The Ultimate Hiking Checklist: Must-Have Gear for the Best Adventure

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 wait to lace up your hiking boots. 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 and Backpacking gear for beginners.

We often overpack because we need to be prepared for every possible scenario and because advertisements for hiking equipment make it seem like we need a lot of stuff. It’s important to know what items are essential and which one add unnecessary weight to your backpack. The key to packing for outdoor activities is to bring only the necessities so that a heavy backpack does not weigh you down. It’s all about packing what you can comfortably carry. Let’s get right into it. Being well-prepared will empower you to enjoy your hiking adventure confidently.

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.

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Factors that determine your Hiking Checklist

Preparation is Key: Several factors should be considered for a backpacking trip. The difficulty and nature of the hike, as well as the remoteness of the location. Additionally, weather conditions will play a crucial role in determining the gear, clothing, and hiking bag essentials that need to be packed. To determine what backpacking gear beginner hikers and experienced hikers should take, examine the following factors:

Define the Type of Hike

When planning your hike, consider the type of terrain you’ll encounter. Is it rocky, slippery, or sandy? Take into account the elevation changes, as well as the ascent and descent to gauge the technical difficulty of the hike or trek. The gear needed for backpacking in technical mountainous terrain will differ from what’s required for a leisurely walk on a gentle forest trail. These factors will help determine the specific hiking gear you’ll need.

Possible Hazards: Potential hazards on the hike include the remote location and the possibility of encountering wild animals. Consider whether specific equipment such as ropes, axes, or mountaineering gear is necessary for these hazards.

Season and Climate: Consider the best season for the specific hike, as weather conditions can be unpredictable, especially in certain regions. Summer backpacking essentials differ from winter necessities on a hike or trek. One must pack gear and clothes according to the season, climate, and expected weather conditions. The winter hiking gear checklist differs somewhat, as you must be prepared for harsh weather conditions. The colder the weather, the more clothing, food, and water you’ll need for your winter hiking adventure.

Duration of the Hike: 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

Before starting your hiking trip, get a detailed map of the area to familiarize yourself with it. Using a GPS device or a compass for longer treks is important. This will increase your chances of survival if you get lost in the wilderness. Be sure to know how to use the device before setting out. The right backpacking gear and essentials will ensure you’re prepared for any situations that may arise.

The right backpack will bring you convenience and make your journey more enjoyable. Pack only what you can comfortably carry and avoid unnecessary load. Do not overpack. For those who enjoy documenting every aspect of their trip for personal or professional reasons, essentials include laptops, cameras, and a travel journal.

To simplify matters, we have divided the Hiking checklist guide and backpacking gear (for beginners) into sections.

  • 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.
Hiking with a backpack with a furry friend. backpacking gear for beginners. Hiking essentials, gear and jack russel companion
Hiking and backpacking gear with a furry friend

Hiking and Backpacking Checklist

Here is a list of the 10 essential hiking gear that every backpacker should carry regardless of the terrain. Beginners to backpacking gear must remember to become familiar with these items. Familiarize yourself with the gear to know how to use it before hitting the road. Further down, we look into more detail and provide insight into hiking gear essentials and why they are essential.

10 Hiking Essentials and Backpacking gear for beginners

  • 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 on your checklist will fit. A lightweight 40-65 litre backpacking bag might be sufficient for a weekend trip. You might need a larger backpack for longer hiking adventures, depending on the remoteness.

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.  

Woman’s backpacks

Do women require specific gear? Yes, the best women’s hiking gear starts with the right backpack. Women’s backpacks tend to have ergonomically shaped shoulder straps and shorter torso lengths. Osprey is known for its durable, lightweight backpacks and many other benefits.

