Your Ultimate Hiking Checklist

Backpacker hiking checklist essentials - red backpack hiking shoes on hiking trail

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By now, I assumed you’d located a pristine wilderness, mapped out a perfect trekking route, and looked forward to the adventure. But don’t lace up your hiking boots just yet. Hiking surrounded by nature is downright peaceful, fulfilling, and exhilarating. However, exploring without planning can take the fun out of your trip and expose you to dangers. After years of Trekking and Hiking, I’ve learned that preparation is everything, so to enhance your hiking experience, I have put together the Ultimate Hiking Checklist with our best backpacking tips.

A Couple on a hiking trip sitting in front of their green tent having soup from their stainless steel mugs with blue spoons.
A Couple on a hiking trip having soup.

Factors that determine your Hiking Checklist

Although the core essential hiking gear and hiking accessories remain relatively the same, there are several factors you need to consider. The hiking difficulty, the nature of your hike, and the weather conditions will determine what gear and clothes to pack. To determine what to pack for your hiking adventure, examine the following factors:

Define the Type of Hike

To know the type of hike or trek, consider the following vital points:

The type of Terrain you are Visiting

Is the terrain rocky, slippery, or sandy? Consider the elevation, ascent and descent on the trail to determine the hike’s or trek’s technical difficulty. The hiking checklist of a backpacker hiking a technical mountainous terrain will need different gear from one walking a gentle forest trail. This will also determine the hiking gear you require.

Potential hazards

Remoteness and possible encounter with wild animals. Consider if you need specific equipment for potential hazards, like ropes, axes, or mountaineering gear.

Season Climate and Weather Conditions

We all know that weather conditions can be unpredictable,, especially in certain regions. Consider the best season for the specific hike. Summer backpacking essentials differ from the winter necessities on a hike or trek. One must pack gear and clothes according to the season, climate, and expected weather conditions.

Trip Duration

Although some hiking equipment remains the same, a backpacking trip that lasts multiple days might require you to pack more or different gear than a shorter hike.

Safety and Comfort

  • Improve Your Safety – Carrying all the essentials will keep you protected in harsh weather conditions and increase your chances of survival should you get lost in the wilderness. Before you go on any hiking trip, make sure you have a detailed map of the area. And a GPS device or a compass for longer treks. Also, please familiarize yourself with how to use the device. 
  • Increased Comfort – Your adventure will be more satisfying if you pack all the necessities.
  • Lighten Your Backpack Load – An excellent outdoor packing list only contains necessities, meaning you won’t be dragging a heavy backpack that slows you down. Instead, it all comes down to packing what you can comfortably carry.
  • Convenience – Packing the right backpacking gear will ensure that you are ready for any problem or difficult situation that may arise. Moreover, it will give you more peace of mind and lead to a more enjoyable journey.
  • Personal Preferences – For individuals who like to document every bit of the trip for personal or professional purposes, items like laptops, cameras, and Travel Journal are essentials.

To help you read the post easily, we break down the Hiking checklist guide into easily digestible sections, so let’s dive straight in.

  • Imperative Items: The 10 Must-have Hiking Essentials.
  • Hiking accessories to increase your hiking experience. 
  • Nice to have hiking gear.
  • Expert Tips to Pack Like a Pro.
Yellow tent and Gear of Backpack hiking checklist and Jack Russel
Gear of Backpack hiking checklist and Jack Russel

Hiking and Backpacking Checklist

We are primarily guilty of overpacking for the ‘just in case’ reason and because almost every hiking equipment advert says it is necessary. You must know what items are essential and which add dead weight to your backpack.

Here is a list of the 10 essential hiking gear that every backpacker should carry regardless of the terrain. To make your hiking journey pleasant, become familiar with these items and ensure you know how to use them before hitting the road. Further down, we look into more detail and provide insight into hiking gear and why they are essential.

Hiking Essentials

  • Backpack and rain shield
  • Navigation equipment: Map, GPS, or Compass
  • Multi-tool or Knife, rope, and repair tape
  • Appropriate clothing (inc. jacket and socks)
  • Hiking boots or hiking shoes
  • Shelter (tarp) and blanket
  • First Aid kit (inc. moleskin and plaster), bug repellent
  • Sun Protection: sunscreen, lip balm, hat and sunglasses
  • Headlamp or torch (+ batteries), Fire-starter and whistle
  • Sufficient Food, lots of Water and purifying tablets

Get the right hiking Backpack

Your backpack is your first necessity and where every item in your checklist will fit. A lightweight 40-65 litre backpacking bag might be sufficient for a weekend trip. For longer hiking adventures, you must get a larger backpack.

how do you choose the right backpack?

