Backpacking is a fantastic way to explore. It’s accessible to everyone and is enormously liberating – just grab your backpack and go. That said, what you stuff into that backpack can have a big impact on how enjoyable your outdoor adventure is.
So, what exactly goes into your backpack to make for a fun-filled and stress free trip? Why, a sweet haul of backpacking essentials, of course!
Such essentials differ from person to person, and from situation to situation. It all depends upon where you’re heading, for how long, whether you’re going alone or with others, and how much load you want to carry on your back.
From accessing safe drinking water to finding your way on a trail at night, there are tools to help you. Before we unveil our top backpacking essentials, do you know what gear to stuff in your backpack, and, more importantly, what to leave out?
The right backpacking essentials for you
When it comes to backpacking, there’s a fine line between what’s essential and what’s just added weight. And it all depends on how and where you'll be backpacking. The absolute basics include waterproof boots or shoes, a quality rucksack, a map or a GPS device, a first aid kit, and a water filter for accessing clean water anywhere.
If you're venturing out for longer or backpacking in areas where you may encounter extreme weather, you'll need to prepare for different climate conditions. You'll also need to ensure you've got enough juice to keep your phone or GPS unit powered to help you navigate or to communicate with others.
Staying hydrated and well-fed keeps you energised, in turn will make your adventure easier and more fun. To keep it simple, we've rounded up the following backpacking essentials for you to consider...
When you’re heading out on a longer backpacking trip and want a rucksack that can comfortably take all of your gear and clothing, without putting undue pressure on your back and hips, take a look at the Wilderness Rucksack by Berghaus.
This backpacking essential has a plethora of pockets for housing smaller gadgets and accessories, leading to more organised packing. The rucksack is designed with two expansion side pockets, adding an extra 15 litres of capacity, plus an internal zipped lip pocket, hip belt pockets and water bottle pockets.
The base compartment sports a bivvi divider, with room for a rain cover, plus dedicated walking pole attachments if your journey involves large periods of trekking. The Wilderness Rucksack is hydration system compatible too, though keep in mind that a bladder would eat into your storage space.
Berghaus has designed this rucksack with an adjustable Biofit back system, which can be fine-tuned to your height and back length to deliver a more custom fit. This disperses the weight of the pack more evenly to avoid painful pressure along your spine or hips. The overall result? Comfortable backpacking with each step.
Lightweight and compact, the Lifesystems Adventurer Kit is well-equipped for most backpacking scenarios, containing a wide range of first aid items and accessories within its rip-proof casing.
Because it’s so brightly coloured you’ll be able to find it quickly within even the darkest backpack, and the easy-zip opening is ideal for quick access to whatever first aid kit you might need to deal with common injuries.
Inside the pack you’ll find paracetamol (UK kit only), a range of bandages, cleansing wipes, gauze swabs, burn gel, micropore tape, assorted plasters and dressings, tweezers, safety pins, scissors, and two pairs of vinyl gloves.
The Adventurer First Aid Kit isn’t the most fun backpacking essential you’ll buy, but you will thank yourself for it should you or someone in your group develop an injury while you’re exploring.
Nothing spoils your backpacking enjoyment faster than a bad night’s sleep. So boost your chances of getting quality levels of shut-eye by investing in these award-winning earplugs, crafted from durable yet lightweight aerospace aluminium.
Flare Audio’s Isolate Earplugs are considered a backpacking essential because they deftly block out loud noises, enabling you to sleep better, day or night. Essentially designed to ‘turn the world down’ a couple of notches, the Isolate Earplugs are perfect for wearing during on the go.
The earplugs work by reducing outside sound, including low frequencies. You’ll still be able to hear someone if they’re speaking directly to you, but other annoying sounds will be reduced so that you don’t get annoyed or woken up by them. These really could save your sanity when backpacking, and help you to sleep better. Remember: better sleep equals more energy to explore.
Heading out to remote places where water may be contaminated and unfit to drink makes a water purification system essential. On trips where you'll want more water than is sensible to carry, clean water soon becomes a luxury.
