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What should I pack on a 3 day backpacking trip?

Backpacking Gear
Backpacking Gear

A lot of people ask me what they should pack for a 3 day backpacking trip. The answer is that you need everything you’d bring on a 1 day backpacking trip, except for a little more food, fuel, toilet paper, and what ever other extra consumables you need to stay out an additional 2 days. It doesn’t matter if I go on a 24 hour hike or a 2 week backpacking trip, I bring the exact same gear and clothing every time.

What’s that include? It’s really just the 10 essentials, plus a backpack.

For example, here’s what I bring on every backpacking trip, regardless of duration or distance.

1. Navigation

  • Always: waterproof map, compass, watch, and pre-planned itinerary (leave copy with a responsible adult in case of emergency)
  • Sometimes: GPS but never without a map and compass. Don’t rely on batteries or satellite accuracy

2. Sun protection

  • Always: small tin of sun tan lotion, chapstick for lips, and sunglasses
  • Always: wear a long sleeve shirt, long pants, and hat for sun and insect prevention

3. Insulation, including additional layers

  • Always (wearing): 1 pair socks, 1 short sleeve performance top, 1 synthetic pair long hiking pant 1 pair underwear, 1 billed cap
  • Always (packed): hard shell raincoat with hood and rain pants, lightweight (top and bottom) long underwear to wear when sleeping, 1 pair extra socks
  • Always: a sleeping bag rated for seasonal temperatures and a sleeping pad to prevent my body from being chilled by direct contact with the ground
  • Always: rain mitts, synthetic glove liners, fleece beenie hat
  • Always: some sort of ground cloth, plastic sheeting, or a waterproof bivy bag to keep my insulation dry
  • Sometimes: lightweight down or synthetic vest or jacket, depending on time of year or climate

4. Illumination

5. First-aid Supplies

6. Fire

  • Always: fire steel and a small box of wooden matches
  • Sometimes: cotton balls dipped in petroleum jelly for lighting wood fires

7. Repair kit including knife

8. Nutrition

  • Always: 1.5 to 1.75 pounds of food per day
  • Always: bear bag or bear canister to protect my food from bears or other animals
  • Always: camping stove, just enough fuel for the duration of the trip, a 3/4 liter pot to boil water and use as a cup/bowl, and a long handled spoon

9. Hydration

10. Shelter

  • Always: a tent or a tarp, tent stakes, and cordage to tie it down
  • Always: trekking poles, which I use instead tent poles to save weight

Other Important Items

In addition, I usually add a few other important items including:

  • Insect repellent
  • Mosquito netting, to cover my head at night
  • A cell phone, although I often can’t get a signal in the backcountry
  • An emergency whistle, since it’s louder than yelling for help
  • A personal locator beacon, that I mainly use to send a daily email message to my wife with my GPS coordinates to let her know I’m ok, but that I can also use to contact SAR in a dire life-threatening emergency.

Things I don’t bring

  • I don’t bring any extra clothes: I just wash the ones I’m wearing if they become too smelly or salty. These dry overnight or I put them on damp in the morning and let my body heat dry them out while I’m hiking. I use the following rule of thumb:  you should be able to put on all of the clothes you are wearing and the ones in your backpack at the same time. If you can’t, you have too many clothes.
  • I don’t bring extra sandals or camp shoes. Some people do, but not me. They’re dead weight most of the time.
  • I don’t wear hiking boots because they take too long to dry. Instead I wear trail runners. They let me hike faster and they dry quickly.

 If you have any other questions, ask away. I’m here to help.

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9 comments

  1. Hi :)

    So this is my first backpacking trip, with my husband.
    I’m doing a 16 mile trail out and back in the Olympic National Forest (Hoh trailhead to Glacier Meadows). I’m estimating about 5-7 miles a day, which would put me at 3 days in and 3 days out.

    My questions are:

    How much food should I pack for each day with snacks included? I’m also packing a bear canister with me for my food.

    Obviously I’m going to need some sort of rain gear…do you have any recommendations?

    How many liters should my pack be? I have a day pack of sorts, and a Teton Sports Explorer 4000. But I was thinking about getting something around the 40-50L range.

    And lastly, I have a 3L platypus hydration bladder and a 40oz hydroflask. What else as far as liquids should I bring?

    Thanks!

    • carlton matthews

      Hi Cassie,I think your miles per day are a little optimistic. You might want to trim a mile or so per day from what you’re planning. Six days wearing a backpack is what I consider a fairly long time so you’ll want the most comfortable pack you can afford. I personally use Osprey backpacks. They were one of the very first to make women’s specific packs and they make them for most budgets. You should have your pack professionally fitted. Determining size I think a 40-60 liter size would be good its better to underload a larger pack than to overload a smaller one. As far as rain gear I use a Mountain Hardwear waterproof breathable hardshell jacket and pants but when I first started I used a backpacking poncho. I use the freeze dried backpacking meals. I bring breakfasts and dinners and just do trail mix or energy bars for snacks during the day. Water wise I use a 3 litre hydration bladder but also bring an empty platypus 3 litre bottle rolled up for use at camp. Some bring coffee and tea but I use instant hot chocolate. I hope this helps. If I can help further just ask

  2. Girls, I would recomend investing in a menstrual cup. Believe it or not, I once forgot my “supplies” and ended up using ALL of our toilet paper. Or just don’t be stupid and hike on your period lol. But bring your stuff no matter what.

  3. Lets say im planning a hiking trip to cover roughly 240 miles. How long should this take? Im fairly new to backpacking and a moderate hiker. I have done mostly day hikes and havent had to pack much on these days. Im not sure what kind of water sources may be along my path so how could I prepare for the worst and make it through this safely? Any and all advice would be appreciated. Also I would like to carry nuts and dry foods as they wouldnt require extra effort to cook or prepare them.

  4. Thank you!! So helpful. Would love to see suggestions on the type of food to bring on a 3 day camping trip.

    Thanks for the great list!

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