Summer Backpacking Checklist
Whether you are a new or experienced backpacker, it’s incredibly helpful to reference a backpacking checklist when packing for a trip. I use a checklist on my phone when preparing for each trip and wanted to share items I pack.
This is what I personally bring on all my backpacking trips. Although some items are women-specific, some of the bigger gear items are great for everyone to reference. Feel free to comment with questions or gear you also love.
We use the Kelty All Inn 2-person tent as our summer backpacking tent. We bought it for how light it is, weighing in at 3.8 lbs. Bonus: The front door entry has a zipper window to peek out at sunrise while staying cozy in your sleeping bag.
The Osprey Aura 65 pack is an incredibly comfortable overnight pack. The anti-gravity suspension lives up to its hype. I love that the weight is put onto my hips so the weight isn’t as noticeable. The waist and shoulder straps have a good amount of padding and I feel like there are enough compartments to separate the different layers/gear. I was particular in choosing my next overnight pack after a painful first overnight pack. After trying at least 3 other styles, the Aura was by far the most comfortable.
We ordered Custom Enigma Enlightened Equipment sleeping bags and so far, we’re thrilled with them. Our custom order specs are 850 fill, 0°f, regular length and width, and with the draft collar. These quilts come with a simple strap system allowing for adjustability depending on the temperature and your preference. Ours weighs 1.7 lbs. They come with a lightweight backpack sack and storage sack.
The Sea to Summit Comfort Plus Insulated sleeping pad definitely lives up to its comfort plus name. We wanted a sleeping pad that was comfortable and could be used well into the shoulder season months. This sleeping pad has an R-value (insulation) of 4 which is great for all seasons. I love that the stuff sack it packs in also serves as the inflation mechanism – no more getting light-headed while blowing up your air mattress!
We use Sea to Summit’s Aeros Pillow. They’re incredibly comfortable and tiny to pack. No more stuffing clothing in a stuff sack, these are worth their tiny size to pack for backpacking trips.
I have a Black Diamond Spot Headlamp. Mine has a very bright and focused setting, a wider spread setting, and a red light setting.
If you haven’t hiked with hiking poles, once you’ve used them a few times – there’s no going back. They are a great way to keep weight off your knees when descending steep trails and make your arms pull their weight a little more. I’ve used the Leki Cork Lite for the past 3+ years and haven’t had any issues with them. They are a good durable trekking pole great for all seasons – backcountry skiing, hiking, backpacking, and more.
We take our Helinox Chair Zero on every backpacking trip. They weigh 1 lb and are worth every single ounce. They’re easy to set up and comfier than any rock, ground, or sleeping mat. There really is nothing better than sitting in a chair, leaning back, and putting your legs up after a long day of hiking.
GPS and Communication Device
The Garmin inReach Explorer+ is our go-to navigation device. I enjoy using it to track our hikes which end up on our explore page. It has the ability to text friends and family and includes the emergency SOS for peace of mind (whether that be for yourself or friends and family). It’s fairly simple to use and pairs with your smartphone for easier texting and zoom features.
I prefer the Osprey Hydraulics LT Reservoir – 2.5 Liters. I like the lightweight design and prefer it for having a relatively flatter shape when filled. I like the 2.5 liters because most of our hikes end up being 8+ miles. My philosophy is I’d rather have more than enough water and dump it if necessary than not have enough.
We take Katadyn’s Vario Water Filter on our backpacking trips. We particularly chose this filter because it can filter out heavy sediment such as glacier silt without clogging. It also pumps water very fast (2 liters/minute) compared to other filters we’ve used.
The MSR Whisperlite is a great universal stove. You can use canisters or their liquid fuel bottle, which we found is great for international travel. It’s easy to control the cooking temperature and has a wide burner.
We use the GSI Outdoors Halulite Boiler for all our cooking needs. It’s lightweight, easy to clean, and very sturdy.
If we plan on cooking fresh fish, we take the MSR Ceramic Skillet. The ceramic surface is a breeze to clean up.
We like GSI’s Outdoors Infinity Backpacker Mug. They come with an insulated sleeve with a handle, and a sipping lid to keep your beverage warm.
Ultralight Coffee Maker
I like GSI’s Ultralight Java Drip Coffee Maker. It’s in the name – this is as light as it gets for bringing your own real coffee. For tea drinkers – MSR makes a lightweight tea filter which they also recommend for coffee.
The GSI Outdoors Glacier Stainless Cup/Pot is the only dishware besides mugs that we bring. We like it because all our meals can be cooked in them and they store nicely – mugs and Nalgene bottles fit perfectly in them saving space. Plus they have a collapsable handle.
Don’t forget a utensil! We once did and had to carve our own sporks. Sea to Summit makes an Alpha Light Long Spork which is super lite and the long handle makes it great for reaching into premade meal mags.
I bring a small foldable pocket knife similar to Benchmade’s 551-S30V Griptilian Fine-Edge Knife. They’re great for cutting paracord, cleaning fresh-caught fish, and are a must-have as part of your emergency kit.
We bring a Sea to Summit Drylite Towel on our backpacking trips. They’re great for the final clean and drying of our dishes.
We bring a Sea to Summit Stopper Dry Bag for separating our food in our packs and to use as our bear bag for hanging food at the end of the day.
Prior to buying the women’s Asolo TPS 520 GV Evo Hiking Boots, I came to realized my boots aren’t lasting more than 2 years. I bought these Asolos with the expectation that they will last longer. So far, they are a very sturdy boot, are waterproof, and have a super-stiff sole which makes it easier to climb up rocky slopes. The only downfall so far is they don’t make a great insole, so I replaced them with the Superfeet Trailblazer Insoles. The Superfeet insoles do take a bit more space than the soles that come with Asolos so keep that in mind when trying on sizes.
