How to Pack for an Overnight Backpacking Trip, Part 1

Words by Coalatree Ambassador Zak Stone. Photos by Zak and Chris Barnett, @crbarnett

Want to go backpacking, but not sure what you should take? Or even how to pack your gear Well it’s your lucky day! I’m going to show you the basics to having a great time living off your back.

First thing first: a backpack. There are lots of great brands out there making fantastic packs. I highly recommend visiting a store and get fitted for a backpack that fits your body. You want it to fit the length of your torso, the hip straps to rest on your hipbones, and the shoulder straps to have even contact from your shoulders to your chest (a small finger width gap right behind your shoulders is OK).

Alright, now you have you backpack that fits. Let’s check out what you’ll be putting in it.



I’m sure you have heard “layers, layers, layers.” That means you want to layer your clothing, from your head to your feet. Let’s start from the bottom up.

  • Shoes and socks: You’ll need a good pair of broken-in boots, and maybe sock liners. Plus thicker socks for colder days, and lighter ones for warmer days.
  • Bottoms: I like the zip-off short/pants combo, and a base layer to wear under them when it gets cold at night. I wear synthetic layers when I’m hiking with my pack on, because it helps keep the sweat away from your skin.
  • Tops: I always carry an extra shirt for camp. I also bring a long sleeve shirt and a down jacket. Down jackets will keep you warm, plus they’re lightweight and pack up small.
  • Headwear: Gloves and beanies are great to have to if it gets cold at night. 
Sleeping bag and pad

I recommend a good down bag that has a range of 20-35 degrees. This means you will be warm when the night temps drop into the freezing range. You’ll also want a compression sack for your sleeping bag to pack it down small. As for your sleeping pad, get one that blows up fast and is comfortable to lay on.

Tent & footprint

You definitely want to invest in a good backpacking tent. They are lighter in weight than your typical car camping tents. The tent footprint will help protect your tent floor and make it last longer. It also helps keep your gear and tent dry if it rains.

Luxury items

Coalatree’s awesome Kachula Adventure Blanket is actually great to take on a short backpacking trip. You can use it at camp to cook on keep your cooking set dirt-free, and you can even use it as a pillow at night. It’s the Swiss Army Knife of blankets!

Another great additional item is a camp chair. I never thought this was something I needed or wanted while backpacking. The extra weight seemed pointless… until I tried a friend’s chair. The comfort and relief your back gets from not having to sit on the ground, a rock or a log! There are some really light weight chairs out there. I highly recommend checking them out.

Next up is a hammock. This is my best friend. I make sure I have one with me all the time. Day hikes, overnight hikes, you name it. Hammocks are a great way to get off the ground and relax. Just typing about it makes me want to get in one right now… hold on a minute…

In a hammock now, this is much better. OK, back to this article. Let’s talk about water and food.

Water bladder and filter

This is the most convenient way to carry and access your water supply. Water will also be the heaviest thing you carry so you’ll want it to be closest to your back (more on how to pack in the next post).

I love Sawyer Squeeze water filters. They come with a squeeze bag that is not only lightweight but folds up small. The filter can also connect directly to a plastic water bottle.

Food and snacks

Mmmm, the yummy part. I used to take dehydrated food packs with me, but they can do a number on your insides. Haha, yeah it happens. I recently found Omeals, which are self-heating and taste great. Sometimes one meal is too much, so I’ll save the leftovers and heat them up the following night on my camp stove. For snacks, I love to put a fruit leather or trail mix in my hip pockets on my backpack. They make great snacks while on the trail and give you some energy for all those steps you have to take to get to your epic location.

Trekking poles

I used to make fun of people who took “ski poles” in the woods. But then I was hiking up Mt. Hood with a super heavy pack and my buddy let me try his poles. OH MY GOSH, I was so wrong! With trekking poles you have better balance and you can take some of the load off your legs, especially when climbing a hill.

Small daypack

When you are out for more than a night, it’s nice to have a smaller backpack that you can use for short day hikes exploring your area. The Coalatree Nomad Packable Backpack is perfect for this! You can stuff it into its own pocket and pack it down small.

The small stuff 
  • Lighter, to make fire
  • Toilet paper, the dry stuff! Make sure you dig a hole 6” deep and do your business at least 200 feet from water sources
  • Small travel toothbrush
  • Whistle, for signaling if you need help
  • Basic first aid kit
  • Bug repellant. Sawyer makes some great DEET-free products
  • Mole skin, to save your feet when you get blisters
  • Carabiner, which are super handy for attaching things to your pack or hanging things up at camp
  • Bug mesh hat, if the bugs are bad in your ares! Your day will be a lot better without mosquitos attached to your face

Read Part 2 next week to learn how to pack it all into your backpack!

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