Outdoor adventures require equipment (a.k.a. gear). These lists are what I
use to help me pack. They are suitable for backpacking, canoeing, car camping,
and perhaps other adventures. Climbing and other specialized gear is not
Table of Contents
equipment-all.pdf is a
comprehensive PDF checklist, for all types of adventures. You must manually
exclude whatever is not needed.
equipment.pl is an interactive Perl
program which generates a checklist like the above, but with unneeded
equipment automatically excluded. It’s great for distributing to group
members if you are leading a trip. You need Perl, LaTeX, and a couple of other
utilities. It has been tested on Linux only but probably would work on other
system with a little TLC. Patches welcome!
This list is long and detailed — it’s not the last word. People
have different outdoor backgrounds and styles. However, if you don’t
have a lot of outdoor experience, check with your leader before making
omissions or substitutions. Screwing up your gear is a great way to make
yourself and everyone else miserable, and it’s your leader’s job
to help you make sure that doesn’t happen.
Note also that this list is comprehensive (though I have omitted items only
appropriate for car camping). Don’t bring what you don’t need for
a particular activity. If you’re unsure, ask your leader (who should
have provided you with a checklist).
Outdoor gear can be expensive. Consider renting or borrowing rather than
buying until you’re sure you really need to own a particular item.
Do not carry more than 25-33% of your body weight. You
will be slow, miserable, and at much greater risk of injury, and you will feel
like a loser if/when your extra stuff is redistributed to others on the trip,
which you leader may insist on if you are dragging. Believe me because
I’ve failed to follow my own advice many times...
Lastly, these notes are brief and not intended to fully educate you on
equipment for adventures. You’ll have to consult a book or other
resource for that.
This section lists stuff that you might think you want, but you
- Binoculars. Heavy, and generally not used. Leave them at home unless you
know for sure you will use them.
- Frame pack — must be comfortable and large enough to fit
everything you need to carry.
- Day pack. Cheap school packs work nicely. I really like the REI
Flash UL, which is very lightweight and packs down very small. It has been
replaced with the Flash 18
which I have not used but which seems to be very similar. Don’t bring
a fancy daypack with lots of padding/straps/support; the minor extra comfort
does not justify the weight and bulk.
- Sleeping bag. Generally, you’ll want a sleeping back rated
to the minimum expected temperature minus ten or twenty degrees, depending
on how cold you sleep. Buy down if you can afford it, as it’s much
lighter and more compact.
- Sleeping pad. Therm-A-Rest and its clones are smaller, lighter,
and more comfortable, but expensive and fragile, while closed-cell foam is
cheaper, heavier, bulkier, and considerably more durable. If you have a
Therm-A-Rest, make sure someone on the trip has a patch kit you can use, as
they are quite vulnerable to holes. Never carry a Therm-A-Rest on the
outside of your pack.
- Paddle. Most people prefer a bent paddle.
- Life vest.
- Wading/paddle shoes. I have a pair of Keens, and friends swear by
Chacos. Closed-toe construction is generally desirable to protect your toes
from rocks, sticks, and crocodiles. Do not buy Tevas.
- Hiking boots. Lots to choose from. Both canvas/leather and
all-leather construction are generally fine for the stuff I do. It is
absolutely critical that they fit and be broken in
before you leave for your trip. Be sure you try on boots with the
socks you plan to wear!
- Camp shoes. Optional. Generally, either your hiking boots or your
water shoes can serve; when you spend all day in one the other is very
comfortable for camp. Even when hiking all day in my boots, I find changing
into clean socks and loosening the boots to work fine as camp shoes.
Regardless, you need to wear real shoes around camp — no bare feet or
In the outdoors, clothing has two roles: temperature management and
keeping you dry. In many parts of the world, tremendous temperature and
weather variations are possible even in the same day, and you must be prepared
in order to keep you and the rest of the trip safe.
A critical rule: no insulating cotton. If it’s designed to
keep you warm, and it’s cotton, leave it at home, because cotton has no
insulating power if it’s wet. For example, do not bring sweat shirts,
sweat pants, or flannel anything.
