The 33 items you need to stay safe and comfortable camping in the backcountry

Most camping checklists you’ll see are dauntingly enormous! It would be prohibitively expensive to prepare for your first outings. Not to mention how little fun it is to carry all that weight. What do you truly need to be comfortable and safe?

The first step in an ultralight approach isn’t to buy new, technically advanced gear, but rather to take stock of all the duplication and unnecessary weight in your existing pack.

hiking-mug
Hiking bowls, mugs and plates can often double up. Some hiking pot lids have a strainer in their design. A spork combines a knife, fork and spoon (they’re not always comfortable to hold though!).

To get you started, here’s my minimal / getting started packing list – the 33 items you need to be safe and comfortable.

This is designed for a two-day walk with overnight stay in a tent in a temperate (not extreme) climate. Use it as inspiration and adapt to your circumstances.

During the day

  1. Sunscreen (find the travel size bottle) (and lip balm if you need it).
  2. Sunglasses and/or hat if it’s likely to be sunny.
  3. Backpack (packs with frames are more comfortable).
  4. Water bottle per person.
  5. Snacks (e.g. trail mix and granola bars).
  6. Walking map, marked up with your route so you can find it easily (look for a 1:25000 or 1:50000 scale).

Clothes

  1. Sportswear to keep you cool when hiking during the day (e.g. long quick-dry pants, one thin Merino t-shirt, underwear). Use the same outfit on day two – you don’t want to carry an extra set.
  2. Warm clothes for camp in the evening (e.g. fleece or down jacket, long thermal underwear). These can also be used during the day or night if temperatures drop.
  3. Vest and shorts to sleep in.
  4. Rain jacket (also called a “hard shell”; these are also windproof and so they add warmth even though they’re lightweight).
  5. Beanie / warm hat, plus gloves if temperatures are low.
  6. Hiking boots or shoes during the day, and jandals for camp.
  7. One pair of socks per day (for longer hikes, take multiple liner socks as well as one pair of thick socks; it’s vital to keep your feet in good shape).

Cooking

  1. Stove, fuel, lighter (bring an emergency lighter even if your stove has one – they often break!).
  2. A pot (aim for one-pot meals since you don’t want to carry two pots, two stoves, and two gas canisters; for ideas see www.bestcampingmeals.com).
  3. Sharp knife and long-handled spoon for cooking, plus spork per person for eating.
  4. Camping mug/bowl per person (a large cup can usually serve as a bowl as well).
  5. Dehydrated meal ingredients (measure the quantities you need for each meal into ziploc bags in advance, so you don’t need a measuring cup; for ideas see www.bestcampingmeals.com).
  6. Drinks (e.g. teabags and powdered milk and sugar, hot chocolate powder, orange juice concentrate, soup sachets).
  7. A plastic bag for waste.
  8. Washing up sponge, liquid and drying cloth.
  9. Water filter or purification tablets.

Sleeping

  1. Tent (alpine tents come as light as under 1kg).
  2. Lightweight air mattress, including emergency repair kit.
  3. Sleeping bag (check the “comfort” temperature of the bag you choose aligns to the night temperature of your campsite, and remember women get colder than men when sleeping).
  4. Head torch and spare batteries.

Hygiene

  1. Anti-bacterial wipes and/or hand sanitiser.
  2. Toilet paper.
  3. Travel toothbrush and paste.
  4. Tampons/pads if needed.
  5. Hair ties.

Other essentials

  1. Insect repellent if you need it.
  2. First aid (e.g. blister plasters, a bandage, painkillers, antihistamines).

Optional / leave out

  • Folding chairs / extra furniture.
  • Portable speakers.
  • Chopping boards.
  • Phone chargers.
  • Heavy items of clothing.
  • Make-up.
  • Multiple outfits (dry clothes overnight and use merino to always smell fresh!)
  • Multi-tools are often not as good as just taking the knife and scissors you really need.

Consider carefully whether you really need…

  • Extra emergency gear such as space blankets and geo location beacons. These take up space and probably aren’t needed except in extreme situations.
  • That extra large first aid kit. Consider that in the unlikely event of injury or illness, you’re just triaging until help gets there, or you get to a safe place.
  • Freeze-dried hiking meals. Some are good, others are not so great – either on nutrition or taste. Consider what you can prepare with everyday ingredients like potato flakes and couscous.
  • Specialist gear from outdoor stores. Your existing things may be just as good.

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