What Hikers Carry In Backpacks | Hikers University

Exploring the backpacking world? Hiking gear is one of the most critical aspects of making your experience worthwhile. So, what do hikers carry in backpacks?

Do you know what hikers carry in their backpacks? Believe it or not, a lot of thought goes into what gear to take on a hike. Depending on the length and difficulty of the hike, hikers might bring along different items.

Hikers carry many items according to their hiking trip. These include first-aid essentials, navigation tools, water, food & nutrition, cookset and eating utensils, fire-starting supplies, tent, sleeping bag, blanket, toothbrush and toothpaste, soap, bear spray, sunscreen, binoculars, and much more.

While some items are basic for any backpacking trip, including first-aid supplies, navigation tools, shelter, food, water, etc., the quantity and nature of items can change according to the type and duration of the hike. In short, you should assess your needs well before packing your backpack and storing only the essential items.

As hiking enthusiasts, we know all about the items to carry in a backpack with our extensive experience. Therefore, we put together this guide to help people wondering what to pack in their backpacks for their initial hikes.

Table of contents


What Do Hikers Carry in Their Backpacks?

Below, we look at the various items hikers can carry in their backpacks.

First-Aid Essentials

Any experienced hiker will tell you that it's always a good idea to carry first-aid items when you hit the trail. After all, you never know when you might need it. But why exactly do hikers need first-aid, and what do they contain?

First and foremost, an emergency kit is essential for dealing with minor injuries, such as cuts and scrapes. By having basic first-aid tools on hand, you can clean and dress wounds quickly and efficiently, helping to prevent infection. Additionally, a kit can be used to treat more serious injuries, such as broken bones or snake bites. In an emergency, a well-stocked emergency kit can really be the only thing saving you from serious illness or death.

So what should you include in your first-aid bag? At a minimum, you should have bandages, gauze, tape, scissors, tweezers, and pain relievers. Additionally, it's a good idea to include items like antihistamines (for insect stings), burn cream (for minor burns), and hydrocortisone cream (for poison ivy). And, of course, don't forget to pack any prescription medications.

Navigation Tools

Hikers carry navigation tools for a variety of reasons. Perhaps the most important reason is safety. After all, even the most well-marked trails can be easy to lose track of if you wander off the path. Compass and map are two tried-and-true methods for keeping your bearings in the wilderness.

Compass uses the Earth's magnetic field to point you in the right direction, while a map can help you get a lay of the land and find your way back to the trail. A GPS device can also be helpful, as it can show the hiker's current location.

Another reason hikers might carry navigation tools is to help them plan their routes. A map can show the different trails in an area, and a compass can help a hiker determine which direction they need to go to reach their destination.

Smartphones can also be used as a navigation tool, as there are many apps available that provide mapping and compass functions. However, it is important to remember that smartphones can run out of battery power, so carrying a backup map and compass is always a good idea.


Most people know that staying hydrated is important, especially when engaging in physical activity. But why is it so crucial for hikers to carry a water bottle or hydration pack? For one thing, hiking can be strenuous exercise, and even short hikes can take a lot out of a person. It's also important to drink water regularly to avoid becoming dehydrated, leading to fatigue, cramps, and other problems.

Carrying a water bottle or reservoir is the best way to ensure you have enough fluids on your hike. You should also drink before you feel thirsty, as thirst is a sign that you are already dehydrated. Depending on the length of your hike and the weather conditions, you may need to bring 1-2 liters of water per person. This may seem like a lot, but staying hydrated is essential, especially when hiking in warm weather.

In addition, carrying water also allows hikers to have an emergency reserve if they get lost or stranded. However, only so much water hikers can carry in their backpacks to avoid overloading. Fortunately, you can find easily accessible tools to fulfill your hydration tools on a hike. These include:

Water Bottles

When choosing a water bottle for hiking, there are a few things to keep in mind. First, you'll want something lightweight and easy to carry. A reusable water bottle is a great option, as you can easily refill it at sources along the trail.

