Backpacking Essentials: The gear you need for a successful adventure

Trying to figure out what to bring on a backpacking trip is daunting. There are so many backpacking essentials you need. Plus, balancing keeping your pack light and having the affordable and appropriate backpacking gear for a safe and rewarding trip can be a tug of war.

Inside my backpacking essentials article it’s designed to help make this less daunting and get you closer to time spent in the mountains.

Below, we’ll talk about my favorite backpacking essentials you should bring on your trip. For one, think practically and don’t use a trip as a fashion statement. Even though it is more expensive, you should bring as much wool and moisture-wicking material as possible and leave the cotton products at home. This will leave you cool and dry versus feeling like you’re walking around in Florida.

I’ve included as many backpacking tips for beginners inside as I can!

If you missed what backpacks to use, look here when you have finished reading.

Backpacking Essentials for an Amazing Adventure

what to bring on a backpacking trip essentials
quality gear always | What to bring on a backpacking trip

The Complete Backpacking Packing List

Backpacking Essentials – Clothes

As you pack, it’s essential to layer appropriately on your trek. Without getting too into the weeds, this means having a baselayer, fleece, or mid layer, a warm insulating outer layer (down jacket), and in the case of inclement weather, a protection layer (think rain jacket).

Sometimes, your mid-layer could be your insulating layer, depending on the conditions. My biggest backpacking tip for beginners is to invest in wool clothes. They last years and you won’t regret it!

So let’s dive into these backpacking essentials:


Your regular day-to-day hiking shirts and long sleeves. I hike in wool or loose clothing for my backpacking gear, such as the REI long-sleeve that keeps the sun off me.

Hiking Pants and Shorts

I love Prana, and they’re my go-to hiking pants. The comfort, flexibility, and durability mean I can do various trek activities without worrying about ripping them.

Down Jackets

One of my backpacking essentials. A good down jacket that can keep you toasty in the 30s will exponentially increase your enjoyment of the journey.

Browse here.

Rain and Wind Jackets

If you’re hiking in the mountains, you must bring a rain jacket in case an out-of-the-blue storm appears and you need to take cover. Make sure it has Gore-Tex to keep you dry!

Backpacking Essentials – Footwear

Having the right backpacking camping gear and shoes is paramount on a backpacking trip. You’ll want sturdy and supportive but not overbearing. In addition, you need something that can hold up and be waterproof for multiple days.


I love my LOWA boots and think they’re a great brand. Merrell is also a fantastic brand with excellent results. These Altra’s are top-notch for the gals and provide a wide toe. Unless you’re buying the identical shoe, try them on beforehand.

Trail Runners/Low tops

I wear these on shorter trips or if my pack is light and I want to move fast. Something like these, Merrell’s or Danner, would work great.


This is where you want to go with wool and only wool. I particularly like Darn Tough. They’ve never given me any issues, and I highly recommend it.

Best Backpacking Tents

what to bring on a backpacking trip backpacking camping gear backpacking essentials
Getting a lightweight tent will save you | Backpacking tips for beginners

Regarding backpacking trip essentials, choosing a tent is high up there. It is what will keep you safe in poor weather and help you recover overnight. When choosing a tent, there are a few things to remember: Weight, Size, and Weather.

If money isn’t an object, you’ll want to get the lightest tent to shave pounds off. The second thing to consider is how big of a tent you will need. A one-person or two-person tent is fine if you plan to backpack solo. However, for two people, you may want to get a three-person.

The final backpacking gear consideration is what will be your adventure conditions? If you’re doing spring through fall, a standard tent is fine. However, I recommend a four-season tent if you plan to camp in the snow.

Backpacking must-haves: What to bring on a backpacking trip

Top Rated Tents:

Backpacking Gear Must-Haves – Sleeping Bags

This is a vastly important area that you shouldn’t skimp on. This is 1/2 of helping ensure you have a great night’s sleep. If you plan to backpack frequently and in areas that can get down to below freezing, I suggest a 15-degree bag to be safe.

Big Agnes Lost Ranger 3N1 (M)

Big Agnes Daisy Mae (W)

Nemo Riff (M)

Therm-a-Rest Questar

Backpacking Essentials – Sleeping Pads

This is the other half of you having a great night’s sleep. You want something that is comfortable and will keep your backside warm. So when you buy, keep an eye out for the R-value. The higher the number, the warmer it’ll be.

