It’s not the end of the world if you go on vacation and accidentally leave your toothbrush behind. But when you’re out in the backcountry, forgetting a packing list item can be disastrous — even life-threatening. So why take the risk?
Don’t get us wrong, we love a good day hike just as much as anyone. But if you venture just a little further, you’ll be rewarded with breathtaking landscapes and solitude. Multi-day treks are also a proven way to escape routine and hit the reset button.
Every adventure is different and when it comes to packing, there’s certainly more than one way to get the job done. Whether you’re preparing for your first ever multi-day trek or simply need a refresher, here are some trek packing tips to consider before you hit the dusty trail.
1. Choose a backpack that fits
When we think about packing, we often focus on all the clothing and objects we need to squeeze into a bag and forget about the bag itself. On a multi-day endeavour, you can expect to wear your fully-loaded pack for hours on end.
A sturdy pack with well-padded straps and waist-support is so much better when it’s the right size for your body.
Once you find a comfortable fit, consider features like water bladder compatibility, weight, organization, pockets, and built-in rain cover. Remember that bigger isn’t always better, especially if you have a tendency to fill empty space.
2. “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing”
The Norwegian expression definitely applies to trekking. We can’t overemphasize the importance of investing in gear that keeps you and your essentials dry. There’s plenty of great gear out there that won’t cost an arm and a leg (you’ll need those to trek). Sometimes, a simple poncho gets the job done. Savvy thrifters might consider second-hand gear from brands that offer lifetime repairs like Patagonia, Osprey, or MEC.
Consider the way your clothes layer together too. And whatever you do, ditch the cotton and opt for quick-drying materials that wick away sweat. You may not go as hardcore as alternating between the same two t-shirts for ten days — but rest assured that no one out there will judge you for it.
Having designated sleeping clothes and socks to change into is another “luxury” to consider. Keep these dry with hand rolling space saver bags!
3. Treat your feet
Invest in comfortable hiking boots and break them in on similar terrain (walking from your bedroom to the kitchen doesn’t count). Consider mid- or high-support options if you plan to traverse steep, rocky trails or need extra support. Depending on the terrain, sturdy approach shoes or trail running shoes may even beat traditional boots, especially when paired with trekking poles to bear some of the weight.
Also consider taking a pair of waterproof trekking sandals with you. It is such a wonderful feeling to reunite with dry footwear after a successful river crossing. They can also be the light at the end of the tunnel on the more gruelling days.
4. Hydrate self-sufficiently
Guided treks may provide you with clean, boiled water but in any case, it is essential to be self-reliant for water in case of emergencies. Always have a reusable bottle, filtration system, and water purification tablets with you. If you’re tight on space, consider LifeStraws, SteriPENs or filtration hand pumps designed for trail runners.
5. Make a list and check it twice
There are many packing checklists available online to use as a starting point. Keep in mind that you may need to fine-tune them to suit you and your particular trip. Prioritize safety, shelter and food-related gear. And while chocolate may not appear on most checklists, know that we believe trail snacks are essential for morale.
6. Pack with a pal
Share gear with your trekking partner(s) to lighten the collective load. Sharing bulky items like tents and cooking gear makes a noticeable difference.
We also recommend laying everything out before loading your bag. It’s a great way to see if things are in excess or missing (or snap a great #flatlay for Instagram). It’s also the perfect time to check that everything works, especially new purchases.
You may also want to strip unnecessary packaging by storing several unwrapped granola bars in one sandwich bag or pre-mixing oats with dried fruit. When it comes to packing out waste, look for something sturdy and re-sealable.
7. Load your pack strategically
Organizing the gear in your pack brings about more advantages than simply cramming more in. While your precise strategy will depend on your pack’s design, keeping heavier items on the bottom and ensuring both sides are evenly balanced generally helps with mobility on the trail.
Load the bottom of your back with the items you won’t need until you reach camp (ie. sleeping bag and mat). Pack the middle section with cookware, food, clothing, etc., placing heavier items at the bottom. Store fuel canisters inside pots and beneath food in case of spills. Reserve the top of your back and outer pockets for things you might need to access during the hike. Remember, digging around for your headlamp in the dark, or for your rain jacket mid-downpour, is best when entirely avoided.
For high-altitudes and mountaineering…
We’ve written these tips with multi-day hiking in mind. If you’re kicking your adventure up a notch with high-altitudes trails, rock climbing, or mountaineering, ensure you’re properly equipped. If you’re heading into high-altitude for the first time, learn about altitude sickness and dedicate a day or two to acclimatization. There are also over-the-counter drugs like Diamox that assist with minor altitude sickness symptoms, but it’s best to consult a doctor first.
For independent trekking…
Many trekking destinations have established guiding companies that expertly take over the logistics of planning a trek. In addition to expert navigation, local guides and porters can handle your itinerary, transportation, food, water, and shelter.
That said, the rewards to self-sufficiency are hard to beat. It goes without saying that independent trekkers must assume full responsibility for navigation, hydration, food, and safety. Be sure to leave word about your planned route and return date. Remember that teahouses and guesthouses can offer accommodation and a taste of the local culture but many only operate seasonally. As you research and plan, factor in what may or may not be available at your destination country (finding dehydrated meal packs is not always guaranteed!) and look into permit requirements in advance.
Wherever the trail takes you, be confident about what you pack and stay safe out there!