What's in my backpackUPDATED for 2016!

Whether I’m on an overnight backpacking trip or a multi-day trip, most of what I take stays the same. Here’s what I’ve found that works well for me.

When I start packing, I like to separate things out into categories which allows me to be more thorough. I think, bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, etc and consider what I need for each one. Below is the list I cover in the video.

Backpack

I like to carry a 60-65 liter simple backpack. I’m not a fan of backpacks with a million pockets. I can be way more efficient with an open top load backpack which means it’s more compact and I actually end up finding things easier.

Bedroom

TentI’ve been using a Black Diamond Lighthouse tent which is a 3lb sweet tent. It’s getting old and I’m looking to replace it, but I’m not interested in getting anything much heavier than that. Currently using the Big Agnes Fly Creek 2 Platinum. Super lightweight tent. I miss my old Black Diamond Lighthouse for its high ceiling, but this thing is a three season tent that comes in at under 2 lbs!
Sleeping Pad – I’ve tried a few different ones and I’ve settled on one I just have to blow up which isn’t a big deal. My Big Agnes gives me a much better night’s sleep and is lighter than the self inflators and gets way more compact.
Sleeping Bag – I like my nice 15 degree down Marmot Helium. Get a good down sleeping bag. No need for an extra pillow. I take my stuff sack and fill it with my down jacket.

Bathroom

Handkerchief – This simple cotton handkerchief is light, dries fast and makes for a cheap washcloth and towel and serves for some emergencies well (and a quick filter for water with a bunch of bigger particles)
Toothbrush, Toothpaste and Floss – Yes, just take a toothbrush, a travel sized toothpaste and floss.
Toilet Paper – Find a roll that’s halfway done, take out the cardboard core and put in a ziplock bag. There’s not any in 95% of the pit toilets and you may not be near one.
Hand Sanitizer – Don’t let your bathroom etiquette get you or your fellow campers sick.
Lighter – Used to start the stove and to burn TP if I’m not around a pit toilet before I bury my business.

Kitchen

Freeze Dried Dinners – I’m a huge fan of the freeze dried dinners. You don’t have to have a separate bowl and pot, no need for washing and no need to figure out how to get rid of the leftover stuff that was stuck to the bottom. (a little trick if you want to make your own is to put the dried materials in a gallon or quart ziplock freezer bag… just make sure you don’t heat your water up to liquid magma and you should be fine)
Lexan Spoon or Spork – This isn’t fine dining and you don’t need a spoon, fork, butter knife. Lexan spoons are light and durable. You just need one.
Food Bag – You NEED a separate food bag! Have a stuff sack or similar bag that can handle some weather and wear and tear and can be hung from a food pole. When the Park tells you to hang your bag, this is the bag to hang not your ENTIRE BACKPACK!! The poles weren’t made to hold your 30-40 lb mistake.
25′ Rope and Caribiner – Get better rope than the Walmart “camping rope”. It won’t snag on the poles. Also, use a caribiner. It will help give the rope weight when you throw it, is super useful on the trail and conveniently clicks into your food bag.
Special Food Items

  • Starbucks Via or Tea Bags – Best coffee for the backcountry. If you like sugar with your coffee, get the iced coffee version so you don’t have a separate bag of sugar that can break.
  • Probar – Wide variety of bars that are over 300 calories. Nice tastes that all don’t taste like peanut butter.
  • Hammer Nutrition Perpetuem – Super easy calories to drink while I’m walking.
  • Hammer Nutrition Bar – Similar to Lara bars for quick easy energy without the density of lead.
  • Hammer Nutrition Recoverite – My favorite drink when I finish hiking for the day. It’s delicious and gives my body what it needs to recover.

Nalgene – I hike with this empty because it’s so incredible in camp. I use it to filter water and measuring for food preparation and for hot coffee in the morning.
Sports Bottle – I use this for my Perpetuem mix on the trail and Recoverite in camp.
Hydration Bladder – My favorite hydration bladder is the Platypus Big Zip SL. Easy to clean, no flavor, detachable hose and no frills. I’m considering trading this in for a Jetflow system if I it is reliable enough.
Cooking Pot – Finally sprung for the MSR Titanium ultralight pot and I love it! You can also use a stainless steel one as well.
Stove – I love my MSR PocketRocket stove. Super light, simple and reliable.
IsoPro Fuel Bottle – This is the fuel for the pocket rocket. Unless your temperatures are in really cold weather, this is a sweet combination.
Water Filter – Or some kind of purification device. I currently use the Katadyn Hiker, but may switch to a SteriPen

Trail Clothing

I have clothes that I hike in and clothes that I spend my time in camp in. There are some overlap between the pieces, but I think your experience is more pleasant with a couple of extra pieces.

