I would like to get into backpacking and make 2-3 day backpacking trips in moderate climatic conditions in mountainous terrains (mid-Atlantic U.S. or Central Europe, spring-fall). I am looking for suggestions as to what gear I should acquire, e.g. backpack, tent, sleepware, cookware etc.

I am an experienced and avid outdoorsman (mostly whitewater kayaker) and I camp regularly but out of my truck, which provides for a lot of comfort. I am aware that backpacking is quite different. I am looking for general guidelines.

  • 2
    What you take is really up to you really. I would say, before you go lay out all of your kit, look at each item and ask yourself two questions 1) do I really need this 2) have I got something else here that will do the job just as well? You'll appreciate each gram you save.
    – user2766
    Commented Jan 10, 2014 at 17:14
  • 1
    For some friends just starting out, I wrote a thorough beginner guide to backpacking gear: gist.github.com/theJollySin/4df50a08d6e0ab9955c9 Commented Sep 22, 2014 at 23:18

6 Answers 6


Hooray! Welcome to the wonderful world of backpacking! This post is LONG, so I've made a summary list to get you started, and what follows below is a probably way too comprehensive explanation of the items. Sorry for the tl;dr!


  • Backpack (with detachable day pack or separate, if needed)
  • Tent (or hammock, bivy, etc.)
  • Stakes and guylines
  • Tarp/tent footprint
  • Tent repair kit
  • Sleeping mat
  • Pillow or rolled-up clothes
  • Sleeping bag with compression sack
  • Pot/pan/kettle
  • Lighter with fluid/striker
  • Contained fuel and stove
  • Stirring/serving utensil
  • Bowl/plate
  • Eating utensil
  • Mug/cup
  • Biodegradable dish soap
  • Water bottles
  • Water bladder
  • Water purification system
  • Food (breakfasts, lunches, snacks, and dinners -- plus a bit extra)
  • Trash bag
  • Food bag
  • Rope
  • Bear supplies (spray, canister, bell), if needed
  • Trowel
  • Toilet paper
  • Headlamp/lantern/flashlight with extra batteries
  • Clothes (shirts, pants, hat, underwear, socks, jacket, hiking boots)
  • Compass and map
  • Whistle
  • First aid kit and emergency blanket
  • Sunscreen
  • Bug spray
  • Sunglasses
  • Multitool or knife
  • Camera and/or phone
  • Camp Towel

Detailed version:


There are two basic types: external frame and internal frame. Externals are not as in vogue these days, although they manage awkward loads better, always maintain their shape and provide better air ventilation. Internal frames are easier to find and are reasonably adjustable.

All backpacks come in a variety of sizes (measured by liters), so you'll want to select one that fits your needs. For the length of trip you're talking about, you'll probably want to stick with one that's 50-60 liters.

If you have an REI or another outdoor goods store nearby, take an afternoon to hang out with the sales representative and try on lots and lots of packs. They're a bit like shoes--even though they all work, not all of them are comfortable, especially when you fill them with sandbags and walk around the store for a few minutes. Don't be shy about letting the sales person fit the bag to your frame and show you how to adjust it, yourself. The last thing you want on a multi-day trip is a bag that pinches your collarbone or rubs your lower back.

You may want to get a pack with a detachable daypack, or bring a separate daypack if you are staying at the same site for at least two consecutive nights. This way you wont' have to bring your entire pack with you.

You can avoid the cost of a backpack cover by using your tent's tarp or rain fly. It's ill-fitting, but you've already bought it.


There are more options here than you can imagine, but what's most important is that your tent fits the number of people you're looking to travel with and that it's in good shape. Before you buy, you may want to poke around inside a tent if the store will let you. You'll quickly discover that, even though tents come in sizes of 2-person, 3-person, 4-person, etc., "people" are evidently pretty small. I'm 5'4," and a 2-person tent fits me and my stuff comfortably, but when my husband and I use it together (and we're both average-sized people), our little dog has to sleep on our legs because there's no floor space left. Even though it adds weight, my personal preference is to go up one size from the number of people who will be sleeping in it.

