This 3-day backpacking checklist includes everything you’ll need for a comfortable weekend backpacking trip — nothing more, nothing less.
If you are just starting out or if you want to have your backpacking gear dialed in for your next trip, this guide will have you covered. I encourage you to make adjustments based on your specific needs but try to stick to the essentials.
In this checklist, I detail everything I bring on a three-day weekend backpacking trip in the spring, summer, or fall. I hope that this detailed packing list will ease your planning, help you figure out what you can cut out, and give you some good choices for gear to invest in that will last you for many years.
Start planning your next backpacking trip and make sure you have everything you need with this 3-day backpacking checklist.
Starting right at the top, picking out the correct bag for your trip is the most important gear decision you are going to make. The pack will need to be big enough to hold all of your gear, comfortable enough to wear on long trekking days, and durable enough to last for many trips to come. Everything on your backpacking checklist will be housed in this bag, so choose wisely!
Ideally, for a 3-day backpacking trip during the Summer, Fall or Spring when the weather is more temperate, you can get away with a 45 to 55L pack. In colder temps, you may need to up your carrying capacity in order to pack warmer clothing and/or more layers.
We are huge fans of Gregory Backpacks because we believe they check all of the boxes that are most important to us. They are incredibly durable and dependable. They have features such as full front access on some of their bags that no other manufacturer offers. Their fit is very universal and makes for very comfortable hiking days.
For a 3-Day backpacking trip, I personally use the Gregory Baltoro 75L because I carry a ton of camera gear. It has the best weight support, and having a lot of extra space allows me to move the gear around the pack to make it very comfortable. If I didn’t carry so much gear, my go-to bag would be the newly released, ultralight Gregory 58L Focal.
Your tent will always be one of the heaviest items in your pack, so make sure you choose one that is big enough to accommodate you (and your partner) comfortable, but not too big that your back is screaming at you. There are a lot of options that greatly range in price, but I highly recommend two tents above all the others.
My personal tent of choice is the Nemo Hornet 2p Ultralight Backpacking Tent. It is incredibly light, packs up super easily, and is spacious (enough) for two people. It also has two pretty big vestibule areas that keep your backpack and dirty gear outside of the tent while keeping it safe from the weather.
If you want a bit more space, the Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL 2 is an amazing tent! It is almost as light as the Nemo, but it is completely freestanding and has a lot more interior space.
The temperature rating of your bag is going to be dependent upon a few different factors: the weather and climate, time of year, type of sleeper, etc. I good rule of thumb is to plan for the temperature to be 10° colder than what the report says the low will be. So if the nighttime low is 45° I would bring a bag that is rated for 35°.
To be honest, I normally bring a very warm bag. In fact, my go-to bag is the Nemo Kayu Ultralight 15° Sleeping Bag. It’s overkill, I know. But I can always unzip to sleep with half of my body exposed. I would rather be over-prepared than under.
I can’t stress the importance of having a proper sleeping pad. It may be the most misunderstood or overlooked piece of gear when it comes to sleep systems. You can have the warmest sleeping bag in the world, but if you don’t have a properly rated sleeping pad, say goodbye to your body temps. This is especially true when you are using down-insulated bags. Down loses almost all of its insulating properties when compressed. This means there is very little warmth being held in by your bag underneath you – that is taken care of by your sleeping pad.
I use the Nemo Tensor Regular Wide Sleeping Pad because it is insanely light, very comfortable, and has a true 3 season insulation rating. It also doesn’t make any annoying sounds as you move around, which I do (a lot). It comes with the Nemo Vortex pump sack making inflating a breeze.
I admit I was pretty anti hiking poles for a long time. I thought they were more of a nuisance than an aid. Keep in mind, much of my dismay came from hikers using them on day hikes and swinging them around – basically using them improperly in places where they weren’t necessary. Then, I got older. LOL
I won’t backpack without trekking poles. They are a required part of my kit. My packs tend to be heavy due to camera gear and copious amounts of chocolate. Though I don’t mind the extra help poles give by allowing you to use your upper body a bit when climbing, it is the downhill that gets me.