Zip-off Pants – While not the sexiest pants or shorts you’ve ever worn, these are functional and light
Two pair socks – I have two pairs of socks to hike in. I don’t do the liner socks and such. I have two pairs of ankle height Smartwool socks that I rotate through. If one gets super gross or completely wet, it’s nice to be able to hike in another one.
Hiking T-shirt – I’ve hiked in my Patagonia Capilene T-shirt for years. It’s simple, straightforward and lasts forever.
Merino Wool Underwear – I’m a big fan of the merino wool underwear. My favorite ones so far have been from Icebreaker, but another pair from Minus 33 seems to be doing the trick as well.
Hiking Shoes – I’m a huge proponent of trail runners for footwear and I love my Salomon XT Wings. I don’t hike in boots except for winter or if I have to wear crampons for an extended period of time. I don’t get blisters and my feet love me more. Salomon makes great trail runners. The most important thing, however, is to make sure it fits your foot well.
Rain Jacket – Always carry a rain jacket when hiking in the mountains. You never know what the weather is going to do and the mountains can sometimes create their own weather.
Rain Pants –
While you don’t have to have rain pants, if you end up having a few days of rain, you’ll be extremely happy you brought these along.
Fleece Pullover – I have the classic R1 pullover from Patagonia and have had it for about 10 years and I love it still!
Lightweight Down Jacket – Also known as a down sweater, I LOVE my Nitros Down Jacket from Mountain Hardwear. I know there are other great ones too. This thing is lightweight, warm, compresses small and, when put in a stuff sack, makes for a nice pillow.

Camp Clothing

Fleece Pants – I have a pair of Black Diamond fleece pants… well they fit like tights. They are a little bit less than an expedition weight pant and I wear them under my zip off pants around camp and can sleep in them if I get too cold.
Camp Underwear – Same as the trail underwear, but only for camping after I’ve washed down with my handkerchief as a spongebath or have just taken a dunk in an icy lake.
Camp Socks – Usually comfy wool socks only for camp use.
Camp T-Shirt – Same as hiking T-shirt, but only for camp use or for the last day walking out.
Camp Shoes – Crocs may be ugly, but they’re perfect for backpacking. These shoes are lightweight and comfy for camp and make for great creek crossing shoes. They dry fast and protect your toes.

Emergency and Misc

Fleece Hat – I alway carry my fleece hat because I’m not sure when the weather will change on me… even in August
Warm Gloves – Same as the hat. It can get cold in the mountains fast.
Buff – I’m new to using a Buff and I like it. I can be a scarf, a light hat and many other things.
Headlamp – Get a good headlamp that you can hike in if you need to. You don’t want to break anything trying to find the bathroom at night.
GPS – I have a Garmin GPS with topo maps loaded on it. It makes finding your way easier.
Spot device – I have the Spot satellite device to communicate out to the world and I’m hoping I never need to use the emergency “call for help” feature
Stuff sack for miscellaneous – I have a stuff sack that carries my stove setup, rope and caribiners, and all of the other little things floating around in my pack so they don’t drop to the bottom and get lost.
Little kit – I have a kit that contains a knife, extra duct tape, mosquito spray, emergency fire starter, bandages, neosporin, gauze pads, tums, ibuprofen, some other pain killers, and a whistle.
Bear Spray – In bear country, you need Counter Assault bear spray, but is also effective at aggressive moose as well.

Many of these items make it into my daypack as well where it makes sense. For shorter trips, I’ll also carry in some more perishable items. When it comes to food in general, most people take in too much. Make sure you lay out each day and really think about how much you can consume. Nobody eats 2 lbs of trail mix a day. 😉

Hope this is helpful. Please comment below on other thoughts of what you bring on the trail that I missed!

40 thoughts on “What’s in my Backpack?

  1. As a beginner, I think this list is tremendously helpful. Thanks Jake!

  2. Good timing for this. I’m doing a multi-day backpack trip in the Sierra at the end of June. This weekend I will be getting all my stuff together and it’s always good to hear what other people are doing.

