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What to Pack for an Overnight Backpacking Trip

Whether you’re heading out on your first backpacking trip, or you’re a seasoned pro, knowing what to pack for an overnight backpacking trip can make or break your experience on the trail.

An overnight backpacking trip presents a special conundrum. Do you pack more luxury items because you need fewer essentials? Or do you take advantage of being able to lighten your load? I’d personally rather suffer a little bit more on the trail by carrying extra weight, in order to be more comfortable at camp later. That usually means carrying an extra change of clothes along with a few luxury items.

Regardless of your backpacking style, this packing list will ensure you have everything you need to stay safe and comfortable on the trail.

Free backpacking gear packing list download.

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Where to Get Backpacking Gear On a Budget

Making the leap from day hiking to backpacking requires some major upgrades to your outdoor gear collection. Unfortunately, new backpacking gear is often expensive. You definitely don’t need the best or most expensive gear for an overnight trip, especially if you’re new to backpacking. It’s also completely normal to acquire gear over time. Despite the high costs there are a variety of ways that you can get backpacking gear on a budget for your overnight trip.

Woman wearing all black and sunglasses with a large blue backpacking pack stands in front of a waterfall in a sandstone orange canyon in the desert.
Backpacking in Coyote Gulch

1. Rent or Borrow Gear

If you’re testing the waters on your first backpacking trip or traveling somewhere you don’t want to bring your own gear, renting backpacking gear can be a great way to save money. Research gear shops or outdoor programs near your backpacking destination to see what options are available. Many REI locations offer comprehensive backpacking gear rentals, so you can rent what you need whether it’s only one or two items, or a full backpacking kit.

You can also put out feelers to your friends, family, and local hiking groups to see if anyone has gear that you can borrow for your overnight backpacking trip. This is a great option if you only need a couple of items you may not be ready to invest in yet like an emergency GPS or pricey camp stove.

2. Shop Secondhand

Shopping secondhand is not only a great way to save money on backpacking gear, but it’s also better for the environment. You can find secondhand gear online in places like Facebook Marketplace, eBay, and Geartrade. Many outdoor retailers have used gear platforms, including REI Resupply, Patagonia Worn Wear, and The North Face Renewed. It’s worth noting that while these name brand outdoor retailers are pricey when purchased new, their products are (usually) high-quality and can last for years if taken care of properly. Some brands, like Patagonia, also have excellent repair policies.

You can find used gear shops in most outdoorsy areas and cities. Not only can used gear shops help you find a great deal on gear, they also support the local community and provide an opportunity to consign your old outdoor gear and clothing. This helps extend the lifespan of your gear, while giving you some extra cash!

3. Take Advantage of Sales

Most outdoor retailers run major sales throughout the year. For example, REI has seasonal sales and provides members with 20% off coupons a few times per year (an REI membership also gives you 10% back on what you spend on full-price items in dividends and is totally worth the upfront cost if you buy outdoor gear regularly).

End of season sales are also a great time to score steep discounts on new outdoor gear. Fall is a great time of year to purchase backpacking gear because many retailers are looking to clear their inventory to make room for skiing and snowboarding gear.

Blue backpacking tent with an REI logo set up in a patch of dirt surrounded by willows and trees with a black dog standing outside waiting to go in at sunset.

Do You Need Ultralight Gear to Pack for an Overnight Backpacking Trip?

Keeping your pack weight down is an essential part of staying comfortable on the trail during a backpacking trip and the best way to cut weight is investing in ultralight gear. While this seems like an obvious choice, ultralight gear is typically a lot more expensive than standard backpacking gear and isn’t always as comfortable. Having ultralight backpacking gear is absolutely NOT necessary for an overnight backpacking trip, but it may be worth purchasing depending on your long term backpacking goals and budget.

If you’re planning a thru hike or other longer backpacking trips, having ultralight gear can be a huge advantage on the trail. You expend a lot of energy when you do nothing but hike day in and day out for weeks or months on end. Keeping your gear light can play a huge role in minimizing your overall energy expenditure throughout the duration of your hike. Conserving energy isn’t that important on an overnight or short backpacking trip, and shaving a couple of pounds of pack weight really won’t make a significant difference.

Ultimately, you need to assess your budget, backpacking frequency, and comfort level when deciding whether or not investing in ultralight backpacking gear is right for you!

Woman carrying a large blue backpacking pack on an overnight backpacking trip hikes with trekking poles over rocks in a stream through a green forest in Colorado.

What to Pack for an Overnight Backpacking Trip

Ready to find out what you need to pack for an overnight backpacking trip?

