Packing List for an Overnight Hike

Carry Only What You Need

Figuring out what to carry on your first overnight hike can be difficult if you haven't done it before. And the requirements will vary greatly, depending on circumstances. Are you going alone, or will you have companions?  Are you hiking near roads and other trappings of civilization, are are you in the true wild?  Are there creatures that might pose dangers, or are mosquitoes the most dangerous thing you might encounter?  Are you doing one night out in the open air, or is this a multiple night hike?

A common mistake for first-times is to overpack. Nothing ruins a hike more than carrying too much on your back. Yet you also need to have the basics covered in order to make sure your hike is a safe one and comfortable enough to not sour you on the whole experience. 

The following list is loosely based on the ten essentials for good hiking. Use it as a starting point, then adapt the list as you gain more experience with hiking the great outdoors.

 

Clothing

Justin/flickr/CC BY 2.0

Time of year and the climate of your region will dictate much of what you should back in the way of clothing, but a good rule of thumb when it comes to clothing is "layers." Rather than bulky coats or jackets, it's usually better to pack thin but warm clothing layers that can be donned or taken off as needed. The basics for general hiking will include the following: 

  • Base layer (top and bottom). Polypropylene long underwear is both lightweight and offers good warmth. 
  • Mid (insulating) layer. Here, too, thin but warm fabrics are usually best for a hike. 
  • Outer (shell) layer (a thin windbreaker and outer pants is often all you need over a base layer and mid layer).
  • Extra socks. Wet feet will quickly ruin a hike. Make sure your socks are appropriate for hiking. Wool, or wool blends, are usually better than cotton. 
  • Hat and gloves. Your hat should protect you from the sun, and also be thick enough to stop heat loss. Thin layer gloves made from Thinsulate are best. 
  • Sunglasses. 
  • Optional: Clean underwear (you can always go without or turn yesterday's inside-out).
  • Optional: For those in bear country or doing long hikes, an extra set of base layers to sleep in as pajamas. 

Shelter

Sleeping under the stars is great when it's practical, but more often you will require some form of shelter from the elements and from insects. 

  • Tent or tarp that can be erected as shelter. A one-man mummy tent can be great for solo overnights. In areas where bugs are a problem, make sure your tent has good insect netting. 
  • Sleeping pad (and patch kit, if it's air-inflated)
  • Sleeping bag. 
  • Optional: Tent footprint. A ground tarp can be an important addition where ground is moist. 

Food

Steady hiking burns a lot of calories, and you'll need to replace those calories with nutritious, filling food. For some people, hot meals are essential, but for others, cold foods, such as nutrition bars, nuts and dried fruits, and beef or fish jerkies are just fine, especially for brief overnights. Many experienced hikers like to start and end the day with hot meals, but find cold lunches during brief rest periods on the trail to be a good option. Here's a sample list that works for many: 

  • One cookable breakfast, one cold lunch, and one cookable dinner for each full day on the trail. Plan carefully for each day rather than simply pack a lot of random foods. You will eat more than you think on the trail. 
  • Snacks for in-between meals. Use your day hiking experience to help you gauge quantities; estimate on the high side until you become more experienced. 
  • Cooking/eating dish. 
  • Eating utensil (the "spork" that includes both fork and spoon in one utensil is great)
  • Cup for hot drinks.
  • Camp stove and fuel.
  • Animal-proof food storage appropriate for your area: Bear-proof canister, rope, and bag for bear-bagging; or rodent-proof bag, can, and rope for mouse-bagging, etc.
  • Optional: Camp spices
  • Optional: Stove repair kit (depending on your stove and trip length).

Water

Keeping hydrated is even more important than food on an overnight hike. There are two options: pack in all the water you are likely to need in some form of container; or bring along a water filter or purifier that allows you to use lake or stream water available along the way. A purifier can be a better solution if there is plenty of water out on the trail, as it greatly reduces the weight load in your pack. 

If you must carry water, you can either pack bottles, or use some kind of camel-back reservoir system to bring along the water you need. Either way, don't skimp—you will need a lot of water, and also want to be prepared for any emergencies.

Comfort Items

So-called comfort items may not be life-and-death necessities, but you will be surprised by how essential some of these things will seem out on the trail. If you're being assaulted by mosquitoes during stretches of hiking in the deep woods, bug spray will sure seem essential. 

  • Sunblock/sunscreen.
  • Bug repellent.
  • Bandana.
  • Biodegradable toilet paper.
  • Optional but a really good idea: Hand sanitizer/biodegradable soap.
  • Optional: Wet wipes. 
  • Optional: Hand shovel for digging burying feces.
  • Optional for women: Urine director, menstrual supplies.

Just In Case

There is not need to be paranoid about the dangers of the trail, but neither do you want to be naive about the hazards, especially when hiking alone or in remote country. 

  • Fully-charged cell phone (but never count on having cell service).
  • Headlamp and extra batteries.
  • Your hiking emergency kit—including, at a bare minimum, an emergency whistle, knife, duct tape, water purification tablets, map and compass, waterproof lighter/striker, firestarter, large garbage bag, space blanket.
  • First aid supplies.

Miscellaneous

As space allows, consider bringing these items, as well:

  • Lightweight stuff sacks to keep everything organized.
  • Copies of relevant guidebook pages. Make photocopies of the relevant pages, or just tear out the pages you'll need. 
  • Camera in a ziplock bag or waterproof case.
  • Bear spray (if appropriate in your area).
  • Hiking poles (optional).

Trip Plan

Finally, make sure to file a trip plan before you go, then stick to it! Make sure there are friends who know your plans, and if you're hiking in remote area, make sure that park rangers or the local sheriff/police department knows where you are going and when you plan to be back. 

Even if you are hiking in relatively civilized territory, make sure there are people who know your plans. Should you find it necessary to change your plans on the trail—such as if a trail is washed out or closed—try to contact someone to let them know that your trip plan has changed.