michael harr, mba
overnight backpacking checklist
[pictured above:  our view from Mount Willard, New Hampshire]

just give me the checklist already!

If you'd like to skip the longer text and get straight to the checklist, click the appropriate version below to download the Overnight Backpacking Checklist.

three goals for your backpack

It's easy to get overwhelmed, confused, and frustrated when preparing to go overnight backpacking - especially if you're new. So, to be clear, let's state the main goals when it comes to packing your gear:
  1. Needs - Bring what you need to accomplish your hiking/backpacking goals.
  2. Accessibility - Pack the items you need in a manner that optimizes accessibility. 
  3. Weight - Always strive to reduce pack weight whenever possible.

your backpack

While it might be nice to think your backpack will be water- and weather-proof, it won't be. That's why before you start packing your backpack, you should line it with a thick, heavy duty garbage bag. Insert the garbage bag, stuff your pack, twist the garbage bag, and fold over the top to make your gear less susceptible to the elements. Here's the list:
  • Backpack
    • TIP: Find a backpack that is comfortable, lightweight, and large enough to fit all of your gear. Also, a well-packed single compartment backpack is just as good as the many over-engineered packs on the market today. Always think in terms of utility.
  • Heavy Duty, Large Garbage Bags (2+)
    • TIP: To add an additional layer of weatherproofing, (1) insert a garbage bag into your backpack's main compartment, (2) pack your gear, (3) twist the top of the bag, and (4) fold the twisted part back into your backpack.
    • TIP: Use the extra garbage bags for collecting trash (remember to leave no trace) and if it rains, grab one to use as a makeshift rain poncho.

at your campsite

Since you'll most likely be hiking to your campsite, it's wise to pack what you'll need there and only there at the bottom of your backpack - leaving room in the most accessible areas of your pack for when you're on the move. Here's the list of what you'll likely need at your campsite:
  • Tent, Hammock, or Tarp System
  • Tarp or Ground Cover
  • Sleeping Bag
  • Sleeping Pad/Mat or Inflatable Mattress
  • Pillow (inflatable or compression)
  • Esbit Cook Set
  • Esbit Fuel Packs
  • Spork
  • Dinner Food
  • Nylon Cord (~50 ft.)
  • Toothbrush
  • Toilet Paper in a Baggie
  • Waterproof Matches or Fire Starter Kit

on your hike

The following items are routinely needed as you hike and should be kept in parts of your backpack that are readily accessible throughout the day:
  • Hiking/Trekking Poles
  • Water Bottles or Hydration Pack
  • 2 Liters of Water
  • Map
  • Guidebook
  • Compass
  • Altimeter and/or GPS
  • Insect Repellent
  • Sunscreen and UV Lip Balm/Chapstick
  • Water Filtration System
  • Water Purification Tablets (backup)
  • Hiking/Trekking Poles
  • Knife
  • Lunch
  • Snacks
  • Quick Dry Towel


Few things will impact your hiking experience like what you're wearing. It's imperative to have the right clothing and shoes before you head out on the trail. Here's the quick rundown: 

> 55 Degrees Fahrenheit (Summer)
  • Wicking Underwear
  • Lightweight, Fast Drying Pants
  • Wicking Socks
  • Wicking Short Sleeve T-Shirt
  • Lightweight, Fast Drying Trail Shoes
  • Lightweight, Sun/Rain Blocking Hat
  • Sunglasses, if desired
32 to 55 Degree Fahrenheit (Spring/Fall)
  • Wicking Underwear
  • Light or Moderate Weight, Fast Drying Convertible Pants
  • Wicking Socks
  • Wicking Short Sleeve T-Shirt/Base Layer
  • Wicking Long Sleeve T-Shirt
  • Waterproof outer layer (top and bottom)
  • Lightweight, Fast Drying Trail Shoes -OR- Comfortable Hiking Boots
  • Sun/Rain Blocking Hat
  • Sunglasses, if desired

< 32 Degree Fahrenheit (Winter)
  • Insulated, Wicking Long Underwear/Base Layer
  • Fast Drying Pants
  • Additional Bottom Layers, as appropriate
  • Snow Pants
  • Long Wool Socks
  • Insulated, Wicking Long Sleeve Undershirt/Base Layer
  • Wicking Long Sleeve T-Shirt
  • Additional Top Layers, as appropriate
  • Winter Jacket, Coat
  • Comfortable Winter Hiking Boots
  • Wicking Winter Skull Cap
  • Insulated Winter Hat
  • Winter Gloves and/or Mittens
  • Facemask and Goggles, as needed

protecting sensitive gear

Today, we have all sorts of things that don't like to be around water, and that's why you should always keep a waterproof box or bag in your backpack. Here's the short list of what you'll likely want to keep dry:
  • Waterproof Box or Bag
  • Mobile Phone
  • Backup Phone Battery/Power Cell
  • Headlamp
  • Extra Batteries

in case of emergency

On all hikes, you should carry these emergency supplies:
  • Wallet with ID, Cash, and Credit/Debit Card
  • Trip Itinerary
  • Road ID with Emergency Contacts and Medical Conditions
  • First Aid Kit
  • Sewing Kit
  • Duct Tape
  • Emergency Reflective Blanket
  • Bear Spray (keep on your person or outside of backpack for easy access)