Packing for a long-distance hike is a meticulous task, where every item you pack has to serve a purpose - there's just no room for frills!
After doing two very different long distance hikes in Scotland and Sweden this year, I thought I'd share some of my packing and equipment tips with you.
What to pack for a long distance hike really depends on the climate of your destination, but also the infrastructure surrounding the trail.
- Will you be camping at campgrounds or not, or maybe even staying at hostels or bed and breakfasts along the way?
- Do you have to carry all your food with you, or do you pass shops or restaurants?
- Is it possible to have your luggage and gear transferred (or shipped through security checkpoints), or do you have to carry everything yourself from start to finish?
The terrain, weather conditions and infrastructure determine everything from the luggage to the physical and mental ease or difficulty of the event.
To give you an idea of what I packed on a five-day hike in northern Sweden, largely unassisted, here is my personally tested long-distance hiking packing list.
And by the way, this list can be applied universally - you can pack the same for any hike, whether you want to do the Tour du Mont Blanc, climb Kilimanjaro or walk the West Highland Way.
Packing a backpack for a long distance hike is actually quite different from packing a backpack or a trip - here are some of my top tips:
The rule of three
Thanks to the West Highland Way, I already knew the rule of three. Photography has the rule of thirds, trekking has the rule of threes, meaning you don't take more than three pieces of any one item. If you pack three pairs of socks, you can wear one during the day, put on the second pair at camp, and wash the third in the morning and let it dry on your backpack all day. The same goes for t-shirts or underwear!
When hiking long distance, you will have to unpack and repack your backpack almost every day. There are several ways to store your stuff in your backpack, and many websites will tell you that it's best to put the heaviest things near your back. However, for long-distance hikes or treks, when you need to access various things throughout the day, it's best to pack in access tiers, regardless of an item's weight.
At the bottom of my backpack I put the things I only needed to take out in the evening - the tent, my sleeping system and my change of clothes. Above, I put my freeze-dried meals, my lunch box and my snacks. Then I packed my stove, a supply of tea, toilet paper, a camera bag and a small bag of "warm clothes" (down jacket and gloves). I had the snacks I wanted to eat during the day handy in the top pocket of my backpack, as well as my toiletry/first aid kit, sunscreen, bug spray, spoon, whiskey flask and my note paper. These are the things I needed the most, even on short breaks.
I placed the most needed items in the outer bags of my backpack, so I could access them without having to open the bag or even remove it and ask someone else for help. : water bottles and cups, hiking poles, knife, headlamp, rain jacket, waterproof pants, camping shoes and rain cover for the backpack.
The importance of straps
Typically, you can carry around 1/3 of your own weight without major issues, but be aware that the extra weight will put increased pressure on your feet. Your shoes can hurt you in places where they wouldn't normally hurt, simply because your feet have to bear a lot more weight than normal. The same goes for your back and shoulders. Be sure to adjust your suspenders and hip belt so that most of the weight is on your hips rather than your shoulders.
Complete packing list for a long-distance hike
- 1 large backpack + rain cover
I use a 65L
- 1 lightweight hiking tent
- 1 sleeping bag + sleeping bag liner
I use a heated sleeping bag which is warm enough for Scotland.
- 1 inflatable mattress
- 1 camping stove with saucepan, gas cartridge and matches
I love my Primus Lite Compact Stove.
- 1 set of plates and cups
I have a very handy Primus meal set.
- 1 camping spoon
My long Primus spoon is ideal for eating trekking food out of the bag.
- 1 pocket knife
I have a small knife that I can wear around my neck.
- 1 headlamp
- A water system
I have a 1L Primus trail bottle (which can be filled with cold or hot water) and a 3L Osprey Hydraulics reservoir.
- 1 water filter
I use pocket size which filters one litre/minute directly into my bottle.
- 1 pair of walking sticks
- A trekking backpack
- 2 quick-dry trekking t-shirts
1 for carrying, 1 for changing - you won't need more, no matter how long your hike.
- 1 trekking pants
- 1 fleece vest
- 1 warm, padded jacket
I always keep this one dry. It is also very useful for stuffing pillows.
- 1 rain jacket
- 1 pair of waterproof pants
- 1 pair of base layers
I wear the bottom under my waterproof pants on rainy days and sleep with it all on. I use merino wool base layers.
- 1 pair of hiking shoes
Be sure to put them on in advance to minimize the risk of blisters!
- 1 pair of camping shoes
I always pack light sneakers to change into. You can also take trekking sandals.
- 2 Buffs (neck) + 1 pair of gloves
I use one pad on my head or neck, and the other to create a pillow at night.
- 4 pairs of socks
2 for hiking; 1 for camp, 1 for bed, which I never wear outside and keep dry.
- Panties + 2 sports bras
The number of panties depends on the duration of my walk - no more than 5; I use 1 bra for hiking, 1 for camp.
- Maps + a small compass
Especially when hiking without a guide and on 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 light!
- A solid Power bank (external battery) to charge your devices
If you're wild camping on your trip, you can also invest in a Solar Power Battery.
- A few sheets of paper and a pen for notes
- Waterproof pouches
For storing your maps and guidebook, electronics and other items that need to be kept dry.
- 1 roll of toilet paper + matches in a waterproof pouch
- A sleeping mask
If you hike in northern regions where it gets dark quite late and you have trouble sleeping.
Toiletries and first aid
- Biodegradable camping soap
It is generally multipurpose - for body, hair, dishes and laundry.
- Deodorant powder or balm
It's not essential, but it's a luxury I'm willing to carry the extra weight for.
- Hairbrush or comb
- Toothbrush and toothpaste
I use an eco-friendly bamboo toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste.
- Face wipes
Especially when you're wild camping and don't have access to a shower.
- Solar cream
Insect repellent + tiger balm that really helps with the itching.
- Tweezers, nail clippers and tick remover.
- Spare hair ties (if you have long hair)
- Hand sanitizer gel
- 1 quick-dry travel towel
- A complete first aid kit and plenty of bandages for blisters.
- Ibuprofen (painkiller and anti-inflammatory)
- Bepanthen (wound healing)
- 2 freeze-dried meals per day
- If I can stock up on the way, I only take one for dinner and I take rolls, hummus, vegetables and fruit for lunch.
- Homemade muesli mix with powdered coconut milk
- With the powdered milk mixed in, I can make my cereal with hot water and it still tastes great.
- Trek bars
- I bring 1 or 2 a day. They are vegan and high in protein.
- Nuts and dried fruits as snacks
- A gourd with whiskey
- Sufficient coffee, tea and sugar
Even though my backpack was heavy - 17 kg after all! - I felt good carrying my whole life on my back.
After a day or two of adjusting access priorities, I was comfortable with my own packing system and getting ready faster in the morning.
By the end of the hike I was confident that I had found a system that worked for me and I will gladly apply my own advice the next time I do a long distance hike!
Have you ever done long distance hiking? Did I forget to mention any essential tools or equipment that are indispensable for you?
Also read this article for walks in winter
We'd love to hear your packing tips for long-distance hikes in the comments!
About the author:
“Kathi is a traveler, writer and adventurer originally from Austria, but moved to Scotland in 2013. She has fallen madly in love with her new home and is campaigning to convince everyone to visit Scotland at least once!
It also offers trip planning services for you to have a great time and achieve an epic itinerary. Leave us a comment, if you want to know more."