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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49 Responses to What should I pack on a 3 day backpacking trip?

  1. marco September 1, 2011 at 10:08 am #

    Phil,

    Excelent review of a good packpack kit. Seveal things I do a bit differently but this is a matter of style and choice, mostly. Weight in a 10-15 pound pack is OK. With 1.5# of food per day per person, this is plenty to keep you well fed.

  2. Guthook September 1, 2011 at 10:10 am #

    It’s kind of funny how I think of three-day trips as almost not long enough to even count. Of course, once I get out in the woods on a three-day trip, I realize it’s usually been too long since I’ve been backpacking anyway.

    I’m going to have to get in the weekend-trip kind of mindset soon, though. Time for me to get employed and stop being a bum.

  3. RevLee September 1, 2011 at 11:27 am #

    Great list. I would add a survival kit with a space blanket, a lighter, a couple of esbit tabs, a few water treatment tablets, a couple of Propel packets, and a small Photon light. Also a small repair kit with a couple of zip ties, needle and floss, and a velcro strap. These all go in a small ditty bag with the first aid kit, head lamp, and cell phone, so I've got one bag to grab in an emergency.

  4. My Life Outdoors September 1, 2011 at 7:41 pm #

    In Insulation you mention underwear. On a recent trip I realized I have always been relentless in making sure my layers are all synthetic. But I have never thought to get synthetic undies. I have never had a problem…but wonder what you think…are cotton undies a no no?

    • Marc March 11, 2014 at 5:24 pm #

      If you’ve never had problems, then I don’t see the need to change. I have hiked, cycled, played sports under the wet heat of the Mediterranean and I haven’t ever chaffed.

  5. Earlylite September 1, 2011 at 7:44 pm #

    I chafe immediately if I wear cotton, but even worse, if they get wet, they won't dry. I think wearing cotton as a base layer is probably dangerous if you get cold (and wet). There is a reason people chant "no cotton."

    • eddie s June 14, 2013 at 2:44 pm #

      that is why us old guys say..”Cotton Kills” and are constantly asking the Outdoor Stores to stock more clothing in natural materials. Those blends of Wool, Cotton and Poly all mixed together are just as bad as being all cotton for the cotton still retains the water..I found REI’s brand of “Briefs” to be next to perfect and highly recomend them. I have two pair and alternate them depending on how much I sweat. They are easily washed out in streams and lakes without using soap or biodegradable Camp Suds.

      • Will September 3, 2014 at 2:49 am #

        I am a “new” hiker, especially the overnight or 2 day or more hiker. I do love hiking and I have most of the gear that you all list here. Thanks for that btw. I have always been a cotton and leather kind of guy. I always pack my light leather “adventure” jacket with me. I have nothing but cotton pants and cotton long sleeve shirts for my hikes. Cotton undies too…boxer briefs. Never had a problem with chaffing until this summer. It was a very humid one. I might have to try the synthetic boxer briefs you mention. I hate polyester though, it always gives me static buildup in colder weather. I hate getting shocked every time I touch something metal. Anyway, like I said, I prefer the cotton shirts and pants. I’m usually good at staying dry though too. But I will try the synthetic undies and socks too. Thanks again for the info.

  6. RevLee September 2, 2011 at 4:51 am #

    Definitely give synthetic underwear a try. I had great luck last year with the ExOfficio Give-N-Go Boxer Briefs. Wore one pair for three months on the trail with weekly washings. Can't imagine what cotton would look (or smell) like after that. I liked them so much that once I was back home, I got enough to wear all the time.

  7. luckywavingtree September 4, 2011 at 5:26 pm #

    I love this format, I have been meaning to do it for years. 

    I feel like the next step could be calling it 10 essential systems.

    When you think of each category as a system it could give you the freedom to consolidate items and eliminate preconceived notions of use. It might even help you pack better and be more efficient. And best of all you could find a place for your other items.

    Navigation (& Communication) systems would include phone, whistle and communication.

    (Sun & Bug) Protection systems would include all sun and bug related items.

    (First Aid &) Repair systems could include both human repair and gear repair.

    Carry systems would include pack, stuff sacks, bear bags and maybe even utensils and pot/cup.

    Fire systems would include stove.

    Shelter (or Sleep) systems would include all items used for sleeping.

