This article is for all those who would like to know what to bring on their next hiking trip and how to pack their gear efficiently so that they could travel light and enjoy their hiking or camping trip more. Here you will find a backpacking packing list of the most important items you will need for a multi-day hiking trip so you can purchase your gear before you set off on your backpacking adventure. To enhance clarity, we have divided the hiking packing list into two sections: essentials and additional items that are typically needed for multi-day hikes in the backcountry.
Packing for a multi-day hiking trip brings many more problems and concerns than preparing for a day hike. The right equipment can make the difference between a trip you want to repeat and a nightmare. In extreme circumstances, the inadequate gear could even be life-threatening.
Three major factors govern the choice of gear: performance, durability, and weight. You need to pick your gear carefully and pack it efficiently, as the weight of your load directly impacts your hiking experience. Heavier loads require more frequent rest breaks, slow down your pace, and increase the likelihood of stopping to set up camp earlier. As a rule, the lighter your pack, the more comfortable you’ll feel on the trail.
Before jumping to the hiking packing list with all the essential gear, let’s first discuss some basic principles. They’re about planning and organizing your trip and the content of your backpack:
- Plan and organize your hike carefully – it takes time and energy to plan a multi-day hike, however, the planning phase plays a crucial role in determining the overall outcome of your hike.
- Avoid excess weight and travel as lightly as possible. However, don’t go too far unless you are stoic enough to endure minimum comfort at camp, especially during unfavorable weather conditions.
- There are huge price ranges – especially in clothing, where high prices often just mean the latest style, color, or fabric rather than better performance. The simplest, lightest designs – not the most expensive – are often best.
- Don’t forget to inform someone about your destination and the route you plan to take.
Table of Contents
Before packing a hiking backpack, plan carefully the contents of your pack. Consider several factors, including:
- The duration of your trip
- The expected weather conditions
- The specific features of the terrain
- The potential hazards along the trail
- Your individual needs and preferences
You will need a good multi-day hiking backpack equipped with a rain cover. For longer trips, or when carrying additional gear, a spacious internal-frame pack is ideal for comfortably accommodating heavier loads. While there are a lot of good options available, we highly recommend the Osprey Atmos AG 65 (depicted in the image above). It’s a wonderful backpack that won’t disappoint you during multiple-day trips in the backcountry. If you prefer a smaller and lighter pack or don’t require the capacity of a 65L backpack, we suggest exploring alternatives like the Osprey Kestrel. It offers great comfort and can comfortably store all the essential hiking gear needed for 3-day backpacking trips, including a 3L reservoir.
A day pack is also an option and although lighter, it is highly improbable that it will be as comfortable as a framed pack. Lighter gear and efficient packing are critical to having a more comfortable experience on the trail so it’s worth thinking about investing in some lighter equipment. We recommend the Osprey Ultralight Stuff Pack because it’s a compact lightweight backpack that’s also waterproof. This foldable backpack packs down into its own carrying case so you could pack it away and tuck it into your pocket when not using it.
Pack liner and dry sacks (sleep bag sack, food sack, clothing sack, ditty sack) will keep your stuff dry when backpacking in the rain.
Hiking shoes and boots
You will need appropriate and comfortable hiking footwear. When choosing hiking shoes or boots, there are several key factors to consider. They should fit well, provide protection for your feet, offer good traction, and be durable, lightweight, and breathable. It’s important to note that sometimes you may need to prioritize stability over speed or durability over comfort, depending on your specific needs.
Many hikers opt for trail-running shoes or hiking shoes because they’re light, breathable, and don’t need to be broken in. Additionally, these types of shoes tend to dry faster than standard hiking boots. We recommend considering all-terrain shoes that are lightweight, breathable, and comfortable, such as the La Sportiva Ultra Raptor or Salomon Speedcross. Merrell is also a good option. Renowned for their versatile and reliable hiking shoes, Merrell offers classic options like the Merrell Moab 3 that are highly regarded by numerous outdoor enthusiasts.
|La Sportiva Ultra Raptor II are functional, reliable, and versatile trail-running shoes designed to perform well on off-road terrain. These lightweight trail runners provide fantastic grip and traction even on wet rocks and roots thanks to the FriXion White outsoles offering maximum protection and stability. Highly breathable, quick-drying, and comfortable, these all-terrain shoes are perfect for backpacking, thru-hiking, and long-distance mountain running.|
Hiking sandals are a popular choice among many hikers, not just for low-intensity summer trips, but also for three-season conditions. These versatile footwear options are particularly well-suited for well-maintained trails, stream crossings, and warm weather. Hiking sandals offer the benefits of multifunctionality, providing instant comfort and exceptional breathability right from the start. KEEN Newport H2 are functional and stylish rugged hiking sandals built to withstand extensive mileage while delivering reliable performance.