Layering is the key to keeping comfortable while conserving
Ask your leader what kind of weather can be expected, in order to
choose the proper clothing.
You do not need to wear clean clothes every day. I generally figure
on 3-4+ days of use for socks and underwear, 4+ days for shirts, and no
changes necessary for everything else.
- Shirts. I generally bring three shirts — a
short-sleeved shirt for hiking, a short-sleeved shirt for in camp, and a
long-sleeved but lightweight shirt in case it’s cooler — with
one or two extras if it’s a long trip.
- Pants for hiking. Lightweight nylon pants work great. Don’t
bring jeans (heavy). I like zip-off convertible pants/shorts.
- Shorts for hiking.
- Underwear. I find briefs work better than boxers for hiking and
other active things. Most women like to bring a sports bra. The fancy synthetic underwear is actually
very nice, but cotton is OK.
- Hiking socks, thick and thin. Hiking boots should be worn with
two pairs of socks: one polypro or silk thin pair and then a thicker pair on
top of that. This reduces blisters and helps to wick sweat away from your
- Pajamas. Most people like to reserve something just for sleeping,
so there’s something clean to wear at night and one isn’t
continuously grody. Bare skin tends to stick to sleeping bags. I like to
wear lightweight silk long underwear, top and bottom. Others are happy with
T-shirt and boxers.
- Rain gear. This needs to be something reasonably high-quality, in
case it rains all day but you still have to keep going.
- Warm hat.
- Windbreaker. This can be added to any warm top to greatly improve
its warmth. I recommend something very lightweight: just a windbreaker
shell, with no insulation of its own.
- Warm top(s). Fleece is nice but can be bulky/heavy. Synthetic
down substitutes are pricey, but warm and quite lightweight and packable;
down is even more expensive, warm, and light/small, but it loses its
effectiveness when wet.
- Warm pants.
- Mittens / Gloves.
- Long underwear. You have two choices in synthetic underwear:
cheap and stinky, or expensive and not so stinky. Both are equally warm and
- Bandanna. Very lightweight and lots of uses; frequently the only
available item which is both clean and cotton.
- Swimsuit. Necessary only for modesty – skip for
backcountry trips. If you’re not comfortable skinnydipping, wear
underwear instead and you get a free clothing wash to go with your
- Camp towel. Choose the smallest size you think you can live with,
and then buy half that big. I use a “face” size to dry my whole
- Bug headnet. The only really effective anti-insect measure is
physical barriers. Spend a little more and buy one that fits you well.
- Light cotton gloves (for bugs). Keeps the insects from biting
- Gaiters. These are useful for keeping dew from wetting your socks
and filling up your boots.
- Paddling gloves. Cycling gloves often suffice. Take them off when
you don’t need them, as it’s bad for your hands to be wet all
- Snow/ice traction aids. You have a couple of options: instep
crampons or a Yaktrax-type system. The
crampons provide very sure footing on pretty much any snow or ice, but are
extremely awkward on bare patches, while Yaktrax don’t provide quite
as much stickiness (and are useless on glare ice) but are fine for short
bare patches. My recommendation is Yaktrax unless you know you’re
going to be dealing with unavoidable glare ice. If you do get the crampons,
the neoprene straps are worth the extra money.
Generally, you should bring no scented items, because they can seem
out-of-place in the wilderness and also attract unwelcome creatures.
This section calls for a couple of kits – but that
doesn’t mean the items have to be packed together. In particular, the
pee rag should be handy in your pocket.
- Camelbak / Water bottles:
- Water bottles work fine, though they’re out of vogue these days.
Empty 1-liter pop bottles are cheap and work fine. Avoid bottles that are
crinkly when squeezed or which have sports tops.
- Camelbak-style hydration systems eliminate the need to stop and pull
bottles out of a pack; the drawback is that they’re harder to fill
and you can’t easily tell how much is left.
- Unless you’re traveling by air and need to save weight, fill
your bottles at home. There is generally not enough car water to supply
everyone at the trailhead, and finding places to fill en route is a
- Ask your leader how much water capacity is necessary.
