The Badass Backpacking Gear List
When you go into the mountains, what you leave at home is just as important as what you bring with you. How do you know which is which? Just stick to our packing list and you'll have what you need without it weighing you down. We always recommend the lightweight gear options. This list is tailored towards summer camping in the mountains of the North Eastern USA, but you can adapt it to any region -- just ask someone who's been there for their recommendations, using this list as a baseline.
(If you are backpacking with friends, you can split this gear up between all your packs)
- Tent or Tarp. For 1-2 people, I recommend the ultralight Tarptent Protrail (26 oz, $209), because it is almost as light as a tarp yet is bug-proof. If you need a roomier tent, consider the REI Half Dome series, MSR Hubba series, or Kelty tents. Get a tent with aluminum poles, fiberglass poles are low quality and tend to break.
- Groundcloth. For a small tent, a great lightweight option is a piece of tyvek homewrap, sold in short lengths on ultralight gear websites like Tarptent and Z-packs. You can also buy a manufactured tent footprint or get some clear plastic sheeting at the hardware store.
- Camp Stove. Make your own Soda Can Stove (burns Denatured Alcohol, good for small groups) or get an MSR Pocket Rocket (burns Butane).
- Firemakers. Lighters, waterproof matches, a ferro-steel rod, a bit of dry birch bark... at least two methods of making fire & some dry tinder, in separate waterproof bags.
- Cookpot. Keep it light with one-pot meals, and just bring one pot. The size of your cookpot will depend on the size of your group. Titanium and lightweight stainless steel are both great materials. If you are traveling alone, your cookpot and your bowl can be one and the same. Consider throwing in a cooking spoon and a small piece of a scrubbing pad for cleanup.
- Sump Screen. Carry a piece of mesh screen to filter kitchen wastewater through. You pour the wastewater in to a small sump hole, then scrape the scraps off the screen and pack them out in your compost bag.
- Water Purification. Go for a chlorine-based chemical treatment option such as Aqua Mira. Filter pumps degrade over time, UV lights run out of batteries or malfunction.
- Bear Hang Rope & Carabiner. Bring 50 ft of light-but-strong rope (Spectra Line or Paracord) and a carabiner. Make sure someone in your group knows how to set up a proper bear hang.
- First Aid Kit. Be sure to include lots of blister-care supplies, tweezers for removing ticks, and biodegradable soap.
- Map and Compass. Bring a navigational compass with a baseplate and know how to use it. A GPS unit can be nice to have, but always bring a map and compass too. You may also want a small guidebook such as the Long Trail Guide or a data book such as the Thruhiker's Handbook.
- Optional: A collapsible water bag such as the MSR Dromedary Bag can be useful for larger groups.ONE
(Everyone on the trip needs their own)
- Backpack. If you have a compact & lightweight kit, you can use a very simple backpack (but it still needs to have a hip belt). Ultralight packs are generally a bit less expensive than fancy-brand traditional packs, and support cottage industry. I like the ultralight packs sold at Z-packs.com. Another nice relatively lightweight option is the Osprey Viva 50 pack. If you need a more traditional pack to carry a heavier load, Gregory and Osprey are high quality brands, and Kelty packs are a very good value. Always Line your backpack with a trash bag before you pack it. This is more effective than a rain cover. You should adjust your backpack so 80% of the weight is on your hips and 20% of the weight is on your shoulders.
- Sleeping Bag. Down bags are useless if they get wet, so if you are a beginner doing three-season camping then a synthetic bag is a safer bet. For summer camping, I highly recommend the Backpacker's Quilt Kit sold by Ray Jardine (I recommend the Alpine model for extra warmth). You have to sew it yourself (or bribe a friend to do it) but the resulting product is very light weight, very durable, and by far the most affordable bag on the market. I used one daily for five years before it wore out, alone in the summer and as a mummy bag liner in the winter. If you will be facing temperatures below 40 degrees, buy a mummy bag. Most women sleep cold & need to buy a bag with a temperature rating about 20 degrees below the temperatures they expect to encounter. Line your sleeping bag stuff sack with a trash bag to keep it dry.
- Sleeping Pad. I recommend non-inflatable pads (closed cell foam) such as the Z-Rest. Inflatable pads are heavy and inevitably get punctured.
- Bowl & Spoon. Keep them simple, durable and lightweight. A "bowl" that is actually a small cookpot is extra versatile.
- Two 1-Liter Water Bottles. You can use Nalgene-style bottles, or just plastic gatorade bottles from the grocery store. A Camelbak-style hydration pack is fine to use, but you still need a rigid water bottle in case it springs a leak.
