The Ultimate Backpacking Checklist for Your First Trip - The Viking Abroad
Travel Blogger from Norway
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The Ultimate Backpacking Checklist for Your First Trip

06 Nov The Ultimate Backpacking Checklist for Your First Trip

The mummified body of what may have been one of the earliest backpackers was discovered on the border between Italy and Austria.

Ötzi, as he was nicknamed, lived more than 5000 years ago. His backpack and survival kit included medicine, tools, tinder and a needle—much like a modern backpacker might include in their kit.

Are you preparing for your first backpacking trip? You’re probably excited, but you need to prepare well. Read on to learn what should be on your backpacking checklist.

Backpacking Checklist Options

Backpacking is a non-specific description of a range of activities. It can include journeys of thousands of miles undertaken largely using public transport. It can also include trips in a wilderness with no transport and only your two legs to get you from place to place.

With every variation between these two extremes to cater to, no single checklist can meet all your needs. The purpose of this checklist is to remind you about the things you may have forgotten or to stimulate thinking about your own specific needs.

Use this guide as a starting point for developing your own backpacking checklist given the nature of your backpacking plans and personal needs and wants.


The first essential item in any backpacker’s kit is the backpack itself. The size of the backpack should be determined by the amount of kit you need to transport.

Your backpack will be with you throughout your backpacking adventure, so don’t skimp on quality. An ergonomic, tough design will pay dividends in comfort and efficiency. If your backpack fails mid-journey you’ll have a serious problem.

Include waterproof stuff sacks to compartmentalize your gear in your backpack and to keep it dry. If you are backpacking in a wilderness area, do the responsible thing and have a large Ziploc bag to bring back any garbage.

Sleep and Shelter

Camping backpackers need a tent or at least a tarp. An ultra-lightweight tent makes camping and moving on possible. It’s essential to be able to shelter from the elements for comfort—or even for survival—at a moment’s notice.

A sleeping bag can be part of both the campers’ and less extreme backpackers’ kits. When traveling, a sleeping bag, sleep mat, and camping pillow can make the most basic of couch surfing accommodations a home away from home.

Cooking and Eating

If your backpacking trip means you are catering for yourself in the outdoors, you have to have your own kitchen equipment. A stove and fuel, cookpots, and some way of lighting your stove are essentials. Carry a lighter or stormproof matches.

You will also need something to eat with, such as a spoon, and something to drink out of. Check out a tumbler comparison here if you’re looking for a way to keep your drinks at a certain temperature. Your provisions also need to be lightweight, so consider rehydratable food pouches.

For backpackers with access to grocery stores and restaurants, you may want to supplement your diet with some of your favorite snacks. Trail mix is a good emergency snack or filler between meals.

Always carry a reusable water bottle so you can stay hydrated. Campers may need a water purifier to treat water sourced at or near the camping ground.

Navigation and Guides

Low- and hi-tech navigation equipment options need to be considered. Old school maps can be very effective but can add weight and bulk, especially if multiple maps are needed to cover the territory. GPS-enabled phone apps and maps are very effective but depend on a power supply for charging.

A travel guide can help both with navigation and suggestions for sightseeing, places to stay, and essential information. A few tips on the culture of a strange country can make the difference between getting a warm welcome and upsetting your hosts. It’s great to make chance discoveries, but it’s also wise to benefit from the discoveries made by people who have traveled before you.

Tools and Kit

When camping, a lightweight pocket knife with extra accessory blades can act both as a survival aid and a helpful tool. Be aware that if you are traveling by plane that a camping knife is viewed as a weapon by airport security. You won’t be able to have it with you in the cabin.

Your smartphone isn’t just a phone when you are backpacking. It’s your camera, map, travel planner, and more. You can use it to book tickets, translate foreign languages, and find a restaurant with a good reputation.

A headtorch is a very useful tool on and off the campground. It illuminates while allowing you to work, cook or erect a tent in the dark.

A wall plug and international adapter will allow you to use power wherever you find it, in cafés, on buses and hotels. But to keep things powered up during hikes, you might want to invest in a solar charger.

First Aid

A first aid kit is something that you hope you will never have to use, but it’s good to know you have it if an emergency does happen. It should contain band-aids, antibiotic ointment, medical tape, and pads.

Antihistamines can provide some relief from stings and bites. Antidiarrheal medicine might be helpful when food and water hygiene have not been ideal. Complete the first aid kit with tweezers, safety pins, and some plastic gloves.

In an emergency, you might not be able to get a phone signal to get help. A simple series of whistle blasts can draw attention to you and raise the alarm, so pack a lightweight emergency whistle.


Your clothing needs depend very much on the climate. Underwear, socks, pants, shirts, and a jacket are the starting point. A down jacket is especially useful because it is warm and can be compressed for easy storage. One or two changes of clothing allow you to wash clothes during the trip.

A waterproof jacket and rain pants make wet weather tolerable. A sun hat and warm hat should be considered as well as gloves. Extra shoes or boots may be needed depending on the terrain and amount of walking planned.

Personal Items

Personal toiletries should be supplemented with toilet paper and menstrual products. Take bug repellant and sunscreen if appropriate. Also, make sure to take sufficient supplies of any medication you need.

Your Final Backpacking Load

Once you’ve gone through this backpacking checklist, assemble your backpacking load and lay it out. Be critical about carrying non-essential items and you’ll be pleased you lightened your load. Draw up your own checklist as well and be prepared to add or subtract things as you learn what works best for you.

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