The other thing to look out for is how many seasons the tent is. Generally a 3-season should be just fine for the spring-fall range you're looking at (this means everything but cold winters; down in southeast Texas where I live, I can use my 3-season tent year-round).

If I'm sharing the tent with anyone, I tend to go for models with at least two doors (it's never fun crawling over a sleeping friend in the middle of the night if you have to go to the bathroom), adequate ventilation (good for airflow, reducing condensation, and stargazing!), and a rain fly (in case, you know, it rains).

Important accessories include stakes and guylines so your tent doesn't move around or blow away, a tarp so the tent's floor is protected, and a tent repair kit in case you break a pole. Manufactures will try to sell you a tent footprint, but they're basically just pricey tarps.

A tent is not absolutely necessary. You may be fine with just a hammock and a tarp (and you might want a mosquito net depending on the creepy crawlies in your area), or you might even want to sleep under the stars. There are also one-person tents and bivouacs if you're going solo (which I wouldn't recommend your first time backpacking just for safety's sake).

A slightly off-topic bit of advice: always set up your tent in your back yard or living room before you take it camping for the first time so you know how to do it and ensure it's intact. It's never fun setting up a tent for the first time in the dark or pouring rain. Always pitch it in as level and rock-free a spot as possible, and if there's a slight incline, point your feet downward.

Sleeping Pad and Pillow

You can find some very nice, pricey sleeping pads at sporting goods stores. I bought a $5 foam roll-up mat from Walmart and have been using it for over a decade. You can also find a variety of pillows, including blow-up and miniature versions of what you find on your bed at home. If you're really trying to save on weight, you can skip this and just use some rolled up clothes inside a pillowcase. It's definitely not as comfy, but it just depends on your priorities.

Sleeping Bag

These are rated to different degrees, which basically tell you how cold the temperature can get and the bag still keep you safe (not necessarily warm). You can get the rectangular variety you probably used for sleepovers as a kid, or a mummy bag, which is great for keeping you warm. Again, down here in Texas, I have friends who just use a sheet or a simple sleeping bag liner and skip the sleeping bag altogether.

If you use a sleeping bag you'll probably want a compression sack, and I suggest a waterproof one. There's nothing more miserable than a cold, wet sleeping bag.

Cooking Supplies

At the very least, you're looking at needing a pot or pan. If you live in an area where you can have open fire, bring some tinder and a lighter with fluid or fire striker, but you don't necessarily need more than that depending on the food you've brought.

If you can't or don't want to cook over a fire, I recommend using a camp stove that burns contained fuel like propane or isobutane. You'll need to get the fuel type appropriate for your camp stove. Bring adequate fuel to get you through your trip (one container should be plenty assuming you don't have a huge camping party), a lighter/striker, and a pot or pan. You may also want a stirring/serving utensil.

You may also want to bring a kettle or a pot with a lid to boil water, which is often added to camp food. You'll want a plate or bowl for every person as well as an eating utensil. I rather like titanium utensils, as they're lightweight and sturdy. You may want to just drink water, but if you want coffee, tea, or another drink, you'll want to bring a mug/cup.

Bring a bottle of biodegradable dish soap. It doubles for your body, as well.

Water Supplies

You definitely need several water bottles, and possibly also a water bladder. These things generally hold 2-3 liters of water, and they're total lifesavers, as they let you drink without having to stop walking. I can usually go through nearly a full 3-liter bladder in a long day hike, although I probably drink more than the average person. I also like to have at least one water bottle on hand so I'm not dragging my water bladder around the campfire or to dinner. So--moral of the story is bring enough containers to hold a full day's water supply. Assume at LEAST a gallon a person a day.

If you're somewhere where there is plenty of water, bring either tablets, a pump or some other kind of purification system. Do not drink water without purifying it first, period.

