How to Pack for an Overnight Backpacking Trip

What—and how—to pack for an overnight trip with a backpack

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TripSavvy / Amelia Manley

Packing for a backpacking overnight requires the same gear you'd pack for a longer trip. Invest in lightweight gear, and regardless of how long you're on the trail, you'll always be carrying a light load, making ticking off trail miles—or traveling—as enjoyable as possible.

Polar explorer and guide Eric Larsen says, "Understanding what you want to do, where you want to backpack, how much distance you want to cover, and the time of year you're going will all help determine what you should pack. Hiking up to an alpine lake and hanging out with friends for the weekend is a lot different than trying to do a light and fast section hike. Clarifying your goals and preferences will influence how much and what type of gear you bring."

Whatever the length of your adventure, a good backpack is the skeleton that supports everything you carry. There are a lot of packs from which to choose. Some have every bell and whistle. Others have the bare minimum. Choose a pack that fits your torso, waist, and shoulders for comfort and efficiency. And pick a pack with volume and storage to suit your needs and objectives.

More pack space lets you bring extra gear and food along. It also tempts you to bring more gear and food along. The more weight in your pack, the slower you'll move and the less comfortable you'll be when you're hiking.

"It's easy to want to just throw extra items into your pack because they are small and don't weigh much or take up much space," Larsen points out. "A lot of times, less is more. But don't skimp on critical stuff. There are times when it's better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it."

To choose a pack, Triple Crown thru-hiker Chris Reamer advises you to visit your local shop to try on different brands and styles of packs. In the store, load your pack to mimic the weight of your gear when you're backpacking. Then, walk around the store with the pack loaded. Put the pack on and take it off. Try to mimic your movements on the trail, like pulling out a raincoat or grabbing a snack. Spend the time to get a sense of how the pack feels.

Osprey's Rook 50 is a good size for backpackers who want space for an overnight and who can economize on longer trips. If you're only bringing the essentials, Gregory's Zulu 40L has plenty of room for an overnight or weekend, and it's super comfortable to carry.

Osprey Rook 50 Backpack

Osprey Rook 50 Backpack


Gregory Zulu 40L Men's Hiking Backpack

Gregory Zulu 40L Men's Hiking Backpack


Things to Consider When Packing a Backpack for an Overnight

Sleeping Bags and Pads

Which sleeping pad and bag you pack depends on the overnight temperatures on your trip. If it’s hot, opt for a 45°F sleeping bag, like Cotopaxi’s synthetic Noches. Synthetic bags dry better than down ones, so they’re great for wet weather and hot and humid weather. If it’s warm during the day and cool at night, get a bag rated 25°F to 35°F, like Klymit’s stretchy, down-filled KSB 35. If fall is in the air, and temps will dip below freezing at night, opt for a bag rated for chilly nights like Big Agnes’ Lost Ranger/Roxy Ann 3N1 15°, which let you zip panels on and off as temperatures demand.

An insulated sleeping pad is always the best choice. Outdoor Vitals’ Ultralight Insulated Sleeping Pad inflates with an included pump sack, so you don’t have to blow it up with your mouth. That prevents mold growth inside. Nemo’s Disco 30 sleeping bag has zippered gills on the front to let you vent when it’s warm. Zip them shut and snuggle inside when it’s cold.

Cooking Items

Keep cooking simple and light for an overnight by packing dehydrated meals and a stove designed to boil water, like Jetboil’s Stash cooking system. The pot doubles as a cup. Pair it with Good to Go’s Backpacking meals, made by a former NYC chef and Iron Chef competitor who now makes dehydrated meals inspired by her world travels from her base in Maine.

Drinking and Water Filtration

Use the pot from your Jetboil stove as your drinking cup. Always have ready-to-drink water on hand with Lifestraw’s Peak Series Collapsible Water Filter System, which filters while you drink and also lets you fill a bottle or hydration reservoir. You’ll drink more with a reservoir than if you constantly have to reach for a water bottle. Platypus’ Big Zip Evo is taste-free, and it won’t leak.