I have an Osprey Viva 45L, and it is a super comfortable lightweight backpack and comes with has the following features:

  • 4 mm LightWire suspension peripheral frame effectively transfers load from the harness to the hip belt.
  • An AirScape back panel with mesh-covered ridged foam allows maximum ventilation while the load is close to the body. 
  • There are dual-side compression straps, dual ice axe/trekking pole loops, and front panel lash loops for attaching extra gear. The Viva backpack also includes a PFC/PFAS-free DWR material rain cover.
  • Side mesh bottle pockets and internal hydration sleeve with hose port in the back panel to stay hydrated on trails.
  • Some Osprey packs include a Daylight Commuter Daypack.
  • The popular Osprey Fairview 40L and the Osprey Aura 65 include daypacks.

Mens Backpacks

Men’s Gear: Osprey Men’s Aether 65 and Osprey Archeon 70 Men’s and MATEIN Travel Laptop Backpack

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 men are sufficient for moderate terrain. 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. Here are recommended lightweight Quick Dry SPF Hiking Tops:

Hiking Pants

The best hiking pants are lightweight, stretchable, and flexible, protecting you from strong wind and water. They should also 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 for extra comfort when trekking in any weather. 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.
  • Women’s walking trousers: Columbia and Patagonia hike 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. They are easy to wash and quick-drying. Tip: backpacking gear for beginners is not to overpack.

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. Before any long hike, beginners need to test their hiking boots and backpacking gear.

Hiking Essentials and Backpacking gear

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. Recommended hats for hiking: Woman hiking Hat and Hiking Hats for men

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.


Consider bringing a lightweight beanie as an added layer of insurance if the weather of the region you are hiking is usually unpredictable. See the various options of Beanies from Merino wool beanie for woman and Merino wool beanie men.

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 backpacking Gear

Bandanas and Neck Gaiters

A Neck Gaiter and/or Bandana are among the best items to add to your checklist. Besides that, they come in beautiful colours and variations, Sports bandanas and Neck gaiters have several uses besides headbands for hiking, running, cycling, and yoga. You can conveniently wear it as a wristband or tie it to your travel bag. The best neck gaiters and moisture-wicking workout headbands have multiple uses: Moisture Wicking Workout Headband, Sweatband Headbands for 

  • A moisture-wicking headband and a sweatband.
  • When sweltering hot, a wet bandana will help you cool off.
  • Bandanas help swat bugs away.
  • Multi Headwear Tube Bandanas Seamless Neck Gaiter will protect your face and neck from the sun.
  • Protection against the cold when hiking in the Mountains.
Hiker wearing a neck gaiter against the cold in the Andes
Hiker with Neck gaiter against the cold in the Andes

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. As a beginner who goes hiking, good-quality sandals should be on your list of Backpacking gear.

Regarding women’s hiking sandals and Outdoor Men’s sandals, I recommend KEEN Men’s Outdoor Sandals and KEEN Sandals for Women.

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 ones. They protect your feet from the sand, rain, and dew and prevent small rocks and grit from getting into your shoes. 

Other Hiking Fundamentals

Trekking Poles

The importance of trekking poles becomes apparent when your knees start to ache after tackling steep climbs and descents. Hiking or trekking poles provide added stability and help shift some weight from your back and legs to your arms. While I prefer one hiking pole, you can choose one or two. Especially on challenging terrains, trekking poles are essential for beginners and can be easily strapped to your backpack. They are accommodating in rugged terrain, preventing knee injuries. Quality hiking poles are adjustable and durable, making them a long-lasting investment. Consider checking out the Aihoye Collapsible Hiking Poles, which are ideal additions to your hiking checklist.

Backpacking Water Reservoir & Water Filter

Remember to carry at least 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. In addition to drinking water, you also need water for cooking and cleaning. Bring a sturdy water reservoir that can hold at least three litres and withstand knocks and drops. Also, bring a small water filter to purify your water. Consider carrying a 1, 1.5, or 2-litre leak-free bladder bag. For backpacking gear, consider Aqua Water Purification Tablets or a Water Purifier Straw for beginners and all hikers/campers.

