Backpacking Gear: The Essentials

Crystal Profile Pic

By Crystal Egli

Last week Andre told you all about the gear you need to start fly fishing, and since the holidays are coming up I thought I’d help add a few more things to your Christmas list. I’ll tell you all about the things you need to start backpacking, you send the list to your friends and loved ones, gear starts arriving in the mail for you, everyone is happy. Best Christmas ever.


Osprey Ariel 65



Backpacking – Holy Cross Wilderness

I grew up car camping, which is very different from backpacking. When you can drive your car right up to where you’re pitching the tent, you can bring anything you want. Heavy coolers, cast iron pans, the french press you can’t live without. But if you’re hiking into the woods for an overnight trek, there’s only so much weight you can carry. When fully loaded, your backpack should weigh anywhere from 17-30% of your body weight, depending on what you are personally capable of carrying. I weigh 150 lbs and my pack is usually around 37-38 lbs including several liters of water. That comes out to about 25% of my weight, which I can comfortably carry for about 7-8 moderate, high altitude miles. The further I go, the more weight I need to cut out of my pack. Andre can carry a significantly heavier pack, but his still hovers around 25% of his body weight. That percentage is good for us– less or more may be good for you. That being said, you’ll definitely want to get small, light versions of your backpacking gear; every ounce adds up. On the other hand, ligher versions often increase the price, so you’ll have to find the sweet spot between weight and finances that’s right for you.



Backpacking – Jennie Lakes Wilderness

A few years ago we didn’t have a list, and although we thought we were packing everything every time, we weren’t. We never forgot anything important, until we forgot our stove on a trip where 90% of our food required rehydration with hot water. That got interesting. (I ended up engineering a solar heater for my Nalgene bottle out of every reflective material we had.) So we made a list. We don’t bring everything on the list every time, like bathing suits, or luxuries like salt and pepper, but this is a list for the maximum amount of stuff we’d ever bring. If the trip is shorter, like a 2 mile hike for only one night, we might pack more with us. If it’s a strenuous 6 mile hike at high altitude with lots of elevation gain, we’ll cut the list down significantly. I’ve made two columns so Andre and I can pack simultaneously and we can check off what each of us put in our bag as we go along. This way we don’t have to keep asking each other if they got the water filter or the food, we can just glance at the list and keep going.

Backpacking List.jpg

For a printable version of this list, click here: The Eglis Outdoors Backpacking List

So, out of this list, what do I consider the absolute essentials? For your convenience, I’ll list them here with detailed explanations for each item. It’s long, but addresses many of the questions I get about gear every day. Feel free to read the whole thing or just skip ahead to the item you have questions about.

Click on the words in WHITE to see the exact product I have.

