The Complete Backpacking Checklist for Women

TRUTH: my first backpacking trip was really hard. And a big reason for that was my heavy backpack.

Looking back, I packed way too many things, and I have no idea how I carried it all. My pack was exploding with stuff and I even came close to taking some big falls due to the weight.

Of course, because it was my first trip, I had no idea what I could leave behind.

Do I need a pillow?

How many pairs of socks should I bring?

All I really wanted was for someone to give me a complete backpacking checklist.

I wanted to know the jacket they packed, the hiking shoes they trusted, and most importantly, what kind of underwear they wore (thongs, granny panties or boy shorts!?).

It would have saved me a lot of trial and error—and a lot of extra weight!

But nobody ever answers those questions, at least not in detail.

So that’s what I’m doing for you today…

A Backpacking Checklist Removes (Most of) Your Worries

To save you hours of research and second-guessing yourself, I’m giving you a complete backpacking checklist with links to my favorite pieces of gear. These are the items we use on Quiet Adventures retreats, as well as everything I bring on my personal trips.

Knowing what to bring and what to leave behind is the first step to feeling comfortable and confident in the outdoors. I also know that having the right gear, and not forgetting anything, can make or break your trip. Being cold at night, having a pack that doesn’t fit, or forgetting something like your stove can completely ruin your experience.

By using the backpacking checklist below, you can feel confident that these things won’t happen and you can focus on enjoying your adventure!

Backpacking Must-Haves

These are the pieces of backpacking gear that come on every Quiet Adventure and every one of my personal trips. This is the stuff that you absolutely need for sleeping, eating, traveling, and being comfortable in the backcountry. If you’re just starting out, this is the section of the backpacking checklist to pay attention to first.

Backpacking Essentials

✔ Backpack: Osprey Aura 65 L

I’ve gone back and forth between the Osprey Ariel and Aura and favor this one a little more. This pack is extremely comfortable, features a great layout that helps keep my gear organized, and has plenty of space for a 3-4 day trip. I’ve even taken a trip as long as 7-days by myself and still had plenty of room.

I’ve tried a lot of packs and feel the Osprey has done a phenomenal job with their women-specific designs. As a company they also have an all mighty guarantee, meaning they will repair any damage or defect for any reason free of charge — whether it was purchased in 1974 or yesterday. If they are unable to perform a functional repair on your pack, they will happily replace it. And if you’re new to backpacking, Osprey has spent countless hours building a super helpful online pack fitting and sizing guide. If you’re pack doesn’t fit properly, you’re not going to enjoy backpacking so be sure to check this out.

✔ Tent: REI Half Dome Tent and Footprint

We’ve owned this tent since 2007 and have had zero issues with it. On a recent thru-hike we tested an ultra-light alternative and it ripped after 6 days. The REI Half Dome is a little heavier, but not that much. For solo backpacking trips I use the REI Quarter Dome Tent.

✔ Headlamp: Petzl Tikka Headlamp

✔ First Aid Kit: Adventure Medical Kits Ultralight Kit

You should always have a first aid kit when you are hiking in the backcountry. This ultralight, waterproof medical kit is great because it comes with the minimum supplies that you will need to care for minor wounds, as well as some travel packs of handy medications for the most common illnesses. In addition to what comes in this kit, I like to also supplement it with some extras that are specific to the hikers in my group.

✔ Map and compass: Suunto M-3 D Leader Compass

Be sure you know how to use both. If you’re traveling with other people, ensure everyone on your team has them.

✔ Hydration System: Nalgene Bottles or Platypus Big Zip LP Reservoir

At least 2 liters (64 oz.) carrying capacity is ideal and 3 liters is even better. Some people prefer using a hydration bladder, others prefer water bottles. Both have pros and cons, so find what works for you and trust that.

✔ Water Treatment System: Aquamira

Chlorine dioxide treatments like the water treatment drops from Aquamira are one of the lightest and smallest water treatment methods. They are useful, simple, and inexpensive for treating water. Plus, unlike iodine chemical treatment, chlorine dioxide is not harmful to ingest regularly and it eliminates Giardia and Cryptosporidium. Also, unlike most pump filters, this method eliminates viruses.

✔ Bear Canister (if required in your area): BearVault BV450 Food Container

I like this one because it’s lighter and more compact than other bear canisters. It will secure 4 days of food for the solo backpacker or a weekend's worth of meals for two.

✔ I.D./Cash/Medical Insurance Card

Incase of an emergency, it’s always good to have all three with you.

Backpacking Sleep Gear

✔ Sleeping Pad: REI AirRail 1.5 Self-Inflating Sleeping Pad

✔ Sleeping Bag: REI Co-op Joule 21

The Joule is a great lightweight, quality choice for any backpacking adventures. The bag has incredible loft and is super comfortable, yet packs down incredibly small. I also love it because it is waterproof.