Rechargeable Headlamp

A headlamp with extra batteries is essential backpacking gear for all hikers, not just beginners. It should be the first item on your hiking checklist. Ensure the batteries are fully charged and easily accessible. When the sun goes down, you’ll need a rechargeable headlamp or flashlight to set up camp and prepare a meal. If darkness falls while you’re on the trail, a powerful backpacking headlamp will help you stay on course. The LED headlamp flashlight 2-PACK LED Rechargeable Headlamp for outdoor activities is among the most popular.

Navigation Equipment

Map and Compass Essentials

The Navigation Hiking Camping Compass may seem old-school, but it is one of the most reliable pieces of navigation equipment. It is imperative to have navigation equipment on any hiking checklist. A Waterproof Military Lensatic Sighting Compass with a magnifying glass, mapping ruler, reading scale, and distance calculator can help you find your way when all other devices fail or the batteries dry up. I recommend getting an updated waterproof map of the place you’re visiting, buying a baseplate compass, and learning how to use it for free.

GPS device

Backpacking gear for beginners tip: Besides a 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 helps you keep track of time, reminds you to take breaks, and lets you know when to speed up. Bring a hiking watch that also functions as a navigation tool, includes a weather tracker, and is weather resistant. Consider the Garmin Instinct, a rugged outdoor watch with GPS, GLONASS and Galileo, heart rate monitoring, a 3-axis compass, and a graphite finish.

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 there is no cell signal where you’re going.
Backpacking gear for beginners is a Lightweight hiking tent with sunset in background
Hiking tent at sunset

When you arrive at your campsite, you’ll want to immerse yourself in the wilderness and relax. Make sure you have the necessary gear for a comfortable night’s sleep.

Overnight Hiking Gear

Lightweight Hiking Tent

It is much better to have a super-light quality tent that withstand stormy weather. Preferably, it should be a 4- or 5-season tent that’s waterproof, windproof, and spacious enough to stretch and store your items. The tip for Backpacking gear for beginners is that the tent should also provide enough airflow. 

Tarp vs Rainfly

A tarp and a rainfly are versatile outdoor essentials that serve multiple purposes. Both can be used as groundsheets to protect against dampness, makeshift sleeping bags in emergencies, and overhead coverings to shield from rain or sun. The main distinction between tarps and rain fly is that tarps are typically insulated and more durable, albeit heavier than rain fly. Interestingly, there is a growing trend among outdoor enthusiasts to favour tarps and rain fly over tents. 

Rain Fly: A rainfly is essential to a tent without walls, known by various names such as tarpaulin, bivouac, bivvy, or hootchie. When camping, bringing a rain fly along with your tent is always a good idea to prepare for unexpected showers. When correctly set up, a rain fly protects your tent, keeping it dry and ensuring you stay comfortable. 

For an even more convenient camping experience, consider investing in a Camping Hammock with Rain Fly Tarp and Mosquito Net / Double Nylon Parachute Hammock Rainfly Set, perfect for backpacking and hiking trips.

Sleeping Bag

With so many sleeping bags available, check out the following popular 4-season sleeping bags:

Inflatable Pillow

If you find sleeping difficult without a pillow, get an outdoor Lightweight Camping Pillow with a removable cover.

Rain Fly

Backpacking gear for beginners

When venturing into ultralight backpacking, a versatile tarp can be an invaluable addition to your gear, offering a multitude of practical uses. For instance, a lightweight backpacking tarp can provide additional protection above your tent or hammock during rainy conditions, ensuring a dry and comfortable shelter. Additionally, for novice backpackers, laying the tarp on wet ground before setting up your tent can help keep the interior dry. Furthermore, the tarp can create shade, enhancing your outdoor experience in sunny conditions.

Expert Backpacking Tips for Beginners

Before your next camping trip, practice setting up your new tent at home. This will ensure you arrive at the campsite feeling prepared and confident, knowing exactly how to put the tent together. It’s common for your feet to get cold when sleeping in a sleeping bag. To prevent this, pack some clothes at the bottom of your sleeping bag; they’ll absorb moisture and help keep you warm.

