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September 5th, 2013

Your Ultimate Camping Packing List: Mountain Camping

Your Ultimate Camping Packing List: Mountain Camping

If you don't bring the right stuff on your mountain camping trip, you may end up with backaches, blisters, or frostbite. Before you head out, use this checklist to make sure you have all of essentials.

The first time I went backpacking in the mountains of Yosemite with my dad, I didn’t know what it meant to be fully prepared. Sure, I had all the major stuff (tent, backpack, sleeping bag, camp stove, and pots), but I had yet to master the finer details. Since then, I’ve learned a few key lessons. I’d like to share them with you—along with a detailed packing guide—so you won’t make the same mistakes that I did.

1. Don’t Forget About Your Feet

My first no-no was that I lacked the proper footwear. For five days, over thousands of feet of rugged, hilly trails with a 40-pound pack , I trekked in lightweight, low-cut boots that offered little support or comfort. Sore feet were a constant reality and blisters were inevitable. If you are traveling for several days with a pack over 40 lbs/ 18kg, choose a pair of heavy duty, high-cut boots that can handle rocky terrain—and high performance hiking socks (like this pair from Smartwool) that will keep your feet cool and dry, and help you avoid blisters.

2. Remember That the Temperature Can Change—Drastically

On that trip, I also learned about mountain weather. Precipitation wasn’t a concern on the peaks, but the radical fluctuation in temperature caught me off guard. Hot days turned to 20-degree nights once the sun sank below the jagged horizon. My clothes were barely sufficient at keeping me warm in the evenings when we camped above the permitted “fire line,” and I hadn’t brought a sleeping pad to insulate me from the frigid rock that I had to sleep on (thankfully, I was able to rent one). So make sure you bring layers of warm clothes and a sleeping pad.

3. Adjust Your Pack

I had a great backpack, but never learned how to wear it properly and comfortably. Be certain to get the right fit (so it’s not too tight or too loose) and walk around with the pack on before you leave for your trip. Otherwise, you may get backaches, blood blisters on your shoulders, or bruised hips. There are several resources online to help you fit your pack correctly, including our own guide to Getting the Perfect Fit.

4. Organize your Pack with Packing Organizers

It's not enough to bring along all the ultralight gear you can find if you can't pack it right. Your stuff needs to be well organized both for even weight distribution and accessibility. Compartmentalize with ultralight stuff sacks like the Pack-It Specter Compression Cube Set to achieve both and prevent hassles. The overall point is that you can better appreciate the beautiful simplicity of nature when you’re not freezing or tending to wounds, due to mistakes that you made while packing. It might take you a couple of outings to pack correctly, but after many trips, I’ve created this list of essentials, below.


  • Quick-drying hiking pants
  • Quick-dry athletic underwear (pack one pair, wear the other)
  • Wool socks (one or two spare pairs)
  • Short-sleeve base layer (two)
  • Long-sleeve base layer
  • Down pullover or insulated fleece jacket
  • Rain jacket


  • Above-the-ankle waterproof and breathable hiking boots
  • Camp shoes/sandals (air out feet and let socks dry in camp)


  • Hat
  • Sunglasses
  • Bandana (use as cloth or rag, among other things)
  • Watch (water-resistant)
  • Wool beanie
  • Lightweight insulated gloves
  • Book
  • Contour map and compass
  • Small travel towel

Gear and Extra

  • Multi-day backpack (padded suspension system and hip belt)
  • Trekking poles
  • Lightweight backpacking tent
  • Down sleeping bag (Check weather temperatures before you leave to choose the proper sleeping bag)
  • Compact Inflatable sleeping pad
  • Travel pillow
  • Lightweight pots, food, and backpacking stove
  • Lightweight camp mug and dishes
  • Fuel canister
  • 3-liter water bladder
  • Water filter/iodine tablets
  • Lighter and waterproof matches
  • Small medicine kit (ibuprofen, bandages, gauze, tape, etc.)
  • Knife
  • Headlamp
  • Extra batteries
  • Trowel (to bury waste)
  • Toilet paper
  • Large black trash bag (pack out trash)
  • Bear Canister (many parks now require these)


  • Toothbrush and toothpaste
  • Extra contacts and solution
  • Biodegradable camp soap

Nick Davidson is a freelance journalist, fact-checker, writer adventurer, musician and martial artist. Follow him here: @NickGDavidson

More Resources

Best Campsites and Campgrounds in America 
America’s Best National Parks You May Have Never Heard Of
The Ultimate New Zealand Packing List

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