Larsen recommends dressing in light layers and avoiding cotton.

"Depending on the conditions, you can add and subtract layers," says Larsen. "I use the Goldilocks principle when I'm backpacking. I never want to be too not or too cold, but always just right. If I feel like I'm going to start sweating, I peel a layer. When I get too cool, I add a layer."

Larsen says that good baselayers are key. In summer, that can be synthetic underwear like Saxx Droptemp Cooling Mesh boxer briefs for men or Patagonia's Barely Hipster for women, and a quick-dry synthetic tee, like Helly Hansen's Men's Tech Trail tee Shirt. A lightweight down puffy is another key element of any layering system. We like Jack Wolfskin's Pack n Go Down Jacket, which uses certified, responsibly sourced down.


“Take care of your feet, and they will take care of you,” says Larsen. Wear good boots, like Salewa’s waterproof, mid-cut Alp Mate Mid PTX, which provides support without being overbuilt. Tape hotspots before they become blisters with Leukotape. And take off your shoes when you take a break, and give your toes a chance to breathe and wiggle.

How to Pack

Now that you've got your gear, it's time to pack it.

Larsen likes to pack his backpack in layers where gear and clothing are distributed by weight and when he'll use it.

A good rule of thumb for packing a backpack for any length of trip is that big and bulky items, like your sleeping bag, go on the bottom. Heavier items, like food and a camp stove, go in the middle, close to the back of the pack and your body. Clothing, including extra layers you might want to access on the trail, go on top. If it might rain, keep your rain gear easy to get to, either at the top of your pack or in an outside stuff pocket.

Keep the Essentials Accessible

The lid of your pack is a great place to store smaller items and gear you may need on the trail. Use your pack lid to hold your knife, first aid kit, water filter or treatment, map or guidebook, and repair kit. At the same time, your hip belt is the best place to store snacks; use your lid to hold lunch.

"Keep snacks where you can reach them," says Reamer. "You'll hit a bonk point–when you run out of energy and need food now–at some point during the day, and having snacks immediately accessible will solve the problem."

Keeping water and food accessible when you're backpacking lets you eat on the go. You don't have to stop and take your pack off, which saves time.

Use your backpack's hip pockets to hold snack food, like Nature's Bakery Whole Wheat Fig Bars and Gu Sports Nutrition Gels, for quick energy. If you're not hiking with a hydration reservoir, keep a water bottle accessible in an outside pocket where you can reach it. If there's room in your hip pocket, store a sunscreen stick there too.

If you're using your phone or a device, like Garmin's InReach Mini 2, to navigate, attach it to your pack's shoulder strap in an add-on storage pouch, like Matador's Speed Stash. It clips onto any pack strap.

The Extras

Reamer is a minimalist packer, but almost every hiker brings one extra thing for comfort or a mental boost when you've hit energetic bottom. For Reamer, it's a seat pad. For other hikers, it's a treat for camp, something to look forward to when the day feels hard, whether that's a flask of a favorite beverage, a chocolate bar, or something else.

How to Wash and Care for Your Backpack

Keep your pack as clean as possible during your trip, and dry it and air it out when you're home. Reamer says he's super conscious about where to set his pack down on the trail. "I don't just plop it anywhere," says Reamer. "When I take my pack off, I put it on a rock or stump instead of in the mud or against a sappy tree."

Don't put your framepack in the washing machine. Spot wash food spills and sweat stains with a technical gear soap like Nikwax Tech Wash. Put the pack and soap in the bathtub, swish it around, and let it soak for an hour. Use a scrub brush on tough stains. Wipe the pack out with a damp cloth if needed. And a hose is another great way to rinse away smell and dirt, so your pack is ready for your next adventure.

Why Trust TripSavvy

Berne Broudy is an avid hiker. She has hiked and camped all over the world, including in Greenland, Nepal, Chile, France, and New Zealand. Broudy has tested backpacking gear in all four seasons for over a decade.

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