    1. Perfect!

  3. We use the SteriPEN for water we love it… used it last year for the frist time its light and easy to use.. Come with its own botter so we only packed one Nalgene for drinking.. have not tacken it on long hikes over more the three days so us sure how it would do on a week or more… hope this helps we enjoyed you coming to Spokane Loved your pic thanks for shareing all the INFO 🙂

  4. Jake thanks for the blog! I also use the katadyn and the PocketRocket and I like both.

  5. I have used that pump filter for years, I recently tried a gravity system… wow not going back!

    For the tent, I am likely upgrading this year also. I have been looking at the six moon designs trekker sub 2 lb 1.5 person tent, they also have 2 person models… might want to check them out.

    1. I’ll check them out. Thanks!

  6. Get the Steripen – worth every penny. Just carry extra batteries!

    1. Good reminder!

      1. Been caught out in the backcountry too many times with the batteries failing in one model – had to return it.

  7. Crocs.

    Say it ain’t so, Jake … 🙂

    1. I feel better coming clean with it.

  8. Much better then the steri pen is the camalbak all clear. Highly recommend!

    A suggestion of a couple hikes in Waterton for you: Bears Hump and Crypt Lake

    I’ll be arriving in GNP on Sept 1st and hoping to do the North Circle. Allowing for 6 days to hike from Waterton. Have you heard of “off trail designated camping areas”? A little worried about getting campsites.

    1. If there is a campsite nearby, don’t count on them giving you one. Off trail stuff is usually reserved for Coal/Nyack or if you’re going to do a traverse or peak climb like the Norris Traverse, the Lewis Traverse or climbing Kintla. I’d consider being flexible to reverse the trip or to have a whole different trip altogether. September is much better than August, but the CDT hikers are coming through that time of year still, so Granite and Fifty don’t really let up much, but it’s worth a go! (I’ll look into the camelbak…. thanks!)

  9. Great list and I appreciate the extra comments and detail.

  10. Jake,
    After reading your blog about what’s in the bag, I was wondering what you thought about the Spot satellite device? My wife is adamant about me carrying the Spot or a Delorme on this year’s week-long trip to keep her updated back in Texas as to our group’s location. Specifically:
    1) Do you still use the Spot and if so, has it worked to your satisfaction?
    2) Considering the device manufacturers advertise that they need a clear view of the sky, is it worth it to carry one if you’re in the trees a lot of the time?
    3) How do you prepare the people who are following your progress in the event you lose the device, break it, or the texts just don’t go through for some reason. Essentially, if someone is expecting a text or email from you every 4 hours and they don’t receive it for two days; what’s the plan?

    My trip starts at Kintla and exits at Swiftcurrent Inn via the tunnel.

    Of all of the things on my packing list I seem to be hung up on the pros and cons of the personal location device. Crazy. Any advice (or any advice from fellow readers)?

    Thanks.

    1. I do still use the Spot device and it works mostly to my satisfaction. The big problem with people watching it is that sometimes it either can’t get a location or that location never makes it to the satellite, so you may be moving, but the little icon of where you are will be static. I believe with the Delorme, it provides more feedback, but not sure. I did use it through trees and all over the place though. I would say that they shouldn’t expect a text every four hours, but you’ll try. Ultimately, it is a good thing. You can also keep trying every so often to send it out and it should happen. It does bring a lot of relief to those that aren’t there, but also some anxiety while watching in “real time”. I would make sure that you play with it before you go as it does disconnect from your phone and you have to reconnect which can be a bit tricky. I’d check out the reviews on the Delorme as well.

      1. Thanks for the feedback!

        1. Yup! (even if it was a bit “rambly”)

  11. I noticed there isn’t any rain gear on your list. I’m planning a trip for early September and most sources I’ve looked at so far urge bringing rain gear.

    Can you provide a link to the fleece pants? I can’t find anything similar on their website for men. Why not get down pants to save weight (aside from cost)?

    How cold does it need to be for you to hike wearing all the gear listed in the Trail Clothing section? Or is the down jacket just for stopping?

    Thanks for such a useful site and videos!

    1. Marcel, thank you for bringing that to my attention! I talked about it in the video, but forgot to put the rain jacket and rain pants. Yes! Bring the rain jacket with you at minimum. I am afraid of when my fleece pants have fallen apart. I’ll end up looking for something else. What I like about them as opposed to a pair of down pants is that they still breathe well. They are super light as well. I think I’d look at something like patagonia’s expedition weight capilene for comparison. In the mountains during any time of the year, getting down in the 30s is common. I need the down jacket in the morning when I wake up. Sometimes it’s great for stopping as well if it’s 40 degrees and windy.

