Backpacking 101

Ever wondered what you need to bring on 1-5 night backpacking trip in the mountains? Choosing the right gear to bring is a little like the story of Goldie Locks- you don’t want to bring too much or you will be cursing the weight of your pack, and you don’t want to bring too little or you may leave out something essential- like your sleeping bag or water treatment!

That’s why Guides of Jackson Hole has compiled this gear list of essentials – ideal for any-length backpacking trip in the mountains during the Spring, Summer of Fall. Winter camping is another story. We have organized this list into three sections: Personal Gear, Group Gear, and Guide Gear. Personal gear is needed by everyone in your group; group gear can be carried by your guide or split up throughout the group to spread out the weight; and guide gear only needs to be carried by the group leader and includes first-aid, navigation, and other emergency equipment to keep the team safe and sound

With proper preparation and gear selection, backpacking can be fun for the whole family!

Personal Gear

Gear essentials:

  • 35-85 liter backpack with waste strap (depending on length of trip, size of participant, and amount of food carried)
  • Headlamp and one set extra batteries in ziplock
  • Flashlight or lantern with extra batteries in ziplock
  • Sun hat, Sun glasses, Sun screen
  • Warm at least <20F degree sleeping bag. Optional sleep sheet for extra warmth
  • 2 large waterproof stuff sacks, ideally compression sacks like Sea to Summit   – 1 for sleeping bag, 1 for clothes – (if you do not have waterproof stuff sacks, you can line the entire backpack with a contractor trash bag)
  • 1-2 smaller waterproof stuff sacks for valuables/books
  • Inflatable or foam sleeping pad (optional – repair kit or tenacious tape)
  • 1 fork and/or spoon
  • 1 plate or Frisbee, 1 bowl – preferably with lid like Tupperware to save food for later, and 1 insulated cup/mug
  • Capacity for 2-3 litters water (I prefer 1 water bottle and 1 Camelback)
  • Safety Whistle

Clothing essentials:

  • Good waterproof hiking boots with ankle support (broken in)
  • 1 pair sandles or camp shoes, that can also get wet for river crossings or playing the lakes – Chacos, Teevas, Keens, or old tennis shoes work well
  • 3x wool or synthetic blend socks, not cotton (2x for hiking and 1 sacred to be kept in your sleeping bag and never to be worn outside)
  • 2x hiking shirts – synthetic not cotton – preferably at least one long sleeve and baggy to keep sun and bugs at bay
  • 1x hiking pants – synthetic, non cotton
  • 1x swim shorts/hiking shorts – synthetic, non cotton
  • 2x underwear – preferably synthetic/non-chaffing
  • 1x long underwear bottom
  • 1x long underwear top
  • 1x longsleeve base layer shirt
  • 2x warm fleece and/or puffy with hood (at least 2 warm layers, if not 3 for kids)
  • 1x rain jacket shell
  • 1x rain pants (optional but very nice)
  • 1x warm winter hat
  •  1x light but warm gloves with dexterous fingers to do camp chores
  •   Optional – buff or bandana for bugs, sun and cold


  • Any medications – inhalers, medicines, vitamins, etc
  • Toothbrush
  • Toothpaste (can be shared with group)
  • Sunscreen (can be shared)
  • Hand sanitizer (can be shared)
  • Small <3oz of hand soap, Dr. Bronners, for ex. (Shared)
  • Bug spray (shared)
  • Leatherman or multi-tool


  • Trekking poles
  • Camera
  • Good book
  • Journal/sketchbook, pens or pencils
  • Fishing rod, tackle, and Wyoming license (small golden spinner lures with rooster tails work great)
  • Gaiters for boots to keep water and snow out
  • Small pillow
  • Toilet paper, unless you are OK with using sticks and stones!

Group Gear

Camp Gear:

  • Tent with capacity for group size (shared)
  • 2 lighters
  • 1x Stove and Fuel – I prefer the MSR DragonFly Stove liter fuel bottle
  • 1x 1-liter pot
  • 1x 10 inch light Frying pan with lid
  • Camp knife
  • Cutting board (or Frisbee)
  • Large spoon/spatula for stirring
  • Coffee French press or pour over (optional for coffee fiends)
  • 1 group thermos (optional)


  • Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner for each full day in the field
  • Food storage for bear country (I carry a Kevlar bag and 30feet of parachute cord)
  • Snacks you love like chocolate
  • Energy bars (2-3 per person per day)
  • Emergen-C packets/tablets or NUUN or Gatorade – for electrolytes
  • Extra empty gallon ziplock bags
  • 1-2 plastic trashbags

Guide Gear

Wilderness Survival/Medical

  • Bear Spray when in bear country
  • Rain tarp
  • Tent/gear repair kit (tenacious tape, sewing kit, safety pins, extra p-cord)
  • First aid kit with extra mole skin and athletic tape
  • Small shovel to bury human waste
  • Water treatment (we prefer Aquamira)
  • Multi-tool such as a Leatherman Skeletool


  • Topographic map
  • Compass
  • GPS (optional but handy)
  • Local knowledge
  • Backup plan
  • Contact person who knows your plan and timeline

And of course, always bring a positive attitude and a healthy dose of stoke!