Packing for long-distance hiking is a meticulous task, where every item you bring must serve its purpose – there is simply no capacity for frills! After two very different long-distance hikes in Scotland and Sweden this year, I thought I’d share some of my packing tips and equipment advice with you.
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How and what to pack for long-distance hiking really depends on your destination’s climate, but also the infrastructure surrounding the trail. Will you be camping on or off campsites, or maybe even stay in hostels or B&Bs along the way? Do you have to carry all your food with you, or do you pass by any shops or restaurants? Is there an option to get your luggage and equipment transferred (or shipped to checkpoints), or do you have to carry everything yourself from start to finish?
My recent trekking experience in Sweden on assignment for Travelettes made my trek through the Scottish Highlands earlier this year seem like a walk in the park. Terrain, weather and infrastructure determine everything, from what to pack to how easy or hard it’s going to be physically and mentally.
To give you an idea of what I brought on a largely unsupported 5-day trek through northern Sweden, first, check out my video:
Complete Packing List for Long-Distance Hiking*
1 65L backpack + rain cover
1 tent (make sure you pick a lightweight backpacking tent)
1 sleeping bag + sleeping bag liner (for hygiene and additional insulation)
1 air mattress
1 gas stove with pot + 1 gas cartridge and matches
1 lunch box with integrated cup
1 camping spoon
1 neck knife/pocket knife
1 head lamp
2 water bottles
2 trekking t-shirts (quick-dry)
1 trekking trousers (zip-off)
1 fleece cardigan
1 down jacket (always keep dry)
1 rain jacket
1 waterproof trousers
1 long johns (for nights + underneath waterproofs on rainy days)
1 pair of hiking boots (walk them in in advance to minimise the risk of blisters!)
1 pair of camp shoes (trainers – alternatively trekking sandals)
1 t-shirt (to sleep in)
1 Buff + 1 pair of gloves
4 pairs of socks (2 for hiking, 1 for camp, 1 for bed – never wear outside)
5 underpants + 2 sports bras (1 for hiking, 1 for camp)
map + compass (particularly when you hike without a guide and along a trail that is not well-marked – I had a small map, but no compass with me this time)
camera, spare batteries + SD cards
power bank (if you must – I didn’t bring mine)
a few pieces of paper and a pen for notes
1 roll of toilet paper + matches
plenty of zip-lock bags to keep items dry
a sleeping mask (I didn’t need this, but if you’re sensitive you might not get much sleep in the Arctic summer otherwise)
Toiletries & First Aid
bio-degradable camping soap (multi-purpose!)
deodorant powder (not essential)
hairbrush or comb
toothbrush and toothpaste
tweezers + nail clipper
hand disinfecting gel (didn’t have this, wish I would!)
1 quick-dry face towel
blister plasters + regular plasters
A side note: We didn’t have to carry our own first aid kit, so I only had the bare essentials with me – on a hike without a guide or first aid stations along the way, I’d take more supplies!
2 freeze-dried meals per day (lunch + dinner)
1 bag of free-from musli
1 fruit soup per day (to mix with musli for breakfast)
– alternatively bring 1 freeze-dried camping breakfast per day (most have milk powder in them)
vegan Trek bars (roughly 2 per day)
nuts + dried fruit (2-3 bags in total)
flask with whisky
coffee, tea, sugar
energy drinks (powder)
some flat bread with hummus (loved having this as a snack, but not essential)
*Links provided lead you to the Fjällräven/Primus gear I tested on this trek – of course there are many alternative brands to use, but I was really impressed by the performance of every item provided to me!
How to Pack your Backpack for Long-Distance Hiking
What to bring is one issue – but how do you pack everything in your bag efficiently? Packing for long-distance hiking is actually quite different to packing for backpacking or traveling – here are a few of my top tips:
The Rule of Three
From the West Highland Way I was already familiar with the rule of three. Photography has the rule of thirds, trekking has the rule of three, which means that you don’t take more than three pieces of the same item. If you carry three pairs of socks, you can wear one during the day, change into the second pair in camp and the third you could have washed in the morning and left dangling off your backpack all day to dry. The same counts for t-shirts or underwear!
When you’re long-distance hiking, you will have to un- and re-pack your backpack pretty much every day. There are several ways to arrange your things in your backpack and many websites will tell you that it’s best to pack the heaviest things close to your back. For long-distance hiking or trekking however, when you need to access a variety of things throughout the day, it is best to pack in access levels, regardless of an item’s weight.
At the bottom of my backpack I packed the things I only needed to take out in the evening – the tent, my sleeping system and my spare clothes. Further up came items like my freeze-dried meals, lunchbox and storage of snacks. Next I packed my stove, storage of tea, toilet paper, camera bag and a little bag of “warm clothes” (down jacket & gloves). I had the snacks I wanted to eat during the day on quick access in the top pocket of my backpack, as well as my toiletry/first aid bag, sun lotion, midge spray, spoon, whisky flask and paper for notes. These were the things I most likely needed even in short breaks.
The most needed items I packed in the outer bags of my backpack, so that I could access them without opening the backpack or even without taking it off and asking someone else for help: water bottles & cup, trekking poles, knife, head lamp, rain jacket, waterproof trousers, camp shoes and rain cover for the backpack.
The Importance of Straps
The rule of thumb is that you can carry around 1/3 of your own bodyweight without bigger issues, but be aware that the added weight will put more pressure on your feet. Your shoes might hurt in spots where they usually don’t cause problems, just because your feet have to deal with a lot more weight than normally. The same counts for your back and shoulders. Make sure you adjust your straps and hip belt, so that you carry most of the weight on your hips rather than your shoulders.
Even though my backpack felt heavy – 17kg after all! – I felt good carrying all my life with my on my back. After a day or so of adjusting access priorities, I was comfortable with my own packing system and got ready faster in the morning. By the end of the trek I was confident that I had found a system that worked for me and will happily apply my own tips again the next time I’m long-distance hiking!
Have you ever gone long-distance hiking? Did I forget to mention any essential tools or pieces of equipment that are a must for you? Would love to hear your packing tips for long-distance hiking in the comments!
All photos by Kathi Kamleitner.