As part of the Planning Curriculum for my guided backpacking trips, every client was required to complete a gear list. It was a hugely beneficial assignment, but it involved significant administrative time: in a 5-year period, I created sample gear list spreadsheets for 55+ trips and reviewed the selections of 400+ clients.
To make the process more efficient, I began developing a standardized gear list template, which I’ve tweaked further and which I’m sharing now. The template is applicable for every trip and every backpacker:
- All 3-seasons: spring, summer, fall
- All North American backpacking locations — and, by extension, most parts of the world
- All trip lengths: overnights, long weekends, one-weekers, and thru-hikes
- Male or female
- All abilities: beginner, intermediate, advanced
- Individual preferences: gear systems and backpacking styles, e.g. “lightweight”
Ironically, such generic templates run the risk of being irrelevant. In trying to be universally useful, they lose their usefulness. They read like a REI inventory stock list, and offer minimal guidance in assembling a complete and coherent kit.
So I strived to keep the gear list user-friendly. For example, included product types are streamlined, and organized into intuitive categories. Explanations and examples are provided. It calculates pack weight, of course. There is room for the inclusion of pre- and post-hike insights, which make it a more helpful reference for future trips. And it functions as a checklist during the final pack-up. Plus a few other things.
Backpacking Gear List Template & Checklist
Download & edit the template
If you simply need a backpacking checklist, download the template as a PDF.
To use this spreadsheet as a template for your own gear list, you must make your own copy:
- In a new tab or window, open the file Backpacking Gear List Template & Checklist.
- If you do not have a Google account or if you prefer other software besides Google Docs, under “File” select “Download as” to generate your own Excel or CSV file. Otherwise,
- Log in with your Google account, if you are not already.
- Under “File” select “Make a copy.” Look in your Google Drive account to find your own copy of the file.
Instructions after download
Erase sample cells
In cells F3:P10, I included sample information to demonstrate how the template should be used. Erase these cells and fill them back in with your own selections.
I suppose you could erase cells B1:E121, too, but I think most users will find them to be a useful reference. If they are in your way, it may be better to hide these columns instead.
Think twice before adding rows
This template has been extensively vetted, and it should have space already for any reasonable selection. If a product category is missing, I probably deemed it unnecessary or redundant, even under rare circumstances. That said, if you believe that a worthy product category was omitted, add one in your own version; please leave me a comment below, too — I’m open to additional edits.
If rows are rearranged, the weight calculators must be redone
With basic spreadsheet know-how, this is straightforward. If the SUM function means nothing to you, however, my recommendation is to leave the template organized as-is.
IMPORTANT: Don’t pack everything on the list!
Gear selection should be dictated by:
- Your backpacking style, i.e. ratio of hiking versus camping; and,
- When, where, and for how long you are going, i.e. environmental and route conditions.
So that this template is broadly applicable, it includes many items that would be optional or completely unnecessary for your specific trip — but critical for others. For example, for a summertime Appalachian Trail section-hike, you don’t need insulated pants or an ice axe, but you may want both for a John Muir Trail thru-hike in June.
To determine the relevance of each product category, research the likely conditions, review trip-specific gear lists, and seek commentary on your selections.
Item | A broad product category
Ranking | My assessment of an item’s general importance, as measured mostly by the safety and comfort that it provides.
- Critical = A must-have, no exceptions
- Suggested = A valuable addition, few reasons not to bring
- Optional = Not critical, but worth consideration
- Depends = Contingent on trip objectives, conditions, and/or other selections
- Unnecessary = Unlikely to need and/or can be improvised
Description or Purpose | An explanation of its role or its usual specifications
Example | A real product that typifies the product category
More Info | Links to related reading and viewing on my website
Rank | Your determination of the importance of a product type
Selection | The exact item that you have selected
Weight | A postal scale is an excellent investment for any backpacker
Pre-Hike Comments | Justify your selection, include key product specs, express your concerns, etc.
Certain? | Have you made a final decision, or are you still on the fence?
Alternate | Your secondary or backup option
Weighed? | Manufacturer specs are unreliable, especially if products are made in different sizes
In-hand? | Do you own this item already? Is it on order? Or do you need to buy, rent, or borrow it?
Packed? | When doing your final pack-up, use this column as a checklist to ensure that you have everything you need.
Other Notes | For information for which there is no dedicated space
How can I make this template + checklist more useful for you? Share your ideas, and tell me what you think of it.
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