What to Pack on a Backpacking Trip

What gear to buy and pack for your first backpacking trip is a common question in our Meetup group. A full backpacking setup is quite an investment so the last thing you want to do is buy the wrong stuff. My initial response is always to attend a day hike with the group and ask some more experienced members what they recommend. Often the folks at REI or the local sporting goods store can be quite helpful but I’ve also seen the aftermath of some pretty bad advice.

Over time I’ve developed a bit of a spiel on the subject based on my experience as well as what remains popular in the group. Keep in mind this is for spring or fall trips in the Ozarks. I’ll try to keep it brief so multi-page explanations as to WHY will need to live somewhere else. If you are interested in my personal gear list (which has no consideration for cost) you can check that out here.


  • Smartwater bottles (way lighter than a Nalgene and threads fit Sawyer Mini)
  • Water bladder (extra storage for dry campsites or to expand range)
  • Choose a method:
    • Sawyer Mini (mechanical filtration option)
    • Aquamira (chemical treatment option)


  • Mini BIC lighter (make sure you get the name brand BIC)
  • Bonus items:
    • Cotton balls soaked in Vaseline for fire starter
    • Soda straw or ballpoint pen shaft for bellows


  • Swiss Army Classic SD (look for something light with multi-tool functions)


  • Petzl Elite is my favorite headlamp


  • Osprey Exos 48 is very popular (look for something under 3.5 pounds and 45-65 liters in size)


  • Choose a shelter
    • Tent (look for something under 5 pounds advertised as two person)
    • Hammock & Tarp (you will need to use an under quilt or sleeping pad)
  • Sleeping Pad / Air Mattress (not just for rocky ground – you need bottom insulation)
  • Sleeping Bag or Top Quilt (err on the side of caution with manufacturer ratings)


  • Hiking or trail running shoes (stay away from big heavy “backpacking” boots)


  • Athletic fabric blends (no cotton underwear, socks or shirt)
  • Fleece and/or puffy (depending on forecasted temperature and personal tolerances)
  • Rain jacket (depending on forecasted rain and temperature)


Food Ideas

  • Just add hot water
    • Mountain House, Backpacker’s Pantry et. al.
    • Oatmeal
    • Ramen
    • Mac & Cheese
    • Rice & Beans
  • Honorable Mentions:
    • Tuna
    • Hummus
    • Pepperoni
    • Subway sandwich
  • Snacks
    • Nuts
    • Candy Bars
    • Protein Bars
    • Fruit
    • Veggies
  • Coffee
    • Starbucks instant coffee (worth the price)
  • Adult Beverages


  • Choose an option:
    • Bring food you don’t have to cook
    • JetBoil & Pocket Rocket are popular (remember fuel canister)

First Aid

  • Ibuprofen (gets the most use)
  • Prescription medications
  • .3 oz Adventure Medical Kit (or build your own with same basic stuff)


  • Toilet Paper
  • Trowel (or use a tent stake to dig hole)

Bonus tips:

  • Don’t buy a backpack cover. Just line the inside of your pack with a 3mm thick trash compactor bag