Second, you'll want to choose a bottle made from durable materials. After all, you don't want your water bottle to leak or break when you're out on the trail.


Finally, you'll want to make sure that your bottle is insulated. This will help to keep your water cool, even on hot days. There are many different types of water bottles available on the market, so take your time to find one that fits your needs.

Water Filter

What if you're in an area where the water isn't safe to drink? That's where water filters come in handy. Water filters can remove harmful contaminants from water, making it safe to drink. There are various types of water filters, so it's important to choose one that best suits your needs. For example, if you're hiking in an area with high-tech filtration systems, a simple filter may be sufficient. However, if you're hiking in an area with limited resources, a more sophisticated filter may be necessary.

Hydration Packs

Hydration packs are a popular choice for hikers, and it's easy to see why. They allow you to carry a lot of water without taking up a lot of space, and they have a hands-free design that leaves you free to hike without having to stop and drink. In addition, hydration packs are usually relatively lightweight, making them easy to carry on long hikes.

However, there are a few things to consider when choosing a hydration pack. First, make sure that the pack fits comfortably and doesn't impede your movement. Second, choose a pack with a good warranty in case of any defects. And finally, be sure to test the pack before taking it on a long hike to ensure that it doesn't leak.

Food & Nutrition

No one wants to bonk on a hike. "Bonking" is the colloquial term for hitting the wall, or running out of energy. It's often caused by incorrect nutrition, and it can ruin an otherwise great day on the trails. Since hikers burn many calories while walking, it's important to replenish those calories with nutritious food. Otherwise, the body will start to break down muscles for energy, which leads to fatigue and weakness. In addition to carrying enough food to meet the body's energy needs, hikers also need to pay attention to the types of food they're eating.

Complex carbohydrates, like pasta and rice, provide sustained energy, while simple sugars, like candy and soda, give a quick boost but can lead to a crash later on. To ensure that they have enough energy to enjoy the entire hike, hikers need to pack complex carbohydrates and simple sugars.

Cookset and Eating Utensils

There's nothing like a hot meal to refuel your body and give you the energy you need to keep going when you're out on the trail. That's why many hikers choose to carry a cook set and eating utensils in their backpacks.

While you can always eat cold food, having a way to heat your meals can make a big difference in taste and nutrition. Plus, it's simply more comfortable to eat hot food when you're camping out in the cold. Whether you're cooking over a campfire or using a portable stove, having a cook set will allow you to enjoy hot meals while you're hiking.

Moreover, there is only so much food you can carry in your backpack. If you are going on a multi-day hike, you will need canned food and utensils.

Fire Starting Supplies

Hikers carry fire-starting supplies for two main reasons: to keep warm and signal for help. Building a fire can provide much-needed warmth in cold weather, and it can also be used to dry out wet clothing. A fire can also be used as a signal; the smoke can be seen from a long distance, and it's a good way to attract attention if you're lost or injured.

In addition, a fire can be used to deter animals; many animals are afraid of fire, so having a fire going will help keep them away. Finally, fires are just plain fun; they're a great way to relax after a long day on the trail. So next time you're packing for a hike, make sure to include some fire-starting supplies.

When it comes to fire-starting supplies, there are a few things that you'll need to have on hand. First, you'll need some tinder. This can be anything from dry leaves and twigs to scrap paper. Once you have your tinder, you'll need something to ignite it with. Matches are always a good option, but you could just as well use a lighter or a piece of flint and steel. Lastly, you'll need some kindling. This is small wood that will help the fire to grow. Starting a fire will be a breeze once you have all of these things!

You can gather separate fire-starting supplies or get this fire-starting kit that we find convenient to use and store.


When you’re out on the trail, a tent is more than just a place to sleep. It’s your home away from home, a shelter from the elements, and a place to store your gear. While it’s possible to hike without a tent, carrying one offers several advantages.

First and foremost, a tent protects you from the weather. If you get caught in a thunderstorm or blizzard, a tent can mean the difference between staying dry and being soaked or frozen. A tent also offers protection from insects and other pests. If you need to take a break during the day, a tent can provide a shady spot to rest or escape the sun. Finally, a tent can give you some privacy on the trail.

