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What’s in your pack? Backpacking gear list #3: Backpacking for beginners

Our customers often ask if we have a suggested gear list for backpacking. This week, we’ll be providing not one but three different backpacking lists to use as a reference: one for traditional backpackers, one for ultralight backpackers, and one for first time backpackers! Today, we’ll take a look at what you need if you’re just starting out, and this is your first backpacking trip.


For first-time backpackers, the idea can be a bit daunting. After all, hiking long hours with a heavy pack, sleeping in primitive camp sites with no facilities whatsoever, and relying only on the equipment you can carry at one time are things that you don’t really do in your everyday life! A little bit of planning can make it a lot easier to take that first big step, so we’ve prepared this gear list with your first backpacking trip in mind.

For the sake of this backpacking gear list, we will assume that our beginner backpacker is heading out for a weekend trip with a friend, in the southeastern United States, at elevations no higher than 5,000 feet, between late April and early June. Our backpacking trip is not likely to involve night-time temperatures below 40 degrees. If this is your first backpacking trip, start small and try for 12 or 15 miles; the goal is to have fun, and you can try longer trips later!

We’ll start by listing the “major” items you’ll need, with a small paragraph about each. This article won’t include the items you wear on your body, just what you’ll have in your pack. Most of these are best-sellers and award-winners, and all are available from Rock/Creek:


  • Osprey Kestrel 58Osprey Kestrel 58 backpack
    The Osprey Kestrel 58 is a great pack for beginning backpackers who are looking for one pack that will do it all. Don’t overload it, take the time to read the instructions and adjust the torso harness properly, and this pack will carry your gear happily for years to come. It has a separate sleeping bag compartment, attachments for your trekking poles, and includes a rain cover for those unexpected showers.
  • Mountain Hardwear Drifter 2 tentMountain Hardwear Drifter 2 tent

    A good backpacking tent should be weatherproof, easy to set up, and light enough to carry on a long day of hiking. The Mountain Hardwear Drifter 2 tent fits the bill, and comes with a gear loft to help stash your stuff at night. Two doors means you can exit the tent without having to climb over your friend, and the two vestibules give you a place to keep your boots and pack out of the elements.

  • Marmot Trestles 30° sleeping bagMarmot Trestles sleeping bag

    If you’re going backpacking, you need a mummy-shaped sleeping bag; that huge rectangular thing you already own isn’t going to cut it. A down sleeping bag may not be in your budget, but synthetic sleeping bags are inexpensive, compressible, and light enough for backpacking use. Check out the Marmot Trestles 30° sleeping bag, which has the construction quality of a more expensive bag at a great price.

  • Therm-A-Rest Trail LiteTherm-a-rest Trail Lite

    The Thermarest Trail Lite gets a major update for 2011: with a new tapered shape and a weight of just 1 lb 12 oz, it’s an awesome value. These 1.5″ sleeping pads are a lot more comfortable than those awful blue foam things… “Practice” sleeping on one in your backyard (or living room!) beforehand and you’ll sleep better on your first night in the wilderness. Also available in a women’s version!

  • Katadyn Hiker water filterKatadyn Hiker water filter

    Because of Giardia lamblia and other nasties that can make you very sick very fast on the trail, you need to filter the water you collect before drinking it. The Katadyn Hiker is durable and convenient, with a pleated filter cartridge to make sure the water you drink won’t make you ill. There’s no cleaning required, and no nasty aftertaste like chemical treatments.

  • Snow Peak GigaPower & Snow Peak Mini Solo cooksetSnow Peak Giga Power

    For backpacking it’s easiest to carry a canister stove, and with plenty of dehydrated meal options available, you just need to be able to boil water. A rock-solid choice is the Snow Peak GigaPower stove, which is incredibly compact. Paired with the Snow Peak Mini Solo cookset, it’s simple and easy, and everything (including the fuel canister) fits inside the pot for convenient storage inside your pack.

  • Marmot Aegis rain jacketMarmot Aegis rain jacket

    There’s basically nothing less pleasant than hiking through a steady rain in a poncho, so you’ll need a rain jacket. You could start with the incredibly-popular Marmot Precip Jacket, but we’d recommend trying a Marmot Aegis Jacket (men’s) or Marmot Strato Jacket (women’s) instead. These breathe even better than the Precip and include more technical features, without too much of a jump in price!


That takes care of all the big stuff: a pad to sleep on, a bag to sleep in, a tent to keep you dry and bug-free at night, a way to filter water, a way to heat food, something to eat the food out of, a jacket to keep you dry if it rains and a pack to cram it all into. Whew! Before you can hit the trail, though, you’ll need to make sure you have the following:

  • A couple of water bottles. You need to carry at least 2 liters of water!
  • Energy bars, and snacks for munching on throughout the day
  • Dehydrated food to make for dinner at your camp site.
  • Oatmeal for breakfast (or more dehydrated food if oatmeal doesn’t fill you up)
  • Something warm (normally a fleece jacket or insulated jacket) in case the weather is chilly
  • A warm hat (likewise, in case temperatures are lower than expected)
  • A rain cover, unless your pack includes one (like the Osprey Kestrel above)
  • A First aid kit. Make sure it includes Moleskin for blisters!
  • A map of the area you’re hiking in, and a compass
  • Base layer top (for sleeping in)
  • Extra hiking socks (you’ll have a dry pair to sleep in, and to wear on the second day if your first pair is wet)
  • a Knife or multi-tool
  • Trekking poles, which help with stability while carrying a heavy pack
  • Stuff sacks to help organize gear inside your pack
  • Toilet paper and a trowel for burying human waste
  • Sunscreen, lip balm… and bug spray!

Last, but not least, always make sure you tell someone where you are going. That way, if you don’t return on time, someone knows to look for you… and where to start looking!

Your pack list should vary based on the elevation, weather forecast, time of year and the distance you intend to hike each day. Everyone has their own preferences, and what you pack on your first backpacking trip will probably be different than what you pack on your tenth. Hopefully, this beginner’s backpacking gear list will serve as a good starting point for making those decisions.

You’ll split the shared items (like the tent, stove and water filter) with your hiking buddy, and your pack should end up weighing less than 30 pounds. Remember, most people need to eat around a pound of food per day on the trail, so it’s better to accidentally bring a bit too much than it is to accidentally bring too little. Like the Boy Scouts always say: be prepared.

OK, enough reading, go fill up that pack and get out there! We’d love to hear about your first backpacking trip, and any other adventures that come afterward; let us know what you’re up to on our Facebook page.


On Monday, we looked at the pack of a traditional backpacker, and yesterday we shared a gear list for ultralight backpacking. Tomorrow, we’ll summarize and compare the three lists.