Extended Trips / Thru-HikE Packing List
How to Use This List
In my Standard Gear Packing List I opened with a joke about how you can really get a backpacker going by talking gear. This is even more accurate when engaging a thru-hiker on the topic. At the risk of kicking the hornets nest, I will do my best to share what I have in my pack when going on a longer adventure. I would consider this list of items to be most appropriate if you plan to hike 100+ miles or 7+ days unsupported. I’m not sure that meets the technical definition of a thru-hike, but it is definitely when you are going to start to feel every ounce in that pack.
As you go through a list like the one below and make your own decisions about what to buy, bring, or leave at home, you may be wondering what an appropriate weight is for you. In general, hikers use a metric called ‘base weight’ as a benchmark to determine whether their loadout is light enough for a particular adventure. Base weight refers to the weight of your fully-loaded pack minus consumables such as food, water, and fuel. Like everything else gear-related, a target base weight will vary based on a number of factors such as trip length, resupply frequency (i.e., the weight of your consumables), weather conditions, and what you are personally capable of carrying. For most thru-hikers, 15 pounds (~7kg) may serve as a decent target. Those serious about ultralight principles may find themselves in the ballpark of 10 pounds (~5kg).
Finally, because this list is presumably for a more advanced audiences I will skip a lot of the commentary and extra fluff included in my standard list. If you are looking for a little more expansive list of what to pack, I would recommend starting with this post: Standard Gear Packing List.
The Big Ticket Essentials
These are the large, must-have items that will probably account for around half of the weight on your back. Size and weight are important to consider when selecting which ‘big ticket’ items will be a good fit for your trip.
- Backpack: There are several ultralight backpacks on the market, but they are expensive. In a long trip, you can generally get by with your standard backpack. If you are doing a true thru-hike (several months on the trail) I would definitely consider something like the Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Southwest.
- Tent: This is a worthy place to cut some weight. I have typically operated with the Flashlight 1 UL by Sierra Designs or the Fly Creek HV UL2 by Big Agnes. The hardiest of thru-hikers often swear by no-tent solution and will use a tarp supported by hiking poles.
- Sleeping bag: This will often be the bulkiest item in one’s pack and is a high potential place to drop pack weight and volume. There are plenty of great bags on the market, but decisions around which is most appropriate for you should be made by taking into account trip length and possible weather conditions.
- Sleeping mat: There are several inflatable options that are small, lightweight, and generally more comfortable, but many thru-hikers prefer to carry an egg-crate style mat like the NEMO Switchback as they are more versatile (can be folded into a seat in camp) and durable (can be strapped externally to a pack).
Eating & Drinking
- Stove: I highly recommend the miniature MSR PocketRocket if fuel canisters will be available on your trip. If you need a more versatile stove, the MSR Whisperlite Universal can process all types of fuel including “dirty gases” .
- Fuel / fuel canister: Portable canisters, if available, are great for the PocketRocket stove. A refillable bottle may otherwise be necessary for storing various types of fuel.
- Matches / lighter
- Water treatment: I always carry a SteriPen in addition to a water filter. You can cut weight by shifting to the boiling method, but it will slow you down and use up more of your fuel.
- Pots / pans / mugs: Consider limiting yourself to a single ultralight pot like the TOAKS 900ml.
- Water bottles: Many thru-hikers will re-use large plastic water bottles due to their lower weight. Smartwater bottles fit nicely into most backpack compartments.
Other Must Haves
- Map & compass: Safety first, even for badass thru-hikers.
- GPS / PLB: This goes from a ‘really, really good idea’ to a ‘must-have’ on a multi-day journey. Again, safety first. I love my Garmin InReach Explorer.
- First aid kit: One last time for the folks in the back: safety first.
- Headlamp: I still use a Black Diamond Spot.
- Multi-tool / knife: I still find one helpful for a variety of reasons. Carrying a Leatherman Squirt is a base weight-friendly option for long journeys.
- Toiletries: If you are going far enough that “holding it” is off the table, a trowel becomes a must have.
