Here is the ultimate backpacking packing list for your next trip! This list began with the REI backpacking gear list and was edited by our hiking group, based on our most recent backpacking trip experience.
I’ve included the hiking essentials, items I was surprised I needed, and items I wish we had brought! So you don’t have to make the same mistakes as me 😉
This gear guide was specifically fashioned after the NaPali Coast Hike I recently went on in Kauai, but it can easily be applied to any forest-based camping trip. The NaPali Coast is a diverse environment with rainforest, beaches, and cliffs so when packing for hiking in any of these environments, this gear guide will work for you too.
Always begin your backpacking gear list with the 10 essentials for hiking. This universal hiking essential 10 system contains just the first aid and emergency items you need to bring in your hiking daypack or on longer backpacking trips.
Backpack & Shelter:
☐ Backpack: Duh. My hubby and I both used 55-liter backpacks. This was the perfect size to pack enough essentials and yet it was not too heavy.
☐ Tent: If you decide on tent camping, you’ll definitely need a lightweight tent (like this 2-person MSR tent or REI’s much cheaper backpacking tent). Make sure you also bring the tent poles and stakes.
☐ Hammock: My husband and I both loved sleeping in our ENO hammocks. Make sure you remember to bring the eno hammock straps and carabiner too.
☐ Mosquito net: This is only necessary for sleeping in a hammock. It’s possible you won’t absolutely need it if your rainfly completely encloses you in the hammock and you have a blanket underneath you. Here’s the minimal ENO hammock mosquito net my we used.
☐ Rainfly/tarp: In a rainforest, you will definitely want to bring a tarp or rainfly to protect from the rain. This can go over your tent, your hammock, or your sitting area.
☐ Ultralight sleeping bag: If you will be backpacking in the warm season, you could consider skipping the sleeping bag and instead opting for a more packable fleece blanket. Or bring a lightweight sleeping bag like this one.
☐ Trash compactor bag: This acts as a waterproof backpack liner. Alternatively, you can use waterproof stuff sacks, but the loose nature of items packed into a trash bag allows you to pack more in the backpack than with stuff sacks.
☐ Large ziploc for garbage: Bring several gallon-size freezer ziploc bags which are more heavy-duty to prevent spillage. Throw your trash in there to pack it back out.
☐ Guylines and stakes: Guylines attached to your tent’s rainfly are essential in rainy conditions to keep you dry and your tent poles from collapsing.
☐ Sleeping pad: If you camp in a tent, bring a lightweight inflatable sleeping pad. You won’t need one if you’re sleeping in a hammock.
☐ Trekking poles: This depends on your hiking conditions, but keep in mind that rainforests tend to be muddy and slippery. We needed at least one hiking pole per hiker.
☐ Water bottles: Bring lots of water and a way to carry it all. Bring at least 2 to 6 liters of water in water bottles, hydration reservoirs, or collapsible water containers. If there are options to fill up from water sources on your hike, bring water treatment supplies. This could include filters, UV purifiers, or dissolvable tablets. We used Lifestraw filtering bottles, Katadyn filtering bottles, and Camelbak or Osprey pack water bladders.
☐ Quick-dry microfiber towel: For drying off after bathing or swimming. These PackTowl towels pack into a small pouch – perfect for backpacking. We used ours to efficiently dry off after our “showers” (AKA waterfalls) and our swims in rivers and the ocean.
☐ Backpacking permits & ID: If backpacking permits are required where you are going, make sure you have them with you. It’s possibly you will need to show your ID along with the permit, so bring that as well.
☐ Headlamp or flashlight: You will definitely need a light source at night to cook with or walk around. You can bring a headlamp, flashlight, or lantern. A headlamp is the most popular choice because of its hands-free functionality. If you bring a rechargeable light source, bring a power bank and cord if your trip will outlast the length of a charge. Or bring extra batteries if your light source uses disposable batteries.
Emergency Items & Tools:
☐ Pocket knife or multi-tool: As one of the ten essential items, a pocket knife is important. This is more of an emergency item, but there are so many potential everyday uses as well. Cooking, preparing food, repairing gear, cutting tape and rope, or sticks for kindling.
☐ Whistle: This is a small backpacking item that does not take up much space or weight but could be very useful in an emergency situation.
☐ Phone: by turning your phone off, to airplane mode, or low battery setting you may be able to preserve the battery life to use it in an emergency. Considering the rainy environment, opt for a waterproof phone case. Alternatively, I placed mine in a small ziplock back to prevent water damage (but the ziploc started to rip, so bring a few bags).
☐ Two itineraries: Leave one itinerary of where you’ll be and for how long with a friend and leave the other copy under the seat of the car you drove in to get to the trailhead.
