10 Essential Things to Prep and Pack For a Backpacking Trip

Before you head out in the back woods, learn what you must do before you go and what to make sure you bring with you.


Photo By: Jeremy Pawlowski

Photo By: Jeremy Pawlowski

Photo By: Jeremy Pawlowski

Photo By: Jeremy Pawlowski


Photo By: Jeremy Pawlowski

Photo By: Jeremy Pawlowski

Photo By: Jeremy Pawlowski

1. Plan Ahead

While it's true that nothing can prepare you for living out of a backpack other than actually doing it, planning never hurt anyone. Research routes and trails, scour the internet for other peoples experiences, and look for tips on what to see and do where you're going. And most importantly, check the weather!

2. Do a Test Run

There's nothing worse than being well into a long hike and realizing that you left an important piece of gear back home. Pack your bag and head out for a day hike as if it were the real thing. Set up your tent, cook a meal, and see what pieces of gear you wish you had brought and which should have been left at home. If you are new to backpacking don’t be afraid to over pack a little, it’s better to have something and not need it than the other way around.

3. Bring Good Footwear

Tennis shoes will do for shorter less intense hikes, but if you plan on doing strenuous or multi-day outings, invest in a good pair of hiking boots. They may cost a lot up front, but your feet will thank you in the long run. Be sure to allow yourself some time to break in new boots before hitting the trail. 

4. Get the Right Size Backpack

People always say, "if you have the space, you'll fill it", this adage goes for backpacks too. With sizes ranging from 30L all the way up to 75L, bigger is better doesn't apply, especially when thinking about your back. If you're doing an extended trail (such as the Appalachian or PCT) then the larger end of the spectrum may be what you need to fit everything when away from civilization. If you're sticking to weekend overnighters it's probably best to get something a bit smaller, it will force you to only carry what you absolutely need.

5. Appropriate Sleeping Gear

If there is one place where you should invest your money it’s in a sleeping bag and pad. A good night's sleep is invaluable when you’re putting in a lot of miles on the trail and the best way to achieve that is with a pad to keep you off the hard ground and a sleeping bag that is best suited to the lowest temperature you might encounter.

6. Have Enough Light

Most of us rely on our cell phones when we need a flashlight from time to time, but out in the woods you’ll something a little more powerful. A headlamp is important for those times you roll into camp after dark or those mornings when you want to be on the trail before the sun rises. 

7. Plan Your Meals

You may not be able to cook gourmet meals just because of the sheer weight that would add to your pack, but you can still eat well. Bring a small stove to heat water for foods such as noodles and oatmeal or prepackaged freeze-dried meals. There are even some harder cheeses that can last a few days without refrigeration. Be sure to pack trail mix, jerky and granola bars to get you through the long days.

8. Bring Back-Up Water Filteration

Plastic bottles are great but look into lighter packable options that can be rolled when empty as to not take up valuable bag space. Be sure to plan water refill stops during your trip or if there are no places to refill look into iodine drops, chlorine tablets, or a water purification system that will allow you to safely drink water from a natural source.

9. Be Ready When Nature Calls

Not always a pleasant topic but something the will inevitably come up on a multi-day trip. Make sure to pack a roll of toilet paper and some wet wipes!

10. Let Someone Know

An often forgotten aspect of backing is the chance that something could go wrong. Most of us go into a trip with nothing but visions of beautiful sunrises, amazing mountain vistas and a chance to escape from the modern world of cell phones and computers; but the possibility of injury or getting lost is always there. Before you head off on the trail let someone know where you are hiking and your estimated homecoming. Although they may not be right there to help you if something does go wrong, they can certainly expedite a rescue if that's what it comes to. 

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