  8. eddie s September 6, 2011 at 6:32 am #

    Nice list, contains just about everything I carry but did you miss your multi-purpose use towel or Bandana? Currently I'm trying to find a lady who can sew so I can enlarge my Bandana to a 28inx28in size which is much more useable than the current 20×20 size. I used to carry a sewing kit but only used it once in 15 years so I took a good look at what I needed to repair anything I was wearing or carrying. I now carry a small spool of general purpose nylon olive drab thread with two needles and three safetey pins inside a film cannister which also contains an extra boot lace and a bit of tightly rolled up Vietnam era trip wire and then rolled some Duct tape around the film container.. I also added a set of Sterile Stitches to my First Aid kit since the time I had to sew up my deeply cut finger using a regular needle and thread. And thank you for continuing to carry a Map and a Compass, I thought I was the only left alive to do so especially after reading all the Outdoor Magazines and websites and helping a number of lost er disorientated hikers on a well marked trail with their GPS…I've been wearing synthetic underwear since REI first offered them and have not looked back since. I hated wearing underwear because of the clammy sticky wet soggy cotton and associated problems thereof but the synthetic does a great job of wicking and solves all the problems I had with cotton. As part of my layering I still carry a 100% Wool sweater Vest in the cool months, be it a bit heavy, it has never failed to keep me warm like the other man-made materials have..I alternate between a Silnylon Tarp and a Space blanket depending on the Weather Forecast and have used the Space Blanket as my ground sheet and emergency rain cover/Tarp. I recently found a 2 lb synthetic fill sleeping bag with a built in Mosquito Net, good down to 40 deg's, so no need to carry the Bivy tent just a 36×72 piece of plastic for a ground sheet and the Space Blanket Tarp. I do carry a two liter collapseable water bag made by Nalgene which I use in camp as my Water Source. I also have been testing using Bleach instead of Purification Tablets or FIlters since the tablets take up to 4 hours and the Bleach a little as 30 minutes and 8 drops to make a gallon of water safe to drink or 4 per Liter. I carry the Bleach in a Laboratory grade amber glass bottle with a built in eye dropper inside an old Pill Bottle. I also have used a Laboratory Grade plastic squeeze bottle as well, which seemed to leak, but I could not find any liquid, just the smell, so I switched to be safe. And how about a Book?

    • Scott June 13, 2013 at 6:09 pm #

      Eddie, have you considered a shemagh in lieu of modified handkerchiefs? I have a couple that are always dangling from my pack (unless I am wearing one). They’re incredibly versatile, and can be gotten pretty cheaply.

      • eddie s June 14, 2013 at 3:05 pm #

        Scott. Yes I have, a youngster sent me one from Afghanstan and though it nearly perfect it was too heavy for my needs and found it difficult to use for filtering water and washing up with. My Church Ladies broke up due to husbands losing their jobs and them moving away so I have not bought a sewing Machine yet. And I have not found anyone around me who Sews..It is becoming a lost Art I think…Thank you for thinking of it…

  9. Earlylite September 6, 2011 at 9:56 am #

    Book – depends on the length of the trip. Probably not on a short one.

    Bandana – I carry a small Trader Joes absorbent towel for washing. Forgot to mention that. Also use it as a pot holder.

    Map and Compass – Don't leave home with out it.

  10. mike November 4, 2011 at 1:30 am #

    Coupla things:

    1. How can you tell how much fuel you'll need? Probably a matter of experience – but with canisters I always wonder if I should bring one and then one extra "just in case." And with white gas I always wonder if I should just "fill it up." I have come back home with extra all the time.

    2. You wrote: "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."

    Thank you. I've been looking for this information for about 2 years. Really had a difficult time finding anyone who addressed this. I bring too many clothes. I'm using this system. Thanks!

    M

  11. Earlylite November 4, 2011 at 6:14 am #

    The fuel thing really depends on the season, how many hot meals you eat per day and your eating preferences. For example, there are times of year, like summer, when I don't even bring a stove on overnight hikes because I am happy eating cold food.

    One suggestion would be to figure out how many meals you want and to simulate the burns at home (with a windscreen) so you know how much fuel you need. It's not that expensive to do this and it will give you more confidence that what you are carrying is sufficient.

  12. eddie s November 4, 2011 at 10:57 am #

    I'm gonna get jumped on for this,,but if I am doing an "Over nighter" say leaving Friday afternoon and coming back in Saturday night or Sunday Morning..I carry two MRE Entree's with two heaters and Pemmican Bars, Beef Jerky, GORP, and Cheese and Crackers for the rest of my meals along with various Drink Powders needing no heating. In Winter and looking for to make Hot Chocolate, or Tea or Soup or to Heat Water for Oatmeal, I use Military Heat Tabs or the new Gel Packs placed between two flat rocks placing my 2 cup metal Cup over the flame works really well.Sometimes I carry a Metal canteen Cup instead but both work and the weight of the Gel Packs and Heat Tabs are minute..

    • Will September 3, 2014 at 2:41 am #

      Being ex military, I would go with MREs anytime! Before my experiences with them I always thought they were nasty and non-nourishing. Boy was I wrong! Some are not that tasty, but most are. Easy to pack and carry too. Plus the pouches used to heat the food can be used as hand warmers in a pinch during cold weather.

  13. Earlylite November 4, 2011 at 12:23 pm #

    That makes perfect sense – honest! Simple and always good.

