Essential Packing Guide for Your First Backpacking Trip

Embarking on your first backpacking adventure is an exhilarating experience filled with anticipation and discovery. As you prepare for the journey ahead, one crucial aspect to consider is what to pack. Efficient packing plays a significant role in ensuring your trip is enjoyable and hassle-free. This post will provide you with a comprehensive guide on what to pack for your first backpacking trip, starting with the essentials, to help you make the most of your adventure while keeping your backpack light and manageable. Be sure to grab your downloadable packing guide at the end!

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The Right Backpack

Choosing the right backpack is crucial. Look for one that fits comfortably on your shoulders and has ample storage space. Opt for a backpack with multiple compartments to keep your gear organized and easily accessible. Additionally, ensure it is made of durable, waterproof material to protect your belongings from unexpected showers or splashes.

Some of my favorite backpacks for weekend trips include:

Gregory Jade 38 — The reason why I love this pack: It’s PERFECT for a 1-nighter or those who prefer to travel light in the backcountry. It’s also great for gals with smaller frames who want to not feel like a turtle when carrying a heavy pack. It is nearly half the size of the Gregory Deva 60, but it does not compromise any of the essential pockets! *Best for weekend warriors.

Gregory Deva 60 — The reason why I love this pack: Not only does it have lots of pockets, but both the shoulder and waist straps are super comfy! I love that I can fit my 10 essentials, warm clothing, toiletries, dehydrated meals, a ridiculous amount of snacks, and nighttime comfort items (ie: kindle, earplugs, eye masks). *Best for weekend warriors and multi-day trekkers.

Osprey Ariel 65 — The reason why I love this pack: The waist straps can be adjusted to fit the hipbones comfortably, and it has a front pocket for easy storage of frequently used items like sandals, emergency kit, and book (or Kindle!) *Best for weekend warriors and multi-day trekkers.

Gregory Deva 70 — The reason why I love this pack: This was my first EVER backpacking pack that I invested in in 2015 when I first started backpacking and it’s still my most beloved AND used today! The comfort level is out of this world and I’ve taken it all over the world. From Patagonia (Chile, South America) to Beautiful British Columbia, I have found this to be the best pack due to its size, comfort, numerous storage pockets, and ability to hold up a tremendous amount of travel wear and tear. *Best for weekend warriors and multi-day trekkers.

Clothing Essentials

Regarding clothing, focus on packing lightweight, moisture-wicking, and quick-drying items. Remember to consider the weather conditions of your destination. Essential clothing items include:

Moisture-wicking and quick-drying (long) shirts and pantsChoose lightweight and breathable materials like nylon or polyester. These are great for protection against sunburn and insects. 

Mountain Hardwear Crater Lake Hoodie — These are my go-to sun shirts WITH hoodies that I swear by for all of my outdoor excursions. These hoodie sunshirts have saved me from overheating, smelling ridiculously stinky on the trail, and sunburns! 

Mountain Hardwear AirMesh Long-Sleeve Crew Shirt — These are perfect for hanging around at camp during the day or when arriving at your outdoor destination and needing to change into something warm, but not too warm. It’s a total game-changer for active folks – super breathable and lightweight. 

REI Co-op Sahara Shade Hoodie — With its lightweight fabric and built-in UPF protection, it’s like having a personal sunshade wherever you go. This hoodie is a must-have for staying cool and protected during those sunny outdoor escapades. Not to mention, it’s the most affordable one on this list!

Insulating layers: Pack lightweight top and bottom base layers for chilly evenings in high altitudes.

Smartwool Classic Thermal Merino Quarter-Zip Base Layer Top — Merino Smartwool rocks for backpacking because it keeps the body cool when it’s hot, warm when it’s cold, and won’t stink up your backpack after a sweaty hike. It’s like nature’s own high-performance gear! I own several of these and I always stay warm when it dips below freezing (32°F/0°C)

REI Co-op Merino 185 Long-Sleeve Base Layer Top — A more affordable alternative to Smartwool Classic, but still a top-notch quality with ultimate warmth.

Smartwool Classic Thermal Merino Base Layer Bottoms — Keeping the lower half warm is just as important as the top half! Merino wool bottoms are a game-changer for cold days; they’re like a warm hug for your legs. It’s a one-time investment for a nice pair that will last forever because they’re cozy, durable, and just make colder temps way more bearable.