  • The best hiking Packs are weather-resistant, spacious yet comfortable, and ultra-light.
  • Must be able to adjust around the shoulders, chest, and waist.  

Do Women need specific gear?

Yes and No. Especially in Backpacks, women tend to have ergonomically shaped shoulder straps and shorter torso lengths.  

Disclaimer: This blog might earn a small commission at no additional cost to you should you buy from affiliate links on this site

Hiking Clothes Checklist

Your clothes and footwear are your first defence against the unforgiving elements and the rugged terrain. The appropriate clothes will keep you warm, dry, and comfortable, while the proper footwear will protect your feet and ankles whether you walk on sharp rocks or loose gravel. 

Hiking Boots or Hiking shoes

Choose appropriate Hiking boots or shoes that offer good support throughout the trail. If the terrain is technical, use hiking boots that provide ankle support. Hiking shoes for women and hiking shoes for men are sufficient for moderate terrains. But make sure the footwear you pick is waterproof, offers good breathability, has solid traction, and is flexible.

Clothing Layers

Base Layer

Wicking long-underwear-style base layers are needed in cool or cold conditions to keep your skin dry. It should be light, breathable, and have moisture-wicking properties of wool-based or synthetic fabric. This next-to-skin layer’s job is to keep sweat away from your skin.

Mid Layer

The insulating layer, wool or fleece pullover, helps you retain the heat radiated by your body.

Outer Layer

The outer layer, hiking jackets or wind-resistant jackets. protects one from wind, rain and snow. 

Hiking Pants

The best hiking pants are lightweight, stretchable, and flexible, protecting you from strong wind and water. Preferably have multiple zipper pockets and dry fast. They are made mainly from Nylon, which is ideal for outdoor pursuits.

  • Invest in convertible hiking pants that allow you to trek in any weather for extra comfort. You can remove the bottom legs when it gets hot and return them when it’s chilly.
  • These items will help you find your way through the remote backcountry, point you to some breathtaking sceneries, and make your trip safer and more fulfilling.
  • Womens walking trousers: Patagonia hike studio pants are very comfortable.
  • Wool hiking Pants

Good wicking Underwear

Thermals for men and women: Add a spare set of synthetic or wool undergarments to your hiking checklist. Not only are they easy to wash, but they are also quick-drying.

Hiking Socks

Always pack good-quality socks. It is not worth saving a few bucks and ruining your hike with bad-quality socks. Don’t bargain on you’ll wash every day, as it might rain; there is nothing more horrible than hiking with wet socks.

Other Hiking Essentials

Sun Hat and Sunscreen

One of the essentials on your Hiking checklist is protection. A hiking hat will protect you from the harsh sun in warmer climates and keep your head warm and dry in wet conditions. Your design will depend on the weather conditions of the trail you plan to explore.

Overall, the best sunglasses have UV-blocking properties. Not all Polarized sunglasses block the UV sun rays. FAQs: What is the difference between UV protection and polarized lenses? UV lenses protect your eyes from UV-ray exposure, whereas Polarized lenses remove the glare so one can see more clearly.

Beanie

Consider bringing a lightweight beanie as an added layer of insurance if the weather of the region you are hiking is usually unpredictable.  

Quality Rain Jacket

Shell Layer: Who knows what Mother Nature has in store for you? You can’t go wrong by investing in a good-quality hiking rain jacket. Pack a super light, wind, and waterproof raincoat like this Columbia Men’s Watertight II Jacket. For ladies, I recommend the Columbia Women’s Lightweight Waterproof Raincoat.

Nice to have items

Bandanas

Sports Headband Bandana has several uses:

  • A Bandana will help keep the sweat out of your eyes and cool off in the sweltering heat when soaked in water.
  • Bandanas are also helpful when drying off sweat and swatting away bugs.

Outdoor Sandals for Men and Women

Sandals will let your feet breathe when you reach the campsite and allow you to cross streams without getting your hiking boots wet. You can even pack a pair used to trek in tame terrain, walk on wet rocks, and through streams and rivers without worrying about cutting your foot.

I recommend Keen outdoor sandals, which are super comfortable, durable, and pretty. After all these years, I won’t take on any hike without them.

Regarding Women’s hiking sandals and Men’s hiking sandals, I recommend the following: KEEN Women’s, Whisper Sandal, and Keen Men’s Newport H2 Sandal.