- Sunscreen and/or bug spray: Still essentials. You will find a bug net to be lighter than spray.
One can debate the necessity of items in this section, but a little bit of comfort can go a long way on a thru-hike. These are the items that I keep in my pack on multi-week adventures.
- Hiking poles: Though poles are considered optional, I only leave them behind on the shortest of trips. They provide a lot of benefits in terms of stability on uneven surfaces, joint relief when moving downhill, and prevention against swelling in your hands. Savvy ultra-lighters often use them to replace tent stakes as well.
- Microfiber towel: In an attempt to preserve some baseline level of hygiene while on the trail, I rarely travel without a mini towel. They dry almost instantly in direct sun and weigh next to nothing.
- Body glide: My secret weapon in the constant battle against chafing, I never go more than a few miles without my Body Glide balm. They also make Foot Glide for protecting against blisters.
- Solar charger: Likely a necessity to keep your GPS and/or phone charged on a longer journey, Goal Zero and Anker are two popular and well-reviewed brands.
The packing list should largely match that of standard backpacking trips minus a few redundant items. I would recommend something like:
- Hiking boots: Though trail runners may be appropriate as a lightweight option for many adventures.
- 2x socks and underwear
- 2x shirts
- 2x pants: One short, one long. Shorts with built-in liners may provide some additional value to those concerned about only carrying two pairs of underwear.
- Warm layer
- Waterproof layer
Additional Ultralight Tips
Here are a few assorted tips for maximizing utility and minimizing space within your pack. For brevity, I omitted some of the sillier, less impactful tricks such as ‘sawing the handle off your toothbrush.’
- Make a pillow out of a stuff sack and clothes: Inflatable pillows are a luxury best left off the packing list for long-distance journeys. Instead, I will fill the stuff sack for my sleeping bag with leftover clothes and use that for support while sleeping instead.
- Choose calorically dense foods: Food can account for a significant portion of pack weight, especially if re-supply points are few and far between. To optimize for this, I recommend selecting foodstuffs that are calorically dense. For example: nuts, oats, dried fruits, hard cheeses and energy bars tend to have a much better ratio of calories per ounce than breads, crackers, chips, processed foods, and some pastas.
- Use a single pot: Dishes outside of a single pot should be considered luxury items and can be left behind. Using one pot for cooking, boiling water, and eating out of is a great way to keep base weight in check.
- Deconstruct packaging before departing: This may be intuitive, but I always repack my food into Ziploc bags before leaving on a hike. Not only will it save space, but mixing things like my nightly helping of rice and lentils ahead of time can help with portion control and make dinner time more efficient. This logic applies to packing gear as well. I often carry some duct tape with me in case of emergency, but am sure to take a more reasonable amount off the roll to avoid unnecessary ounces.
- Use a Smartwater bottle: I love my Nalgene, but Smartwater makes large bottles that weight nearly nothing and fit nicely into the mesh pockets of most standard backpacks. They aren’t as durable, so be careful, but they are generally much more efficient weight-wise than other reusable bottles. Large Gatorade bottles are another alternative.
- Bring just a shell for a waterproof layer / windbreaker: Odds are that if you have a proper warm layer you will just need a thin ‘shell’ to get through your hike. Jackets can be exceptionally bulky so there is no sense in having two heavy insulating layers when one will do. If waterproof pants feel necessary for your trip, the same logic applies.
- Bring meals that can be ‘cold soaked’: Admittedly, I am not a fan of this approach as I love a warm meal at the end of a long day, but some through thru-hikers may limit themselves to meals that can be prepared through ‘cold soaking.’ Taking this approach significantly reduces base weight by eliminating the need for a stove, fuel canister, and pot.
- Leave your tent behind: This is another tip that I don’t abide by personally, but creating shelter out of a rain fly and trekking poles does eliminate the need for a bulky tent, saving significant space and weight.
What did I miss? Do you have any additional tips for introducing ultralight principles to your loadout? Please let me know your thoughts in the comments below.
Disclaimer: I do not receive any compensation for recommending these products and all opinions / recommendations are solely based on my own experiences