10 Essentials to Pack When You Go Backcountry Camping

Don't leave home without a knife, a lighter, warm clothing, and more

If you aren't a seasoned outdoorsman, you may find it trickier than you thought to pack for a camping excursion. You start with the basics (tent and sleeping bag) and before you know it, you have loaded the car with way more than you will ever use. It is crucial to remember that when you go backcountry camping, you must carry out whatever you carried in. Before you load up on your favorite snacks, books, and pricey gear, check out the things you simply cannot leave out.

  • 01 of 10
    A pocket knife on a stump.
    ••• Stephen Swintek/Getty Images

    Small and versatile, a knife is one of the most important tools you need when outdoors. Whether you need it for protection or to catch food for the day, a knife is essential. You will find endless opportunities to use this tool. Injured? Use it to cut clothing for bandaging. Cold? Use it to collect kindling and firewood. Hungry? Use it to catch and eat food. Remember, you don't need a giant machete to get by in the woods. A simple ​pocket knife can do wonders; just make sure it is sharp.

  • 02 of 10
    Summer sunset in Mestia valley, Svaneti region, Caucasus mountain, Georgia.
    ••• Maya Karkalicheva/Getty Images

    Sure you have your tent and sleeping bag to protect you from the elements, but without a ground mat, you may be surprised at how miserable a night's sleep you will get if you forget this item. Expect to wake up to a pool underneath your backside if there is rain, snow, or humidity. Ground mats are lightweight and can roll into your tent so you will barely notice it is in your pack. Yet, this small item will protect you and your gear from getting soaked.

  • 03 of 10
    Cigarette Lighter
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    Without fire on a backcountry trip, eating and staying warm will be impossible. Long gone are the days of rubbing two sticks together. Lighters are small, durable, and highly effective and starting a fire. And they work no matter what the weather may throw your way. Keep one in your pack and one in your pocket if you plan on venturing away from your site for a long period of time.​

  • 04 of 10
    Family preparing for camping against trees.
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    Speaking of staying warm, be sure to pack proper clothing. No matter what time of year, keep in mind that Mother Nature is finicky. Should rain, snow, or cold weather strike when you're miles away from your car or other people, having extra warm clothing will keep you warm, dry, and healthy. Hypothermia is the number one cause of death to people lost in the wilderness. Many forget just how much temperatures can drop once the sun sets. Be sure to layer clothing; it is always easier to remove or add as the temperature fluctuates. Look for materials that wick away sweat and never leave your side without an extra pair of socks.

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  • 05 of 10
    Young hiker with backpack drinking bottled water.
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    Many parks offer backcountry camping supply spots to gather water, but it is important to do your research before you leave. Unless you have planned for a long excursion without a water source, a simple CamelBack will suffice. Most hold all the water you need for a few days and are easy to refill. They fit easily into backpacks and are equipped with a spout to keep near your shoulder so you won't miss a step on the trail when thirst hits. If you're planning a long hike, fill up your hydration pack and perhaps an extra reusable water bottle at your side. Remember in backcountry camping, you carry out what you carry in, so avoid packages of waste-creating water bottles.

  • 06 of 10
    High Angle View Of Friends Throwing Crushed Bottles In Bag.
    ••• Sawitree Pamee / EyeEm/Getty Images

    Perhaps the most forgotten item to pack, garbage bags is actually one of the most important things to bring on any camping excursion. Sure they can be used to dispose of waste, but garbage bags are unbelievably versatile. Almost weightless, try packing your clothes in a bag, then put that in your backpack for extra protection against the elements. If you become separated from your campsite or even lost in the woods, be sure to have a garbage bag on you. It can be ripped and used as a faux tent by tying it to trees or anything tall you can find. If cold or wet weather hits, cut a small hole in the bottom of the bag and slide it over your head. This will approximate a poncho and keep you warm and dry.

  • 07 of 10
    A man reads a map while sitting by a campfire.
    ••• Christopher Kimmel/Getty Images

    Even seasoned campers who feel they know areas like the backs of their hands can get lost. And being lost without a map can be terrifying. It may be possible to find your way home or at least to find help, but why risk it? Maps fold up to almost nothing and fit inside backpacks or pockets. Be sure to grab a map of where you will be camping and hiking to ensure a safe journey.

  • 08 of 10
    Boy examining fungus on tree trunk in forest.
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    The only thing worse than getting lost is getting lost in the dark. Be sure to pack a flashlight in your backpack or wear as a headlamp if you are hiking for a long time. Even if you are on your site, a light will help you with all kinds of tasks once the sun sets. And with long battery lives, these small portable devices can save the day. Whether you find yourself lost near sunset or you simply need to relieve yourself in the middle of the night, you can find your way with a light source.

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  • 09 of 10
    Backpack and camping equipment on grass.
    ••• Dougal Waters/Getty Images

    When it comes to food and cooking supplies, it is easy to get carried away. But keep in mind with backcountry camping that you carry everything ​in your bag. Avoid bulky pots, pans, and coolers, and opt for one mess kit. Available at most outdoors shops, mess kits are lightweight, portable, and unbelievably useful. They are put together like a small jigsaw puzzle, each piece fitting inside the next, and they typically offer campers two pans, a pot, a spork, and a mesh bag for transport. With mess kits, less is more, and the pots and pans used to boil water and cook may also be used to eat from.

  • 10 of 10
    Hurricane, earthquake, disaster survival kit.
    ••• Lebazele/Getty Images

    It only takes one wrong step to become injured outdoors. Trails can be rocky, rocks can be slippery, branches can be sharp. Be prepared for any injury with a portable first aid kit. You can purchase pre-packaged ones or make your own.