Advil PM – ALWAYS BRING. Helps me sleep through the night on the hard ground. With Advil PM you can use a mat that’s half the weight you normally need for comfort.
BackpackALWAYS BRING. For obvious reasons. Click here to see the one Andre has.
BandanaALWAYS BRING. Multiple uses, including sweat/snot/wound wiping (not in that order), pot holder, ties things on to your backpack, etc.
Bathing SuitALMOST NEVER BRING. Unless I am going somewhere I know is a dope public swimming spot. Otherwise I’ll just swim in my sports bra and skivvies. (Looks the same.)
Bear BoxALWAYS BRING IN BEAR COUNTRY. Gotta have this in Colorado. If you’re not in bear country don’t worry about it. I pack my food inside the bear box to save room.
CameraOPTIONAL. You can use your phone, but since we *love* taking pictures we always bring one.
CompassALWAYS BRING. Make sure you know how to use it, and make sure you compensate for declination. What’s that? Read more here.
Cooking Cup (Boiling Water)ALWAYS BRING. This is our cooking pot and what I drink tea out of. This small size has always worked for us, and this one is super light weight. We’ve never needed an additional pot or pan. The cup may be incredibly expensive, for a cup, but it is *so light* it’s worth it.
Extra BatteriesALWAYS BRING. I’ve run out of headlamp batteries while bush whacking through a forest at night, and I’ve never been happier to be so prepared.
First Aid KitALWAYS BRING. Seriously. Even on day trips. Here’s an article I wrote about it for more info on how to customize your own.
Fishing BootsALMOST NEVER BRING. We usually only bring our boots and waders when we’re fishing along a river. Most of our overnight backpacking trips are to high mountain lakes where we fish from the shore. The choice is yours, but this stuff gets *heavy*, especially when wet.
Fishing LicenseALWAYS BRING. Because we are almost always also fishing on our hikes.
Fishing RodALWAYS BRING. Because we are almost always also fishing on our hikes.
Fishing VestALWAYS BRING. Because we are almost always also fishing on our hikes.
FoodALWAYS BRING. My go-to food items are Mountain House dinners, granola bars, and for fruit and veg I eat these, because it’s easier than bringing a zucchini.
GaitersALWAYS BRING. We wear these in winter and summer. In summer they are invaluable for keeping small stones and sticks out of our boots. They have totally changed our lives for the better.
GlovesOPTIONAL. Dependent on weather. However, I have Raynaud’s, a condition where my fingers and toes FREEZE no matter what, and the gloves I linked here are the first pair that actually keep my hands warm. If you have the same problem as me, check those babies out.
GoProALWAYS BRING. Because we’re video dorks.
GPSALWAYS BRING. Don’t want to buy one? I use HuntData maps through the Avenza Maps app on my phone, which can help you navigate even when you don’t have cell service. These maps run solely on your phone’s GPS chip which works as long as your phone has battery.
Hammock & StrapsOPTIONAL. I always bring mine, unless we’re going *really* far (it’s got some weight to it so I’ll swap it out for more food), or above tree-line where I know I won’t be able to use it.
HatOPTIONAL-ISH. I will highly recommend one, but you decide if that’s a baseball cap or winter hat.
Head LampALWAYS BRING. Good for reading at night, going pee after dark, or if you get lost. Bring extra batteries for it!
Hiking BootsALWAYS BRING. Unless you’re a barefoot hiker…? Which I do not recommend.
Insect RepellantOPTIONAL. We usually bring a travel size one.
Kindle (Or book) – OPTIONAL. I always bring mine. I take it out of the heavy case it’s in and wrap it up in my extra clothes for the trip.
Leatherman/Pocket KnifeALWAYS BRING. We started out bringing an AX, no joke, I have no idea why. But you seriously don’t need anything more than a really sharp Leatherman or hunting knife. If you go hunting knife, I’d get one that has a serrated back edge.
Life StrawLife StrawALWAYS BRING. These are our back up water filters. We wear these light weight filters around our necks when fishing so we don’t have to carry around water bottles all day. It’s also good to have another option in case your primary filter breaks. (See picture below to see how it’s used.)
MapsALWAYS BRING. I don’t care if it’s just the Rocky Mountain National Park trail map you printed off the internet or a Nat Geo topographical map, bring one. The more unfamiliar you are with a location, the more information should be on your trail map. Again, I use HuntData maps on my phone so we can track ourselves, but we always have back up paper maps as well.
MatchesALWAYS BRING. Waterproof, easy to strike matches. Practice with them, make sure they aren’t cheap matches you’ll have trouble with once you’re out in the back country.
MedicineALWAYS BRING. What ever medicine you take, bring what you need and add a couple extra. You might drop one in the lake or be out an extra couple days and you won’t want to be caught without.
Mini Camping TowelALMOST NEVER BRING. We have this super light weight one that’s awesome, but frankly I usually just sun-dry or use my bandana. I’d bring this when doing short hikes I’d bring my bathing suit for.
MoisturizerALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS BRING. Ok well that’s just me. This is my one luxury item I will never, ever leave without, no matter how heavy my backpack is. I have a travel size one that doesn’t add much weight. Feel free to pick your own (small) luxury item and don’t listen when everyone else makes fun of you for it.
Pants/Shorts – ALWAYS BRING. I have pants that zip off into shorts and I just wear those. I used to bring extra pants and extra shorts but I ended up never changing into them. I do bring one extra pair of sleeping pants, but that’s it. Don’t say that’s gross– you’re gonna smell bad no matter what. Deal with it. (And yes, I wear mens pants because REI doesn’t make women’s pants for ladies with big booties.)
Phone BrickALWAYS BRING. This is a back-up battery for my phone and is important for a number of reasons. We use our phones as cameras and for GPS, so they will definitely run out of battery at some point. Even if you turn your phone off for your whole trip and never plan to use it, it’s always good to have a backup battery in case of emergency. There are lighter ones you can buy, but the one we have can charge both our phones to the max multiple times.
