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  • Writer's pictureCNIT

What to Pack (or Not to pack) on Your First Backpacking Trip

Updated: Nov 6, 2023

A group of seven hikers with backpacks and hiking poles posing by a stone fire pit in the woods, indicating readiness for a CNIT Led backpacking journey.
Enthusiastic group of hikers ready for an adventure on the trails, fully equipped with backpacking gear and trekking poles, standing by a campfire ring in the forest.

There’s an unmistakable allure in packing all your essentials into a backpack and venturing into places only accessible on foot. A backpacking journey, even a brief one spanning just two or three days, fosters a profound bond with nature, our companions, and our inner selves. Generally speaking, this connection has a profoundly positive effect on our mental health.

Much like weather conditions and your hiking companions can shape your adventure, the items you choose to bring along—or leave behind—can significantly influence your experience. Below is a meticulously honed packing list for your inaugural backpacking adventure in a mild, non-wintery climate.

Essential Gear (available for rent from CNIT)

  • Backpacking tent or hammock with rainfly

  • Backpack with rain cover

  • Sleeping bag

  • Sleeping pad

  • Compression sack

Crew Gear (provided by CNIT)

  • Backpacking stove

  • Stove fuel/canister

  • Lighter/matches

  • Dining/rain fly

  • Bear bag

  • Rope

  • Water treatment

  • First aid kit

  • Compass

  • Topographic map

  • Multi-tool

  • Trowel

  • Duct tape

Personal Gear

  • Hiking shoes

  • Socks (2 pairs)

  • Hiking shirt or long-sleeve T-shirt

  • Hiking pants

  • Synthetic underwear

  • Set of dry clothes

  • Warm layer

  • Rain jacket/cover

  • Hat or bandana

  • Headlamp

  • Food & snacks (provided by CNIT)

  • Mess kit

  • Wool socks

  • Water bottle with water

  • Spork

  • Ziploc bag for trash

  • Toothbrush

  • Toothpaste

  • Personal hygiene items

  • Toilet paper

  • Optional items: Sleeping bag liner, beanie & gloves, lightweight camp shoes, hiking poles, journal

If you’re joining one of CNIT's (Center for Nature-Informed Therapy) backpacking trips, rest assured that all crew gear and food will be supplied by your trip leader. Furthermore, any essential gear you might need can be rented directly from CNIT.

Understanding Your Gear

Backpacking Tent or Hammock with Rainfly: For multi-person use, divide the tent's components to distribute weight evenly, ensuring each person carries no more than 2.5 pounds.

Backpack with Rain Cover: Weekend trips require a 30-50 liter pack; for 3-5 day excursions, opt for a 50-80 liter pack. It’s crucial to try on packs at an outdoor store to ensure a proper fit.

Sleeping Bag: Select a compact, compressible bag with a temperature rating at least 15 degrees below the expected nightly low. Down is lightweight but must stay dry; synthetic insulates even when wet.

Sleeping Pad: Choose an air pad or a closed-cell foam pad based on preference. For winter backpacking, select a pad with a high R-value.

Compression Sack: This helps minimize the sleeping bag’s size. For down bags, a waterproof sack is advisable.

Backpacking Stove: Canister stoves, like Jetboils or MSR Pocket Rockets, are ideal for beginners due to their simplicity and efficiency.

Stove Fuel/Canister: An 8 oz canister typically suffices for a weeklong trip.

Lighter/Matches: Opt for windproof options and store matches in a waterproof case.

Water Treatment: Choose a method suited to the region; for areas without viral concerns, options range from filters to UV light to chemical treatments.

First Aid Kit: Your kit should balance comprehensiveness with weight and include basic care items, wraps, splints, common medications, and tools.

Compass and Topographic Map: Essential for navigation, ensure your compass has the necessary features, and always carry a detailed map.

Clothing: Prioritize moisture-wicking fabrics and layers adaptable to changing conditions.

Footwear: High-cut boots are recommended for most trails for support, though low-cut shoes may suffice for easy terrains.

Headlamp: Always carry spare batteries.

Food: Pack more than you anticipate needing, with a mix of meals and snacks to sustain energy and warmth.

Typical Food Items - (Provided by CNIT)


  • Oatmeal Packs: These are quick to make and offer a warm start to the day.

  • Granola: A non-cook option that's calorie-dense.

  • Energy Bars/Pop-Tarts: For those on the move, these provide quick energy.


  • Tortilla/Cracker with Tuna/Chicken: Easy to pack and high in protein.

  • Spam Packs, Salami Sticks, Hummus/Peanut Butter, Cheese: Variety to keep meals interesting and provide good energy sources.


  • Prepackaged Meals: Convenience and variety from companies like Mountain House and Backpacker's Pantry for ease of preparation.

  • CNIT homemade backing packing meals: Better taste, better for the environment.


  • Trail Mix: Combines nuts and dried fruits for quick energy.

  • Seeds and Sticks: For variety and sustained energy release.

  • Sweets: Chocolate, gummy bears, and licorice for a quick treat and morale boost.

Equipment and Miscellaneous Items

Mess Kit:

  • Bowl/cup: Preferably lightweight material like titanium or plastic.

  • Spork: To eat all kinds of food with one utensil.

Water Bottle:

  • Durable Options: Nalgene, Gatorade, or smart water bottles.

  • Camelback: For easy access to water, it’s wise to have a bottle as backup.

Trash Management:

  • Ziploc Bag: To keep trash contained and minimize odors.

Personal Hygiene:

  • Toothbrush: Either a specialized backpacking kit or a regular brush.

  • Toothpaste: Only a small quantity is needed.

  • Menstrual Products: If applicable.

  • Body Glide/Baby Powder: To stay dry and prevent blisters.

Toilet Paper:

  • Stored in a Ziploc bag to keep it dry.

Optional Items:

  • Sleeping Bag Liner: For extra warmth in colder weather.

  • Beanies & Gloves: Essential if cold weather is expected.

  • Lightweight Camp Shoes: For comfort at camp and to let feet breathe.

  • Hiking Poles: To assist with balance and reduce the load on legs.

  • Outdoor Journal: To record experiences and reflections.

This list strikes a balance between essentials and optional comforts, ensuring that you're well-prepared for most situations without overpacking. Remember to tailor your pack to the specific conditions and duration of your trip, and always leave room for personal necessities and emergency items.

Equipped with this knowledge you can embark on your trailblazing journey. Don't forget to check out CNIT's Intro to Backpacking Trips focused on mental wellness. We’re eager to hear about your experiences with CNIT.

Mountains are calling and I must go…

- John Muir

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