☐ Small lighter: Definitely add a way to start a fire to your backpacking gear list. A small lighter or waterproof matches will be necessary to start an ultralight cooking system. If you aren’t using a cooking system (like Jetboil or Toaks), still bring a small lighter or ferro rod in case of emergency.
☐ GPS: Consider bringing some sort of GPS just in case you get lost. We actually ended up using the GPS function on the satellite phone we brought when we got lost!
☐ Satellite messenger and/or personal locator beacon: If you plan to hike for an extended stay, through dangerous terrain, or somewhere that would be difficult to call for help, bring a personal locator beacon or satellite phone. We brought a satellite phone on our trip which gave peace of mind in case anything happened to us and we needed to be extracted.
☐ Blister treatment supplies: Highly recommend! Treating your blisters for the hike back will make your hike soo much more comfortable. Our whole group got blisters that flared up at the beginning of our 7+ hour hike back to the car, so the blister bandages saved the day.
☐ Repair kit/duct tape strips: Whether it’s your mattress, stove, or hiking boots, if one of those gets damaged you will wish you had some way to quickly repair it. A small repair kit and/or duct tape strips could be quite valuable for your backpacking success. A tiny needle and thread kit could similarly provide some much-needed help for repairing fabric tears.
☐ First-aid kit: Make sure your first-aid kit includes bandages and pain medication. For more detail see my The 10 Hiking Essentials post here.
☐ Stove & fuel: Bring a compact backpacking stove. We used a Jetboil which was small and lightweight and quickly boiled water for our dehydrated meals, oatmeal, and coffee. You may want to bring an extra fuel canister, depending on the length of your trip (we only used one which was able to feed 4 people for two days)
☐ Cookpot & lid: Make sure you have some way to cook your food and boil water whether that’s a jetboil cooking system (which includes the pot) or a separate cookpot.
☐ Spoon: For the purpose of cooking. Sometimes the same spoon can be used for cooking and eating (we used the same spoon to stir the boiling water into dehydrated meals and then to also eat with).
☐ Eating utensils: Don’t forget eating utensils. A hybrid 3-in-1 fork/knife/spoon saves the most space in your backpack.
☐ Dishes/Bowls: You may be able to use shallow collapsible bowls for every meal to save space instead of deciding between plates or bowls.
☐ Cup or mug: For coffee and tea, for soups and some meals, bring a collapsible or ultralight titanium mug. If you don’t plan to consume anything that requires a mug/cup, you might not need to bring this item at all.
☐ Meals: Bring enough food for every day you will be on your trip. We brought easy meals like dehydrated food and oatmeal (PSA: Mountain House biscuits & gravy was our absolute favorite!). And bring one extra day’s supply of food as an emergency backup.
☐ Energy snacks: It’s important to fuel your body while hiking. We liked Gatorade Prime Energy chews, Jelly Belly Sport Beans, Kind protein bars, and Justin’s nut butter Squeeze Packs. Trail mix and Gatorade powder drink mix would also be great for energizing and hydrating you during strenuous hiking trips.
☐ Sponge/pot scraper and biodegradable soap: To wash your pot or other eating utensils between meals, bring a small sponge or pot scraper and a small concentrated biodegradable soap.
^ I should have brought an extra pair of socks…
☐ Moisture-wicking clothes: Underwear, t-shirts, hiking shorts (or long pants), and long-sleeve shirts. Moisture-wicking clothing is suitable for rainy environments because they move sweat to the outer surface of the fabric they dry quickly. This will keep you drier and comfortable after a rain shower, river crossings, and after sweating during your hike.
☐ Rain jacket: A must on your rainforest backpacking gear list! Protect yourself with a quality packable rain jacket (here is the one I used and love! It worked amazingly and backs small). You may also be more comfortable in rain pants.
☐ Lightweight jacket: You may not need the warmest jacket when camping in a tropical rainforest, but you’ll definitely want something to warm you up if you get a chill.
☐ Hiking boots: Make sure your hiking boots are also waterproof boots since rainy environments are most likely to be muddy and slippery.
☐ Socks: Wool hiking socks are the natural and sustainable option for hiking socks. Socks made from wool regulate temperature to keep your feet from getting sweaty and smelly.
☐ Light flip flops: bring flip flops as camp shoes so you don’t have to wear your clunky and muddy hiking boots while relaxing or walking around camp. You may even want to wear flip flops to cross streams. To preserve interior backpack space, just clip these to the outside of your pack.
☐ Long-sleeve shirt: A moisture-wicking long-sleeve may seem counterintuitive for warm climates, but it is your best bet for protection against the sun and bugs. It is also comfortable to change out of your hiking clothes to relax at your destination and warmer as the sun goes down.
