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Backpacking Gear List Template + 3-season Checklist

A backpacking gear list template + checklist, with sample selections (green columns) as an example.

A backpacking gear list template + checklist, with sample selections (green columns) as an example.

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

View the Template + Checklist in a larger window.

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:

  1. In a new tab or window, open the file Backpacking Gear List Template & Checklist.
  2. 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,
  3. Log in with your Google account, if you are not already.
  4. 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:

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.

Column Definitions

Pre-filled Columns

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

Blank Columns

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.


Disclosure. This website is supported mostly through affiliate marketing, whereby for referral traffic I receive a small commission from select vendors, at no cost to the reader. This post contains affiliate links. Thanks for your support.

40 Responses to Backpacking Gear List Template + 3-season Checklist

  1. Chad November 23, 2015 at 2:08 pm #

    As a beginner backpacker planning a first time thru hike of the superior hiking trail this summer, you make all aspects of diving into this sport/activity a lot less intimidating through all of the material you’re constantly putting out. Very much appreciate everything you’re doing with this website

    • Andrew Skurka November 23, 2015 at 2:11 pm #

      Thanks, glad the information is helpful. It can be a very overwhelming process, with literally hundreds of decisions and thousands of options. The variety of online opinions and the number of so-described experts does not help matters.

      Hope your thru-hike is successful.

      • Chad November 23, 2015 at 2:20 pm #

        Thanks Andrew, I’m hoping to take my Great Dane along with me but not sure if he’ll be good for the distance or not. I’ll make the call closer to the date after seeing how he does on some weekend hikes. And at this point I’ve decided to do as much research as I can on the different options but the reality of it is I won’t really know what is going to work best for me until I actually get it out on the trail. Your website/book has been immesurably helpful however so if the thru-hike is successful it will be largely thanks to you.

        • Andrew Skurka November 23, 2015 at 2:26 pm #

          Good of you to recognize the limits of virtual preparation. You’ll lean more during a long weekend in the field than you will through weeks of online research.

        • rob February 15, 2016 at 12:45 pm #

          hi chad. Just a word of caution about taking your great dane with you along lake superior. I took my newfoundland dog with me to the coastal trail along lake superior near Wawa, Ontario. Now I don’t know if the terrain would be the exact same on the trail your taking but i would imagine it would be similar. It turned out to be a big mistake taking my dog with me on this trip and he has been on many trails through hundreds of kilometres.

          His paws could not take the constant beating of jumping from granite rock to granite rock. I tried to put his dog boots on him which work well for most terrain but he would now slip on the wet rocks. There was nothing fun about having a 150lb dog with sore paws stuck on a rock, afraid to jump anymore. If I was you especially just getting into this I would leave the dog (as hard as that is) and hike the trail. While hiking think about certain parts and if your dog could cope with it. I wouldn’t take him not knowing the terrain. Enjoy your trip though!

  2. KurtW November 23, 2015 at 3:39 pm #

    FYI for those using Apple Numbers for spreadsheets: Numbers will successfully convert the Microsoft Excel version posted here into a format your mac, iPad and iPhone can use. However, some of the fonts and formatting are changed which shouldn’t alter the spreadsheets use. Check the SUM function in each weight column because only some of the cells are included in several areas. This will take a minor tweak to include the entire column. Thanks Andrew for the post. I might post more after I get a chance to use it a bit.

    • Andrew Skurka November 23, 2015 at 3:42 pm #

      Thanks for the IT tips. I’m open for further editing this template, so let me know if there are ways I can make it more useful, including cross-platform compatibility.

  3. Simon November 23, 2015 at 6:21 pm #

    Andy,
    Thank you so much for sharing these invaluable tools, resources and insights, your knowledge and expertise is highly regarded in the backpacking community. Keep up the good work and one of these days I hope to join you on an excursion. #lighterfasterfurther

  4. Denise November 23, 2015 at 7:48 pm #

    My gear list, in excel, is similar except that it includes absolutely all my gear (categorized) as well as a column where, for each trip, I indicate the number of a particular item I’m bringing. When I am planning a trip, I scroll through the list quickly indicating 0 or 1 (or sometimes multiples) and then, with a quick sort, I can isolate what I am bringing and need to pack on the trip. For example if I’ve got several tent/tarp/hammock options, then I’ll mark 0 for all but the one I’m using. It makes it really easy to replicate and organize. FWIW.

