Backpacking Checklist

In general, when backpacking, you:

  • Walk
  • Carry stuff
  • Keep yourself and your stuff dry
  • Wear clothing and stay warm
  • Carry and drink water
  • Carry, prepare, eat and protect food, and clean up after eating
  • Sleep in comfort
  • Go to the bathroom
  • Minimize your impact (e.g. carry out garbage)
  • Stay healthy (prepare against injuries)
  • Relax after the hike

The troop provides the following equipment:

  • Tents
  • Ground cloths and tarps
  • Rope
  • Stoves and fuel
  • Water bags and water filters
  • Cooking utensils, pots and pans (but not eating utensils)
  • Food (planned and supplied collectively by the scouts)
  • Maps
  • First aid kit

Meals are planned by each patrol, and one or more patrol members are responsible for buying the food and cooking each meal.

The food and troop equipment are divvied up among the scouts before leaving Stamford, so leave room in your pack. Each scout is responsible for bringing the rest of his necessary equipment, as described below.

We hike mostly in the fall, winter and spring. Nights, and often days, are cold, at times below freezing. You will get wet. You will get cold. With the right clothing and equipment, these conditions can be experienced in relative comfort.

Cotton clothing is to be avoided under all circumstances! It won't keep you warm once it gets sweaty or wet, and it is difficult to dry out. In fact, the conventional wisdom is that “Cotton Kills”. Remember, where we camp on our backpacking trips, it usually takes several hours to hike out to our cars. It would be a serious health emergency if a scout or adult leader were to start showing signs of hypothermia that far away from civilization. We're serious: look at the label on every item of clothing and outerwear that you are packing for a scout backpacking trip. If it has any cotton, leave it home.

So synthetic or woolen clothing is essential. Not just preferred — essential! Hats, gloves, and heavy socks keep the extremities warm. Breathable rain gear keeps you drier and reduces the chill that sweating can cause. Mummy sleeping bags (synthetic or goose down, never cotton) keep you toasty at night. Sweaters, jackets, long underwear, thermal pants, applied in layers, help keep your body warm and comfortable. Remember: it is much colder at higher elevations than it is back home. Pack for cold, wet weather.

So with all this in mind, here's what we suggest you bring on a typical Troop 11 overnight trip:

Hiking boots Essential. Lightweight or medium-weight boots are best. When shopping for them, make sure that you try them on with the liner and wool socks that you'll be wearing on the trail. Boots with a waterproof Gore-tex (or equivalent) lining can be more comfortable in wet conditions; alternatively, leather boots without Gore-tex can be cooler on warm days, and can be reasonably waterproofed with commercial wax or silicone products. Sneakers and street shoes do not provide enough support and protection to the feet and should not be used for backpacking trips except as optional in-camp or post-hike footwear. Leather boots must be broken in before any trip.
Wool socks Essential. Socks keep your feet warm, help keep them dry, and protect them from blisters. Bring one pair for each day on the trail. Wool socks run the gamut from relatively thin, stretchy, "Smart Wool," to super thick, tough heavy European wool. Cotton socks are brought only for changing into for the drive back home.
Wicking liner socks Optional. These are worn under your wool socks, and are used to keep your feet warmer, drier and prevent blisters. They come in many varieties, including thin, silky socks for warmer days, or thicker, more insulated socks for cold days. Bring one pair for each day on the trail.
Lightweight shoes or sandals Optional. For lounging around in camp at the end of the day.
Walking staff(s) Optional. This can be as simple as a stick, or as fancy as a pair of specialized telescoping metal poles. Helps support your knees, and helps keep your balance on narrow trails and while crossing streams.

Carrying Stuff
Internal or External frame backpack Essential. Must have a hip belt, and must fit so as to rest all of the weight of the pack on your hips, not your shoulders. A sternum strap helps with comfort.

Keeping Dry
Rain jacket Essential. A waterproof, breathable jacket made with Gore-tex or similar material. It should have a hood; if not, then a separate rain hat should be carried.
Rain pants Optional. Waterproof and breathable is good; you can get away with plain nylon, or even rain chaps (if you have a long-ish rain jacket).
Rain cover for backpack This can be as simple as a garbage bag, or as elaborate as a specially designed waterproof nylon cover.
Waterproof bags for pack contents Essential. Even with a rain cover on your backpack, water can get in. It's important to pack your clothes and sleeping bag in some kind of waterproof bag within the backpack. Plastic garbage bags and big ziploc bags are fine for this. Alternatively, special waterproof nylon sacks for this purpose are now being sold at camping stores.

Fleece jacket and/or wool sweater Essential. Synthetic fleece is warm and dries fast. Wool is the next best thing. Two of these (or one, plus one insulated jacket) will be needed for most fall and spring hikes.
Fleece pants Optional. Bulky, but great for staying warm in camp on mornings or evenings.
Hiking pants Essential. Lightweight, synthetic pants. Dries fast. No cotton. Since jeans are made of cotton, no jeans.
Long underwear top Essential. Polypropylene or other synthetic is best. No cotton!
Shirt(s) Optional. Some people skip this and use their long underwear top as a shirt. Whatever you bring, it should not be cotton.
Long underwear bottom Essential. Helps in camp at the end of a cold day, and also to keep warm on really cold days, and sleep in on really cold nights. No cotton!
Underwear A synthetic, wicking type material, like polypropylene or COOLMAX, is best. Brands to look for include Under Armour, Duofold, REI, ExOfficio, Patagonia and Wickers.
Wicking t-shirts Optional. Nice on a warm day. Dries quickly, minimizing chilling.
Wool or fleece hat Essential. A good hat is one of the keys to warmth and comfort. You should be able to pull your hat down over your ears. There are dozens of variations of this type of hat. A hat with a windproof, waterproof nylon or Gore-tex shell is even more versatile.
Gloves or mittens Essential. Wool or synthetic. A Gore-tex or nylon shell is important for snowy environments.
Sun hat Optional. Used on warm days to keep the sun off your face, ears and neck. Can be a baseball cap, or a hat with an all-around wide brim.