Do yourself a favor, and use poles when descending with any kind of weight on your back. Your knees will thank you. The Black Diamond Trail Ergo Cork Trekking Poles are a solid set that has all the bells and whistles I need. They are super stable, fold down reasonably small, and are fairly lightweight.
Headlamp / Torch
I have used the Petzl Tactikka Core Headlamp for many years and it has worked flawlessly. It is unique in that it has a self-regulating brightness adapter mode that helps to conserve battery life. It also has a hybrid charging system allowing you to use AAA batteries in a pinch. The red light also helps to save your night vision and avoid that awkward moment when you blind people trying to have a conversation.
GPS / Communication Device(s)
The Garmin inReach Mini allows for two-way custom texting and also has GPS that you can use for navigating. It just may save your life one day. It also helps keep your loved ones at ease when you’re off the grid by letting you send updates.
I also bring along a pair of Rocky Talkies for communication amongst the group. These are crucial for nailing poses when your subjects are far away, or when using a drone. They also allow the group to be more versatile allowing individuals to break off due to interests, speed, energy, etc, but stay in safe contact with everyone.
First Aid Kit
You should always have a first aid kit on your backpakcng checklist and whenever you are adventuring or traveling off-grid. Accidents happen – just check my scar count. Adventure Medical Kits Ultralight & Watertight Medical Kit come in an assortment of sizes that you can choose from depending on your and/or the groups’ needs.
I usually go through the kit and customize it with items that I am more familiar with – otherwise, I’m just carrying useless weight. I also add in my own leuko blister tape strips that I make. I use this leuko tape and this paper backing.
Backpacking Checklist: Cooking & Kitchen Gear
There are loads of options for cooking food when backpacking, but I tend to keep it very simple. I want to spend my time enjoying the outdoors, taking photos and being wild in the wild. The last thing I want to be concerned with is wrestling with prepping or cooking my food.
Backpacking Stove and Fuel
There is no easier, more convenient, and reliable option than a Jetboil Zip Cooking System. It is super simple, fairly small, and very reliable. For my cooking needs, I only need to heat up water for my meals and coffee. Carry a long handle spoon/spork to make digging into your backpacking meals less messy.
Pro Tip: Divide the carrying weight by having one person carry the Jetboil and someone carrying the fuel.
Water Filtration System
I recently tested and am in love with the Grayl Ultrapress Water Purifier. Yes, it is heavy, but you have to keep in mind that it is a filter AND a water bottle. So that perceived extra weight negates itself when you compare it against a filter plus a water bottle. Also, this is one of the only purifying systems that filter viruses.
I also carry Water purifying tablets for emergencies. They are very small and you can easily stow them with your first aid kit and not even know they are there.
You will need something that you can keep in your hand when it’s filled with piping hot coffee or tea, as well as keep your beverage nice and cool on warmer evenings. A backpacker’s favorite, including me, is the GSI Outdoors Infinity Backpackers Mug. It’s insulated and only weighs 3.2oz. Plus, it is spill-resistant and has a little handle making your java sipping just delightful.
Knife or Multi-Tool
I use the Gerber Dime for backpacking & Mountain biking. The spring-loaded pliers work well, the tiny scissors are strong, and the knife blade is sharp. It even has tiny tweezers for the unexpected splinter. All of the tools lock securely into place when you’re using them, and the unit feels solid and durable.
Spyderco Delica 4 Lightweight 7.15″ Signature Folding Knife is the best knife out there for backpacking. This knife combines a lightweight of only 2.5 oz with a razor sharp blade and a remarkably comfortable, solid grip.
Bear Canister or Bag
This is a requirement in some parks, but not necessarily everywhere you go. Make sure you check before you head out. For shorter trips or when only carrying food for yourself, the Medium Bear Vault is a good, inexpensive option. For longer trips, or when carrying for two people, go for the larger version.
Backpacking Checklist: Toiletries
Let’s just be open and honest about what we doing out in the wild. We are being free. It’s okay to be grimey and stinky. In fact, it’s kind of expected. When it comes to figuring out what to put in your toiletry kit, think about hygiene. The rest of the fluff will be waiting for you when you return home.