This packing list is divided into 6 sections: Essentials; Clothing; Kitchen; Hygiene; Emergency; and Luxury Items. Luxury items are not backpacking necessities, but they can help elevate your experience at camp or on the trail.

Depending on the environment and time of year that you’re backpacking, you may not need every single item on this list. I included information about whether you really need a piece of gear or not, and the considerations to keep in mind when making that determination. I also included some personal gear recommendations.

Keep in mind that many of these items can be shared amongst your entire group if necessary. While everyone will need their own sleeping bag, sleeping pad, headlamp, etc., you can split things like a water filter, stove, and first-aid kit.

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The Essentials

Backpack

Arguably the most important piece of gear for an overnight backpacking trip is going to be your backpack. Don’t underestimate the value of a well made backpacking pack. Outdoor gear technology has come a long way over the past few decades and modern packs are designed to evenly disperse weight and keep your shoulders and hips comfortable. 

Remember hiking with a heavy pack is going to feel a lot different than wearing a daypack. The weight will be distributed differently and your center of gravity will likely feel off. If you buy a pack from REI or a local gear store you can have someone fit the pack properly for you.

The size backpack that you need will depend on how much you end up packing. You don’t necessarily need to have a large backpack for an overnight trip. My standard backpacking pack is 65L, which is a fairly large backpack. A 50-60L pack will likely be adequate for most people for an overnight backpacking trip. If you have ultralight gear and keep the clothes you pack to a minimum you can probably get away with something even smaller.

Most backpacking packs come with a rain cover, but if yours doesn’t and you’re hiking in an area where rain is common, then I recommend purchasing one (although a plastic poncho can also work in a pinch).

Kate Outdoors Recommends: 

Osprey Aura AG 50L: $269.95

Osprey Aura AG 65L (what I use!): $289.95

Osprey Atmos AG 50L: $314.95

Do I Really Need It?: Yes. You can’t go backpacking without a backpack!

A woman holding hiking poles and wearing a large blue Osprey backpacking pack climbs a steep, rocky hill.

Tent

Your next most important piece of backpacking gear is going to be your tent. After all, this is going to be your home away from home for the night, so you want to make sure you pack a tent you’ll be comfortable sleeping in.

Here are some considerations when choosing a tent for your overnight backpacking trip:

  1. Size. How many people will your tent need to sleep? Do you have a dog or kids with you? Size is also a consideration when it comes to being able to pack the tent down and carry it in your pack. Depending on how bulky your tent is, you may want to strap it to the bottom of your pack.
  1. Weight. Tent weights can vary considerably. Typically, the larger the tent the heavier it’s going to be unless you specifically look for an ultralight tent.
  1. Season. Different tents are made for different seasons of camping. If you plan on backpacking in the winter you may want to consider investing in a four-season tent. If you only plan to backpack during warmer months, then a three-season tent will fit your needs and be more affordable.
  1. Affordability. Backpacking tents can range in price wildly. Ultralight tents are often the most expensive. You can find very inexpensive tents at places like Walmart or Amazon, but consider durability and how often you plan to use the tent.

Kate Outdoors Recommends:

Big Agnes Blacktail 2 Tent: $249.95

Do I Really Need It?: Yes, unless you have another form of shelter like a backcountry hut reservation.

Sleeping Bag

When choosing a sleeping bag to pack for an overnight backpacking trip you want to consider the weight, temperature rating, and how well the sleeping bag packs down. This is going to be one of the bulkiest items in your pack, so you want to make sure you choose a sleeping bag that is going to fit.

Packing Tip: Use a compression sack for your sleeping bag instead of the stuff sack it comes with to pack your bag down as small as possible!

Down vs. Synthetic:

Sleeping bags can either be filled with down fill or synthetic fill. Down sleeping bags are light and can easily compress, which makes them ideal for backpacking. They can also last for a long time if taken care of properly. The downside is that down sleeping bags are more expensive and not waterproof.

Synthetic sleeping bags are more affordable than down sleeping bags. They’re also water resistant and will continue to insulate you if wet. The tradeoff is that synthetic sleeping bags are heavier and bulkier than down and not as warm on an oz. for oz. basis. On an overnight backpacking trip this isn’t a huge concern, but it’s something to keep in mind if you’re conscious about your pack weight.

If you don’t like traditional sleeping bags you can also use a quilt. These are often lighter and more compact than a sleeping bag, but don’t provide as much coverage.

Kate Outdoors Recommends:

Nemo Forte 20 Sleeping Bag: $199.95

Do I Really Need It?: Yes, if you want to stay warm at night.

Sleeping Pad

While you could just sleep on the floor of your tent in your sleeping bag, that won’t be very comfortable. A sleeping pad is an essential piece of backpacking gear, but choosing the right one for you comes with a few considerations.

