What Do Hikers Carry In Their Backpacks?

I’ve hiked hundreds of miles, from weeks along the Appalachian Trail to easy nature trails with my kids. Whether I’m out for days or out for an hour, my pack is my survival kit, my kitchen, and my closet on the trail. Over time, the contents have evolved to make up what I need for a great day on the trail. Here’s what’s in my pack!

First Aid Kit

I have compiled my own first aid pack in a small stuff sack. It contains the standard bandages, sterile pads, antiseptic, gauze, medication, tape, etc. Here’s what I’ve added to my pack’s first aid kit:

  • Swiss Army Knife - The multi-tool capabilities of a class Swiss Army Knife gives me access to scissors, tweezers, as well as knives for first aid.
  • Feminine hygiene products - Maxi pads double as a bandage for wounds and tampons for bloody noses.
  • Small sunscreen stick - Exposed summits might call for a fresh coat of sun protection.
  • Small bug spray
  • Superglue
  • Lighter & matches
  • Emergency blanket/shelter
  • Small hand sanitizer
  • Baby wipes - Great for cleaning muddy legs and hands.
  • Golf pencil wrapped in duct tape - A pencil is useful in many emergency situations. Wrap 10 or more layers of duct tape around it for blisters or to repair broken gear.
  • Headlamp & extra batteries
  • Extra plastic baggies - For storage or carrying out trash.


  • Map & Compass - I ALWAYS bring a physical trail map. Don’t only rely on digital maps on your phone. Not all digital trail maps are accurate and dead batteries can leave you lost in the wilderness. Bring a compass in case you get lost and learn how to use it.


  • Extra layers - I always have an extra warm layer in my pack in case I get cold or wet. I also pack a protective rain jacket that can double as a windbreaker, in addition to a warm hat and gloves for colder hikes or ones that include a large increase in elevation.
  • Sunglasses & visor/sun hat - Protect against UV radiation.
  • Face covering/mask - I bring a mask/face covering to prevent the spread of COVID-19 when interacting with those outside my household.
  • Extra socks - They can also go over cold hands in a pinch!

Personal Items

  • ID/money - I put my drivers license, a credit card, and $20 cash in a plastic bag and store them either my first aid kit or a zippered compartment of my pack.
  • Phone - I use this as a *possible* emergency communication device but mostly used to take photos. It’s not reliable as a GPS.

Hydration & Food

  • Water - I use a bladder hydration system most of the year but I also always pack a small water bottle in case my pouch pops. In winter, my bladder tube freezes, so I pack water in insulated water bottles. The amount of water I carry varies depending on the length of the hike, but I usually pack at least two liters.
  • Food - Bring easily accessible trail snacks that provide both short and long term energy like nuts, protein bars, trail mix, cheese and crackers, and sandwiches.

Guilty Pleasures

  • Tripod - I love taking photos of my hiking adventures, but since I’m often hiking solo, I bring a small tripod with a remote to take photos with me in the shot.
  • Special treat - For a long day hike, I’ll sometimes bring a candy bar, carbonated beverage, or maybe a thermos of hot chocolate to enjoy on the summit. These items add weight but it’s fun to have a reward after a big climb.
  • Swimsuit - In summer months, I like to hike to areas with waterfalls, swimming holes, and lakes. I’ll pack a swimsuit and backpacking towel to take a dip!

While the contents of my pack vary from season to season (and hike to hike), most of these items are always with me. Always bring the essentials and also check for location-specific items you might need. For example, in my region it’s not necessary to carry bear spray, but for other geographical areas, it could be! Make sure you have what you need to be safe and comfortable. The first principle of Leave No Trace is, “Plan ahead and be prepared”. With the right items in your pack, you are on your way to have a great time outdoors!

Originally from the West Coast, Lindsey Lapointe moved to New England after college and found a permanent home in New Hampshire with her husband, two kids, and her dog. She’s held a lot of titles including marine biologist, wilderness instructor, teacher, writer, and mom. Part of the joy of being a mom is sharing her passion for adventure and the outdoors with her children. She shares more outdoor adventures on her blog, The Freelance Adventurer. Instagram: @freelanceadventurer