      1. I see rain gear is now on the list 🙂

        I’m pretty new to backpacking so forgive my silly questions. You mention the fleece pants fit like tights. But the “camp” list also lists regular (thin) long underwear. Do you layer them, or just use whichever makes sense for the temperature? Also, how is their breathability an important factor if they’re only used at camp?

        I see some Glacier gear lists (including the NPS website) recommend gaiters. I’ve never used them before and I have trouble seeing their value unless you’re walking through miles of thorns, sand or snow. Can you give your 2 cents on these?

        1. I have layered them and have used both for sleeping if it gets really cold. Generally, the tights are too cold for hiking unless it’s October, but I have had to hike in them. I wouldn’t bother with gaiters unless you’re going off trail, hiking through snow, or have waterproof boots where keeping water out is super important. I have a pair, but can’t remember when I last used them.

  12. I’m looking at buying the MSR pocket rocket stove but I’m a little concerned that I wont be able to get fuel when we get to the trail. We are planning a trip to GNP Is there anywhere in the area I can be confident I would be able to get a bottle that would work? Loving your blog and all the great info! Thanks for all your help!

    1. Yes! It’s a very standard bottle. A little known secret is that people return them to the ranger stations when they get done with hiking because they can’t fly with them. Check with the rangers when you pick up your permits. If they don’t have any, you can pick them up at many stores in and around the park. Where will you be coming into Glacier? (Many Glacier? Apgar? Two Medicine?)

      1. Thanks for the tips! We are having trouble deciding where to start. It all looks amazing. If you could only do one of the 3 day hikes you mention which would you choose?

        1. If you don’t already have a permit, the choices may be made for you based upon availability. I would always opt for Glacier’s alpine when you can. I think that, for a three day trip, hiking from Many Glacier, through the Ptarmigan Tunnel to Elizabeth Lake Foot, then to Mokowanis Lake, then out to Goat Haunt with a sweet boat ride and a couple of paid shuttles would be a great trip… but you have passports and shuttles in there. Another one would be starting at Logan Pass and doing Granite Park, Fifty Mountain and then out. The problem with both of those routes is that they are inherently popular and the two routes for the CDT. I’d also look at going from Two Medicine to St. Mary or over Gunsight Pass. I know I’m giving you more than one, but any of those would be great. Pick what’s available.

    2. One other note is that, if the morning is cold, you may want to snuggle with your fuel as isobutane is a pressurized fuel and, when it’s cold, will give you a crappy flame. Sleep with it, or pull it into your sleeping bag in the morning and you’ll have hot oatmeal.

  13. Love your blog and all the great info! We are hiking Goat Haunt to Kintla, weather-permitting, September 18-23. Would your clothing list change at all for that time of year? Would you abandon the crocs in favor of a second hiking boot in case your other pair got wet? Will a lightweight down coat and a rain coat suffice?

    1. Kim, I was in Glacier last week (Sunday Sept 4 – Saturday Sept 10). It was VERY rainy Monday-Thursday. We tried hiking gunsight – ellen wilson – sperry, but gunsight pass was so stormy that all the groups turned back, included a pack of 3 park rangers. On friday the weather changed and became windy but clear. Sigh.

      You definitely should bring rain pants, not just a coat. Also a hat with a brim (baseball cap) to wear under your raincoat hood works great to keep rain off your face, especially if you wear glasses. I like Frogg Toggs pants because they’re cheap ($25), as breathable as goretex, feel good against skin (not clammy), don’t get “wetted out”, block the wind, and very light weight. You can sit on any wet rock, log, grass, etc and nothing will come through. Your boots will stay dry longer. One guy in our group refused to bring rain pants and was miserable. The only downside is they’re ugly – just take pictures from the waist up 🙂

      If it rains like it did for us your waterproof boots will get wet. 3 out of 4 people in my group had soggy boots by the end. Boots are heavy and I would hate to carry a 2nd pair just in case (if I had one). One solution I saw a fellow hiker use was to wear plastic bread bags kept in place with rubber bands over dry socks inside of soggy boots. Cheap and very lightweight. I’ve also heard of waterproof socks but my guess is they’re $100 and do the same thing. Bring extra socks.

