle and thread will be especially useful in case you get a rip in your tent, sleeping bag or backpack. This could be the thing that saves you from being soaked all night because your tent ripped and started letting water in!

Sun Protection

The best way to prevent an uncomfortable sunburn is to protect yourself before it even happens! Sunscreen, a hat, and sunglasses are invaluable tools and should be used even on days that do not seem obviously sunny. The risk increases as more elevation is gained, so always be prepared with sunscreen at a minimum.

Two tents, from brands Nemo and REI, set up in clearing of evergreen forest directly off a hiking trail surrounded by jagged granite mountains

Photo by Shreya Swaika

Now that you know the bare minimum you need for a successful backpacking trip, you can build on this list and add other items that will enhance your experience and best suit your needs. As mentioned above, there are many variants to the things one can carry, and each of those options come with different weights and specifications. What you decide to bring with you will be dependent on how much you want to carry, and how far you plan to go, and as long as you have the essentials, you will be well prepared for the outdoors.


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