☐ Bathing suit: In case there are streams, rivers, lakes, or an ocean to swim in, you may want to bring a swimsuit! We “showered” at the base of a waterfall and swam in a river and the ocean in our bathing suits.
☐ Extra clothes: Much for the same reason as the long-sleeve shirt, you may want an extra change of clothes that are not sweaty for relaxing and that can double as pajamas!
☐ Hand sanitizer: For after the “restroom” or before meals.
☐ Toothbrush and toothpaste: Bring travel-sizes to save space.
☐ Sanitation trowel: In case you don’t know, a sanitation trowel is helpful for using the “restroom” when a hole in the ground is needed… Our trail had a few composting toilets so we did not need this. Check your trail maps before you decide to add this to your pack.
☐ Toilet paper: Since there is no guarantee that composting toilets will have toilet paper, bring your own. Grab as much as you think you’ll need it and place in a small ziploc bag to keep it dry and take up less space than a whole roll.
☐ Menstrual products: Consider using a reusable menstrual cup as a sustainable solution.
☐ Medications: Don’t forget your prescription medication. Also bring some emergency medication in small labeled baggies or containers like tums, pepto bismol, and ibuprofen.
☐ Nail clippers: Hiking can be harsh on your feet, so bring nail clippers for a more comfortable hike in case of broken toe nails.
☐ Sun hat: My theory and others’ (especially in rainforest-type environments) is that if you have a sun hat then you don’t need sunglasses.
☐ Sunscreen: You know your skin best. If you think that a long-sleeve shirt and sun hat will suffice, then maybe you won’t need sunscreen. Otherwise, bring a small bottle.
☐ Insect repellent: A natural insect repellent is best for the environment in case it enters any water sources you may cross through or the rain washes it off your skin into the soil. A long-sleeve shirt and pants won’t even completely protect you from mosquitoes, so bring a small container or tube of repellent.
^ These trekking poles were life-savers!
☐ Pillow: You can bring a lightweight inflatable or compressible pillow for comfort. A rolled up jacket may also do the trick if you need to save space. The lightweight inflatable pillow I recently took camping was tiny, ultralight, and definitely worth bringing for tent camping. On the other hand, when I hammock-camped on the backpacking trip, I did not need a pillow in my ENO hammock. So it’s up to you on whether it’s worth the space in your backpack.
☐ Trekking poles: I put these in both the Backpack section and the Optional section because we were initially told we would not need these for our hiking trip. But it was immediately apparent that trekking poles were essential to get through the deep mud and slippery rocks that are common in rainforest environments. So their necessity depends on your specific hiking environment.
☐ Sleeping pad: I recently tried camping without a sleeping pad and it was a miserable, mostly sleepless night. As tired as you think you may be after hiking all day, I highly recommend making the room for a lightweight inflatable sleeping pad. A good night’s rest will do you good for the hike back! This is only optional if you are sleeping in a hammock.
☐ Sit pad: Some sort of chair or cushion to sit on. You may prefer an inflatable seat pad to the ground for a more comfortable sitting experience when backpack camping. If you have a hammock, you probably don’t need another sitting arrangement. We camped on the sand at a beach so seating was comfortable as is. So this item depends on whether you have a hammock to relax in, if you have space for a z-seat pad, and how long your trip will be.
☐ Camera: This depends entirely on how much you want to take pictures and what quality pictures you want. What worked well for me was to bring my phone on extreme battery saver mode and just use the camera for the occasional photo opportunity.
☐ Extra camera battery: Depending on your camera needs, don’t forget extra batteries if you think you could run out. Or bring a small power bank. I had to use this to charge my phone on the last camping trip I took because I forgot to switch my phone to power saver mode!
☐ Daypack: During your stay at your destination, you may want a collapsible day pack like a drawstring bag or a foldable grocery bag. This can be used for day hikes from camp or to carry dishes to a water source for cleaning. This also allows you to bring valuable items with you instead of leaving them at camp.
☐ Lip balm (with SPF): Protect and hydrate your lips with SPF-rated lip balm. It may not seem like an necessary item now, but when you are slightly dehydrated and in the sun, you will be glad you threw your lip balm in.
^ Our fun optional item was string lights for a cozy campsite.
☐ Book: This was one of our group member’s “splurge” items.
☐ Cards or games: Many games can come from one deck of cards or you can make up your own game without them. We made up a game using limes from a nearby lime tree to choose which chili mix each person got for their dinner that night!
☐ Star chart/night-sky identifier: Whether it’s an app or a star chart, this is the best place to star-gaze away from the light pollution of urban areas. So you might as well try finding constellations while you can, right?
Now you’re all set to go backpacking! Where are you going for your next adventure?
Would you add anything to this backpacking gear list? I’m always up to learning more. 🙂
Let me know in the comments!