  5. Chris Coleman November 23, 2015 at 9:10 pm #

    Great spreadsheet.
    What version of the Luke’s Ultralight over-mitts do you recommend? The 3 colors/fabrics sound alike to me. Is your version seam taped?

    • Andrew Skurka November 24, 2015 at 11:46 am #

      You definitely want seam-taped rain mitts. Without tape, they will leak quickly.

      The CF gloves are seam-taped and cost $80. The other versions are $60 with seam tape. In the scheme of things, I would not factor price heavily into my decision.

      As far as fabics, I would consider the environment (temps, humidity, rainfall intensity) and your individual hands. In the Mountain West, rain events tend be to fast and furious, and humidity is never high; personally, my hands generally run cold and hand sweat is not typically a concern. So the CF mitts (which don’t breathe) are a reasonable choice.

      In more humid weather and/or with hotter hands, the Gore-Tex or Pertex Shield may be a better choice. Even though fabric breathability is much less than the fabric manufacturers make it out to be (Gore-Tex pretends like their jackets are as breathable as a cotton t-shirt), without some breathability you’ll be pretty quick to wet them out from the inside.

      I would generally stay away from Pertex Endurance for rain mitts, since that fabric is more of a “wind shirt”-type material: breathes reasonably well, but not much water resistance, especially when they are no longer new.

      • Chris Coleman November 24, 2015 at 1:14 pm #

        Great.
        I live in the PNW, it rains/snows a lot but never gets super cold.

        I do have hot hands, so even a little breathability will be helpful for me (no CF).

        I just purchased the Black Pertex Shield over-mitts from Luke’s. Thanks for the advice.

  6. Nicolas November 24, 2015 at 10:11 am #

    Hello Andrew,

    as always, great post and resource! I’ve been using your approach to gear lists ever since I got bough a copy of your book.

    My question regards shared items when traveling in a group. How do you work this into the current version of the spreadsheet? Perhaps adding a line total that divides the line weight by the number of participants would help.

    Thanks for the feedback.

    N

    • Andrew Skurka November 24, 2015 at 11:39 am #

      I debated about adding a feature like this, plus a few others, but opted to keep it simple for now. For now, two ways you can handle group gear:

      1. Ultimately, everything must go in “a” backpack. In the gear list, divy up that weight accordingly, e.g. Nicolas is carrying the tent body and I’m carrying the poles.

      2. Download the spreadsheet and create your own version of it that divides group weight more evenly.

  7. Ed November 24, 2015 at 9:44 pm #

    I never thought about the Go-Suit concept. Very interesting list.

  8. Dawn H November 25, 2015 at 12:49 pm #

    Hello Andrew,

    I want to first say THANK YOU! for all the time that you have vested in helping others like myself to be able to get the right equipment and truly enjoy the time on the trail.

    My husband and I are planning our first thru-hike on the CT next summer.. super excited!!!! There are so many options and we could truly spend hours and days doing research and still not get through it all. It can be so overwhelming. We have spent a lot of time looking at the big 4 and we are happy with the choices that we have made thus far.

    Saved your spreadsheet to our Google Doc and are excited to look it over, as I am sure it will be very helpful!

    Thank you again for your expert guidance

    Dawn

  9. Robert November 26, 2015 at 10:57 pm #

    Tip: put a copy on your online Microsoft OneDrive for even wider spreading and cooperation/sharing.

  10. Kurt W December 3, 2015 at 6:34 pm #

    Andrew, Just tried out your template preplanning for the Overland Track, Tasmania during April. Great Template! Far better than my old system. Made a few minor mods for my own style but you provided a great start that can be easily personalized. Great Job! Thanks

    • Andrew Skurka December 3, 2015 at 6:38 pm #

      Glad it’s worked so well for you.

      I’m curious: What were the tweaks you made? Tasmania has a very different environment than my norms, so perhaps I just don’t yet have the perspective to account for those conditions. Or, maybe I missed something that was more obvious. What was it?

