What’s In Our Pack? Our Favorite Gear

This is our list of essential items whenever we hit the trail.  Some of this may seem like overkill for a simple day hike, but I am always of the mindset that it is better to be prepared for the worst, which includes the chance that you may run out of daylight or even spend the night in the forest. 

Based on the length of the trail and the expected weather conditions, this list can be customized for your specific outing.  But I think this is a great starting point, and a helpful way to organize your thought process in understanding what is important to pack.

For Day Hiking

  • NAVIGATION
    • Download maps to your phone, but beware many places don’t have great cell service!
    • If you plan on using your phone for navigation, photos, or anything, always bring a power bank with charging cables
    • Paper maps (we love Green Trails Maps for areas in the PNW)
    • Compass (do you know how to use one?)
  • FIRST AID
    • Blister care
    • Bandages of various sizes 
    • Antiseptic wipes/towelettes – for cleaning small wounds
    • Small tube of disinfectant ointment – to apply after cleaning small wounds
    • Benadryl or other antihistamine – in case you run into any allergens
    • Ibuprofen – for mild aches and pains, just in case
    • Pepto-Bismol – because stomach-aches on a trail are no fun!
    • Small roll of adhesive tape or duct tape – helpful for 
    • Hand sanitizer
    • Mini tub of vaseline – for chafing or lip balm
    • Mini tweezers – to remove ticks or splinters
  • FOOD
    • Our favorite snacks: energy/protein bars (TJs Barebells are my fave), beef jerky (the Costco Korean BBQ flavor is our fave!), Smuckers Uncrustables, dried tangerines and dried mangoes, fruit bars and fruit leathers, Goldfish, pretzels, trail mix, Gushers, Rice Krispies, energy chews
      • This is our tried and true list – these items don’t melt, and still taste great even if smushed/squished!  We like a mix of salty, sweet and savory to satisfy any craving while out on the trail
    • And extra food!  Always bring a bit more than you expect in case you are hungry and need the fuel, or if you accidentally spend more time on the trail than expected due to bad weather, an injury or other emergency
  • KNIFE
    • A multi-tool may be helpful
  • LAYERS (EXTRA CLOTHING)
    • Rain jacket/waterproof outer shell
    • Weather changes rapidly in the mountains.  Be prepared for anything.  Know the low temps at nightfall and think about whether or not you could brave those conditions if sitting still.  If you’re like me, if there is a chance that I would be sitting around in temperatures below 45 degrees Fahrenheit, that means I’m packing a beanie and gloves in addition to my normal layers 
  • LIGHT
    • Headlamp with extra batteries
      • We both have the Petzl Actik Core 600 lumen headlamp.  We like this because it has a wide, comfortable headstrap, a red light feature, and has the option to use a rechargeable battery, or three AAA batteries
  • PASSES, PERMITS, PENCIL
    • I like to have a pencil to jot down notes in my trail journal or to fill out any permits/passes at the trailhead if needed
  • SHELTER
    • I carry a reflective emergency space blanket that folds up extremely tiny, weighs mere ounces, and fits inside my first aid kit.  Again, you never know if you’re going to accidentally spend a cold night out on the trail
  • SUN PROTECTION
    • Sunscreen, hat, sunglasses
    • Protect yourself from sunburn, snow blindness, skin damage and skin cancer, and macular degeneration!
    • Make sure all of these are blocking both UVA and UVB rays
  • SEASONAL THINGS
    • Insect repellent
    • Bear spray
    • Trekking poles
  • WATER
    • Water bottles
      • I love carrying an insulated water bottle to keep my water ice cold, but this is heavier than your standard plastic Nalgene bottle – it is your personal preference!
    • Filtration system
    • We use the Sawyer Mini – super easy to use and store

For Snow Days

We include everything in the above “Day Hiking” list, plus the following:

  • Waterproof boots
  • Thick but breathable, moisture wicking socks – merino wool (not cotton!) 
  • Waterproof pants
  • Snowshoes, if the snow is light and fluffy
  • Snowshoe poles – these are like traditional trekking poles but have little snow baskets at the bottom of the poles that work better to float on top of the snow
  • Microspikes – this is best for hard packed snow, or icy, slippery conditions for the best traction
    • We love the Katoohla brand- I’ve had my current pair since 2018 and it’s held up very well ever since
    • Best to avoid walking on rocky surfaces or the actual ground (not snow-covered) so you don’t wear down the metal spikes
  • Foldable insulated seat pad – this is an optional nice bonus item – I think this is helpful to bring in case you want to sit down while eating lunch and don’t want to get your bum cold by sitting in the snow!
    • I love the classic Thermarest brand that folds up so small it could fit in the water bottle compartment of your pack, or strapped to the top/anywhere to the outside of your pack

For Car Camping

  • Sleep system
    • Sleeping bag
    • We were recently gifted a double sleeping bag!  We haven’t used it yet but it seems perfect for car camping
    • Other times we have even used an inflatable air mattress and brought a lot of blankets 
    • We bring pillows from home
    • Sleeping pad
      • We snagged these off of Amazon and they have held up well over the past 5+ years!  They come with a built-in foot pump to inflate, which is annoying and does take at least 3-5 minutes to inflate, but cheaper than a few of the other self-inflating options out there
    • Sleeping pad coupling straps – to attach our separate sleeping pads
      • Unfortunately the brand that made ours is no longer available, but this is a similar option by Therm-A-Rest

