It can be a real pain to lose or forget something when backpacking, especially if you have to backtrack miles to retrieve it.

Are there any tips to avoid this?

  • 1
    One way is to travel with an OCD-neatnik person who never mislays anything because of the way her brain is wired.
    – ab2
    Commented Sep 2, 2017 at 17:38
  • 1
    @ab2 Nobody should be responsible for anyone else forgetting something Commented Sep 2, 2017 at 19:22
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    In theory, yes. But theories aren't always practical in real life.
    – ab2
    Commented Sep 2, 2017 at 19:26
  • A place for everything and everything in it's place. Plan ahead. Here are things I don't need to unpack every time, here is cooking gear, here is food, here are dry things, here are the things I need when I make camp. You'll easier notice when something is missing, but more importantly - if you don't unpack stuff you don't need right now, less chance of forgetting it. Most cases I have forgotten stuff is when I didn't know I had unpacked it... Not to forget the absurd number of caps and sunglasses I have donated to the wilds after stopping to hydrate... Keep spares ;-)
    – Stian
    Commented Sep 6, 2017 at 12:29
  • 1
    be organized, dont carry a ton of stuff, dont carry any unuseful thing, use bright colors and do a quick lookup of the area before leaving. Commented Sep 7, 2017 at 15:49

6 Answers 6


The tips that I can think of are,

  • Keep your backpack organized and place things into the same pockets each time.
  • Try to avoid pulling everything out of your backpack if you don't have to.
  • If you have to pull stuff out of your backpack, place them onto a barren surface like a rock or tarp (avoid long grass).
  • Brightly colored things are harder to misplace, it can be worth it to mark things with bright orange tape or paint.
  • Keep the area in which you place items as small as possible.
  • After everything is packed and your backpack is on, do a visual sweep of the area to make sure that nothing has been left behind.
  • 3
    Get into the habit of putting items back in your backpack a soon as you have finished using it. When putting items down, put them down on or in you backpack. i.e. make it most likely if you walk away and do nothing, you are carrying the item with you.
    – user5330
    Commented Sep 1, 2017 at 3:57
  • 1
    Striped paint works really well - I use red+white for a small wire hook I made for hanging my candle lantern and which is really easy to lose. If you can't find any striped paint, tartan will do just as well, but it tends to come in less conspicuous colours... Commented Sep 1, 2017 at 13:17
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    This is a great answer. One key point I think it's missing is to securely attach things, and balance security vs. convenience as needed for each item. For example, if you lose your car keys in the woods you're probably screwed, and you also probably don't need those keys at all during the hike - make sure that is very securely attached to something you absolutely will not lose, like your backpack itself!
    – cr0
    Commented Sep 1, 2017 at 16:16

Well, I'm a total scatterbrain on the trail, so I can answer from hard experience.

There are three scenarios - before you go, leaving camp or accommodation, and getting back on trail after a rest.

Before you go

This one's easy - the spreadsheet is your friend. I have printed checklists in plastic sleeves, and they have saved me a good deal of pain.

Keeping your storage organised will definitely help, but it's easy to forget things that you have in your day-sack, or that torch you used for a job around the house...

And having a packing routine is also helpful. If everything has its place in your system, you're more likely to notice if it's missing.

Leaving camp or accommodation

This really shouldn't be a problem. You're fresh, and you've just been packing so making sure you have everything is top of mind.

One key is developing tidy camp routines. If I use anything away from the tent such as a stove, I'll stow it back under the fly immediately after use. If everything is in one place, it's hard to forget in the morning. If you spread yourself around, the risk is higher.

The most common risk is tent pegs - so again, develop a routine. Count them into your hand as you take down your shelter to be sure you don't leave any in the ground. Then put them straight into the peg bag - never lay them down. Know how many you have out with you and as a double-check, count them in the bag before you pack it away.

Before I leave, I will always have a wander around to double-check I've got everything.

The same applies if you're in a hut or hostel - be sure to keep everything in one place rather than spreading stuff around. Here the main risks are electronics on recharge, toiletries, towels and torches.

In each scenario, have a mental checklist for your morning pack.

On the trail

This is more risky. You may be tired, or chatting with your companions, or preoccupied with some issue you're facing on the trail.

My personal solution is lanyards. Everything vital, such as my hat, compass, wallet, phone, PLB and the like is either attached to my body or to my pack (even as a scatterbrain, I've never managed to forget my pack!).

I do try to remember to check around when I leave, but sometimes forget. Which is why I've resorted to physical safeguards.

Long story short...