Yes there are a host of tablets and UV wands around, but for old-school confidence a proper water filter is a must. Our top recommendation comes from LifeStraw...
The LifeStraw Universal not only removes 99.9 per cent of bacteria and parasites, but also fits into your favourite existing water bottle, so you can carry less and waste less. Good for 1,000 gallons, this is a true backpacking essential.
A GPS watch is one gadget that could prove indispensable on your adventure, and the rugged Suunto 9 Baro comes with a built-in digital compass and fully functioning GPS to save your navigational bacon if you get lost.
If you're curious to keep an eye on your wellbeing when backpacking, the waterproof watch (to 100m) also sports impressive heart rate tracking.
You'll get up to 120 hours of use per full charge (depending on usage), with live weather warnings available to help you keep tabs on how the day's weather is shaping up.
The Buff is an often ignored backpacking essential. It's something you could live without, but it's probably the most versatile item on this list, and the one you'll thank yourself the most for buying.
Worn around the neck or hung down like a foreign legion hat, it’ll protect from the sun. You can also wrap it into a beanie hat in the cold of the evening. In stormy weather, the Buff protects your neck and face from harsh cold and bitter winds.
Useful in a huge range of situations, the Buff weighs nothing, packs down teeny, and delivers protection from extreme weather. Don’t leave home without one.
Whether backpacking, walking along a darkened trail or simply hunting for elusive belongings in your bag, a head torch is essential in many nighttime situations.
The market is crowded, but we recommend the Black Diamond ReVolt because it's really bright, knocking out 300 lumens, and features a three-level power metre to ward off flat batteries.
The battery department sets the ReVolt apart from other head torches, as it runs on its own rechargeable batteries as well as standard AAAs. It's also waterproof, rated to IPX8, which is 30 minutes at 1.1 meters underwater.
Need less capacity than the Berghaus Wilderness Rucksack? Try this smaller but effective backpack, designed with a custom mesh rear panel that not only controls the load, but ventilates your back too.
Easy-to-operate straps, dual pockets and hydration system-compatibility means this slimline package from Mammut delivers on many levels.
If you're heading out during winter, when you'll need to pack more gear, or if you're going for longer trips and taking extra stuff, you may need a bigger 'pack, but this is great for shorter or lighter packing trips.
Unless you’re going fully off the grid, you’ll likely pack at least a few key items of tech for your trip. After a full day of capturing scenic shots of and videoing in 4K, the batteries on your phone or camera will be depleted.
Luckily, Freeloader has a solution in the shape of the Sixer, a lightweight but robust and water-resistant solar charger.
With built-in Lightning/micro USB charging arms and an included USB C adapter, it’ll fully charge a smartphone battery three times over, and an action camera up to four times.
This clever microfibre towel absorbs six times its own weight and dries nine times faster than a conventional towel. It’s also been treated with Polygiene anti-odour tech to prevent your stuff from smelling damp when you unpack.
The LifeVenture towel is available in a variety of colours, and comes with its own durable ripstop carry case. A versatile essential that can be used in a range of situations.
Walking poles can save your knees from a serious amount of battering, especially on long descents or epic walks. We love the Leki Black Series, crafted from 100 per cent Carbon Fibre and weighing a featherweight 452g per pair.
They feature Leki's Speed Lock 2 mechanism, which enables rapid adjustment of the poles, even if you're wearing gloves. A push button release mechanism means you can ‘set and forget’ the length between 110cm and 130cm.
Simply unfold the poles from a tiny 38cm packed length and lock them out in a jiffy.
A small camping stove enables you to boil water for tea or coffee, as well as cook simple hot meals on longer backpacking trips. Ok so it's a luxury item rather than an essential, but if you fancy brewing your own hot drinks, this is a must for you.
The Jetboil range has a lot going for it in terms of being easy to use, and the MightyMo is particularly worthy of mention due to its combination of traditional idiot-proof gas stove and high-tech heat absorbing cookware.
This reduces gas use without introducing fragile stove components, which can be a risk to carry on less smooth trails. A regulator valve also increases efficiency, as well as enabling one of the best simmer settings around.