Toothpaste and Toothbrush
Do you know that travel aisle that has all the super cute, tiny bottles of things that are supposedly for travel use? Well, this is the one time you might actually use them! The toothbrush is up to you. As for the toothpaste, go with a travel-size version. Our favorite is the Dr Bronners because it is all-natural, fair trade certified, and the packaging is completely recyclable.
Let’s Talk About Your Poop Kit
We all do it. It’s a natural thing. For some, what is unnatural is the idea of doing it outside of a bathroom. Please read about proper Leave No Trace practices and poop the right way in the wild. When done correctly, you are actually helping Mother Earth.
Despite the dry or frozen soil, the Duece Ultralight Trowel ensures that you can deposit your own brand of fertilizer into the Earth’s natural garden. Digging a personal latrine is more than a cosmetic camping practice because, when buried, your waste is quickly decomposed and absorbed as nutrients instead of running into the local watershed.
Have an extra Ziploc or stuff sack with you that you designate for the dirty TP, and pack it out. Use some hand sanitizer to clean your hands. If you use wet wipes, just remember that they also get packed out with you.
When you’re backpacking, especially in higher elevations, your skin is constantly being exposed to harmful UV rays. Sun Bum Orginal SPF 50 is a reef-safe sunscreen that is made with clean ingredients.
Nobody likes chapped lips, being exposed to the elements can bring them on in a jiffy. We always stash some Dr Bronners Organic Lip Balm to protect our kissers. As a side note, lip balm can be indirectly applied elsewhere in emergencies. (wink)
Quick Dry Towel
A lightweight quick dry towel is always handy, whether it’s for drying your hands, doing dishes, or being used after a shower or swim. They come in a variety of sizes so you can pack what you need.
Backpacking Checklist: Clothing
This is the part of the list that most people get wrong. It took me many trips before I trusted my clothing setup. No matter how many times I heard others say it, I still needed to go through it to learn on my own. It is safe to say that you only NEED about half of what you THINK you need.
Since we are sticking to a 3-day trip, the truth is you only need 1 full hiking outfit and 1 camp outfit. Obviously, there are a couple of things you can bring extras of, but after a couple of hours on the trail, you will be happy you decided to leave the fashion show back at home.
Though comfort is king, steer clear of cotton fabrics. Cotton holds moisture and collects odor, both of which won’t make you comfortable on the trail. Stick to moisture-wicking fabrics that pull the sweat away from your skin, dries quickly and resist odor.
Rain Shell or Shell
Even though many of my backcountry trips take place in the desert with super low chances of rain, I ALWAYS pack a rain jacket. It is a crucial part of The Adventure Dispatch backpacking checklist. A wet backpacker is not a happy backpacker. Plus these jackets are also windproof, so even if it doesn’t rain, a shell will protect you from other elements.
This is the piece of gear that I absolutely recommend spending money to get the best quality you can afford. When you purchase a quality piece of gear you should expect it to last years. I have used the same jacket, the Arc’teyx Beta LT Jacket, for the last 8 years and it works just like the day I bought it. The LT hits the perfect spot for me when it comes to weight and waterproofness.
Insulated Jacket or Vest
Probably one of my favorite and most worn pieces of gear is my mid-layer. The North Face Ventrix Hooded Jacket goes on every single adventure I do. It is incredibly comfortable, super warm, very breathable, and ultralight (13.4 oz).
By far, the most popular jacket in this space is the Arc’teryx Atom LT Hoody (13.2 oz) which is also a fantastic jacket. I don’t have personal experience with the hoody, but I do have and use the Arc’teryx Atom LT Vest on warmer excursions.
Top Base Layer
For colder weather, the Patagonia Capilene Midweight Crew Top is a great choice for a base layer. It’s 100% recycled, only weighs 6.5 oz and is more durable than merino. The fit is great – not too tight or loose, and resists odors.
For warmer treks, I always bring my Outdoor Research Echo Hoody. It is ultralight, quick-drying, odor-resistant and comes in rad vibrant colors. My only qualm with it is that they tend to run just a hair short in length.
