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.
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?
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 – and then read on to find my personally tested long-distance hiking packing list.
And by the way, this hiking list can be applied universally – you can pack the same for any trek, whether you want to hike the Tour du Mont Blanc, climb Kilimanjaro or walk the West Highland Way.
Complete Packing List for Long-Distance Hiking
1 sleeping bag + sleeping bag liner
I use a synthetic sleeping bag by Vaude which is warm enough for Scotland.
1 air mattress
I use a self-inflatable sleeping pad by Vaude.
1 camping stove with pot, gas cartridge and matches
I love my compact Primus Lite camping stove.
1 set of plate & cup
I have a handy Primus meal set.
1 camping spoon
My Primus longspoon is ideal to eat trekking food out of the bag.
1 pocket knife
I have a Mora Kniv I can wear around my neck.
1 water filter
I use the pocket-sized MSR Trailshot which filters a litre/minute directly into my bottle.
1 pair of walking poles
2 quick-dry trekking t-shirts
1 to wear, 1 to change into – you won’t need more no matter how long your hike is.
1 pair of trekking trousers
1 warm padded jacket
I always keep this one dry. It also works great as a pillow stuffing.
1 pair of waterproof trousers
1 pair of base layers
I wear the bottom under my waterproof trousers on rainy days and sleep in the whole outfit. I use vegan-friendly synthetic baselayers by Helly Hansen: top & bottom – it’s not as warm as Merino wool, but it’s enough for Scottish summers.
1 pair of hiking boots
Make sure you walk them in in advance to minimise the risk of blisters!
1 pair of camp shoes
I always bring light-weight trainers to change into. Alternatively, you could bring trekking sandals.
2 Buffs + 1 pair of gloves
I use one buff on my head or neck, and the other to create a pillow at night.
4 pairs of socks
2 for hiking – I use these vegan-friendly socks; 1 for camp, 1 for bed, which I never wear outside & keep dry.
underpants + 2 sports bras
How many pants depends on how long I walk – no more than 5; I use 1 bra for hiking, 1 for camp.
Maps + a small compass
Particularly when you hike without a guide and along a trail that is not well-marked. Know how to use them!
Camera, spare batteries + SD cards
I always hike with my Canon M3 – the image quality is great, but it’s small and lightweight!
A few pieces of paper and a pen for notes
To store your maps & guidebook, electronic devices and other things that need to stay dry.
1 roll of toilet paper + matches in a waterproof pouch
A small trowel
To leave no trace and follow the Scottish Outdoor Access Code.
A sleeping mask
If you hike in northern regions where it gets dark quite late and you have issues sleeping.
Toiletries & First Aid
Bio-degradable camping soap
This is usually multi-purpose – for your body, hair, dishes and laundry.
Deodorant powder or balm
It’s not essential, but a luxury I’m prepared to carry extra weight for.
Hairbrush or comb
Especially when you’re wild-camping and don’t have access to a shower.
Insect repellant + Tiger Balm
In Scotland, I use Smidge. The Tiger Balm really helps with the itch.
Tweezers, nail clipper & tick remover
Spare hair ties (if you have long hair)
Hand disinfecting gel
1 quick-dry travel towel
Full first aid kit & plenty of blister plasters
2 freeze-dried meals per day
If I can stock up on the way, I only carry one for dinner and get rolls, hummus, veg & fruit for lunches.
Homemade muesli mix with coconut milk powder
With the milk powder mixed in, I can prepare my porridge with hot water and it still tastes nice.
I bring 1-2 per day – they are vegan-friendly and high in protein.
Nuts + dried fruit for snacks
1 hip flask with whisky
Plenty of coffee, tea & sugar
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, a 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 torch, 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 normal. 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 me 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!
Planning a trip to Scotland?
All photos by Kathi Kamleitner.
Disclaimer: Some of the items I link to in this post were gifted or lent to me by the brands. I only endorse hiking products I like using myself.