Quality Hiking Gloves & Scarf

Wool Gloves will keep your hands warm without impacting your dexterity. Take two pairs for icy places. I wear two pairs of Alpaca wool gloves on a hike in the Andes (and still couldn’t feel my fingers).

Best Hiking Gaiters

The best Hiking Gaiters are Breathable hiking gaiters. Besides protecting your feet from the sand, rain and dew prevent small rocks and grit from getting into your shoes. 

Other Hiking Fundamentals

Trekking Poles

Nobody tells you the importance of Hiking or Walking poles until your knees burn after a few steep climbs and descents. In short, Hiking or Trekking Poles offer you more stability and shift some weight from your back and legs to your arms. I prefer to use one hiking pole; however, you decide to use one or two.

A hiking pole will help you in many ways. Assisting you in rugged terrain will help prevent injuries, especially to your knees. Good hiking poles are adjustable and will last you forever. Check out these Aihoye Hiking Trekking Poles, an ideal item to add to your hiking checklist.

Backpacking Water Reservoir & Water Filter

Carry at least about 2 litres of water with you. When it runs out, replenish it when you come across a flowing stream. If not, boil water at the camp, let it cool, and refill your bottles. Remember to stop to hydrate every 30m minutes when hiking, and you need enough water to cook and clean.

Bring a sturdy water reservoir that can hold at least three litres and withstand knocks and drops. Accompany it with a small water filter to purify your water. 2 Liter Hydration Bladder Leak Proof Water Reservoir, Military Water Storage Bladder Bag. Or get some Iodine tablets and a Water purifier Straw.

Rechargeable Headlamp

A Headlamp with extra batteries is critical and should be one of the first items to add to your hiking checklist. Make sure it is fully charged and easy to reach. When the sun goes down, you’ll need a rechargeable headlamp or flashlight to set up things at the camp and prepare a meal.

When darkness finds you in the middle of the trail, a powerful backpacking headlamp will help you stay on course. One of the favourites is the LED headlamp flashlight 2-PACK LED Rechargeable Headlamp Headlight for Running, Camping, and Hiking.

Navigation Equipment

Map and Compass Essentials

These hiking Gadgets may seem old school, but they’re the most reliable navigation tools money can buy. Navigation equipment is imperative to any hiking checklist.

Moreover, they will help you find your way when all other devices fail or the batteries dry up. Get an updated waterproof map of the place you’re visiting, buy a baseplate compass, and learn how to use it.

GPS device

On top of your map and compass, carry a tracking device with GPS that will help you send a help signal when you get lost in the backcountry and find your way out of the woods. 

Garmin ETrex 10 Worldwide Handheld GPS Navigator

A Watch allows you to keep track of time, when to take breaks and when to increase your pace. Pack a hiking watch that doubles as a navigation tool, has a weather tracker, and is weather resistant.

Garmin 010-02064-00 Instinct, Rugged Outdoor Watch with GPS, Features GLONASS and Galileo, Heart Rate Monitoring and 3-Axis Compass, Graphite.

Expert Navigation Tips

  • Suppose you don’t know how a compass and map work; go through several tutorials to improve your navigation skills. First, take on a short local hike to try out your equipment.
  • If you prefer the convenience of a smartphone GPS, make sure the app you install works offline. Just in case where you’re going, there is no cell signal.
Lightweight hiking tent with sunset in background
Lightweight hiking tent

When you reach your campsite, you want to soak in the charm of the wild and wind down. You will need the following items to ensure you have the right hiking gear you need to sleep comfortably.

Overnight Hiking Gear

Lightweight Hiking Tent

It is much better to have a super-light quality tent to withstand any weather. Preferably 4 or 5-season tent that’s waterproof, windproof, and spacious enough to stretch and store your items. It should also provide enough airflow. 

Tarp vs Rainfly

A tarp and a rainfly can be used as a ground sheet, a sleeping bag, and an overhead covering. Interestingly, more outdoor enthusiasts are vying away from tents and tend to use tarps and rain flies.

The difference between Tarps and Fly is that Tarps are usually insulated and more durable, although heavier than a rain fly. A Fly is a tent without walls and is also called a tarpaulin, bivouac, bivvy, or hootchie.

Sleeping Bag

With so many sleeping bags available, check out these. popular 4-season sleeping bags. Hyke & Byke Eolus 0 Degree F 800 Fill Power Hydrophobic Goose Down Sleeping Bag with Cluster, and the EJsoyo Camping Sleeping Pad, Ultralight 19.4 OZ, New Upgrade Camping Sleeping Pad with Built-in Inflator.

