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What should I pack on a 3 day backpacking trip?

Typical Summer Gear List - without food, fuel, or water
Typical Summer Gear – without food, fuel, or water

What should you 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, to stay out an additional 2 days. It doesn’t matter if you go on a 24 hour hike or a 2 week backpacking trip, you’ll basically 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’d recommend bringing on every backpacking trip, regardless of duration or distance. I’ve included suggested gear as well that’s a good value if you’re just starting out or that will give you an idea of the kind of gear you need.

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

Recommended:

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

Recommended:

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 or quilt rated for seasonal temperatures and a sleeping pad to prevent my body from being chilled by direct 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

Recommended:

4. Illumination

  • Always: head lamp, one set extra batteries

Recommended :

5. First-aid Supplies

  • Always: small packets of Benedryl, Imodium and Ibuprofen, 6 sterile gauze bandages, a few band-aids, 1 ounce bottle of Purell, 1 pair latex gloves, a tick key, and 10 extra chlorine dioxide tablets for purifying water (2 day supply), 1 ounce tube of zinc oxide, and two safety pins
  • Always: a pen or pencil to write messages or record first aid information in an emergency
  • Always: a 1 ounce bottle of liquid soap for daily hygiene and cleaning wounds

Recommended:

6. Fire

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

Recommended:

7. Repair kit including knife

  • Always: small knife with scissors, 10 ft of duct tape

Recommended:

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

Recommended:

9. Hydration

  • Always: two one liter plastic bottles and a small screw-on water filter or Steripen

Recommended:

10. Shelter

  • Always: a tent or a tarp, tent stakes, and cordage to tie it down

Recommended:

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 cell phone for emergencies

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.
  • I don’t wear hiking boots except in cooler weather. Most of the time I just wear running shoes.

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

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20 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!

  5. The post and comments are all so appreciated. Not everyone is an expert and so advice of this sort is so valuable. Thanks everyone.

  6. Really helpful. Thx

  7. What is your target pack weight for a trip like that?

    • I think you have it backwards. You first decide what you need to take on a trip based on the weather and your goals. That determines the weight. Want to reduce the weight? That generally requires spending more money, but a difference of a few pounds will have virtually no effect on the success or failure of a trip. Not to be mean, but figure out what you need first. That will determine your pack weight.

  8. I am going on my first 3 day 2 night stay hiking trip. I want to make sure I have enough water and food and the person I am going with does this hike a lot and knows the 20 mile trail well. I will be taking my 1 man tent, sleeping bag and necessary clothing. I have never been on a hike where if there is an emergency I cannot just walk a few miles to safety so this in exciting yet a scary. Any advice?

  9. hello every one, I was planning a hiking trip and was looking into a hammock with bug net and rain fly, does anyone have experience with these?

  10. If I’m going to pack in, set camp and do smaller day hikes from the campsite, do I bring another lightweight daypack or still use my heavier overnight pack?

    • If you’re looking for help on what’s out there: there are a TON of very lightweight, packable daypacks (less than a pound) out there that are fairly inexpensive. Just do some searches for packable daypacks and you’ll turn up enough info that you’ll be able to make a decision pretty quickly. Because they’re packable, they don’t provide a lot of structure and might not be the most comfortable carries, but they’re light and if you don’t plan to put a lot in it, it’s not a huge deal.

      It really depends on what your day hikes will look like and how big/bulky/heavy your overnight pack is and whether you want to carry it. If you have a lightweight or ultralight or minimalist overnight pack anyway, maybe you just use that. If you have a large, bombproof 5 pound traditional internal frame overnight pack, maybe you look for something smaller/lighter to carry. Like Philip said, it really is up to you.

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