      • Kurt W December 3, 2015 at 9:36 pm #

        I didn’t mean to imply I tweaked your template because of Tasmania. I adjusted it for my own camping style. I combined the “Tools” section with the “Personal” because that’s the way my mind works. I dropped the “Alternate” column because I just decide what to take. Added a couple rows here and there. Sixty-five percent of my overnights in the west are either treeless desert or alpine so I’m a ground dweller, and a I’m tenter for Tasmania because my wife likes the feeling of being inside at night, especially after she heard of 6 inch spiders, – adjustments we make because we’re all different.

        I think your template is a great tool that newbies can use as is. I’m 57 years old, been backpacking since going ultralight meant lopping another two inches from your Levi cutoffs. Rather set in my ways I’m afraid. So its easier for me to tweak the template than tweak myself – though maybe not as fun.

        I’ve never been to Tasmania but based upon my research I imagine the April weather will be a lot like hiking Olympic National Park top to bottom in Fall. Alpine to rainforest with morning frost or light snow possible, rain probable. Only with wallabies instead of marmots. Plants will certainly be different. I understand the camp robber species are a bit different as well. I’ll learn more when I get there but currently my planned basic kit is the same as it would be for Olympic.

  11. Holly M March 4, 2016 at 3:38 pm #

    May I suggest for women as a suggested item a hair brush or comb and extra hair ties. I have long curly hair. While I can go 2-3 days without brushing it, by day 4 it is in serious snarls. Hair ties are a definite necessity, especially in warmer climates to keep my hair off my neck and back.

    • Andrew Skurka March 5, 2016 at 5:42 pm #

      Great recommendation. Any other female-specific items I missed? I thought I did a reasonably good job in making the gear list gender-neutral, but it’s not my expertise.

      • mj April 12, 2016 at 2:28 pm #

        You could maybe add a reminder about menstrual needs under C121 or C123. Wouldn’t want to leave that unchecked in the N column!
        Very helpful tool, thank you for making it available.

  12. nikita April 7, 2016 at 9:16 pm #

    Yup, definitely whatever it takes to put up your hair! Mine is mid-back, thick and curly, so a few hair bands and barrettes are an absolute. I also pack individual feminine wipes – Dr. Bronners and standard wipes can cause uncomfortable problems if on a longer trip. 🙁 Otherwise, standard stuff is great! 🙂

  13. Radek April 28, 2016 at 4:29 pm #

    I am looking for a backpack, love your gear list! Which backpacks would you recommend now that Golite Pinnacle is sadly out of business? I especially liked that this backpack is so lightweight and compressible, good for one day hike or weekend in the bush.

    • Andrew Skurka April 28, 2016 at 9:39 pm #

      If you can wait until late-August, my recommendation is the Flex Capacitor, which I co-developed with Sierra Designs. I’ll post a more lengthy teaser soon, but for now you can read about it here.

      If you can’t wait until then, my general recommendation is a backpack from ULA Equipment. Their lineup is extensive without being overwhelming. My experience, and that of many others I have encouraged to get a ULA pack, have been very positive.

  14. Jerry Campbell June 1, 2016 at 10:15 am #

    Hi, I was wondering what postal scale you use?

    • Andrew Skurka June 1, 2016 at 1:15 pm #

      Salter Brecknell Model 311

      It’s reasonably priced, and I can personally attest to its longevity. I’ve had mine for years and use it extensively — everyday when making coffee or calculating postage, plus dozens of trips, for many of which I’ve packed up to a week’s worth of breakfasts and dinners for ten people.

  15. Bud Silveira March 20, 2017 at 12:38 pm #

    Andrew – Why does your calculator subtract the trekking poles from the base weight? The trekking poles are never counted in the TOOLs category, yet you’re formula gives people a bonus subtraction (trekking poles).

    • Andrew Skurka March 20, 2017 at 2:32 pm #

      I just looked at the weight formulas, and I think they’re okay. They are definitely a bit wonky, because I choose to organize most of the list by category rather than by base weight vs pack weight.