- Water bottle (non-Camelbak). It’s useful to have at least
one regular bottle, because it’s much more convenient around
- Sun hat. Should shade your ears.
- Sunglasses. Polarized glasses reduce reflections and are pretty
nice. I recommend a zip-up hard case even if you don’t have expensive
sunglasses, that you use religiously, as it’s very easy to
- Sunscreen. SPF 30 or greater. It all works, but you get what you
pay for in terms of comfort.
- Bug dope. Bug repellent is nasty, nasty stuff. The
“natural” kinds don’t really work. I recommend focusing on
physical barriers rather than chemicals.
- Drugs w/ spare course. If you take medications that you depend on
for your well-being, it is extremely important that you bring a spare
course: pack twice as much as you need, and give half of that to someone
else to carry. This protects against loss or destruction of the half
that you are carrying.
- Mess kit: You can get nice plastic flatware at REI or
other stores, though normal metal stuff works OK. Do not bring cheap
disposable plastic flatware. Bring plastic mug/bowl/plate: ceramic is too
fragile (obviously), and metal cools your food very effectively.
- Mug. I like the classic REI Thermo Mug. A plastic
measuring cup works in a pinch and is available in any grocery store,
though they tend to have problems with hot liquids.
- Bowl. I use a Lexan
bowl from REI, though cheap Tupperware works fine.
- Plate. I generally skip this unless I’m car camping.
- Knife. I typically skip this except for car camping, though
it’s nice to have one in the lunch kit for spreading peanut butter,
which pocketknives aren’t very good at.
- Toilet kit (nothing scented):
- Toothbrush. Yes, you can indeed cut the handle off if you so
desire. I personally think that’s silly.
- Toothpaste. There’s often a secret aisle containing
travel-size stuff at Target and such places. You can refill travel-size
toothpaste tubes by holding the business end tight to a regular-size tube
and squeezing gently (start slowly as there’s potential for a big
- Dental floss. Save the tiny dental flosses you get from your
dentist and bring them.
- Should be natural/biodegradable.
- I like the Dr.
Bronner’s unscented liquid soap (enough so that I use it for
my daily soap at home too). Plus, if you get bored, you can read the religious
ravings on the label. You don’t need much — less than
1mL per person per day. You can get it at REI or just ask your local
- Alcohol hand santizer. (Purel or its clones.) Nice to have
along, though it’s a complement to rather than a substitute for
soap: it doesn’t work as well, and it slowly attracts dirt and
grime. One way to do it is to have a little travel size one in with your
TP (which is plenty for a week or more).
- Toilet paper. Keep it in a Ziploc bag, as it’s very
vulnerable to moisture. Bring more than you think you’ll need,
because if you get the runs it’s likely everyone else will too.
- Wash cloth.
- Comb / Hairbrush.
- Pee rag. (Ladies only.) Half a hanky is a good size. Use after
urinating to avoid TP (which then has to be carried around) or drip
drying. It can be folded up and stored in a pocket during the day, then
rinsed and hung to dry nightly; with this treatment, it does not get
- Tampons / Pads.
- Condoms. Even if you normally use a different birth control
method, if you are planning to have sex on the trail, condoms make cleanup
much easier and there is no prolonged gooiness. Just make sure you are
courteous with disposal – while they need to be placed in critter
protection when appropriate like other trash, your tripmates will not want
to see or handle them.
- Nail clippers. You would be surprised how horrible a hangnail
is in the wilderness when you can’t do anything about it.
- Contact lenses.
- Contact lens case.
- Contact lens fluid.
- Spare glasses.
- Flashlight w/ spare batteries. Really, a headlamp is much nicer.
LED headlamps are inexpensive and work quite well these days.
- Lighter / Matches.
- Multitool. Leatherman tool, Swiss Army knife, or similar.
- GPS w/ spare batteries.
- Camera gear w/ spare batteries. If you are a serious
photographer, be careful with weight – DSLR plus just one lens can
already be pretty darn heavy.
- Journal / Sketchbook.