There are 3 primary types of sleeping pads:

  1. Closed-cell foam
  2. Self-inflating foam
  3. Inflatable air

When considering which sleeping pad to pack for an overnight backpacking trip, consider the following:

  1. Weight. Sleeping pads are one area where you can make a significant dent in your pack weight. Closed-cell foam sleeping bags are extremely lightweight and often the sleeping pad of choice for ultralight backpackers. Self-inflating and inflatable air sleeping pads are typically heavier than a closed-cell foam pad, but are usually not more than a couple of pounds.
  1. Size. Some sleeping pads are bulkier than others. Closed-cell foam sleeping pads tend to be hard to pack down and fit in your pack, which means you’ll need to strap it to the outside of your pack. A self-inflating or inflatable air sleeping pad that is made for backpacking should be able to pack down compactly to fit in your pack, especially if it’s lightweight.
  1. Warmth. The R-value of the sleeping pad will inform how warm the sleeping pad will keep you at night. If you’re camping during the summer, this may not be a huge consideration, but it makes a big difference in comfort on a fall or winter backpacking trip. The R-value usually ranges on a scale of 1-7, with 1 being the coolest (ideal for backpacking in the summer) and 7 being the warmest (ideal for winter camping). High R-value pads are typically more expensive.
  1. Comfort. A sleeping pad is essential to a comfortable night’s sleep while backpacking. Foam sleeping pads tend to be thin and may not provide as much comfort as a self-inflating or air sleeping pad.

Kate Outdoors Recommends:

Air:

Sea to Summit Ether Light XT: $208.95

Closed-Cell Foam:

Therm-A-Rest Z Lite Original: $46.95

Do I Really Need It?: Technically no, but if you want to be able to sleep comfortably a sleeping pad is essential.

Woman wearing a large blue backpacking pack on an overnight trip in Aspen, Colorado with a green sleeping pad, Birkenstocks, a mug, and permit attached. She holds hiking poles and is standing on a trail with pine trees and mountains around her.

Headlamp

Having a source of light is essential on a backpacking trip. While you could carry a flashlight or lantern, a headlamp is going to be lighter and more practical since it’s hands-free.

Headlamps can get surprisingly expensive, especially if you want one with higher lumens (aka more light). On an overnight backpacking trip you just need to be able to see, so there’s no need for a pricey headlamp. I recommend getting a headlamp that has a red light setting so you don’t disrupt your night vision while wearing it.

Quick Tip: You can wrap a headlamp around a Nalgene water bottle to create a DIY lantern for your tent!

Kate Outdoors Recommends:

Petzl Tikkina Headlamp: $24.95

Do I Really Need It?: Yes, unless you have another source of light like a flashlight or lantern. I would not recommend trying to rely on your phone flashlight while backpacking.

Water Bladder/Water Bottle

Water is crucial for survival, so it’s incredibly important to pack for an overnight backpacking trip. Whether you carry a water bladder or water bottle(s) is a matter of personal preference. Keep in mind that water is the heaviest thing you will be carrying on your backpacking trip, so be mindful of how much you need on the trail and at camp, and be sure to research whether there will be water sources available to refill ahead of time.

Kate Outdoors Recommends:

Water Bladder:

Osprey Hydraulics Hydration Reservoir: $45.95

Water Bottle:

Nalgene: $16.99

Do I Really Need It?: Yes. Water is essential.

Water Filter

Water sources like lakes, rivers, and streams can contain bacteria, parasites, and viruses that can make you sick. Carrying a water filter that is designed to remove these pathogens is essential when backpacking.

There are a variety of water filters on the market, including tablets, squeeze filters, gravity filters, UV filters, and pumps. I personally like using a squeeze filter because they’re lightweight, easy to use, long-lasting, and very affordable. Gravity filters are also nice for backpacking trips because you can set one up when you get to camp and not have to worry about it, however they will take up more space in your pack. Purification tablets are a great option for a backup water purifying solution in the event your primary water filter fails.

Kate Outdoors Recommends:

Sawyer Squeeze: $34.99

Do I Really Need It?: Yes, unless you plan on packing in all of the water you need or boiling water to purify it.

Hiking Shoes

Your hiking shoe selection can make or break your experience on the trail. You want to avoid wearing sneakers on a backpacking trip because they’re not going to provide adequate support or traction, making you more susceptible to slipping, falling, or getting injured.

The best hiking shoe to wear backpacking is going to be a matter of personal preference. The most important consideration is making sure your shoes have good traction. Regular hiking boots work great, as do trail runners. Trail runners don’t provide as much support, so they may be uncomfortable with a heavy pack, but they allow you to move faster and be more nimble on the trail. 