When you’re sharing a campsite with other hikers, having your own space can make all the difference in getting a good night’s sleep. So next time you hit the trail, be sure to bring along a trusty tent.

Sleeping Bag

Even though tents provide you shelter to spend the night and store your gear, hikers carry sleeping bags for a few different reasons.

For one, sleeping bags provide warmth and insulation from the cold ground. They can also be used as extra padding under a backpack or a makeshift pillow. In addition, sleeping bags can be unzipped and used as a blanket. This can be helpful if the temperature drops unexpectedly or if you want to have an extra layer between your tent mate and yourself. Sleeping bags are also relatively light and compact, making them easy to carry on long hikes. These factors make sleeping bags an essential piece of gear for any hiker.


When you're out on a hike, it's important to be prepared for anything. The weather can change quickly, and if find yourself caught in a storm, you'll be glad you have a blanket. When the sleeping bag fails to keep you warm due to extreme conditions, blankets can help you stay warm, dry, and protected from the elements. They can also be used as emergency shelters or sleeping bags in a pinch. In addition, blankets can provide extra padding when camping on hard ground. So, whether you're facing cold temperatures or rough terrain, carrying a blanket is always a good idea.

Toothbrush and Toothpaste

When you're out on the trail, it's important to keep your teeth clean - not just for aesthetic reasons but also for your health. Bacteria can build up in your mouth, leading to gingivitis and other oral health problems.

Moreover, if you don't brush your teeth regularly, you're more likely to get cavities. That's why most experienced hikers always carry a toothbrush and toothpaste with them when they hit the trail.

Granted, it's not the most glamorous part of hiking, but it's worth it to keep your pearly whites shining.

Soap/Hand Sanitizer

Hikers carry soap and hand sanitizer for two main reasons: to clean their hands and avoid getting sick. Soap is effective at removing dirt, grime, and bacteria from hands, and it can also help prevent the spread of illnesses. Hand sanitizer is also useful for killing germs, but it's especially helpful when soap and water are unavailable.

In addition, hikers often encounter situations where they need to clean their hands but don't have time to stop and wash them thoroughly. A quick squirt of hand sanitizer can be a lifesaver. So, whether you're trying to avoid getting sick or just want to keep your hands clean, carrying soap and hand sanitizer on your next hike is a good idea.

Spare Clothing and Layering

Hikers always carry spare clothing because the temperature can change unexpectedly and layering clothing provides more warmth than one thick layer. Wearing different layers allows hikers to regulate their body temperature more efficiently since they can take off or put on layers as needed.

For example, a hiker might start with a base layer of light cotton shirts, followed by a middle layer of wool socks and a sweater, and topped with a waterproof outer layer. This type of layering is effective because the different materials trap heat in different ways. The cotton wicks away sweat, the wool insulates, and the outer layer protects against wind and rain.

Hikers can be prepared for any temperature changes and protect themselves from the elements by carrying spare clothing and wearing layers.

Other tools hikers usually carry include:

  • Repair Kit & Tools
  • Sunscreen
  • Sunglasses
  • Light/Torch
  • Waste Bag
  • Mobile Phone
  • Emergency Communication Device
  • Trekking Poles
  • Portable Battery Pack
  • Pack Cover or Pack Liner
  • Electrolytes
  • Gaiters
  • Camera
  • Bear Spray
  • Binoculars
  • Quick Dry Towel
  • Tampons (If required)

The items hikers carry in their backpacks depend heavily on the type of hike they are going on. The duration, number of days, and difficulty level are the main factors in deciding on the items and their quantities in the backpack.


Peter Brooks

Peter Brooks

I’m a hiker, backpacker, and general outdoor enthusiast. I started hiking out of college while working for the National Forest Service, and have been hiking ever since. I’ve been solo hiking and leading hiking groups for two decades and have completed hundreds of small hikes and some majorones such as the Appalachian Train and the Pacific Crest Trail, and hiked on four continents. I’d love to share some of my insight with you.

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