REI Co-op Merino 185 Base Layer Bottoms — These are a more affordable alternative to the Smartwool Classic and still retain great quality when it comes to keeping your lower bottoms warm and cozy! 

  • Waterproof and windproof outer layer: Invest in a quality rain jacket and waterproof pants to stay dry in unexpected weather conditions.
  • Quick-drying pants or shorts: Opt for convertible pants that can transform into shorts for versatility.
  • Fleece jacket and down sweater: For cooler evenings and higher altitudes.
  • Comfortable hiking socks: Carry several pairs of moisture-wicking socks to prevent blisters.
  • Sturdy hiking boots or shoes: Choose footwear that provides ample support and has been broken in before your trip.
  • Hat and sunglasses: Protect yourself from the sun’s rays with a wide-brimmed hat and UV-blocking sunglasses.
  • Rain gear: A waterproof jacket and pants are essential in case of unexpected downpours.
  • Socks and underwear: Whatever you do, do NOT skimp out on socks and underwear. Carry extra pairs and consider moisture-wicking or wool socks to prevent blisters.
  • Sturdy hiking boots or shoes: Invest in comfortable footwear that provides ankle support and grip.

Shelter and Sleeping Gear

While backpacking, your sleeping arrangements will primarily consist of lightweight, portable options. Include the following items:

  • Tent: Look for a lightweight, easy-to-pitch tent suitable for the number of people traveling with you.
  • Sleeping bag: Choose a sleeping bag suitable for the climate and season you’ll be backpacking in.
  • Sleeping pad: Invest in a lightweight and comfortable sleeping pad or mattress for a good night’s sleep.
  • Sleeping liner: Look for liners that will provide additional warmth, ranging from 10*F to 25*F.

Navigation and Safety Tools

Staying safe and being prepared for emergencies is of utmost importance. Include these items:

  • Map and compass: Carry a detailed map of your route and a compass for navigation.
  • First aid kit: Include essential supplies like bandages, antiseptic, painkillers, and any prescribed medications.
  • Headlamp and extra batteries: Essential for hands-free lighting during nighttime activities.
  • Multi-tool: A versatile tool that includes a knife, scissors, pliers, and other functions.
  • Whistle and mirror: For signaling and attracting attention in emergencies.

Essential Personal Items

Don’t forget to pack the following personal items:

  • First aid kit: Include bandages, antiseptic cream, painkillers, insect repellent, and any necessary medications.
  • Sunscreen, lip balm, and insect repellent: Protect your skin from harmful UV rays and keep bugs at bay.
  • Toiletries: Pack travel-sized items such as a toothbrush, toothpaste, biodegradable soap, and hand sanitizer.
  • Lightweight towel: Opt for a quick-drying, compact towel for personal hygiene.
  • Camera or smartphone: Capture incredible moments and share your experiences with others.
  • Money and identification: Keep your cash, cards, and identification documents secure.

Food and Water

Food and water are essential for sustenance during your backpacking trip. Consider the following:

  • Cooking equipment: Carry a lightweight stove, cookware, and utensils for preparing meals on the go.
  • Water filter or purification tablets: Stay hydrated by ensuring access to clean drinking water.
  • Cookware and utensils: Carry a pot, pan, and utensils for meal preparation.
  • Lightweight and non-perishable food: Opt for dehydrated meals, energy bars, trail mix, and instant coffee or tea.
  • Water bottles or hydration bladder: Carry enough water for your journey or a way to purify water from natural sources.
  • Snacks: Pack nutritious and easy-to-carry snacks like dried fruits and nuts.

Packing for your first backpacking trip can be both exciting and overwhelming. There is a high likelihood that you will overpack. But that’s okay, you will get better at packing over time! However, with careful planning and consideration, you can ensure you have all the essentials for a successful adventure. Remember to pack properly, prioritize functionality and durability, and consider the specific needs of your destination and trip duration. As you gain more experience, you will fine-tune your packing list to suit your personal preferences and requirements.

Keep in mind that flexibility and adaptability are essential traits for backpackers. Embrace the spirit of adventure, be prepared for unexpected challenges, and enjoy the journey as much as the destination.

Happy backpacking!

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