Equipment Checklists

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 included.

Table of Contents

Concise equipment list (PDF)

equipment-all.pdf is a comprehensive PDF checklist, for all types of adventures. You must manually exclude whatever is not needed.

equipment 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!

Annotated equipment list

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.

Do not bring

This section lists stuff that you might think you want, but you don’t.

  • Deodorant.
  • Binoculars. Heavy, and generally not used. Leave them at home unless you know for sure you will use them.

Big Stuff

  • 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 discontinued, but there have been a few generations of replacements which I have not used but which seem 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 flip-flops.


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 weight.

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 feet.
  • 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 lightweight.
  • 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 swim.
  • 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 body.
  • 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 your hands.
  • 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 the time.
  • 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.

Body and Hygiene

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 hassle.
    • 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 camp.
  • 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 break/scratch/lose sunglasses.
  • 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.
    • Spoon.
    • Fork.
    • 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 mess).
    • Dental floss. Save the tiny dental flosses you get from your dentist and bring them.
    • Soap.
      • 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 hippie.
    • 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 smelly.
    • 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.
    • Lotion.
    • Chapstick.
    • 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.
    • Mirror.


  • 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.
  • Compass.
  • 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.
  • Books.
  • 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 dayhikes.
    • Whistle.
    • Flashlight w/ spare batt.. I have a cute little LED flashlight that runs on a single AA cell.
    • Mini saw.
    • Mini multitool.
    • Knife.
    • 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.
    • Wire.
    • Duct tape.

Group gear

Group gear means this is community equipment. Not everyone needs to bring one.

  • Car shovel. This is to dig yourself out if you get stuck on dirt roads.
  • 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.
  • Maps.
  • 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).
  • Canoe(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.
    • Fuel.
    • 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 expensive).
    • Water boiling pot. I use a cheap aluminum coffee boiling pot 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.
    • Spatula.
    • 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.
Copyright © 1999-2013 Reid Priedhorsky. Last modified: 2014-03-24 21:19 MDT. Disclaimer.