If you're not somewhere where there is plenty of water, sorry but you'll have to carry it all in. The good news is the trip gets lighter as you go.


It's essential that you plan out your meals ahead of time. Know exactly what you're having for breakfast, lunch, snack, and dinner every day, and make sure that you have the "extras" you might not think about, like water or spices. It's always best practice to bring at least one extra meal just in case. If you're going for low weight, you'll want to use dehydrated or just-add-water foods, as water content in food adds a lot of weight.

Bags and Food Safety

You'll need a trash bag for food and other waste you may produce. Always abide by leave no trace policies and pack out everything you take in with you. You'll also need a bag to put food and other smelly items (like toothpaste) in at night, along with rope to suspend it from a tree. This will keep animals out of your food and trash while you sleep. Make sure you read guidelines on how to hang your bag, depending on the wildlife in your area. If you're in bear country, you'll need a bear canister, which is heavier-duty than a bag. You'll also want to bring bear spray with you and may also want to consider wearing a bear bell to warn animals you're coming.

Trowel and Toilet Paper

Bring a trowel for when you have to do #2. They make all kinds of special, lightweight, folding, and otherwise backpacking-appropriate shovels that do the job. Some hardcore folks go without toilet paper, but I don't feel like it adds enough weight to be worth the sacrifice. Just bring enough squares in a little sandwich-sized ziploc.

Map and Compass

These are no-brainers! Bring them!


Good for calling for help, don't go on the trail without some way to get attention if you need it.

Flashlight, Headlamp, and/or Lantern with Extra Batteries

You'll need a source of light at nighttime. If you're going for minimalism, I'd recommend just bringing a headlamp, and going for one that has a red light option so it doesn't ruin your night vision. Whatever you bring, bring one set of extra batteries!


How much is up to you, but I usually bring fresh underwear for each day. Even though they're not exactly the height of fashion, I enjoy zip-off pants so I can change them into shorts if I get hot, and camping shirts tops with a collar and long sleeves that I can roll up. You can get all kinds of fancy sun- and bug- avoiding add-ons with these. Depending on the time of year you go, you may also need a jacket.

Bring a hat. Whether it's cold or hot, sunny or rainy, it's never a bad idea to have this, or at least a bandana.

You'll definitely want thick socks that protect your feet from rubbing. I like woolen socks because they wick moisture.

Bring your best hiking boots. You'll feel soreness in your feet more than you will after hiking all day because of the extra weight on your back.

I generally don't bring any extra clothes to sleep in, but you may want to bring an extra t-shirt or whatever is comfortable.


What you bring is up to you. A lot of what are usually the "basics" for me go by the wayside here, but I always bring at least a toothbrush, toothpaste, and deodorant. I keep a more comprehensive set of toiletries along with a change of clothes in the car for when I get back to it. :)

First Aid Kit and Emergency Blanket

Just in case something goes awry, make sure you have the supplies you'll need. The basics change depending on where you are (like a snake venom kit), but you'll at least want some bandages, antiseptic, and painkiller.

Sunscreen and Bug Spray

Keep yourself safe from sunburn and nasty bug bites. Be green with these products if possible.


Go for a polarized, UV-protectant variety.

Multitool or Knife

I'm probably an odd one, because I've been backpacking and camping more times than I can remember and I've hardly ever needed my knife, but I always bring it just in case. It's an indispensable tool.


If it's your first backpacking experience, document it so you can remember it fondly later! I suggest bringing a plastic bag so your device stays dry--just in case!

Camp Towel

I'd recommend getting at least a small camp towel for drying off after a swim, washing hands, or washing dishes. They're very absorbent, even though they're thin.

Note: good equipment purchased new can get very expensive, so don't be afraid to check out Craigslist or go to REI garage sales--or to borrow from friends. This is how I figured out which camping stove I DIDN'T want: I used a friend's, and it didn't work! Also, if you do purchase from REI, know that if you're not satisfied with your product, you can return it at any time, even after using it, for a refund and no questions asked. Sorry to hype REI so much, but they really do have excellent customer service despite their not-so-rock-bottom prices.