The Backpacking Kitchen

Hiking and Backpacking Food

When preparing for a day of hiking, it’s crucial to pack nourishing, lightweight food that will sustain you throughout the day. Consider opting for high-nutrition options to keep your energy levels up. Some backpacking meals can be conveniently prepared at home before your adventure. See the following: Hiking Breakfasts, best hiking lunches and dinners.

  • 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 by cutting it in half and using a flame.
  • When hiking and camping, we always pack vacuum-sealed meat for barbecues. Nothing beats the smell and taste of boerewors and chops on the grill.
Hiker preparing snacks during a break on a hike. Backpacking gear for beginners hiker preparing a meal on a pitstop.
Hiker preparing snacks during a break

Visit The Checklist for backpack and hiking food on your trip. Learn how to pre-pack your snacks, what cheeses to take, and how to make your own dried hummus to enjoy Hummus on the hike.

Backpacking Cooking Equipment

Remember to get a lightweight backpacking stove that boils water quickly and is easy to pack. Invest in a high-quality backpacking stove; remember to bring extra fuel. I suggest getting a Stormproof match kit, as the matches are easy to light and can burn up to 15 seconds. They can also relight after getting wet. Additionally, you’ll need fire starters, lighters, waterproof matches, and a tinderbox. Camping cookware set with pots, dishes, and utensils is also essential.

Small Cloths

These handy small dishcloths are great for keeping things clean and dry around the camp. Consider getting these beautiful Mixed Camping Kitchen Dishcloths to replace your towels.

Extra Supply: During severe weather, having extra food can be a lifesaver.

Essential Emergency Equipment

Backpacking gear for beginners

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 Medical First Aid Kit for Backpacking, like the Ultralight/Watertight Medical Kit, containing bandages, tweezers, scissors, surgical tape, and antibacterial cream. Furthermore, remember to include a Blister Kit, moleskin, and Insect repellent.  

Whistle, Life-Straw and Flare

If your backpack doesn’t have a Hiking whistle on the chest strap, you should buy emergency whistles. 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 and Duck Tape

The best multi-tool for backpacking is a Folding Camping Knife. This knife can be used to prepare meals and fix gear around the camp. All-weather tape can temporarily fix a torn tent or rain jacket. Wrapping outdoor duck tape around your water bottle can save space and is recommended backpacking gear for beginners.

Washing Pegs & Nylon Rope

We have a solution for those inevitable wet clothes during hikes. Clothespins and nylon rope are our go-to items. We hang our wet socks at the back of the backpack, allowing them to dry quickly as we continue our hike. 

Another handy tip for drying wet socks on the go is to utilize the back of your backpack. This simple yet effective method allows your socks to dry quickly as you hike, making it a practical solution for any outdoor enthusiast. 

Ziplock Bags

Reusable food storage bags conveniently store snacks, leftovers, and toiletries. Their environmental impact is minimal compared to waste paper products and some disposables.

Hikers on a viewpoint overlooking the Ocean with their backpacking gear #backpackinggearforbeginners
Hikers on a viewpoint overlooking the Ocean with their backpacking gear

Other Hiking Essentials


Hiking Towel & Sanitiser: Just because you’re in the field or mountains doesn’t mean you must look messy. Backpacking gear for beginners: Take 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

Remember to use all-purpose biodegradable soap to keep the local ecosystem uncontaminated when you clean. It is excellent for cleaning your hands, skin, hair, clothing, dishes, or anything else you need to clean while on the go. Don’t forget your oral hygiene, even in the wild. 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 compact it, and use the toilet paper sparingly. If you are committed to employing a proper cathole technique and plan to bury it thereafter, use any product labelled as biodegradable, whether soap or toothpaste, 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 to journal every day, as one quickly forgets things. By journaling, you will relive those special moments when you read them later. Also, print out two itineraries of your hiking 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 a 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. 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?

Backpacking Tips

  • Put your documents, cell phone, camera, and gadgets in waterproof or zip-lock bags. Also, place the paperwork in an easy-to-access spot.
  • Remember, most remote towns don’t have 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.

Here are some breathtaking hiking trails to unleash the hiker within you:

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  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!