Moisture Wicking T-Shirt
On my backpacking checklist, I usually account for 2 Outdoor Research Echo Tees because they are so incredibly lightweight and I know I am going to sweat when wearing a pack. It’s nice to have a tee to switch out after taking a break while the other one dries.
I am a big fan of the Eddie Bauer Guide Pro Pants. They also come in a slim version if you prefer a more tailored fit. These have lasted me for years, don’t loosen up to much on multiday trips, dry quick and don’t restrict movement. The only downside is the lack of breathability on warmer days.
In warmer weather, the Outdoor Research Ferrosi pant are the ultimate hiking pant. These are the most breathable hiking pants on the market are still incredibly durable with decent moisture wicking capabilities.
I admit, I mostly hike in shorts. I run very hot which means I sweat. A lot. The more air I can get on my skin the better. Keep in mind, most of my adventures happen in warmer, dry climates. The most important factors to me are fit, breathability and durability.
I go with one of two setups. It is either a pair of Vuori Trail Shorts with a liner or the Outdoor Research Ferrosi 7 in Short. The Vuori are insanely comfortable and move with you like a second layer of skin, but won’t hold up in harsher conditions like thick brush. The Ferrosi shorts on the other hand are ready for anything you can dish out. As a bonus, they have an integrated hip belt so you can adjust on the fly.
Quick Dry Undies
No backpacking checklist would be complete without talking about the under skivvies. I bring two pairs of quick drying underwear that I alternate, so breathability and odor control are 2 of the most important features I look for. I usually bring an ultralight and super quick-drying pair of Outdoor Research Echo Boxer Briefs and an Icebreaker Anatomica Boxer that has better odor control, but are a bit of a heavier fabric.
Sometimes overlooked, your sock choice if one of the most important sections on your backpacking checklist. When it comes to sock shopping, I am looking for a couple of keypoints that need to be hit.
As a hot hiker and usually in warmer weather, having lightweight sock with great breathability is paramount, but it can’t come at the sacrifice of proper padding for long treks. I’ve tried many socks, but the Smartwpol PHD Pro Light Crew sock have been the best for my needs.
Now I need to be 100 here. My go-to adventure footwear of choice are a solid pair of Chacos. I have backpacked with heavy gear through super rough terrain wearing Chacos. They work for me, but that doesn’t mean they work for everyone. Recently, I have found boots that may have changed the game for me.
With a bummer knee injury thanks to trail running in “minimalist” shoes, I went in search of more padded footwear to keep these old bones from getting older. Every runner that I know and trust all pointed to Hoka One One for trail runners. I gave them a try and instantly converted.
I had a backpacking trip coming up, so I gave the Hoka One One Anacapa Hiking Boots a try and fell in love. They are very lightweight, have enough padding to dampen the footfalls, but not so much so that you feel squishy, and don’t feel restrictive like many boots do.
It blows my mind when I hear backpackers not bringing camp sandals or when they try to tell me I don’t need the extra weight. You. Are. Crazy. Backpacking is an exercise in simplicity, and what it more simple than the pure joy of pulling off your ragged, tired hiking boots and slipping into nice, cozy camp slippers to enjoy the evening?
I have had a pair of Sanuk Vagabond Sidewalk Surfer that have come on every backpacking trip I’ve been on unless it involves snow or heavy chances of rain. They weigh 6 oz, pack flat and are super comfy, not to mention stylish!
A ton of backpackers love their Crocs. They are durable, have decent protection and ultralight, but I don’t like the bulk they add, and find them to be slippery when wet. Others go with a hybrid water shoe like the Vivobarefoot Ultra 3 or a camp sandal like the Xero Shoes Z-Trail Sandals.
For cold weather camping, the North Face Thermoball Traction Booties are the jam! They keep you feet toasty warm and dry even on the coldest of nights.
Backpacking Checklist: Accesories
When backpacking, you’ll want to bring a hat and sunglasses to protect yourself from the sun. I frequently wear a trucker hat while backpacking, but sometimes go with the Outdoor Research Sombriolet Hat when I want more coverage.
I also recommend a Buff, which may be worn over your neck for sun protection, across your face and ears for wind protection, and even as a headband. You should also bring gloves and a beanie if it’s going to be cold.