  14. austinnevill June 12, 2012 at 6:51 pm #

    im leaving on thursday, and I THINK I’m start hiking on friday and come back on monday. what kind of stuff should i bring? plus, its a 6 mile hike.

    • Earlylite June 12, 2012 at 7:10 pm #

      I’d start with a backpacking partner who has some previous experience.

      • Mike June 12, 2012 at 8:22 pm #

        Gotta agree with Earlylite. My first overnight I went alone and the woods outdoors at night for a first-timer may produce a little anxiety.

        =)

  15. Eddie S June 12, 2012 at 9:08 pm #

    Since I am always upgrading my gear here is an update. So since my last post here I have expanded my supply of “After Bite Pads” and “After Sting Pads” individual pads to eight and two respectively in my First Aid kit, Because here in the South everthing bites you whereas in the West it scratched you..I bought the Huge size bandaides and got rid of the gauze which requires additional tape to keep in place and instead of just a trip worth of personal medication I carry a full weeks supply. I never did find anyone to custom make my Hankies so next week I am buying my own sewing Machine and found the “Quilt Ladies” at Church will teach me how to use it…I also removed a Net headnet and now carry a full Mosquito Netting Suit, top and Bottom. I will keep my Waterproof boots versus Trail Runners which gave me foot rot. Am going back to my Shires Tarp Tent for air flow purposes and the fact it is bug proof and light weight. The Bleach is working out well, finding a safe bottle to store it in is still a problem for even with the nylon based Lab bottles the bleach degrades them over time and Clorox does not make one small enough to carry, so Cholride Dioxide as backup and my old faithful never failed me 1st Need Water Purifier. Most streams and swamps around here you cannot trust since most run through a lot of Cows pastures and farm land on either side of the National Forest..I have also added “Elastic Blouse bands” to “Blouse” my long pants..We used these in the Marine Corps back in the 60’s before the new BDU’s came out with the string ties built in..They keep everything out of your boots and the creepy crawlers from crawling up your leg as well as a few hitchhikers. Went back to the Boonie Hat for want of its wide brim to cover the ears from the Sun, which I waterproofed with a Silcone based Camp Spray..Still carry a couple of MRE for Rain Days and really like the individual sized Mountain House FD’s.

  16. eddie s June 13, 2012 at 7:58 am #

    I forgot to add,,,I use to make “Pan or Fry Bread” all the time which can get messy so I stopped and switched to MRE Crackers. I didn’t like them crumbling in my hand sometimes so I have now switched to carrying MRE Bread and Biscuits! I like the Bread better than the Biscuits and for a 3 day trip I carry 4 of the Breads and two Biscuits but will now carry 6 breads instead. I buy all my MRE products from Long Life Depot.com as I have for over ten years because they are FRESH MRE’s whereas most other Companys and Surplus stores only carry the one’snearing their expiration date and really sock it to you on the price. No I don’t work for them or get paid or get reduced prices etc. etc.

  17. PilgrimChris October 4, 2012 at 1:50 pm #

    A great post Phil!

    I recently went on a 28 day hike and still took the same gear I would take for a 2 day hike. Only difference was I took more money :-)

    PilgrimChris

    • Earlylite October 4, 2012 at 1:57 pm #

      I’m envious – where’d you go?

  18. Ranchez October 4, 2012 at 6:11 pm #

    Great post. The only think I would say is that, unless required (RMNP), I would trade the bear canister for LOKSAKs since I hang all smellies away from camp each night and they add little/no weight or bulk to my load.

    • Ranchez October 5, 2012 at 7:30 am #

      Their OPSAK product is odor-proof and highly effective. I’ve used them for the last 7 years and have never had anything invade my food or anything else I put in them.

  19. Amy December 29, 2012 at 6:14 am #

    As a beginner backpacker, thank you SO MUCH for this article. Seriously. So straight forward and organized. I’ve been looking for a list like this

    • Earlylite December 30, 2012 at 1:04 pm #

      glad it was useful. let me know if you have any questions.

  20. eddie s December 30, 2012 at 9:18 pm #

    I just read the “Pilgrims” Post and down here in Georgia they have the Silver Comet Trail which starts up near Atlanta and runs to Alabama. The trail was once a Railroad bed and the “Path Foundation” got hold of it and now it is a 16 ft wide paved trail for some 60 miles. And all along the way it is possible to find Hotels and Motels to spend the night at. It is also routinely or throughout the day Patroled by the local Law Enforcement Agencies whose districts it passes through…I’ve taken a number of Day hikes and and ridden my Bicylce a few times on it, so it would be possible to Hike it and stay in a Motel every night. It passes through a number of Wildlife Management Areas and forests, so yes you could and all you would need like Pilgrim said.. Just bring more Money!

