Packing for backpacking is one of the toughest things to do.
You can’t just throw anything in the bag with the “maybe I’ll wear that shirt” attitude like you do for most other trips. It really is 100% about the essentials, and whatever you pack, you’ve gotta pack with a purpose.
Last Thursday I took off for Banff National Park to spend 4 days trekking, camping, and snowboarding. If you’re on the Explore Inspired newsletter, you knew that! And as promised, (for all the gear junkies out there like me!), I am going to break down my packing list to fill you in on every piece of equipment that came along for the adventure.
The cover photo above shows most all the hard goods, but then there’s the packs, the clothing, and the little things that didn’t make it into that shot. Let’s dive in!
The first thing to think about when starting to pack, is what type of adventure you’re going to have. What is the objective of your backpacking trip and what activities will you need to prep for? Are you going skiing? Ice climbing? Camping? Surfing? Starting with what you’ll be doing typically gives you a good idea of what type of climates to pack for and what gear you need to bring. Pulling the gear first is the easy part. It will also take up the most space so you’ll want to organize all that and then pack the clothes around it.
For my trip to Banff, the reason for going was primarily snowboarding. Ryan and I had bought the Mountain Collective pass for this season which, for about $400 gets you 24 days at 12 different epic destinations! Two at each mountain. It’s a great deal if you’re willing to travel and we made it a point to do just that for this ski season. So, Banff/Lake Louise was on the list, and we had two days to use!
But Ryan and I also decided we wouldn’t just be sticking to the resorts. We would extend the trip beyond those two days to explore the park a little more. And we also made the choice of not booking a hotel. We would rent a car after flying into Calgary, make the drive into the park, and from there, just find a place to camp each night.
It’s always a little nerve-wrecking going in with this kind of uncertain plan, especially after reading the reports that a couple of Banff’s grizzlies had already woken up! But it’s always a lot of fun to figure it out and have that type of “see what happens and where we end up” adventure too. So, with that in mind, I started pulling out the stuff!
- Burton Sherlock (great hybrid board for in-bounds resort riding)
- Burton Imperial Snowboard Boots (super stiff and responsive that makes for less calf soreness on hard charging lines and hiking)
- RED Snowboard Helmet (never, ever, ride without a helmet. Ryan may have died on the last trip had he not had one)
- Julbo Orbiter Goggles (polychromatic CAT2-4 lenses mean one goggle for most all light conditions)
- Jones Solution Splitboard (a beautiful board, and a beautiful ride)
- Karakoram Straightline Prime Splitboard Bindings (just great bindings)
- Jones Splitboard Climbing Skins (100% mohair fiber for gliding uphill, not down)
- BCA Tracker 2 Avalanche Beacon (you don’t want to have to use this, but you need to have it)
- BCA A-2 EXT Avalanche Shovel with Saw (even without an avalanche, it’s always handy to have a shovel and saw)
- BCA Stealth 270 Avalanche Probe (again, don’t want to use it, have to have it)
- Black Diamond Raven Ultra Ice Axe (your lifeline in the alpine)
- Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Trekking Poles (super light, durable, packable poles)
- Hilleberg Saivo Expedition Tent (bomb-proof 4-season tent)
- Marmot Col Membrain -20 Degree Sleeping Bag (comfy and warm 800-fill goose down…but if you’re on a budget, here’s a good guide)
- Thermarest Z Lite SOL Sleeping Pad (your first line of defense against the cold ground)
- Exped Downmat Winterlite Inflatable Sleeping Pad (this puts a layer of air and down feathers between you and the Z Lite pad)
- Forty Below 1 Liter Bottle Boot (for making sure your water stays liquid at -11°F)
- 1 Liter Nalgene Wide-Mouth (the standard)
- Klean Kanteen Insulated 20 oz (a favorite of mine for both hot and cold drinks)
- Goal Zero Venture 30 and Solar Kit (for charging phones and cameras)
- Olympus TG-Tough Series Camera (amazingly durable point and shoot)
- 2x GoPro Hero 4 Silver w/Assorted Mounts (always necessary)
- Joby GorillaPod Action Video Tripod (super flexible mount for both GoPro & point and shoot)
- Princeton Tec Apex Headlamp (for seeing in the dark and making shadow puppets)
Clothing (I always pack toe to head…)
- Keen Durand Mid WP Boots (I’ve got the Keen Oregon PCT’s, but it looks like these are the new model)
- 2 Pair Keen Targhee Medium Crew Socks (wear 1 on the flight out and save a freshie for the flight home)
- 1 Pair Under Armor Outdoor Mountain High Range OTC Socks (for the other 4 days…yeah)
- 2 Pairs Compression Briefs (wear one out, and wear that every day, then a fresh pair to go home in…double yeah)
- Marmot Base Layer Bottom (riding, hiking, sleeping, whatever, this doesn’t come off until you’re leaving)
- Marmot Base Layer Crew LS (same goes for this one. Make sure you base is your best)
- Patagonia Super Alpine Bibs (love these for everything in cold mountains!)