The Mountain Hardware Canyon Pro is the perfect summer shirt. It’s super lightweight and has snap closures which make it easy to take on and off. I prefer long-sleeve shirts like this for more protection from the intense Montana sun. I find that I can roll up my sleeves and keep cool enough during summer days on the hike up and then roll them down for those chilly alpine winds up high.
Top Base Layer
I enjoy changing into a clean soft baselayer when sleeping in the backcountry. I like the Smartwool 250 Baselayer 1/4 zip because of how soft it is and the extra thin layer of warmth when sleeping up high in Montana’s cool alpine country. Since it’s merino, the layer is moisture-wicking. It’s also nice to wake up and stay in for the chilly mornings.
Bottom Base Layer
I like the First Lite’s Kiln Long Jane as a bottom base layer and for sleeping in on backpacking trips. Same as with the top base layer, I like sleeping in the soft merino wool for it’s moisture-wicking and to start my day in for chilly mornings.
Hands down, I love the Women’s Saturday Trail™ II Stretch Convertible Pants. So much so that I don’t hike in any other pants/shorts during the summer months. The fit is fairly snug with stretchy material so they aren’t overly baggy, but have enough room to stretch and move comfortably. For that reason, I take these everywhere – even when bushwhacking or in scrambling terrain.
The Marmot Women’s Variant Hybrid Jacket is my favorite lightweight jacket during summer. It fits like a glove and is incredibly comfortable. The arms are made of a soft material, have a good length, and have thumbholes. I feel like this jacket blocks the wind just enough for most cool summer breezes and is the perfect lightweight layer for chilly days.
Mountain weather can be unpredictable – so we always pack a rain jacket. Even if it doesn’t rain, it’s great to use as a shell for windy days or blocking cool breezes from early mornings or late evenings. I always have my Women’s PreCip® Eco rain jacket with me in the summertime.
Quick Dry Undies
The ExOfficio Give-N-Go 2.0 has been a personal favorite. They stay put, stay dry, and are the most comfortable pair of undies I own.
If you haven’t bought yourself a pair of DarnTough socks, go out and buy a pair. You don’t want to have foot problems when out hiking. I love the snug fit of these socks and their durability is outstanding. Plus they have a lifetime warranty, so you really can’t go wrong.
Toothbrush & Toothpaste
Don’t forget your toothbrush and toothpaste! Bring whatever travel-sized versions of these you prefer. We like the 1 oz Dr. Bronner’s Travel Toothpaste. It’s fluoride-free, cruelty-free and vegan, with no artificial colors, flavors, carrageenan, preservatives or sweeteners.
Toilet Kit Necessities
You need to dispose of water properly, which includes your bathroom waste. When not disposed of properly, human waste can contaminate water bodies with bacteria and viruses. Make sure you take a trowel to dig a proper 6-8″ cat hole for pooping. We don’t recommend the plastic trowels because much of Montana’s soil is hard-packed and plastic will easily break. Completely bury everything when done and make sure there is absolutely nothing on the surface.
You’ll definitely want this for after your backcountry bathrooming and before eating. It’s also a good refresher from the inevitable grimy backcountry backpacker hands. Take some Easy Care First Aid Hand Sanitizer with you!
Antimicrobial Pee Cloth
Ladies, you will be happy you packed one of these. The Kula Cloth Reusable Antimicrobial Pee Cloth is super absorbent, nontoxic, and has a double snap to keep folded for privacy and to attach to your backpack.
We typically lather up before going backpacking, but sunscreen wears off. With Montana’s intense sun, we always pack sunscreen for more applications. Sun Bum Mineral SPF 50 Sunscreen Face Stick is a great lightweight and easy to apply sunscreen.
This is a personal necessity. I always find my lips get dry while hiking in Montana. I like to use chapstick with sunscreen protection such as All Good’s Coconut SPF 20 Lip Balm.
You should always have a Medical Kit in your backpack. It’s better to be overprepared than underprepared when in the backcountry. This kit is organized for quick access to key remedies and includes a wilderness first aid book for more serious scenarios. Regardless of your experience, always have a medical kit and emergency kit. Make sure this one is on your hiking checklist.
Along with the Emergency Medical Kit, you should also have a general emergency kit including emergency blankets, cordage (such as paracord), fire starter, and other survival gear.
We always bring bear spray with us on all trips in Montana. You can find these in outdoor stores. We bought a pair with a belt holster and attach them to the hipbelt of our backpacks or belt. In the event of a bear encounter, you will want quick access to bear spray and not need to dig it out of your backpack.
The Montana sun is intense and eye protection is a necessity. I prefer a pair of low profile polarized sunglasses that cover all angles (top, sides, bottom) such as Native Eyewear Throttle AF Polarized Sunglasses.
I’m a fan of hats with a brim. The Filson Tin Cloth Packer Hat provides more shade from the intense Montana sun and repels water with its oil finish tin cloth. It is a little on the warmer side for summer hiking, but Filson came out with a more breathable summer version of their Tin Cloth Packer Hat.
Bug Head Net
This really is a necessity for summer hiking to Montana’s alpine lakes. I use Sea to Summit’s mosquito headnet. Mosquitos are vicious (as you can see in the picture). These will help you have a better time at the lake.
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I noticed that you included a bug net and have yet to include bug spray. Any particular reason? I feel like it’s an essential item for Montana backpacking.
Thank you for creating a great site with great content and insight!
We feel that bug spray doesn’t really hold up and isn’t worth the weight. If we’re hanging out where it’s buggy, we typically roll down our lightweight long sleeve tops, zip on our pants, and use the bug net. Having lightweight long sleeves and zip-off pants also protects your skin from our intense sun.