Backpacking Checklist for Your Next Trip

I looked at my friend questioningly several times during the two days we shopped and prepared for the 8-day tour to Torres del Paine, Chile-my very first backpacking trip. There were so many things he knew that I didn’t know, like putting everything in his own individual bag, exactly what to eat to reduce weight, how to eliminate every unnecessary gram.

If I had been alone, I would have ended up with the heaviest backpack in the world. Thank god I got some advice!

Since then, I have made several multi-day hiking trips on three continents, most recently I took a 4-day trip entirely on my own. The following is my ultimate hiking checklist after all these experiences.

Just a note: there are ultralight backpackers who sleep under a tarp and hardly bring equipment or food. This is not my style, though I make every effort to reduce my weight while being protected from the elements and comfortable.

The Food Checklist

I usually go in one of two directions with my food. Either I bring instant meals for backpackers, which are convenient, pack really well and small, and can be very delicious, or I shop at smaller markets and buy things like pasta and powdered sauce. Neither one nor the other will be an incredibly awesome kitchen, mind you.

That said, the food tastes much better on the trail. Maybe it’s the hunger of hiking all day, maybe it’s the fact that you are looking at a glacier or a beautiful valley while you are eating it. Anyway, I would say that preparing food that I would only be slightly disappointed to eat at a restaurant at home while I am on the trail is a success.

If you want to bring instant hiking meals, I have a definitive best-to-worst ranking here, including organic and vegetarian options.

If you are shopping at the grocery store, here is what I recommend:

  • 150 grams of pasta, powdered potatoes, couscous or other fast-cooking carbohydrates per person per day. Increase or decrease according to your personal needs.
  • 4 pasta sauces in powder of 85 grams.
  • Optional small block of cheese or salami to make the pasta more exciting (a block is better than individual slices that mold more easily).
  • 80-100 grams of oatmeal per person per day.
  • Powdered milk and chocolate milk.
  • 1 to 2 Snicker’s or Lara bars (vegan), or another form of nutritious bar per day.
  • 100 grams of dried fruits and nuts per day for lunches.
  • 1 light treat a day (oreos, candy bar, something you’re looking forward to).
  • Enough ziplocks to distribute each meal (please reuse them after!).

This food list assumes that you will have water readily available on the trail. The only hiking trips I’ve taken are the ones where I didn’t have to bring all my own water, although you may very well experience this if you’re hiking in the desert. In this matter, you should also bring 1 to 2 gallons a day for drinking, plus 0.5 to 1 full gallon more for hygiene and cooking. You will also need a method to clean the water in the matter you experience an emergency and need to remove it from your environment and you can find it, listed in the Equipment section below.

Gear Checklist

The equipment you bring will depend heavily on the type of weather you will experience. Almost all the multi-day hiking trails I’ve hiked have been in the mountains of Patagonia, Peru, Kyrgyzstan and Alaska, which usually equates to cold weather and the possibility of snow. However, if you are hiking in the desert, you will have different needs.

In all these matters, you can count on cold temperatures at night, so the list below is intended for more difficult conditions where it is cold and potentially very wet and windy:

Clothing Checklist

For those who have never backpacked before, get ready because this is going to sound really revolting: you should only bring two sets of clothes for your trip. Extra clothes add unnecessary weight and there is really no point in putting on fresh clothes only to make them coarse and sweaty in five minutes anyway. No matter how long my hike is, whether it’s one day or eight, I always follow this rule. I bring enough underwear for each day, and I bring extra socks.

You will have a set of clothes for hiking and a set for sleeping. If your hiking set is wet and sweaty, I recommend that you put it in your sleeping bag while you sleep so that it can warm up and dry from your body heat, or if you are not too cold once you arrive at camp, keep wearing it and let it dry on your body. Yes, you will stink, yes, it will be a little revolting, yes, it’s definitely worth it!

Toilets and Hygiene products

Toilets take up a lot of unnecessary space and they are very heavy. Personally, I only bring:

I don’t usually wash my face at all on the trail, which is probably very strange for most people, so if you want to be able to wash your face, bring face wipes and get water from the streams. If it’s freezing water and it’s too cold, make peace with the wipes. Personally, I don’t think it’s worth bringing extra gas so that I can heat water to wash my face.

Deodorant is useless, makeup is definitely useless, as is shampoo and conditioner, unless you can shower along the trail. If you are really in the hinterland, there is no point.

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