Backpacking Checklist – 10 Packing Tips for a Hiking Trip

Use this backpacking checklist to make sure you have everything you need, whether you’re hiking in the Himalayas or Honduras. A list like this contains all the packing tips you’ll ever need for a hiking trip – you won’t forget anything at home.

Before the tips, here’s one of my favorite quips:

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” ~ Mark Twain

My husband and I tend to get anxious and stressed before we live on a trip, whether it’s a Hawaiian vacation or a hiking trip on the mountains. If you’re the same way, remember Twain’s quip. You’re sailing away — hiking upwards — and there’s no need to worry about anything. You’re exploring, dreaming, discovering!

If you need hiking poles, check out the Hikker HP-5 Anti-shock Hiking Poles – they’re the best selling hiking poles on Amazon.

Okay, back to earth…here are the top ten packing tips for a hiking trip…

Backpacking Checklist – Tips for Packing for a Hiking Trip

Multiple layers of clothes

Temperatures can drop 40-50 degrees from day to night at higher elevations. Even during the day, weather can change dramatically in a matter of minutes. Every good backpacking checklist needs a sweater, jacket, and clothes made of wicking materials. Be prepared to take layers on and off to stay comfortable and dry.

Thin socks – leave the thick socks off the backpacking checklist

Hikers often make the mistake of wearing thick socks. In reality, thinner socks made of a wicking material will keep your toes and feet dry and comfortable. This isn’t only an important packing tip for a hiking trip in the mountains — it works whether you’re traveling to Africa or Switzerland.

Rain jacket – because any hiking trip can be rained out

Afternoon thunderstorms are a daily occurrence in many mountain areas.  When I was on vacation in Costa Rica, I had to buy an expensive rain jacket at a tourist shop — I forgot that I was on a hiking trip in the rain forest! Any good backpacking checklist needs to include one of those teeny weeny raincoats that weigh nothing and are oh-so-important.

Sunscreen, lip balm, sunglasses – seems obvious, right?

Maybe you’re rolling your eyes at the fact that I’m including these “obvious” items on a backpacking checklist – but you’d be surprised at how many hikers leave them behind! Higher altitudes can produce severe sunburns, even with cloud cover and temperatures in the 50s. Sunscreen, balm, and sunglasses are some of the most important things to pack on a hiking trip.

Moisturizer – not just for a ladies’ backpacking checklist!

Higher altitudes, especially in the western United States and Canada, bring very dry air. When you’re going on a hiking trip, bring along a favorite moisturizer and use it liberally. The bonus of this packing tip is that protecting your skin will keep you feeling and looking young.

PB and J – and other snack foods

One of my favorite foods on a hiking trip is a simple peanut butter and jam sandwich. There’s no risk of it going bad, it tastes delicious, and it’s equally yummy if it’s warm or cold. Every backpacking checklist needs healthy snacks (nuts, raisins, seeds, protein bars). This isn’t just a packing tip: eating small, frequent meals throughout the day gives you extra energy (which is particularly important when you’re hiking at higher altitudes in the mountains).

Water bottle (don’t laugh – I forget mine all the time!)

When you’re active and at higher altitudes than you’re used to, it’s easy to become dehydrated and not even know it.  Fill your bottle with water on your way to the hills – in the car, train, bus, or plane – and keep drinking throughout your hiking trip. Plenty of water also helps to prevent headaches often associated with visits to high altitude.

Hiking boots – a “must have” on every backpacking checklist

You’ll want to be comfortable walking whether you’re hiking around town, lakes, paths, or shopping malls. No matter where you think your hiking trip will take you, you need sturdy boots. Make sure to break them in at home to avoid a trip full of blisters.

Swimsuits – a packing tip for any trip

I’ve missed more dips in mountain lakes than I care to count because I didn’t include a swimsuit on my backpacking checklist. Even if you don’t plan on swimming during your hiking trip, many lodges, campsites, and hotels have  hot springs, hot tubs and indoor/outdoor pools to enjoy. Some even have lakes and ponds to swim in! Other swimming gear, such as goggles or noseplugs, also belong on any good backpacking checklist.

Hiking poles – not necessary for a hiking trip, but very helpful

My husband gave me a set of collapsible hiking poles for Christmas last year, and I use them often — even on walks (not just on major hiking trips!). Hiking poles are useful on steep terrain, or if you have knee or joint pain, because they can reduce the impact of climbing or descending. Poles can also increase calorie burn, because they involve your arm and stomach muscles – not just your legs.

If you’re taking your RV or a car on your hiking trip, you might find How to Save Money on RV Travel by Spending Less on Camper Gas helpful.

For more packing tips, read Packing a Carry On Bag for Air Travel – it contains ideas that may help you pack for your hiking trip.

Do you have any questions or thoughts on this backpacking checklist? Please comment below…

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2 thoughts on “Backpacking Checklist – 10 Packing Tips for a Hiking Trip”

  1. Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen

    Thanks for your comment, Roger! I forgot about the insect repellent and first aid kit – those are essential to any backpacking checklist!

    Your article looks interesting. I’ve heard that pistachios are one of the most overlooked nuts…they’re one of the healthiest.

  2. This is a great list to get started. Layering of clothes is something that tends to be overlooked but will make your hike much more enjoyable. A couple more items to add to your list would be a first aid kit and insect repellent.