Inflatable Pillow

If you find sleeping difficult without a pillow, pack an inflatable or other lightweight Pillow.

Lightweight Tarps

Ultralight backpacking Tarp will come in handy and has many uses, for example:

  • A lightweight Tarp for backpacking can provide extra cover above your tent or hammock during rain.
  • Lay the Tarp on the wet ground before setting up your tent.
  • Use a Tarp to provide shade.

Rain Fly

Bring along a rain fly with your tent in case of showers. When set up correctly, the rain fly will protect your tent from getting wet and keep you nice and dry.

Firiner Camping Hammock with Rain Fly Tarp and Mosquito Net /Double Nylon Parachute Hammock Rainfly Set -Backpacking Hiking

Expert Tips

  • If you bought a new tent, practice setting it up at home. You don’t want to arrive at the campsite without knowing how to put the tent together. 
  • One’s feet usually get cold when using a sleeping bag. Pack some clothes at the bottom of your sleeping bag; they’ll soak moisture and keep you warm.

The Backpacking Kitchen

Hiking and Backpacking Food

You need to pack enough food to fuel you through the day. Pack lightweight Food high in nutritional value. Day hike food doesn’t have to be an issue; some backpacking meals can be prepared at home.

Best Breakfasts when Hiking

  • Coffee/Tea with Rusks
  • Powder Milk or Condense milk
  • Backpacking eggs
  • Quick oats or muesli

Best Hiking Lunches & Dinners

  • 2 Minute noodles
  • Instant mash-potatoes
  • Instant rice or Pasta
  • Buns and Snackbread
  • Dried Soya and Veggies
  • Vacuum packed meat
  • Oven-dried mince
  • Sausages / Smoked meat
  • Tuna / Bully Beef
  • Tomatoes, Onions
  • You don’t have to leave your spices behind if you love preparing tasty meals. You can fill a drinking straw with herbs and seal the ends with a flame by cutting it in half.
  • Vacuum-packed meat: We never go hiking and camping without packing meat for barbecues. Nothing beats the smell and taste of boerewors and tops on the grill.
Hiker having the Best hiking snacks during pitstop
Hiker Johan prepares the Best hiking snacks during Pitstop

Best Hiking Snacks

  • Cheese / Crackers
  • Cheese sticks snack
  • Rice cakes / Tuna
  • Biltong / Dry wors
  • Salami
  • Peanut butter
  • Trail mix / Nut and seeds
  • Apple / Banana / Orange
  • Dried fruit, nuts & seeds
  • Granola- and Snack bars
  • Chocolate bars
  • Jelly babies

Best Cheese for Backpacking

Nothing is tastier than cheese on a cracker, with fruit, nuts, dry meat, or even on its own. A semi-firm-, hard- or aged cheese like cheddar, Babybel, or parmesan is the best for backpacking. Due to their high-fat content, they provide long-lasting energy.

Pre-pack them in wax paper before placing them in a well-sealed Tupperware. Waxing cheese has been used as a preferred method since the invention of cheese. Avoid soft cheeses like mozzarella and ricotta, Camembert or Brie, as they will spoil faster due to their higher moisture content unless you plan to eat them within the first day or two.

Backpacking Cooking Equipment

Get a lightweight backpacking stove that boils water fast and packs small. Don’t forget to bring some extra fuel for your Outdoor gas stove. Invest in a Quality backpacking stove.

Firestarters: Bring lighters, waterproof matches, and a tinderbox. Pots, Dishes & Utensils Cookware set.

            

Small cloths

These handy small dishcloths will help keep things clean and dry around the camp. Check this 6 P dishcloths/ towel replacement.

Extra Supply

When bad weather forces you to shelter in place, you’ll be grateful you brought an extra day’s food supply.

Essential Emergency Equipment

First Aid Kit for Backpacking

We all know weather can be unpredictable; therefore, always travel prepared. Accidents can occur when traversing uneven ground—falls, sprains, bug bites, thorns, etc.

Carry an ultralight First Aid kit for Backpacking containing bandages, tweezers, scissors, surgical tape, and antibacterial cream like the Adventure Medical Kits Ultralight Watertight 5 Medical First Aid Kit. Furthermore, remember to include a Blister-kit, moleskin, and Insect repellent.  

Whistle, Life-Straw and Flare

If your backpack doesn’t have an emergency whistle on the chest strap, you should buy one. It is the most effective way to alert rescuers and draw attention. When you’re lost, there are several ways to send a distress signal visible from the air. Should you not have a flare gun or ultra-bright glow sticks, find an open space and use tree branches and rocks to create a massive X sign. You can also use a red piece of cloth as a flag. 

