Backpacking has always been the quintessential Scout activity, and for many reasons. It is one of the only ways you can get out and see some of the most beautiful places on earth. It also gets the modern Scout away from screens and tech for a while. It is something you can do without a lot of prequalifications and certifications. The ability to backpack and pack your gear also forms the basis for many other activities – horse packing, canyoneering, service missions, travel and more. Learning to pack for a backpacking trip also teaches independence, yet teamwork and sharing at the same time.Along with those skills, it can also teach the ability to be self-reliant. It teaches you the few things you actually need to get along, fewer things than you probably ever thought. 

Choosing a Pack

There are many options for choosing a backpacking pack. You can go the traditional route and use a metal frame pack or you can pick up a more modern, internal-frame version. Both pack types have their pros and cons.

Metal-frame packs have lots of space and pockets. This makes it easy to keep things organized and when you need to grab something quickly, you don’t have to dig through the whole bag. It is also the lighter option. Parents might have one of these hanging in the garage from their own Scouting days. 

The internal-frame pack is a little heavier. In this pack, everything goes inside the pack and there are usually not as many pockets and separate spaces, compared to the metal-frame pack. However, these packs are a bit more streamlined and contained. It might cost you around $100 for one of these, but you can always check with friends and neighbors to see if someone has one to lend.

Most outdoor retailers that sell packs will let you try them on. They can help you decide which type of pack is best for you!

Check out this discussion on buying packs for Scouts.

Packing your Pack

Question: How much should it weigh? Answer: As little as possible! 

Generally, packs should weigh 25 percent of body weight at the most.

Here’s a general packing list from an experienced Scouter. This list plans for about 5 days in a mountainous region. You should always use packing lists as a guideline for remembering the important things, but customize it to fit your needs and the length of your trip.

Basic Gear

  • A Tent – tents can weigh around 3-4 lbs. Try splitting the weight up between multiple people to reduce weight.
  • Map and compass or a GPS and extra batteries 
  • 2 full water bottles
  • Iodine pills, a water pump or a filter – check out this Platypus water purifier pump for a good water purifying system. Even if you have a water pump, its a good idea to bring a few iodine pills just in case. 
  • Rain gear to cover the pack
  • A tarp – some Scouters have found that Tyvek can be a lightweight option to a tarp
  • A piece of rope or propylene
  • Utensils and bowls 
  • 2 or 3 Paper cups – paper cups are more lightweight than tin cups. You can write measurements on the cups so they double as measuring cups.
  • Tinpot and lid – for cooking food
  • Camp stove – split up the pieces of the stove between hikers to lighten the weight
  • Fuel – 4 oz of fuel per person can probably last a week
  • Fire-starter – bring both a small lighter and matches in case one doesn’t work
  • Headlamp – easier to hold and often lighter than flashlights 
  • Garbage sack – to carry out any trash (Remember: Leave no Trace)
  • Bear Bag for hanging food – we recommend following the Pacific Coast Trail method 
  • Bear mace – keep readily available
  • Repair kit – big needle and carpet thread, paracord
  • knife or multitool


  • Toothbrush and toothpaste 
  • A small bar of soap
  • Toilet paper
  • Hand sanitizer – can be used as a fire starter and also saves you from carrying the water and soap you would use to wash your hands
  • A rag/small towel

First Aid 

  • Bug spray – traditional Scouters recommend a few drops of 100% DEET. For more natural  options, try Picaridin or lemon eucalyptus oil
  • Sunscreen
  • Medicine – Prescribedibed medications, painkillers and allergy
  • Bandaids, neosporin
  • Blister control and prevention
  • Emergency blanket


  • 1 Hat
  • Good shoes – Wear shoes you have broken-in and are comfortable, yet sturdy. Feet are critical – take good care of them.
  • Wool socks – at least 3 pairs, or enough so that you always have a dry pair to hike in. 
  • Nylon pants
  • Lightweight top – should be versatile
  • lightweight rain jacket/poncho
  • Clean, lightweight sleeping clothes
  • Undergarments
  • Gloves

Sleeping systems


Pro Tips: You want to bring food that gives you about 125 calories per oz. Calorie-dense food will keep you filled and high in energy. At high altitudes and after physical exertion, altitude sickness may cause you to lose your appetite – you may have to force yourself to eat in order to maintain proper energy and nutrition levels. Meals should be big, quick, tasty and have minimal clean-up – this means no cooking, just boiled water. Meals should be of the “instant variety.” Always bring an extra day’s worth of food. 


  • Individually packed, freeze-dried dinners
  • instant oatmeal
  • Dried mashed potatoes
  • Dry pasta

Energy food/snacks:

  • Power bars, gels
  • Trail mix
  • Dried fruit
  • Whole grain crackers
  • Beef Jerky

This article has great ideas for more complete meal plans: A Week of Lightweight Nutritious Backpacking Food

Optional Items 

  • Light weight fishing pole
  • Head net to protect from bugs
  • Camera
  • Spice pack for flavoring food – roll up spices in plastic bags for lightweight carrying
  • Butter and oil – a luxury, but also calorie dense 

More Resources

REI Backpacking Checklist

The BSA Fieldbook

This list is not the perfect fit for everyone or every trip, so its always a good idea to do more research on your own. You can also do shorter practice trips to see what works best for you. If this all seems daunting, remember the invaluable lessons Scouts can about being prepared by packing for their own backpacking trip. Scouts will learn more in one trip through the outdoors than they will in any lecture. 

What other tips and tricks do you know about for packing for a backpacking trip? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Madison Austin
studies Public Relations at Brigham Young University and is a marketing specialist at the Utah National Parks Council. She is an avid hiker and enjoys being outdoors. Growing up in the mountainous regions of Colorado and Virginia enabled her to follow these passions. After moving to Utah to attend college, she has spent her time fostering both a career in Communications and a love for Utah's National Parks.

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