Kate Outdoors Recommends:

Hiking Boots: Merrell Moab 3: $139.95

Women

Men

Trail Runners: Altra Lone Peak 7s: $149.95

Women

Men

Do I Really Need It?: Yes. Proper footwear is important on any backpacking trip.

Woman wearing a light blue sun shirt and navy blue leggings and a blue backpacking pack with a married sign on it and a green sleeping pad and mug attached stands facing the Seven Lakes Basin in Olympic National Park while backpacking. She is above the trees and mountains and there is a blue lake down in the distance.
Backpacking the Seven Lakes Basin-High Divide Trail in Olympic National Park.

Clothing

When it comes to packing clothing for an overnight trip you can keep things minimal and wear the same outfit the whole trip, or you can go all out with a set of PJ’s and a fresh outfit for the second day of hiking. Most clothing items that you need when you pack for an overnight backpacking trip can probably already be found in your closet. Carrying an extra outfit is up to you, but there are some clothing pieces that you should always pack in case you need them:

Extra Socks

Wet socks can put a damper on your backpacking trip and lead to poor foot health. Packing 1-2 extra pairs of socks in addition to the pair that you wear hiking on the first day helps ensure you’ll always have a dry pair of socks available if you need them. 

If you wear wool hiking socks you can wear them multiple times before washing, which means you can hike in the same pair both days of your overnight backpacking trip. You may also consider carrying a heavier pair of socks to sleep in if it’s cold at night.

Kate Outdoors Recommends:

Smartwool Classic Hike Extra Cushion: $24

Do I Really Need It?: Yes. Dry socks are essential for foot health on your backpacking trip.

Warm Jacket/Puffy

Regardless of the time of year that you’re backpacking, it’s a good idea to pack a jacket or puffy jacket in case you get cold. Remember temperatures are colder at night than they are during the day. This is particularly true in dry climates like the desert where you may not think you need a jacket. Of course, there may be a time and place where a warm jacket is truly unnecessary (like warm, tropical climates), but more often than not you’ll be happy you have one.

Kate Outdoors Recommends:

Patagonia Nano Puff: $229

Do I Really Need It?: In most situations, yes.

Raincoat 

Weather can be erratic, especially in the mountains, so it’s always a good idea to pack a raincoat or other waterproof jacket in case things get wet. Staying dry during a storm is essential to having a comfortable backpacking experience and preventing hypothermia.

Kate Outdoors Recommends:

Patagonia Torrentshell 3L Jacket: $179

Do I Really Need It?: Not necessarily if there is absolutely no chance of rain (but as with many other pieces of gear, it’s better to have it and not need it, then need it and not have it). Always check the weather before heading out on a backpacking trip!

Hat & Sunglasses

Sun protection is essential when you’re going to be outdoors all day. In addition to wearing clothing that protects you from the sun, like a sun shirt, be sure to carry or wear a hat and sunglasses with you for additional protection.

If you’re hiking during cooler months or at higher elevations you may also want to pack a beanie to help keep your head warm.

Do I Really Need It?: Depends on your personal needs and preferences. I’ve gone on backpacking trips without a hat, but I can’t be in direct sunlight without sunglasses, so that’s an essential item for me.

Gloves

If you’re hiking during cooler months, at higher elevations, or in a climate where temperatures drop at night, then carry a pair of gloves to keep your hands warm.

Kate Outdoors Recommends:

Smartwool Merino 150 Gloves: $30

Do I Really Need It?: Not necessarily in certain climates.

Woman wearing a large blue backpacking pack with a green sleeping pad and Chacos attached walks across salmon colored slickrock towards a canyon in the desert.

Kitchen

Camp Stove

If you want to have a warm meal at camp you’re going to need a camp stove to cook and boil water. There are variety of camping stoves on the market ranging from inexpensive pocket rockets to pricier stove systems.

I personally use and recommend a Jetboil Flash stove for backpacking. The main feature of the Jetboil Flash is its ability to boil water quickly, which helps cut down on the amount of fuel you use. It also comes with its own pot so you don’t need to worry about packing an extra pot or pan. Another feature of the Jetboil Flash is its self-ignition, however my ignition button stopped working after 3 years of use (it’s not a huge deal, it just means I have to use a lighter to ignite the stove).

Kate Outdoors Recommends:

Jetboil Flash: $124.95

Do I Really Need It?: Yes, if you plan to cook or boil water.

Lighter/Waterproof Matches

Even if your camp stove comes with an ignition button it’s still a good idea to pack a lighter in case the ignition doesn’t work. Carrying a lighter can also come in handy if you plan on having a campfire or encounter an emergency situation where starting a fire is necessary.