Multi-Tool

The best multi-tool for backpacking is a knife to help you prepare meals and fix things around the camp. Check out this Folding Camping Knife 

Duck Tape

You may need it to temporarily fix a torn tent, tarp, or rain jacket. To save space, wrap some tape around your water bottle.

Ziplock Bags

It will help you store waste paper products and other disposables, ensuring you leave no trace. These Reusable food storage bags are always handy for snacks, leftovers, or soap.

Washing Pegs & Nylon Rope

We always take a few washing pegs and Nylon rope for wet clothes and even hang wet socks at the back of backpacks while hiking. That way, they dry quickly.

otter falls trail hiking checklist
Johan and Vincent on Trail in Western Cape

Other Hiking Essentials

Toiletries

Just because you’re in the field or mountains doesn’t mean you must look messy. Here’s what to carry to stay fresh and healthy:

Hiking Towel & Sanitiser

Pack a quick-dry towel to dry off after a refreshing bath or swim. Pack hand sanitiser, especially if you’ll be backpacking in a place with many hikers.

Soap, Toothbrush & toothpaste

All-purpose biodegradable soap will keep the local ecosystem uncontaminated when you clean. Moreover, it is excellent for cleaning your hands, skin, hair, clothing, dishes, or anything else you need to clean while on the go. Even in the wild, your oral hygiene matters. Pack a toothbrush and small eco-friendly toothpaste.

Biodegradable toilet Paper

You’ll need lots of camping toilet paper for everything from nature calls to cleaning surfaces. Remove the cardboard to make it compact, and use the toilet paper sparingly. If you are committed to employing a proper cathole technique and plan to bury it. When you use any product labelled as bio-degradable, whether soap or toothpaste, use it at least 200 meters away from a water body. Some ecosystems are susceptible to foreign substances.

Sunscreen and Insect Repellent

Look for a backpacking deodorant that won’t attract insects or wildlife. Your hiking checklist must include sunscreen if you’re trekking in the sunny season. You’ll also need insect repellant to keep away bugs and mosquitoes.

Map, Documents & Necessities

Carrying a guidebook or a printed route description is one of the hiking checklist essentials to help you discover all the sweetest sites and viewing spots. Never forget your Journal every dag as one quickly forgets things. By journaling them, you will relive those special moments when you read them later. Also, print out two itineraries of your hiking itinerary or backpacking adventure. Leave one with your friend and another with a family member.

Documents and Valuables

If the park or trail you’re using requires a permit for hiking and camping, make sure you acquire one and print it out. Also, pack your identity card if the wardens need proof of identity. Put your Credit card, passport and cash in your secure money belt.

Electronic Equipment

Phone, Camera and Chargers

Even though you’re heading to the outdoors to unplug, always bring your phone with you just in case. Pack a Go-pro or any other lightweight camera and Tripod to capture memories.

Binoculars & Tripod

One of the most incredible ways to get close to nature is watching birds, which is also great fun and enriching.

Backpacking Tips

  • Put your documents, cell phone, camera and gadgets in waterproof-, or zip-lock bags. You should also place the paperwork in an easy-to-access spot.
  • Remember, most remote towns don’t have any ATMs. So, carry some emergency cash and change it into the local currency.  
  • Whether you prefer technical treks through the remote backcountry or gentle hikes across the plains, this super-handy backpacking checklist has you covered. And remember, for a successful trip, never rely on memory when packing for a big adventure.

Before D-day, confirm that you have loaded every item on your hiking checklist. Trust me; you’ll be surprised how often you discover you’ve left something out. So, are you ready to trek off the beaten path?

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4 Comments

  1. Thanks, Glad you liked it. Let me know if you have any questions.

  2. Great list! I have done a lot of day hikes, but have yet to do an overnight hike. This list will be very helpful when I venture out to do that, waiting for my daughter to get a little older. I do love your suggestions for hiking backpacks, I have been meaning to get a new one! I never really thought about there being hiking bags more suited to women, will have to take that into consideration.

  3. Very useful article. We definitely would have to follow the hiking checklist for beginners. Especially as a beginning hiker it is easy to neglect packing important items and overpacking.

  4. We are pretty amateur hikers and have been building our packing list for hiking as we go. This list was good to use as a checklist against that. Especially if we expand to longer and overnight hikes. I sure will need a bigger backpack soon!