Backpacking Kitchen Gear

✔ Backpacking Stove: MSR Reactor

I’ve owned this stove since 2010 and it’s one of the best outdoor gear purchases I’ve ever made. It boils water faster than any other stove I’ve seen and performs even in the worst of weather.

✔ Backpacking Fuel: Jetboil Jetpower

For a 3-day trip, one 230-gram fuel canister should be enough if you are using your stove to boil water for coffee, oatmeal, and dinner.

✔ Small lighter and/or Waterproof Matches

For starting fires and in case the built-in igniter on your stove fails.

✔ Insulated/ Stainless Steel Mug and Spoon/Spork: Snow Peak Stainless Steel Mug and Titanium Spork

This is all you need if you are using a system like the MSR Reactor stove with just-add-water food. If cooking, you’ll also need a light cookset.

Backpacking Clothing + Footwear

How many clothes to bring is always a big question for the women who join our retreats. My answer is always the absolute minimum! The only thing I really bring extra of is underwear and socks.

On all Quiet Adventures, we use a layering system where pieces of clothing are worn to achieve optimum body temperature and control. All layers must fit comfortably over each other so they can be worn together at the same time. Your top insulating layer must be fleece, wool, Capilene, or an insulated jacket with a zipper. We also always avoid wearing anything made of cotton because it retains moisture. Instead, opt for wool or synthetic clothing since they dry fast. All of my favorites are linked in the backpacking checklist below.

✔ Top Insulating Layer (1): Patagonia Women’s Down Sweater

✔ Rain Jacket (1): Patagonia Torrentshell

✔ Rain Pants (1): Patagonia Torrentshell

✔ Hiking T-Shirt (1): SmartWool Short-Sleeve Top

✔ Top Base Layer (1): Smartwool Long-Sleeve Top

✔ Sports Bra (1): Patagonia Active Mesh

✔ Underwear (2): Patagonia Active Mesh

These underwear are the BEST for backpacking and I’ve tried them all.

✔ Hiking Shorts (1): Patagonia Happy Hike

✔ Hiking Pants (1): Patagonia Quandry

✔ Bottom Base Layer (midweight) (1): Patagonia Thermals

✔ Fleece/Wool Gloves (1): Smartwool Cozy Gloves

✔ Fleece/Wool Hat or Headband (1): Smartwool Cozy Beanie or Headband

✔ Baseball Cap or Sun Hat (1): Patagonia Trucker Hat

✔ Hiking Socks (2): Darn Tough Hiker Quarter

✔ Hiking Shoes(1): La Sportiva Ultra Raptor Trail Runner

Hiking shoes are going to be a very personal choice based on your own comfort, body type, foot, etc. I tried on lots of different brands and various styles within those brands before finding the right fit. This one "fit like a glove" and I prefer a sturdy trail runner to a big boot.

Backpacking Toiletries

My beauty routine while backpacking is pretty minimal and my only focus is on hygiene. I don’t bring things like deodorant, makeup, or a hair brush. However, if these items help you to feel comfortable, bring them! When possible, I like to get travel sizes of everything so that I can keep my pack weights as low as possible.

✔ Sunscreen: Thinksport Sunscreen

At high elevations, the sun is more intense and you can burn way quicker than you think. I love Thinksport Sunscreen because it comes in a small tube, is water resistant, and provides SPF50.

✔ Lip Balm: Kiss My Face- SPF 30

✔ Toothpaste

✔ Toothbrush

✔ Feminine Hygiene Products (if on your cycle)

If you’re looking for tips on how to go backpacking on your cycle worry-free, read this!

✔ Trowel: The Deuce by Tent Lab

When you go #2, you need to dig a cathole that is at least 6-8 inches deep. This is part of Leave No Trace. You may think “I don’t need a shovel…I’ll just use a rock.” I’ve made this mistake only to find that sometimes the dirt is super hard, you can’t dig a hole, and then you don’t have any other options.

✔ Toilet Paper

✔ Baby Wipes

✔ Pack-Out Kit: When you use TP or wipes, you have to pack it out. There’s nothing grosser than finding used toilet paper in the backcountry. I like to bring a gallon ziplock bag for my used items and then I store that in a small (not-see-through) stuff sack, like one from the Sea to Summit mini set.

✔ Soap or Hand Sanitizer: Dr. Brommer's and EO

The number-one cause of illness in the backcountry comes from people not washing their hands.