Of course, lighters don’t work if they get wet, so it’s also a good idea to have waterproof matches in the event of an emergency. You likely won’t need them on an overnight backpacking trip, but if inclement weather is in the forecast you may want to consider packing some.

Kate Outdoors Recommends:

Surviveware Waterproof Matches: $17

Do I Really Need It?: Probably. If your stove is self-igniting (or you don’t plan to use a stove) then you may be able to get away with not having a lighter or waterproof matches on an overnight trip. However, having a fire starter is one of the 10 essentials.

Fuel

In order for your camp stove to work properly you’ll need to carry fuel. Propane canisters come in a variety of sizes, but for an overnight trip a small, 100g can should be more than sufficient.

Quick Tip: To test how full a propane canister is, place it into a bowl of water. The water level on the canister indicates how much fuel is left!

Kate Outdoors Recommends:

Jetboil JetPower Fuel: $17

Do I Really Need It?: Yes, if you plan to cook or boil water.

Pot/Pan/Mug

Depending on the type of camp stove that you’re using you may need to carry an extra pot to cook or boil water with. A pan may also be necessary depending on what you plan to cook. If you plan to make a warm bevvy in the morning, then be sure to carry a mug.

Kate Outdoors Recommends:

Sea to Summit Alpha Pot: $49.95

Do I Really Need It?: No, if your stove comes with a pot or you don’t plan to cook or boil water. A mug also isn’t necessary if you’re not planning on making coffee/tea/hot chocolate.

Spork

A spork combines a spoon and fork allowing you to pack only one utensil. If you’re planning on eating pre-packaged backpacking meals consider getting a long handle spork so you can get to the bottom of the bag without getting your hands dirty.

Kate Outdoors Recommends:

Sea to Summit Alpha Light Utensils: $10.95

Do I Really Need It?: Maybe. It depends on what you plan to eat. 

Biodegradable Soap & Sponge

Carrying a small container of biodegradable soap can help keep your hands clean and wash dishes if you’re cooking directly in a pot or pan. Remember not to use soap in waterways, even if it’s biodegradable. Instead do your washing at least 200 ft. away from lakes and streams, and disperse gray water over a wide area.

Kate Outdoors Recommends:

Dr. Bronner’s Pure-Castile Soap: $8.99

Do I Really Need It?: No, you could get away without it on an overnight trip, especially if you’re planning to eat pre-packaged backpacking meals and carry hand sanitizer.

Food (including extra snacks)

For an overnight backpacking trip you’ll need to pack dinner and breakfast, along with snacks for both days of hiking. You may also need 1-2 lunches depending on how long you expect to be out on the trail. 

Remember that you’re going to be burning more calories than usual during a backpacking trip, so don’t worry about eating too much. It’s always a good idea to carry more food than you think you’ll need on an overnight backpacking trip in case you’re hungrier than usual or you’re out longer than expected.

Kate Outdoors Recommends:

Backpacking Meal:

Peak Refuel Chicken Alfredo: $13.95

Do I Really Need It?: Yes, you obviously need food!

Bear Canister/Sack*

If you’re camping in bear country then having a way to properly store your food and scented items is essential. In some areas, including Rocky Mountain National Park and the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness in Colorado, you’re required by law to carry a bear canister.

Bear canisters come in a variety of sizes. I personally think the smallest size is limiting, even on an overnight trip, so I’d recommend getting the Bear Vault BV 450 and sharing it with a hiking partner. You can also hang your food and scented items in a bag like an Ursack, but make sure you practice your hang ahead of time and are backpacking in an area where the trees can support a proper bear hang.

Even if you’re not backpacking in bear country, small critter like mice may try to eat your food, so storing things in a durable bag is recommended.

Kate Outdoors Recommends:

Bear Vault BV 450: $81.95

Do I Really Need It?: Yes, if hiking in bear country.

A man backpacking with a black dog on a red leash in front of a verdant valley with mountains behind him in Aspen, Colorado.
Backpacking from Aspen-Crested Butte via West Maroon Pass.

Personal Hygiene

WAG bag

If you’re backpacking in the desert, a high alpine environment, or an area that sees regular traffic, strongly consider packing a WAG bag in order to pack out your solid human waste. While going to the bathroom in a bag may take some getting used to, it’s one of the best ways to Leave No Trace and minimize your impact on the environment while backpacking. Remember impacts are cumulative. More people than ever are getting outdoors and backpacking, which means more human waste accumulating in our outdoor spaces. Certain areas require the use of a WAG bag.