Two 1-liter canteens Essential. You will need to carry 2 liters of water on any strenuous hike, and 3 liters when hiking in hot weather. Two separate canteens means that you are not entirely without water should one canteen develop a leak.
Water Essential. You will need to start the hike with fresh water. We do not stop en route to fill canteens — this is done once we get to camp at the end of the hiking day. You must fill your canteens at home before arriving for the drive up to the trail.

Eating utensils, bowl, mug Essential. These can be commercial products designed for camping, or (strong) plastic intended for household use. The nested mess kits that are sold in camping stores are overkill. The metal plates and cups in most of these drain a lot of heat from the food in cold weather; plastic is better. Wide, shallow, plastic Chinese food containers with lids make decent bowls/plates, as long as they're not used as a cutting surface. Add a sturdy plastic mug and spoon, and you're all set. Less is definitely more in this case — less to wash, and less to carry. Minimalist backpackers bring just a bowl and a spoon.
Biodegradable soap and pot scrubber For cleaning your utensils after meals. The pot scrubber is optional; usually a finger or tongue can be used. This soap can be the same soap that you carry for hand washing (see Bathroom, below).
Bag lunch Essential. For the first day on the trail.
Trail Food Essential. High energy snacks to eat on the trail. You can also bring food to supplement the meals that your patrol cooks.
Bear bag and 50 feet of light rope Essential. This is a stuff sack or plastic bag into which all of your food and garbage is put at the end of the day and hung from a tree, to keep it out of reach of bears and other critters. Food and garbage must never be stored in your tent.
Garbage bag or container Essential. "Leave no trace" is the motto of any backcountry camper. We take this seriously in Troop 11. No trash is left in the camp site. Bring a sturdy plastic garbage bag to bring it home in.

Mummy sleeping bag and waterproof stuff sack Essential. A bag rated at 20-25 degrees or lower will keep you comfortable in the spring or fall. Warmer bags (0 to 15 degrees) are necessary when camping in Winter. Synthetic bags keep more of their warmth when damp; goose down is lighter, but has no insulating qualities when wet. No cotton bags, and no rectangular bags.
Sleeping pad Essential. Sleeping pads are placed between the sleeping bag and the tent floor to insulate the bag from the ground. Popular pads are made either of simple closed-cell foam (RidgeRest or Z-Lite) or of open-cell foam in a self-inflating bladder (Thermarest or similar).
Pillow Optional. A small, compressible synthetic pillow can make sleeping more comfortable.

Toilet paper Essential. The outhouses that we encounter on our trips often do not supply toilet paper. Bring a partial, flattened roll in a ziploc bag.
Liquid soap Essential. For washing hands and face, and dishes. Liquid soap is neater than bar soap. Dr. Bronner's is a good brand. Carry it in a small, strong squeeze bottle, and put the bottle in a small ziploc bag to prevent spills.
Hand towel A small "pack-towel" made of quick-drying viscose cloth works well for the light-duty drying that is usually done in camp.
Toothbrush and toothpaste

Staying Healthy
Personal medications Allergy medicines, inhalators, aspirin.
Band-aids, moleskin, blister bandages, antiseptic wipes For minor cuts, scrapes and blisters. The troop carries a full first aid kit for more serious cases.
Hand sanitizer With no running water, it is important to keep your hands clean, especially after going to the bathroom.
Sunscreen and chap stick (SPF 15+) Most of the time when we hike, there are no leaves on the trees. This results in more sun exposure than you would expect. Wind and cold also take a toll on lips.
Insect Repellent Necessary from late spring until early fall. Carry in a small ziploc bag to prevent spills.

Relaxing after the Hike
Extra shoes and socks Optional. Keep these in the car and change into them at the end of the hike. Can make the trip home much more comfortable.
Complete change of clothes Optional. Again, keep in the car. If you're cold and wet, you'll appreciate this.

Compass Along with a map, essential.
Pocket knife Essential, but can't be carried without having first earned a Boy Scout "Totin' Chip" card. Even handier than a plain knife is one of those little multi-tools (e.g. a Leatherman).
Firestarter or waterproof matches Essential.
Flashlight with extra batteries Essential. LED head lights leave hands free and are very bright.
Something to sit on This can be a square of closed-cell foam, a small Thermarest seat cushion, a collapsible stool, etc. As long as it keeps your tush warm and dry and reasonably comfortable. Optional.
Sunglasses As appropriate to the season. Optional.
Stuff Sacks Optional. Can help organize gear, and double as a bear bag.
Assorted ziploc and garbage bags For packing clothes, keeping things dry, holding food, etc.
25-50 feet of light rope This is in addition to the rope for hanging the bear bag. Good for stringing tarps, hanging clothes to dry, or reinforcing tents.
Books, games, deck of cards It gets dark early, and we retire to the tents at around 8pm. It's good to have something to do until you get sleepy.
Whistle Useful in attracting attention if you find yourself lost or separated from the group.

Other good backpacking lists and guidelines:

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