- Camp chair kit. These convert your sleeping pad into a chair.
Very nice to have in camp.
- Plastic bags. Ziploc or similar freezer bags
(“storage” bags are lighter weight and not as good). Also
perhaps a garbage bag or two to cover your pack in the rain.
- Caribiners. Lightweight gear-size, not climbing grade. Great for
al kind of camp clipping.
- Walking stick. Or trekking pole(s). Helps a lot with balance and
perhaps reduces stress on knees. If you go the walking stick route, you can
often find one on the trail and don’t need to pack one.
- Survival / repair kit:. This doesn’t need to live in a
specific “kit” of its own, but it should all come with you on
- Flashlight w/ spare batt.. I have a cute little LED flashlight
that runs on a single AA cell.
- Mini saw.
- Mini multitool.
- Magnesium fire starter. Impervious to water and other abuse,
unlike lighters and matches. Learn how to use it before you go.
- Water purification tablets.
- Signal mirror. Know how to use it.
- String / Cord.
- Thread & Needles. I carry heavy nylon thread. Some people
like fishing line. Needles should be real big – you won’t be
doing any precision stitching.
- Safety pins.
- Duct tape.
Group gear means this is community equipment. Not everyone needs to bring
- Car shovel. This is to dig yourself out if you get stuck on dirt
- Car water. Two purposes: to live off in case you get stuck on a
backcountry road, and so you have water available when you return to the
trailhead. Thus, you need enough for both purposes.
- Spare car keys. In case the person carrying the primary keys
loses them for whatever reason.
- First aid kit.
- Tent(s) w/ poles.
- Tent pegs. The pegs that come with a tent are generally cheap
junk. I like MSR Ground
Hogs. Bring enough to thoroughly stake down the tent for high winds,
which is generally more than are included with the tent; also, don’t
forget string for attaching to the extra guy loops.
- Tarp. You have two choices: cheap but bulky and heavy, or
expensive and compact and lightweight. Bring big: a small tarp is no
fun in bad weather.
- Water carrier. Do not bring the ubiquitous Reliance cubes. They
are cheap and suck. MSR
Dromedary Bags are nice but expensive and a little awkward to use unless
you have the spigot.
- Trowel. The best choice is a cheap steel garden trowel with a
plastic handle. They are tough, almost as lightweight as expensive
backcountry trowels, and much cheaper. Do not buy the ubiquitous orange
plastic trowels, as they break too easily.
- Deck of cards.
- Thermarest patch kit.
- Rope and string.
- Water purification. Filter w/ spare filter and/or chlorine dioxide (Aquamira). Iodine and plain
chlorine are not effective against common parasites.
- Wildlife book(s).
- Duluth packs.
- Cook kit:
- Stove(s). I like the MSR WhisperLite and the MSR DragonFly.
Only the latter can simmer effectively, but it’s much louder.
- Fuel bottles.
- Stove repair kit.
- Cooking pot. This is for food that requires actual cooking (as
opposed to freeze-dried meals that require only adding boiling water). I
use a cheap aluminum pans designed for home use. The head-conduction
properties of “backpacking” cookware are truly awful, so even
though they’re lighter, it’s not worth it (plus they’re
- Water boiling pot. I use a cheap aluminum coffee boiling pot
(e.g.) with the screen in
the spout Dremeled out. It’s great for scooping water from streams
too. I’m very scrupulous about putting only water into it, as
it’s a real pain to clean.
- Big spoon.
- Dish sponge. A small scrubby is sufficient.
- Dish soap.
- Dish towel.
- Critter defense
- Bear bags are ineffective unless raised correctly, which is hard. Do
it right so the rest of us don’t suffer from your incompetence.
Bear canisters work better provided they’re used correctly.
- You also need to worry about rodents, ravens, etc., even in places
without bear problems. There was a great product called RatSack which is
lightweight and highly effective, but it was a one-man operation and the
guy who runs it seems to have accepted money for a bunch of orders and
disappeared in spring/summer 2008. There are a couple of replacement
products but I do not yet have any opinions on them.