When my best friend, Emily, first asked me to do the infamous Four Pass Loop in the Maroon Bells in Colorado with her in September of 2022, I remember wanting to go but feeling unsure as to what I would need. As someone who is new to backpacking, I felt overwhelmed by what I needed to buy, pack, and carry during a backpacking trip.

It turns out I did not need as much as I thought! We ended up sharing quite a bit of gear that my friend already had, and she even left me borrow her (ex)boyfriend’s backpack! This was a great entry point to start considering what I wanted to invest in for my own backpacking setup.

This list is made by a beginner backpacker for other beginner backpackers. Using my personal experience, I compiled a packing checklist of backpacking gear that you may want to consider bringing for a 1-night trip. Some of this gear will vary depending on the area you’re in (i.e. bear canister, bug spray), the weather (rain jacket, microspikes), and your personal preferences when it comes to things like meals and snacks.

Important Notes

As a reminder, it is crucial to research the trail conditions and weather ahead of time to make sure you are packing what you need to keep yourself safe. I recommend using an app/website called AllTrails to check trail conditions and a reliable weather source (I usually cross-check with multiple sources). I always lean toward overpacking when it comes to gear that could keep you safe if you’re not 100% sure.

It might go without saying, but backpacking gear is expensive! Many of the items on this backpacking checklist come down to personal opinion, preference, budget, and future goals (such as which size of backpack to purchase, which model of a cooking stove like Jetboil to use, etc.). There are always going to be cheaper (or more expensive) options. If you’re still unsure, I recommend renting the gear from a store like REI, or borrowing/sharing gear with a friend or family member to get a better idea of what might work best for you!

Another tip to save money: buy used gear! I actually found my backpack lightly used on an app/website called Poshmark (use code katekeepswild to get $10 your first purchase). I have purchased other gear on Facebook marketplace, thrift stores, and used outdoor gear stores in my town.

With all of this being said… here is the list of backing gear I recommend:

The Basics
  • Backpack (Gregory Deva 60L)
    This pack is considered large for a 1 night trip; however, I purchased it because I also enjoy multi-night trips, so I wanted a bigger pack.
  • Trekking poles (TrailBuddy Trekking Poles)
    These hiking poles are on the cheaper end and probably heavier than some of the more expensive options, but they have worked well for me!
Apparel While Hiking
  • Lightweight long sleeve (REI Co-op Long-Sleeve Running T-Shirt – Women’s)
    I know you might be thinking – a long sleeve?! But I highly recommend it because it keeps you warm as you begin hiking and keeps you protected from the sun.
    (Note – I rewear my long sleeve when hiking out on day 2 and recommend doing this!)
  • Sports Bra (Brooks Drive 3 Pocket Run Bra – has a pocket for your phone!)
    I have a bigger chest (size 34D) and couldn’t recommend this bra enough.
    (Note – I rewear my bra when hiking out on day 2 and recommend doing this!)
  • Shorts (Patagonia Women’s Baggies Shorts)
    There is nothing “special” about these shorts, but they do the job well for me.
    (Note – I rewear my shorts when hiking out on day 2 and recommend doing this!)
  • Merino wool socks (Darn Tough Socks)
    LOVE these socks – they provide an excellent cushion and don’t slip. I have never gotten a blister on any hike with these socks.
  • Underwear for hiking (Icebreaker Siren Thong Underwear – Women’s)
    This comes down to personal preference, but I love hiking (and pretty much live) in thongs. The merino wool blend keeps things down there fresh!
  • Hiking boots or trail shoes (Altra Women’s Lone Peak 7 Trail-Running Shoes)
    After wearing boots for five years, I recently switched to trail shoes and love them! They are so lightweight and comfortable. Unlike my boots, I’m never rushing to take them off once I’m back in the car.
  • Hat (Parks Project 5-Panel Patch Hat)
    This comes down to preference if you want a hat that’s more of an athletic material or just a normal hat. I’ve also worn a bandana which has been convenient!
Gear To Use While Hiking
  • Bear canister (BearVault BV450 Jaunt Bear Canister)
    A must-have depending on where you’re backpacking. I recommend getting the smallest one that you can still pack food into because it takes up lots of space in the backpack.
  • Granola bars (Clif Energy Bar)
    Personal preference on the brand, but I love the White Macadamia Nut Clif Bars!
  • Instant coffee (Alpine Start Instant Coffee – Package of 8)
    Really like this brand’s instant coffee! Just stir in the water and you’re done.
  • Freeze-dried meals (Backpacker’s Pantry)
    We love the Pad Thai from Backpacker’s Pantry! One bag makes 2 servings. We usually just bring a meal to have for dinner and eat a granola bar for lunch, but it is completely up to you!
Apparel for Camp
Cooking Gear
Sleeping Gear
  • Tent (NEMO Dragonfly OSMO 2P Tent)
    OK this tent is expensive… it is the one my friend owns and upgraded to. I would probably purchase a cheaper tent unless you have big backpacking goals and want to buy a lightweight tent upfront. I’d also look into used tents.
  • Sleeping bag (REI Co-op Down Time 25 Down Sleeping Bag – Women’s)
    This is similar to the sleeping bag I got for car camping. There are definitely lighter weight ones out there meant for backpacking. I just didn’t want to buy a new one!
  • Sleeping pad (NEMO Tensor Ultralight Insulated Sleeping Pad)
    I actually don’t own one! But my friends do, and I always wish I had one. As I get older, the ground gets less comfortable.
  • Inflatable pillow (Therm-a-Rest Compressible Pillow)
    I usually just stuff my clothes into my sleeping bag case and use that as a pillow, but this pillow looks more comfortable if it’s hard for you to sleep without one.
  • Portable phone charger (BioLite Charge 20 PD Power Bank)
    I don’t have one of these, and my phone almost died the next morning. Would recommend investing in one!
  • Headlamp (Black Diamond Spot 400 Headlamp)
    This comes down to preference as there are tons of cheaper/more expensive headlamps. I have a pretty basic one that’s nice for when I have to wake up and pee in the middle of the night. 🙂
  • Deck of cards (ArticaVisuals National Park Playing Cards)
    Probably the most unnecessary item on the list, but it’s fun to play cards with friends at night!

As I mentioned before, I am still a beginner myself, so I am sure some of my suggestions are laughable by the “pros.” I think at the end of the day, here is what is most important to keep in mind for yourself:

  • Weight of Backpack – As someone who loves to overpack and bring all of the fun gear, it can be tempting to bring new clothes and your favorite blanket. Don’t do this! Your pack will get very heavy, very quickly. I am guilty of commonly packing a hammock and then not using it. Just pack the essentials!
  • Budget – Start slow when investing in gear. As I mentioned before, borrow gear, share gear, rent gear, and buy used gear when you can!
  • Personal Preference – As with most things in life, you need to think about what will work best for yourself. Read reviews, talk to experts, and get fitted for a backpack at a place like REI (they will help you for free!). Everyone is different, so keep this is mind when thinking about what types of gear you will need.

What am I missing from my list that you would recommend bringing on a beginner backpacking trip? Please let me know in the comments! I will update this blog as I continue to learn more and test out other gear.

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