  21. eddie s December 30, 2012 at 9:23 pm #

    Well I guess I should be proud, One of the allgeded hiker Journalists over at that Backpacking website now all of a sudden is mentioning using my idea of the “Stick Toggles” like I posted here AS IF he developed the idea for Tarps..And when I posted that statement they Refused to Print it….So that should tell you about the honesty of that other site…

  22. Connie Nickelson January 19, 2013 at 9:22 pm #

    If I am carrying enough calories in nuts and proteins and granola type foods, why would I have to load myself down with a stove and fuel and a cup and a spoon etc.?

    • Earlylite January 19, 2013 at 9:25 pm #

      No reason you have to, but cold food gets awful boring after a few days, even in summer.

      • Marc March 11, 2014 at 5:29 pm #

        Well, it depends on how often you can resupply, but I usually take two types of cold cuts/cheeses, GORP, chocolate, a bit of fresh fruit and bread and never got too bored.

  23. eddie s. January 20, 2013 at 12:40 am #

    Connie, many of the hikers I have hiked with over the past 40 years went that route, as I did a couple of times in an effort to save weight and not have to cook after a long day on the trail. On one trip I planned to supplement my choices with fresh caught Rainbow trout, and of course that was the day no Trout would bite anything I offered them..Both times after two 12 -15 mile days, like those who went before me, I was craving substanially more filling foods than what I carried, unfortunately nobody else was carrying or could spare or would trade for anything I had. I set out a few Snares to see if I could trap a Rabbit or something.. I had a strong yen going for a Chicken and Rice Stew, others craved a good Steak, or a big juicy hamburger, others would dream of eating a full Thanksgiving type Turkey dinner and we all had trouble sleeping due to being tormented by food dreams.. Even with a good supply of Freeze dried and fresh after a few days on the trail the place you head for once your off the trail is an all you can eat type place. Their are legendary tales of consumption in Bishop Ca. of through hikers coming in from the trail just to eat and how they dived into the Denny’s there and would eat four or five complete dinners and then having two or three desserts and while gulping down huge amounts of Milk…I for one do not believe the foods you are carrying will be suffcient. If you do however, I would suggest you carry a freeze dried Turkey dinner that includes Potatoes and gravy to which you can add some Freeze dried Vegetables to help bulk it up and also some additional freeze dried Turkey cubes…

  24. nick July 3, 2013 at 10:19 pm #

    why wear undies at all? why not boxers?

    • Philip Werner July 4, 2013 at 12:16 am #

      Same thing

    • eddie s July 6, 2013 at 10:04 am #

      No support, and after a few days of a couple of things swinging a bit in the wind can result in some soreness setting in. I like briefs over boxers because with the new wicking fabrics the moisture is moved away from the skin which normally the moisture would move away with cotton, leaving the cotton wet for long periods and would also leave a salt residue which is the primary cause of crotch rot or a rash. Plus Boxers for me tend to bunch up along the legs creating other problems in addition to the wide wrinkled band I found to be a blister creator when wearing a Pack belt over it whereas the briefs have a smooth thin band.

  25. Charles Kiser October 2, 2013 at 3:34 pm #

    The new “Boxer briefs” in synthetic solved both issues for me.

  26. Kathryn February 13, 2014 at 5:55 pm #

    Hey there we have some gas cannisters that we have used on previous tramps and we are not sure how much gas is left in them. Is there a way to work out how much is left in the cannister and is there a rough guide as to how much you would use a day?

    • DrChip March 11, 2014 at 8:48 pm #

      If you weight the cannister when full, then weight it when empty, this tells you the weight of the fuel inside. Then, starting with a full cannister, after each use weigh it and this will allow you to calculate what is left (e.g., 1/2 full, 3/4 full). If you can measure what each boil / meal takes up in fuel, you can more precisely plan how many cannisters you are likely to use in your trip.

      • Grandpa March 11, 2014 at 11:59 pm #

        Canisters should be labeled somewhere indicating the full weight and how much the fuel weighs when full. I weigh my canisters on a postal scale and then mark the bottom with a Sharpie, telling me how much fuel is left. My JetBoil typically boils a liter of water on 10g of fuel at outside temps in the 30ºF to 40ºF range. I use that figure for planning fuel use.

  27. David March 12, 2014 at 12:38 pm #

    Do you have any updates to this list, as it appears to be created a few years ago.

  28. Lourdes April 13, 2014 at 7:46 am #

    I’m going for a 3 day hike with school, should I bring PJs to sleep in or what? also what types of food do you bring?

    • Philip Werner April 13, 2014 at 8:39 am #

      Since it’s a school trip, I’d ask the teachers or leaders supervising your trip for advices. I always bring clean non-cotton long underwear to sleep in and food that I normally would eat at home that is easy to prepare.

  29. Lourdes April 13, 2014 at 9:55 am #

    Ok thanks :)

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