      I used my crocks at camp when it wasn’t actively raining. This was my first crocks experience (thanks to Jake’s list) and I liked being able to wear super thick camp socks with them. The nights when it was constantly raining I just kept my boots on, but loosely laced. If I had to get up in the middle of the night to take care of business I put on my crocks without socks (so they wouldn’t get wet), much easier than dealing with boots and wet laces.

      I brought a small thermometer and measured the temp when I got up each morning around 7am. It was always between 40-50 F. Of course it could get colder for you, but we were plenty warm with 20F sleeping bags, medium thermal underwear, thick camp socks, light fleece top, light gloves, fleece beanie and light down jackets.

    2. I agree with Marcel that a second pair of boots wouldn’t be worth it. I’d bring an extra pair of socks or two. If it’s raining, I’ve found that your feet will get wet regardless. I stay away from goretex footwear until winter. I would think about a heavier down jacket and make sure you have a warm hat and gloves. Definitely rain gear which can also help keep you warm.

  14. Thank you for the advice! I was actually thinking of bringing bread bags for my feet as it’s what I used as a kid, before the advent of good winter boots. I’ll bring the extra socks instead of a second pair of boots. This permit was so tough to get that it’s hard to think weather could force us to give it up. Good perspective to know that even park rangers, with all their hiking experience, let a heavy rain cancel their trip. We thought snow was what we had most to worry about.

    Can’t tell you how helpful this blog has been. Thank you!

    1. Kim, it wasn’t just “heavy rain” that caused everyone to turn around. After 24 hours of almost constant rain most hikers I talked to were either somewhat or very wet. My friend’s tent got a little bit of water overnight due to the stream that decided to flow underneath his tent. His sleeping bag and a few other items were wet, though not soaked.

      Next we endured about an hour of pea-sized hail and 25 mph gusts (my guess) while eating breakfast at gunsight campground. At this point at least one other group announced they were heading back (to Jackson Overlook), while the other groups were on the fence. My girlfriend and I were still determined to continue the hike, but my friend was grumbling.

      Then we heard thunder about 5 times in 20 minutes, and another group announced they were heading back. Lightning got me thinking. At this point my friend said he would head back. He was concerned that his gear was too wet to endure potentially freezing temperatures, snow, high winds, etc. that might await us. At that point my girlfriend and I reluctantly agreed and we set off. We left behind one couple that was determined to go forward.

      On the trail back to Jackson Overlook we ran into the 3 rangers. They said they were doing our same route, and that it was good for us to turn around if we didn’t feel comfortable. Not exactly condescending, but they didn’t sound concerned about the conditions.

      We took a long lunch break when the sun came out. We saw the 3 rangers and the couple we’d left behind walking back to Jackson. Their demeanor was quite different than before and they said conditions were too rough to do Gunsight pass and beyond, though they didn’t elaborate what exactly caused them to turn back.

      Up to that point my girlfriend and I were somewhat annoyed and disappointed about not doing the best part of the hike, but after seeing EVERYONE bail we realized it would have been foolish for us to plow forward. The next day we drove GTTS road and it was amazing to see how much snow fell on all the mountains along the divide.

      1. Sounds like you did the right thing in the face of very unsettled weather!

  15. I’ll be backpacking with a friend the Reynolds Lake area. Is bear spray a must?

    1. Reynolds Lake? I’m not sure where that is, but if you’re hiking in Glacier, I would say that bear spray is a must. You can either purchase it or you can rent it.

      1. I’m sorry… Red Eagle Lake.

        1. Perfect! Look for moose at the head of the lake. I would always recommend bear spray… you never know.

  16. Hi Jacob,

    I have a question about your hydration bladder and how it works with your backpack. Do you have a sleeve to put it in, and if not, how do you rig it? I have a simple backpack as well and l know I’ll drink more water if I use a bladder, but I’m wondering about the best way to set it up!

    Thanks – I love your site! I am planning to go to Glacier at the end of July and I’m eating all of this information up as I plan a short backpacking trip.

    1. I have a hiking backpack which has a hydration sleeve. You could use a regular backpack as well, although it might kind of settle kind of funny. Remember that you want the weight close to your body and a bit higher up like around the shoulder blades area in your pack if you can. So put in your extra jacket or something on the bottom, then put the pack in and then other items further out and then zip it up!

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