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Spoon? Headlamp? Don't forget key items when packing for an overnight hike.

The ultimate backpacking checklist

Any hiking trip will have its own particular challenges, so read up on the conditions before you go and adjust your packing list accordingly. If the trail is muddy, gaiters might be backpacking essentials. If you need to cross big snow patches, bring a lightweight ice axe. And if you’re going to cook in super-buggy conditions, a bug hat might become your favourite thing of all time.

The 11 essentials for backpacking

  1. Navigation

  2. Nutrition

  3. Hydration

  4. Sun protection

  5. Insulation

  6. Illumination

  7. First-aid supplies

  8. Fire starter

  9. Repair kit and tools

  10. Emergency shelter

  11. Communication device

Wondering what else you need for a hiking trip? Use the backpacking checklist below when planning an overnight hike or tackling a multi-day adventure on an established route.

Camp and kitchen gear

The best ingredients to enjoy a weekend in the wild? A good night’s sleep and tasty meals (plus plenty of snacks). If you’re building up your backpacking kit, think about quality: the gear you buy now can last for ages if it’s designed to last. Better quality also means a more comfortable experience – a good sleeping bag will keep you cozy without cold spots, a durable tent will keep you dry in case of rain, and nice camp kitchen gear helps you make five-star dinners in the forest.

Safety essentials

Part of the joy of backpacking is escaping from the usual routine of home, but it also means you’ll need to be prepared for the unexpected. Be sure you bring a first aid kit to be ready to deal with things like cuts, scrapes or bug bites. While you’re at it, check out a first aid course to get a full understanding of how to look after your crew when you’re far from home – it’s helpful and empowering to learn. Other safety essentials? Maps, a compass and GPS to make sure you stay on track, as well as a compass and headlamp. Always make sure to leave a trip plan with a trusted friend too.

Clothing (warm conditions)

Prepping for hot weather should be taken just as seriously as prepping for the cold. Heat exhaustion is a very real thing, so keep an eye on the conditions and adjust your plans accordingly. Sweat-wicking and breathable clothes keep moisture moving off your body so it can evaporate, and sunglasses and a hat with a sizeable brim keep harsh rays away from your eyes.

Additional clothing (cool or wet conditions)

Make sure to pack enough layers for the conditions. Check the forecast and keep in mind that weather can change quickly, especially in mountain environments. To help you plan, learn how to properly choose mid-layers and base layers to build a great layering system. Insulating layers made of fleece, wool, down or synthetic materials pack down small and keep you warm. Rain is often a possibility, so make sure to bring waterproof shells to keep you nice and dry. Don’t have a waterproof outer layer? Learn how to choose a rain jacket.

Personal items and additions

As you’re packing, think about the things at home that are part of your morning and nightly routine, whether it’s the specific stuff you use to wash your face and brush your teeth, or things you can’t sleep without (like earplugs). Careful not to overpack though – a heavy pack will slow you down. Once you’ve covered the absolute essentials, you can see if there’s a little room for fun additions like binoculars, a deck of cards, or a novel to pass time in the tent.

Before you leave for the trailhead, always remember to check weather forecasts, tell someone about your trip plans and when you expect to be back, and stash a copy of your trip plan in the car at the trailhead.