      With specific regard to trekking poles, they are included in the first row, “Go Suit + Footwear + Trekking Poles.” After adding up all of the weights, I subtracted these three categories to arrive at a Base Weight.

      If you still think I’m wrong, tell me what the formulas should be and I’ll take a look.

      • Bud Silveira March 20, 2017 at 3:47 pm #

        Andrew: The formula in cell H144 should be as follows: =H11+H21+H33+H41+H52+H62+H69+H84+H92+H104+H125+H139-H11-H15-H17
        This formula doesn’t subtract the trekking poles when getting the base weight sum. The sum in cell H125 does not add trekking poles into its sum; thus, by later adding the sums in H144 and also subtracting these sums from H143 would erroneously give a user an extra subtraction of weight. Hope this helps.

  16. Todd April 6, 2017 at 11:57 am #

    Like the spreadsheet 🙂 When filling it out for a trip, how do you remember the weights to fill in if you have more than one option for a given item, such as a tent? Do you just keep a separate list of weights?

    • Andrew Skurka April 6, 2017 at 2:57 pm #

      If you have multiple go-to systems or multiple feasible items, you can add them below the gear list, then drag them up when they’re needed. This would be better than a second tab, because you won’t have to worry about having identical column formatting on each tab.

      If you are a spreadsheet dork, the ultimate solution is to have a second tab that lists all of your gear and its weight. Then, reformulate the main gear list rows to pull information based on input values. For example, on the gear list tab you could enter “Sierra Designs High Route Tent” and the weight value would pull up automatically in another tab. You could use the SUMIF or VLOOKUP functions for this.

  17. Todd April 8, 2017 at 5:51 pm #

    I might be a spreadsheet dork 🙂 I thought of doing what you suggested but didn’t want to overcomplicate things. Thank you for the reply and thanks again for the nice spreadsheet 🙂

  18. Richard Ryan April 12, 2017 at 5:13 am #

    Andrew, just wanted to thank you for the spreadsheet. Great idea. I’m fairly inexperienced and I just did an 14 mile walk over two days and never once said “Darn, I forgot…” whatever. Great feeling, knowing I had everything I needed on me.

    Also great, being inexperienced, to start with a fairly minimal list like yours, and add things as I think I need them, rather than start with the kitchen sink and start to realize that there are things I’m not using. My pack was under 20 lbs base weight, could have been much worse.

    Rich

    • Andrew Skurka April 12, 2017 at 7:07 am #

      Excellent, glad it was useful.

      Out of curiosity, What items do you think you might add to to this list? It’s intentionally devoid of what I believe to be purely discretionary items, e.g. musical instrument, camera tripod, fishing pole. But I want to be sure that it includes the essentials and then some.

      • Richard Ryan April 12, 2017 at 10:24 am #

        I’m not sure I will add anything to the list, that was probably just a poorly phrased thought early in the morning.

        I guess I feel like as a beginner it could (or should) have been much harder than it was to get myself dialed in under 20 lbs. base weight. And I’m already planning on trading in my synthetic hammock quilts for some down quilts and cutting an estimated 3 lbs. and some bulk in my pack.

        My advantage (if it’s an advantage) is that I’m starting this journey fairly late in life and I tend to do tons of research prior to jumping in to things. So I’ve got the benefit of having read your blog, Paul Magnanti’s blog, Backpackinglight etc. I read stories of people carrying 40, 50 or more pounds and I just can’t imagine what it is they’re toting around in that giant pack.

        Anyway, I’m starting to ramble. If you read this far, thanks again for the spreadsheet and other great resources.

        Rich

  19. Aaron April 29, 2017 at 9:54 am #

    First I’d like to say thank you for the spreadsheet but I’m confused about the “skin out weight” as it appears to add extra weight based off the way it calculates items twice, could you please help a noob understand?

    • Andrew Skurka April 29, 2017 at 5:51 pm #

      Skin-out-weight refers to the weight of everything.

      Base weight refers to the weight of everything except clothing and items that you wear or carry (e.g. watch, sunglasses, trekking poles).

  20. fuming June 2, 2017 at 4:18 pm #

    Give uniqlo’s (blocktech) warm lined pants a try.
    should not disappoint for the warmth, cost and weight.

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