- 2 T-Shirts (wear one heading out, have a clean one for going home)
- Eddie Bauer Cloud-Layer Pro Full-Zip Fleece (light, comfortable, warm, and cheap)
- Black Diamond Alpine Start Hoody (a great weatherproof light layer to todd over a fleece when hiking)
- Black Diamond Front Point Shell (your everything-proof winter shell)
- Black Diamond Cold Forge Down Jacket (because you absolutely need a down puffy on these winter expeditions)
- Outdoor Research PL Base Sensor Glove (glove layer 1 is on almost all the time)
- Outdoor Research Alti Gore-Tex Glove (glove layer 2 for snowboarding and super cold)
- Patagonia Capilene Thermal Weight Balaclava (my favorite balaclava for riding, but also sleeping in the cold)
- Patagonia Powder Town Beanie (it’s just a rad beanie)
- Oh and bathing suit! (for Banff Hot Springs)
Of course when you put it all in a bulleted list, this looks like a ton of stuff! In fact, I’m even surprised looking at how long this list is. But I assure you the gear packs down smaller than the words let on. In fact, everything I listed here fit in just 3 bags.
- Dakine Low Roller Snowboard Bag (fit all the snowboarding and backcountry gear)
- Patagonia Black Hole 90L Duffle Bag (fit all the camping gear and misc. gear)
- Patagonia Ascensionist 35L Pack (fit the clothing, a water bottle, snacks, and a book – this was my carry on)
The biggest lesson in packing for backpacking is to pack with purpose.
It’s learning to look ahead at five days of wet, sweaty, hot, cold, and stinky adventure, and bring just 2 pairs of boxer briefs. And being okay with that! The people you sit next to on the plane won’t love you, but you’ll be smiling the whole way home thinking back on your crazy trip and awaiting with excitement, the shower at the end of the road.
If you read all the notes next to each piece of gear, you know everything that went in the bags had a reason for being there. And I used literally everything! From snowboarding, to splitboarding, to hiking, to camping, even to digging and sleeping in a snow cave, this was everything I needed to have the adventure we were hoping for!
This picture below was taken while skinning back from Moraine Lake. It was a 14-mile round trip excursion to spend a night camping in -11°F, next to the famous frozen lake below these epic peaks. When you’ve got the right gear, you can get way out there, survive the frigid nights, be the only people for miles in any direction, and get pictures like this…
Everything had a purpose, and everything contributed to the success of this adventure, and me coming home, maybe smelly, but with all my fingers, toes, and a couple memory cards full of incredible photos and videos!
- Plan your trip activities. What will you be doing? (skiing, backpacking, climbing, etc.)
- Start with the gear. Put aside only the necessary equipment you need to partake in your activities. Get comfortable with the term “ruthless exclusion.”
- Bring the bare minimum clothing layers you would need for your activity, and be okay with wearing just that. Obviously, if you’re going on a scuba diving excursion, you’re not going to be walking around in a just a wetsuit for a couple days, but chances are you’re not going to be backpacking around with a couple oxygen tanks either! So that’s a different story. Generally, with hiking and typical outdoor pursuits, we can get by wearing the same stuff we wear when we’re active.
- Pack a fresh outfit for the way home! You won’t be able to do much about the boot stink when you take those off to go through TSA, but everyone will thank you for keeping the used adventure wear in the checked bags. Expect the TSA agent that inevitably has to open and search a bag with an ice axe inside…
Regarding all my stuff here, it’s taken me a long time to amass this extensive a gear collection. If you’re building your own gear and goods quiver in pursuit of outdoor awesomeness, I totally vouch for all of this stuff! Everything I’ve listed here has proven itself time and time again in the most extreme of conditions to keep me warm, alive, and having fun. And it continues to hold strong season after season. This isn’t just my stuff. This is what I’ve learned from experience, is my favorite and best stuff!
Shoot me a message if you have any specific gear related questions, but if you need a quick recommendation, just look to this list. Good luck and happy packing!
Join 2,000+ subscribers
Get Inspired Every Friday.