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Backpacking Checklist: Gear Up for the Great Outdoors

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Staying for one night?

Are you planning to stargaze while walking back down the hiking trail? You can’t go backpacking without these essential items in your kit.

For everything from utility use to emergency signaling, this backpacking checklist of essentials will keep you out of harm’s way and fully established in your peace of mind at all times.

Ultimate Backpacking Checklist

Let’s get you prepped for that trip.

1. First-Aid Essentials

first aid items

A first-aid kit is the one item you value the most when you need it, whether it’s a minor cut from a mishandled utility knife or something more serious.

However, you don’t have to pay the absurd online prices that you see everywhere. The most effective way to have a proper first-aid kit is to buy a container and build it yourself.

You should have the following items: a first-aid manual or working knowledge of first-aid application; a list of phone numbers for next of kin; sterile gauze pads; some sort of medical adhesive tape; bandages; antiseptic wipes or ointments; and a splint.

The quantity of bandages is completely up to you, but a dozen or so should be good enough.

2. SOS Equipment

In addition to a light source, which we’ll discuss shortly, you also require a device that can alert a search party in the event of an emergency or injury.

Tactical flashlights with an SOS strobe feature work wonders if you have enough lumens.

You have to think of the possibility of battling against a spotlight coming down from a helicopter, so make sure it’s powerful. Other than that, you could bring a fire starter and create a proper signal fire.

Additional items you could bring along are a mirror to reflect light back, a whistle to engage search parties, colored flashlight lights, or an emergency flare with a bright color, like orange or green.

3. Survival EDC Kit

EDC items kit

This sounds like a broad topic, but it’s a small kit that will fit simply inside your backpack. It should include items like a quality camping knife, a wire saw, a whistle, and a tactical pen.

These also come with clip-on lanyard-style compasses, handbooks, and tiny LED lights, which come in handy if you lose track of party members during a nighttime hike.

If it’s going to aid you in reuniting with your party members or keep you alive in unfamiliar territory, then you’re going to go for it.

You could go for an all-in-one survival kit online that will include most or all of these items, but building your own gives you control over each individual component, and we strongly recommend that.

4. Camping Stove and Fuel

Backpacking, as you know, is extremely taxing on your body. It’s a full-body workout that demands so much of you and your abilities, and while you’re feeling the pain and gain, you will eventually come crashing down.

Dried beef jerky just doesn’t cut it; your body craves more than that, so pop open the camping stove and cook up a hot meal. It doesn’t have to be anything complicated, but it gives you that burst of energy you need during a backpacking trip.

Just be careful: if you’re bringing a small gas stove, have no more than one 16-ounce canister of butane or propane with you. Make sure to properly store everything when using an alcohol stove to prevent spills.

5. Three Days of Dried Food

dried foods for outdoors

It may sound hypocritical, but we’re not saying you shouldn’t have some jerky or trail mix on you; rather, that shouldn’t be the only thing you eat.

Having some dried food can be your saving grace in a survival-based situation if you find yourself upstream without a paddle.

You’re not going to make it far without some form of nutrition to replenish everything you’re spending, so to speak, and dried food also takes up a very small amount of space in your backpack.

6. High-Powered Light Source

This is necessary for both visibility and self-defense. Disengagement is one of the most effective ways to avoid any predator.

You don’t need to stand your ground and swing around a knife; disengage, regroup, and get out of there. You can achieve that with a high-powered light source, whether that’s a focused lantern or a tactical flashlight. 

You typically want 700 concentrated lumens in a small output to stun an adversary or predator, so you can turn tail and run in the opposite direction.

Furthermore, high lumens provide advanced visibility on dark and winding trails, so there’s no surprise waiting for you in the dark.

7. Water Filtration Device

water filters for camping

You can only go three days (five if you’re a heap on the floor and unconscious) without water before the final curtain is in sight. On average, the human body needs 64 ounces, or one half-gallon, of water every single day to function.

Imagine how much more you need while you’re putting in those long hours on a hiking trail or covering tens of miles of distance on foot each day. 

It’s impractical to bring three or more gallons of water with you, but a water filtration device can be there when you need it.

You can get a LifeStraw personal filtration system, but that is only good for drinking at the moment you utilize a water source. If you get a gravity system and an empty gallon jug, you can filter batches of water to bring with you along the way.

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8. Paracord Survival Bracelet

The paracord itself is your bracelet’s main component.

People underestimate how good this is for survival, but you can use it to make a lean-to, make traps for wild animals, make a sling, or even shreds of it to mark trails so you know where you’ve been.

It’s like having an ultra-strong rope that’s amazingly lightweight. We recommend having at least ten feet of paracord with you while you’re backpacking to account for a variety of things not going as planned.

9. Local Handbook

reading instructions while hiking

Backpacking is often synonymous with inexpensive international travel. 

You can absolutely visit a foreign country and backpack through it, but you must take into account the local wildlife, terrain, and issues that you’re not accustomed to from being back stateside.

Most tourist shops or airport book stores will have information that you can grab for free, or some inexpensive miniature handbooks or pamphlets with important information.

If there are any poisonous insects or wildlife to look out for, see what you can do to prepare for potential encounters.

10. Sealable Bags

If you’re backpacking for international travel, do yourself a favor and get a sealable bag that can store dirty laundry.

This is useful both to ensure you don’t reek when you go into public areas and to store dirty or wet clothes without compromising food and/or first-aid essentials in your backpack.

Plus, nobody wants to smell dirty laundry all the time. This keeps the scent out of your nostrils and trapped in the bag. Be aware that the scent will be pungent when you open it to do laundry.

Quality Gear That Never Quits

Having a well-prepared backpacking checklist is the key to a smooth and enjoyable outdoor adventure.

We’ve been using some of the highest-rated and essential gear for years, and we want to ensure you’re as prepared as possible when you’re out on the trail or at the campsite.

Due to their constant movement, backpackers run a higher risk of injury or losing their way, so stay vigilant and well-equipped.