PillowOPTIONAL. The ones we have are incredibly light weight inflatable mini-pillows so it’s worth it to bring them. If you don’t have one of those, do not bring an actual pillow. Throw some extra clothing in a stuff sack or even the sack for your sleeping bag, and use that. Works just as well.
PJsOPTIONAL. I bring an extra shirt and really light jammie pants to sleep in, mostly because I’ve sweat all day in my hiking clothes and don’t want to stank up my sleeping bag. Just bring one pair, don’t go crazy.
Post-Hike ShirtOPTIONAL. My favorite hiking hack is to bring an extra t-shirt, sports bra and undies. I leave them in the car and change into them when we get back. Changing into clean clothes immediately after a multi-day trek is almost as good as a shower.
Propane Stove TopALWAYS BRING. Obviously. You need your stove.
Propane TankALWAYS BRING. Obviously. You need your stove. If you are hiking with other people who are bringing one, BRING AN EXTRA ONE. I have been on two trips where I was relying on someone else to bring the fuel, and they didn’t bring enough. On both trips I happened to bring mine and we were saved. Always. Bring. An. Extra.
Rain CoatALWAYS BRING. I have a really light weight water proof shell I always bring. Even if the weather says sun sun sun, you never know, especially when hiking in high altitude mountains. (REI doesn’t sell the jacket I have anymore, so I just provided a link to all their rain jackets.)
Rain PantsALWAYS BRING. Same deal– I have really light weight rain pants I never hike without. They have come in handy during many a surprise rain-shower.
RopeOPTIONAL. We used to bring this all the time, and now it depends on where we’re going. I think we’ve used it about twice, and neither was in an emergency situation. But who knows.
Salt and PepperOPTIONAL. We have tiny, light weight containers we use, but we still only bring this on easy trips to save weight.
Sandals/Flip FlopsALWAYS BRING. Why? River crossings. And sometimes, surprise river crossings.
Shirts ALWAYS BRING. I wear one to hike in, and bring one extra aside from my PJ shirt. No cotton.
Sleeping BagALWAYS BRING. Obvious.
Sleeping MatALWAYS BRING. This isn’t just for comfort, sleeping mats help you retain heat at night, creating a vital barrier between you and the cold ground. Find one that suits your comfort level while staying light. Save weight by getting a shorter mat. You don’t need one longer than from your head to your calves, as you don’t lose a lot of body heat from below your knees.
Small Extra Stuff SackALWAYS BRING. I always bring an extra 2-3. They are so light it doesn’t’ make a difference. I use them to put dirty clothes in, and sort out food from toxic stuff like bug spray in the bear box.
SnacksALWAYS BRING. Make sure your snacks have lots of protein and fiber.
SocksALWAYS BRING. I always bring an extra pair and have had to utilize the extra when my feet got wet by accident. Burn your cotton socks. Go wool. They make it soft now.
SPF ChapstickOPTIONAL. I use my moisturizer as chapstick in emergencies. I haven’t died yet.
SpoonALWAYS BRING. This is literally the only cooking/eating utensil we use, and we only bring one and share it between us. We started out bringing a fork/knife/spoon set for each of us then cut down to one set. Turns out pocket knives have knives so you don’t need 2 extra dull ones. And we never seemed to use forks because our spoons were doing the trick. We like our super long spoon because it’s literally made to serve yourself out of those big Mountain House dinner bags.
SunglassesALWAYS BRING. I have several pairs but I like my BlobFish glasses. They’re polarized, inexpensive, and yet good quality. And if I break them they have a 100% guarantee so they’ll just send me new ones.
Sunscreen – OPTIONAL. I say optional cause you won’t die without it on any given trip, but I have gotten *massively* sunburned on day hikes I thought would be fine, so we usually bring it now.
TentALWAYS BRING. Obviously. We love the one we got for a wedding present, it’s great. I must get to reviewing it soon!
Toilet Paper – ALWAYS BRING. And then pack it out. Seriously. It sounds gross and you may have heard that you can burry it. But the truth is often times you hike in places where you literally can not dig a hole deep enough due to rocks and tough soil. I see so much TP on the ground when hiking it disgusts me. Bring extra baggies and *pack it out*. The earth thinks it’s gross too.
ToothbrushALWAYS BRING. To save weight, some people cut off the handle.
ToothpasteALWAYS BRING. Travel size it.
Trekking Poles – OPTIONAL. We absolutely love our hiking poles. As dorky as it might look, when you are wearing a heavy backpack they are invaluable. You can get them for $10-$200, but we have cheap gas station ones that suit us just fine.
TrowelALWAYS BRING. I started out with a collapsable shovel, which was ridiculous. I went down to a regular metal garden trowel, then found this one that is super light-weight plastic. Try and dig those potty holes as deep as possible (minimum 6″-8″ deep), and always at least 200′ away from any body of water.
UnderwearALWAYS BRING. And always bring one more pair than you think you’ll need.
WadersALMOST NEVER BRING. Again, fishing– depends on where you’re going.
Walter Filtration TabsALWAYS BRING. We bring a few iodine tablets as a backup-backup water filtration system. You never know what could happen out there.
Warm LayersALWAYS BRING. Even if you think it’ll be beautiful and sunny the whole time. Worth it.
Water BottlesALWAYS BRING. I use my camelbak and bring an extra empty Nalgene for filtering the water in. (See next item.)
Water FilterALWAYS BRING. We use a SteriPen UV filter, which you can NOT use straight in your camelbak. I merely put river/lake water into my Nalgene bottle, swirl the UV stick around in it for 90 seconds, then pour the water into my camelbak. We used to use a Sawyer Squeeze system, but we didn’t clean it out often enough and it stopped working. (Was very happy to have our life straws on that trip!)
Ziplock for Trash (x3)ALWAYS BRING. Use them for trash bags and used TP.




What gear do you have that I didn’t list?

What are your favorite gear hacks?

What items deserve their own blog post?

Let me know in the comments below!

Happy trails!

– C. Egli

Categories: Places to GoTags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

1 comment

  1. This is such a great list! I really admire the work you put into this. Thank you!


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