  • 10
    This is an awesome list for traditional backpacking which is what I'd generally recommend to people getting their feet wet. However, if the interest is more in ultralight, there are a lot of modifications I would recommend. If someone wants an alternate reality list, please vote up this comment!
    – Corey D
    Commented Jan 11, 2014 at 18:07
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    Very good list. +1. Here's something I feel is important. Trekking poles. I know not everyone likes them, but they have saved me more times I can count while backpacking. You are top heavy and are more likely to trip and fall without the 2 extra "legs". Commented Jan 16, 2014 at 19:50
  • 1
    @CoreyD: I've posted an answer attempting to sketch what an ultralight style is slike.
    – user2169
    Commented Jan 20, 2014 at 15:14
  • Amazing answer, pretty concise and well written +1 TLDR;
    – Kyle
    Commented Apr 5, 2016 at 14:22

Backpackers all end up evolving their own styles. Personally, I prefer an ultralight style for summer. Some things that differ in this style from the heavier style most people practice:

  1. a frameless pack such as a Gossamer Gear G4
  2. very small, lightweight sleeping pad such as the one that comes with the G4
  3. a tarp rather than a tent (I get mine from Oware, shop.bivysack.com)
  4. running shoes rather than boots
  5. water usually not carried on my back; if I do carry water, it's in lightweight water bottles such as the kind you buy bottled water in
  6. stuff like soap carried in extremely small quantities like 1/2 oz

By the way, there is typically no need to purify water collected from natural sources in the wilderness; see this answer.

Besides not having to shlep a huge amount of weight on your back, an added advantage of the ultralight style is that it's cheaper. Items 1-3 are all significantly less money than the corresponding non-ultralight versions.

A tarp does take more practice than a tent to learn to set up; in the Sierra in summer, I usually don't even bother putting up the tarp unless it looks like it might rain. A lot of people seem to use a tent solely because of bugs. When there are mosquitoes, I sleep with a mosquito headnet in the early evening, until it cools down enough that the bugs have become inactive.

I often go no-cook, which saves quite a bit of weight. If you do want to bring a stove, the lightest type (when you count both the stove and the fuel) is an alcohol-burning stove. There is a style of cooking where you boil your water in a pot and then pour it into a ziplock freezer bag that has your food in it (e.g., instant ramen, instant couscous). This style of freezer-bag cooking saves a huge amount of weight, since you don't need to bring one bowl per person, just the single pot for boiling water. It also has the advantage that you don't need to wash dishes; washing dishes is time-consuming and environmentally bad. Also, the scientific evidence seems to show that backpacker's diarrhea is mostly caused by bad potty hygiene, which causes hand-to-mouth contamination with your hiking partner's gut flora, which your own body doesn't tolerate; the freezer-bag style reduces the chances of this kind of problem. There are recipe books for freezer-bag cooking, such as Conners, Lipsmackin' Vegetarian Backpackin'.

Trekking poles are useless extra weight; see this question.

Using running shoes rather than boots works best in dry weather, such as in California in the summer. The big win is that, compared to wearing boots, it reduces the amount of weight you lift with each step, which is much more fatiguing than carrying the same amount of weight on your back. To keep pebbles out of your shoes, you can get lightweight gaiters such as the ones sold by dirtygirlgaiters.com. (I use them for trail running too.) When you have a wet stream crossing, you can either go barefoot or, if you need more traction or are worried about injuring your feet, remove your socks and the shoes' inserts. Unlike boots, running shoes can be squeezed out pretty well after you cross.

The web site backpackinglight.com has a good forum where you can discuss ultralight backpacking.