- Headlamp. I recommend the Black Diamond Spot, which is lightweight but powerful enough for night hiking. You may want to carry extra batteries.
- Small Knife. You will mostly use this to cut up your food, so it doesn't need to be fancy. Swiss Army Knives with built-in tweezers are handy for removing ticks.
- Toothbrush and Toothpaste. Make them travel-sized.
- Personal Supplies. Pack any vitamins and medications you need to take. If you are a person who menstruates, bring extra supplies even if you aren't expecting your period. I recommend the Diva Cup as a great reusable backcountry menstrual solution. If you need vision correction, glasses are more sanitary than contact lenses in the backcountry.
- Wallet Items. Don't bring your full wallet, but always carry some cash, a credit or debit card, your drivers license, and a phone card or change for payphones. Also, if you are leaving a car at the trailhead, don't forget your car keys!
- Trekking Poles. Trekking poles take a huge amount of wear-and-tear off of your joints, reduce the chances of falling, and make hiking a full-body exercise. I highly recommend them. If you buy collapsable poles, get ones with clip locks instead of twist locks (Black Diamond makes great ones). If you are on a budget, just cut two green saplings the diameter of a nickel and a little taller than your elbow, and those will work great.
- Whistle. Wear it on your person. Three blasts is the universal signal for "help", and a shrill whistle blast may also deter overly friendly wildlife.
- Optional Items. Camera, Journal & Pen, Small Paperback Book, Comb or Hairbrush, Hairties, Cell Phone, Sunscreen (or just use long sleeves and a hat), Bugspray (or just use long sleeves and a head net), Small Musical Instrument (penny whistle, jaw harp, harmonica, ocarina).
You don't need as much clothing as you think. Expect to wear the same hiking clothes every day, and always have something dry to change into at night. DO NOT BRING COTTON CLOTHING. Cotton sucks warmth from the body if it gets wet. Bring synthetic or wool clothing that wicks moisture away from your skin.
- Hiking Shirt. Wicking fabric is best. I really love wearing a long-sleeve nylon "fishing shirt", since you can roll down the sleeves for sun & bug protection, or roll them up for hot days.
- Hiking Shorts. Lightweight, silky, wicking fabric that won't chafe. Running shorts are ideal. Pockets are nice (often only available on men's models).
- Hiking Footwear. If your pack is kinda heavy, or you have very weak ankles, go for a high-top hiking boot. If you pack is under 40 pounds AND you use trekking poles, hike in running shoes! Taking a pound off your feet is like taking five pounds off your back. Try it, you'll love it!
- Lightweight Waterproof Sandals. Crocs or flip-flops to wear in camp & for stream crossings.
- Socks. With hiking boots, wear thick wool trekking socks over thin synthetic liner socks (to prevent blisters). Bring at least three pairs. If hiking in running shoes, thin nylon socks (such as cheap men's dress socks) are all you need & will dry very quickly. Bring two pairs.
- Sleeping Socks. Bring one pair of fleece or wool socks to wear only in your sleeping bag. This will keep you far warmer than going to bed in sweaty socks!
- Sun/Rain Hat. A hat or visor with a brim for sun, or to keep rain off your face (& glasses).
- Warm Hat. Fleece or wool, for cool evenings.
- 3-4 Cotton Bandanas. You need a pee rag to wipe after peeing (for folks with female anatomy), a snot rag for blowing your nose, a 'do rag to wear on your head, and a spare rag because bandanas are the awesome.
- Long Underwear. You need synthetic or merino wool long underwear tops and bottoms, which you will keep dry at ALL TIMES. This clothing & a dry sleeping bag will save your life if you get soaked on a cold day, just change into the dry long underwear and get in the warm sleeping bag. Never go into the mountains without it.
- A Warm Layer. A fleece, a thin synthetic "puffy" jacket, or a wool sweater. Bring one with a hood for maximum warmth.
- Underwear. Cotton underwear is fine, especially for folks with female anatomy who are prone to yeast infections. Its also totally fine to go commando in your hiking shorts. For folks with male anatomy, either wear compression shorts or bring some Gold Bond Powder to prevent painful chafing.
- Rain Jacket & Rain Pants. Get a waterproof/breathable set (NOT "water resistant"). The Sierra Designs Hurricane Series is a great value. These layers also double as bug protection.
- Mosquito Head Net. This thing will absolutely save your sanity on a buggy night. Get one with small no-see-um mesh. I always bring one!
- Clothing Stuff Sack. Put your extra clothing in here and use it as a pillow.
- Optional: ONE Extra Shirt (no more!), Swimsuit, Long Pants (lightweight quick-dry nylon, doubles as bug and sun protection).