If you’re only doing summer camping, you can have a lower R-value, which should be lighter.

Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite

Big Agnes Q-Core Deluxe

Sea to Summit Comfort Plus

Other Backpacking Essentials to Bring on your trip

backpacking essentials
Let your water work while you work | Backpacking essentials

Just because your main items are accounted for doesn’t mean you’re done with your backpacking essentials. On the contrary, having reliable secondary things will make the trip much more enjoyable.

Water filters

I am a fan of gravity filters as they are easy to use and don’t require any effort on your part. This one by Katadyn is my favorite. This one is also good and doesn’t have a hose. If you want a more traditional pump filter, MSR has a fantastic one.

Backpacking Chairs

Having a backpacking chair is the best thing anyone can do on a trip. It allows you to relax and enjoy the evening without being on the ground. The REI Flexlite Air and the Helinox Zero are the two best.

Utensils and Plateware

You probably only need a Titanium Spork like this, and you’ll be set. This Sea to Summit Cup and Bowl is a great combo for morning oatmeal and coffee. They will even fold down into each other.

backpacking essentials jet boil backpacking camping gear
Invest in a good one | Backpacking essentials


Let me save you some time on what to bring on a backpacking trip and say you should get a Jet Boil Flash. It’s only for water, dehydrated meals, or oatmeal/ramen, but that’s enough for me. If you’re looking for a good kit, the MSR PocketRocket Stove Kit is great.

Hiking Poles

The most significant backpacking essentials motto to remember is that you want to be comfortable. I have Black Diamond poles, which have been rock solid for 4+ years. They don’t adjust, so it might not be best for everyone. However, these do adjust and should last many years.

Remember, when it comes to backpacking gear, quality matters the most!

Essential Backpacking Food Ideas

One of the best backpacking tips for beginners is never to skimp on food. It’s your lifeblood, and you need it. Of course, food is always up to your taste buds, but backpacking food has come a LONG way and is pretty delicious.

So if you’re looking for snacks to bring on a backpacking trip, look at my fun blog ranking backpacking snacks. Furthermore, here are more than nine ideas for meals.

My favorite meals are in this order:

  1. Fettuccini Alfredo
  2. Classic Spaghetti
  3. Risotto with Chicken
  4. Beef Stroganoff
  5. Breakfast Skillet

Commonly asked questions about backpacking essentials

How many miles should a backpacking trip be?

A backpacking trip can be anywhere from 10-50+ miles. If you have the backpacking essentials, you can keep going as long as you resupply your food. However, I think a sweet spot is 7-10 miles per day and doing three or four days.

This usually comes out to a three-day, 25 to 30-mile trip or a four-day, 35-40-mile adventure.

If you go for longer, ensure you’re in the physical shape necessary to do so!

How far should a beginner go backpacking?

I tell beginners to stick to about 10-12 miles round trip and only make an overnight trip. This is because you don’t want to throw yourself into a multi-day trip, have something go wrong, and be in a bad position.

Starting small and building up is the best way to go about it!

Does weight go on top or bottom backpacking?

When packing, put your heavier gear towards the bottom and lighter gear on top. I usually put my tent in the straps on the outside, my sleeping pad and bag at the bottom of my bag, and then my clothes and food on top of that. There’s no one proper way to pack your backpacking essentials. You want it to fit right and easily pull things out that you need during the hike.

What time of year is best for backpacking?

Spring through fall is the best time for backpacking, location-dependent. Obviously, if you’re in the desert, summer isn’t great. The same goes for spring in Washington. If you have a gorgeous weather window, tackle the trail you’ve been looking at!

Backpacking must haves – Wrapping up

Thanks for taking the time to read and go through this entire backpacking essentials list. I’m super stoked to see where you end up. If you use my list and go backpacking, please tell your friends and family and tag me in your travels!

Until next time adventurers, take care and be safe.

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Author: Alec Sills-Trausch

Title: Founder of Explore with Alec

Expertise: Hiking, Backpacking, Photography, and Road Trips

Alec Sills-Trausch is a hiker, backpacker, landscape photographer, and syndicated travel writer. He enjoys showing off the beauty of the world through his photos, videos, and written work on Alec is also a 2x cancer survivor and bone marrow transplant recipient, showing the world that there is a future from this terrible disease.

He lives in Washington, where he gets to enjoy the stunning PNW mountains in addition to all the other places he attempts to visit each year! You can see more work on IG at @AlecOutside