  • Good list. I never really gotten into ultralight so far, mainly due to my treks being long (10-12 days) and in (potentially) harsh climate. But this answer really makes me want to give it a try... :)
    – fgysin
    Commented Apr 21, 2016 at 11:29

Check out -


As an avid hiker, this website is my bible. It has fantastic gear reviews and comparison tables (lightest tents, best warmth-cost ratio sleeping bags etc). I always go for as light as possible, because it makes the trip much more enjoyable and safer (you're not overly tempted to ditch your pack for a side trip).

Before you start acquiring your own stuff, it might be worth joining up with a local hiking club. They usually have cheap rental gear, so you can try a few things out, and everyone you go on trips with will have different gear (and different opinions about said gear!).

About tents - there are many many many many many times where I've been grateful that our tent is so LITTLE. A tent that can be set up on the smallest piece of remotely flat & dry ground is a lifesaver. Save the roominess for car camping.

About sleeping bags - down filling is really light and really warm, but completely useless when it's wet. Synthetic is heavier, but still works if you sleep in a puddle. Keeping your sleeping bag dry is one of the fundamental rules though. When it's in your pack, if there's any chance of rain/rivers, it should be in a drybag. Or at least in lots of plastic!

Stoves - can be a pain in the ass when you're in a different country because appropriate fuel/gas can be hard to get. Find out what fuel receptacles are available where you mainly intend to use it, and make sure you get an appropriate stove! You can also buy converters for them to increase your options.



There are a couple of specific areas to look at :

1) Knowledge : you should make yourself aware of the basic skills that you need to travel safely in the wilderness. This includes things like basic survival skills and an understanding of the weather conditions and terrain that you will be travelling in. Before trips to an unfamiliar area you should also take the time to research and particular hazards or problems associated with that area and season. If nothing else really key skills are how to find safe water, how to camp safely with both a tent and improvised shelter and the basics of lighting and maintaining a fire.

2) Experience : don't bite off more than you can chew for your first trip. In particular it is wise to try out any new kit or techniques in a safe environment before you rely on them to survive. For important kit like boots, pack or tents give them a shakedown trip in circumstances where you can bail out if you discover a problem. Even a short afternoon walk can show up a lot of problems which are much easier to fix before you set out on a proper trip.

3) Navigation : regardless of whether you have the latest GPS kit or are walking on well marked trails you absolutely need to be confident and competent in navigating with a map and compass.

4) Selecting equipment : It is not necessary or even desirable to buy the most expensive kit you can find. Start with cheap but well recommended kit and use that as a starting point to experience for yourself what will be an advantage for you personally. Don't accept sales hype at face value. In fact there is a lot to be said for starting out with minimal, cheap kit as this will help you focus on what you really need. The one exception to this is that it is always worth spending what you need to on boots (and socks) which fit well and are comfortable, but again don't assume that the most expensive ones are the best.


I would truly give the "meta-answer" to find out for yourself, by doing regular 1-day trips at the start. You will very quickly find out what works for you and what does not.

Take whatever equipment you have and go on your merry way. Don't make the route very long, steep, technical or exposed at the beginning, stay on populated routes, and the worst thing that will happen is a few blisters. Be sure to have water and at least energy food, and a first aid kit, but frankly I would not worry too much about other stuff, yet.

You'll know what works and what doesn't (for YOU) in no time and have loads of fun in the meantime. Then go and look for answers to the actual problems/questions that arise.


For a 3-day hikes, firstly you need a medium-sized backpack. Somewhere between 40 and 60L.

Next, you need comfortable hiking shoes, gaiters and a raincoat. Also sunglasses and a nice summer hat.

For winter hiking it's much more. To be safe, you need proper winter shoes, and ice axe, crampons, snowshoes.

For camping, the options are

  • sleeping bag
  • sleeping bag in bivy sack
  • hammock
  • tent

All have strengths and weaknesses. If one interests you more than the others, you can post a question about it.

Cookware I find too heavy to carry on my back; someone more experienced could cover that.

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