Backpacking Optional Items (but highly recommended)

✔ Communication Device: SPOT Gen3 Satellite GPS Messenger

Carrying a tracking device is great in case of an emergency and can give you peace of mind. With this device, you can send a help signal.The best part? It is super simple to use.

✔ Watch: Timex Ironman 30-Lap Essential Watch

Wearing a watch can be a helpful addition to your navigation. When you track how long you’ve been walking, when you left camp, or the time it takes for you to get from Point A to B, you’ll have more information in helping you to feel confident in knowing where you’re at on the map.

✔ Duct Tape

Don't bring a whole roll, just wrap a small amount (about 3 feet worth) around your trekking pole, water bottle, lighter or spoon. Duct tape has a lot of uses in the backcountry and can be used for fixing things, holding broken things together (like backpacking zippers), or as blister prevention when you start to feel a hot spot.

✔ Multi-Tool: Leatherman

✔ Sunglasses: Smith Parallel Women's Sunglasses

These sunglasses are on the pricier side, but I have the hardest time finding sunglasses that are snug and don't move during high impact activities. They fit great and are really durable!

✔ Backpack Cover: Osprey Ultralight Pack Raincover

Most outdoor companies sell covers to fit their packs but if you don’t want to buy a cover, trash compactor bags also work great. Some people line the pack with the bag, some people put it on the outside, and some do both.

✔ Adjustable Trekking Poles: Black Diamond Trail Pro Shock Trekking Poles

You can also use ski poles—or no poles at all—though, I’ve found some form of poles to be game changing when backpacking in the mountains. On uphill climbs, trekking poles help take some of the weight off your hips and legs by utilizing your arm strength. On the downhill, they help ease the pressure on your knees. And on those stream crossings, they help you to keep your balance.

✔ Gaiters: REI Co-op Alpine 3/4

Great for wet days and keeping dirt or snow (early summer backpacking) out of your hiking shoes.

✔ Extra Batteries

If you don’t want to carry spares, put a new set in before you hit the trailhead.

Backpacking Optional Items (luxury or comfort items)

Anyone who backpacks knows there’s always an item or two that you’re willing to sacrifice carrying a little extra weight for comfort. My comfort items are a pillow and journal. Other Quiet Adventurer’s items have been everything from a hairbrush to a camp chair to extra baby wipes. Whatever yours is, embrace it and don’t beat yourself for needing a little extra comfort in the backcountry.

✔ Camp Shoes

With the La Sportiva Ultra Raptor Trail Runner I don’t feel the need to have comfy camp shoes for at night, but if you’re using a heavier shoe or boot this can be a really nice thing to bring along. If you do feel camp shoes are for you, look for something that is lightweight but still provides some structure and grip for walking around camp at night. Also, something closed toe, like Croc, is great for protection.

✔ Backpacking Pillow: Sea to Summit Aeros Pillow

✔ Jornal and something to write with

Nature is perfect place to reflect, so a journal is always a must-have item on both Quiet Adventures and my personal trips.

✔ Fleece or Insulated Vest: Patagonia Women’s Down Sweater

It’s great to bring an additional layer if you get cold easily. My vest is one of my favorite pieces of clothing — great for shoulder seasons!

✔ Backpacking Chair: Alite Monarch Butterfly

Super fast to setup and breakdown, plus this compact camp chair lets you rock back and forth to relax after a long day on the trail. You can also sit on your foam sleeping pad, bring a small piece of foam, or sit on your bear canister if you’re bringing one.

Step into the Renewing Power of Outdoor Adventuring

Immersing yourself in nature for an extended period of time provides a truly transformative experience, and I’m celebrating you for taking your first steps towards this. I hope the new knowledge you’ve gained from this backpacking checklist will help you to feel more confident and capable as you prepare to step into the renewing power of outdoor adventuring.

If you want to get started with backpacking but aren’t ready to buy all the gear just yet, I encourage you to join one of our backpacking retreats in the backcountry of Northern California.

We provide you with all the outdoor gear: tent, stove & fuel, cooking gear, map & compass, water treatment system, camp pad or chair, and first aid kit. We also provide a headlamp, sleeping bag, and sleeping pad to any woman who needs one. All you have to bring is your personal items!

When you join a Quiet Adventure, you’ll get the chance to practice using lot of different gear, helping you to figure out exactly what you want to buy.

If you have any questions about our backpacking retreats or the backpacking checklist, feel free to get in touch!

Disclaimer: This article includes affiliate links. If you purchase an item, Quiet Adventures gets a small bonus at no added cost to you. But, that's not why I share them. I use each and every one of these products on Quiet Adventure retreats and my own personal adventures—I hope you love them as much as I do! Thanks for your support, and if you ever have any questions about the products featured on this site, please email me. Thanks! Megan