For Backpacking

  • Tent: REI Half-Dome 2+ with Footprint
    • I have the 2016 version though, which has still held up very well, but there are of course newer and fancier versions out there
    • I am aware this is not the most lightweight option for backpacking, but we like it because of its size as it fits both of us, our dog, and our gear without feeling like a tight squeeze
  • Sleep system
    • Sleeping bag * note my sleeping bag for backpacking is more lightweight and packable than the sleeping bag I use for car camping
    • Sleeping pad
      • For backpacking, I like to cut weight here and use a closed-cell foam pad that folds up accordion-style and I attach it the outside of my pack so that I can save more room inside my pack for other items
      • This is the classic closed-cell foam brand: Therm-A-Rest – it is so lightweight and durable
      • If you also choose to strap this to the outside of your pack, beware of getting it excessively dirty, as it will come inside the tent with you to sleep on.  That being said, some folks will wrap this in a large plastic trash bag, or a small tarp, which can be used for other things as well!  I do not do this myself, but can certainly be employed
    • Inflatable pillow – this is an optional luxury item that I usually pack, but on other trips where I want to save weight, I have balled up my fleece and used that as a makeshift pillow as well!
  • BearVault BV500 Journey Bear Canister
    • This is so handy because it holds all our food in one convenient location in our pack, and then it also doubles as a stool to sit on while at camp!
  • Fire & Cooking system
    • Jetboil Flash
      • We upgraded to the Jetboil branded system recently from a traditional backpacking stove because of how quickly it boils water!  You can boil 16 oz of water in 100 seconds – super handy for preparing meals and hot drinks.  It’s super easy to use and packs light and efficiently 
    • Fuel 
    • Fuel can stabilizer
    • Fire starter
    • Mini lighter
    • Collapsible bowls
    • Eating utensils (we like sporks for their multiuse!)
    • Optional drinking vessel for non-water drinks: I like to have a mug (I have one that has a handle that I can strap to the outside of my pack), others like to have a collapsible cup
  • Food
    • Dehydrated meals
      • Peak Refuel is our favorite brand because we think they have fun recipes, great flavor, and their meals are more calorie dense with larger portion sizes compared to a few other brands out there
    • Even more snacks
    • Tea
    • Coffee
    • Hot cocoa
    • Alcohol – either airplane bottles of our favorite, or a flask
      • Link coming soon: our favorite adult beverages for backpacking!
  • Hygiene
    • Biodegradable soap
    • One small kitchen rag – helpful for cleaning up random messes if needed 
    • Quick-dry towel – we like the REI Brand
    • Toothbrush and travel size tube of toothpaste
    • Prescription glasses and if applicable, extra contact lenses
    • We have a “bathroom baggie” that is a Ziplock bag that has a small amount of folded toilet paper and a travel size pack of baby wipes
    • Sanitation trowel (poop shovel)
    • Prescription medications
    • Menstruation products, if applicable 
  • Water filtration system
    • For multi-day trips, we like to take an extra 1-gallon bladder to hold extra water while we’re at camp
    • Emergency tablets – we have actually never had to use these, but this is an important just-in-case item
    • The filter itself – we use the same Sawyer Mini for our day hikes linked above
  • Camp shoes/sandals
    • After a long day of hiking, it is such a treat to change out of your stuffy and sweaty hiking boots to let your feet and toes breathe in a pair of comfy sandals!  
    • These are nice because they can double as water shoes, are durable enough to hike and walk around in if needed, and are just more comfy than traditional hiking boots
  • Backpacking chairs
    • We originally thought of this as a luxury item, but now that we’ve gone backpacking a few times with chairs, we so very much appreciate having a nice chair to relax on after a long day of hiking!  These can be super lightweight and fold up pretty small
    • We have this Marchway brand from Amazon
  • Extras
    • Entertainment: playing cards, books, binoculars, journal
    • Packable day pack if you plan to do hiking away from your camp – we love this because when it’s packed up, it straps easily to the outside of our backpack, and is so lightweight!
    • Extra random ziploc or plastic bags for storing garbage, leftover snacks, to separate clothes
      • We have a few spare grocery bags for this
      • We also carry odor-proof bags for our garbage to keep critters away – these are reusable and really work well – Opsak brand
      • We also carry one large mesh bag that we put canned drinks in and let sit in a cold river (our makeshift refrigerator)
    • Hammock with straps
      • We have the Eno Doublenest
      • You’ll need to buy the straps separately!  These straps allow you to hang your hammock around trees
    • Foldable insulated seat pad – when backpacking, I use this as an extra seat when sitting down on the ground, and this doubles as our dog’s sleeping pad when inside the tent
    • Photography gear
    • Lantern
    • Writing utensils
      • Pencils for sketching, journaling, filling out permits if needed
      • Sharpie marker for labeling our fuel usage on the fuel can