Using a WAG bag is incredibly simple (in fact, it’s much easier than digging a proper cathole). Open the package; set the outer bag to the side; unroll the larger, inner bag and place the toilet paper and hand sanitizer to the side; open the large bag and do your business; make sure to pack everything out, including your toilet paper! Be sure to pack out pet waste as well.

Kate Outdoors Recommends:

Cleanwaste WAG Bags: $26.98

Do I Really Need It?: In my opinion, yes. I highly encourage using a WAG bag over digging a cathole, especially during an overnight backpacking trip in areas with regular visitation.

Trowel

If you’re backpacking in an environment where digging a cathole is appropriate, pack a stainless steel trowel to help you dig one. A cathole should be 6-8″ deep and 2-4″ wide. A good backpacking trowel will include measurements on the side to ensure that you dig your cathole deep enough. Be sure to cover the cathole and bury your waste when you’re done!

Kate Outdoors Recommends:

Naceture Ultralight Backpacking Trowel: $16.99

Do I Really Need It?: If you aren’t carrying a WAG bag, yes.

Extra Toilet Paper/Kula Cloth & Extra Plastic Bag

Regardless of your human waste disposal method you’ll never regret carrying extra toilet paper. It adds basically nothing to your pack weight, but if you need it, you’re going to be really glad you have it! Also be sure to carry an extra plastic bag to pack out your used toilet paper (unless you’re using a WAG bag).

Women can also consider carrying a Kula cloth. This is an antimicrobial pee cloth that can attach to your backpacking pack and be used in lieu of toilet paper. Because the cloth is antimicrobial you can let it dry in the sun and use it over and over again on your trip. 

Do I Really Need It?: Yes, extra toilet paper is 100% necessary. You don’t need a Kula cloth (I’ve never used one personally).

Hand Sanitizer

Hand sanitizer is the easiest way to keep your hands clean and practice personal hygiene while backpacking. Be sure to store it with your food along with any other scented items in bear country!

Kate Outdoors Recommends:

Dr. Bronner’s Organic Lavender Hand Sanitizer Spray: $11.92

Do I Really Need It?: Technically no, but it’s very helpful to have.

Toothbrush/Toothpaste

A toothbrush and toothpaste are essential for oral hygiene on the trail. You can use a travel sized toothpaste or toothpaste tabs to cut down weight even more. Make sure toothpaste is stored with other scented items in bear country. Hardcore ultralight backpackers will also break off the end of their toothbrush to shave off as much weight as possible.

Kate Outdoors Recommends:

Bite Toothpaste Bits: $19.99

Do I Really Need It?: If oral hygiene is a priority, yes.

Bug Spray 

If you’re backpacking during the summer, it’s always a good idea to carry bug spray. Different areas have different levels of mosquitoes and different people are more or less susceptible to bites (if you get eaten alive, I feel your pain!).

DEET is considered the most effective chemical for repelling mosquitoes, and is safe when used properly. Natural bug sprays that contain essential oils like citronella, lemongrass, and eucalyptus oil are also an option, although I’ve found they aren’t as effective as DEET when mosquitoes get really heavy. You can also treat your backpacking gear and clothing with permethrin, which can provide protection for up to 6 weeks.

Kate Outdoors Recommends:

Natural: Quantum Health Buzz Away Extreme: $16.99

DEET: OFF! Deep Woods: $13.46

Do I Really Need It?: No, if you’re backpacking in an area where there aren’t mosquitoes or during certain times of the year.

Sunscreen

Sun protection is important in the backcountry. Even if you don’t wear sunscreen regularly, having it available during a backpacking trip is important to help prevent sun burns if you find yourself on an exposed trail.

If you’re planning on going into any bodies of water be sure to wear a reef safe sunscreen to minimize the impacts on the ecosystem.

Kate Outdoors Recommends:

Mychelle Dermaceuticals Sun Shield Clear Spray SPF 30: $25.05

Do I Really Need It?: Depends on your backpacking location, the weather, and your personal preferences. If you opt to forgo sunscreen be sure to have other means of sun protection, like a hat, pants, and long-sleeve top.

Tampons/Pads/Menstrual Cup

If you have a monthly menstrual cycle then it’s possible you might have your period during your overnight backpacking trip. If you’re not comfortable with the idea of backpacking with your period, no worries. An overnight trip is typically easy to reschedule. But if you still want to get out there (or you have a highly coveted permit you don’t want to abandon), then have a way to manage your period is essential.

What product(s) you bring and use will depend on personal preference. Be sure to pack out all waste including used pads and tampons. If you choose to use a menstrual cup, the proper way to dispose of waste is by digging a cathole and burying it.