Wearing the right hiking footwear is very important as your choice of footwear is perhaps most critical when it comes to comfort and stability on uneven, slippery terrain. Whether you’re traversing muddy trails, bushwhacking through dense vegetation, or navigating rocky slopes, having excellent traction and balance is essential. Certain hiking boot models, like the Salomon Quest 4 GTX with their comfortable fit and stiff cuffs, offer enhanced support and stability, making them well-suited for off-trail hikes and rugged terrain. Another outstanding option is the Salomon X Ultra 4 Mid GTX boots, which excel in challenging terrain and changing weather conditions. Don’t get us wrong, traveling over difficult terrain is a skill that can be learned and mastered, but wearing the right footwear can make the whole experience less painful.
When hiking in cold conditions, it’s important to wear warm boots that provide the necessary stability and support. During winter, stiff-soled boots offer superior stability compared to soft-soled boots and shoes. While your foot may exert more effort in stiff-soled boots, they provide added ankle support and better balance. See our post about hiking footwear for more in-depth information about the different types of hiking footwear.
Backpacking clothes checklist
Wear layers of clothes to match the forecast and season. Avoid cotton except for backpacking in hot and dry climates. Cotton fiber and cotton clothes absorb a lot of moisture, cling to your body, and take a long time to dry. This increases the risk of hypothermia in cool-to-cold and windy weather. Instead, opt for natural materials like merino wool and synthetic fabrics such as polyester for base layers and mid-layers. When it comes to outer layers, man-made materials are preferred. If you’re unsure about what to wear on the trail, here’s a sample clothing guide for changing weather:
Socks (two pairs made of merino wool, synthetic fabrics or a blend of merino and man-made materials like polyester, nylon, and acrylic). Choose moisture-wicking socks that will keep your feet dry and reduce friction, minimizing the chances of developing hot spots and blisters. Some hikers also find sock liners beneficial as they further reduce friction, provide an extra layer of insulation, and help regulate temperature and moisture.
Merino socks are a great choice for hiking as they offer temperature regulation, keeping your feet warm in winter and cool in summer. On the other hand, synthetic materials have their advantages too. They are cheaper, more durable, wick moisture faster, and easy and fast to dry. Certain synthetic fibers like Thermolite and Hollofil provide excellent insulation for cold conditions, while others like COOLMAX are designed to transport moisture away from the body, keeping you cool and dry in warm weather (and can also provide insulation on colder days). If you are still unsure about which type or model of socks to choose, be sure to check out our comprehensive post on the best outdoor socks. There you will find plenty of info including a sock comparison table with the most important characteristics, pros, and cons of each pair of socks on our list to help you make an informed decision.
Base layer set and two pairs of polyester underpants as you need a moisture-wicking, quick-drying, and breathable first layer. This first layer should effectively pull moisture away from your body and transport it to the outer layer. The material, whether it’s merino wool or polyester, plays a significant role, but the design, fit, weight, and fabric density are equally important.
Merino wool base layers offer a soft and comfortable feel, along with antimicrobial properties that help prevent odors. Even when wet, merino wool retains some warmth. Smartwool is a reputable brand known for their high-quality all-merino wool base layers. If you prefer the benefits of merino wool and want a reliable base layer option, Smartwool is definitely worth considering. On the other hand, polyester base layers are more affordable and durable, but not very breathable, and retain odors. Additionally, they may not provide the same level of comfort when worn directly against the skin. When it comes to synthetic base layers, Helly Hansen’s LIFA base layers are highly regarded for their quality and affordability. They offer a great price-quality ratio compared to other options on the market.
Merino blend base layers, such as the Helly Hansen LIFA Merino Midweight, offer the best of both worlds with a combination of merino wool and man-made fibers. This unique blend provides superior thermoregulation, exceptional comfort, and enhanced durability. The merino wool component adds natural insulation and moisture-wicking properties, while the synthetic fibers contribute to increased durability and quick-drying capabilities. If you’re looking for a versatile base layer that can adapt to various cold weather conditions, we highly recommend considering a base layer like the Helly Hansen LIFA Merino Midweight.
Base layers: base layer top and base layer pant (from left to right)
For your hiking pants, there are a few options to consider based on your preferences and the weather conditions. Fleece-lined trousers or softshell hiking pants provide added warmth and comfort, while waterproof breathable pants keep you dry in wet conditions. If you’re looking for versatility and comfort in warm weather, nylon/polyester zip-offs or shorts (one of our favorites at the moment is the Free Soldier Cargo as they are functional, durable, and versatile shorts) are an excellent option, especially if you don’t like the idea of wearing hot-weather pants. Zip-off pants or shorts offer the flexibility to switch between pants and shorts based on your personal preference and the temperature. When the weather is warm, you can pair them with polyester T-shirts and shirts to stay cool and comfortable during your outdoor activities.
Your pants should keep you cool and dry from the inside and from the outside; they should be rugged, functional, comfortable, and as light as possible. The main materials used for quality hiking pants are polyester and nylon, although there are also blends that combine the best qualities of multiple fibers like poly-cotton, nylon/cotton, or wool/polyester.
For most climates and environments, we recommend reliable and well-crafted hiking pants like the Outdoor Research Ferrosi. These trousers are water-repellent, durable, and resistant to abrasions, making them suitable for various outdoor activities. In case of inclement weather, hardshell pants provide good protection. And for cold winter adventures, a pair of snow pants like the Columbia Bugaboo IV Snow will keep you warm and comfortable.