  1. Be aware of the things you are most likely to forget in each scenario, and develop a routine to run through a physical or mental checklist every time you depart

  2. If you are still liable to forget things, tie them to yourself or to your pack!

  • Does a spreadsheet have any advantage over a simple written list? I'm a fan of the latter (it's easy to have a "super-list" and just cross off the irrelevant items - e.g. no crampons on a summer walk). Commented Sep 5, 2017 at 8:29
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    Tent pegs are indeed a risk - my discipline is to never lay them on the ground. They are either holding the tent to the ground, or in the peg bag, and never leave my hand in between. After a few trips, that discipline is so ingrained, it's never forgotten, even when packing up in a gale. Commented Sep 5, 2017 at 9:25
  • @TobySpeight - clearly, a written list will do fine. Spreadsheets have become a bit of an obsession with lightweight walkers like myself so we can keep track of our base weights. And with free cloud offerings like Google Sheets they can be accessed from anywhere with an internet connection. Commented Sep 5, 2017 at 10:19
  • Ah, adding up the weights - I can see that as an advantage of a spreadsheet or small database. And I wouldn't call you a "lightweight"! ;-) Commented Sep 5, 2017 at 10:32

An extension of the same things in same pockets approach is kits for specific purposes: a cook kit might include cutlery, lighter, stove tools, washing up necessities, penknife; a valuables or daily carry kit could include money, ID, keys, penknife. But wherever you choose to put the knife, that's its home. Then you can check the cook kit after everything has cooled down and before you set off, for example.

Each kit goes in a bag, with as much labelling as you feel necessary. For trips that involve shared responsiblity, a full list of contents for each kit can be written on the bag. Small thin dry bags are quite suitable and can be written on with marker pen. These bags are often brightly coloured, which is no bad thing; in fact bags that are effectively camouflaged run the risk of leaving the whole bag, especially if you're setting off at dawn.

Larger items are much less of an issue and are dealt with by checking the ground after everyone has their pack on. Check carefully around the fire or where you had the stove. This is also a check for litter.

Worst of all are tent pegs. They hide in the grass and you may have quite a few without spares. If you're running really tight, counting them into the bag may be the only way. If you've got (or can make) a couple of spares, you don't need to go to that extreme.

You can keep a log of who finds the most dropped kit after the bags are packed. They win a symbolic prize on return, like the leader buys them a drink.

  • This is really good advice for groups (I tend to mostly travel solo, or in pairs, so overlook the different dynamics). It's probably no coincidence that the rescue teams I know all have the same approach - related things together, clearly labelled, so that any team member knows immediately what goes where. Commented Sep 5, 2017 at 8:33
  • @TobySpeight I used to do a lot of group treks; within the group we had several tent-teams so a forgotten lighter would be OK but a whole bag of pegs would be a problem. Now I take similar approach to my emergency kit when kayaking -- so if I'm involved in a rescue I can send a runner (potentially a novice) to my boat for stuff and know they'll come back with the right kit and not my lunch.
    – Chris H
    Commented Sep 5, 2017 at 9:18
  • This is exactly what I was about to write
    – user2766
    Commented Sep 5, 2017 at 10:44
  • "daily carry kit could include money, ID, keys" Surely you do not need those things daily?
    – Martin F
    Commented Sep 7, 2017 at 19:43
  • @MartinF I was mainly referring to those items typically carried as part of daily life (even if not travelling) - valuables didn't quite cover it. In fact that kit may well end up quite tucked away. But plenty of European long distance routes (such as the French GRs) pass through villages pretty frequently; even if you can't buy much there there's often a bit of fresh food to buy.
    – Chris H
    Commented Sep 7, 2017 at 20:14

I try to always check all the zippers on my pack before putting it on and then turn around and scan the area before walking off.


Before leaving home: I prepare myself two safety kits (see this one as an idea) - one contains medication and first aid, the other has survival tools (like matches and stuff to build a fire). I check their content periodically, so when I leave to a trip I just throw the boxes in my bag and know I have all I need.

The rest of the things: I try to run a scenario of a day. I need water and food - do I have a bottle? snacks?; I arrive in the evening - I need tools for cooking; I have to set camp - do I have all I need for sleeping?


Routine is your friend.

Tent pegs: One person picks up all the pegs. Start from the front and go around. Count the pegs.

Cup & spoon: Top right pack pocket. Rain gear: outside top pocket.


When running trips, I tied each boy's cup to his spoon with 18" of paracord. Told them to hang it in a tree by their tarp, or in their pack when not in use. When I found a cup and spoon left around the camp, I'd pick it up, check the name (paint pen) "Smith!" "Yes sir?" "Who's responsible for your cup?" "I am sir." Hold up cup. "Oops"

We also would do a check of camp, not just our own tent, but all the tenting sites. Most of the time we would raise hell about litter, but we found other stuff too.

Lunch was the biggest problem. People would peel down to swim in the creek, or layer up because they were chilled, then forget stuff when lunch was over. One person again, did a sweep.

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