Do I Really Need It?: No, if you won’t be menstruating during your trip.

Woman in a light blue sun shirt and black leggings and a large blue backpacking pack sits on a rock with hiking poles leaning against it in front of a lake with mountains in the distance.

Emergency Gear

First Aid kit

A first aid kit is an essential item to pack on an overnight backpacking trip is essential in case you injure yourself or get sick on the trail. There are many prepackaged first aid kits available, but they may or may not have everything you need. It’s always a good idea to customize your first aid kit to fit your needs.

Here are some helpful items to consider packing in your first aid kit for an overnight backpacking trip:

  • Advil or Tylenol
  • Aspirin
  • Bandaids of different sizes (including butterfly bandages)
  • Moleskin
  • Gauze
  • Antibacterial ointment
  • Antihistamine
  • Antacid
  • Itch cream
  • Ace bandage
  • Finger splint
  • Syringe
  • Tweezers
  • Small scissors
  • Safety pin
  • Medical tape
  • Electrolytes and/or sugar
  • Any medications you may need including an epipen for severe allergic reactions

Kate Outdoors Recommends:

Adventure First Aid Medical Kit: $16.99-34.99

Do I Really Need It?: Yes, a first aid kit is one of the 10 essentials.

Knife/Multi-tool

A knife can serve a variety of purposes on an overnight backpacking trip. It can help with quick gear repairs, assist with cooking, and serve as a means of protection from wildlife or other people (although the odds of you needing it for that purpose are exceptionally low!). You can carry a folding knife or multi-tool depending on your preference and needs.

Kate Outdoors Recommends: 

SOL Stoke Folding Knife: $31.49

Do I Really Need It?: Yes, a knife is one of the 10 essentials.

Emergency GPS

Carrying an emergency GPS can serve a number of purposes in the backcountry. It can be used to alert authorities in the event of an emergency, track your hike, send your location and communicate with friends and family back home, or even check the weather. While you likely won’t need to use it on an overnight backpacking trip, having one can make a huge difference if you find yourself in an emergency situation.

There are a number of different emergency GPS’s on the market, but the Garmin inReach and inReach mini are the most popular amongst backpackers.

Kate Outdoors Recommends:

Garmin inReach-mini 2: $399.99

Do I Really Need It?: Technically no, but it’s worth the investment if you plan on spending a considerable amount of time in the backcountry or you’re participating in risky activities. If you have an iPhone 14 you can also use the SOS feature in the event of an emergency.

Map

Having a map of the area where you’re backpacking is crucial for navigation in the event you get lost. 

Many apps, like AllTrails, allow you to download a map of your trail ahead of time. These maps are helpful because you can pinpoint your exact location on them in real time, but technology can fail. Phone batteries die. Service issues occur. And online maps aren’t always 100% accurate. Carrying and knowing how to read a paper map should always be prioritized.

Do I Really Need It?: Yes, anyone can lost, even on an “easy” trail.

Bear Spray

Depending on where you’re backpacking you may want to consider carrying bear spray. If you’re hiking in grizzly country bear spray should be considered an essential. Black bears typically aren’t as much of a threat as grizzlies, but wildlife can be unpredictable and it won’t hurt to have it. Even if bears aren’t a direct threat, bear spray can also be used on two-legged predators if necessary.

Be aware, in California it’s illegal to carry any type of pepper spray over 2.5 oz.

Kate Outdoors Recommends:

Counter Assault Bear Deterrent: $51.99

Do I Really Need It?: Yes, if you’re in grizzly country.

Power Bank

If you’re bringing along electronic devices, it’s a good idea to carry a power bank and cord(s) to recharge as necessary. This is helpful for phones, headlamps, emergency GPS devices, and cameras.

Kate Outdoors Recommends:

Goal Zero Flip 36 Recharger: $39.95

Do I Really Need It?: Not necessarily for an overnight trip. If you’re judicious with your phone battery (i.e. you turn it off at night and keep it on airplane mode during the day) it will likely last your entire trip.

Woman wearing all black with an olive green baseball cap and a large backpacking pack and hiking poles hikes on a trail smiling at the camera with jagged gray, snowcapped mountains behind her while backpacking in the Wind River Range in Wyoming.

Luxury Items to Pack on an Overnight Backpacking Trip

The following are a list of items that you don’t necessarily need to pack for an overnight backpacking trip, but may want to consider carrying to make your time in the backcountry a little bit more comfortable.

Everyone has different preferences when it comes to bringing luxury items on a backpacking trip and this is by no means an exhaustive list. Technically you can bring anything you want backpacking, as long as you can carry it and it isn’t illegal. Just be sure to consider the size, weight, and whether you’ll actually use the item. For example, if you’re backpacking up to an alpine lake it might sound fun to bring an inflatable float, but consider whether you’ll actually be willing to get into the 40° water before packing the extra weight!