Three types of hiking pants: fleece-lined pants, rain pants, and convertible pants (from left to right)
Fleece top made either from polyester fleece or merino wool. Fleece fabric shares similar properties to wool, as it can trap still air between its fibers, providing extra insulation and warmth to the wearer. It is also known for being moisture-wicking, quick-drying, lightweight, durable, highly breathable, and retaining warmth even when wet. When choosing a fleece garment, opt for a close-fitting design without hoods or excessive pockets to minimize weight and maintain performance. The thickness of the fleece can vary depending on the weather conditions and personal preference. Lightweight fleeces are suitable for those who prefer traveling light, while midweight and heavyweight options offer better insulation in colder winter conditions.
Both full and half zip tops allow for temperature regulation and ventilation, which can be handy when backpacking in environments with changing temperatures.
Two types of fleece tops: half zip and full zip (from left to right)
Insulation jackets and/or rain jackets are expected to keep you dry and protected in various weather conditions. Windproof and waterproof breathable materials are quite popular. They are often touted as something they are not – fully waterproof and extremely breathable. Well… that’s nearly impossible as there is always a tradeoff between weight and functionality, as well as between thickness and breathability.
The main shell fabrics used for these jackets are polyester and nylon, which offer durability and weather resistance. The lining of these jackets can be made of down or man-made fabrics such as Primaloft, Thinsulate, and polyester fleece. These linings provide insulation and help retain warmth in cold conditions. Ponchos are a good alternative to rain jackets for milder climates and emergency situations as they offer good ventilation and provide sufficient protection from light rain and showers.
The left jacket in the image below is The North Face Clement Triclimate, which is an excellent insulation jacket with a great warmth-to-weight ratio. It’s specifically designed for snowy conditions and comes with numerous useful features. On the right side of the image, you’ll find the Outdoor Research Foray II, a highly recommended rain jacket made with GORE-TEX PACLITE material. This jacket offers full protection against wind and water.
If you’re seeking a versatile option that performs well in both windy and rainy conditions, while also being stylish and comfortable for everyday wear, take a look at the Helly Hansen Seven J Outdoor Rain jacket. It comes at an affordable price point. For those on a tighter budget, we believe that the REI Co-op Traimade is one of the best options available.
Two types of jackets: insulation jacket and rain jacket (from left to right)
Don’t forget to pack a sun hat, a warm beanie, and reliable gloves suitable for the season and expected weather conditions. If you’re planning a mountain hike or facing colder temperatures, it’s a good idea to have a pair of lighter gloves for added dexterity and a pair of shell gloves for extra protection.
If you’re interested in learning more about the various types of headgear available, we have a fantastic article that covers different models, designs, and materials, featuring over 20 different types of headwear. It’s definitely worth checking out!
It’s worth reminding you that if you have more clothes, you can always take off some of them in case it becomes too hot. However, you can’t put on layers that you didn’t bring along.
Apart from your backpack, footwear, and clothing, there are other essential items you’ll need for your multi-day hike.
What to bring backpacking – essential hiking gear
If you are a seasoned backpacker, you probably have enough experience to know what to bring on a hiking trip in different environments and conditions. But if you don’t have so much experience, the following hiking packing list is aimed at giving you some insight about what to bring on your next multi-day hike.
Osprey Atmos AG 65
-> AG system, 3D back panel with mesh
-> Available in a range of sizes
Osprey Ultralight Stuff Pack
-> Durable ripstop nylon
-> Compact, foldable, and lightweight
Kelty Cosmic Down 20
-> Fairly lightweight and warm; 550 down fill
-> Comfort at 0°C or 32°F
Klymit Insulated Static V
-> 4-season sleeping pad with R-value of 4.4
-> Lightweight, comfortable, and packs small
REI Co-op Half Dome SL 2+
-> Extra room with lightweight packability
-> Strong with solid construction
MSR Quick 2 System
-> Lightweight two-person backpacking cookset
-> Functional and easy to store
GRAYL Geopress 24 Water Purifier
-> Sturdy and well-made purifier provides
safe and clean water
-> Easy to use and clean
REI Co-op Traverse
-> Light, sturdy, and easy to adjust
-> Comfortable natural cork grip
USGI Waterproof Poncho
-> Durable military style rain gear can be used as
poncho, tarp or shelter tent
-> Made of 100% ripstop polyester
EVERLIT Emergency Trauma Kit
-> Portable survival emergency kit
-> Well-packaged, contains and helpful inclusions
-> High-quality and robust mirror compass
-> Compact, functional, and accurate; glows in the dark
-> Lightweight frame; comfortable to wear
-> Provide better protection against impact and UV
Petzl Swift RL
-> High-performance 900 Lumens headlamp
-> Lightweight and compact; reflective headband
SABRE Frontiersman Bear Spray
-> For maximum range and protection in bear country
-> Effective against other animals too
-> Waterproof and compact
-> Shockproof and crushproof
#1 Sleeping bag (We recommend the Kelty Cosmic Down 20)
Select one according to the season, weather conditions, and temperatures. It’s among the most important tools that will keep you warm at camp at night together with your sleeping pad and shelter.