The first time I went backpacking with my daughter (who was three at the time), it was a two-week trip into the mountains. I was really stressed about a lot of things like bears, snakes, and food. But I was particularly stressed about what clothes to bring.
What if we got cold?
What if we got wet?
What if we got sweaty?
After a lot of trips, I’ve finally built the perfect backpacking clothes checklist. Note that this checklist is for 2 seasons. Basically, that means you are going to be backpacking in relatively good weather with little rain and no temperature extremes.
The checklist also works for camping trips too. Here it is!
Making Clothes Combinations
The reason that this backpacking checklist works so well is because you can combine clothes depending on the weather.
- On cold days, I put on pretty much everything but my PJs.
- On warm days, I might just walk around in shorts and my sports bra.
- If one outfit gets drenched, I can combine the remaining clothes to wear while the others dry…
This combining system works very well because no clothing item goes unworn, but you still have everything you need.
A Brimmed Hat Is Essential
As someone who wears glasses, I can tell you that a brimmed hat is vital when it starts raining. The brimmed hat is also important for shielding your eyes against the sun. So, even if you hate wearing hats, it is still worth bringing one.
How Many of Each Item?
This depends on a lot of factors:
- How long your trip is
- How much weight you have to spare
- How much being stinky bothers you
- The weather
Clothes for a Long vs. Short Backpacking Trip
Surprisingly, the clothes checklist looks the same for a 2-day and a 2-week backpacking trip. For a longer trip, I will add a few more shirts or socks. However, since I’m also carrying more food for a longer trip, weight becomes an issue and I have to cut back on the clothes.
Weight of Backpacking Clothes
You should carry no more than 25% of your body weight. As a 52kg (115lb) woman, I don’t have much weight to spare in my pack for clothes!
One solution is to get ultra-light outdoor clothes. The problem is that outdoor clothes tend to be very expensive. This $90 quick-dry shirt? I’d love to have one. But until Isabel and I start doing some hardcore thru-hiking trips, I can get by with my normal thrift store shirts.
Note that there are a lot of hardcore thru-hikers and ultra-light backpackers out there who will think this clothes checklist is too much. For example, a lot of people don’t bring underwear backpacking because it is too heavy.
As much as I’d love to cut some weight, I’m not going to give up my underwear!
Stinky Backpacking Clothes
You can get away with 1 of each item on the backpacking clothes checklist and be just fine. But, if it is a longer trip, then you’ll probably be VERY stinky.
Sometimes I will wash my clothes in a stream to get rid of the stink. Mostly it doesn’t bother me though. Being stinky is part of backpacking. 😉
I’ve also started a tradition with my daughter. When we finish backpacking and come back to civilization (the pack now empty of food), we go clothes shopping. That way we have clean clothes to wear on the bus/train ride back home.
It is really fun to arrive in a random village and pick out a new shirt or (in Isabel’s case) dress. Then it is like a souvenir of the trip so we can remember it each time we wear it.
But, if you can’t handle the stink…
- Buy high-quality moisture-wicking clothes
- Bring more clothes to change into
- Plan your trip to include a day for washing clothes
Backpacker.com also has this great article about preventing body odor on the trail.
Adjusting the Checklist for the Weather
If it is probably going to be hot most of the time, then more tees.
If it is probably going to be cold, then more long sleeve shirts and maybe an extra pair of long johns.
If it is going to be raining, bring an extra set of pants to wear while yours dry. Or, better yet, bring waterproof pants. I know they may seem geeky, but they are great for backpacking in rainy weather.
Here are some recommendations for waterproof hiking pants by budget:
- Columbia Convertible Men’s Waterproof Pants (decent quality and good price at approximately $55)
- Arcteryx Gamma Men’s Waterproof Pants (really good quality but pricey at $160)
- Singbring Women’s Waterproof Pants (okay quality at good price of approx. $35)
- Berghaus Women’s Deluge Waterproof Pants (good quality – actually is waterproof and not just water-wicking – approx. $75)
If You Are On a Limited Budget…
I am on a mission to prove that backpacking does NOT have to be an expensive hobby. Contrary to what many think, the cost of backpacking and camping can actually be very minimal.
However, buying cheap gear can backfire on you — like when it starts raining and you realize your crappy rain jacket is leaking.
Buy the best quality backpacking clothes you can afford. If you have to prioritize, then spend extra on a good jacket, insulating layer (fleece/hoodie), and hiking socks. Those are the items that make a big difference to your comfort!