Hiking Poles

Hiking poles have a number of benefits if you use them correctly. They can help you maintain balance in rocky terrain or during stream crossings, protect your knees while hiking downhill, and give you more power when hiking uphill.

Hiking poles are especially helpful on backpacking trips when you’re carrying a heavy load. While you don’t necessarily need to have them, it will make your hike feel much easier, especially if you’re on a trail with significant elevation gain.

Kate Outdoors Recommends:

Trekology Trek-Z Collapsible Hiking Poles: $59.99

Do I Really Need It?: Maybe, depending on the trail conditions and your personal needs and preferences.

Camp Pillow

Most sleeping bags come with a pouch that you can stuff with extra clothing for a makeshift backpacking pillow, but if you want a more comfortable night’s rest, invest in a camp pillow. Camp pillows are inflatable and don’t take up much space or add much weight to your pack. They are, however, another item to purchase. While most camp pillows aren’t expensive, per se, they’re pricier than you may expect for such a small piece of gear. If there’s room in your budget it can make your experience more pleasant, but it’s definitely not a necessity for an overnight backpacking trip.

Kate Outdoors Recommends:

Nemo Fillo Pillow: $44.95

Do I Really Need It?: No, you can use extra clothing in a stuff sack or your sleeping bag as a makeshift backpacking pillow.

View of a mountain illuminated with light from inside of a tent with lots of mosquitos visible.

Camp Chair

A number of outdoor brands sell lightweight, collapsible camp chairs that are designed to be carried on backpacking trips. While bringing a chair isn’t an essential item, it could make your time at camp more comfortable. Alternatively, you can carry a small foam eggshell pad or use a bear canister to sit on.

Kate Outdoors Recommends:

Helinox Chair One Camp Chair: $109.95

Do I Really Need It?: No.

Book/Deck of Cards/Watercolors

Depending on when you plan to arrive at camp, the time of year that you’re hiking, and who you’re with, you may want to pack something to keep you occupied at camp. A deck of cards is lightweight and provides endless options for passing the time. Books can be heavy and bulky, so a Kindle may be a better option if you want to read. If you’re artistic, pack along some watercolors for an en plein air session at camp.

Do I Really Need It?: No.

String Lights

Packing string lights on your overnight backpacking trip is a lightweight and fun way to create an ethereal vibe at camp that’s prime for taking memorable photos. String lights are also a practical luxury item since they can take the place of wearing a headlamp and provide a single source of light at night for your entire group for a fraction of the weight of a lantern.

Kate Outdoors Recommends:

MPOWERD Luci Solar String Lights: $45.47

Do I Really Need It?: No.

Camp Shoes

My favorite luxury item when I pack for an overnight backpacking trip is a cozy pair of camp shoes (typically my Birkenstocks). You definitely don’t need to carry an extra pair of shoes for camp, but I can tell you there’s nothing better after a long day on the trail than taking off your sweaty boots and socks, and slipping your feet into something comfy.

Carrying sandals can also be helpful for stream crossings when you don’t want to get your hiking boots wet.

Kate Outdoors Recommends:

Chaco Women’s Z Cloud Sandals: $100-105

Birkenstock Arizona Sandals: $140

Do I Really Need It?: Technically no, but this is an item that I find is well worth the extra weight.

Bug Net

If you’re backpacking in an area with heavy mosquitos, then a bug net might be the best luxury item you can pack. I bought one before a backpacking trip in the Wind River Range in Wyoming and it was the best purchase I could have made. The mosquitos were relentless and I wouldn’t have been able to spend any time outside of my tent at camp without it. Bug nets are very affordable and lightweight, so it’s a no brainer addition if you’re backpacking in thick mosquito country. Be sure to also bring a hat so the brim can keep the net away from your face!

Kate Outdoors Recommends:

Mosquito Head Net: $9.32

Do I Really Need It?: Technically no, but if you’re backpacking in an area with heavy mosquitoes I would highly recommend one, even if you typically don’t get a lot of bites.

Camera/Tripod

Whether you’re an amateur or professional photographer, packing a camera and tripod is a must for capturing high-quality footage of your backpacking trip. While you can get some pretty awesome photos with phone cameras these days, you’ll be happy you have your camera with you once golden and blue hour roll around.

Kate Outdoors Recommends:

Sony a7iii w/ 28-70mm lens: $2,198

Do I Really Need It?: Technically no, but photographers may disagree!

FREE Checklist of What to Pack For An Overnight Backpacking Trip:

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